Album Review: Warbringer - "Empires Collapse"

Whoa, what is this?

You ever seen the Robert Redford movie “Sneakers?” There’s a scene where the character Whistler (played by one of the all-time great character actors David Strathairn,) figures out that the computer hardware his crew stole is the most powerful decryption tool ever created; that possessing it gave him complete access to every secure network in the United States. Whistler’s reaction, accompanied by a symphonic crescendo, is “Whoa.” That’s how I feel about Warbringer’s new album “Empires Collapse.”

Let me set the scene for you – the first time I give an album a listen, I typically put it on while I’m doing housework and see if it grabs me. “Empires Collapse” not just grabbed my attention, but snapped my head back toward my speakers and made me stop what I was doing to absorb what I was listening to (take THAT, wife’s to-do list!)

The first, best and most important thing a listener can notice about “Empires Collapse” is how much more mature Warbringer has gotten musically. Seemingly skipping “Worlds Torn Asunder,” Warbringer has capitalized on the delicious riff-grinding of “Waking Into Nightmares,” and combined it with thoughtful arrangement and a solid, cohesive understanding of what makes thrash worthwhile. For years, Warbringer has been a capable student of thrash’s history. Now for the first time, we see them apply that history and synthesize something new. Four years ago, or even two, Wabringer could not have written a song as wonderfully layered as “One Dimension,” with a swinging chorus and a memorable bass hook. It’s that growth that makes “Empires Collapse” stand out.

In this recent thrash revival, it seems as though the only memory bands carry forward is the speed of the genre, forsaking the craft that shapes the greatest parts of thrash’s legacy. Warbringer, moving into the next phase of their career, have given their best riffs room to breathe. Find the groove of “The Turning of the Gears,” and you’ll be hearing the heart of true thrash played by fresh hands.

Even in the moments when “Empires Collapse” experiments or devolves into seamless noise making, it remains interesting because of placement and orchestration. There’s a sudden transitional breakdown in “Hunter-Seeker” that doesn’t really fit, but the juxtaposition is such that as a listener, you’re still at least intrigued to see what happens.
Let’s get back to the maturity point before we stray too far. There is a feeling throughout “Empires Fall” that Warbringer wants this record to be a coming-of-age showcase. The material is darker, the music is deeper and the album is better developed all-around. The flighty melodies and soloing couched within “Black Sun, Black Moon” are masterful in execution, as guitarist John Laux adds a new dimension to his arsenal of tricks and techniques. Even the vocals of John Kevill, always acceptable but somewhat cartoonish, are more compelling and convincing. His dedication to this record is evident throughout, as he guts out lines from end to end, filling in his pocket of the music with aplomb.

Naturally, there are exceptions to every generality and “Iron City,” is the embodiment of that exception. While still somewhat introspective and well-written, the song remains the obligatory thrash piece about drinking and random, aimless debauchery.

The focal points of “Empires Collapse” are the riffs, and that’s exactly as it should be. There are solid, open-spaced neck breakers to be had end to end, and there’s no song that disappoints. Find the sinister hook of “Leviathan” or “Horizon” or any song that I have yet to mention, and you’ll see the true value and musical epiphany of “Empires Collapse.”

When “Waking Into Nightmares” came out, I thought Warbringer contained unlimited potential, if only I could wait for them to develop. Two albums later, that patience has been rewarded. “Empires Collapse” is not only a great record, but a record by a band who truly understands what it means to be a modern thrash band that is moving the genre forward. I haven’t enjoyed a new thrash album this much in a while and you should make sure to find it and absorb it. Fans of thrash really can’t miss here. Whoa, indeed.

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