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Mechina, while not entirely blowing me away, have produced material good enough for me to keep an eye on them. Having already checked out their latest two albums, Conqueror gave me another extension of their musical evolution to explore. Indeed, it does have all the things that make Mechina what they are in Empyrean and Xenon, but it seems more simplified here while also making it more streamlined. So while it's again not perfect, there's a few things the band could learn from themselves on this album.
The theatrical heavy metal space opera that this band is known for at this point still runs strong here. The intro track "Incipient Tragoedia" has a nice melody with the female singing, and that melody is revisited in the outro to the album "Ad Astra". Once the first song with guitars, "Pray to the Winds", comes around, it doesn't waste any time getting right into riffs though. Somehow, this album doesn't feature the awkward production that Empyrean features with burying the guitar in orchestral programming despite Conqueror being released before. The orchestral programming sounds more well balanced here and the guitars stick out more as a result which is actually a mixed blessing.
Mechina's Sybreed-Meshuggah inspired guitar work on this album is effective at adding to the sci-fi sound scape that they make but do end up being kinda boring by themselves, but they're improved when they go with the right mixture of the orchestra programming. "Pray to the Winds" and "The Iron Law" are the perfect examples of this and are the two best tracks on this album with the former's heroic overtones and the latter sounding like the score for a final boss battle in a sci-fi RPG video game. The other tracks however seem to have a more unbalanced mixture and just flat out fail to provide that epic atmosphere that I'm looking for. "Anti-Theist" and "Internecion" are the worst offenders in this case while "Non Serviam" and "Conqueror" do it to an okay degree but not to an outstanding one.
The lyrics have a lot of catchey moments though and I've found myself singing along with them under my breath when I listen to this on my iPod in public, especially "The Iron Law"'s "TOTAL-SYSTEM-FAILURE!" line. David Holch's vocals are mostly on the harsh side on this album with his clean vocals being contained to "Anti-Theist" and "Non Serviam" for better or worse. He doesn't quite pull the clean vox off quite as well as he does in Empyrean.
When you get right down to it, Conqueror basically does the same thing Empyrean and Xenon do. It's still worth listening to and it does run smoothly from start to finish. It's also only 37 minutes long as opposed to 50 on the succeeding two outings, so props to Mechina for not making an overlong album. When this band does stuff right though, they successfully land among the stars so I hope they continue what they're doing.
I recently experienced Conqueror's direct successor Empyrean, and while it had some moments of true brilliance, it was let down by a disaster of a production job that all but neutered whatever little metal appeal remained after taking into account Tiberi's attention-grabbing symphonic textures. With much relief I can report that Conqueror avoids falling prey to the same dreaded pitfalls, even if it still suffers from a few imbalances of it's own.
While the riffs are still unusually buried by most modern standards, I can't help but feel that too invasive a guitar sound would crumble the yin and yang-esque balancing act Mechina employs regarding their metal disposition and the oft-dreaded symphonics. This doesn't mean that they always pull it off here, but the proceedings are certainly more free-flowing than the choppy Empyrean. The guitars' delivery embodies a synthesis of grooving stop-start drones with occasional palm-muted interjections. It tries to be progressive and technical regarding bizarre time-signatures, but ultimately comes off as second fiddle to the soaring keyboard melodies. At their best, the riffs groove along in a Meshuggah-Sybreed sort of way, with the dry and dessicated tone adding to their cybernetic appeal. The distortion never builds into the towering monolith of Martian construct it really wants to be, but it doesn't necessarily detract much either. The only track on Empyrean that had any riffs of note was "Asterion", so Conqueror easily blows it's direct successor out of the aether in that regard.
