Albums and come to think of it, also bands like these are of the rare breed nowadays – good quality hard rock with supreme musicianship, lyrics and vocals. Of course credible albums are released continuously but truly great ones only appear maybe once or twice a year at the most. That most of them still originate from the old guard of sorts is worrying indeed. Although bands like Empire have strong underground following and certainly we at the Steel Mill appreciate every record that comes our way, it certainly isn’t easy for them with marketplace currently splintered into smaller and smaller sections. Yet in my opinion it is extremely important these bands continue their work because true quality always prevails.
This album seemed to quietly slip under the radar when it was released late last year. However everyone should pay attention now as “Chasing Shadows” ranks on my list as THE hard rock album of 2007!
Empire is a brainchild of guitarist Rolf Munkes who formed the band several years. Bands two earlier albums featured former Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin on vocals but on “Chasing Shadows” he is replaced by Doogie White, who recently departed from Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force. Additionally he has sung on several brilliant Cornerstone albums and spent few years with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow during the 1990’s.
Rest of the line-up is also impressing to say the least; on drums we have well known powerhouse Mike Terrana (Rage, Masterplan, Axel Rudi Pell etc.) and on bass legendary Neil Murray (Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, M3 etc.) Many times of course these super groups fail to gel as a band, sounding somewhat forced in the final result. Lucky for us, this is definitely not the case here.
Title track opens the album and instantly the sound has listener hooked into its infectious groove. Munkes plays a melodic guitar riff over pounding rhythm and White supplies another effectively classy vocal – a standard that is kept intact for the rest of the album.
“The Alter” and “Mother Father Holy Ghost” keep the pace tight, on the latter track some classic Dio-sounds come through and it is a foretaste of what’s coming until we reach track number seven; somewhat critical view on religion and indeed last line of it speaks in realistic manner: “Don’t you listen to word of false prophets.”
“Sail Away” is somewhat familiar song title but delivery originates from new places. Melody in the chorus is interesting, it nicely captures the visions of riding out on the ocean. “Child Of The Light” slows things down a bit and “Tahigwan Nights” again features some tasteful and effective guitar work from Munkes setting the scene for the highlight which follows.
Probably my favourite song on the CD is indeed up next: “Manic Messiah” features great lyrics dealing with heavier aspects of resurrection and religion. It is a classic track that instantly hypnotizes and crabs the listener into its grooves, with Doogie White giving one of his best vocal performances ever on this track. “A Story Told” and “The Rulers Of The World” conclude the album in more retrospective fashion, again the latter song has some thought provoking lyrics. Another number I could picture Ronnie James Dio singing.
While White does dominate the proceedings, nowhere do you get the impression this is one man’s show as Empire sound very much like a full band. Even more important factor since the album has been recorded in theree separate studios. Musicianship is excellent throughout. Munkes perfectly enhances the songs with his classy playing; he has the ability to offer guitar work that is both heavy and smooth. Ripping guitar riffs are balanced with softer passages – sometimes all within the same song. Murray and Terrana work well as a rhythm section. As a bass player, Murray is right at home with stuff like this and Terrana gives similar powerful performance already witnessed on the recent Masterplan disc. In my ears he sounds a bit better here with possibly more dynamic production on the drums.
As a special note I have to mention Doogie’s lyrics that are very impressive on all material contained herein. As a lyric nut of sorts myself, it is something I definitely put a lot of weight on. Remember, lyrics aren’t always that important, on tunes like Kiss’ “Rock And Roll All Nite” for example it doesn’t really matter what is sung. But with music like this, the message and the song become intertwined in a way, it makes you listen to the words carefully and you get much more out of the whole experience.
Bottom line: this album contains finest state of the art melodic rock you will hear in a long, long time. Let’s look forward to more albums and tours from this fantastic band!
1. Chasing Shadows
2. The Alter
3 . Mother Father Holy Ghost
4 . Sail Away
5. Child Of Light
6. Tahigwan Nights
7. Manic Messiah
8. Angel And The Gambler
9. A Story Told
10. The Rulers Of The World