Kenny Lawrence of Fall of an Empire isn’t interested in genre tags as much as the group’s common objective; “I would say that we are happy with the thing we set out to do” the singer explains, “which was to be a band who oriented riffs with storytelling “. Over the course of two albums that you could call either LPs or very long EPs, the band has proven that mission a success. Last year’s Croweater: An Echo in the Bone was a fine second effort from the Spartanburg hard rockers and 2017’s sequel, Croweater 2: The Last Wishes of Kings continues with the same formula: familiar, but fresh takes on ’70s prog/ stoner rock, indebted to Black Sabbath and other bands of that era, but forging on with the nimbus of bruising boogie that bands like Clutch have imbued into rock in the last generation. Galvanized by the masterful vocals of Lawrence, who just wails over all these tracks, recalling the great talents of modern stoner rock like Phil Swanson (Sumerlands, Hour of 13, etc,), the band’s style also lurks somewhere in the vicinity of the doomed out power of Texas band The Sword. Kenny has something that great band lacks, however: a connection with southern and blues rock in his powerful keen; there is that feel that dude could rip the hell out of some Molly Hatchet covers and that’s something that J.D. Cronise and most of his brethren lack – an identity outside of the stoner rock vocal ghetto. Once a band starts playing in a style where you will forever be compared/contrasted with Black Sabbath, it sometimes becomes a game of lateral moves to define your uniqueness and Fall of an Empire have managed to create a distinct feel all their own over the course of their blossoming career.
The strong lyrical purpose of the last Croweater album continues here, with the first recording meant, as the singer says, “about being born/reborn/ a longing for change” and the latest, “toiling/ dying/ remorse”. It’s to the credit of guitarist Brent Carroll for the almost-proglike concept rock of the lyrics – it’s like a modern take on the old school literary/ fantasy tropes of classic metal bands like Cirith Ungol or Manilla Road. The title track kicks it off with Shane Smith’s distoro-rama bassline and he will continue to pummel the listener throughout the record with tasteful playing that drives each song in a heavily melodic way and yet is still blunt and driving. Cody Edens and Carroll both share guitar duties and they double up most of the time, creating a wall of force that would please the fans of older bands like Reverend Bizzare or newer ones like Demon Eye. Brad Muñoz on drums throws out action and reaction to the tectonic-plate changes like a southern rock Jean-Paul Gaster. This first track has a strong Orange Goblin feel for me, the solo invokes Iommi in the right ways and both epic and sorrowful, Lawrence weaves a story about “the Gods reborn”. “This Mountain” is probably my favorite here – beginning with only a great choir of voices and a beat, it’s indeed a band of heroes staking their claim to the kingdom. The chorus is so epic, it nears power metal territory. The bridge is a stomping Sabbathian/ Sword romp over your battered eardrums and that damn bass is so fuzzed out and heavy! “Remnant” keeps it clear that no matter how heavy the band wants to get, they are interested in real songs, with real-singalong choruses, stuff to infuse into an audience’s memory. It moves purposefully like the Sword, yet recalls skillful ’70s prog/ hard rock like Captain Beyond or Deep Purple. At 9:16, “The Brink” is the true majestic centerpiece, starting with a Metallica-style build up, it winds into a Candlemass-like trip over both time/mood-change terrain. “Oracle“, which is almost as long, flirts with a slower pace and its hypnotic crawling bassline and wah-ed out guitar coloring have a lot to say yet it never overstays it leave. Closer “No Passage” starts with the line “I spent a dead man’s coin/ didn’t seem like he would need it” and it’s a trip to the river Styx with the band reviving the sound of Elephant Riders-era Clutch. The effects laden guitars and ganged up vocals are probably a testament to the know-how of Jam Room maestro Jay Matheson, whom the band adores as their visionary and wizard. Oh yeah, those organ parts are both catchy and perfectly used to create mood, as well.
So the question I am left asking myself is why in the world isn’t this band signed yet? This is seriously going to be in my top ten favorite albums of the year (that includes everything outside of the state, by the way!) I had a chance to see them play last year at the Jam Room Fest and they blew me away live, inspiring me with both their dedication to a style of music I grew up with and their obvious talent. If you have any interest in old school hard rock/ metal, it is done here in a way that will latch onto you and not let go; give these fellas a go before they get too big for the state.
Recommended if you like: Black Sabbath, Clutch, The Sword