|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Sonny Larsson & Bjorn Stigsson|
|Record Label: Viva||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 1995||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 54:19|
Guitarist Bjorn Stigsson has without a doubt been around the block. Getting his start in the early eighties when he joined forces with brothers Kjell (drums) and Hakan Andersson (lead vocals/bass) to form the Swedish metal outfit Leviticus, he contributed the songwriting to the bands 1984 hard rocking debut I Shall Conquer in addition to its 1985 sophomore effort The Strongest Power. After Hakan departed the band following the release of TSP, Stigsson recruited bass guitarist virtuoso Ez Gomer and an equally talented vocalist by the name of Terry H. prior to recording the melodic metal of Leviticus’ finest album to date in Setting Fire To The Earth. When Ez and Terry H. left the group to form Jet Circus, lead vocalist Peo Pettersson was brought into the fold for the bands fourth and final outing Knights Of Heaven, a 1989 melodic rock based effort that fell a bit short of the mark due to the overly polished feel to its production. Stigsson also released his first and only solo album the same year under the title Together With Friends, a moniker that proved more than fitting as a result of the number of artists that made guest appearances on it, including a talented vocalist by the name of Sonny Larsson (Motherlode). The partnership between Stigsson and Larsson in time led to the formation of an exciting new group called XT. While XT did not release its self-titled debut until 1992 – a more pop rock based effort that was heavily influenced by Knights Of Heaven – the band came into its own a year later when it recorded the catchy melodic hard rock of its sophomore album Taxfree.
Finally, in 1995 XT put it all together when the band recorded its most guitar driven effort to date in Extended Empire. “Guitar driven”, nonetheless, are the two key words here in that it proves by far and away the heaviest project Stigsson has been associated with. While straightforward heavy metal might be the correct term to describe the music here, the album reflects influences as diverse as melodic metal (“I Want Love”), power metal (“Five Minutes To Midnight”) and even some progressive tendencies as well (“On The Run”). Nothing less than an accomplished musician, Stigsson puts forth one of the finest showings of his career, laying down a monster rhythm guitar sound in addition to furnishing a plethora of skillfully done lead guitar work. Larsson, who got his start with the secular melodic hard rock outfit Motherlode on its 1986 debut The Sanctuary, puts forth a versatile performance with his high pitched vocal style but adds an element of grit and gravel to his vocal delivery on “Can’t Live Without You” and “On The Run”. Long term Leviticus drummer Kjell Andersson puts forth his trademark strong showing and rounds out the rhythm section with bassist Johan Stark. Niklas Johnsson adds just the right amount of touch on keyboards.
Production values are quite strong, adding just the right amount of big budget-like polish but not enough to take away from the bands all out raw energy.
Please note that Extended Empire, which was not originally licensed for distribution outside of Europe, was recently re-issued by Rivel Records but as a limited edition pressing of only 300 copies.
“Warning” is a minute long album opener carried by a blend of narration and bizarre sound effects.
The power metal of “Five Minutes To Midnight” begins to sweeping synthesizers that transition to a driving guitar riff and a snarl from Larsson. Advancing through its first verse at a powerful mid-tempo pace, a melodic environment is put in place as the song attains a catchy chorus backed by just the right amount of edgy rhythm guitar. Stigsson steps forward with a minute of verdant lead guitar work. “Five Minutes To Midnight” is written from the standpoint of a guy switching channels with his remote control and seeing all the war and violence on TV:
My TV screen is showing me
The wars of today
Brothers killing brothers
they’re paying with their lives
Broadcasting live from the battleground on the news
I wonder where we are going to
Five minutes to midnight…
Immediately kicking in fast and heavy, a huge crunch flavored riff drives “Billy The Raver” forward in authoritative fashion until it reaches a smoothly flowing chorus in which Larsson cuts loose and displays the full range of his voice. Several seconds of fast paced lead guitar work is blended with a forward mix of rhythm guitar.
