Nightmare Records (2012)
The third full length from this New Jersey power/ progressive metal band with occasional thrash flourishes, Dark Empire return with a new vocalist in Brian Larkin after previous vocalist Jens Carlsson left on good terms. “From Refuge To Ruin” is a 9 song, 62 minute odyssey into the lands of Symphony X, Sanctuary, and others in that American mold, accented by the death growls of guitarist Matt Moliti. His soloing skills are very neo-classically charged, but the riffing in songs like the Middle Eastern sounding “Dreaming In Vengeance” or the thrashier, Testament-like “Lest Ye Be Judged” proves Dark Empire know how to keep things heavy even when they flash their instrumental prowess at you.
The closing 14:20 epic “The Cleansing Fires” opens with Brian’s restrained, Russell Allen meets Warrel Dane melody against a medieval acoustic guitar passage before a series of heavier twists and turns take the song into Nevermore meets Dream Theater territory. This is an album of contrasts, variety, and an open sounding snare that will hit certain nerve endings the wrong way (not as bad as “St. Anger”, but a similar gripe nonetheless).
Does the good outweigh the sore spots? For me, I’m neutral in my outlook of “From Refuge To Ruin”. There’s some exemplary playing, but as far as the songwriting goes I’m left feeling very distant and without those killer hooks that make many of the bands reference points unique and special. Better luck next time, guys.
Rating: 3 / 6
Composed by Matt Coe