Last Empire - s/t 3.5/5

Reviewed: 9-29-06


1. Trilogy of the unicorn pt.1
2. Trilogy of the unicorn pt.2
3. Trilogy of the unicorn pt.3
4. Fall from grace
5. Wings of dragons
6. Gods of fire and steel
7. Stormbringer
8. Dark queen

Imagine a band that is definitely and purely metal, quite heavy, but unquestionably not thrash, black metal, or death metal, with vocals that are real singing. Now, imagine that band to be the absolute antithesis, within that description, of what Hammerfall and Stratovarius are, and you have a decent idea of what Portland, Oregon, U.S.'s Last Empire sounds like.

To wit, this is a band which is raw, dark, powerful, complex, and with nary a hint of a catchy chorus to be heard. In fact, there's really no refrain at all to be found on the CD. This comes off like an early Metal Blade band, all piercing shrieks, burning riffs, with long black leather wrist guards bristling with spikes, undeniably metal and with melody, but either so complex or chaotic that it's much, much less accessible, especially vocally. What comes closest to mind is early Steel Prophet, circa 'The goddess principle', before the band started writing their songs in a more typical fashion; Exciter with much more complexity; Juggernaut's 'In the blood of virgins'; some of Skullview without the more typical structure; and even a bit of Cauldron Born, without the sheer precision and absolute polish.

There are times all this chaos and rawness can become wearing, especially if your listening is distracted, and it undoubtedly is a rather limited production, but there are times when a great sound comes through on the guitar riffs, and there is some outstanding aggressive, fluid, and dynamic guitar work, and the vocals are generally clean and clear.

Now, granted, at a certain time in the past this would have been more of a detriment to me, but, given the deluge of quality bands who have written more direct and more accessible songs in the past 15 years, it's an ubiquitous enough style that I don't mind this sharp contrast nearly so much, as it seems more fresh and unique. (Of course, the counterpoint is that is having had so much metal over that same period, perhaps I won't be as patient to take the time to let an admittedly inaccessible CD like this grow on me.)

Lyrically, the band is exquisite, well written, pure (typical) fantasy imagery throughouut, and despite a title of "Trilogy of the unicorn", in 3 parts, this is nothing like Pandaemonium or Skylark, dark, and sinister, but blissfully intricate.
"Racing through the dungeons hallways Ogres notice them escaping searching for the horn of life Elves and humans split their team up."
"Stormbringer" of course pays hommage to the Elric mythos of Michael Moorcock (and I'll never get enough of the lyrics in this vein), and "The dark queen" brings metal life to Takhisis from the Dragonlance Chronicles. In short, this is TSR brought to life, pure ecstasy for a fan like me with this style of lyrical writing, and something that would have probably made my head explode 15 years ago before real fantasy writing was much more prevalent in the metal arena.

Repackaged by Underground Symphony, all the lyrics are included in this Digipack version. Perhaps a bit of an acquired taste, those who want something with less "catchy" vocal melodies and hum-a-long choruses, may truly love it, and those that really enjoy the latter may find this wanting.




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