Review: I Am Empire – Kings

Artist: I Am Empire
Album: Kings
Genre: Rock
Label: Tooth And Nail

I Am Empire remind me of a slightly more accomplished Escape the Fate, and will surely find a similarly enthusiastic following. Austin Lyons’ vocals have elements of Craig Mabbitt’s about them, and just as with ETF’s music, there’s enough glimpses of promise hidden amidst their abrasive layers to mark them out as a band to be reckoned with. In fact, they’re more capable. The riffs come heavy, thick, and fast, and the album rips by at a frenetic pace – Kings was, according to the band’s facebook page, inspired by anger and misunderstanding in the face of abandonment and indeed seems to quite viscerally capture the five stages of grief.

“Brain Damage” is a rousing prologue. It hurtles in on a strained guitar refrain, commanding attention instantly and holding it with the first of numerous powerful and intoxicatingly catchy choruses. The whole album, despite its dark inspiration, seems determined to uproot the listener, demanding intense reaction and surely anticipating uproar in a live setting. The lyrics are tinged with exasperation and malcontent, but the music is founded on so much energy and enthusiasm that you can’t help but come away feeling reinvigorated.

In this sense, it helps that the vocals are sung, not screamed. It lends more sincerity and warmth to the record, colouring the music with genuine fervor that may otherwise have been lost in screamo distortion. It’s a record earmarked by bursts of vigorous guitar solos and ambitious choruses, screaming youth and strength and attitude. The consistency allows it to flow, the constant proximity to an engaging vocal refrain ensuring no one is left behind on the ride throughout.

“Heart Attack,” the album’s second song, continues to play a blinder, swagger and pomp seeping through the rustic guitars. “Saints and Sinners” feels jazzier, playing around with tempo and layering to shape a stirring and emotive song. Further down the line, “Dig You Out“ kicks off with a neatly accented riff, an acoustic guitar seamlessly invoking an emotive atmosphere. Lyons’ vocals are able to flourish more in this setting, as he digs deep to pour his heart out on one of the album’s more sentimental songs. It’s easy to write off albums openly acknowledged as being about heartache, but every now and then, one finds its niche and actually manages to compel and intrigue, and on songs such as this I Am Empire succeed quite well in doing so.

“Take Me Away” is a similarly profound and evocative exploration of feeling. It’s stripped down, stark and unassuming by comparison with the charged excesses elsewhere. Where otherwise an audience might be leaping furiously over one another to scream words back at the stage, this will let them take a breather, moving no less but letting hands be raised and lighters [or rather, mobile phones] ignited.

“You’re A Fake” features perhaps the most invigorating sing-along of the whole record, barely any time or attention being spent on the staccato verses before the full wrath is unleashed with a stunning wall of sound not unlike The Used on “Take Me Away.” There is, as always, some frenzied solo musing before the band move on. The song is a standout, an easily recalled and enlivening breakdown on an album that can veer towards redundant, but remains spunky and inherently likable nonetheless.

Bands of this style and calibre tend to fall into one of three camps – the exceptional camp, rare finds whose prized music genuinely seizes you at the core and stands out in the memory; the average camp, who write and sing with promise and fortitude, never really excelling but making for perfectly entertaining background noise; and the lacklustre camp, who just make bad, misguided music that no one seems to get. I Am Empire are not the most exceptional band, but they do have a shine to them. Their artistry flickers consistently throughout and drives their despondency-fueled riffs straight home.

Overall, IAE fall quite neatly into the big hearts/big noise stable. They shouldn’t be troubling arenas any time soon, but Kings is infectiously realized and very enjoyable. Time will tell if they evolve into something more innovative but in the meantime, they certainly aren’t doing too badly for themselves.

Score: 8/10
Review written by: Grace Duffy

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

Latest posts by James Shotwell (see all)

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.