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Mechina definitely have a unique concept here, and if Empyrean delivered for its entire duration it could have been something special. Sadly, the bloated nature of music this layered and aspiring makes for an especially draining and tired listening experience. The guitars are buried behind walls of programmed synths and saccharine female vocals. I'm making the assumption that the female cleans are programmed using software (similar to recent Skyfire) due to a lack of credits on the album, but I could be wrong. They almost always sound like Enya and summon a Middle-Eastern atmosphere, so much of Empyrean ends up sounding like the soundtrack to Gladiator with chugging guitars, swirling keyboards, and a more structured rhythm backbone behind it.
The prime complication is that there isn't a whole lot of variety to the proceedings. It doesn't help that every track intentionally bleeds into the next, blurring the lines between the actual songs. For example, half of the build up to "Imperialus" exists on the tail end of the proceeding track, so just listening to it alone guts some of its potential. Regrettably, the listener almost has to sit down and approach Empyrean as a single, exhausting experience. The guitars are primarily atonal chugging patterns in lock-step with the drums. I can count the number of times the guitars appear without syncopated drums behind them on one hand. The opener, "Asterion" features the best of the riffing, after that you almost forget about the guitars because the atmosphere begins to shift as one nears the middle of the album.
Empyrean makes a strong case for itself from the beginning of "Interregnum" to the end of "Anathema". These three tracks should be viewed as one single song, with an engrossing atmosphere and a great sense of subdued aggression on the keyboards. This subdued aggression was discarded by the band for their 2014 release Xenon, which featured more brash synth arrangements that ended up sounding like modern Nightwish and gutting the atmosphere. The auto-tuned male vocals add more than they detract, pushing the already faceless death growls farther into the background. Amarantos' bass is barely audible, but it does boast a natural, flat timbre which coexists well considering the clashing styles present here.
Empyrean ends up crumbling under its own weight at this point, with only the title track leaving anything of an impact out of the remaining material. It features some more impressive keyboard melodies and clean male vocals, proving that the shorter, less progressive material is the most memorable and searing. The overlong closer "Terminus" drives the aforementioned point home, being doggedly difficult to navigate, the overlong beast that it is. People draw a distinction to Fear Factory here, but Mechina lacks the songwriting skill of the former, and this album is just way too bloated. There was promise here, but the band just didn't deliver on 2014's Xenon, making Empyrean their most impressive album.
I'll admit that I find myself drawn to metal music with an epic atmosphere even if it ends up sounding corny and theatrical, which admittedly is quite often. Like all other music though, there's a good and a bad way to go through an idea. Today, we have Empyrean, the latest symphonic metal album from Mechina of Illinois as an example of a great concept of epicness with mediocre execution.
Indeed, Empyrean takes a theatrical approach to the epic sound. Its futuristic themes and elements make it sound like it was written for a sci-fi action anime. The most clear sounding instrument here is the symphony mimicking program; in fact, the majority of the sound you'll hear from this album is symphony. Even after the guitars and drums on a song cease playing, the symphony instruments will keep playing and will play into the next song making all the tracks kinda mold together into a single piece of music.
While the symphony sounds nice and clear and turn out to be pretty enjoyable for the most part, the guitars and drums on the album sound really abrasive, just poorly produced. In contrast to the symphony, the metal instruments sound out of place. The guitars in particular sound really weak. Even if they sounded better in the mix, the riffs themselves for the most part sound uninspired and boring. There's no leads and the riffs are largely comprised of chugging. There's only a handful of catchy moments as far as the guitars go such as the bridge on "Infineon". The guitars were probably thrown in the back to make the symphonies have more presence, and doing so really brings this album down.
Lastly, there's the clean and harsh vocals. The harsh vocals aren't anything special, but I do find the higher ranged clean vocals enjoyable as much as the next closet Blood Stain Child fan. They tie back in to the epic yet theatrical aspect of this album when the vocalist tries to sound like a power metal singer and he goes...
"Send your cries to a vacant sky Shrouded in darkness, I stand Pleading for the light to shine again"
...among other things. And as you can see, the lyrics are cheesy as well but not really in enough of a way to disrupt the album. They were going for some humanity in space science fiction; while not incredibly unlikable, they weren't very interesting either. It's not a story I'm going to be remembering.
There is some fun to be had with Empyrean, but it does get old fast. There were definitely good ideas on this album that could have been executed better; but "Anathema", "Eleptheria", and "Infineon" are the most memorable here with nothing much to write home about otherwise. It's worth listening to once or twice, but it's not worth keeping.
Deep in the heart of an unknown galaxy lies a planet engulfed in fire and destruction, where war has begun and hope is about to end.
That little sentence basically sums up the music of Empyrean, a forceful blast of fiery death metal, cyber/industrial passages, and full-blown, epic film score symphonies. Coming in at nearly 50 minutes, the album doesn't stop for a second, with only the 'Cryostasis_Simulation' interlude track halfway through. There are a few similar bands that could have influenced Mechina, such as Neurotech, Fear Factory, The Faceless as well as symphonic metal bands like Epica or Therion and other possible influences of soundtracks from famous films such as the likes of 'Star Wars' and 'Avatar'. All of these influences does give the impression of too many elements put into one album, however it is definitely an interesting approach.
