Dutch quintet 3rd Machine hail from Haarlem and bring some serious groove metal with heaviness being the main focus of their sound. Gaining good reviews in their homeland and surrounding European nations, their debut “Quantified Self” which features a guest vocal appearance from Mark Jansen of Epica and Mayan has been kicking up a storm. Claiming to detail the perils of living in what we call ‘The Digital Age’, the heavy groove laden sonic assault does bring promise. Let us see if it amounts to something then.
Right away, the opening track ‘Curveball’ sets the tone of the album. A monstrous wall of percussive force and distorted guitars smashes away, bringing sounds similar to mid-late 90’s Fear Factory, but with a less mechanical groove to it. Coming across as more Lamb Of God on steroids, it’s got a real hard hitting impact and its lyrical themes depict media spin and deceptive measures to gain what one wants. This is brilliantly emphasised by the soundbyte halfway through about the grilling that smug twat Tony Blair got over the whole WMD fiasco in Iraq.
Following on from this, tracks 2,3 and 4 are the three-part trilogy (Reboot Initiate, Quantified Self and Ultimate Intelligence). Again, the heavy groove laden pseudo-industrial metal approach hits hard, but there is more melody present. The augmenting synths give a massive feel sound wise and vocally, there is more melodic singing as opposed to the big angry shouting business. Of course, the thundering riffs with squealing harmonics shifting into more exotic clean and melodic phrasings helps mix it up and shows a technical aspect of the bands playing ability, giving the listener a wider scope of the band’s abilities. This of course is just in the first of this three-parter.
Title track “Quantified Self” follows on from a rather pounding and aggressive ending to the previous track and it brings a few moments of calm. Slipping in seamlessly, with only a second or two of silence, it has an ominous edge to it. The heavy riffs stab away with a very easily picked up rhythm which will have heads moving or at least your feet going in time. Vocally weaker than the previous tracks but still delivered with venom and contempt for the topics they cover, it’s a bit convoluted musically. Layers of synths, vocals and guitars litter the track and whilst it does have an excellent rhythmic hook, there is just too much going on here.
Rounding the trilogy off is “Ultimate Intelligence” which features the guest vocalist appearance. Starting off calmer with a free-time bluesy lead, it goes back to the big synth and distortion approach reminiscent of the ‘Obsolete’ era of Fear Factory. Atmospheric and heavy, it builds from the subtle intro into another rhythmically tight sonic assault. Stronger than the previous track, it cuts through with little clutter thanks to the absence of the excessive layerings. With a more melodic and hook laden chorus which has a solid groove to it, along with some of Mark’s vocals coming in clean to add an extra edge to the main vocals, it has a real solid sound overall. Tight in the rhythm, leads well placed and voiced and riffs which sound great, it’s a good way to end a three-parter but it does make me wonder, why put something like this right at the start of the recording? Only the following tracks can answer this question.
“Firewall” has the long synth and sample laden intro where the guitars and drums initially join in a clean capacity before it distorts. Coming across like the tail end of the Nu Metal era, ala Godsmack, it’s got a kick to it but it does seem a bit lacking compared to the opening efforts for the heaviness aspect. “Magnet” tries to rectify this, hitting hard in the beginning with angry vocals and thundering guitars which hammer away with that synth augmentation, but the despite the slight atonal quality in some of the staccato stabs, it’s a bit flat which is a shame. Musically it does sound good, but it lacks the spark to really bring it to life and there’s a section in there which reeks of a Disturbed ‘down with the sickness’ styled meltdown part which… Yeah, let’s just move on from this one.
“1953” again brings the massive sounding synth intro and swelling feedbacks to begin and whilst this approach does work, sometimes it can be a bit predictable. The drum and bass is joined by the heavy distortion of the guitars and once more, we get the pounding and solid rhythms with some subtle lead lines layered in for added effect and that extra edge and initially it does sound promising but as the track progresses, it seems the synths giving that wider sound offer more than the rest of the music which is a shame. Despite being a fan of the things in the background of a track which give it that little extra, they really shouldn’t overshadow the work being done by the main focal point of the recording. The only saving grace for this track is the twisting solo which one of the synths mirrors perfectly, a rather impressive feat.
“System Idle” is the penultimate track and it’s just a short synth only intro before the guitar and drums kick in. The psuedo-polyrhythmic feel is a new aspect and it does offer some promise but again, the synths have a real overpowering edge to them, distracting from the chugging guitars and their disjointed rhythmic display. There’s an interesting clean section partway through which throws back to the clean Burton C Bell sections back when he could belt them out (As opposed to that dreadful BOA 2016 performance) but that’s about it really for this and before we hit the closing track, it does seem apparent why the trilogy was put at the start of the album.
“Petrified” closes the album and once the obligatory synth bit gets on with its business, the hollow thunder of machine gun burst riffs kicks in. With that rhythmic hook and the occasional semi-harmonic bend to add flavour, it pushes on, picking up the intensity and frequency of the riffs, giving that ‘Demanufacture’ feel to it. Clean vocal and synth sections come across well and fit in, breaking up the monstrous hammering of distortion and it does seem that there has been a recovery in quality, but it’s just a shame it had to be the last track where it happened and not a track or two earlier.
Overall, this album boils down to a matter of perception. For me it peaks way too early and suffers from poor track placement. The first 4 songs as a unit are stronger than the following 5, with the final track being the only one after the trilogy section to kind of match the standards set by the opening salvo and this weakens the album somewhat. Granted, there are so many good riffs and rhythmic sections littered across the album, as a whole, it doesn’t live up to the hype placed on it which is a shame as it promised so much initially. In the end, it’s about 50% loaded and could do with a reboot.