Review Summary: The Chaos Theory in disc form.
The Empire Shall Fall, the band formed in the wake of the dissolution of Seemless
, has been a band that has garnered a great amount of attention over the past year and a quarter. The attention has been garnered due to the debut effort, Awaken.
Two things that can be said about Awaken when the eponymous track first plays, one; this is not Killswitch Engage, other than, Jesse Leach's screams and the use of electric distortion of Jesse Leach's vocals such as within the opening of Voices Forming Weapons, it is a chaotic Meshuggah
hamburger wrapped in the crinkled brown paper of Hardcore. The second point; Jesse Leach is back to what he does best; screaming down crowds, stadiums and, of course, empires.
Jesse Leach's vocals are one of the highlights of this album. The Meshuggah influence can be seen within them, he replicates the rhythmic quality of Jens Kidman's guttural roars with cries of "THIS IS - AN UNSEEN WAR OF WORDS!!" to the guitars within Voices Forming Words. However unlike the "pissed off robot"* Jesse Leach varies his vocals throughout from clean vocals to shouts, screams and spoken word. This vocal spectrum is culmination of his career's work so far and he plays merry hell with it, Choir of Angels' transfer from shouts to spoken word to screams is prime example of this. However his vocals are not without fault, at points his shouts do not sound so much as powerful or rhythmic but like the cry of a petulant teenager. This can be in part put down to the lyrics but more on that later.
Likewise as with the vocals the guitars of Jake Davenport and Marcus De Lisle are varied ranging from jagged and merciless to singular and melodic. They are chaos incarnate, for example within Awaken, they taking a base riff and torture it through slow, fast, whistful and tribal rhythm sections. They work in synchronicity with the rest of the instruments to create the varied moods that work through the songs, transferring from dark static riffs that are exentuated by the bass to mournful guitars. The exchanges work at points in beautiful harmony, Choir of Angels being the greatest example of this where the second and third quarters of the song together almost seemlessly (no pun intended) to create an example of mournfal mood of the fallen exploding into irate rage against the government. However there are points of Meshuggah worship that detract, particularly the fourth part of Awaken, it builds to a blistering end before descending into a slow-chugg. Similarly the addition of Acrid Placidity style Jazz fusions does not always work, the end of Choir of Angels is an example of this where the guitar trails off in a listless fashion. It feels not so much composed but more as if the band was panicking in whispers about what to actually do within those last few minutes. The Meshuggah style that permeats this album also detracts from the originality, The Kingdom is a guitar pastiche of the most influential works of Meshuggah's discography including riffs ripped straight from Future Breed Machine and Stengah.
The bass is another complaint. Like many bands it is something that is pushed to the back and left to collect dust. Within this it does exentuate the guitars and also the mood but that is all it really does; exentuate, nothing else. It never truly shines on its own and when it is given a chance it is only used within aimless jazz fusions.
Drummer Jeff Pitts is given a more positive performance within this. Like the other instruments it enhances the moods but it comes into its own with the varied style, particularly seen within The Kingdom and Our Own where the drums change from repetitive robotic pounding to staccato blasts from a machine gun to singular taps of the cymbals. All of the drumkit is fully used to push forward the instruments in particular the vocals as from 2:31 to 3:25 of The Kingdom, the vocals are played along to drums that create a sense of desolation from the lyrics.
The lyrics are one of the more varied parts of the album. At times they are powerful and bring the mouring and rawness out of Jesse Leach's vocals. Choir of Angels is a good example, at one point, the lyrics preach of a "city in ruins" that Jesse Leach speaks to create an image of the dying embers of an inferno and evoke memories of 9/11. This quickly explodes into screeches of "MURDERERS! BETRAYERS!" The contrast of lyrics and vocals creates this scene. However at other points in the same song, the lyrics become too preachy, even condescending as seen when they call upon the Constitution for every person to stand up for themselves. It is more likely to inspire ire than support. Similarly the preachiness pushes the vocals into the upper regions as aforementioned and the shouts become De La Roché imitating whines. The lyrics also tire of repetition at points with the constant appeals to "Where is our Democracy"!" within both These Colours Bleed and The Kingdom, the appeals at first are wrathful but descend into a tiresome mantra.
Overalll this is a good, in places impressive, album that shows a promise for a powerful fusion of performance and creativity. However for this to be pulled off there needs to be a constistency of originality and quality within all songs, something that with the talent on show should be possible. This is just a wish though as it is a long road for the band. Hopefully from the ashes of their past and this album, within the next album, the band can truly awaken.
*the quote comes from Josh Fountain's review of Meshuggah's Alive.