It would be easy to expect The Golden Foretaste Of Heaven to channel the high tech punk fury which is so definitive of the digital hardcore genre, a term originally coined by Empire. However, given Empire’s reputation as a fearless experimentalist who has remixed a diverse palate of artists ranging from Björk to Rob Zombie, such expectations will always be presumptuous.
The Gracenote classification of the album under the ‘Rock’ genre could not be more beguiling, given that The Golden Foretaste Of Heaven is quite the departure from Empire’s existing body of work. While the album snarls with as much intensity as Empire’s previous outings with Digital Hardcore, it is anchored on a predominantly electronic sound, a change of direction inspired by Empire’s apparent boredom with the rock scene.
However, as with any Alec Empire release, it is wise to refrain from any attempts to categorise this genre-defying creation. Just when you thought Empire’s ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach to music may have left him with nothing new to work with, he manages to locate new reserves of versatility.
The album kicks off in blistering form with aptly titled New Man, an addictively danceable number which concurrently channels Soft Cell and Iggy Pop. While far from lacking in meat, the track is indicative of a more, dare I say, mellow Alec Empire. In stark contrast to the maniacal screaming which defined his Atari days, atypical Empire lyrics such as ‘it’s better to die with love than live without it’ are delivered with enunciated precision.
However, fans of the angry, politically outspoken Empire need not despair, since If You Live Or Die delivers in this respect. The track is a scathing indictment of those who choose to follow ‘false leaders’, a message accentuated by its pounding industrial sound.
Empire’s ability to grab the listener by the throat is on full display as he powers through the quirky Robot L.O.V.E with ascending intensity. Proving that his foray into electronica is not inspired by a whim, Ice (As If She Could Steal a Piece of my Glamour) is a legitimate blend of the old and the new, a danceable smorgasbord of noise at its most ecstatic.
However, sometimes experimentation blows up in your face, a wisdom that has often fallen on deaf ears in the music world. Even a veteran such as Empire is not exempt from the unfortunate fact that sometimes innovation is derived at the expense of tunes. Down Satan Down is probably how being in the middle of a car crash sounds. Death Trap in 3d veers dangerously close to offensive MySpace goth band territory (you know, bands with names like Lu$tfulPoisonKiSS) while curious closing track No/Why/New York meanders shapelessly and fails to connect. A classic case of overambitious experimentation.
Nevertheless, the album deserves recognition for all the genres it manages to straddle, particularly when it sounds recognisably un-Empire-like. The 7 minute long 1,000 Eyes gives the album a Depeche Mode inspired kick. This melodic affair is the most quietly ferocious moment on the album, as Empire haunts with a voice that sounds like it is forever exasperated. On Fire, a return to Empire’s rocker roots, gnashes and bites to great effect, serving as evidence that he has learned some thrilling new tricks along the way. The riotous Bug On My Windshield bristles with energy – it is progressive but comprehensible, a balance which Empire does not always manage to strike.
The Golden Foretaste of Heaven is most accurately described as hit and miss. When he misses, Empire conjures up a sound which is strange yet featureless and ultimately unmemorable. Having said that, the album contains plenty of fantastically terrifying moments, cementing Empire as an adventurous artist with an unparalleled ability to surprise and provoke. It remains to be seen how Alec Empire’s ‘sound of new Berlin’ stacks up against French electro. All in all, an intriguing, ambitious, but slightly flawed release.