Let’s face it, if you’ve heard anything from Vader‘s discography since the turn of the century (or even before it, really) you know exactly what you are getting yourself into. This is yet another violent slab of well executed death metal and thrash meant to tear your skin off, assert dominance over you with enough compositions to really stand out and make you take notice of this album in particular. “Iron Reign” is a stunning example. It’s dark and brooding atmosphere lies behind more of a God Dethroned melodic death metal piece with hardcore grooves in the guitar work in some spots meant to get you marching along in place in total obedience. The dismal display creates a dreary day on the battle field, preparing you for the outcome only Death itself can see.
Of course, the real meat of this release is still the more aggressive performances, which is exactly how it all starts. “Angels of Steel” has a highly melodic introduction before tearing into you with the ferocity of early Slayer. Traces of crossover can be felt at times, though the anger only lets up for a moment heading into the guitar solo. This is the sort of animosity most of the short tracks share, but this one is actually tame compared to “No Gravity”. The tight guitar work and hardest hitting solo on the album yet just lunges straight for the throat, toppling you over so the later blast beat can attempt to cave your skull in prior to curb stomping you with the sudden, yet aesthetically pleasing shift into hardcore once more to wrap things up. Even “Genocidius” has a face melting start, though by the slam about haf-way through changes to a much slower pace that feels more doom overall, but with an unmistakable hardcore inspiration at its roots while the tension builds demanding you to join the empire.
There are a few cuts that seem kind of unique to his effort though. While not the first time it’s happened, “Parabellum” carries itself more as a traditional thrash song, but with the gang chants replaced with raspy shouts. It also happens in “Tempest”, which has a lot more bite to it overall to work with that additional aspect for maximum bite in the group’s traditional death/thrash realm. A little past a minute-and-a-half, things do slow down for a killer guitar solo, but even then the atmosphere shifts to an authoritative groove in a very ominous terrain. Finally there’s “The Army-Geddon”, a call to arms that kicks things off in more of a technical death metal sense. These intricate bouts appear later more as bridges between the bass heavy groove metal passages. It’s an interesting creation that does stand as one of the most unusual compositions we’ve seen from the group in a while now, but it just isn’t that impressive. The execution between what feels like Origin crossed with a beefier death metal tinged Lamb of God just seem to clash, making it incredibly hard to get into beyond bobbing your head along at the spots that tickle your fancy the best.
As the old adage goes: If it aint broke, don’t fix it. And, well, that’s basically what we have here. The Empire only reaffirms that Vader is the Motorhead and Pro-Pain of the death/thrash world. Yes, “The Army-Geddon” stands as a little out of character and something wholly new for the group, but unfortunately it stands as more of a blemish than anything engaging. Thankfully it’s the only blemish on yet another solid blend of darkness, hostility, and attitude we’ve come to know and expect of Vader. If you’ve enjoyed anything they have unleashed since at least 2000’s Litany, you’ll find yourself devouring this one up and wanting seconds the moment “Send Me Back to Hell” wraps.