EMPIRE – ‘Glue’ (Album Review)
Discovering a band with tons of potential is always a rewarding experience – and EMPIRE (sometimes stylised as EMP!RE) are one such outfit. Over the past six years, these guys have been busy making a name for themselves in the British rock underground and, of course, putting in the work that led to this album’s creation. Glue is the sound of a band who remain a work in progress, albeit one that seems sure to grow into something potentially world-conquering in the future.
On EMPIRE’s earlier mini–album Where The World Begins, a tasty and progressively oriented alt-rock buffet sampling Biffy Clyro, Paramore, Arcane Roots, and Coheed & Cambria was set out and gobbled up hungrily by any self-respecting riff addict within earshot. Next up, Our Simple Truths saw EMPIRE adapt to rawer sounds while digging into more sick riffs. Throughout it all, powerhouse vocalist Joe Green made his presence known without overshadowing his bandmates, each of whom contributed to a whole that became more than the sum of its personality-rich parts.
The music that’s come before often makes Glue an awkward listen, because it just doesn’t fulfil EMPIRE’s previous on-record promises. Songwriting-wise, it’s painfully neutered; this band’s past efforts were vital, exciting, and unpredictable, whereas this time around, each song feels like a vocal showcase set to a series of bland, generic backing tracks. Those vocals are fucking sick – Bruce Dickinson and Coheed’s Claudio Sanchez are obvious reference points – and there are a few great contributions from the rest of the band, such as the riff breaks in Feast. But overall, EMPIRE have effectively devolved here, giving the impression of a star-vocalist-and-supporting-session-band arrangement rather than the multifaceted collection of zero-fuck-giving renegades they were before.
Then, there’s the production. No matter the listening context, Colour Of Shame immediately becomes difficult to listen to simply because the cymbals have degraded into an overdistorted, digitized mush. The too-trebly wall of sound continues while EMPIRE dutifully punch out so many streams of consistent 8th notes that even that vocal, the calling card emphasised to the detriment of everything else, can’t save these songs from inducing involuntary eye-glazing and numb-eared cognitive shutdown.
Despite these unavoidably harsh words, a key redeeming fact remains: EMPIRE can do better than this. Not only that, but they already have done better than this. That all-important potential is still there, even if it’s been temporarily buried under a mediocre mass of tracks that could easily be cast into a box marked “stock alt-rock barely redeemed by quality vocals,” and left there while you travel back in time using your favourite streaming app and return to releases where EMPIRE have done their best, most creatively ambitious work to date.
Thinking about it, that’s where EMPIRE are currently falling short of delivering all-consuming awesomeness. Creative ambition. Biffy have it, as do Coheed and Arcane Roots. Even Paramore managed it with their self-titled album and After Laughter. EMPIRE had it, and on this evidence have lost it, again most likely temporarily.
They need to get it back. As excited as I was to experience this album, and wanted more than anything to hail Glue as a worthy successor to those earlier efforts, I can’t do that in good faith and retain any sense of honesty or integrity. If you’re talking the time to read what I write, I’m not going to lie to you.
This just isn’t good enough.
LTK RATING: 5/10
Pre-order Glue (out September 7) on iTunes.
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