The acoustic guitar at the start of “Kids On A Hill” slowly holds sway over its first verse. Picking up in pace, a near perfect blend of rhythm guitar and organ takes over and leads the song to a very fine up-tempo chorus highlighted by periodic vocal harmonies.
“I’m Not Alone” opens to a few brief seconds of backward masking that gives way to a slowly moving and almost doom-like riff. Plodding through its first verse at an ominous and driving pace, “I’m Not Alone” evenly flows to a dragging chorus that closes to the sound of more backward masking. Stigsson stylish lead guitar work helps carry a nice extensive instrumental section.
The three minute “I Want Love” proves a nice upbeat change of pace. The song takes off in a quickly moving manner as a driving riff underscored by double bass shores up its first verse, the momentum gained quickly pushing it to a near mesmerizing chorus carried by a trade off between Larsson and the bands polished vocal harmonies.
The deep sounding background vocals introducing “The Battle” come across heavy handed if not outright cheesy. As the song moves forward to a slicing rhythm guitar, Larsson trades off between slinging in a lower key and his trademark high pitched style before an operatic choir of voices stands in support of its sweeping melodic flavored chorus. “The Battle” talks about the classic struggle between good and evil:
It’s a battle between my mind and heart
I can feel my heart is bleeding
I don’t know why you tear me apart
You tell me to kneel before You
Come to me…set me free.
“On The Run” is a terrific progressive influenced hard rocker. The song proceeds through its verse portions by transitioning between passages carried by a pounding riff blended with keyboards and others that move at a slower pace to a quietly played guitar line. Following an extensive instrumental section, “On The Run” closes out its final minute by continually repeating a very stylish chorus with a catchy refuse to go away hook. “On The Run” comes across in the form of a plea for the children of the world:
No one seems to care about me
a lonely kid on the street
can’t you see me running around
with no shoes on my feet
I have to steal just to survive
I need love to keep me alive
waiting for a helping hand
The fast paced and raucous “XT Land”, unfortunately, does not quite make the grade. Getting started to the sound of a cheering audience, the song launches into a fast paced riff that pushes it at breakneck speed to a chorus failing to hold up due to its overly polished and superfluous feel. Stigsson adds a distorted over-the-top guitar solo but it is not enough to put things over the top.
A monster of a riff accentuated by a forward but complementary mix of keyboards gets “Can’t Live Without You” underway. As the song progresses through its first verse, Larsson sings in a gritty and gravelly manner that can border on the abrasive, the brief but forcefully delivered chorus that follows carried in the same way by his scratchy delivery.
“Castles In The Sky” starts to a quick drum solo before immediately launching into a melodic based chorus as keyboards repeatedly flow between the left and right channel. Advancing through its verse portions in good hard rocking fashion, the song culminates for an instrumental passage carried by Stigsson’s grit-flavored lead guitar work.
“Airport” is an eight second interlude featuring the voices of Bjorn and Sonny.
“Deborah And Barak”, a reworked version of a song that originally appeared on The Strongest Power, commences at an aggressive mid-tempo pace, the authoritative atmosphere maintained during the songs verse portions before it tapers off upon reaching its driving chorus. Stigsson’s fiery lead guitar work helps to place “Deborah And Barak” among the albums better tracks.
The album closes with “Midnight”, a brief (1:19) number carried by a thunderstorm and ringing bells.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Warning” (:55), “Five Minutes To Midnight” (5:46), “Billy The Raver” (4:14), “Kids On The Hill” (5:41), “I’m Not Alone” (4:56), “I Want Love” (3:04), “The Battle” (4:35), “On The Run” (6:45), “XT-Land” (3:41), “Can’t Live Without You” (4:26), “Castles In The Sky” (4:12), “Airport” (:08), “Deborah And Barak” (4:28), “Midnight” (1:19)
Sonny Larsson – Lead Vocals
Bjorn Stigsson – Guitars & Keyboards
Niklas Johnsson - Keyboards
Johan Stark – Bass
Kjell Andersson – Drums
“XT – Extending God’s Empire.” Heaven’s Metal 53 (1995): 24-25.