If you’ve followed along with New York’s Dead Empires‘ last two albums, a couple of things will be evident when approaching third full length, Designed to Disappear: 1) this band is eccentric and unafraid to experiment, and 2) their instrumental approach worked by engaging and challenging listeners, completely enveloping all thought processes over the course of these albums. With this third effort, the band has added a vocalist and my immediate concern was how this would affect their sound, would it be worse? Better? Meh? Or even worse still, lose its gleam? I was quickly relieved of any fears as this effort IS their best to date.
Yes, I did just blow my wad of thoughts right there in the intro. So, if you’re still reading – thanks. Dead Empires have always had an acute knack for being creative with their influences and inventive in their songwriting. On Waiting in Waves and Secret Snakes / Silent Serpent the band wove sonic tapestries of progressive metal / noise / rock with a heavy sludge vibe that was as unpredictable as it was fun — like listening to Torche at their sunniest. Through all that though, their ability to hold attention with an iron grip without vocals was and still is amazing. It’s a constant guessing game of where they’ll go next but where they’ve ventured has been equal parts heavy, fun, uplifting and complex.
On Designed to Disappear everything I’ve mentioned is plainly put, better. Their sound is louder than ever before and infinitely more varied across the album. And with the addition of new vocalist Jason Sherman (Torrential Downpour) the music morphs into an even heavier yet more progressive beast than ever as they’re able to explore surprising new depths. Not to mention Sherman’s range is ridiculous; death growls, hardcore yelling, spoken word and soulful singing — this is a man with much to offer and Dead Empires take full advantage of it.
The rolling progression of this album is just one thing among many that stood out in early spins. It begins in the form of sludgy and malicious hardcore strong enough to kick your brain in (“The Form”). “Slay Rider” bolts from the gate as death metal, giving Sherman a chance to showcase his deep growling abilities but quickly the song evolves into a frothing speed demon. Not content to let brutality rule the day, “A Summertime Song” goes reggae. Yes, you read that right. And the pop melodies here work like a champ even though it doesn’t last long — just enough to shake it up and much like they’ve done in the past, keep listeners guessing and entertained at the same time.
The album closing title track combines every approach, every nuance and every bit of the band’s past, and present, into one twelve plus minute epic. It’s delicate yet brutal, uplifting and weighted, experimental and forward thinking but most of all Dead Empires turns in one of the finest moments of their career and consequently one of my favorite tracks as well. Listening to the lilting guitar melodies, the stunning psychedelic interplay between guitar and bass, the contrast between abrasive and inspiring, and the undeniable arch of this song it’s easy to see why this one continues to grow in play counts. But, if you still don’t totally get the picture, think Rush meets Pink Floyd meets Neurosis meets Converge and you’re at least in the ballpark. BUT, it all sounds so individual and unique to this particular band and especially so in the context of their body of work.
Dead Empires growth and transformation on Designed to Disappear is amazing. Had I given in to my fears of the band changing too much with the addition of a vocalist (which would have been stupid) I never would’ve experienced the euphoria of what this album has to offer and just how good they sound as a complete unit. It can be gloriously uplifting and utterly dark but overall this is a tremendous next chapter in a book that will continue to unfold with each new release. If it doesn’t grab you on first spin trust me when I say: be patient and give it time. I can assure you, the rewards for this patience are endlessly satisfying.