Dark Empire – From Refuge To Ruin (*Pre-Owned CD, 2012, Nightmare Records) Prog Power Metal ala Nevermore
Well cared for
Dark Empire returns with a vengeance with this highly impressive metal masterpiece! If this doesn't end up being my album of the year I'd be shocked. Where to start? Well first off you can ignore any reviews that have been panned online by various metal websites and there so called experts? This album is getting dumped on relatively speaking for the quality of album this is. Seriously makes me wonder if they are listening to the same album or vise-versa?
To start Dark Empire plays a very heavy and melodic blend of thrash/prog/power/death metal a lot like Nevermore to be honest. But hey Nevermore are one of the most original and best metal bands ever so what's not to like about that? Besides they definitely are not a clone it's just there's not a lot of other bands you could compare them to.
I do own their previous album `Humanity Dethroned' which is a good album too, but with 'From Refuge to Ruin' everything has been taken to a whole new level! We are talking some brilliant song writing here from guitar virtuoso `Matt Moloti' who must be the most under-rated guitarist in metal today. Most importantly Matt is all about the songs here. No long breakdowns of guitar wankery thank God! Matt's skills and creativity are clearly displayed within the framework of the songs and virtually every song on this album is a pure winner! The songs are all laced with incredible riffs, solos, and memorable choruses that are accessible immediately yet retain incredible depth and fine detail that are revealed though repeated listening's which give this album incredible replay value. Same goes for the lyrics too which are well thought out and intelligent to match the music.
Another asset that lifts this album to new heights are the powerful and passionate vocals from new singer Brian Larkin! Now the last album featured vocalist Jens Carlson who is outstanding in his own right, but Larkin's performance on this album is nothing short of spectacular! It just sounds like he is really pouring his heart and soul into these songs like a permanent band member and not just a hired gun. His voice is very unique and has a bit of a theatrical quality to it. The most similar comparison I can think of is Andre Deris of Helloween, sounding equally melodic and aggressive at the same time.
They do sprinkle in a few more death vocals from Matt on this album. And while I prefer the singing vocals I have to admit Matt does a great job with the death vocals! Thankfully Brian's clean vox take the lead most of the time but Matt's growls do fit in nicely. I would say that the ratio here is about 75/25 clean over death but I would prefer closer to 90/10. However, I must admit one refreshing thing about the vocal contrast here is at least Brian's clean vox are still edgy and aggressive. I hate this core/emo trend of death vocals contrasted by sweet syrupy clean vocals that sound like they are sung by a boy band? Man that is annoying and thankfully Dark Empire are one of the few bands that don't fall into that trap!
Speaking to the sound and production of the album I have to say it's near perfect! The sound is absolutely massive and crushing, yet crystal clear with good separation between all instruments! I noticed this was recorded by the same guy who did there last album which ironically sounded a bit muddy and unbalanced? Well he must have either gotten a lot better at his craft or perhaps upgraded his recording equipment or something cause this album sounds phenomenal!
Bottom line - This album is killer and shouldn't be missed by any fans of modern (non-trendy) cutting edge metal! This album is on par with some of Nevermore's great albums and will most likely be my album of the year! I can't help but imagine Matt and the gang scratching their heads at reading some of these luke warm reviews. They must be thinking what on earth more can we do? You write these killer intelligent songs with great depth and attention to detail only to read these so called metal experts rip on your album that slays 99% of anything out there today? Dark Empire should be commended for making this album! If you like great cutting edge metal bands like Nevermore, Symphony X, Evergrey, Communic, etc.... this album is a must have! Buy it and support the band please because I want to hear a next one!
1 A Plague In The Throne Room 5:23
2 Dreaming In Vengeance 7:14
3 The Crimson Portrait 4:58
4 Dark Seeds Of Depravity 4:41
5 From Refuge To Ruin 9:39
6 Lest Ye Be Judged 5:49
7 What Men Call Hatred 4:43
8 Black Hearts Demise 4:13
9 The Cleansing Fires 13:56