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Course of Empire slightly industrial but clear

Course of Empire


Zoo Records.

By Edward Hammond

After listening to Course of Empire's new album, "Initiation," a few times over the course of this week I can enthusiastically recommend it to any fan of loud music.

The band is from Dallas, TX and has been around since '84. They played local clubs and were quite well known by the time their first album was released on a small Texas label in '91. Soon after, they signed with Zoo records, who remastered and re-released the album. Since then the band has grown in popularity, but has remained surprisingly silent until last month's release of "Initiation."

The name, "Course of Empire," comes from a series of 19th-century paintings by Thomas Cole depicting the cyclical rise and fall of industrial technology. The five-man group, while certainly not unusual has a rhythm guitarist instead of a rhythm guitarist. The total number of drums on stage can get as high as 27. With the main drummer playing a standard rock drum set, the second drummer, Mike Jerome, plays an odd assembly of floor toms and downsized timpani.

Many of the songs on the album sound similar to something that might come from Alice in Chains, only with slight industrial overtones. The vocals are somewhat clearer, and the drumming is much more interesting. Some of the later songs on the album are more subdued, with very melodic guitar parts. Throughout the album many different musical styles can be heard combined in interesting ways, and more often than not the percussion is worth paying special attention to. The most uncommon aspect of the music would have to be the Middle-Eastern influence, something seldom heard in today's popular music.

Front man Vaughn Stevenson has a voice very well suited for their music. He has good range and never needs to strain his voice much, a problem that too many vocalists have these days. The band has the drive of groups like Rage Against the Machine, but also has the grungy overtones of Soundgarden. The slow songs on the album are all done quite well. The band did very well staying out of that "cheesy metal ballad" trap that so many other groups have fallen into.

The band says that during the making of "Initiation" they tried to take themselves less seriously, and look more into themselves. The result is a great album worth checking out.

Some of the best things about the album were the Gothic guitar style in "Invertebrate" and the interesting, almost jazz-like drumming on the track "Infested." The strangest thing on the album would have to be the track "Minions." Strange percussive rhythms are followed by a psychedelic guitar track, and vocals that sound like something you would expect to hear from monks in Tibet. The overall effect is eerie.

"Initiation" would definitely be a great addition to anyone's alternative metal library. On the Nigel Tuffnel scale of one to eleven, this album gets a solid nine. It is defiantly suitable music to be used to retaliate against those annoying people across the hall who are constantly blasting pop music. Anyone interested in seeing them live can catch them at "Bill's Bar Venus" on March 10.