This collective of extreme metal musicians is ostensibly based in Germany, where “Empire of Pain” was recorded. Indeed, the venue was an abandoned SS complex. The principal force behind Dynasty of Darkness is Morbid XIII of Synergy of Souls. On drums is Mayhem’s Hellhammer with another Mayhem alumnus Attila guesting on vocals.
It’s all orientated to an atmosphere of ghastliness. Our greeting is dark industrial swampiness. A voice preaches the apocalypse. “Diuum Deus” then starts with squealing electronics. The drums head off at a fair lick amongst symphonic darkness. Satanic growls and choral hymns generate a cosmic atmosphere. The electronic cascade gives the sound of sneering laughter. The title track opens with a contrast of sinister sounds and choral majesty. The triggering battery is again relentless. The screaming growls are irrepressible. Ghastly ponderous cascades sweep through. Then come electronic screeches and discordant bells. I’m not so sure about the electronic touches, but they are part of the stifling and turbulent atmosphere which is the speciality of this album.
A madcap orchestral movement then serves as background for a palette of furious hate-driven black metal. The riff is constant, but there is a cacophony of sounds, signalling uncontrollable chaos. Drama ensues as it slows down and a human voice peers through. There is a pulsating beat in the hostile musical wind. “Lux Fera” swings backwards and forwards between deathly violence and sinister threat, between breakneck pace and a slower output. Tinkling bells appear like shattering glass. “My Nightmare” could sum up the first four tracks but in fact is the title of the fifth. It’s slow but expansive and theatrical. The choir rings out and there are deathly screams. It’s loud, mechanical and symphonic yet as the wind changes, it’s like plodding along to a terrible death. The choir develops a frightening clarity. “The Scribe of the Gods”, which is dedicated to the former Mayhem vocalist Dead, takes off majestically. There are unusual whistlings in the air. It’s like a fast and furious march. Then the picture becomes clearer and nastier. Dynasty of Darkness are good at bring clarity out of obscurity and vice-versa. The vocalist shouts what sound like “Power!” The drums beat remorselessly. “The Scribe of the Gods” is a total package of devastation. It drives forward imperiously. Then “Frozen” takes us to an alien land. The choir signals a melancholic and majestic scene. The drums trigger while the guitars protect the gate of Hell. There are torrents coming from a piano. The whole scene is inescapably black and epic. The vocalist adds depth. The music is swirling, like black clouds. “Frozen” reaches its end in a brutally dark and symphonic way, culminating with the voice of a single chorister.
Mixing styles, “Empire of Pain” lives up to its title and gives an impressive take on cold and merciless extreme metal. I was less keen on the electronic touches, which seemed to be there to give out sustained electric shocks. As the album became more militaristic, so the album became more widespread in its devastation. All avenues are used to maintain the intensity and horror, fitting in with the barbed wire and bullet-ridden doors of the location where the album was recorded.
(8/10 Andrew Doherty)