[1st January 2013]
07. [Cryostasis_Simulation __2632_01]
It must be an incredible feeling to get recognition for the hard work that goes into an unsigned band; after 9 years, Illinois-based orchestral-industrial death metallers Mechina are gaining that recognition for their third album Empyrean. The album is the concluding half of a plot involving the destruction of mankind due to religion and the subsequent journey to another planet to start anew. Clearly, the story has its roots in science fiction, and the music reflects this: the style is caught somewhere between Fear Factory/The Monolith Deathcult‘s industrial-death background and Svartalvheim‘s symphonic-death stylings, with a touch of the Halo videogame soundtrack for good measure. Those familiar with Mechina’s sophomore effort, Conqueror will find a stronger and improved band this time around.
The intro (“Aphoria”) sets the atmosphere perfectly; tribal drums, eerie sound effects and a wailing female voice build up momentum as the band swing into “Asterion”, full of chugging guitars and grand orchestral synths that pave the way for David Holch‘s barking growl and some choral singing to extol the well-crafted lyrics. Meanwhile, the drums pound away in the background, sounding programmed despite being real, to further add to the sci-fi climate. Each track follows logically, some of a heavier ilk, some much more orchestral such as “Elephtheria”. This all comes to a head in the finale “Terminus”, a ten-minute saga that wraps all the best aspects of Mechina together, even giving the guitar a prominent role for a couple of welcome moments.
Empyrean has some quirks that take time to adjust to; first and foremost, this is a concept album that cannot be shuffled. The band have ensured this by segueing each track with mini-outros that smoothen the transition, but make it harder for individual tracks to stand out. Secondly, the production is strangely unbalanced: the synth and drums overpower the 9-string guitar-work, and the frankly stunning emotional singing from Holch is relegated to the background in “Interregnum”. It cannot be denied that guitarist Joe Tiberi is a remarkable composer, and the symphonic elements are enjoyable, however the moments which really grab metalheads’ attention are when Mechina are heads down, blast mode engaged (see “Imperialus”).
The moments that stand out most (for better or for worse) are when the band introduce new elements: an uncredited operatic female voice, contrasted with the male singing, is as effective as the Greek recitation of the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus in “Catechism” is jarring. The electro-chug of “Infineon” is also quite catchy, as opposed to the nu-metal-esque sampling that start the title track, which could have been dropped for an otherwise addictive song.
Perhaps the most impressive feat of this whole adventure is that, despite juggling so many elements, Mechina never lose sight of their concept album goal. As mentioned, the lyrics are fantastically written, and consistent throughout the 50 minute runtime; there are no duds to speak of. The story of a group of humans journeying to the planet Empyrean to start life again without the wars that religion has brought, while may not be to everyone’s taste, is nonetheless engaging, particularly the last two stanzas of “Terminus“:
This last horizon
A simple glance upward was all we needed
We were born to conquer the stars
This freedom will conquer the gods
We assemble among these stars as brothers, not tyrants
In short, Empyrean is an album to warm to. You may not click with it at first glance, but allow some time and Mechina will envelop you in both the metallic and symphonic elements. Even though the production is a slight barrier, that should not stop anyone from checking out possibly the strongest album released on New Year’s Day. Definitely one for any symphonic-death metal fan.
N.B. Mechina are working on a re-release of Empyrean with a new and improved mastering. Check their Facebook page for details.