Master Boot Record is as much an idea as a musical project. Made by a lone person in Rome, Italy, Master Boot Record (MBR for short) takes on the persona of a magical, digital, totally inhuman entity. Something like a cross between a virus, a code, a software, and a spell, MBR is best defined by its own sound – – and that’s exactly why you should listen to it.
At its base, MBR is a mix of chiptune, synthwave, and metal. It pairs the high-pitched, 8-bit video game rhythms of chiptune with the low-pitched, driving drum and bass rhythms of metal and it works very well. Picking MBR apart, it’s clear there’s more.
The real fun of MBR comes in an incredibly skillful composition that often feels like it belongs as much to classical music as it does metal or chiptune. MBR likes a good build and loves an even better drop, using sequences of long, high-pitched chiptune notes to create builds and drums a hair from blast beats to make the drops. More impressively, MBR sustains the intensity its builds and drops make, often layering up so much sound, becoming so loud, riding up and down so many arpeggios that its tracks sound like what Mozart would’ve made if he were a cyborg.
If all this makes MBR sound inaccessible or pretentious, know that MBR is far from either. There’s enough detail in every track to keep a close listener occupied and enough driving rhythms to not bother a person putting it on in the background.
This is all the more impressive since MBR is a pretty young project, congealing into form in late 2016. Since then, MBR has put out material at a blistering pace, releasing four albums in three weeks at one point.
The constant output does make MBR a little harder to approach in a similar way that it’s hard to break into progressive rock acts. Which of the many albums should I start with? Is the side-project worth it? What about the video game covers? How can I know what albums and songs to listen to when they’re all named after computer programming jargon?
You can recognize MBR right away by the sounds used, but the compositions are where you really get to know MBR. With MBR, you don’t need to start at the beginning and you may not want to. With each album, MBR sharpens their sound and composition. Early works tend to be less crowded and slower, which can be appealing, but they lack the same punch as MBR’s recent releases, “Interrupt Request,” “Direct Memory Access,” and “Virus.DOS.”
“Virus.DOS” is my personal favorite and shows MBR’s growth, having the best opener of any album MBR has done so far. The intro track “V-SIGN” is predominantly a synth line that sounds like classical piano, until it plummets into a low, grating field of distortion halfway through. The following track “SKYNET” follows up perfectly, breaking from the heavy distortion for a second, only to fall back into it. “SKYNET” goes on to set a blisteringly fast pace with a BPM on par with a breakbeat track.
“SKYNET” and the songs all across “Virus.DOS” switch between speedy chiptune beats, churning metal melodies, and sustained, epic classical rhythms perfectly, often blending them all together by the end. The result is something beautiful and unique. MBR sounds like a video game, like metal, and like a sped-up symphony all combined. Through that sound, it cements its identity. After listening for a while, MBR feels less and less like electronic music made by a man in Rome and more and more like an organic code unleashing something wild.
Part of what makes MBR’s sound have such identity is that it’s extremely consistent but still variable. It’s consistent because the beating heart behind MBR only uses one set of sounds and samples. For most electronic artists, this would be too confining but MBR notes in a Bandcamp interview that, while this is limited, it’s a good limitation because it points all of the artistic focus on the composition. The changing compositions are the variable aspect, keeping every album fresh and interesting.
Over the past few years heavy music, especially heavy electronic music, feels like it has entered into a renaissance. You should listen to Master Boot Record because it embodies that renaissance. It came from the underground as a welcome surprise, establishing itself off of nothing more than a unique sound and a devotion to an interesting, computerized aesthetic, honing its style with each album and bringing several established styles together to make something new. For anyone into the heavy and the intricate, Master Boot Record deserves a listen.
As with any question about music taste, the answer is pretty personal. If you like a heavy electronic sound, then any MBR track is likely for you. If you love seeing creative compositions at work, then MBR is likely for you. If you’re big into chiptune and experimental electronic music, MBR is at least worth a spin for how unique it is.