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2nd January 2016 – Self-released

01. Mass Locked
02. Ashes of Old Earth
03. Starscape
04. Cryoshock
05. The Horizon Effect
06. Anagenesis
07. Planetfall
08. Progenitor

With their fusion of industrial guitars and soaring, melodic vocals – a recipe that rarely serves up success – Chicago-based symphonic industrial metal outfit Mechina are something of an acquired taste. The masterminds behind the project, Joe Tiberi and Dave Holch, continue their tradition of releasing a new album at the start of each year with 2016’s offering Progenitor. Following such a stringent release schedule has its own dangers; a band can risk becoming stagnant, or worse still rush out material. Despite this, the writing team, along with the contributions of paired vocalists: Mel Rose and Dave Arnold, clearly possess a knack of combining the distinct elements of their sound, evident from intro track “Mass Locked” all the way through to album-closer “Progenitor”.

Progenitor strikes a careful balance between careful tranquility and brutal aggression, the bulk of which is provided by Holch behind the kit, hell-bent on pulverising anyone within earshot with furious blasts and medical science-defying proficiency. The guttural screams of Arnold that accompany this occasionally give way to either his or Rose’s clean vocals and serve as a perfect counter-balance to the surgical chaos of the rhythm section. The vocal variation on display in songs such as “Ashes of Old Earth” and “The Horizon Effect” draws in the listener with delicately nuanced hooks.

However, the drums are not the sole provider of this underlying carnal drive, and tracks such as the aptly named “Starscape” demonstrate keenly varied guitar work with intricate drop-tuned riffs well placed in between the paired vocal support of Rose and Arnold. There is also a greater influence on the structure of the song afforded by the heavy use of synths ducking in and out of the background. In contrast, “Cryoshock” is a much more vocal-led offering. Invoking Paul Masvidalian-esque vocoders to further vary the musical output is an idea that is often best left to the master himself, but here it is well placed against the relentless, bass-heavy guitars and steady pulsing drums.

The subtle yet powerful vocals of Mel Rose offer a stark contrast to the relentlessness of the album. On tracks such as ”The Horizon Effect” it is noticeable that her lyrics tend to follow a repeating pattern, which adds to the mesmerising impact; something that hasn’t escaped the notice of many of the best progressive bands over the years. Heavy breathing effects – a literal reminder to take a breath amidst the unfolding tale - also lend to the proud variation of influences, as do Clint Mansell-like piano sections adding a new layer of pained emotion; something Requiem for a Dream fans can understand.

Progenitor is akin to listening to a Ziltoid album with all the silliness and coffee replaced with substance and genuine story-telling, often mirrored by intelligent arrangement. For instance, album opener “Mass Locked” feels like you are boarding a rollercoaster at Alton Towers (thankfully without any inherent risk of limb-loss), artfully preparing the listener to be launched into the cosmic-flavoured bludgeoning that awaits. With the concept behind the album documenting its protagonists enduring a deep cryosleep and awakening to a much changed and war torn planet, the instrumentation adds to the story telling in a way that would have a Still Life-era Mikael Åkerfeldt glancing nervously over his shoulder and Claudio Sanchez weeping into his comics.

As the album reaches its conclusion, the epic sprawling story truly kicks in. Brought to life by the gnarled rasps of Arnold, it’s difficult to not be moved, especially when during “Planetfall” he is joined by an echoed choir to mourn the passing of what feels like all life in the universe. The inevitable (SPOILERS) fate of the planet, brought to its own knees by the consumption of man and its reliance on industry serves as a great backdrop for the musical input of the band and its contrast of vulnerable lyrics and crushingly heavy instrumentation. Progenitor leaves us with a feeling of hope amongst all the destruction that has unfolded and the lyrics reveal a poignant message; a willingness and determination to defend a planet that has essentially already consumed itself.

Progenitor has tremendous impact upon first listen, but due to the repetitive nature of the drum patterns and lyric cycles it loses much of its impact upon repeated listens. There is enough variation to keep fans of tech death all the way through to prog happy in equal measure, and the appeal of the band is largely due to their ability to continually vary their output by drawing on additional influences. All that remains is to hope that our own planet doesn’t suffer the same fate as Progenitor’s and wait until January 2017 for Mechina’s next offering.

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