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Album Review: Victor Sierra’s “The Manchurian Pass”

I am very happy to once again have the privilege of filling my head with the glorious sounds of my Parisian friends The Legendary Converted Princess, Big Machine, and Commander Bob a.k.a. the marvelous steampunk band Victor Sierra.

Their fourth album – take that in! four albums – was released earlier this month, and it is yet another wonderful, fantastical jaunt into the realms of alterverses, distant planets, and eternal social struggles.

I’m a storyteller at heart, and what I love best about Victor Sierra’s albums is that enjoyed individually, each song has a tale to tell – a disenfranchised defector, the crashlanding of a spaceship crew on a distant planet populated with the statues of long-dead fantastical creature, the cry of a woman in this age of Fake News – but taken together, the whole album has an overarching narrative to relay.

This time the intrepid crew of their ‘punked up airship the Hydrogen Queen has travelled off world, and into realms of bizarre bazzars, aborted missions, and strange realms.

What I have always liked best about Victor Sierra is how distinctive their music sounds – not just among other industrial rock groups, but other steampunk bands as well: Vaguely atonal, always just a bit uncomfortable, deliberately off-beat in places, voices honest. There is nothing pretty, or pre-packed, or overly engineered about their sound. Victor Sierra is not a slick, shiney fabricated music with autotuned voices, poppy sounds and insipid lyrics.

They dare to sound exact as they are – raw, authentic, cobbled-together. This is Maker-Space sound. This is what the beating heart in the clockwork chest of Steampunk sounds like.

And yet, this time around, while the songs absolutely still sound like Victor Sierra, the melodies are fresh, and this album infinitely hummable. I will admit, there’s nothing I like more in a song than my ability to sing it later all by myself!

We open the album with Visitors, which is an apt title for the theme-setting song of the narrative of discovering the new and the weird.  I especially like the chugging backbeat of this song because it sounds like the train featured on the cover and sets the pace for the rest of the album – relentless, sometimes exhausted, sometimes triumphant, but all about what it means to keep going, keep going, keep going at all costs.

My favourite has to be Track Four – “Arguments & Facts”, featuring Mark Rossmore. It’s framed as a woman refusing to bend to the pressures of her society – and as a steampunk world we can imagine what sorts of issues she must face – but is also a scathing critique of modern media, fake-news sharing culture, and Google Science.

The lyrics are:

 

PAIN RUNNING ‘ROUND MY BRAIN ALL DAY
I MUST GET A GRIP ON MYSELF
THEY WANT ME TO THINK THE SAME OLD WAY
AND LEAVE MY SENSES ON THE SHELF

I’D LIKE TO FLEE THIS KINGDOM OF ENNUI
AND SPEAK WITH THE MASTER OF CLOCKS
WE’D FIGHT OVER THE THEORY
AND SPEND EVERY NIGHT ON THE DOCKS

SUSTAINING A NEVER ENDING INNER FIGHT
WHILE VERITY IS FADING AWAY
SOME PRETEND TO BE BEACONS IN THE NIGHT
STRUTTING WITH VERY LITTLE TO SAY

ARGUMENTS AND FACTS / INTELLECT VS QUACKS
BETTER USE YOUR NEURONS AND SYNAPSES TO THE MAX
ARGUMENTS AND FACTS

THEY CHOSE NEW SPINELESS KINGS TO ENTHRONE
IT’S A CORNERSTONE OF THE BOHO’S ROUTINE
I DRINK TO THE SPIRIT OF THE UNKNOWN
EVEN THOUGH THEY PUT ME IN QUARANTINE

SOMETIMES TALKING TAKES SUCH A HEAVY TOLL
SOMETIMES I’M LOSING CONTROL

My only critique is that I do wish there had been one or two ballads where the relentless pace of the chugging machine had slowed for a few minutes. But maybe that’s the point.

In this modern world, we all have our side hustle, our crazy schedules, our personal and societal battles, or ideals and convictions. And Victor Sierra gives us the soundtrack for fighting the good fight.

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I was provided a copy of The Manchurian Pass by the band for review purposes.

 

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JM FreyAlbum Review: Victor Sierra’s “The Manchurian Pass”

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