Review Summary: Lacking the energy and originality found in the band's previous works, the band's eighth full length comes off as "just another album."
"No one controls our existence/Never have, never will."
Madball have been around for over twenty years, and Empire is exactly the album you'd expect the band to have released at this point in their long career - a career longer than most bands within the genre can only dream to accomplish. Maintaining the same idea that was proposed through the band's debut full-length, 1994's Set It Off, that it is the band against the world, Empire is Madball proclaiming their place in hardcore. Hardcore is the band's Empire.
Or so they'd like you to think.
It's obvious right from opener "Invigorate" that Empire does not compare to the band's earlier classics, such as Set It Off, or 1998's Look My Way, although it is a step up from their latest offerings, notably Infiltrate The System. If you're familiar with the band, you know exactly what to expect - a series of similar sounding tracks led by hardcore veteran Freddy Cricien, all with the signature New York metallic tinge. Freddy proves to be one of the stronger links found within the band this time around, and his vocals are absolutely furious. Lyrically, he continues to grow from the band's previous outings. The band have never been one to restrict themselves, and the album deals with a number of subjects from the British Petrol oil spill incident sung about in The End, to the Hispanic heritage of Cricien and bassist Hoya Roc in Spider's Web and Con Fuerza. Cricien doesn't come off as another tough guy hardcore bro, which is always a positive.
Running at thirty five minutes long, Empire doesn't seem like a daunting listen, but with sixteen songs around three minutes each begging to be heard, the album has a tendency to drag on, and this ruins what little momentum the album had, making the album seem longer than it is. Hell, by the end of All Or Nothing I was scrolling through my iTunes to find out where I was. It sounds as though the veterans of hardcore just wanted to record an album, so they slapped some songs together and called it a day. Everything has a sense of familiarity, as though it's been done before. And it has, both in the form of older NYHC bands like Biohazard as well as newer bands like Trapped Under Ice and Backtrack. Variation is found at some points, such as the lead lines towards the end of All Or Nothing, or the guest vocals in the second half of Shatterproof or even the fact that Con Fuerza is sung in Spanish. But even so, there are enough gang chants, 2-step and half time sections that work against this. R.A.H.C. is almost laughable, as Cricien's chants of "You want hardcore/Real deal hardcore/Well I'm sorry/They say it's dead."
All in all, Empire lacks the energy and spark found in the band's earlier works. The album doesn't come off as angry, it comes off as boring. Sixteen songs in thirty five minutes may sound great on paper, but it makes for a truly daunting listen. Maybe it's time the band give up their empire, and maybe hand the crown over to hardcore newcomers Backtrack.