Tuesday, 13 March 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Dead Empires, "Designed to Disappear"

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 23/02/2018
Label: Silent Pendulum Records


“Witnessed live and through my speakers, “Designed to Disappear” is a juggernaut of a record – one that hops easily between genres while remaining the work of a distinct, remarkable quartet.  I’m onboard for whatever challenging, inspiring output they have in store.”

“Designed to Disappear” CD//CS//DD//LP track listing

1. Spectacular Ruin
2. The Form
3. Slay Rider
4. Reverse Speak
5. A Summertime Song
6. Ones and Zeros
7. Ergot (feat. John Carbone)
8. Designed to Disappear

The Review:        

The term “progressive” gets thrown around pretty egregiously in metal – most often you’re left thinking of bands like Dream Theater or Iced Earth, and even then thinking in terms of scale, length, or concept albums.  Far too frequently, it’s easy to forget how the genuine first wave of “prog” artists, from King Crimson and Santana to Yes and Rush, embraced weirdly abstruse musical styles.  While a ton of modern prog enthusiasts will point to the longform arena rock epics like “2112”, there aren’t many who hold up the 80s pop experimentation of Yes as key progressive cornerstones.  Yet with the supremacy of total oddball artists like Mike Patton and his onetime collaborators in the dearly departed Dillinger Escape Plan in the 1990s and 2000s metal/math/whatevercore scenes, there is growing appreciation for boundary-free heavy music.  New York state’s Dead Empires, formerly an instrumental trio, have all the hallmarks of these monumentally talented virtuosos with a healthy injection of pop sensibility to match. 

Intro track “Spectacular Ruin” displays the muscular guitar- focused energy at the heart of Dead Empires winning formula, allowing John Bryan space to lay down harmonized, rousing leads that will please the Thin Lizzy fanatics out there.  The Form” unleashes vocalist Jason “PRKR” Sherman for the first time – his monstrously distorted vocals and noisy manipulations are all the more exciting when his melodic strengths come to the foreground later.  The rhythm dynamic of Phil Bartsch and DJ Scully is monumental – heavy as the heart of a neutron star.  And Bryan’s apt countering of chugging rhythm and shrieking high end melodic guitar work sounds like the best Mars Volta leads we never got. 

“Slay Rider”, a thrashy two minute blast of galloping drums and blast beat choruses, is a great example of the Dead Empires’ bold disregard for genre conventions – they could have forged on with the noisy, experimental math rock of the first two tracks and had a pretty solid record, instead, they go full on groove-thrash attack before the heady, jazz grind freakout of “Reverse Speak.”   And that’s only the first two minutes of the track, before a beautifully salsa infused guitar and piano (guest Jason Volpe) tradeoff, pounding double bass drumming of Bartsch, or the magnificently melodic bridge vocals.  Just when you think you have Dead Empires’ formula pegged they drop into a spaced out dub metal (is that even a thing?) track like “A Summertime Song”.  Like a 311 song if they could just muster the grit to be HEAVY, “A Summertime Song” is the unlikeliest, weirdest 7 minutes I’ve heard on an album this year that actually works as a pop single.  DJ Scully’s gnarly bass gets some time to shine here and it’s easy to see why he’s an in demand multi-genre bassist – dude has some serious tone and chops.

The instrumental “Ones and Zeros” is a bit of a palate cleanser after the consistent tonal changeups of the record so far, recalling the meat and potatoes harmonies of “Spectacular Ruin”, with some moments that recall Big Country (maybe the most overlooked non-metal guitar group of the 80s), and others that once again have me thinking of Phil Lynott and company.  Ergot” may be the most “conventional” post-metal/metalcore piece of the whole record, if a punishing metal song in the midst of all this post-rock beauty, featuring a spoken word coda courtesy of Moon Tooth’s John Carbone, can be called conventional at all.  The epic, titular finale is a 12 minute, anthemic journey through regret and mortality that is cinematic, rewarding, and ultimately uplifting, even with lyrics like “death, the great equalizer / everything will end one day / that’s the hard truth we go to bed with everyday, / designed to disappear we all go away”.  Somehow it’s far more inspiring than you’d imagine, with moments of seriously dissonant brutality.  More than any other track, I could see this as full on arena rock – it deserves an audience of thousands to truly appreciate its massive scale.

Though there are only eight tracks on their newest record, Dead Empires’ offer lightning fast jaunts through multiple genres, embodying the bold heart of progressive music’s infinite potential.  While their forebears like Dillinger Escape Plan have retired, or Mike Patton has stopped only occasionally to focus on projects that exist as more than one-off experiments, Dead Empires has the potential to continue as a band to watch, as every move seems to take you to new, unforeseen destinations.  It’s really amazing to see it replicated live, as I had to pleasure to experience this autumn, and hear so MUCH coming from a stripped down quartet.  If you have a chance to see them during the upcoming tour, I’d absolutely recommend it, as the pure intensity and prowess is somehow just as monumental, even in a small venue.  Witnessed live and through my speakers, “Designed to Disappear” is a juggernaut of a record – one that hops easily between genres while remaining the work of a distinct, remarkable quartet.  I’m onboard for whatever challenging, inspiring output they have in store.

“Designed to Disappear” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook