SawlegenThis album was composed and released in 2007, and here it is again. The calm ambience which opens up “Stories from an Old Empire” and the two acoustic cover tracks of Sawlegen’s own songs at the end give the album a timeless feel. The lush and melancholic image that “Mustears” and “Darkness  Be My Bride” convey have an air of Tenhi but we’re in Morocco now, not Finland. “Darkness Be My Bride” starts quietly and the haunting female vocals set the exotic context.  Quiet voice accompanies the cascading piano. Then it steps up as if dark clouds are gathering but the wistfulness and beauty are retained as the acoustic guitar plays a gentle tune. It ends with a flowing chorus.

Then it changes. Growls appear. I am reminded gothically of Trail of Tears except that “Melancophoria” is something of a nonentity which leads nowhere. Even the female vocalist doesn’t lift spirits. It fires up, yet in spite of being heavier and urgent the track disappointingly peters out. Oriental fury enters the scene, and amid the growls and darkness there is a high-pitched riff. There’s a touch of Arkan but more understated. The piano cascade reappears. Now it’s symphonic along the lines of Dimmu Borgir, and there’s even an air of nastiness. I sense energy, but as the energy is starting to fade, an electric piano has its say and re-injects life before fading again.

The sound of creaking doors precedes blackened death, which to the accompaniment of uncompromising drums features a strange dual vocal with a strange floating voice. This isn’t the core of “Tortured Souls” and so we’re soon back to fire and heaviness with an irritatingly eccentric keyboard line. It ends with the scream of, no doubt, the tortured soul in question but for me this didn’t go anywhere. Things picked up with the instrumental “Streets of Agrabah”. The North African guitar rhythm gives way to a pungent rock rhythm. I like the passion. This colourful song runs through the veins. For the first time I felt excitement. “Saracen Knights” is then another mixed bag. The highlights are its symphonic interludes and a guitar solo which give life to an otherwise flat track. It wanders off and the haunting female vocal adds flavour to a largely dreary canvas. Sawlegen’s mixes are interesting but I didn’t find that they unconditionally captured my imagination. The final track “De Profundis Clamavi” summarised the strengths and weaknesses of this album. The message is harshly churned out and clear meant something to the band but it didn’t project itself in an interesting way. On the other hand, the vocals continue to be haunting and there’s a superbly imaginative guitar solo which brings it to a close, save the two acoustic cover tracks. And for once, I was glad to have these bonus tracks. The acoustic versions of “Streets of Agrabah” and “Melancophoria” were delightful, uncomplicated, nice, sultry and moody. I could have listened to more of this.

There are many styles here, each reflecting a range of emotions. All in all, I found “Stories from an Old Empire” too fragmented. It would have been better in my view if Sawlegen had stuck with the concepts of simplicity and mood.

(6 /10 Andrew Doherty)