Empire 21 – (self-titled)


Empire21_artworkWhen a band comes along that features members from bands like Narnia, Rob Rock, Darkwater, and Harmony, certainly fans of melodic hard rock should sit up and take notice. The self-titled debut from  Empire 21 has been in the works for quite some time, and let’s just say, “good things come to those who wait.”  Given the lineup, expectations are high for this band and they certainly deliver.

The origins of Swedish band Empire 21 actually date back to 2009 when drummer Tobias Enbert and singer Germán Pascual were part of a touring lineup of guitarist CJ Grmmark’s band Narnia.  After the decision to put Narnia to rest, there was still a desire to make music and Tobias and Germán were able to convince CJ into the Empire 21 project.  Andreas Ålöv and John Svensson were known to some band members and through some stories involving music stores, the band’s lineup was completed.  The fledgling band worked with Tobias Lindell and Tomas “plec” Johansson to record the album and even made a video for “All is Lost”.  Unfortunately, during the video shoot, some differences of opinion came to the forefront and after long discussions, the band parted ways with singer Germán.  This obviously left the band in bad shape and no label was interested in a band with no lead singer, so the money and time spent on recording and the video seemed to be a waste.  Music stores and friendship come back into the story as soul-singer Ricard Hulteke was looking for a new guitar and came into the shop where CJ and John work.  CJ and Ricard were old friends and CJ asked Ricard to audition despite him having no experience in metal vocals and the rest is history as they say.  Ricard was in the band and went into the studio and recorded vocals for the album.

Sometimes from the very opening of an album, you can tell if you’ll like it and this was my experience with the self-titled debut from Empire 21.  The opening guitar riff sets and metallic tone and galloping rhythm  and throughout the first track “When You’re Falling” all of the elements of the Empire 21 sound come into play.  Everything you  expect in melodic hard rock is here from great production, to scorching guitar solos, to a strong rhythm section with keyboard accents, and strong vocals with a good range and a variety of deliveries from shouting, to barked out spoken sections, to soaring choruses.

“All is Lost” is one of the songs where Ricard’s vocals really come into the forefront and the overall the song is very strong, which makes it easy to see why they would have made a video for it at one point.  With all songs on the album, the guitars and drums really carry things along, but the keyboards are certainly present and the more you listen, the more you can appreciate their contribution.

The intro to “Traveler” tricked me into thinking this was going to be a Western-themed power ballad, but that didn’t last long, thankfully.  With slower verse sections and faster chorus sections, the song is well-crafted and moves along nicely in a rollicking manner.  The verses do have that Country-Western sound to them but the metal guitars take over for the rest of the song.  As expected, the song also has a very tasteful guitar solo, which is what you would expect given the not only the genre but also the pedigree of the band.

“Empire 21” opens up a bit differently than other songs on the album with just keyboard and drums to set the tone and relatively fast pace and then the rumbling bass comes in followed by the guitars.  Verse sections revert to just the keyboard drums and bass and make for a nice quiet accompaniment for the vocals that are punctuated by a cool guitar riff.  This song instantly brought to mind something from the band Disturbed with Ricard’s vocals sounding like David Draiman’s in terms of tone and delivery.  Add in a guitar section reminiscent of something like “Wake Up Dead” (Megadeth) before a guitar solo and you can get a feeling for the lengths that Empire 21 go to in arranging a song.  This song has one of those great melodic feels to it that brings out the steering wheel drummer in every car as well.

“Heard It All” opens up with a nice piano into before a dirty, fast guitar riff carries the song into a completely different direction.  The verse sections of the song are mostly bass, keyboards, and drums providing a backdrop for Ricard’s vocals and then are punctuated by short bursts of guitar riffs, a style Empire 21 uses elsewhere on the album and one that suits them very well.  The song moves along very fast and is another one of those that gets the heads bobbing.

There really isn’t a bad song on the album and what I personally have noticed is that this is one of those fairly rare albums that are heavy enough for metal fans and yet are still enjoyable for those not so much into metal.  The songs seem to be nearly the perfect length at times as well as I found myself thinking that a certain song may be veering a bit too much into the realm of 80’s hair metal but then the song would end and the next track would change my impression back.  Empire 21’s self-titled debut is one of those albums that you can play over and over, seems to suit nearly any mood, and will appeal to a wide audience.

Rating: 9/10

01. When You’re Falling
02. I Can’t
03. All Is Lost
04. Traveler
05. Empire 21
06. 100 Nights
07. Heard It All
08. This Is My Story
09. Calling
10. Would You
11. No Matter The Winds Of Change

Empire 21 line-up
CJ Grimmark [Rob Rock, Narnia] – Guitars
Ricard Hulteke – Vocals
Tobias Enbert [Darkwater, Harmony] – Drums
Andreas Ålöv – Bass
John Svensson [Harmony] – Keyboards

Record Label: Empire 21 Records, Nov. 2014

Interview with Empire [Oct. 2014]

Weblinks: Website / Facebook

Buy the album here:
 First Paradox 
 Nordic Mission

Video below Album Teaser

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