I picked up Dark Empire's Humanity Dethroned a few years ago when it was released. I did this partly because it was a great album, full of thick, meaty riffs, and soaring melodies, but the reason I even knew of the band at all was due to a friend telling me a guy he went to college with was one of the band members and encouraged me to give them a listen. A thin association, but one that allowed me to play Six Degrees Of Separation, where you see how closely you're connected to someone based on the people you know that know them. Here was an awesome band, and I was only two degrees from them. However, when From Refuge To Ruin was released earlier this year, it was another friend who told me about it. This time, instead of telling me he knew one of the guys that played in the band, he made the bold announcement that he, himself, had now joined their group! Brian Larkin, the new vocalist who stepped in to replace Jens Carlsson (Persuader, Savage Circus) after the last two albums, is someone I respect as both a singer and guitarist, and I immediately knew that I had to hear the new album.
One thing that I loved about Humanity Dethroned was how guitarists' Matt Moliti's and Andrew Atwood's death metal vocals complemented Carlsson's raspy, but clean, vocal melodies. What I love even more about From Refuge To Ruin is how much better Moliti's death vocals complement Larkin's voice. While Carlsson did a fantastic job, and I would recommend everyone go out to pick up the last album they did with him, I feel that Larkin's voice is much better suited for Dark Empire. His voice is cleaner, his range larger, and he never sounds as strained as Carlsson, which is more a characteristic of Jens' voice than a comment on his abilities. The fact that Larkin has a cleaner voice makes the distinction between the harsh vocals and his more obvious and lends to the dynamics of the songs. As far as the music itself, Moliti is a riff-producing maniac. You ever read the back of a peanut container and seen a warning that says: "May contain nuts"? I have, and that's as unnecessary as putting a label on this album that says: "Contains guitar riffs that may melt your face." It's a given! Each and every track is filled with stunning fretwork, catchy melody lines, and finger-blistering solos. And while Moliti is still the mastermind of the band, this time we see a number of tracks where songwriting is shared. It's cool to see ex-bandmate, Atwood, with several contributions both musically and lyrically, as well as the inclusion of new vocalist Larkin, and bassist Randy Knecht in the song credits.
Some people view metal music as mindless, more focused on brutality and speed than anything thoughtful or of artistic value. These are people that are close-minded, and who fail to give anything which does not fall within their narrow field of view a chance. I encourage each of you to listen to this album, not only because it isfull of brutal and speedy riffs and licks, but for the beauty of it. Sometimes harsh vocals mask the lyrics, but if one spends time to read or listen to the writing that Moliti has penned for this release, we find ourselves immersed in a reservoir of poetry.
"When I see bloodshed pouring like rain
And I see infants starved and slain
I see the tyrants cloaked like sheep
Telling us all we're kings of peasantry"
~What Man Call Hatred
I would be upset with myself if I didn't take a moment to remark on the title track, which stands out to me as one of the greatest achievements of this album. It contains, in my opinion, the greatest vocal performance Larkin gives us, as well as a fantastic collage of the musical spectrum. Flowing back and forth from mellow to aggressive, filled with acoustic segments, slabs of savory guitars, and a brilliant melody played by flute and accompanying guitar, all on top of a string orchestral section. While it's a long song, it doesn't feel like it, and something about it just burrowed into my bones and kept resonating even after it had some to an end.
Dark Empire has created a great album, and one I will be interested in seeing them trying to top. The inclusion of the new members has changed the band, undoubtedly, but it's a change that pleases me to no small end. From the opening "A Plague In The Throne Room" all the way to the epic guitar battle between Moliti and Larkin (did I mention he plays guitar too?) in the 13 minute epic "The Cleansing Fires", the group assaults our ears and brains with intense riffs, beautiful melodies, and a burning musical creativity. To them I say, "Bravo, and thank you!" and hope they continue to stoke those embers of songwriting.
For more on Dark Empire:
Buy "From Refuge To Ruin" at Amazon
Buy from iTunes
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