|Musical Style: Epic Metal||Produced By: William J. Tsamis & Mark Zonder|
|Record Label: Sons Of A Dream||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2013||Artist Website: Warlord|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 95%|
|Running Time: 55:33|
Warlord is not in the habit of releasing new albums all that often, so it’s kind of a big deal when they do. The brainchild of guitarist William J. Tsamis and drummer Mark Zonder, Warlord got its start in 1983 with the six song debut EP Deliver Us prior to follow up a year later with the full length effort And The Canons Of Destruction Have Begun. The two sent their separate ways after Warlord disbanded in 1986, with Tsamis recording the acoustic Lordian Winds demo (also 1986) and a pair of medieval metal albums with Lordian Guard (from the nineties) and Zonder joining the progressive metal band Fates Warning (a partnership that lasted until 2004 and included six studio albums and one live album). Warlord did not reunite until 2002 when Tsamis and Zonder joined forces with legendary Hammerfall vocalist Joacim Cans for its second full length, Rising Out Of The Ashes. Eleven years passed before the third came out, The Holy Empire, this time fronted by original Warlord vocalist Richard Anderson.
On The Holy Empire Warlord strikes a balance between the dark, epic metal of its past and classically influenced sounds of Lordian Guard. It proves a compelling combination, particularly when factoring the manner in which the group stays true to the epic song structures and deep melodies of its first two releases while mixing orchestral and choral parts with the cinematic elements in which Tsamis later gained renown. The upshot is an artist taking things to the next level musically, keeping the uniqueness of the Warlord sound untouched - and the European, classic and symphonic aspects that go with it – to create a work that is not so much “conventional metal” as it its powerful and epic music in its purest form.
Similar to Rising Out Of The Ashes, The Holy Empire presents with a combination of past Warlord and Lordian Guard material and new Tsamis compositions. Of the older, two are re-recorded versions of songs that appeared on Warlord demos from the eighties, with “City Walls Of Troy” a trenchant, heavier hitting piece reflecting some traditional metal touches and “Thy Kingdom Come” taking a lighter but lengthier stance with moments ranging from the ambient to strapping.
At this point it must be noted how the artist effectively extends much of the albums material into the six and seven minute range (or longer) without coming across repetitive in the process. The key being the emphasis on melody and creative song structuring that allows each of The Holy Empire tracks to remain fresh with repeat listen. Which brings us to the albums title track, originally slated to appear on the third Lordian Guard album (that never materialized), an eleven minute epic that shines with its classical arrangements and complex intricacies approaching the progressive. “Father”, another Lordian Guard piece recorded for the groups sophomore release Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God (1996), highlights an acoustic flair in upholding some semi-ballad touches.
Tsamis’ compositional style has matured and evolved through the years while still remaining recognizably Warlord. Consider how his newer material meshes with the old, perfectly integrating to capture the mood and essence that is The Holy Empire while also safeguarding the facets Warlord fans have embraced over the years. This is the best way to describe “Glory”, an airy and more subdued number with a consummate melody (almost commercial in form) and “Kill Zone”, the albums darkest and heaviest in straining towards power metal territory. Likewise, “70,000 Sorrows” and “Night Of The Fury” stand out with their technical fortitude and catchy choruses certain to engage on first listen.
Of course, none of this happens without Tsamis’ creative guitar presence, reflected in his rich melodies and harmonies bestowed throughout and elaborate soloing abilities (standing out best on “Night Of The Fury” and “Kill Zone”). But it is not all Tsamis in that Zonder puts in the skillful performance one would expect of him, full of technical flair (with fill after fill) in coming across at times progressive and others jazzy. Renowned bassist Philip Bynoe (of Steve Vai fame and three time Grammy nominee and Emmy Award winner) makes his mark as well.
