Sound: "Down cobbled streets and blackened walls,
I'll lead you through a secret way..
Through Cheapside, Newgate and St Pauls,
in cross-hatched avenues of grey...
We'll walk these places of renown,
this artists view of London Town,
Such sounds we'll hear, such sights we'll see,
in bleak scenes of inked treachery..."
Spoken by the one and only Dave Courtney, famed former gangster. But what is this, exactly? Its an opening to the most bombastic and perversely sophisticated sounding black metal album that has been unleashed on us mere mortals. Imperial Vengeance is a name that wont mean much to the majority of metalheads, but the main brain behind the entire concept has had his fair share of metal stardom. His name is Charles Hedger, best known as a former guitarist of Cradle Of Filth. Okay, so perhaps he's not really THAT big, but he also writes for Terrorizer magazine (Sick Sounds, the guy knows his stuff) to his credit.
But what IS Imperial Vengeance? A particularly mysterious blend of black metal, classical music, a sound that will inexplicably always have your attention and a somewhat extreme love for all things British, specifically for this album, the late Victorian period. Now some of that sounds a bit "Oooo, don't know, sounds like more Dimmu Borgir we don't need", but I assure you, this an entirely different band.
First thing to note about the album is the musicianship. My word, the musicianship. Musicianship. Musician. Ship... Anyway, the two biggies are the guitars, in terms of leads, riffs and the amazingly well constructed atmospheric textures created, and the orchestration.
The riffs are predominantly extreme metal style: string-skippy, tremolo picked and often times incredibly dark in their sound. As hard as many black metal bands work to create their sounds, its very rare that an albums sound such as "Black Heart Of Empire" almost immediately puts you right where it wants to just from a guitar riff. The orchestration is utterly brilliant, despite the somewhat synthetic nature of a few instruments, the general sound of dramaticism, urgency and "most heinous plots afoot" could never be created without them. The drumming is something else to take note of. Despite James Last's (that's his name) skill of reaching ludicrous tempos, in terms of constant, interesting ideas, I'd say there are better things that could've been done on the album. Of course, there is no slouching, but sometimes I just wish that the odd 4/4 kick snare kick snare beat he sometimes throws in could've been avoided. // 9
Lyrics: Despite being the main man behind the entire project, Mr C. Edward Alexander (as he would like to be known, I'm sure) only handles the harsh vocals on the album (even though he has a respectable Gothic croon at his disposal). In terms of sound, I wouldn't say black metal pops into my mind when I hear them. In terms of genre, they're more along the lines of the Melodic Death metal style of vocals (not really being a scream or a growl, but somewhere in the middle), or to put it more into context, Sean Zatorsky of Daath. But as with every bit of written music on the album, they work splendidly well into the music and overall feel of the album.
On the other side of the vocals we have two notable contributors: Bjrnar Erevik Nilsen of ludicrous outfit Vulture Industries and the more prevalent Lori Lewis of Therion (who is given the character names of "The Voice Of The Angel" and the god-damn hilarious "A Woman Of Good Breeding"). Yet again, a classically trained soprano singing along to classically written metal slides almost flawlessly into the sound, although the one thing that clicked with me is just how powerful her voice is (she makes her vocal tracks subtly but uncontrollably distort just because of pure volume).
Lyrically, the entire idea of "Black Heart Of Empire" is the grittiest, dirtiest, most corrupt and perverse parts of the Victorian era. Madness, mysteries, murder, forays into black magic and the general extremity of the levels of excess of the higher classes at the time make for an incredibly interesting experience. And if you get the special edition, Transcend Music will give you (very very slowly) a Penny dreadful style book of the stories and the musical ideas behind them. // 9
Overall Impression: Given the general diagnostic of the album (a British Black Metal Opera? Hmmm), one could be forgiven for calling the album and the band a load of overblown nonsense. Far from it, this is an experience that can be highly enjoyable, an interesting take on metal, classical music and British heritage, and also a nice way of showing that not all talent being put into COF is wasted.
Of course, this is very British. So... Expect it to be British.
Songs to look out for: If you can, then the album from start to finish is a must, but for people with short attention spans "Black Heart Of Empire", "Veiled Threats Over Cocktails", "The Devil In The Detail" and "Of Insect And Allegory". // 8