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Great prog metal with MDM elements - 96%

concertmusic, May 1st, 2012

It can be fun to pull up to a work by a band that seems to defy classification. One never knows what to expect – and that is certainly true with this latest offering from Dark Empire. The band's overall sound has developed from one that fit best in the power metal arena with their previous two releases, to one that is not quite as easy to place - but read on.

The biggest change since the 2008 release “Humanity Dethroned” is certainly on the vocals front – where Brian Larkin has stepped front and center. Every time he opens his mouth, my first reaction is to double-check that it is NOT Russell Lande from Symphony X doing duty as guest vocalist – and no, every time I check it is still Brian Larkin. Better yet – Larkin does not suffer by this comparison. At least to me, this is what Symphony X could sound like if they sped things up some and put down the hammer.

I do need to qualify the comments on vocals in several respects: Larkin only compares to Lande when he pulls out his progressive/aggressive singing style. During the ballad passages present in parts of several of the tracks found here, his vocal range is impressive, but no good comparison comes to mind. Then there are the growled vocals provided by Matt Moliti – if you were still thinking SX, as soon as Moliti appears on stage, all comparisons along those lines disappear, and we enter melodic death metal territory. However, here too can comparisons be handy – my initial thought is Scar Symmetry.

The song writing varies greatly – we have tracks from just under 5 minutes to over 14 minutes, with a mid-point around 7 minutes per track. In true progressive metal mode, we have lots of key changes, lots of tempo changes – but what stands out most are the number of mood changes – or genre changes, if you will.

Dark Empire really understand how to use the various talents they have at their disposal in this regard – amongst only 3 permanent band members. Larkin moves seamlessly from subdued ballads to Russell Lande progressive/power territory. Moliti intersperses deep and dark growls at just the right times, and the fit with both vocal styles and the instrumental composition is just right.

Moliti’s guitar work is just as varied as the vocals – he shreds one minute, he makes his instrument sing, he flies through very progressive solo sections, then hammers us with death metal distortions, and the occassional side trip into doomy slowness – little is left out of the repertoire during the 62 minutes here.

The rhythm section, composed of Randy Knecht and session drummer Matt Graff, close the circle and provide just the right amount of progressive metal thunder or death metal blasts as required.

The production is excellent - and a huge improvement over the prior release.

For those looking for one track to listen to in order to get an idea of the whole disc, I would recommend turning to the final track “The Cleansing Fires” - 14 minutes that amply represent this entire work in a (large)nutshell.

If you like Symphony X and can handle very well-done melo-death influences, or if you are into melodic death metal, but can appreciate tangents into superbly crafted prog metal, this is for you. Highly recommended, without reserve.