Since my first exposure to Warlord was Rising Out Of The Ashes, I came to identify with the group as one intended for a high end vocalist (think Joacim Cans). But if Cans happened to not be available for any subsequent recording project I anticipated Warlord to go after a Lance King type in his place. Hence, I was surprised with the choice of Richard Anderson to front The Holy Empire. Yes, I am a fan of Anderson’s abilities but recognize his lower- register style as better befitting the doom-like sounds of Martiria, with whom he provided vocals on several projects (see my reviews of Age Of The Return and On The Way Back).
Give Anderson credit for proving me wrong! But first a history lesson: Warlord recruited Anderson in the mid-eighties but with the exception of some demo work failed to professionally record with him. So after twenty-five patient years the guy deserves his chance and makes the best of it. I like to think of him as adding a calm and soothing presence to the material here (check out his stunning performance on “Father”) in singing straight from the soul. Powerfully emphatic is the term that that comes to mind in that his mid-ranged sensibilities lend to the darker nature of The Holy Empire material- at least when placed alongside Rising Out Of The Ashes. The upshot being that a high end vocalist might not have done as good a job as Anderson of bringing out the albums notable melodies.
The lone exception being “Kill Zone”, which is fronted by Giles Lavery (of Australian power metal act Dragonsclaw), who lends a complementary rawer, edgier and angst laden presence to a track on the more aggressive side of things.
Production is spot 0n with a heavy set drum sound and guitars in appropriate balance. Just enough polish presented but not so much as to diminish things. Credit goes to mastering technician Phil Magnotti for his top notch work.
Also of note is the effective artwork from John Martin entitled Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still Upon Gibeon.
Warlord might have two believing members in Tsamis and Anderson but should not be mistaken for a Christian band. Yes, lyrics leave little doubt as to Tsamis’ faith, as “70,000 Sorrows”, “Glory”, “Thy Kingdom Come” and “The Holy Empire” attest. Other topics covered include ancient mythology (“City Walls Of Troy”) and Post 9/11 and war on terror themes (“Kill Zone” and “Night Of The Fury”).
The Holy Empire adds up to the right length at 8 songs and 55 minutes. It is time used efficiently in joining the past with the present, as the epic based sounds of the older material align with the classical emphasis on the more recent. This synergy between the old and new is certain to appeal to both longstanding Warlord fans and those into metal on the symphonic, epic, traditional and power/progressive side of things. I cannot help but think that The Holy Empire is not only a big deal as a result but certain to challenge for album of the year.
Track By Track
Regal and grandiose, “70,000 Sorrows” bursts of inspiration and melody as a result of its bountiful and stately leanings. The song highlights a technical capacity, opening to four succinct verses - emotional but decisive in form - before moving on to the beautifully flowing chorus in which the sublime aspects can be traced. Helping extend things to seven minutes is a pair of instrumental excursions carried by precise guitar harmonies and riffs bordering on the energized. Lyric snippet:
In the fields of the flesh there was battle, when the sword of the Lord came to take me back
My spirit burned with fire, my eyes were full of tears.
The Lord moved with power, he came to find me when I was lost
He took my sins to a mountain, and he nailed them to a cross.
In the years of my youth there was battle, when the legions of hell led the main attack
My life was full of horror, and my mind was full of fear
The sword slew with power, the legions lay on the battle field
He lifted me from the mire, and he clothed me with his shield.
“Glory” upholds the melodic proclivity in taking the more tempered tone. This one comes across lighter and on the atmospheric side of things, gentle in its abundant form but also upholding an underpinning guitar driven edge. Chorus proves sweeping with its medieval traces, aligning with the fitting guitar harmonies that cannot help but establish a palatial setting. Lyric snippet:
Now I tell you this tale, this story
When I set my own sails for my dreams
In the Author of life I found Glory
And the honor and pow'r of my King.
Now in my age, I've looked beyond horizons of the past
And I realized that fame, was but a thing
I wrote my score, I wanted even more
And Glory said no to my theme.
