Master Boot Record deserves your attention for many reasons. I can only point out some of them here, because you most likely don’t have the time or the patience for a lengthy essay. But hopefully, after you’ve read this, you will have an idea about why this is a noteworthy project, why is was to be expected, what it sounds like, what it means and where this might be taking us.
Master Boot Record’s tagline pretty much tells you what the project is about: “Heavy metal is not dead. It was just not evenly synthesized.” And “100% synthesized. 100% dehumanized.”
MBR has decided to take heavy metal down a road that emerged in the early seventies with Kraftwerk, the German pioneers of electronic music. It is a road almost everybody doing music has taken to some extent since then. But instead of just making heavy use of synths and electronica alongside traditional instruments, the way industrial metal bands like Ministry or Rammstein do, MBR is going all the way. Everything is synthesized, there are no traditional instruments. Attempting to make heavy metal music in that way makes perfect sense. Why? Because you can. Someone was about to try that. It was just a question of time.
MBR appeared on the internet in September 2016. Since then the mysterious human behind it (see, it’s actually not 100% dehumanized) has been incredibly productive. A real band could never compose, record and release this amount of material in so little time. The project has been very successful, judging from Bandcamp’s best seller lists and a continuously growing fan base. This has attracted the attention of Blood Music (Can I just point out here the irony of a label named Blood Music signing a chiptune project? Thank you.) through which the project’s new album Direct Memory Access is being released. Direct Memory Access is MBR’s eighth (!) release in two years and, interestingly, the first one with vocals. Real vocals, from a real person.
How does Direct Memory Access sound? Well, maybe the best answer to that question is: It sounds convincing. And legitimate. It’s industrial. It’s symphonic. It’s metal. The drum sounds are excellent. The most interesting detail in the music, however, is a tootling sound that is often used to replace the guitars of a traditional set up. It does need some getting used to, and I still find it somewhat annoying, frankly, but its dominance and recurrence is perfectly logical. It is a typical computer-generated sound. It is present in every track, serves as a signature and establishes a connection to the first electronically generated music, for example in the first computer games. This is one of the things that shows just how well this project has been thought through.
The vocals are a great addition, and I like the tracks with vocals much better than the ones without. As far as I can tell, the singing, authentic to the genre, is done in a made-up, Nordic-sounding language. Here and there I can make out some English words, but that could just be my mind searching for meaning in the chaos. The press info lists the vocalist as Öxxö Xööx which probably means that he is a member of the French band with the same name. Just like everything else about this project, the made-up language makes sense, because computer languages are also constructed. I wouldn’t be surprised if, when you process the lyrics with the help of a linguistics program, they would actually end up meaning something.
When Kraftwerk started out in the early seventies, they were driven by the idea of transferring the industrialization that surrounded them into their music, of making music for their time and age, that reflected their time and age, and they went to considerable length to accomplish that. Like the factory workers around them, they worked on their music in eight-hour shifts in a factory environment. They considered themselves “music workers”.
MBR might be motivated by a similar thought. In this time and age that’s so dominated by computers and devices why not make music, even heavy metal music, using computers and devices? The process is fast, productive and effective, just like everything else computers and devices do. The next step, of course, will be having artificial intelligence compose music. We will get there. But will we gain something from that development? Or will we be losing out?
Computer-generated music is characterized by flawless perfection. An example: You know how when somebody plays the guitar and moves his/her fingers quickly up and down the strings it makes that slight screeching noise? If you listen closely, you can hear it in every guitar solo. There is none of that in this kind of music. But details like that allow you to see the guitar playing in your head.
Generally, art is about the human experience. And human beings are neither flawless nor perfect. Can this kind of music illuminate the human experience in any way? I don’t think so. Most of the time it reproduces, not necessarily 1:1, but it builds on images, stories and sounds that other (human) artists have established before. Master Boot Record lives of that, too.
In the end, I’d say, the important question here is not whether you like the music or not. The music is pretty good and the concept is well thought through. What I think is more important is whether you like the direction in which this is pointing. I don’t. I want to listen to real people playing their instruments, telling me about real human experiences. And I want to go to shows and watch them do that. Interestingly, adding real vocals, Master Boot Record seems to have arrived at the same conclusion. After the great success the project has experienced, a live band is forming. I like that. And once they come out of hiding it would be very interesting to interview these people about their project, their concept, their music-making process and their experience.