From Judas’ selling out the Son of God for a mere 30 pieces of silver, to Julius Caesar meeting his sticky end at the hands of several disgruntled Roman senators, and his own nephew, Brutus. History is rife with tales of betrayal. Hideous betrayal, makes for riveting fiction too. The first work that comes to mind is William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Or perhaps the wizarding worlds most appalling traitor – Peter Pettigrew. Not only did he sell out his friends to Voldemort, laying the blame on Sirius, but Pettigrew went on to live a life o’ luxury as the Weasley’s pet rat. So many died as a result of his foul deeds… And let’s not forget Gollum’s betrayal of Frodo, bringing him dangerously close to the lair of that giant Hobbit-eating spider!
Back in 2005, AMG himself sang the praises of the Shade Empire‘s first release (Sinthetic). His short account revealed that the band combined the best qualities of melodic, symphonic black metal and Swedish death, creating an unholy union, similar to that of Dimmu Borgir, At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity. Ultimately what earned them distinction, in the eyes of our esteemed leader, was their keyboard application and Harju’s vocals. The band had a series of releases that followed, but it wasn’t until 2013 that Shade Empire released their biggest and best outing yet. With Harju font and center, Omega Arcane hung around with the sweet smell of persistence and just the right amount of savagery. By year-end, I had no option but to hail it album of the year. The Finns are back in town and Poetry of the Ill-minded is set for release just next week. What connection can the esteemed Shade Empire possibly have with these earlier and horrific accounts of betrayal? Poetry of the Ill-minded, feels like exactly that. With the departure of Harju (Chaosweaver and Ajattara) and the introduction of Henry Hämäläinen on vocal duties, the band’s newest release is a betrayal to all that Shade Empire and likewise Omega Arcane was.
From the kickoff of “Lecter (Welcome),” you’ll notice that things sound very very different this time around. Up front in both “Lecter” and “Wanderer,” there’s a distinctly modern InFlames vibe rearing it’s ugly head. After an overly lengthy intro, the tracks develop subtle symphonics reminiscent of Shade Empire‘s earlier work. Instrumentally, the Finns are still tight. Rasane pounds away at the skins with machine-line precision, and Sirkkiä, Kivimäki (on guitars) and Savolainen (on keyboards and orchestrations) create melodies that entwine in a kind of creepy and seductive dance, each note very obviously crafted with experience, skill and intelligence.
Vocals at first consist of a rasping sneer, evolving into something harsher as “Lecter” plays out. Unfortunately, where Harju had an ear-catching power to his delivery, the vocals used now seem immature, weaker and at times, even comical. At certain points of “Lecter, “Wanderer” and “They Scent,” vocal contributions bring to mind Carach Angren or perhaps a ripoff of mid-period (Death Cult Armageddon) Dimmu Borgir. The clean vocal contributions end up being the biggest hurdle to overcome on Poetry of the Ill-minded. First appearing at the 3.09 minute mark of “Lecter,” once you’ve had the misfortune of hearing these lines, you’ll become all to aware of their persistence. Like a stink that you can’t get out of you head, they’ll waft around far longer than they should.
Another big shakeup in Shade Empire‘s sound comes by way of the trumpet used in “Wanderer,” “Thy Scent” and “Treasure.” Where bands like Behemoth and White Ward wove their brassy instrumentation cohesively into their compositions, Shade Empire‘s selection stands out as an odd choice – these interludes ranging from noticeably jarring in “Thy Scent” and “Wanderer” to downright flaccid in “Treasure.”
Shade Empire‘s crowning achievement on Poetry of the Ill-minded ends up being “Anti-life Saviour.” Clocking in at almost 10 minutes, the song begins with an extract of Satan’s First Speech taken from Paradise Lost as read by Sir Ian Richardson (known for his Shakespeare stage acting and his film and television roles). With a level of seriousness not carried through to the rest of the album, “Anti-life Saviour” is the one track that I’ve definitively seen vocal contributions attributed to Harju. And being that this track was actually released as a single some time back, I wonder if it wasn’t a left-over remnant of the band’s previous masterpiece. Built around spellbinding guitar-work, cavernous emotion-rich vocals, and such an important piece of literature, I can almost forgive the extended run-time of the song.
Across Poetry of the Ill-minded, though all songs have good aspects, conversely, they also have more elements that pull them downwards, to the point that by their closing, they’re nothing more than average. By the end of my time with the album, outside of “Anti-life Saviour” there’s no one particular song that stayed with me or gave me any desire to return to the album. Coming from somebody as enamored as I was with Omega Arcane, that’s a difficult thing to come to terms with.