California isn't the home of fake tits, surf and skate enthusiasts, and Hollywood premiers. Well, some of California may be exactly that. But Lake Forest, the home of new school blackened death sextet Empyrean Throne, won't go down as the hotbed of plastic surgery and movie stars. Founded by vocalist Andrew Knudsen and bassist John Ashbaugh, the two soon surrounded themselves with musicians who shared not only the talent, but the vision and drive to make this project everything their Scandinavian trip had instilled in them. What resulted was a brutal mix of heavy distorted guitars, and a bombastic rhythm section, and a vocal attack that could leave your ears bleeding with joy. But even with all of that upside, something was missing that would help them stand apart from the countless acts that crop up all over American every day. The string element, something made official by the addition of a skilled cellist to their ranks, is not a gimmick; it is a selling point, and a show of depth that makes "Demonseed" an album to hear.
It wouldn't take the sound of an army of footsteps to give "Death March" it's signature tone, but they surely don't hurt. Instead, the drum work of Dan Bruette does the bulk of that heavy lifting, each snare and kick mirroring the sound of a thousand steps. But don't be fooled by the battery of percussion at his disposal; this isn't a drum solo gone off the tracks. It works because of the full band effort. It boasts the intended blackened death soundscapes, but with notable twists. Vocalist Andrew Knudsen transitions smoothly from screech to growl, both here and on the follow up track, "Demonseed." He is the general commanding the brigade with his pained screams. But hidden deep in the mix, there is something else that ties the troops together. The addition of Kakophonix, the maniacal cellist behind Hvile I Kaos, is both savvy and sophisticated. His strings become an important piece of the puzzle, swirling around the chugging guitars riffs and giving them a melodic companion in their assault on your brain stem. The two axemen, Bryan Schwarz and Mike Brennan, have their hands full, both literally and figuratively, on "Nothing But Vermin." Their riffs leave no room for error or uncertainty, and the slightest misstep could be disaster. But despite all that pressure, they perform with a skill level and confidence that leaves no doubt.
By keeping the run time short, it puts certain expectations on the energy and volume levels. At barely three minutes, "The Fascist Messiah" wouldn't resonate if not for those two elements being present. Bruette shines once again, with a piece of drum work that leaves the listener dizzy and disoriented. But, to be clear, that isn't a sign of failure, but of great success. A bludgeoning array of drum beats is one of the main tenets of the death metal scene, and that fact is not lost on us here. The early stages of "A Crow's Feast" spotlights a different sort of dynamic, adding the strings of Kakophonix as almost a third guitar, along side Schwarz and Brennan. Like stunt pilots, they dart in and out of each other's paths, winding and twisting into a single braid of distortion and string bending riffs. If there was any doubt how intoxicating this music can be, the outro section here will crush it. But sublime? One would not expect that sort of description, given the amount of blood spilled thus far. But "Follow The Plaguelord," is something out of this world. With Daniel Pappas manning the piano here, you are suddenly thrown into a classical composition that evolves into a sonic assault of the highest order. There is a familiarity to be found here, a Scandinavian link to the past that has been poking its head throughout the album, but only now pops. It is as if the ghosts of Dimmu Borgir albums past have returned to haunt us in present day. This is the album's best track, without argument.
As we've noted numerous times before, you don't need to find a new wrinkle in your genre to be great; you can just be damn good at what you do. Minus the cello and string elements, and the short piano accompaniment, Empyrean Throne would still be an explosive young band worthy of your attention. But with those pieces in place, they give themselves some breathing room from the rest of the genre. The importance of creating space cannot be overstated. When all is said and done, "Demonseed" accomplishes so much in so little time - maybe bumping it's head on the thirty minute mark - that it makes you wonder if this is the perfect store of death metal. Surely they could have stretched this album out for another three or four tracks, maybe another fifteen to twenty minutes. But why would they, and why should they? These shorts explosions are memorable in so many ways, and it keeps the album from going stale early or at all. Win, win. What remains to be seen is where the band goes from here. Is this the future of death metal, before our eyes? Or will the next album be something else entirely? Color me intrigued.
Bandcamp - http://empyreanthrone.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/empyreanthrone