Review Summary: The Cycling Tides of the Cosmic Sea
Chicago’s Mechina isn’t a group known for their subtlety or restraint. The group has been slamming their way through the 2010’s with one of the weirdest, most out-there conceptual universes in metal today, but they’ve done so in an oddly confident way. Now five studio LPs in, Mechina are turning the gears once again, swimming the waters of space and time. Actually, “swimming” isn’t the best word. More like “treading.” Mechina’s Progenitor
doesn’t do much new at all. It uses many of the same ideas, the same visions, the same directions across its entire length. It’s a safe record, but it’s a safe record that still manages to provide enough heaviness and texture to be worth experiencing. And that’s easily the most impressive thing about Progenitor
: for all its cycles, it still sounds cosmic.
The conceptual nature of Mechina’s work has become a cornerstone of their extensive discography, but its indulgence on spacey, epic, bombastic battlecries has ranged from the metaphysical to the just plain silly. Progenitor
continues that trend with more interplanetary shenanigans than your average listener can take. Mechina’s narrative is simply impenetrable at this point, so unless you’ve been tracking the band’s yarns since Day 1, Progenitor
’s deeper meaning won’t be visible whatsoever. It’s not a progressive metal album that can stand alone, but you might find the elegant and poetic lyrics to offer some minor curiosity for you throughout the listen. Just don’t expect much context or clarity.
But even if you ignore the infinite rabbit hole that is Mechina’s universe, the band’s indulgent and fully anthemic music simply can’t be ignored. Taking cues from heavy metal mainstays like Fear Factory and jacking in bombastic and operatic composing in the realm of Ayreon, Mechina continue to equip starship fleets of soaring strings and slamming riffs. The music reaches out as far as it possibly can, as nearly every track on Progenitor
just rises with at least one often-lengthy moment of crescendo-ing climax (though it frequently doubles down and aims for more). “Cryoshock” is an echoing slammer with the siren calls of Mel Rose gently drifting across tumultuous riffs. Bringing Rose back for the new record was a strong decision, as her vocals juxtapose well against the heavy metal aesthetic, especially on “The Horizon Effect”, her best performance on the album.
In fact, the rougher vocals are actually quite spaced-out, which is a nice choice, but one that gives Progenitor
a bit less bite than other metal albums of its subgenre. The exceptions (most of which sit in the latter half of the LP) include “Planetfall”, a full-on call to arms packed with dense percussion, a great guitar solo finisher, and echoing metal yells. It’s blistering and borderline claustrophobic, but it’s a nice turnaround from the more symphonic tracks from the middle segments of the record. The title track closes out the record with more uplifting melodies and all the same spiraling climactic soars that so much of the album delivers already. It’s not as heavy as other tracks like “Anagenesis” or “Planetfall” before it, but it still feels like a fitting closer for the record, albeit an unsurprising one.
And that brings it all together: Progenitor
isn’t that distinctive of a record. Mechina aren’t much for invention beyond their own narrative ambition. Progenitor
doesn’t really do anything too new for the group, aside from a slightly stronger emphasis on cleaner vocals. It’s dense and often the tracks will blend together into a galactic cyclone; it’s not a record that can be listened to in parts. It’s easy to think of it as the score of a movie, not a progressive record that you can instantly sit down and ponder over. Even the biggest mindbenders of technical or progressive records tend to have bits of distinction or accessibility. Progenitor
isn’t really that accommodating or notable in either regard.
is a lot to take in, and I’d be lying if I said that every single moment Mechina uses feels honed and essential, but the amount of scope and ambition driven into this LP’s aesthetic is still something impressive. The subtle traces of curiosity are easy to overlook behind enormous waves of metal edge and operatic compositions, and although a few more risks could’ve been taken, Progenitor
is still a cosmic blend of rhythmic metal with symphonic texture. There isn’t too much here that Mechina hasn’t done before, but for a band that’s been sticking to their guns for this long, it’s pretty impressive to see the clock gears still free of rust. For now, anyway.