It’s kind of interesting to see how the synth-music genre has exploded in terms of its outreach over the last five years. Initially, it was driven by the purely nostalgic charm of being reminded of the late 70s and 80s and reminiscent of people like Jean-Michel Jarre and John Carpenter. Netflix came in with Stranger Things and the fantastic compositions of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (of the electronic band Survive), and the craze spread even further. Right around the same time, synthwave started spreading its wings as artists like Perturbator and Dance With The Dead started experimenting with darker and heavier sounds, giving rise to ‘dark-synth’. Synthwave suddenly had a crossover appeal to metal fans. I’m not sure if it was just the heavy distorted bass lines, or fans resonating with 80s horror films, but this gave rise to artists such as Carpenter Brut and Gost. But none of this prepared the world for the arrival of MASTER BOOT RECORD.
First appearing online in September 2016, Master Boot Record released a plethora of material in the form of four albums in a month, including C:\>CHKDSK /F. This came with a self-declaration stating: ‘I am a 486DX-33MHz-64MB processing avant-garde chiptune, synthesized heavy metal & classical symphonic music. 100% Synthesized, 100% Dehumanized.‘ A year later, Master Boot Record came out with the double album INTERRUPT REQUEST. Now, the project is back with their latest work – DIRECT MEMORY ACCESS.
Master Boot Record did not bring any revolutionary new ideas into the realm of dark-synth, but the minor additions of chiptune baroque and the 90s NES sounds gave the sound its own unique edge. Using distorted bass lines and over-compressed drum sounds akin to what Gost does, it managed to create the aura of blast-beats and heavy drumming, and then topped it with some chiptune music driven by a blend of keys, guitars and NES music similar to artists such as Anamanaguchi and Nullsleep. This combination worked wonders, as it helped the act achieve a full sound that usually necessitates a full band. To Master Boot Record’s credit, it takes this projected sound up a notch by going beyond and adding vocals into their music with Direct Memory Access. Anyone familiar with Öxxö Xööx’s work in the eponymous Öxxö Xööx band or Igorrr knows that the guy is capable of some of the most versatile vocal delivery, and this helps take the sound on Direct Memory Access to a whole new level.
Right off the bat, “DMA 0 DRAM REFRESH” sounds much more heavy and sinister, and very close to the haunting sound Perturbator aimed for with New Model. The synthesized keys are driving the track while the beats blast away in the background, perfectly setting up the sound for the remainder of the 42-minute-long album. The latter half of the track showcases exactly why it has such a strong crossover appeal, as the track feels nothing short of a tech-death monster.
And yet, one still feels that this ground has been well covered in Master Boot Record’s previous outings, and that is why the vocals add a whole new fresh direction to the sound. “DMA 1 SOUND CARD 8-BIT” sounds every bit of the avant-garde death metal meets cyber chiptune track that it is intended to be, whereas “DMA 3 LPT1 ECP MODE” takes a much more nostalgic approach, reminding one of some of the finest works of John Carpenter. The track almost feels like a soundtrack to a horror movie of the 80s before Öxxö Xööx steps in with one of the best deliveries on the record. Starting from whispered phrases, he progressively takes the vocals into the operatic ballad territory as the track progresses, even adding his unique low-end gutturals into the mix later on.
The last one-third of the album sees the band return to its roots in an interesting manner. While “DMA 5 HARD DISK” pretty much continues the sound constructed by the earlier half of the record (albeit sans the vocals), “DMA 6 SCSI HOST ADAPTER” and album closer “DMA 7 SOUND CARD 16-BIT” are much more in line with the sound on Interrupt Request and C:\>CHKDSK /F respectively. And this is exactly where Direct Memory Access falters: the track sequencing. The first two-thirds of the album, while bringing a fresh approach to Master Boot Record’s unique sound, can be ‘too much off the same’ for the inattentive casual listener. It’s hard not to feel that if the last three tracks were well-positioned across the album, they would not only bring the required change, but also help keep the listeners’ attention dialled in while taking virtually nothing away from the songwriting on the record at the same time. With such a well-developed niche sound, it would be easy for Master Boot Record to fall into the repetitivity trap. They carefully avoided it by taking a page out of their label mate Perturbator’s notebook – going for a much darker sound and incorporating the aforementioned vocals of Öxxö Xööx.
To sum it all up, Direct Memory Access takes a fresh, novel approach while maintaining Master Boot Record’s trademark chiptune-meets-heavy metal sound. While the addition of Öxxö Xööx on vocals may throw a few ‘traditional’ synthwave fans off, it’s bound to draw in more traditional metal fans into the cult that Master Boot Record is truly set to become. As for all the others: even if dark-synth and metal are not your forte, do give Direct Memory Access a chance. You never know, its avant-garde touch might just tingle with your musical nerves!
Notable Tracks: “DMA 1 SOUND CARD 8-BIT”; “DMA 3 LPT1 ECP MODE”; “DMA 5 HARD DISK”
FFO: Gost, Igorrr, Anamanaguchi
To keep yourself updated with all the music and the cryptic clues MASTER BOOT RECORD is known for, do not forget to follow him on Facebook and Twitter. The artist discography is available on Bandcamp. Direct Memory Access comes out on 20th April and can be pre-ordered via Blood Music. Lastly, do not forget to check out the Soundcloud page where MASTER BOOT RECORD hosts a plethora of cover songs of video-game classics.