Release DetailsRELEASED ON 1/1/2013
I haven’t witnessed a production this digitally clean since I saw photos of Intel CPU production
Somewhere in the kingdom of metal, there is an automated facility the sole purpose of which is the mechanical production of terror, or so we have been told. One can imagine one of the mythical workers in this plant going home after a day of fright production and popping a video game in the old Xbox. That video game is Halo, and he spends the next several hours blasting aliens with his blue-collar bros until he finally falls asleep. In his resting mind, the mechanical sounds of his work combine with the epic sounds of his play, and if somebody was able to record this hypothetical dream, in the morning you would have Empyrean.
In the real world, Empyrean is the third album from Illinois natives Mechina. This outer-space fetishizing quartet has been combining videogame soundtracks with syncopated seven-string guitars since 2004, and, amazingly enough, has remained independent of any record label in all that time. In this age of digital distribution, however, their music is still remarkably accessible, and while physical CDs are only occasionally available from the band’s website, all of Mechina’s albums and EPs can be found on Amazon MP3, iTunes, and Spotify.
Musically, Mechina owe as much to Martin O’Donnell and Jesper Kyd as they do to Fear Factory and Meshuggah, and that’s little enough. Joe Tiberi handles all guitars and programmed synths and samples, and it’s obvious that his real talent lies in composition and programming, not string-slinging. The guitars are mainly used as a rhythmical instrument, churning away on the low-B string (thankfully, Mechina has not adopted the eight-strings of many of their contemporaries) in syncopated stutters matched by the kick drum, which is by far the loudest thing on the album.
David Holch’s vocals have two modes—Burton Bell-style roar, and liquid robot vocorded cleans. While I’m on the topic, I haven’t witnessed a production this digitally clean since I saw photos of Intel CPU production. It brings a whole new meaning to Fenriz’s favourite term “plastic sound.” On the other hand, it does fit the theme of space exploration and futuristic technology. You don’t really notice how quantized and produced Empyrean sounds until you throw on something that you normally think has a pretty clean production. Like, I don’t know…Fear Factory.
Fear Factory, is, frankly, the elephant in the room when it comes to Mechina. They’re quite clearly the main inspiration for Mechina outside of Mass Effect and Halo soundtracks. In fact, tracks like “Interregnum” have such a similarity to Fear Factory songs that I started singing along with the lyrics to FF’s “Powershifter.” I’m talking “Viva La Vida”/”If I Could Fly” levels of close. The fact that the metal elements of the band are so derivative takes away from the wonderment of the score elements of Mechina’s sound.
But those score elements make the album. If you’ve played any major video games in the past ten years, you’re going to hear something that you recognize, whether it’s the Assassin’s Creed-esque chanting in “Asterion,” the Halo-tinged sounds of “Elephtheria” or the the Unreal Tournament breakdown in 10 minute album closer “Terminus.” I’m a sucker for that kind thing, which keeps me coming back to Mechina, despite their lack of originality in the metal department. If you’re in it for the bass and drums, though, it gets a little boring. Perhaps that’s why Mechina is on their fifth bassist and drummer, while David Holch and Joe Tiberi (the only members who actually seem to have any creative voice in the music) are founding members.
If you’re a fan of epic scores, space exploration, and Fear Factory, you will most likely enjoy Mechina. Others need not apply.