Time has its own pace. So do people. And people do things when the right time has come. After 11 whole years since the last WARLORD release “Rising Out Of The Ashes” William J. Tsamis (a.k.a Destroyer) and Mark S. Zonder (a.k.a Thunderchild) are back with a brand new album, “The Holy Empire”. The rumored album that was supposed to be the third of Tsamis’ project after disbanding WARLORD, LORDIAN GUARD, is eventually titled as their next album, which in no way can be seen as surprise as those two bands are like communicating vessels.
Cited as the reason for resuscitating the band from lethargy by Tsamis the immense love and interest of the people on Facebook, which coincided also with him ending his academic career due to illness and Zonder’s parting ways with his long term band, FATES WARNING, indeed the time was right for composing the new WARLORD album (fourth in total, including “Deliver Us”). Joining forces with Rick Anderson also known as Damien King III or simply the man behind vocal duties for the LORDIAN WINDS demo and Philip Bynoe on bass of STEVE VAI fame the four piece recorded an eight track, fifty five minute long record.
“The Holy Empire” includes eight tracks, three of those were very old compositions, “City Walls of Troy” included in their second demo and the rest included in an 1986 unreleased WARLORD demo (at the current time I can only confirm this through Metal Archives). Those tracks are “Thy Kingdom Come” and “Father” which later appear as a LORDIAN WIND song. The music of the album is a blend of all the steps in Tsamis’ career as a musician as it combines WARLORD, LORDIAN GUARD and his instrumental record “Sea of Tranquillity”.
The album starts with “70000 Sorrows” and a sequence of riffs that simply redefine the word “epic”, because they are that big and grandiose. The song develops based on a mid paced tempo and during its duration the progressive talent of the band evolves. In the last two minutes the song’s interlude is reaching in a glorious climax as guitars, bass, drums and strings create a majestic soundscape. “Glory” could be the most catchy song of the record (one could say the new “Lost and Lonely Days”), with its uplifting melody and memorable chorus, but still including the progressive and epic elements that WARLORD is known for. Third song is “Thy Kingdom Come” which is one of the three old compositions and yet it binds so seamlessly with the rest of the record. The song has mid tempo and the backing vocals are handled by Rick Anderson’s wife, Barbara which enhances the atmosphere of the song. “City Walls of Troy” is the shortest song of the album with mid paced tempo, eastern melodies and strict and intimidating atmosphere. “Kill Zone” marks the guest appearance of Giles Lavery whom was revealed to be the touring singer of the band. This is the most malevolent song of the record and Giles’ vocals are perfect to create a haunting and evil atmosphere. “Night Of The Fury” is the first one that was published on YouTube as the preview song for the new record. Another array of epic riffs and technical drumming combined with powerful vocals are the key ingredients for one of the best moments of the record. “Father” is the last song that appeared in older recordings, a power ballad that is very emotional and demanding on vocals. In this song all should pull hats off to Rick Anderson for an amazing vocal performance. Last but not least is the eleven minute long behemoth of epicenes, the homonymous “The Holy Empire”, featuring long instrumental parts and the trademarked WARLORD epic parts. A complex composition featuring all kinds of synths and strings, a choir and the classic WARLORD synth sound in the end it is the proper song to wrap the record.
Tsamis’ songwriting has evolved and matured since the first days of the band and yet he manages to incorporate three old tracks into this record and none would ever notice if they didn’t know, for they are that perfectly integrated in the spirit and atmosphere of the record. All the things that the fans of the band loved in the previous records are here untouched and preserved. Tsamis’ guitar melodies, lyricism and playing are as bold as ever. Mark Zonder is a drummer from another planet and this record is another proof of his world class technique. It is another testament of his amazing skills and characteristic technical playing that transforms drums into a musical organ with notes. And Rick Anderson holds fair his throne as Damien King III doing a terrific vocal performance. Philip Bynoe bass playing forms a solid bridge between drums and guitars and he is giving another performance worthy of his name (though to be fair I always liked Tsamis bass playing).
The cover is a small part of a painting by English romantic painter John Martin called “Joshua commanding the sun to stand still upon Gibeon” (should you need more details about this interesting story check Wikipedia). The lyrics mainly deal with two themes, God and war though there is reference to ancient Greek mythology and a more personal song (“Father”). As I aforementioned Tsamis has done great job with the lyrics as they balance drama, lyricism and epicenes in large proportions. Actually he is one of the very few people that can write about Christian themes and arouse my interest (“War in Heaven”, ”Lost Archangel”) because he has his own way with these things (need to remind you of his academic career related to Theology?). The engineering and mastering of Phil Magnotti, is of highest standards though I would like more low frequencies, but it is in the same direction with “Rising out of the Ashes”; on that one the guitars are heavier, but it is pretty safe to assume that this happened because of the strings.
So is this record is that good? And that epic? I will start with the things that I didn’t like. First is that I expected a bit heavier sound on the guitars. Second, even I am ok with the Christian lyrics, I am not that happy singing about AC 130s and Fallujah etc. Though I know Tsamis is loving all these war stuff (if somebody checks their Facebook page they will be amazed at the extensive analysis he does on wars) I liked when I can relate myself to the lyrics, as it happened with the old songs. I find the record shifting from the WARLORD thaumatology to LORDIAN GUARD thaumatology, and while I am pretty fine with that on music I do not fancy the lyrics (come on where is Thor or any sci-fi concept?). Also all the songs are going from a mid to low tempo - I wish there was at least one faster so that we could break faster our necks while headbanging. Finally while the virtual instruments sound realistic on the interlude of “The Holy Empire” it sounds fake - I wish they took more care of that one.
And now the pros (aka the good stuff). First and foremost. WARLORD are back and hopefully they mean to stay this time. The record exceeds my expectations as it is an overflowing dose of epic metal. Even after these years the band maintains its identity and the result is worth every minute of waiting. Musically the new composing formulas of Tsamis are more than welcome on my opinion as I always liked orchestral parts and choirs for they make things more dramatic - but as I said before one or two head bangers wouldn’t hurt anyone (al'a “Child Of The Damned”). All the songs are high quality compositions by if I could spot one I would say “70000 Sorrows” and if I choose one I liked less I would say “City Walls of Troy”. But the point is that William Tsamis and Mark Zonder are reunited and they have treated us with a monster of epicenes, a record that will continue the WARLORD legacy and music to the days coming. And so while I found things that they could be done better I can’t turn a blind eye on the overall quality of the music of “The Holy Empire”. I realize that Tsamis has a lot of personal issues that deters him from focusing 100% on the band but I hope that the next record could come as soon as possible, and to state this on his own words “For he who has an ear, I pray that he might hear”.
To conclude this monster review (if you still bother to read) “The Holy Empire” is a record that it storms as the power of thousands in the body of one, with infinite epic force, to conquer everything on its way. It is the record that lets good quality music heals and surpasses everything else with grandiose melodies, dramatic soundscapes and the faith of hope. Until the epic live dates of WARLORD coming this month, “To the swords to the guns”.