Another super group?? I usually don’t think much of these star-studded affairs where everybody and their cousin’s uncle cram into a studio to twiddle, poke and harass one instrument or another. Often, the end result sounds as disjointed as the fractious collaboration that birthed it. Well, regardless of Steel Druhm’s thoughts on the matter, Empires of Eden is a mega-super-duper group from down under, helmed by Stu Marshall (Dungeon). It seems Stu called in ALL his favors, and joining him on Channeling the Infinite (the band’s third album) are such luminaries as Udo Dirkschneider (Accept, U.D.O.), Rob Rock (Rob Rock, Impellitteri, Avantasia) Steve Grimmett (Grim Reaper, Onslaught), Sean Peck (Cage), Ronny Munroe (Metal Church) and Mike Dimeo (ex-Riot, ex-Masterplan) and many more! Yep, you guessed it, that’s a whole lotta chefs in the kitchen trying to make the chili. The music itself runs the gamut from melodic metal, to bombastic Rhaposody in Fire-ish pomp power and Painkiller like quasi-thrash. Surprisingly, most of Channeling ends up pretty darn good. There are a few great songs and a whole bunch of solid/respectable numbers. Importantly, none utterly suck!! It’s fun and has enough power to melt your standard metal detector. It also has one of the most gorgeous covers I’ve seen in a while.
Rob Rock leads things out of the gate with “Cry Out,” and his classy, powerful tone anchors an above-average metal anthem done in the traditional/classic style, with a bit of symphonics. Stu Marshall drops some beefy, crunchy riffs as Rob soars over the top like the veteran he is. It’s catchy, accessible and goes down easy as cold beer on a summer day. “Hammer Down” totally switches it up by going for a raw, thick and mean style with Udo’s patented snarls and screams. The man sounds very agitated here, as if they were poking him with a stick for a few hours before letting him near the mic. It’s a super simple song, but really hooky, angry and fucking ballsy. At the end of the album, there’s an alternate version of the song with several vocalists dueling over the lines and that works well too. Other quality moments come with the highly melodic, Firewind-like “This Time,” which sports some great vocals from Steve Grimmett, the huge title track with Sean Peck’s insane screaming and wailing, the wildly overwrought “Born a King” and lastly, “White Wings,” which has a soulful performance from Ronny Munroe. Only “Your Eyes” hit me as half-baked, but even that grew with repeat listens.
The myriad singers can prove a double-edged sword for the listener. The fact that each song has totally different vocals and varying writing styles prevents things from feelings totally cohesive and impacts the album’s flow. It almost sounds like a random playlist recorded by a house band. On the other hand, if one song or one singer doesn’t work for you, you can ride it out and see if the next dude to seize the mic tickles your fancy. Most albums can’t offer that. Speaking of which, all the guests acquit themselves well and nobody embarrasses himself.
Apart from the singing-by-committee, the music is proficient and tight. Stu Marshall performs the bulk of the guitars and shows himself to be quite a talented axe-man (a few guest solos are farmed out to Shane French (Circle II Circle) etc.). There are plenty of big riffs and crazy solos scattered about and things walk the line between technical and straight ahead metal. Happily, things never head into wank-fest territory and the playing is more often restrained than not. The drums are handled by Jason “Jasix” Manewell and he runs a tight kit.
This isn’t a “must hear” album by any means, but it’s quite an entertaining release by 50 guys masquerading as a band. It’s also surprisingly heavy, when you consider some of the folks involved. If for no other reason, check it out for Udo’s pitbull-like performance and Sean Peck’s “Halford on steroids and meth” histrionics. I ended up spinning this way more than I expected, and now I have to go hunt down their prior albums. I still don’t cotton to these super groups though!