Empyrean flows through each songs to the reaction of being a soundtrack of an epic cyberspace movie, which is absolutely great, if slightly incoherent. The album throughout has trademark death growls, clean male, sampled female vocals, and a 'mechanical' choir placed around the album, but rather disorderly, creating chaos around Empyrean. The same goes for the music; a range of death metal built up around orchestral and electronic samples is simply hectic, and if only Mechina took a bit more time arranging the album, we could have something really fantastic. The metal instrumentation and guitars doesn't sound pushed enough, compared with the vocals or symphonies, which take the most command of the album and feels very claustrophobic at times.
Each song cannot be divided up thanks to its current flow of steady sound into the next track, so picking out a highlight is tricky to find. A personal recommendation would go to 'Anathema' with its bombastic choirs, ethereal female, and powerful male vocals assembled like a vigorous stance in the battlefield of outer space. The production of the album isn't as crystalline as a quality movie soundtrack, but there still is plenty of room for improvement in every department and Mechina have more than enough talent to make it work. Empyrean is a real nugget of sound just waiting for you to embrace and discover its energy.
On the whole, Empyrean is a superb album full of exciting and very experimental elements consisting of death, industrial, symphonic, cyber, and even gothic metal elements scattered throughout. Mechina have possibly made their own sound with Empyrean and have an undeniably promising future ahead. Get ready to enter your spaceship and fight your way through till the end.
I've been a fan of Mechina for a few years now, the little-known band with a massive sound. I heard an early version of the song "Anti-theist" and was instantly hooked by the Fear Factory-esque riffs combined with the orchestra and electronic elements to create an amazing sci-fi atmosphere. When Conqueror, their second album, was released back in 2011, I was completely blown away and Mechina secured their spot in my list of favourite bands. The album was incredible, but not perfect (disappointingly short songs for this type of music being my biggest complaint). Nevertheless, I followed the band and was ecstatic when the announced the successor to Conqueror. The release date was set for 1/1/12, exactly a year after Conqueror, and I waited patiently.
This release date, unfortunately, was delayed by a few months at first, and then all the way to 1/1/13. I was disappointed, of course, but understood that the band believed they couldn't put together a satisfactory album in just a year. However, they released the single Andromeda in the spring of 2011, which made many fans happy. The near 10-minute song was nothing short of magnificent and was the second in the musical equivalent to a film trilogy that the band was creating (Conqueror being the first, Empyrean being the third).
When pre-orders for Empyrean began a couple of months ago, I quickly paid my $20 for the disc. The band posted teasers and even full songs from the album (though only for a few hours at a time). Hearing parts of the finished product made the waiting even worse, but what I heard was amazing. Eventually, my copy arrived in the post on 10/1/13. I immediately put the disc into my PC, put on my headphones and prepared myself for what might be one of the best albums I will ever hear, certainly one of my favourites this year.
I only had to hear the instrumental intro to know that this was greater than Conqueror and Andromeda. The orchestras and electronics are some of the best I've ever heard, not just in the metal genre, but including movies and video games. The band's wall-of-sound production is great: this was made with surround sound systems in mind.
The orchestra is very much the star of the show. This is some of the best composition I've heard. Obviously influenced by the Halo and Mass Effect series, as well as Hans Zimmer's work in Inception and the recent Batman movies, Joe Tiberi is one of those composers that is shamefully unknown. Hollywood, you're missing out!
A new element in the band's sound is female vocals. I'm not sure if they are a product of the excellent programming, because they sound quite real, but the only woman credited on the album is a voice actor who appears in track 7. Regardless, "she" complements Dave Holch's vocals very well. A wise decision to include these.
Speaking of Dave Holch, his vocals are on top form on Empyrean. His growls are better than before, and his soaring clean vocals, reminiscent of Burton from Fear Factory, bring the atmosphere to new heights. There are some effects used on his voice, but not excessively so, mostly used to reinforce the sci-fi sound.
The industrial chugging riffs are back, and there are moments where they take the lead instead of the orchestra, which is a welcome feature- this is a metal album, after all. They aren't the most memorable or creative, but they're nice and heavy, and work well with the phenomenal drums to create a solid rhythm.
The lyrics continue the interesting story of a futuristic battle between humanity and faith (both internal and external) found in the last two releases, with a beautiful ending promoting freedom and logic and all that good stuff. They read almost like a film script, which complements the film score-like orchestra.
Regrettably, the bass isn't very audible. As we hear in the majority of metal, it adds to the heaviness, but it's not utilised as a proper instrument on its own. Another of my complaints carries over from Conqueror and Andromeda- no guitar solos. Hopefully we can hear these on the next release.
In conclusion, this is a brilliant release. If you like atmosphere, you'll find it in spades. Some metal purists might not like that the guitars take a back seat to the orchestra, but if you've got an open mind and a enjoyment for sci-fi, you'll appreciate this gem. Buy it now!