(Independent, 2008, Classic Album)
Sometimes one discovers the most precious musical gems in unforeseen places. When that happens it's a rare occasion, and it’s one that is treasured all the more for that rarity. I experienced that sort of Eureka moment last fall, a few months after I had attended Lords of the Trident's Mad With Power Festival in Madison, Wisconsin. For those who are unfamiliar with the almighty Lords, please refer to my esteemed TML colleague Kit Ekman’s reviews of their albums and festival appearances. Yes, the self-proclaimed Most Metal Band On Earth really is more metal than most mere mortals, and they're a fantastic bunch of human beings to boot. Anyhow, after the show, Lords' guitarist extraordinaire Brian Koenig – who with his wife Andrea had graciously allowed me and several of my buddies to crash at his condo – gave us all copies of two of his previous band's CDs. I greatly appreciated this kind gesture and looked forward to hearing the intriguingly-dubbed The Ottoman Empire as soon as possible.
Now, fast forward a few months to late 2017. Those two The Ottoman Empire CDs still sat un-un-played in my “to-be-listened-to” pile. Naturally, the bustle and rigmarole of daily life had interfered with my new-listening plans. But that doesn't mean I still didn't feel guilty for ignoring the recorded efforts of Koenig's old band. So, one quiet morning (let's just say it was a Saturday), I finally unwrapped and popped the six-track CD entitled the answer does not exist into my old 50-disc changer. Then…shazam! Holy schnikes, Batman (said Tommy Boy), as some truly explosive metallic sounds erupted from my speakers. With opening track “Fountain of Youth,” The Ottoman Empire exploded into an intoxicating blast of speed, melody, power, and sheer musical innovation. This was some of the most exciting, invigorating, and original metal I had heard outside of perhaps early Helloween, Iced Earth, or the 1990s Scandinavian melodic death-metal scene. Obviously, I just had to delve deeper.
Featuring Koenig's superlative shredding skills on guitar, as well as the outstanding, multi-faceted vocals of Mary Zimmer, The Ottoman Empire, which later evolved into Luna Mortis, successfully bridged the gaps between several metal genres; in a single track, one will hear elements of traditional British metal, thrash, prog, European power metal, and a hefty dosage of melodic death metal. More specifically, these songs include disparate references from the aforementioned Helloween and Iced Earth, Judas Priest, Dream Theater, Children of Bodom, In Flames, and early Sentenced. The band – which consisted of Koenig, Zimmer, guitarist Cory Scheider, bassist Jacob Bare, and drummer Erik Madsen – utilized this veritable smorgasbord of metallic offerings within the context of catchy and memorable songs. Sure, a particular song could contain: extremely speedy tempos, sudden meter changes, rapid tremolo picking, galloping triplet riffs, doomy grooves, neo-classical guitar harmonies, baroque leads, growly vocals, high-ranging clean vocals, wicked death growls, and your grandma's apple pie (well, you get the idea). But the cohesion and power of the songs reign supreme on the answer…does not exist.
Case in point: “Fountain of Youth,” the first track and a distinct highlight of this ep. This blistering tune rides along a tidal wave of fast sixteenth-note-based riffs, fluid sweep picking, masterful harmonized leads, and vocals that shift from an operatic clean tone to mid-range black-metal growls with finesse. This song is like a whirlwind, leaving the listener gasping for air. “Affliction” opens with uplifting neo-classical melodies, only to shift to an aggressive verse riff and an über-infectious pre-chorus. The grinding, growly half-time chorus serves as a perfect contrast to the “happy metal” nature of most of the tune. “Affliction,” one of two remakes from their 2006 release The Way of the Blade, showcases the flawless solos and intricate, staccato rhythm-guitar work of Koenig/Scheider (i.e. Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer); it also features some of Summer’s most compelling vocal melodies. The Ottoman Empire perfectly juxtaposes beautiful guitar/vocal melodies and ludicrous-speedy black/death influences on “Locked in Torment,” and the furious closer, “Wrathshot.”
If there could be one slight criticism of this CD, and band, for that matter, is that they both end and ended much too soon. Aside from Koenig’s work in Lords of the Trident, along with his successful solo work and Guitar World columns, I wonder what became of the rest of The Ottoman Empire/Luna Mortis alumni. As with their real-world imperial namesake, I'm sure they all moved on to form successful independent countries of their own. But man, this band is well worth remembering – or checking out for the first time. Keep your eyes peeled.
-- Review by Jonathan Kollnot