I just about blew out my speakers the first time I listened to the first track on this album. The hit single “Brain Damage” opens with a quiet whisper, and, without really considering the consequence of my actions, I cranked up the volume to hear what was being said. About the time I got my volume up to max, I was hit with a blast of crunchy guitar, pounding drums, and raw energy.
As rough as that was on my speakers (and my ears for that matter), it got me started on I Am Empire with the most appropriate volume setting: loud.
With the exception of a few power ballads, the songs on I Am Empire’s debut album with Tooth & Nail Records are short, loud, and filled with destructive energy – much like blasts from a machine gun, or Danny DeVito in Batman Returns. While some may complain about the length of the songs – five don’t even reach the three-minute mark – I kind of like the shortness. There are no pretentious five-minute solos; no epic songs that change keys, time signatures, and feels. We get in, we get out, we get onto the next in-your-face jam. There’s nothing wrong with grand, seven-minute rock epics, but it’s nice to see a band that doesn’t try to extend the song longer than it needs to be.
This isn’t music you play when you’re trying to impress your artsy hipster friends. This is music you play when you’re working out, driving fast, or getting pumped to talk to your boss.
The one thing that kept me from instantly loving I Am Empire was the voice of lead singer Austin Lyons. It’s not a bad voice – he hits the notes he needs to hit, and his throaty, melodic shouting serves the band’s sound well – but it does take some getting used to. It’s a very distinctive voice with an odd quality that I can’t really put my finger on. Whatever it was, it threw me off a bit the first time I heard it. But I will say this: now that I’ve gotten used to the unique vocal style, I really like it. This is not a voice that will blend in with every other hard rock band out there. When you listen to an I Am Empire song, you will know who you’re listening to.
All things considered, I give Kings 4 out of 5 stars. It won’t be something I play incessantly for months on end, but it is pretty dang good and will be a go-to album when I need something heavy.