Review Summary: Grandiosity redefined.
In what was arguably an incredibly mediocre year for post-metal as a whole, the genre's domineering release was, unfortunately, heard of by few and actually listened to by fewer. Return
, the sophomore full-length of British ambient sludge act All the Empires of the World
, truly is an enigma. Seemingly released out of nowhere by a band that not many knew of to begin with, it was met with very little fanfare, existing only as a free digital download on the label's website and the group's Bandcamp. This lack of recognition is an utter travesty, for in a year with so little proficient post-metal to latch on to, Return
satisfies in utterly every way imaginable. Over five tracks and 54 minutes of slowed-to-a-crawl, highly atmospheric sludge, this album spans more territory than anyone else in the genre has for quite a long time.
This is not, in any sense of the word, a truly easy listen. Opener Kings Approach
clocks in at a hefty 17 minutes, with vocals only coming into the mix in the fourteenth minute. God Has a Plan for Me
is five minutes of directionless acoustic meandering, while closer Why Have You Summoned Me"
gives the first two thirds of its duration to am ambient build before the long-awaited climax comes in. But for those lucky few with the patience and attention spans to sit through Return
, it will be a trip well worth taking. The atmosphere that All the Empires of the World
are able to conjure is nothing short of magnificent: an immense, desolate soundscape of gaping sonic abysses, towering peaks, and soul-crushing riffs that never ceases to engage the listener even in its most subdued moments. It is a fierce dichotomy of peace and unfiltered chaos and obliteration, the peace taking the form of lengthy passages of ambiance and the chaos incarnating itself as an absolutely caustic frenzy of variable-tempo riffs accentuated by tortured, aimless shrieks (Return
represents the band's first use of vocals, and it works better than anyone could have ever hoped).
was an incredibly organic montage of beautiful climaxes and calming atmosphere, Return
, while being very similar in a multitude of aspects, is its antithesis. Open tunings previously used to lift one's soul are now used to mercilessly crush it, spaces of atmospheric meanderings now build tension as opposed to relaxing the listener, and the inclusion of a Godflesh
-style drum machine only accentuates the darkness of this album. Everything, from the destructive final minutes of Kings Approach
to the more-than-welcome tempo changes of We Rest in the Valley
to the brooding open-tuning strummings of God Has a Plan for me
, proves All the Empires of the World
to be a trio of truly brilliant musicians. The pure grandeur of Return
only makes the lack of recognition it's received that much more injust, but not all is yet lost. Do yourself a favor and listen to the most epic, grandiose, crushing, and atmospheric post-metal album of 2011. The near-hour you spend doing so will assuredly breeze by, leaving you wondering afterward how you ever could have missed something like this.