Felix Martin – Mechanical Nations
To review an instrumental album is a difficult task. It can lead you to the path of the very technical stuff or the path of the highly emotionally charged stuff. With the modern progressive/world fusion artist Felix Martin’s 15-track album “Mechanical Nations”, I find myself on that Y crossing, jumping to one way or the other. Right from the first song, ‘Flashback’ I’m submerged in a world of such technical prowess that makes it quite clear to me from where the album got it’s name. It felt like going inside a machine, and all I could hear were the clogs and wheels in an endless mechanical motion each with its own sound but so perfectly entwined, that it made it hard for me to come back to the reality that this bursts of streaming sounds are created by the 2 prodigious hands of a young musician playing an unique 14 (or 16?) strings guitar, in a self-developed tapping style (aided by a bass and drum player equally prodigious!).
This particular way of playing the guitar was developed by Martin himself during the years he was learning on his own, and because of the absence of guitar teachers on his home town in Venezuela (and I blame his creativity as well!). Fast forward, he moved to the USA, graduating on the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and now resides in Los Angeles. He used to practice with 2 guitars and eventually designed his own double guitar (14 or 16 strings), playing both at the same time, using the tapping technique. To watch him is like watching a keyboard player with a keytar, but using both hands. The guitar and the amounts of strings, of course produce a much wider array of sounds and possibilities. A unique way to approach the instrument.
The starting 3 tracks are like a punch in your face, showing you what this album is about. Not only to present to you what these guitars can do in the hands of this amazing player, but also showing you that rhythm based songs can also be fun and enjoyable, and thoroughly complicated, going on a wide array of Metal, Prog, Jazz influences like a fish in water. The next song ‘Nomadic Tree’ slows down the pace, offering a more melody based tune, that offers the chance to highlight the other instruments in play. I liked a lot the pause that it brings.
The catchy starting melody on ‘Da House Cat’ is a whole experience of sounds. The layered notes created by Martin’s tapping technique overlap in a perfect pattern, letting you listen to the main catchy melody, but offering you glimpses of the melody on the background, though is not a background layer, those notes are being played all at the same time by the same hands with bass and drums just offering the real background.
Martin commented on this album that he started to write this album while touring and playing on different countries in South America. He drew inspiration from the different cities and cultures and tried to translate them into songs. As a co-national I understand perfectly, what for the rest of the world might be difficult to grasp without hearing the cliché latin-american-rhythms, instead I capture the hectic-survival-mode, of life in Latin-America’s big cities, which Martin reflects very well on this album’s accelerated pace. Yes, you will find some references here and there to Latin-Caribbean rhythms, but it is so subtle that you have to really make an effort to actually identify them, though in the next song you can easily catch them with the help of traditional latin percussion. ‘Cardboard Roofs’ slows down the pace, and knowing the meaning of the title, I sense the sadness this song transmits, but I see it as the sadness poverty in slums brings, but also charged with hopes for something better. It is clearly a highly nostalgic song.
‘Santos’ brings a variation, we hear the first traditional guitar solo. It comes from the hands of Angel Vivaldi, (voted 3rd “Best Guitarist” in 2014 by the fellow webzine, Prog-Sphere). This solo is highlighted by the fact that in this album Felix Martin wanted to focus on melodies and rhythms over solos, or even the classic pattern most metal and rock songs are written, a thing I totally love.
‘Barquisimetal’ – an ode to his home town Barquisimeto? Along with ‘Four Handed Giant’ it is one of the most proggy and one of the most metal songs in this album. If metal songs can sound metal without a distorted guitar, and that’s precisely what Martin does on the metal songs, based on the speed and rhythms he creates with this tapping technique, the sounds are undoubtedly metal. Though all songs (except for the opening track ‘Flashback’) have a varying range of moods. These mood changes are present again on the softer opening ‘Canaima’, here again the nostalgia for the homeland is fully present as well as the beauty and exuberance of the jungle. The song feels like a cycle, evoking the life, decay and renovation present in nature.
The closing track ‘Bridge Close Disparity’ is hard to define. First the sounds Martin creates with his special guitar will draw a smile on your face. The song quickly evolves to a masterclass on his tapping technique and a total change of pace full of slower melodies from what I first thought it was the bass guitar, but it is actually Martin’s strings creating a closing beautiful melody like the closing scene of a film. The End.
This album is really a surprise for me. As I mentioned earlier, it is really difficult for me to fully evaluate an instrumental album, as usually I feel something is missing or the main musician is usually going over the top opaquing the rest of the band. In this album Felix Martin achieved the opposite. Though his virtuosity is plainly highlighted, it is impossible not to have present the band’s members, Kilian Duarte on bass and Victor A. Carracedo on drums. It is overall a very enjoyable album with many layers of music to be discovered every time you give it a spin. I’m really looking forward to see Felix Martin and band on a tour here in Europe, and witness this magic on stage.