It is always refreshing to hear new alternative acts that occupy that elusive space between being individual and mainstream-friendly. Empire do just that. Despite the somewhat unimaginative name, the south-western quintet are really quite good – extremely good infact. ‘Where The World Begins’, the band’s debut mini-album, features what all too many releases sorely miss: character. Even after the first minute or so, this band will stick in your head.
In terms of sound, Empire are relatively difficult to pin down. It would broadly come under ‘rock’ but there are some very distinct eccentricities that keep the band from such a mundane pigeon hole. Often these are minor experimentations in things like key, but sometimes come across in the use of unusual rhythms and harmonies. The feeling comes across that Empire are big fans of bands such as InMe or Fei Comodo, as there is the same feeling of accessibility despite a slightly abnormal sense of tonality. However, this album is very much grounded in a rock sensibility, with hard hitting choruses and catchy riffs dominating the battle plan of each song.
Even though the performances on this album are tight throughout, with great attention to detail paid to the minor details in individual beats and chords, the most impressive talent on display here is undoubtedly the vocals. The extremity involved in singer Joe Green’s vocal is impressive to say the least, and at certain moments I was taken aback – that doesn’t happen very often. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he is one of the most expressive and competent singers in recent years, possibly since Claudio Sanchez came to the scene with Coheed and Cambria. The Geddy Lee-esque range is impressive enough, but the power with which it is delivered is the real accomplishment.
That is not to say that Green steals the show, however. There is a great deal to enjoy instrumentally also. The guitar work is careful, refined and nuanced enough to attract the attention of keen ears but provides enough of a solid punch to both back up the vocals in their crescendos and help to form the framework of the tracks – in other words, they’re interesting and creative when the situation warrants but don’t distract from the song as a whole. Bass and drums work very much to the same blueprint. Though less nuanced, they form a strong rhythm section and pop every so often to keep your ears on their toes (a weird image but true nonetheless). A good example of this would be the intro to opening track ‘Black Hearts’, which incorporates a subtly off beat snare hit that catches the ear without drawing particular attention to itself.
As a bottom line, this is a great mini-album, especially for a debut ‘official’ release, and a particularly ambitious one to boot. It exists on that fine line between individuality, creativity and mainstream accessibility, which is neither easy nor frequent. Empire should be applauded for their effort, even if none of it went into their name.
‘Where The World Begins’ by Empire is available now on Lightside Records.
Words by Ben Kosma (@BenKosma)