Artist: I’ll Be An Empire
Album: Thelema – EP
Do what thou will shall be the whole of the law reads the central crux of Thelema—a neo-humanistic splicing of religion and philosophy that boasts love and tolerance—pragmatism, rather than dogmatism—to its followers, the Thelemites. Defined by free thought and free practice of other beliefs, Thelema is a movement defined by fluidity and flux. Rather than resisting change and remaining rooted in stagnancy, Thelema instead moves to encompass the dynamic state of the Human condition into its message—which means it couldn’t be a more fitting theme for the most recent EP by Georgian progressive metalcore giants, I’ll Be An Empire. We last left these innovative, cunning musicians on the precipice of defining their own sound with Aquarius, a masterful breakout release that was comprised of nothing but promise. Thelema, however, improves upon the act’s already impeccable blend of crushing heaviness and mesmerizing technicality, creating an experience as fluid and immersive as its namesake.
If Aquarius was an instrumental journey, then Thelema is nothing short of a full-blown intrepid voyage. Taking the listener through furious, intense moments of skin-shredding technicality and calming, soothing sections of surreal atmosphere and melody, I’ll Be An Empire are veritable masters at diverse and dynamic instrumentation. Guitarists Nick Stratigos and Jake Boyette send the listener along on a trek through murky swamps of dissonant, deep chugs—a la “Apostasy”—and over-the-top harmonization that blends to create surreal spires of sheer technical bliss (especially prevalent on “Sovereignty”). Stratigos and Boyette expertly toggle between intense and unspeakably technical fretwork and plodding, low-down-and-dirty heaviness that the listener is carried along as if blindfolded on a roller coaster—with no idea what twists or turns lie ahead. What’s just as brilliant is the extent to which the other musicians that make up I’ll Be An Empire adapt to and amplify the fretwork provided by Stratigos and Boyette. Bassist TJ Fitzpatrick keeps the band’s efforts rooted firmly in this galaxy, using deep, rumbling bass to provide a punchy, palpable low end that weaves roots into the listener’s ears—especially relevant on the drifting, anti-gravity experience that is “Magnus.” Percussionist David Boughter is nothing short of a juggernaut, opening the otherwise ethereal “Magnus” with skin-scalding blast beats, or expertly jumping into a neo-classical jazz pattern during the shock-to-the-system found lurking within the opening minutes of “Sovereignty.” Boughter provides expert drumming for any occasion—whether blasts, breakdowns or brutalizing speed with his double pedal, he is ready to add the extra kick to any moment found on Thelema.
The incredible expedition that is Thelema is, of course, not complete without the full-bodied, perfectly written experience provided by vocalists Alex Gignilliat and Austin Lanham. Lanham and Gignilliat do not earn their master status by talent alone—for, while each vocalist is well-worth their salt in shrieks, screams and surly bellows, the greater appeal lies within how brilliantly their vocal parts are timed. This is especially through the epic track “Sovereignty,” during which there are moments of incredible vocal density and musically-led mastery alike. Lanham and Gignilliat know exactly when and when not to let loose with their perfect range of shrill screams or staunch, strong shouts—making Thelema more of an experience than Aquarius ever was. By timing their presence perfectly throughout “Ruin,” or including creepy and other-worldly clean vocals on “Magnus” and “Apostasy,” Lanham and Gignilliat provide a level of dynamism and flow that allows I’ll Be An Empire to function as one unit, in perfect, mechanic and artistic harmony.
The amount in which the masterfully composed musicianship and incredible, awe-inspiring vocals combine to create a homogenous, immersive experience is nothing short of breath taking. Whether it’s the climactic sequence of “Magnus,” where Boughter’s bouncy, pounding percussion fills in the grooves of Stratigos and Boyette’s tone-savvy shredding or the shrill, throat-shredding screams that pepper “Thelema,” sneaking up on the listener and sucker punching them, Thelema is a full-bodied EP that does The Contortionist better than The Contortionist do, and would make Between the Buried and Me blush. What’s more? I’ll Be An Empire have certainly not lost their penchant for punishing heaviness—as moments of “Sovereignty” and “Thelema” could rival The Acacia Strain for bold, no-holds-barred heaviness, with fierce drumming and tremolo-picked riffing that could even turn a nursing home into a circle pit. Make no mistake, I’ll Be An Empire renovate progressive metalcore by encorporating brilliant, beautiful songwriting alongside brutalizing, gory heaviness that provides nothing short of a complete—and completely new—experience.
I’ll Be An Empire have certainly done the Thelamic Code proud—as they have followed their own spirits, set their own laws and crafted a dynamic marvel of a release that will stand as an obelisk to perfect progressive metal for years to come. Thelema is one part throat-punching, one-part skin-shredding, and two parts genius songwriting and structuring that allows it all to work. No matter what path in life you follow, you’d be a fool not to read into the brilliance Thelema has to offer.
For Fans Of: The Contortionist, Between the Buried and Me, Northlane, TesseracT
By: Connor Welsh