MASTER BOOT RECORD
Italy-based electronic metal maven Master Boot Record (MBR) recrudesces on striking new full-length album, PERSONAL COMPUTER. Helmed solely by technologist/songwriter Victor Love, Master Boot Record is, if anything, creatively prolific. The follow-up to FLOPPY DISK OVERDRIVE (2020), Personal Computer is Love's eighth full-length album since emerging - as an 8-bit ghost - from the bulletin board system (BBS) scene in 2016. Now, he's returned (like a carriage) to right-click on devotees with yet another easter egg and symbolism-rich mélange of intensely ornate yet driving digital orchestrations. Just don't call Personal Computer synthwave, or whatever new-fangled term is being used to describe Master Boot Record's masterful video game-like scoring. To put it simply: this is metal done with a synth.
"I live stream from my desktop," says Love, who composes Master Boot Record songs on his YouTube channel. "When I have enough material to bundle an album together, I finish it off and prepare it for release. So, it's a continuous songwriting process. My approach is familiar to me and my audience, and I really enjoy working in an interactive environment. As far as what I listen to, it's the same stuff as always - from classical music (especially Beethoven and Bach) and thrash/death metal to chiptune music and crack intro/keygen music. I also listen to retro game music. So, in a way, the starting point is still the same. I've been growing musically."
Love's background is different from most of his musical colleagues. He got his start in tech by working at his father's computer business in Rome. He went head-first into CPUs, motherboards, RAM, and peripherals. From there, the Master Boot Record madman got even more involved, first as a sysadmin for a local university and then as a new-frontier marketer and bellman. Naturally, Love got into software and its verboten counterparts - namely Warez - to quell his ceaseless curiosity of all things cyber. That's when his interest in synth-originated music came into view. See, pirated software often had clever musical tricks called 'cracktros,' short musical pieces that hackers/crackers added to show off smarts and enterprise. A scene naturally formed out around that called the demoscene. Master Boot Record (and side project Keygen Church) was born as a result of Love funneling his technological predilections into a musical expression.
"I think of myself more of a hacker in the music field," Love says. "Hacking is essentially the art of bypassing boundaries and limitations to achieve something better to improve. All that is driven essentially by curiosity. In my process as an artist, I've always been very focused on this aspect. Look at Master Boot Record. It's a hack in the music field because, for example, the guitars aren't actual guitars - they're synth. So, essentially what I did was hack the sound of metal guitars, making a synthesized version of it. I did this because I wanted to have a faster way to compose. That is what I would call musical hacking."
With Master Boot Record, Love's compositional process relies on no physical instruments. Personal Computer finds the Italian smithing with Cubase 11 Pro, a popular music production software suite made by endorser Steinberg. The upgrade (from Cubase 8) allowed for a complete re-build of the synth guitar and bass, while another improvement in the form of Superior Drummer 3 had a direct impact on the his on-the-fly mixing efforts. The software modernization squarely differentiates Personal Computer from any in Master Boot Record's history. This is not only obvious but welcome on the album's three singles, "80486DX," "80386," and "8086," where the frenetic and ornate collide in orgiastic musical pixels. This is like Double Dragon (by Kazunaka Yamane) and Darkness Descends (by Dark Angel) getting into a fierce PvP match of DOOM.
"I still kept a lot of the sounds that define the fingerprint of the MBR sound," says Love. "The same lead synth, the same pads, and, in general, the same kind of sound, even though it's definitely improved. This time I tried to get a more dynamic and warm sound (compared to previous albums) to give it more punch and depth. For example, the lead sounds aren't so harsh and full of high frequencies. They are much softer and less aggressive than before, leaving more space for the synth guitars MIDIs. In general, I think Personal Computer sounds more metal and more powerful than my previous albums."
While most bands - even synthwave artists - tie lyrical themes to their music, the absence of vocals on Personal Computer hasn't derailed its conceptual import. Think of the way floppy disk drives hum and printers whirr. The mechanical aesthetic, combined with conspicuously retro audioscapes, creates a uniform visual. Indeed, rather than textual tethering via lyrics, Master Boot Record connects (serially) to images, largely ASCII interpretations of magical staves associated, in Love's case, to Icelandic wayfinders. Interestingly enough, he designed most of Personal Computer's art, but outsourced the ASCII part - the sigil - to crucial members of the BBS and demoscene segments. The integration of silicon and magic is purposeful and has its roots in debut album, C:\FIXMBR (2016).
"The main iconography is a mix of retro computing and Norse imagery," Love says. "The initial concept was that of 'spellware,' a sort of mix between magic and software that is cast through the digital media. The idea was that the music made by a 486DX became sentient after being enchanted by Icelandic Norse magic. Most of the symbols on my albums are Icelandic magical staves with specific meanings. For example, my main logo is called a 'Vegvìsir' and is a compass that helps sailors find their way out of storms - which is how I felt when I started this project. I can't really say why I decided to use these symbols, and it's more as if they called me to use them. Symbols are really powerful and can convey powerful energies, and I feel it worked out for me. This album represents everything this project is, wanted to be, and wants to be in the future. It's kind of the final upgraded version of all that I've done before."
Like everything else in Master Boot Record, Love's time isn't traditionally occupied in a studio proper. Personal Computer was conceived and written ad hoc via his YouTube live stream events. The songs were honed after. The songwriting sessions started at the end of 2020 and were completed almost a year later. The production process - literally Love's computer - didn't differ too much from predecessors FLOPPY DISK OVERDRIVE and INTERNET PROTOCOL (2019). It was time and space that separated Personal Computer from its ancestors. The maestro needed to take breaks and parlay that time off from Master Boot Record to realign his operating methods. Even the mix changed dramatically from its original state to what Love considered the final version.
"I don't really have a studio," says Love. "I often have to state: 'All I Have Is My Computer.' That's pretty much the truth. I use my computer and software to produce my music. I have a simple audio card, a couple of monitors, and good headphones. That's it. As for how much time it took for this new album, I can't say exactly how much, but most of the material was written over the last few years, and it all happened in live streams - around 120 hours of live streams, actually."
From "80286" and "80386SX" to "8086" and album closer "80686," Master Boot Record continues to innovate and stupefy on Personal Computer. Though the genre of electronic metal is still in its infancy, the man behind it all proves yet again why he's the genre's Kevin Mitnick. Guess it's time we all updated our passwords.