“Thy Kingdom Come” takes the sturdier and more forthright stance. Verses hit heavily, with power drums and bombastic guitars leading the way, while chorus, conversely, tapers to a crawl as a near worshipful environs is put into place:
Behold in the sky is the rising Son
We let these chains be undone
Thy Kingdom Come
Thy Will Be Done
For he who has an ear, I pray that he might hear
At the halfway point the song descends into an elongated instrumental section with the albums best stretch of scintillating lead guitar (Tsamis really stretches here). Things tapers even further before impetus picks up and the magnanimous chorus repeats one final fabulous time.
After opening to three songs in the six to seven minute range, the album switches gears for the short (3:34) but succinct “City Walls Of Troy”. What we have here is the faster and heavier track, with gutsy guitar walls grinding front to back and rhythm section making quite the pronounced statement. Heavier means no less engaging in that quite the catchy hook can be found as well.
“Kill Zone”, another heavier track, returns things to the lengthier seven minute format. The albums most malevolent, the song plays up a darker, lower-register feel in amalgamating a forthright tempo with knife-like rhythm guitars in abundance. The mid-ranged grit and focus of guest vocalist Giles Lavery plays a complementary role. A protracted instrumental section runs the gamut from melodic harmonies to brazen soloing to edgy riffs. Lyric snippet:
The war it just rages for ages
The stench of the dead that I loathe
I feed my machine guns and I roar
And pouring out lead from the Zone
Pouring out lead from the Zone
The final assault on Fallujah
Our mission to 'search and destroy'
The foreign jihad has come here to fight
For Allah and Prophet they'll die
For Allah and Prophet they'll die
“Night Of The Fury” represents this reviewer’s choice track. The song highlights a melodic proclivity not unlike “70,000 Sorrows”, mid-paced in form in playing up an emotional milieu and the portentous overtones to match. Melody is over the top, you will be challenged to keep this one out of your head, almost to the point of commercial. The female harmony vocals at the end add a haunting dimension. A hint of the symphonic metal bands from Europe can be found in this one.
“Father” comes across light and airy (almost atmospheric) with its soaring guitar feedback and acoustic lacings. The song proves the albums calmest and most gentle as a result, playing up a semi-ballad feel with its poignant flavorings. Of note are the beautiful melodies and harmonies abounding, while the bass pulsates in the backdrop. Lyric snippet:
Defender of truth and of freedom
Am I living a lie?
I render my fruits to thy kingdom
Pray give me a sign
For I am weak, how long can I fight?
Father, when can I see you again?
And when can be with you Father?
You gave up your life for me then,
And when, I needed you
Eleven minute magnum opus “The Holy Empire” closes things. The song brings some of the albums most pronounced medieval flavorings (you can tell it was written with Lordian Guard in mind), as can be found in the choir-like backing vocals, ringing bells at the start and what sounds like lute and lyre (although I could be mistaken). Plenty of tempo changes as well, including the instrumental first three minutes, enchanting verses highlighted by keyboards and symphonic chorus in which more choir vocals lend their presence. Elongated instrumental breaks add to what amounts a progressive environs. So much mood and flair on the albums title track it cannot help but challenge for song of the year. Lyric snippet:
In the life that we live, there is hardship and sorrow
The pain that we share, is but one and the same
We fight to survive in a world that is hollow
But where do we go from here
Yes, where do we go from here
To the Holy Empire kingdoms fall
For the Holy Empire conquers all
When the Holy Empire dawns
We will live in peace with man and God
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “70,000 Sorrows” (6:55), “Glory” (6:25), “Thy Kingdom Come” (6:50), “City Walls Of Troy” (3:34), “Kill Zone” (7:37), “70,000 Sorrows” (7:15), “Father” (5:22), “The Holy Empire” (11:31)
Richard Anderson - Lead Vocals
William Tsamis - Guitars
Philip Bynoe - Bass
Mark Zonder - Drums & Percussion
Giles Avery - Lead Vocals
Barbara Pride Anderson - Harmony Vocals
Hannah Anderson - Harmony Vocals
The Trinity Choir - Chorale