Look to the left. What do you see? One of the worst album covers of the year is what I see, and thus my expectations for Empress of the Cold Stars, the second release from Finland’s Perpetual Rage, are tempered. The fact that I’m reviewing this is a mixed blessing: on the one hand, we here at AMG aren’t subjecting you to a review of Wizard’s newest, since we didn’t get it. On the other hand, there’s this. So let’s sit back, buckle up, and figure out if the band plays as if they are in a perpetual rage, or if listening to this multiple times over the span of a week puts me in one. And let’s take a stab at the cliché “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Empress of the Cold Stars opens with the epic-sounding “Dragonlancer.” I don’t know if it’s a Dungeons & Dragons song, but it starts big for the first 45 seconds, with foreboding synth patches leading into pounding double bass drums and a thick riff. So those first 45 seconds are pretty good, but then the vocals come in, and things fall apart in a hurry. It’s like being on a date, and the girl is fairly nice, and pretty enough, and then you look closer and woah! She’s only got three fingers. Dammit, you think. But while in that case I could just move on, here I need to soldier on. Sadly, there’s no point in describing standout tracks here, because there aren’t any. Check out the video for “Mesmeric Silence” I have graciously included below, and you’ll hear what I mean. The best thing I can say about the rest of the album is that all the other songs are shorter.
The best way to describe Perpetual Rage is to say the band sounds like an amateur version of Bruce Dickinson in his solo days. Empress of the Cold Stars is Chemical Wedding written by beginners. The songs flow poorly, the drumming is stilted and unmusical, completely lacking feel, and the vocals, while clearly influenced by Sir Bruce, are basically a bad karaoke version thereof. There are blatantly obvious Iron Maiden/Bruce Dickinson influences here, but the band just doesn’t have the talent to come close to paying proper homage to the metal gods. Singer Tomi Viiltola is the biggest problem, a man who has clearly had no vocal training and hasn’t put much effort into self-improvement, but does his not-very-good best to channel his inner Bruce. Kari Hyvärinen, despite having an umlaut in his name, has less feel behind the drum kit than a man with his fingertips sanded off. Whomever is playing bass is unobtrusive and inconsequential. Being a bass player myself (who isn’t), I’ll be charitable and leave him out of this.
The best part of the band is guitarist Petri Hallikainen, who actually possesses some talent. His guitar tone is solid, his riffs can be infectious, he shows some originality in his solos, and he’s got the most musical feel out of anyone in the band. Sadly, he’s overshadowed by the badness described above. But there are a ton of bands in Finland, and maybe he can latch onto a good one based on his body of work. Hallikainen is the one who allows the songs on Empress of the Cold Stars to come even remotely close to a Bruce Dickinson solo record, meaning he could be a Finnish Roy Z.
So when it’s all said and done, yes, in this case you absolutely can judge a book by its cover. And while Empress of the Cold Stars doesn’t put me in a perpetual rage, it does make me kind of sad – sad that I didn’t carry on in my old band days to write songs as shitty as these and somehow garner record label attention. After a week of Perpetual Rage, I was left wishing that damned Wizard promo had shown up after all…