Armory – Empyrean Realms
Reviewed by Kevin Hathaway
After a six-year wait with scarce updates, Armory is back with their long-anticipated sophomore album, Empyrean Realms. The band’s debut, The Dawn of Enlightenment, was fast, fun, hyper-melodic DragonForce-inspired power metal, and Empyrean Realms delivers a similar output, picking things right up where the band left off at the end of the first album. There isn’t even an unnecessary 2-minute intro track, you just get thrown right into the action. The songs are a bit slower on average, but have a great celestial atmosphere thanks to more prominent keyboards and lyrics that revolve more around the cosmos and existential themes, as opposed to the more fantasy-laden lyrics of the debut (even the instrumental is named after a constellation).
Aside from those small changes, if you’ve heard the debut then you should know about what to expect here—elongated twin lead/keyboard solo trade-offs, bouncy shred-happy guitars, and uplifting vocal melodies with pretty clear influence from Tobias Sammett. Sure, that’s not exactly an original formula, but it brings back an element of fun that I think has been missing from a lot of power metal releases this year – the sort of fun that brings me back to my early days of discovering the magical genre that is power metal, when I first heard Power Quest and DragonForce and well, Armory’s first album. Seriously, this is probably the second-most fun I’ve had listening to power metal this year, right behind Sharky Sharky.
Despite the formula (and the six-year wait), the music sounds fresh and energetic, like the band members carbon-froze themselves and their riffs right after The Dawn of Enlightenment, and then came out 6 years later with another batch of rip-roaring solos and catchy choruses raring and ready to go. In their carbon-frozen state, the band also all had the same trippy, carbon-induced vision (what, carbon freezing doesn’t get you high? Well excuse me, do I look like a scientist?) wherein they ventured to the furthest reaches of space and decided to base the lyrics off of that literally impossible drug trip.
There’s also an admirable stubbornness, an unwillingness to succumb to many modern power metal trends at play here. There’s no cheap, crappy, stock Felipe Machado Franco artwork, no death metal grunts or black metal shrieks for a false sense of “br00tality”, and nothing is overloud or overproduced. There are no lame hard rock moments like recent Edguy or Crystallion albums. There’s not even a cheesy power metal ballad to be found here. This is power metal in its most bare-boned and purest form, bringing back to mind the glory days of the early 2000s when bands like Heavenly, DragonForce, Freternia, Galloglass, and other shred-happy power metal bands were just bursting onto the scene. Highlight songs? Well heck, all of them are highlights, really. The instrumental “Horologium” isn’t as memorable as the rest (it feels like it could use some lyrics), but “Dreamstate” is a melodic barnburner of a tune, and the keyboard intro and outro of “Quest For The Fleece” slaps the biggest smile on my face with how majestic and ethereal they sound.
In short, this is a fantastic album. It deliberately avoids reinventing the wheel, and is successful in not having done so. It has a timeless, winning formula of constant guitar acrobatics and melodies delivered with vigor, heart, and passion. Fans of the band’s debut will surely not be disappointed.
4.25 // 5