1999, Self Release
This CD starts out on somewhat of a bad note because the first song 'Eternal Suffering' is one that I feel really should have been sent to the rear of the playing order - it is not their best (perhaps it is an older song and the band felt they worked on it enough to justify placing it first, I don't know) and it gives a poor first impression because of the overwhelming 'epic' keyboard noodling and the second-rate thrash guitar underneath. While listening to this first song I could easily imagine these guys headbanging in their rehearsal room or garage, giving each other the sign of the horns and grinning, etc. In other words: masturbatory. But that's fine because the second song completely redeems them in my eyes (and ears) and moves them into original territory. This song, 'Spellhaunt', is actually very good, with high trebly guitar slashes of frosty black metal melodicism and synth work that sets up attractive atmospheres above the speeding rhythms. This song actually reminds me of Nocturnus, or early Gehenna at times, if you can believe that. They may label this 'black metal' (that term is meaningless now anyway) but this is actually closer to something a fly on the wall Bay Area band from the late '80s would have put out: crunching guitars, steady double-bass drums, frilly pointless solo work, obvious lyrics. In other words: heavy fucking metal, all the way.
Fallen Empire spread over these six tracks varied attempts at creating a personal or idiosyncratic style of black metal - and they partially succeed in their best moments, so I think I can call this CD a triumph for them. I don't know how much time they put into the composition of these songs, or how involved all the band members were in their construction, but almost all the material on this little disc shows moments of true inspiration and an affinity for (or understanding of) the dark art of black metal. The guitar work carries the bulk of material, fighting the keyboards every step of the way (see my review of Dimmu Borgir's latest) and that is a great thing to hear. If you want me to concede that keyboards are now a vital part of black metal lyricism, I at least reserve the right to claim that it is in the space between the guitars and the synths (in the stress that the two create in their clash for dominance) where the true meat of this kind of music is to be found. So yes, I like the guitars on this release.
I like the vocals as well, they are limited to monotone high screeches and screams (somewhat low in the mix) that make me think of a Japanese girl crying out at the climax of her auto-erotic asphyxiation, or a rabid dog choked with its own chain. Think Varg Vikernes when he was a misunderstood teenager eager for world acceptance (i.e. Aske) or Ihsahn before he discovered he had a secret need to go back in time and assume the form of King Diamond. I especially like the way the vocals completely differ from the flow of the guitar music at times, setting up a bizarre juxtaposition that usually only happens in demo bands. It's good to hear things like that, little unpolished segments of music, because they remind you where all this black metal comes from: individuals crying out in their isolation for a chance to 'express' themselves. Black metal is the new punk: make no mistake about that. It gives the unwashed masses an entry into rock stardom...and in the meantime Sid Vicious is spinning in his early grave. Oh well.
I don't know how far this band is going to go (they're from Arkansas after all) or how far they can carry this style of music, but I applaud the energy and drive they display on this release and I wish them luck in the future.
By the way, this CD also comes with two extra tracks from an earlier demo, which show (to nobody's surprise, really) that these guys were once a death metal band. And so it goes...