Halfway into celebrated chamber rock ensemble Esmerine’s latest album, it becomes clear that each track conveys a distinct sense of place, orchestrating striking scenes of solemn despair and passionate resistance. Conjuring images of industry and pollution on “La Lucha Es Una Solo” and referencing Argentina’s 2002 popular rebellion in the title of “Que Se Vayan Todos,” the arms of Mechanics of Dominion are long and far-reaching as they grasp themes of environmental degradation and social disorder through an organic, multi-layered approach to classical composition.
Consisting of past and present members from the most revered projects found on Montreal’s Constellation Records, specifically, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Esmerine persists as a supergroup of sorts, though one with a typically smaller focus when following the usual Constellation blueprint: sociopolitical orchestral rock. However, this latest outing sees Esmerine’s scope widen with soft string arrangements that suddenly give way to visceral rushes of manic drumming and exciting guitar passages.
In comparison to the quiet, washy stillness of 2015’s Lost Voices, this latest release brings a vitality and urgency due in large part to the dramatic, energetic performances. Across the album, synth and string drones hang uneasily behind thumping vibraphone and haunting piano. Tracks move like a storm on the horizon, as calm showers of piano lead to a hail of noise achieved by thunderous drums, booming bass and lightning fast guitar tremolo.
These violent sea changes within a given composition exceptionally set the scene for the album’s suggestive themes. The success of Argentina’s 2002 rebellion, in and of itself a sudden and massive change, is translated by “Que Se Vayan Todos” into an initial tense combination of piano and violin mixed with persistent, interruptive static, which builds and subsequently breaks into a chaotic whirlwind of hyper drumming and jagged strings. This track works as a great example of what Mechanics of Dominion achieves as a whole – lush, cinematic orchestration for powerful emotions surrounding politics and the environment.
Elsewhere, “La Penombre” welcomes a Ngoni that weaves in and out of a descending vibraphone melody with layers of violin and ethereal vocals gradually fading in for the stunning climax. “Northeast Kingdom” provides a respite from the title track’s storm, shifting between weeping strings and patient chords pieced together by a dark, oscillating drone. Each track here successfully explores various emotionally moving melodies and structures while maintaining the same instrumental palette of piano, strings, vibraphone and drums.
Whether it’s the hushed, suspended chords on “La Lucha Es Una Sola,” or the title track’s relentless fury of aggressive orchestral rock, Mechanics of Dominion never lets its guard down with a persistent unease and tension hanging onto each passing melodic phrase. Crafting one of Constellation’s better instrumental releases in the past few years, and improving upon their last album, Esmerine go bigger with a set of tracks for the unofficial soundtrack of the catastrophe that was 2017.
Top Tracks: “La Lucha Es Una Sola”; “Que Se Vayan Todos”
Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent)