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Beyond the realms of win - 91%

Andromeda_Unchained, December 5th, 2013

Armory's debut kinda washed over me, creating little in the way of excitement despite it's positively up-tempo and energetic approach. As such I wasn’t exactly clamouring for a sophomore effort; although I will admit that after seeing the album artwork my curiosity was piqued - seriously there's just something about albums shaded in hues of blue, green, and/or purple that work for me (see A Flame To The Ground Beneath, Celestial: Entrance, Transcendence, Awaken The Guardian; yeah, you know the score). So I decided I'd give this one a listen, and damn did I make the right choice.

Yeah this album fucking rules. I spend a lot of time listening to power metal, and to hear a band incorporate just about everything I love in the style is a big deal. More surprising is that it's a band like Armory who've come out of the left-field and lynched us with the finest in the genre for 2013. It's times like these that wading through the seas of mediocre becomes worth it, and truth be told, whilst there have been some superb releases this year; outside of Arrayan Path there's nothing I've found myself wanting to listen to as frequently as I have Empyrean Realms.

What makes this one so good then? A few things actually, all of which come together in blissful harmony. Their balance of the individual instruments for one is absolutely flawless. Guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums are completely unified, complimenting each other the way they should, without any particular instrument hogging the show - outside of solos, of course. Further enhancing the magnificent balance of musicianship is the songwriting itself, which is insanely well done, boasting some exciting twists and deft changes. This leads nicely into their general control over their given style, the vast majority of the power metal sub-styles are touched on here, from the melodic AOR/hard rock infused fare all the way to the prog/power that gets me all flustered and excited.

Now, having cracking musicianship and songwriting skills is all well and good, but to really sell it you're going to want a good vocalist, and Adam Kurland is just that. Whilst I'm normally a dab hand at comparing singers and pegging down who they sound like, Adam has left my mind in a crunch. The best I can come up with for now is Pagan's Mind singer Nils K Rue, although it's more in terms of approach and performance as opposed to tonality that I'm reminded as such. Either way, Adam sounds great throughout with a good bit of variation in his pipes, whether it's bashing out big soaring choruses, or delivering some powerful verse work.

As I’ve said, the songwriting is absolutely ace here, and all of the songs are worth mentioning. From the hyper-charged “Dreamstate” with its fervent riffing that reminds me of early Hibria - crikey, that guitar solo section has the saliva gushing down my chin - to the genre mastery displayed in opening cut "Eternal Mind". “Fate Seeker” kicks up the band’s prog/power elements, coming off as a veritable mix of Pagan’s Mind and Cloudscape; but what is this, a thrash riff attack? Remember when I said these guys dished out some exciting twists and changes? It’s all here, from the aforementioned thrashing to a chorus that would make Freedom Call cry rainbow tears – oh, and did I mention the song is about fucking Elric! Man, this is just too cool for school. Even when they splice some AOR flavouring into their master bred power metal formula it’s ridiculously fun, as evident in the albums ultimate feel good anthem “Inner Sanctum”.

I’m seriously having to refrain from veering off into track by track territory, let me just say this is flat out brilliant across the board – even the instrumental. Each song houses a whole host of killer riffs, ripping guitar solos, pummelling and wonderfully audible bass, perfectly utilized keyboards, and lets not forget the dynamic and effective drums. This is all capped off to suitably pleasing effect with Adam’s endearing vocals, as well as some highly enjoyable and empowering lyrics. Empyrean Realms is essentially fifty minutes of pure power metal ecstasy, a perfect blend of the European and US schools; and of course essential listening for any fan of the style. Whilst the album doesn't break anything in the way of new ground, it's played with the kind of heart and energy that just can't be denied; and really it's one of those albums that will reaffirm your love for the style. Buy this one now, seriously NOW!