There’s a certain kind of satisfaction in being able to reasonably estimate a band’s thought process upon first hearing their work. This doesn’t necessarily mean the art waxes predictability; rather, it usually means there’s a real intuition behind the way a style has come together. For Man Made Origin, I get the sense that a skilled group of musicians got together and collectively favoured the prog metal threads in Opeth’s mid-era without necessarily having the same passion for the death metal element. Progressive metal as a label has grown appropriately amorphous, so while describing Man Made Origin as a sort of “Opeth with clean vocals” wouldn’t do justice to the long stretches of slow melancholy and post-rock infused ambiance on The Divine Soulless, it’s probably a good place for the newcomer to start when thinking of them.
I’ve unsurprisingly heard this angle before from other contemporary prog metal acts, but I don’t think that alone would ever dispel my enthusiasm for a group of promising musicians. Talent is rife and apparent throughout the course of The Divine Soulless, and while I never heard the debut False Consciousness when it dropped in 2011, Man Made Origin have been introduced to me on an undeniably professional note. Crisply mixed and skilfully performed, these guys lend the instant impression of being a band that know what they’re doing. With the high standard Man Made Origin have held themselves to, it’s pretty disappointing that The Divine Soulless strikes me as a vaguely underwhelming record. All of the ingredients are here; they’re just not coming together in a way that excites me.
Man Made Origin’s press kit refers to their desire to pair progressive rock with extreme metal. While that gives a reasonable indicator of what to expect in their music, their enthusiasm for these halves seems imbalanced. To their credit, many of the bands I’ve heard drawing from Opeth capitalize on the metal. On The Divine Soulless, metal feels like the minority share. In most cases, I would welcome a move like this; it shows a band means to give weight to their dynamic highs. The songwriting doesn’t succeed as well as I might have hoped. Whether it’s a slow acoustic passage or a steady melodic build, The Divine Soulless spends a lot of its time hinting at a catharsis that never seems to arrive.
Of course, music seldom justifies itself purely on its dynamic pay-offs, and it certainly doesn’t apply to Man Made Origin’s pensive direction here. But when a band frames their progressive sections as a contrast to extreme metal, it’s undeniably frustrating when the music falls short of any promised extremity. Yes, there are sections where The Divine Soulless is dominated exclusively by metal. But even during the heaviest sections, it never sounds like Man Made Origin have really let go of the slow-burning, mellow mentality. The performance is incredibly clean, and the harsh growls seem tossed in almost by mandate. I think the band has their heart in the lighter progressive side, but there’s a total sterility to the heavy parts that serves to undermine the band’s dynamic.
The Divine Soulless is a concept album. Judging from it, it’s clear Man Made Origin share my fascination with the Crusades. It’s easily one of the most morally convoluted episodes in history; of course, that makes it fertile inspiration for progressive metal. I’ve heard other metal albums based in Crusader lore—Sarpanitum’s Blessed Be My Brothers from last year comes to mind—but the topic is always welcome in my books. Man Made Origin do a fair job of capturing the subject matter (and its moral contradictions) in the lyrics, though I wouldn’t say the music ever really reflects the concept. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I do think historical themes can be explored without diving arse first into the time-appropriate aesthetic. Even so, surprisingly, I got a more ethereal and futuristic vibe from the album if anything. The Divine Soulless has a production that would only sound appropriate to the 21st century. The recording is tightly mixed, but the sound feels ultimately digital. This ensures every nuance of the band’s performance comes through, but definitely factors into why Man Made Origin’s metal side feels lacking.
Tight and professional musicianship is virtually a calling card for any band within the progressive umbrella. In this sense, Man Made Origin really do have what it takes to succeed. Even if their restrained approach falls short of the excitement I’d hope to hear in otherwise great musicians, it’s obvious that they know what they’re doing. In spite of that, their restrained compositions refuse to make the most of their collective skill. The Divine Soulless isn’t soulless per se, but I would say the passion here is trapped. If Man Made Origin allowed their ideas to run a little more wild, it would make all the difference for them.
01) Deus Vult
05) The Divine Soulless