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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!