Dark Empire – From Refuge To Ruin
I feel genuinely bad for anyone who has to classify Dark Empire under this or that genre. You’d have to cut them into pieces and add one each to the progressive, power, death, and thrash folders. Those are just the influences I myself am picking up on, others may find even more. Whatever it is, it’s great music and as a result of its eclecticism it should appeal to a very wide audience.
Ever since their sophomore effort, Humanity Dethroned, Dark Empire’s lineup has been a bloody mess. The most significant change for many will be the exit of Jens Carlsson (whose future with Savage Circus is also questionable) and the entrance of the unknown Brian Larkin, after Urban Breed briefly flirted with the idea to join the band. Larkin handles himself very well and I can’t honestly say I miss Carlsson despite the man’s obvious talents. The newcomer reminds me of Sons Of Seasons’ Henning Basse, who also possesses the ability to go from deceptively soft to openly aggressive in a matter of syllables. Although I’m quite sure Breed would have fit into this role quite nicely as well.
Sound-wise, From Refuge To Ruin is even more of a melting pot than its predecessor. Yet at the same time it feels more organic: whatever elements are tossed into the mix, the end result is differentiated but balanced. Fundamental in every song are the thrashing riffs, patches of harsh vocals (courtesy of last remaining founder Matt Moliti), flashy lead guitar work, and captivating choruses led by Larkin. The overall mood seems to be one of conflicting emotions, of looking at a world in rot with a pervasive sadness or all-consuming brutality. In this regard “A Plague In The Throne Room” serves as an excellent introduction to both music and theme.
While songs continue along this track, they add their own little elements. “Dark Seeds Of Depravity” opens with a melancholy old-timey violin only to be crushed by the pounding rhythm section. Clear acoustics kick off the title track, while “Black Hearts Demise” is benefited by some refreshing melodic guitar work in the intro before another burst of screams tears it apart. In short, Dark Empire never lets you settle into one mood, but keeps your attention up by shifting between hope and desperation, serenity and aggression, refuge and ruin. The closing epic “The Cleansing Fires” is perhaps the standout of this constant mood swinging, rapidly changing tone and tempo with relentless intensity.
Dark Empire occupies an elusive space in the genre spectrum, being one of the most versatile crossover bands I can think of. Ultimately, From Refuge To Ruin is a metal record. Innovative and challenging, for sure, but saying no to those riffs and the passion with which they are played, is saying no to metal in general.
Arno Callens’ Rating: 4.0 out of 5