July 12, 2007
* Live Review by Shaq
* Live photos by Liquid Sky Photography
It isn’t often that you’ll see coverage of a local show here. That being said, there are exceptions to any rule, which brings us to the live debut of New Jersey based metallers Dark Empire. Technically one could argue that they are not really a local band at all, having the mighty Jens Carlsson of Persuader and Savage Circus on the microphone, hailing from the other side of the pond. Technicalities aside, since releasing their debut DISTANT TIDES in 2005 Dark Empire have been making waves in the scene with their blend of thrash, progressive and power metal. With their new album HUMANITY DETHRONED in its mixing stages, the group had ample material to fill out a full headlining set at The Hook, in none other than Brooklyn, New York.
First up in the lineup was the progressive band Ethereality, also from New Jersey. Simply put, if you are a fan of Dream Theater circa WHEN DREAM AND DAY UNITE, you need to check these guys out. They have a very similar vibe to that material, while maintaining their own style throughout their arsenal of catchy, melodic progressive metal. Vocalist Rick Leben pulls double duty as the guitarist, which is certainly no easy task given this style of music. Fortunately for everyone, he pulls it off well and can deliver his soaring vocals without missing a stroke. And when I say soaring vocals, I truly mean it – this guy hits some high notes, many of which are in the midst of very catchy melodies and choruses that sometimes border on power-metal-like catchiness, without the cheese. They even included a cover of Dream Theater’s “Fortune in Lies” for good measure, obviously embracing their roots within that sound. Any Dream Theater fan knows covering one of their songs is a bold move, but they pulled it off well. I highly recommend checking these guys out to any fan of old school Dream Theater, or progressive metal in general.
Next to grace the stage was Meltdown, a thrash band out of Pittsburgh. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say these guys had travelled through time from the 80’s to play for us, and I mean that in the most awesome way possible. They erupted on stage with blistering thrash metal, reminiscent of old school Metallica, Sodom, Kreator, Destruction, Exodus, and feel free to insert any other legendary thrash band here that you feel I should have included to save me from spending this whole review listing other bands. Whether they were sent from the past to thrash us, or were simply a new thrash band embracing their roots, one thing is for sure – these guys know how to thrash, and they do it well. These days, thrash has taken on a somewhat different meaning than it used to have, with the “classic” bands playing a more evolved form of the genre, for lack of a better term. That being the case, Meltdown have taken it upon themselves to resurrect the thrash of old, and prove that it remains one of the greatest forms of music of all time. Not only did they have it nailed sonically, but in their live show as well. Consider this my call to you thrashers out there: If Meltdown is playing near you, you damn well better not be sitting at home that night; you’ve got some moshing to do.
One by One
Murdered to Death
Now it was time for Dark Empire to grace the stage for the very first time as a band. Unfortunately the crowd gathered for this big moment was somewhat dismal, something that will undoubtedly be different the next time around. When you’re seeing a band play live for the very first time, you don’t know what to expect. Is there going to be good chemistry between the members on stage? Will they have a commanding stage presence? Will they be tight musically? It didn’t take long for them to dispel any doubts I might have had.
Opening with “Northern Sky,” undoubtedly their most well known song to date and the single off of their debut album, Dark Empire proved that they meant business. The interplay between guitarists Matt Moliti and Andrew Atwood was impressive, both taking total command of the stage and the crowd in front of them. Despite the use of lyrics sheets kept down by his monitor, Jens did a very good job at not using them as a crutch and still was able to engage the crowd and deliver a solid performance.
Next up in the setlist were a couple songs from their upcoming release, which I suspect nobody there outside of the band and myself had heard prior to the show, save the two tracks released on their MySpace site thus far. The first of these songs is “No Sign of Life” which has quickly become without a doubt my all time favorite Dark Empire song. As expected, seeing it performed live only strengthened my love for the song. HUMANITY DEHTRONED sees Dark Empire take a heavier, and dare I say thrashier route than was heard on DISTANT TIDES and the music overall feels a lot more mature in addition to the added heaviness.
Not looking to disappoint fans of the debut, Dark Empire made sure to play every vocal track off the album, which only excludes the instrumental track “The Final Vision.” They sprinkled these tracks in the midst of the new cuts, which included “Salvation Denied,” “Eyes of Defiance,” and a four part series titled “The Apparition Sequence” made up of “Prelude,” “Haunted,” “Possessed (We Are One),” and “Closure.” One thing definitely worth noting is that “Closure” is a ballad, and shows a totally different side of Jens than what is seen in anything else he’s done.
The current band lineup is a bit different than that from the debut as well. Now on drums is the mighty Samus, who takes everything to a whole new level with his drumming. Not enough can be said about this guy when he gets behind the kit – he’s simply a beast. Now on second guitar is Andrew Atwood, who had an incredible stage presence. Filling in for this mini-tour on bass was Marc Ferreira of Venturia, since Dark Empire doesn’t currently have a full time bassist to round out the lineup. He was the only member who didn’t deliver over-the-top enthusiasm during the set, but really it didn’t matter.
Finally to close out the set was the oldie “We Will Never Die” which had a much heavier feel to it live than on disc. When all was said and done, despite it being their premiere performance Dark Empire performed like seasoned veterans, which in itself speaks volumes. From thrashy riffs to Family Guy quotes during stage banter (has anybody seen the paper boy?), they delivered it all. It is just a shame that it wasn’t delivered to more people, but I have a feeling that won’t be a real problem for too long. It was obvious that they were excited to finally play for a live crowd, particularly noticeable in guitarist and songwriter Matt Moliti who has been the driving force behind the band since its inception. Between the impending new album and their follow-up to this gig playing in front of a larger crowd at Texas MADFest in Houston, it won’t be very long until Dark Empire becomes recognized as one of the best new bands around today.
No Sign of Life
Eyes of Defiance
A Soul Divided
Possessed (We Are One)
We Will Never Die