I don’t usually think of North Carolina when I think of melodic hardcore bands. From my position in the verdant English countryside, my view of America and its musical hotspots is largely geared towards the coasts, and that’s usually with regards to happier, bouncier stuff. This kind of bleak, desolate hardcore is usually Canada’s domain, or crops up from Scandinavia; cold, harsh places for cold, harsh music. But then in these times of austerity, fear and uncertainty, the fire that fuels tracks like these can ignite anywhere, and Empire, hailing from Raleigh, NC, have made a record that embodies that feeling effortlessly.
‘Set In Stone’ immediately creates the right atmosphere for the rest of the EP. Minor tones and crashing rhythms invoke a bleak sonic landscape. Every phrase to pass vocalist Ben Daughtry’s lips feels pained but not fragile and his half screamed, half shouted tone provides the perfect overlay for the rest of the track. It’s a fairly slow affair though, something which ‘Moore Square Station’ and ‘Minour’ alleviate with more frantic and intense riffs. The tone in the vocals begins to shift to something far more aggressive, and in ‘Minour’ especially, the guitar lines tread the line carefully between moments of deep angst and melancholic beauty while demonstrating Preston Mitchum’s immense control. ‘…And I Am Drawing Down’ has a particularly devastating feel to it, the rhythm section in particular providing a solid and crushing backbone. Final track, ‘The Iconoclast’ sounds as if it’s directly a part of its predecessor; there’s not enough of a division, but the two tracks would probably have worked very well as one whole, considering how short each track on the EP actually is – none clock in at over three minutes. Nevertheless, Empire play with some clever effects here and the constant refrain of “saying goodbye” rearing its head throughout is completely haunting.
Shedding Skin shows a great deal of promise. Empire have created a tight, emotionally involving and impressive record that is bound to thrill fans of Defeater, Circa Survive et al, but steps away from their legacy to forge something entirely their own.
4 out of 5 high fives!