The music business, as it stands today, is a completely different animal than it was even a decade ago. While the overnight sensations and one hit wonders will still rise and fall like the tides, the love of fans outside of the pop genre isn’t given; it’s earned. Particularly in the heavy music realm, bands often toil for years to achieve the level of respect necessary to go from local favorite to the national stage. And whether that time is spent releasing new material early and often, or merely playing any venue that has electricity and will allow you to plug in, those months and years are as important as any.
For Dead Empires, the last five years have not been wasted. This New York establishment, based in the Mid Hudson Valley, has built a following out of their ability to connect with people. Having played shows all over the Northeast, sometimes to hundreds, and sometimes to dozens, their approach never changes; give the audience, however large, the best show possible. And that willingness to go all out, even when the payoff isn’t multi-platinum success, continues to define them.
That strength didn’t happen overnight, of course. There has been inner turmoil, leading to changes in lineup. Amicable or otherwise, the three current members have the scars and souvenirs to prove it. But it is also this lineup – consisting of bassist DJ Scully, guitarist John Bryan, and drummer Philip Bartsch – that best embodies an integral ingredient in music success: an equal partnership and common goals. They expect as much from themselves as they do from each other, musically and beyond. They strive to get better with each rehearsal, and you can hear it in the finished product.
What that product is, however, is harder to define. It would be easy to simplify and call what Dead Empires does “instrumental metal.” But that two word phrase, like many other genre tags, doesn’t give you a sense of what their music is, and what it stands to be. For the last five years, they haven’t so much decided on a musical direction, but embraced a lack of one. From their first release, 2011’s Monuments to the upcoming full length Secret Snakes/Silent Serpent, the band has evolved and changed. Off came the shackles of style, leaving behind an unbound sense of exploration. Even 2012’s Waiting In Waves, considered by many to be a crowning achievement, can no longer be used to categorize what this band does best.
Instead, they challenge themselves to stay active, creatively, bending their sound without breaking and giving in to the wants of others; labels, fair weather fans, or pay-to-review websites. “Sure, the temptation is there,” says Bryan, when asked if a more mainstream direction looms over them, a forkful of vegan gruel hurdling towards his mouth. “But we just aren’t programmed to write that way.” That doesn’t mean those tendencies can’t be heard, scattered through their tracks like seasoned salt. Many bands, be they signed or struggling, default to the adage “we write songs to be played live,” as if the recorded album or studio session is now obsolete. Dead Empires, for their part, have altered that script, bringing all of the energy and flair of a live show into the studio with them.
What results is Secret Snakes/Silent Serpent, a six track, 49 minute album that best captures where this band is, five years on. From the crunching riffs of Cosmic Space Ape, to the often times bright and shiny textures of Tyrantosaur, they continue to do what comes naturally; they push their own boundaries, the boundaries of heavy music, and the expectations of people who may or may not have ever heard their name before. They take their craft seriously; even if they don’t take themselves seriously.