The band wants the bulk of the appeal to center around the symphonics, and while they are brash and upfront, they more often than not end up quarreling with the guitars over which should man Mechina's ship. When they synths take over they truly take over, like on the intro "Incipient Tragoedia" and "A.D. Astra". It ends up taking tertiary experimental elements like the auto-tuned male vocals to pull Conqueror's sights onto the intended target. As such, "Non Serviam" is the true highlight of the album, going through a number of disparate movements without losing it's footing. The title track and "Anti-Theist" are in a similar vein but tend to meander more often than they should. The band tries delivering a straight up, neck-jerking atom smasher in "Internecion", but Gavin's irritatingly upfront drums really damage it's lasting power. His kit sounds really snappy, irritating, and processed. The buried nature of the percussion on Empyrean forced this deficit into the shadows on said album, but it is harder to hide this time around. The vocals are also more upfront but are just sort of there, not doing much and ultimately falling by the wayside as the esoteric melodies tug at the listener.
Just like it's successor, Conqueror is best digested in a single sitting, as the tracks blend into one another, ultimately forming one cohesive whole rather than a selection of songs. Even if Mechica never truly blows open the hatches like they would like you to believe here, Conqueror is quite consistent and well-meaning in it's haughty delivery. While I was lucky enough to procure a physical copy, the bonus tracks aren't much to write home about. The orchestral variants are nice if you are really that enthralled by Tiberi's compositions separate from the riffs, but the instrumental "Error [Restricted]" sounds like a B-side off of Empyrean and is a track best skipped.
At any rate, this is still one of Mechina's best albums, as a relative measure of restraint is employed regarding the keyboards and the pounding rhythm patterns. Tiberi has clearly got his style down, he just needs to tinker with it ever so slightly to take it to the next level. The grooving, churning nature of the riffs will turn many a metalhead away from Mechina's dapper appeal, so the band is already fighting an uphill battle in that regard. While most of Mechina's later material falls well short, Conqueror gets it right more often than not.
There was a supernova that engulfed the world of metal, and nobody saw it. Have you ever wondered what would happen if Fear Factory was backed by a full out orchestra incorporating electronic influences? I did at one point, and Mechina was my swift answer. Anyone who listened to their previous effort “Tyrannical Resurrection”, would know that the overused word “epic” is the central theme these guys pride themselves on. “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” comes to mind when listening to the awesome track “Assembly of tyrants”, as the mood is apocalyptic yet serene and still carries that catchy fear factory flavor. It encompasses the quiet intensity that avant-garde and progressive metal exemplifies.
With “Conqueror” the results are amplified as they took their previous album and redefined their atmosphere into something more tangible. Drums are relentless, choruses are soaring, guitars are AA guns and the atmosphere: enveloping. Imagine if Hans Zimmer was a head banging freak and decided to make a solo album. This would be his final product.
The album starts with the instrumental “Incipient Tragoedia”, that introduces the album for what it is: a journey. Gladiator immediately comes to mind with the emotional female vocals which leads into a foreboding atmosphere that makes us perceive the feeling of caution. That caution is blasted into the next song “Pray to the Winds”. From then on, the journey begins as an explosion of blast beats and orchestral bliss of biblical proportions start the album out with a proverbial big bang. The growling vocals by Holch are as if Galactus himself was screaming at the stars to split them apart.
The song brilliantly leads into “Anti Theist” , boasting a heavier atmosphere and a more intensified orchestral arrangement signifying the journey is entering an unforeseen conflict. This is where we experience Dave’s cleaner vocals which are filled with awe and authority, again, fear factory comes to mind. ”Non Serviam” Further demonstrates the band’s clean vocal prowess with purposefully repetitive choruses that ooze a triumphant atmosphere. The tracks which i consider to be perfect examples of Mechina's theme are “The Iron Law” and the title track ”Conqueror”, which both have this mental image of a spaceship dog fight taking place across the galaxy. For a metal band to achieve such a vision is an achievement in itself.
The only problem i can find with this album is that even though it is almost perfectly balanced, it is still on the short side. The title track “Conqueror”, though phenomenally well executed, ends as if it concluded at its bridge. Nevertheless, the power of this effort is undeniable. If one loves grandiose movie scores, foreboding atmospheres and relentless machine gun riffing and drumming, Mechina’s Conqueror is just that kind of fix. This movie better have a sequel.