Quasi-witty or ‘cheesy’ title aside, Terror Empire‘s second full-length release, The Empire Strikes Black, is one pummeling slab of old-school cool death metal. A young Portugese band, founded in 2009, Terror Empire sound a bit like they’re part of the “revivalist” faction discussed previously on PlanetMosh. The concept is simple: fresh new faces bring old guard sounds to a whole new generation of fans and listeners. Be prepared for a fast, hard, and heavy aural assault – this isn’t ‘puppies and flowers’ music. While there’s no genre re-defining material on The Empire Strikes Black, what is presented is extremely well-executed, fun, and worthy of quite a few mosh pits and walls of death.
The Empire Strikes Black is well produced and engineered, with a modern presentation; it scales very well to ‘high volume listening’ levels without issue. Terror Empire wear their musical influences on their sleeves, which makes for plenty of aural referencing and recollections. Right away, you’ll hear the Slayer. Keep listening. In a cross-ocean enigma, there’s a lot of American death metal here: hints of Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, and Dying Fetus bleed through the cracks here and there. For those of us who haven’t heard inklings of this subgenre since the aforementioned bands were really in their respective heydays, this is an unexpected treat.
One thing that sets The Empire Strikes Black apart from the hordes in the morass is the overdubs. Very prominent in “Black”, “Route of the Damned”, and “Man Made of Sand”, the little guitar stabs and textures added over otherwise fairly genre-standard riffs and progressions really make the songs jump. It’s not the “sub drops” that work so effectively – it’s the fleeting instrumental extras. The break-down in the hateful, hardcore-tinged, earlier Pantera channeling “Revolution Now” is guaranteed to snap at least a few necks, as will the thrashing madness during “Protective Wolves”. These guys aren’t afraid of venturing off the charred path: “Skinned Alive” has an intro that sounds like a Volbeat tune, but then it goes all sorts of crazy.
Terror Empire’s instrumentation is overall very good. Tight, crisp rhythm riffing aside, the guitar solos (by Rui Alexandre and Sergio Alves) and Joao Dourado‘s drum fills go beyond what you’d expect to hear on an underground death metal release. There’s an overall sizzle to the band’s tone. Rui Puga‘s bass guitar is especially burly and prominent during the ten-ton riffy instrumental “Reality Check”. Ricardo Martins‘s vocals are mostly atonal, gruff ‘angry guy screaming’ type – as in the hardcore crossover style – but there are some guttural “cookie monster” growls thrown in as accents in a couple of songs. There’s some very obvious talent on show; it’s plain enjoyable.
As a critique, the monstrously catchy “The Servant” has an ending worth mentioning. The band could have cut the song off at the last angrily-spat “servant” lyric and had a tremendous, dramatic closer. They chose to extend the song with a couple more riffs, causing the song to end in a very average, ho-hum sort of way. That’s not bad: this is art, all open to individual interpretation. It’s the beginnings and endings that “make or break” songs, so to speak, which is why this is so noticeable. Oh, there’s some gratuitous swearing, but these guys aren’t native English speakers, so maybe “fucking this, fucking that” type phrasing has some genuine added impact in Portugal. Here, it just gets you kicked out of Wal-Mart; nobody bats an eyelash.
Terror Empire’s The Empire Strikes Black is recommended for both new and seasoned fans of death metal. Fast tempos, grinding guitar, malicious melody, and venomous lyrical delivery: the disc neatly packages some of extreme music’s finest moments into a crushing potential underground gem.
The Empire Strikes…
The Route Of The Damned
Man Made Of Sand
Strings Of Rebellion
Good Friends Make The Best Enemies
Break The Cycle
Ricardo Martins – vocals
Rui Alexandre – guitar
Sergio Alves – guitar
Rui Puga – bass guitar
Joao Dourado – drums