Sound: VNV Nation are an industrial band hailing from Ireland and England (now based in Hamburg). This is their third album, and also their breakthrough into the more mainstream synthpop genre. This album stripped away the harsher EBM aspects of their previous two albums and instead presents the listener with more ambient layers of pads and arpeggio lines. This is evident from the opener, "Firstlight", which has a slow beat with synthesized strings and other odd sounds, allowing the listener to ease into the album. "Kingdom" follows, now bringing in harder drum and synth elements with Ronan Harris' vocals and a very catchy chorus. The rest of the album continues in this vein, bar "Standing" which is more of a ballad, and "Arclight", which is essentially the first track with vocals.
By today's standards the album does sound a little dated, due in part to newer synthesizers (the album was recorded with an Access Virus) and better mastering techniques. However this is irrelevant as the power of the music and the atmosphere here breaks through that barrier and leaves an album worthy of more success than it has had. // 9
Lyrics: The lyrics deal with varied subjects, from love to war. "One should strive to achieve, not sit in bitter regret" seems to be their motto, and judging by the lyrics, they practice what they preach. The lyrics of "Arclight", for instance, features lines such as "... At first light lay proud foundations/Sense the greatness within you... ", or from "Darkangel", "... You'll understand what possesses me to right what you have suffered". The lyrics go well with the music, being melancholic whilst retaining an uplifting air.
Ronan Harris' vocals here are great, if a bit strained sounding at parts. However, it is a leap forward compared to previous records and he has just been getting better since then. // 8
Overall Impression: Everyone who knows VNV Nation will know that they are among the greatest industrial groups to have come along in a long, long time. They managed to take the EBM genre to new levels with this album, remaining at the top of the German DAC (Deutsche Alternative Charts) for seven weeks. "Empires" is arguably their best and most influential record, it is certainly my personal favourite. A limited edition album "Burning Empires" was released after the success of this album, essentially being a remix album but featuring vocals on the track "Saviour" and boasting two very different versions of "Standing".
Personal highlights of the CD include "Kingdom", "Saviour" and "Darkangel" (also released as a single and remixes). In conclusion, a highly influential and enjoyable album, a must for all fans of any form of electronica. // 10