I have been following the lead up to Eastern Front’s 3rd campaign quite carefully and it hasn’t exactly been without its shares of drama and casualties. You could even say the Ipswich based blackened war metal crew had found themselves caught behind enemy lines. First up original label Candlelight sold itself out to the higher might of Spinefarm / Universal leaving many bands displaced. Thankfully reactivated label Cacophonous continued their offensive on going for quality acts over quantity and made Eastern Front the 5th inductees to the label. Still problems arose and although we are not privy to exactly what happened in the hearing held behind closed doors vocalist / foot-soldier Nagant was summarily court martialed and someone had to be found to fill his battered combat boots. Shortly before the album arrived the announcement was made that a replacement had been drafted in and we were somewhat surprised to discover Marder aka Nina ‘The Cuntress’ Pain was the new soldier promoted to position.
By pure coincidence just as I had settled down to my first couple of top secret transmissions of EmpirE I managed to catch Nina’s other act Daemona on manoeuvres oop North. It was obvious catching her early on and in particular savage mood that day that she could certainly deliver on both fronts (that’s album and live, not east and west before anyone gets confused.) The album that focuses broadly on “the concept of building an empire through bloodshed and devastation,” rather than any particular campaign does not start with Frau Marder’s vocals however. The opening title track and intro is one of several places where we have austere spoken male parts setting the scene and providing a foreboding sense of grimness. Commander Destroyer takes us in to this cold harsh world and sends a shiver down the spine in the process narrating along to the trembling maudlin guitar lines and piano melody. The trenches take a direct hit with ‘Veiled By Blood’ and things fully explode in a venomous display of bravado. The guts of Nina’s vocals come as a full-bloodied and rasping shock as things go into tumult. The underlying melody continues accentuated by a militaristic machine gunning from drummer Blitz. It’s harsh, compelling and cold and grows on you more with each listen, the sombre tones do what this band are particularly good at and don’t revel in any particular glory at all, prevailing a sense of loss and sorrow at their heart. More ominous spoken parts add to this accentuating the cold and feudal atmosphere. Not surprising that with a title like ‘The Fire Consumes’ the song is a short, sharp rager with a classic blackened fervour and frenzy behind it. Pace wise it goes like the clappers and gives a brutal shelling on enemy lines. I can see this one causing mayhem live and whipping the troops into shape as they storm the barricades, falling like cannon fodder in the process. The vocals have really bitten in by now and give you a sore throat just listening to them and things get even more embittered as we swing into ‘The Snow Falls For Sorrow’ and the field is literally littered with bodies left to freeze and the cold shroud of deaths embrace. There’s quite an epic feel to those harmonies here and these are well structured and thought out throughout the album. Holocaust and Destroyer’s guitar work is laid out with precision and below the musicianship and Nina’s sharp bark if you listen carefully you will hear some clean mournful vocals adding a sense of despondency in the background.
A rumble of tanks take us into a specific battle as things slow to a trundling pace with ‘The Husks Of Kursk’ guns strafe away and we are thrust right into this WWII assault between the German and Soviet Forces. No doubt once the finished product is picked up you can get further insight of things here lyrically and no doubt it has all been painstakingly researched. It’s a fairly dramatic number with quite a bit going on in it including a moody keyboard part and some stomping drumming swaggers. Everything has a particularly dark sense draped over it like a funeral shroud and ‘Crimson Mourn’ is no exception as it hits with what sounds like it could be poetry actually written on the very frontline gutturally rasped through it. The troops are bolstered however when the Ipswich General rides up on horseback to harangue and screech at them. The guest vocals of Dani Filth should need no introduction and he sounds particularly vitriolic here. It could be seen as an interlude but I love ‘1000 Winds That Blow’ which really is taken authentically from poem ‘Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep’ by Mary Elizabeth Fry in 1932. Spoken by I presume Nina, it’s incredibly haunting and is cased in atmospheric noise. Basically it really reminds me of something that Crass would have done back in the day and like their horrific Reality Asylum it’s a performance that is going to haunt you long after hearing. It would have perhaps been a perfect way to finish the album but maybe a bit too much which could be the reason that it was not chosen as such. It’s left for ‘Die Reise In Den Tod Pt. II’ a continuation of the song first explored on last album Descent Into Genocide for the final push. It’s far from happy too though and one gets the feeling they have narratively waded through mud and a huge amount of suffering arriving at the end here. EmpirE has once consumed and explored in depth (and it’s not an album to provide a quick fix or easily accessible listening experience) proven to be an album of great intelligence both musically and in historic accuracy and respect. If you go into it with this in mind you will be equally rewarded by what you take away from the experience.
(8/10 Pete Woods)