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  • Tiana Speter

ALBUM REVIEW: Empire State Bastard - 'Rivers of Heresy'


ARTIST: Empire State Bastard | ALBUM: Rivers of Heresy

Toto, we certainly aren't in Kansas anymore, and if you came to Empire State Bastard's debut album Rivers of Heresy as a Biffy Clyro fan, chances are you're in for a major (yet extremely welcome) surprise.

The brainchild of Biffy frontman Simon Neil and Oceansize frontman/Biffy live guitarist Mike Vennart, Empire State Bastard is a pure labour of love over a decade in the making. And throw in the legendary Dave Lombardo on drums and bassist Naomi Macleod, and you have a recipe for something truly magnificent; a fact that is achieved tenfold on this gleefully tumultuous and painstakingly-crafted release.

Answering the question of "what would it sound like if Mike Patton, Will Haven, Melvins and Converge hung out in a post-apocalyptic bunker?", Rivers of Heresy is genuinely one of the most impressive and intense releases to grace 2023. If you're a metal fan of any persuasion, this is the ultimate album for you, made by a bunch of ridiculously talented musicians who already had nothing to prove, but went ahead and made a masterpiece anyway. Opening with the album's debut single Harvest, the beautiful chaos hangs heavy as Neil flits between caustic beast mode and spoken-word delivery alongside Vennart's spiked riffage. A track abundant with angst and gleefully riotous textures and time signatures, there's plenty of Patton-esque gallop while Lombardo explodes, ripping the stratosphere a new one along the way. Next up, Blusher stomps and brutally churns with vocal ferality and a palpitating, grinding core while lyrically targeting the erosion of shame in our brittle society.

From here, Moi? unfurls with hypnotic hazy rock morphing into a guttural vice of fuzz and turgid textures before buffeting you into an anodyne stripped-back outro; a momentary reprieve before the ballistic stylings of Tired, Aye? swings in, complete with nothing but Lombardo serving up erratically precise gold while Neil ignites with the ferocity of ten thousand suns alongside Lombardo's might.

Returning riffs with a vengeance after the decidedly sparser antics of Tired, Aye?, Sons And Daughters saunters in with oozing guitars before evolving into a drawling stoner and sludge-soaked bliss bomb, with Neil's enduring warcry permeating the gripping agitation, repeating "You're losing your sons and your daughters / You're losing your war and your soldiers / Your vanity won, it's not glorious / This isn't the life that you sold us".

The brutality continues via the sonic sledgehammer that is Stutter, while Palms Of Hands rages with ravenous swagger alongside more tongue-in-cheek lyrical territory, providing, as the band eloquently put it via their pre-release material: "a vignette of going to a sex party and it going horrifically wrong". And from the bone-crushing claustrophobia layered on the sinews of Dusty to the frenzied thrash laced with fiery grooves and staccato Bungle-worthy theatrics erupting on penultimate track Sold!, Rivers of Heresy draws to a close via its longest and most immersive track: The Looming. Dredging you along the ocean floor with its dank grooves, barb-wired guitars and Neil's descent into thick metal growls alongside more viscous terrain, ending the album via The Looming was clearly no accident, with the track slowly building towards its otherworldly closing apex; a repeated motif that transcends the rage that has come before it, sitting with you long after the final notes have faded into the distance.

With the dazzling lineup in the Empire State Bastard ranks, it comes as very little surprise that Rivers of Heresy is such a triumph. A dedicated and intense love letter to the less accessible reaches of metal and its subgenres made by genuine fans armed with an unholy abundance of talent, Rivers of Heresy is definitely not an "easy" listen; but for the fans who know and love the madcap titans of metal channelled by Empire State Bastard in their own way, this will be the perfect selling point to dive headfirst into this monumental release. An antidote to disposable modern music as much as it is a resoundingly cathartic experience, Rivers of Heresy will swallow you whole and spit you out as an entirely better, if not mildly battered, human. The Soundcheck doesn't give scores, but if we did, this would undoubtedly nab a 10/10.




Photo Credit: Gavin Smart





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