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I've had a fair amount of interest in Empire, particularly because they featured former Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin at the helm and had put together a sound that is pretty close to the late 80s era that said band had a good run of more melodic and epic sounding material. They have something of a super-group status when accounting for bassist Neil Murray and drummer Mike Terrana being in congress, though they've thankfully managed to avoid the common trap among such outfits by allowing clashing egos to get in the way of a consistent sound. With the exodus of Martin from the fold now, this band has become the sanctuary of a somewhat younger veteran in Doogie White, who came fresh off of becoming the latest statistic in Yngwie Malmsteen's growing list of former lead vocalists. His somewhat grittier, bluesy, semi-Dio oriented style contrasts with Martin's; but is still quite conducive to Empire's somewhat modern revisiting of old school heavy metal.
Happily enough, the end result of "Chasing Shadows", the fourth studio effort of this outfit, is a fairly solid one. Guitarist and principle songwriter Rolf Munkes has an uncanny knack for translating the older dogmas of Deep Purple, Rainbow, and Sabbath into a modern production so as to avoid the overtly fanfare oriented pomp of Hammerfall and Dream Evil, while also steering clear of sounding like a complete throwback the way that Axel Rudi Pell tends to. His riffs tend to drive the songs almost as much as Doogie's roaring vocals do, shifting back and forth from being elaborate and simply providing a thudding bottom end to a doom oriented slower song in the ilk of "The Eternal Idol". Perhaps the best example of the former approach that can be thrown out is the speed track "The Alter", which features a set of flowing signature lead riffs out of the Iron Maiden department and a driving gallop trading places with a steady double bass drive that would make Judas Priest proud. When put up against a series of slower, heavier metallic anthems such as "Chasing Shadows" and "Child Of The Light", the contrast is almost big enough to make it sound like two separate projects with the same producer save the constant presence of White's dominant vocal lines.
If there is a single gripe that I have about this album, it's that there aren't any all out classic songs on here that I can sink my cerebral teeth into and sing to myself after the CD has stopped spinning. In spite of the really big sounding production that would rival the latest Mystic Prophecy album in its heaviness, the competent and solid arrangement driving each of these songs, Doogie White's heavily distinctive voice, and the varied approach to songwriting; every single song on here has a sort of tried and true but not much beyond attitude. Rocking offerings like "Angel And The Gambler" and "Mother, Father, Holy Ghost" are a good amount of fun and have pretty catchy choruses, but really wear thin after a couple listens due to sounding heavily similar to a number of songs out of Deep Purple and Dio a couple decades prior to this. Even the most distinctive and fun as hell speed metal cooker "Tahigwan Nights" can't help but remind me heavily of Sabbath's "Trashed", albeit without Ian Gillian's over-the-top vocal ad lib. Every single one of these songs could be heard back to back without need of skipping around, but there isn't a whole lot here that hasn't been heard before and with more intricate ideas.
If given the choice, I'd recommend going to Empire's previous efforts with Tony Martin, particularly to anyone who liked the era of Sabbath when both he and Neil Murray were sitting in for Ronnie James Dio and Geezer Butler. This is by no means a bad album, but it does wear itself out pretty quickly and has a pretty plain approach to it. Doogie White is the primary thing that this has going for it, and in comparison to his work with Rainbow and Malmsteen, this is actually a fairly restrained version of what he is capable of. But if anyone wants to hear what Dream Evil or Metalium would sound like with less speed and arena fanfare, this would be a worthwhile pick up.