Believe it or not, there are people out there who believe that heavy metal musicians are just a bunch of unintelligent, lumbering brutes with no social conscience. Those ignorant folks should a) hang their heads in shame, and b) take a listen to Northern Ireland’s own By Conquest or Consent.
Forming on New Years Day back in 2010, the band have spent the last few years honing their craft until they were ready to release their debut album Empires back in July this year. They have built up quite a following locally, and have progressed to bigger and better things along the way, such as winning a place a last year’s Techfest and supporting Anthrax in Belfast just prior to the release of Empires.
The album opens with an intro track, which consists of classical and rather beautiful flamenco-style guitars. This trick, employed by the likes of Metallica, not only shows off the band’s musical chops (not to mention a certain fondness for the unexpected), but also ensures that when the heavy hits, it hits hard.
Sure enough, the intro fades into a primitive beat, which slams up a gear in track two, another instrumental number called ‘Self Exclusion’ (more of the unexpected!). Its heavy groove and rapid blastbeats set the pace for the entire album.
First track proper, ‘Zodiac’, with its deep brutal vocals and complex, juddering beat truly sets the tone, however. Written about the so-called ‘Zodiac Killer’, an as-yet unsolved case involving a murderer who terrorised California in the late Sixties and early Seventies, it is a suitably ferocious number. With its long guitar solo and quite tech-y sound, in theory it could well fail to hold the listener’s interest, but it does – yes, it is quite a knotty and sophisticated number musically, but it never overpowers or confuses.
The song turns out to be a bit of a red herring, lyrically speaking at least. Tracks four to nine are a raging finger-pointing exercise directed at today’s corrupt and greedy leaders. Flitting between despair (“Blind to it all, cloak of lies covering the world” from ‘Revelations’) and defiance (“Cut their heads off and start again” from the startling historopolitical ‘The Last Emperor’), the album hisses and spits at the state of the world today, including Northern Ireland itself (in the rapidfire blast of ‘Max Ammo’).
If it’s a ‘call to arms’ anthem you’re seeking, look no further than the aforementioned ‘The Last Emperor’. With lyrics that could have been written by Anonymous for a ‘V For Vendetta’-masked crowd, the track manages to seamlessly meld elements of groove metal, thrash and metalcore into a surprisingly cohesive number that positively bristles with righteous indignation throughout its seven minute duration.
The ‘one two punch’ of lead single ‘Three’ and ‘We Came to Bring the Fight’ also deserve special mention here. Whereas ‘Three’ is a short, sharp dose of despondency clad in a grinding, punishing riff, ‘We Came…’ is a tech-y, blastbeat-y pounding number that angrily brushes away the sense of helplessness of the previous track and implores us to do something! When the last line of a song is “We won’t stop til we are dead” – well, intentions don’t come much clearer than that, do they?
Empires is an album packed with revolutionary ideals and passion. Crammed with shrewd and vital lyrics and liberally drenched in brutal beats and heavy, groove-laden riffs, it is an album that delights and impresses in equal measure. The tech-metal aspect is never simply ‘thrown in’ for the sake of it, so it is never distracting or tiresome; rather, it adds texture and focus to the band’s sound. In short, this album briskly disproves that whole ‘no skills or social conscience’ theory. Pffft. Listen, learn, and – above all – enjoy.
◀ STANDOUT ⁞ Zodiac ▶
◀ SOUNDS LIKE ⁞ Lamb of God | Sylosis ▶