Empire was put together by German guitarist Rolf Munkes with lots of rock's great musicians contributing to his album. On his debut, Lance King (ex-Balance of Power) and Mark Boals (Yngwie Malmsteen) did the vocals, and the lineup also featured bassist Neil Murray (Whitesnake), keyboardist Don Airey (Deep Purple) and drummer Anders Johansson (Hammerfall). For the second album, Munkes enlisted the services of former Black Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin whose work on Sabbath's Headless Cross remains an 80's classic.
Now, The Raven Ride, Empire's third album, is out, with the same lineup except Anders Johansson and the amazing Don Airey on keys. I do not know if Airey left after he recorded his parts because the keyboard playing is quite similar to his style. Tony Martin also co-wrote the material with Rolf Munkes and the result is a very solid hard rock album that definitely recalls Black Sabbath's Headless Cross and Tyr era, with Martin truly shining as a vocalist. To this day, whenever I hear him sing, be it his solo album, the Giuntuni Project or Phenomena, I am amazed at his powerful vocals. The Raven Ride is no exception, and it even puts a clear focus on his vocals on most of the tracks. The opening title track is also the best cut on the disc. Its intro is reminiscent of the title track on Headless Cross with ethereal keyboards creating a dark tone that fit the thoughtful lyrics. Munkes' riffing is mammoth, kind of like Iommi's; the melodies are strong and catchy; and Andre Hilgers' drumming is solid as a rock. "Breathe" expands on the style of the first track, emphasizing darker lyrics and more prominent keyboards and multi-vocal harmonies. Murray's bass is the standout element of the song, grooving violently beneath the rhythm guitars.
Most of the songs on the album are midtempo rockers. Don't expect any shred or cheesy rock a la Poison or Motley Crue. The songs on this album attain a certain depth and melodic awareness, featuring a healthy dose of guitar solos, the most interesting one being the wah pedals on "Carbon Based Lifeform", a Sabbathy track with lots of effects and husky bass lines. Similarly, Munkes also does a great job on the melodic "Satanic Curses", perhaps featuring Martin's second best performance after the title track, and the acoustic ballad "What Would I Do?" that picks up a cool blues solo at the end. "Changing World" is a brave criticisim of politicians abusing their power, while "Maximum" stands out as the only piece that is straightforward rock'n'roll and a somewhat overdone chorus. It's simply a song that doesn't mesh too well with the general flow of the piece. The humourous "I Can't Trust Myself" is a lot more to my liking because it's made up of a catchy melody and pounding rhythms. Still, The Raven Ride would have been a much better effort if they had written songs like the first couple of tracks or the closing piece "The Devil Speaks, The Sinner Cries", complete with powerful screams and spoken vocals contrasting each other.
Germany's Metal Heaven Records continues to release quality material and Empire's The Raven Ride is highly recommended to fans of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Whitesnake, as well as other other quality 80's rock bands.
- The Raven Ride
- Carbon Based Lifeform
- Satanic Curses
- Al Sirat (The Bridge To Paradise)
- What Would I Do?
- Changing World
- I Can't Trust Myself
- The Devil Speaks, The Sinner Cries