In many ways, metal has entered a post-gimmick era, meaning a project like Master Boot Record can't succeed as the sum of its parts. The whole "it's metal, but synth?!" stick is a cool idea, but the concept can only be as good as its execution. To that effect, soul member Victor Love has risen to the occasion as a purveyor of aggressive avant-garde chiptunes. Love's synthesized instrumentation reveals an expressive array of classically-tinged dehumanized symphonies. His unorthodox artistry has served him well over 10 full-lengths, earning him a spot on the Metal Blade Records roster. Increased notoriety notwithstanding, Master Boot Record must rely on more than novelty for its 11th LP Personal Computer to maintain forward momentum.
With computer language for song titles, what Master Boot Record has in store on this LP isn't exactly surprising. His brand Chiptune metal dispenses with the goofery of Nintendo-core, making a serious statement of intent with opener "8086." Yes, it could easily be described by a racing game soundtrack on meth, but the amount of layers and synchronicity show Love's deep understanding of his instrument's potential, and how to make it metal as hell. From shredding solos to grandiose modulations, his sound remains as insistent as it is strange.
Another gift from Master Boot Record remains its surprising dynamic range. The way a song like "80386" progresses from epic leads and dancing arpeggios to jack-hammer stabs and abusive half-time beats give the song life in its cybernetics. Indeed, the drums on Personal Computer play a crucial factor in its undeniable groove factor, emphasizing the album as metal regardless of context. The explosive bounce that begins "80486DX" comes ready to turn industrial raves into mosh pit killing grounds, but not without Love's tasteful embellishment of sweeping chord progressions and blindingly fast sheets of notes. He knows exactly when to emphasize the video game steeze and when to go for the throat with robotic sadism.
Classical music remains a potent influence on Master Boot Record. The harpsichord-like serenade that begins "80186" may as well have time warped from the baroque era. The song's evolving atmosphere builds to a fever-pitch accelerando, inevitably culminating in a punishing assault of digital hardcore. The breadth of emotion Love musters on "80486" is impressive, considering the coldness inherent in his sonic palate. The song spotlights the Master Boot Record signature of beginning with mood-setting motifs, divulging in a percussive head-banging onslaught, but then reincorporating the immense vibe for an overwhelming conclusion. It's unmistakable, and rather addictive.
Sometimes, Love just wants to rock, but that doesn't stop cuts like "80286" and "80486SX" from sporting their own eccentricities. The former's array of shifts from Helloween-style power-thrash to neo-classical disco vibes establish a rip-roaring Master Boot Record as far from dumbed-down. Love even finds room for a swinging waltz rhythm in the latter track, peppered with drizzling scales, destructive dissonance and walls of double-kick. Personal Computer maintains cohesion during these twists, staying true to its chiptune roots.
But still, over an hour of anything can overstay its welcome, and the fact Master Boot Record remains instrumental further stresses that point. As exhilarating as the triumphant leads and galloping rhythms of "80386SX" are, the deep cut does beg the question—how would this sound with vocals? Granted, they'd need to be vocoded beyond recognition, but some sung hooks would do wonders for the more standard structure of "80586." Having to focus solely on the soundscapes causes some of Master Boot Record's work to blend together if consumed in one sitting.
To Love's credit, he saves one of the most arresting cuts on Personal Computer for last. Harpsichord embellishments return to give "80686" its footing before divulging into walls of powerful low-end and a spacious back beat. After an album filled with million-mile-an-hour speeds, these moments of tracks give more credence to the tact and taste behind Master Boot Record. Their statement is crafted with care and love, exuding passion as well as oddity.
Master Boot Record has long-since transcended gimmick trappings. Love has no need to go the way of pirate metal or kawaii metal, because his musical chops speak for themselves. Sure, maybe finding a way to incorporate his voice into the proceedings would benefit the longevity of Personal Computer, but this particular niche of metal may never have a champion of this caliber in this lifetime.