Armory – Empyrean Realms
Armory – Empyrean Realms (2013)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
No matter how many young American bands take the path of European power metal, it doesn’t seem to cease being a novelty. Massachusetts’ Armory, off the grid for six years between albums, was apparently biding its time most fruitfully, because Empyrean Realms is precisely the kind of out-of-the-blue album that knocks fans of hyper-melodic power flat on our butts.
Empyrean Realms was so unexpected in this manner because it’s well and truly the kind of maturation and full blossoming of potential that we critics always idealize after hearing a band’s debut. How many times have I and other reviewers said “This is good, and it’s got serious promise, but it’s not there yet”? Let me tell you, it happens a bloody ton, and it feels so damn good to have a band actually capitalize on that potential in exactly the way that everyone hoped. The Dawn Of Enlightenment was a good debut – fast, energetic, and more than decent in quality, but the follow-up almost defies comparison to it.
Assuming, however, that readers are not familiar with the debut, let’s make things easy and just say that all the knobs got turned up: power, melody, talent, etc.. Armory has also evolved from sounding like a band following well but modestly in the footsteps of acts like Cellador, Power Quest, newer Pagan’s Mind, and more, to establishing their own blend of power metal that stands proudly on its own. Instrumentation is better balanced, and Armory achieves a superb blend of keyboards (which strike me as substantially more prominent than on The Dawn Of Enlightenment) while maintaining the U.S. tendency for capable, commanding strokes of guitar work. Armory avoids ever sounding light, insubstantial, or “fruity.”
The double bass flight and ripping guitar of “Eternal Mind” is an instantaneous indicator of how the band has continued to develop its sound – and while the signature driving double bass that we power metal fans know and love continues to crop up through the album, Joe Kurland and Chad Fisher are never satisfied to simply chug along on power chords, but instead fill space with a tremolo lick here and a burst of lead during a vocal pause there. And the keys! Almost every song abounds with synth work that integrates oh-so-coherently with the timbre of the guitar’s distortion. I’m not sure how long these fellows played with sounds when they were developing this album, but it’s really remarkable just how compatible the key and guitar tones are.
There are plenty of great tracks aside from the opener. Instrumental burner “Horologium” is a favorite of mine, and the riffy “Inner Sanctum”, with a bass line that snaps and growls from time to time, leaves a quick and permanent impression. However, nothing sticks with me like “Beyond The Horizon”, which is unquestionably one of my favorite power metal songs to come out of 2013 – and probably ever. It’s not even that complicated of a song really, but the stellar keyboard riff during the prechorus, the vocal harmony during the chorus, and the sheer fluidity of the melody works so well, and makes it an absolute feast for the ears.
If I may be allowed one last gush, I’d like to praise singer Adam Kurland. He was good on the debut, and his performance on this album is superb. He’s got a rarely powerful, yet smooth voice (almost similar to Nils K Rue of Pagan’s Mind at times) that slices through the mix and adds to the magical keyboard/guitar chemistry here to further enrich a blend of sound that makes a the complete experience so distinctive and unforgettable (I think the chorus of “Fate Seeker” exemplifies what I’m talking about here).
If you’re a Euro-power fan of any measure, you can’t escape hearing Empyrean Realms. Again, this is something that reviewers seem to say all the time – “you’ve got to hear this!”. Well I really mean it – even I am having a hard time finding anything to criticize about this album. Armory is unsurprisingly well-armed and trained to bring pretty much all the elements of tried and true power metal to bear in a ferocious package that I’m confident will stand the test of time. Make this a priority on your “to buy” list if this recommendation applies to you, and if you’re let down, I want you to contact me personally.
4.5 // 5