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Dark Empire - "From Refuge to Ruin" (CD)

Dark Empire - "From Refuge to Ruin" CD cover image

"From Refuge to Ruin" track listing:

1. A Plague in the Throne Room
2. Dreaming in Vengeance
3. The Crimson Portrait
4. Dark Seeds of Depravity
5. From Refuge To Ruin
6. Lest Ye Be Judged
7. What Men Call Hatred
8. Black Hearts Demise
9. The Cleansing Fires

Reviewed by on June 1, 2012

"The sequences of chord changes that the band uses to enhance the soundscapes are unique and multi-layered, often converging in what I can only describe as a dark velvety haze."

New Jersey-based progressive metal act Dark Empire is blazing a trail with a third offering, “From Refuge To Ruin.” This trail isn’t altogether new, though it does involve some pretty tricky twists and turns. Making a cohesive and ballsy sound instead of just a riff sandwich with keyboard toppings isn’t the easiest thing to do. The band manages to combine an assortment of low-level backing mellotrons, synths, six- and twelve-string acoustic guitars with pummeling electric guitar riffs akin to that of Nevermore, mostly clean fiery vocals, and expressive drumming.

“A Plague in the Throne Room” leads off the album to a fast start with dueling guitars and full, rich clean vocals from Brian Larkin, which are comparable to Russell Allen’s. Several death growls come in, which usually work, but the vocals are clean otherwise. The vocals are truly unique and are tinged with fire to get a bit of grit to them.

“Dreaming in Vengeance” and “The Cleansing Fires” keep drummer Matt Graff’s hands moving, with all of their tricky tom and cymbal fills. Further, guitarist Matt Moliti’s hands don’t seem to stop either, with some showy right-hand-tapping, sweeping, and tight picking techniques. “Lest Ye Be Judged” utilizes his extraordinary palette of melodic choices to really show off in the guitar solo, with multi-stringed right hand tapping sequences akin to those of Symphony X. The “holy shit” factor is so high here that it would get Michael Romeo hot immediately.

Songs like “The Crimson Portrait” and “Black Hearts Demise” show the band’s ability to maintain shorter songs in light of lengthy ones, like the title track and the 14-minute closer, “The Cleansing Fires.” The best way to describe the blend of styles is to think of the band as a pizza: A thick crust of progressive thrash metal akin to that of Darkane, a sauce of technicality over it, topped with soundscape-creating acoustic bits, peppered with guitar solos, and sprinkled with sparse synths and mellotrons.

The sequences of chord changes that the band uses to enhance the soundscapes are unique and multi-layered, often converging in what I can only describe as a dark velvety haze. Not unlike the ambitious melodic movements in the innovative score to the massively popular video game Diablo II, they are downright hauntingly beautiful. There's even a flute solo and a cello thrown in for good measure. A few more albums of this and Dark Empire will be well on its way to legend.

Highs: "Lest Ye Be Judged," "The Cleansing Fires," "What Men Call Hatred"

Lows: The bass guitar could be louder in the mix in some songs.

Bottom line: Absurdly technical progressive metal with a broad spectrum of ballsy riffs and mellotron-backed passages.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)