Review Summary: Eternal Empire sounds more like eternal damnation. What the hell happened?
Pop quiz, how do you feel about unchanging formulae even if they work" Is it okay to be a one-trick pony if you do your trick well" Is lacking innovation acceptable if you still put out a quality product" I'm sure most of you are okay with this sort of thing. Not every album has to be a ground-breaking revolution to be good. Sometimes things just work. There's nothing wrong with being a little generic if you can still make good music.
Which is why I bring up Human Fortress's third album Eternal Empire
, which feels a bit like being stabbed in the ears by AIDS. I really like their first two albums and being the realist that I am reminded myself that the departure of vocalist Jioti Parcharidis was not a kiss of death. Line-up changes aren't the end of the world. Especially considering Jioti was replaced by Carsten Frank of Galloglass, who is about on Jioti's level as a vocalist, if with a slightly more limited range. The trouble is that Carsten and the rest of the band are out of their element.
Human Fortress were always a melodic, epic band. They may have been a bit campy, but it was good fun. Unfortunately, somewhere in the 5 years between Defenders of the Crown
and Eternal Empire
the band... changed. Are you familiar with the story of people with head wounds who start speaking new languages, like the guy who took a spike to the coconut and started speaking French" Imagine that, only instead of French it's angst. That's right true believers, this is a metalcore album with pretentions to power metal.
You know just what you're in for with the opening track, Contrast
. Gone is the melodic riffing and in its place we have de-tuned chugging. Good bye soaring clean vocals, hello metalcore shouts. The pain only gets worse from there. After hearing the awful vocals on Under a Spell
I was ready to give myself a hemp necktie, and the album was only half over! It's not that harsh vocals don't belong in power metal, it's that Carsten is so bad at them. The aforementioned metalcore shouts are mixed in with attempts at emulating Jioti's Bruce Dickinson-esque sneer (which only works occasionally) and some skin-peelingly bad attempts at ripping off Phil Anselmo at his peak. Oh, but it gets worse.
The Pantera rip-offs don't end with Carsten pretending he can switch vocal styles effectively (see Lions' Den
and Circle of Flames
). The chugging riffs often attempt to emulate Dimebag's syncopated, thrashy grooves. This is undermined by the fact that the beats are simplistic and uninspired. It feels a bit more like generic mosh pit fodder for the second stage at Ozzfest than anything really compelling or energetic. The production also tends to make the guitars and bass bleed together into something that sounds less like riffing and more of a muddy mess of meandering mash-ups.
Inconsistency is a major problem with this album as well. Don't get me wrong, the album is consistently bad, but that's not what I'm getting at. The whole thing can't decide where it's going. Under a Spell
features an opening guitar passage that rips off U2 and Yes. The pre-chorus Circle of Flames
sounds like it was written by Jon Bon Jovi. Borders of Insanity
features a synth track in the opening that sounds a bit like a cross between early Children of Bodom and every band that's been ripping Children of Bodom off. Falling Leaves
is clearly trying its damndest and failing to be this album's version of The Valiant
from the previous outing.
To make it worse, the album seems to want really badly to be power metal again. The Wizard
has some wonderful melodies and synth textures and upon first hearing it I was hopeful the album would pick up. Then the chugging came in at about 30 seconds and after that Carsten started shouting and I was back to trying to remember a time when this band didn't suck so bad. The attempt to combine those epic keyboards with the brain-dead chugging grooves is a mistake repeatedly made throughout the album and particularly obvious on Contrast
, made all the worse by the addition of female vocals for no reason.
Several solos and licks on the album show glimmers of what once was, adding an air of tragedy to the whole affair. Torsten Wolf is still a more than capable axeman, which makes one wonder why the hell he's slumming it through this tumor of a record. More often than not he's turning out the most forgettable riffs this side of Linkin Park through tunes like Borders of Insanity
and When Love and Hate Collide
. Tangential, but I don't think there has ever been a tackier song title than the latter. It makes You Give Love a Bad Name look downright butch. And no, the lyrics on this album aren't much better. I'd go into more detail but I'm pissed off enough as it is.
And while I'm still thinking of Linkin Park, that's what The Raven
sounds like. On an album full of terrible ideas, The Raven
out-craps them all by sounding like Linkin Park trying to play power metal. Yes, you read this paragraph right. Yes, that is probably your own screaming you hear.
Without a doubt the most baffling thing about this album is the special edition and the hidden track. Why, you ask" Because the untitled hidden track and the bonus songs are actually really god damn good! The hidden track is an instrumental heavy on melody and chants. It feels like something that could have been off the debut album. It has more verve and catchiness than anything on Eternal Empire
And the two bonus songs are even better. Guide from Heaven
is a symphonic ballad with lyrics I could actually give a shi
t about as opposed to the verbal garbage I had to deal with up to this point. Remember the female vocals I mentioned earlier" We get more of them here, but they actually work this time around. Wrath
has a rather inauspicious title and Carsten turns in a middle-of-the-road vocal performance, but some of the best riffs are to be had here, along with some great melodies reminiscent of their previous two outings.
I ask you: why weren't these songs on the album instead of snoozers like When Love and Hate Collide
and musical carcinogens like The Raven
" Human Fortress were hardly luminaries of the power metal genre, but they were talented, had a tight line-up, and produced some highly enjoyable epic metal about slaying dragons and vanquishing evil tyrants. I wouldn't have them any other way. Sadly, Eternal Empire
shows them trying to cash in on the metalcore trend like so many other bands looking for a wider audience and throwing the power metal fans a meager bone in the way of two bonus tracks that they make us pay extra for.
If Human Fortress want advice on how to redeem themselves after putting out an aborted fetus dressed up as an album, I would suggest looking up Thom G. Fischer of Celtic Frost. If nothing else, looking at Cold Lake
might make them realize they could have done worse.