ALBUM REVIEW: Zentronique by Michael Regina

Mind of the machine

Michael Regina is a composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist born in the Bronx, New York City. He was inspired as a child by the classic performance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and he’s been performing musically since his early teens.

Starting out on violin and French horn, he got into guitar in his teens and in the 1980’s began writing and playing with bands. This led to becoming the main songwriter and lead vocalist of glam metal band WHITEFOXX.

They garnered attention in rock magazines around the world including the American publication Hit Parader and Britain’s best known rock magazine Kerrang. They were regularly played on radio and were offered several record deals.

These were eventually all declined and they disbanded in 1989. Now based in New Jersey, Michael has turned his compositional talents to New Age music, which allows him to apply the skills and knowledge he learnt both in the classical music field and in rock music.

He has previously released five full length albums: Ascension, Winter Chill, New Day,  A Far Better World and Stargazer. The first three were all released in 2017, A Far Better World in 2018 (which I reviewed very favourably, listen here) and Stargazer in 2019.

This album, Zentronique, consists of eleven tracks and was produced by himself in his own home studio. The album begins with the epic ambient soundscape of Frontiers. Driven by pulsating, tribal tom-tom patterns that brought to mind the Joy Division classic Atmosphere, it also shows the influence of Vangelis. Like that composer, Michael has a distinct gift for writing stirring and inspiring melodies.

Here, the soaring string theme that emerges halfway through is slightly reminiscent of one of the great film soundtracks, Chariots Of Fire. The theme is alternated and augmented with chordal swells, creating an awe inspiring widescreen sonic landscape. The word widescreen is apt as the music and production is as good as any you’ll find gracing any major movie in the cinema. Indeed, this excellent opener almost sounds like it should be some blockbuster’s main theme.

Second track The Gates shows his more rhythmic side, with a stately and slightly melancholy synth theme set to a languid but punchy, powerful beat. Though the essential rhythm is simple, it’s augmented with intricate and complex percussion that gives the piece an inviting and infectious energy. The arrangement gradually builds with a subtle layering of synth strings to create another mesmerising wall of sound.

All Good Things starts with a haunting synth progression which creates a wistful tone. This sets the scene for a beautiful, minor key piano motif which recurs throughout the track. This hypnotic style made me thinking of the swirling melodic patterns of Philip Glass. The motif is subtly developed and varied, whilst maintaining its memorable theme, strings providing an exquisite counter-melody at points. You can imagine this as the perfect soundtrack to a heartbreak scene in a romantic film.

Connections also begins with enchanting strings, but his other musical influences come into play after this; pulsing bass and kick breaks out into a 4/4 beat with a thunderous, echo drenched snare. The track is underpinned by very subtle but effective rhythmic synths, which give the music a momentum and acts as the perfect contrast to another fine high end string theme. At nearly six minutes, it’s the epic of the album and manages to captivate to its final bars.

Human Condition feels like a stark contrast initially, minimalist ambient synths weaving an evocative spell before tribal percussion and magnificent, choral sounding synths intervene to intoxicating effect. This piece in particular has an almost overwhelming grandeur that increases with the skyscraping melody that emerges halfway through. A definite album highlight for me.

Next comes the title track, which takes us into some new sonic territory. Futuristic Giorgio Moroder-style synths get things going before the music expands into a slick, tight groove that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Daft Punk album. With its chugging Iow-end synths giving it a restless energy, this is perhaps the most instant track of the eleven here and also one with the broadest musical appeal. The way the music breaks down and then gradually rebuilds from the midway point is cleverly done.

Maxim M Chill is another surprise, this one based around a swinging hip hop-style beat which provides the bedrock for an enigmatic and alluring musical accompaniment. The skilled use of spacious reverb gives a huge depth to the sound and by the end of its relatively short duration you feel utterly transfixed and mesmerised.

Eighth track In The Ether is another of his heavily dance influenced pieces, this one the funkiest of the lot. After an introduction of a simple percussive rhythm, a pulsating 2/4 beat joins forces with a brooding, inventive bassline that made me think of 90’s era Massive Attack and New Order circa Technique. Overlaid on top of this are a tapestry of interweaving melodic strands and synths that combine, as well as drift in and out, in an organic way. Again, this may find a very popular audience on the dance floor as well as his ambient audience. Excellent track.

Hybrid is another fascinating, well, hybrid of ambient and electronica. Surging and swelling choral strings are matched with a colossal beat, again augmented by highly intricate percussive patterns that give it an addictive quality. The almost industrial sounding rhythm made me think of Nine Inch Nails (interestingly, Trent Reznor is another rock musician now involved in film soundtrack composition). The simple repetition of the structure supplies a hypnotic effect with a gradual addition of layers providing the variation.

Tenth track Communion is another piece that you can perfectly imagine as the soundtrack to a powerful movie scene, this one conjuring images of war and heroism with its rolling snare drum patterns and resonant, uplifting strings. Opening with rich organ that sets the hymnal, transcendent mood it unfolds into something that is nothing short of majestic. It’s my personal favourite on the album and could be a potential game changer for Michael.

The album closes out with Hello Together, a return to the hybrid style of previous tracks. It melds another poignant synth string melody with a loping, highly propulsive bassline and crisp drums. Indeed, the bass playing here deserves a particular mention, its swirling and wide ranging melodies making it the perfect counterpoint to the strings. The hi hat groove gives it a laid back disco feel and the way the arrangement slowly blossoms towards a higher register is skilfully composed. A very fine way to finish.

Overall, this is a fantastic sixth album by an ambient and electronica maestro. Combining his varying influences into a unique fusion that he can claim his own, his music is never less than captivating. The quality of the music and production remains extremely high throughout and deserves a wide audience. It seems only a matter of time before Michael Regina becomes a household name.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

Listen on Spotify HERE

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