What is it that draws so many to love science fiction, despite the jokes, the isolation and the judgement? I would argue that the factors attracting fans to science fiction are the same that give progressive metal an audience: ambition, bombast, and an ability to transcend mundanity while creating something huge, inspiring, epic and yet somehow admirably human. Longstanding Chicago project Mechina have capitalized on both of these genres, weaving together a multiple-album-spanning progressive metal space opera. This narrative has expanded rapidly with the release of a new record each year since 2011. The saga’s newest installment, As Embers Turn to Dust, closes the first half of the story that began on Conqueror and builds on Mechina’s established sound with greater focus on emotive, cinematic aspects.
If you’re not familiar with Mechina’s over-the-top symphonics and low-tuned grooves, “Godspeed, Vanguards” is a solid introduction to the band. The nine minute track is full of robotic singing, narrative spoken word sections and celestial sound design. These elements thread their way through a mix of grand orchestration and galloping riffs that is almost quintessentially Mechina. Admittedly, the Cynic-esque, manipulated clean vocals may not be to every listener’s tastes. But regardless, Mechina have become better and better at utilizing this approach over the course of their career; these vocals provide hooks and diversity amidst the group’s ambitious arrangements.
Throughout As Embers Turn to Dust, we are exposed to the next chapter in Mechina’s huge sci-fi storyline. I am not thoroughly familiar with the overarching concept of these albums, but the compositions are narrative in themselves. In some ways, Mechina seem to write their music as a film score composer might. Instrumental, piano led tracks like “Aetherion Rain” and “Thus Always to Tyrants” capture the imposing beauty of space; yet these tracks seem fragile and human, conveying the isolation and hope one might experience travelling amidst the cosmos. It is their ability to appeal to genuine human emotion that makes Mechina’s otherwise mechanical approach successful.
Mechina occupy a unique space in symphonic metal. Whereas Into Infernus or Fleshgod Apocalypse use orchestration to maximize a haunting, imposing atmosphere, Mechina use these elements to convey a multitude of tones, from inspiring and adventurous to lost and bleak. “Unearthing the Daedalian Ancient” runs the entire emotional gamut. Uplifting choral lines open the track before punishing growls and an absolutely evil riff (starting at 4:22) take hold. “The Synesthesia Signal” features new vocalist Mel Rose’s voice to great effect, delivering melodies that are equally catchy and cosmic. I would’ve personally enjoyed more of her dynamic vocals throughout the record as the other vocal performances can grow tiresome. The title track closes As Embers Turn to Dust with four minutes of sci-fi sound design and minimalist instrumentation. While I’m sure this piece plays a part in concluding this half of the story, but it’s not a particularly gripping end to an otherwise adventurous record.
Following in the epic narrative steps of acts like Coheed & Cambria, Mechina created a progressive metal identity that is uniquely their own. The band has built an unmistakable sound over the course of their career, and As Embers Turn to Dust does not deviate much from it. However, in comparison to last year’s Progenitor, we can hear the group growing in their compositions. Industrial tendencies are less prevalent, and a more score-like, emotionally driven approach shines bright amidst the album’s ten tracks. As Embers Turns to Dust showcases Mechina’s continued maturation, and I look forward to following the further exploration of their ongoing concept.
FFO: Cynic, Fear Factory
Notable Tracks: “Godspeed, Vanguards”; “Unearthing the Daedalian Ancient”; “Thus Always To Tyrants”