Six albums into the grandiose cyberpunk yarn they’ve been spinning since 2004, new releases from mind.in.a.box need to be evaluated both on the curve of their impressive musical development and the depth and flair they add to the world they’ve been steadily populating with characters and conflicts. On the latter score, Broken Legacies does a good deal more than the crib notes offered on Memories to get people caught up, and musically it takes some gambles by downshifting into a somber yet vulnerable mode we’ve rarely heard the band hitherto explore.
Getting particulars taken care of first, the narrative of the record turns back to our protagonist Black’s quarry, or “The Friend”, for those who’ve been following along since the beginning. We follow him through the time before his “crossing over” in Lost Alone, his defection from the malevolent and near-omnipotent Agency, his later aiding of Black, and the attacks levied against the malevolent Agency by The Friend and a broader resistance movement. This doesn’t specifically advance the story forward from where we last (chronologically) left Black, but it does a pleasant enough job of world building, and makes some interesting intimations about Black’s role in the larger narrative.
Musically, Broken Legacies switches back and forth between an oddly minimal style of instrumentation for m.i.a.b, which puts the focus on tightly packed sequences grinding over and over (“The Fall”), and the more baroque arrangements I’ve come to look for in the band’s work since Crossroads, like the excellent “Coming Down” which flits between punky guitars and bombastic breakdowns. “Icebox” manages to do both, starting off stuck in monochrome rhythmic passages before bursting out with some lively synth leads and the suddenly expansive and melodic vocals Stefan Poiss has been weaving into m.i.a.b for the past decade.
For much of its duration, Broken Legacies is generally a softer if not specifically quieter record than the past couple of m.i.a.b releases – a straight-up four-four number like “Attack” (presumably delivered from a voice within the Agency itself) is the exception – but Poiss and company find ways of conjuring new moods from partway familiar elements. None of the sounds on “Glory Days” are all that far off from those one might have found in earlier work, but the shuffling beat and bittersweet tone feel quite new. The same could be said for the oddly gothic and melancholy tone of “Arcade”, where Poiss’ vocals have a weathered vulnerability we’ve not heard before. “World Of Promises” recapitulates that sentiment in the familiar synthesized voice we’ve been hearing m.i.a.b use to express laments from the beginning, with melancholy futurepop instrumentation.
It’s not until the last of Broken Legacies‘ tunes that things seem to let loose in terms of the ambitious and prog-like compositions which have made their last three records so memorable. “Paranoia” and “Don’t Sleep” are welcome additions to that tradition, but I don’t want to suggest that Broken Legacies suffers for not turning to such excess more often; the weary and embattled tone with which The Friend relates his story is suited to the album’s quieter moments. mind.in.a.box haven’t become as beloved a band as they are by taking the shortest path, and the bellicose prequel of Broken Legacies ably adds to their mystique.