Sound — 6
During its initial inception in the wake of his former industrial band Circle Of Dust, Klayton's electronic metal project, Celldweller, was ahead of the curve in terms of fusing metal and electronica. With the project's self-titled debut album containing characteristics of psytrance, drum 'n' bass, and big beat sounds a la The Prodigy and The Crystal Method, it made for a forward-thinking specimen of metal that would more or less inspire future electronic metal acts like Pendulum and Enter Shikari. But after this substantial splash, Celldweller's work towards a follow-up album would be plagued with delays throughout the years. By the time that follow-up album, "Wish Upon a Blackstar," was released in full in 2012, its dubstep/electro/drum 'n' bass characteristics didn't shine as uniquely, since the EDM craze that was coming in to full swing at the time was possessing more bands to inject some kind of electronica flavor into their sound.
Though time management has been the bane of Celldweller's existence, recent years have shown Klayton finally getting in a groove of releasing music at a steady pace. Whereas he released "Wish Upon a Blackstar" in two-song increments before its full completion, he did a similar sort of incremental chapter release for his third album, "End of an Empire"; though with these chapters containing original songs, remixes, and the instrumental versions of those originals and remixes, the amount of content was considerably bloated.
In contrast, with the release of the completed "End of an Empire" album, the amount of content is relatively underwhelming and convoluted, both for the regular version and the deluxe version. As opposed to the completed "Wish Upon a Blackstar" containing eight new tracks along with the incrementally-released songs, the final "End of an Empire" album only brings forth five new tracks: "Jericho," "Breakout," "G4M3 0V3R," the "Faction 13" interstitial narrative track that works in tandem with "Breakout," and the Circle Of Dust remix of "Jericho." Apropos of the "Faction" tracks that accumulated in the "End of an Empire" chapter series (which, collectively, were like a smaller version of Celldweller's instrumental "Soundtrack for the Voices in My Head" series, but also included some conceptual narrative for the chapters), the only ones included in the regular version of the album are "Faction 1" and "Faction 6." Expectedly, the deluxe version does include all of the "Faction" tracks (including two new ones with "Faction 13"), but the other new content it offers - short chiptune renditions of "New Elysium," "Good L_ck (Yo_'re F_cked)," "Jericho," "Down to Earth," and an '80s-revival dance remix of "Breakout" - also feels underwhelming in terms of new content. All this being said, those that purchased the "End of an Empire" chapters every step of the way may feel a bit ripped off with the completed albums offering little new for them.
As for the musical output of the completed album, though, "End of an Empire" contains some familiar formulas (like the industrial metal cut of "Down to Earth") and some new fusions (like the chiptune/metal hybrid "G4M3 0V3R"), but most noticeably, shows Celldweller's EDM side starting to eclipse his metal side. "New Elysium" pulls off a good juggling act of fast-traveling psytrance arpeggios and dubstep/metal breakdowns, and the self-titled track improves upon the drum 'n' bass/metal hybrid formula from the previous album highlight "Unshakeable," but the glitchy dubstep synth growls take the spotlight more often than not - hitting peak aggression in "Heart On," and spicing up the average rocker "Lost in Time."
The other reason for this eclipsing is that the more rock-oriented songs end up being the weaker links on the album, such as the upbeat and poppy "Good L_ck (Yo_'re F_cked)" and the dance-rocky "Breakout," though the industrial metal offering of "Jericho (Circle Of Dust Remix)" punches up the reserved, synth driven original. The couple of low-geared songs on the album also are a hit and a miss - while the gentle ballad of "Just Like You" utilizes more intriguing synth layers with acoustic guitar parts that call back to the acoustic guitar usage in "Celldweller," the simmering and erupting cycles of "Precious One" comes off meandering more than anything.
Lyrics — 7
Though the chapters of "End of an Empire" clearly imply a concept, the songs that came in installments were organized by theme rather than a linear storyline. As a completed album, there still isn't exactly a hard-lined story that spans from front to back (though there is a sci-fi setting), but there are more themes and symbolism that connect songs together. The biggest theme of which is revolution, where "New Elysium" and "End of an Empire" work in tandem as a rallying cry to overthrow the fictitious tyrannical empire, "Down to Earth" and "Jericho" work in tandem as to specifically call out the day of reckoning for the emperor of said regime, and "Breakout" acts as a tangential B-story of a marginalized cybernetic race finally breaking free from their unjust imprisonment.
However, other songs end up hanging on their own cheesy novelty without adding much to themes or story, like the fantastical love song (and awful pun) of "Heart On," and the gimmicky misfortune depicted in "Good L_ck (Yo_'re F_cked)," a subject that was already done before in the "Wish Upon a Blackstar" song "The Lucky One." But in contrast to that case of bland repetition, other lyrics make some compelling callbacks to earlier Celldweller lyrical themes. With the recurring theme of waiting for destiny in "Wish Upon a Blackstar," "Lost in Time" picks that theme up once again, expressing concern for feeling paralyzed in this wait and only wasting time ("I feel lost in time / But if I wait for direction my lifetime will pass me by"). And in the reincarnation theme of "Precious One," the line "When I stand before you at Death's door / Will I be afraid to enter" ties all the way back to the "Celldweller" song "The Last Firstborn" ("'Cos I'm not sure when knocking on Death's door if I'll be welcomed in or be left alone outside"), both depicting a nervous uncertainty about crossing over into whatever new existence an afterlife has in store.
Overall Impression — 7
While the way "End of an Empire" came together is a strange thing to analyze, as well as not being as bountiful of a completion as the jam-packed "Wish Upon a Blackstar," as the next album in his catalog, it indeed shows Celldweller improving upon his craft of intertwining metal energy and electronica energy. Though not every genre juggled throughout the album hits the mark, the noticeably increased quality of the meticulously-produced electronica characteristics proves that he's only growing better as a composer at the genre intersection he thrives in.