This one came out a couple of months ago on Stormspell Records, but I fear it may have slipped past without garnering the attention it deserves from the underground metal community. Ancient Empire are a California-based act consisting of veterans from bands like Hellhound, Shadowkiller, Rellik, Rapid Fire and Forgotten Disciple. These three musicians (vocalist/guitarist/bassist Joe Liszt, drummer Steve Pelletier, and lyricist Rich Pelletier) all boast lengthy resumes and have contributed to other bands in recent years, predominantly for the Stormspell label. Indeed, Liszt is recognizable as the singer on Rocka Rollas’ ‘Metal Strikes Back’ album and ‘Conquer’ EP. And all three of them have been involved with Hellhound, whose ‘Nothing Left’ album also came out recently on Stormspell. At this stage, it is unclear how many of these activities are “real bands” versus studio projects. One gets the sense that Ancient Empire and some of these other “bands” are just constellations of musicians who get together to write and record a cool album, as opposed to playing live, touring or having any cohesive identity outside the studio. Perhaps some people are bothered by that. My feeling is that if the musicians are talented, the songwriting is of high quality, and the project reflects inspiration and passion, then that’s good enough. Measured by that yardstick, Ancient Empire are off the end of the charts.
‘Other World’ is Ancient Empire’s second album of traditional heavy metal characterized by mostly speedy tempos, crunchy old-school riffs, and abundant melody through both the guitars and the gritty, powerful, charismatic vocals of Liszt. Ancient Empire are very much in that revered U.S. power metal style (think Vicious Rumors, Metal Church, Meliah Rage and their ilk, with a touch of Savage Grace). To keep things interesting, Ancient Empire have tackled a sci-fi concept this time, as ‘Other World’ tells the tale of Earth being taken over by an alien race, the remnants of humanity escaping on a spaceship in search of a new home, the exiles finding a new inhospitable planet populated by hostile natives, and the exiles ultimately returning home to Earth to face their destiny and take up arms against the alien invaders. I enjoy the storytelling aspects of the album, but it’s done in a sufficiently unobtrusive way (no obnoxious narrators, cloying sound effects, or lame interludes) that those who are inclined to ignore the story and simply rock out will have no impediment in doing so. For folks who enjoy well-written lyrics, though, ‘Other World’ adds that dimension to the package via an intriguing, entertaining story.
That said, the strength in ‘Other World’ lies in the energetic, exciting songwriting. Weighing in at 8 songs and 47 minutes, this album is one that always feels much shorter than that. There’s no wasted space, no dull moments, no momentum-killing lulls. Ancient Empire just flat-out kick ass and take names from beginning to end. It’d be silly to single out particular tracks for accolades, because they’re all outstanding. ‘Other World’ is absolutely stuffed to the gills with mighty riffs, excellent vocals, well-thought arrangements, tasteful leads, and hooks galore, all wrapped in a powerful production that allows the performances to shine. This album has everything an old-school metalhead could possibly want. Hell, pound for pound, I’d put ‘Other World’ up against anything else released in the U.S. power metal style in 2016. It’s that good. Even the band seems surprised by the devastating results of their efforts. In the liner notes for the album, Liszt muses, “So few things in life come easy. Sometimes you get lucky and things just work.” I suspect he’s being overly modest here, but the basic point is well taken. ‘Other World’ just works. One shouldn’t question why or how. It just does. So, in Liszt’s words, “Throw in the disc, crank it up and bang your head!” I’m way ahead of you, pal.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~