Review Summary: Filler just got a lot more interesting.
If last year's Return
saw British experimental sludge act All the Empires of the World
going for a completely balls-out approach to their signature sound, rife with frenzied screeches, city-flattening sludge riffs, and crushing crescendos, Old Gods, Old Worlds, Old Wounds
sees them instead opting for a far more restrained take on everything that endeared the act so much to fans on their two previous albums and their four previous extended plays. It still carries over much of what made Blessings
such likeable and unique releases in the first place, maintaining the band's unusual combination of the organic builds so typical of post-metal and Godflesh-esque industrial atmospherics, yet instead of spending its entire runtime (which is the shortest of their full-lengths to this point) on elongated post-rock buildups and destructive finales, it utilizes half its length on more compact experimental pieces. In fact, out of its seven tracks, only two ('The Lion' and 'St. Peter') remotely resemble the bombastic devastation that one would expect from this type of music, the other five tracks ranging from pieces of pensive ambiance ('Demon Rises') to lo-fi acoustic recordings ('The Lovers') to even an eight-minute slab of more traditional post-rock ('Blood Sleeps').
The most fascinating thing about this, however, is the degree of success with which All the Empires of the World
pull off this more restrained, ambient approach. If any number of other post-metal bands had attempted to put only two traditional tracks of sludge on a seven track album, the remainder of the release would have likely been written off as needless filler. True, it is possible that the band themselves conceived much of Old Gods, Old Worlds, Old Wounds
' content in a way that one would conceive filler, as it has been merely a matter of months since they released the utterly devastating and meticulously crafted Return
, but unlike other ambient interludes crafted by lesser acts, those of All the Empires of the World
's latest defy common perception by being engaging and intriguing in a way that is exceedingly rare for this kind of music. Closer 'Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt' is a completely percussion-free odyssey of softly strummed chords, and instead of becoming tedious over its four-and-a-half minute length, its simplicity only serves to maximize its beauty, acting as a fantastically relaxing reprieve after the behemoth sludge track that preceded it, 'St. Peter'. Opener 'Demon Rises,' devoid of any instrument but a sparsely-used piano, is an uninterrupted four-minute slab of tension-building ambiance that is as masterfully crafted as the works of even the titans of ambient meandering, while the similar ambient interlude 'Upside Down Cross,' the shortest track on the album, manages to become one of the greatest works of the band's career even though it lacks any of what made their previous offerings such successes among the few fortunate enough to stumble across them.
However, All the Empires of the World
have not completely diverged from their roots, as they still offer two ten-minute-plus behemoths of mechanically organic ambient sludge sandwiched between the album's multiple interludes. 'The Lion' is a breathtaking excursion of droning, distorted open chords steadily building into an immense wall of sound accentuated by sparse, Jesu-esque vocals and crushing beats courtesy of a Godflesh-style drum machine. 'St. Peter' bears a more than passing resemblance to the sound that defined Return
, again bringing into play a lengthy buildup of open chords and acoustic guitars leading into a massive explosion of crushing guitar lines and tortured shrieks like those first utilized on the aforementioned album. All the Empires of the World
, on 'Blood Sleeps,' even opt for a more typical post-rock song, built from weaving guitar lines, vague atmospherics, and repetition, all leading to an abruptly cut-off false climax. Unfortunately, the song represents one of Old Gods, Old Worlds, Old Wounds
' weak spots. Instead of seamlessly flowing into one and other, the Explosions in the Sky
-isms of this track seem forced, and the listener may feel that the length of the song could have been halved without any detriment to the music. Fortunately, it is the only major misstep on what is otherwise a largely triumphant experiment by a band that deserves far more recognition than they receive. In trading in immediacy and destructiveness for thoughtfulness and ambiance, populating an album with more ambient interludes than there are full songs, All the Empires of the World
have accomplished the extremely difficult task of making something that could be called filler into music that is just as epic and engaging as that which their listeners are more accustomed to.