Keeping up the momentum from their 2019 album Cyber Metal, Seattle’s SKELATOR are filling the gap before their next full-length with a short and sharp EP – Blood Empire. The four-song offering is a stacked dose of traditional metal that sees them embrace NWOBHM-inspired riffage with a fair amount of American bite. While there’s a lot of charm to what SKELATOR deliver, Blood Empire never quite feels essential, missing the mark of its loftier ambitions.
Those ambitions primarily stem from the EP’s concept, taking lyrical inspiration from the lore of the Klingon race from the Star Trek franchise – an arguably unmined creative source for the metal genre as a whole. The music’s ferocity certainly matches that of the warrior race, and the narrative theming helps provide Blood Empire a consistent thread and a sense of flow. It’s a shame then that, for all its passion and energy, the tracks on Blood Empire never quite find the epic standing they’re attempting to reach.
The EP certainly starts off strongly enough; Deeds Of Honor is a furious mission statement to kick off with. Its verses’ breakneck speed guitars are devastating, with their muted assault giving the song some worthy heft before the chorus’ war-cry. It sets a strong foundation for its successor Good Day To Die, arguably Blood Empire’s strongest moment. Its pulsating rhythm guitars and twirling harmonised leads dance a line between IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST, while the galloping beat drives the whole track. At points, Good Day To Die’s chorus risks sounding almost anthemic, but falls just short of the mark of truly outstanding. And while it is all relatively well executed with shining moments smattered through, the proceeding several minutes of instrumental interludes see any sense of momentum buried in a flurry of overly indulgent guitar solos.
That loss of momentum becomes endemic to Blood Empire, with The First Empire following a similar path. Starting off as a somewhat enjoyable, if predictable, offering of classic heavy metal, this track loses all pace in its clean section as the band meanders across a repeating arpeggio in an attempt to provide some musical variety.
With the material a tad uneven, SKELATOR needed to provide an incomparable execution in order to bring the EP home. Unfortunately, while the performances of all members teem with energy and skill, something about the overall production feels slightly flat. Commendably, Blood Empire is a DIY effort through and through – recorded at the band’s various home studios and well assembled separately, there is a strong sense of cohesion to the member’s individual contributions. However, the mix itself is somewhat lacking, feeling slightly rough and muddy, and unable to lift the material to reach the enigmatic expectations set by Blood Empire’s concept.
It’s also worth noting that Jason Conde-Houston’s voice is an acquired taste; able to channel a very serviceable Rob Halford impression at times, Conde-Houston’s performance strays a line between homage and pastiche due to his lower range delivery feeling relatively monotonous. Still, there’s a real charm to the delivery on tracks like Bloodwine, with Conde-Houston nailing those high-pitched wails in its choruses. It’ll gel perfectly for many, but for those not pulled in to the overall package, the vocals will occasionally grate.
Taken as a whole, Blood Empire certainly isn’t a bad EP and is an oddly tantalising stopgap between albums. While it underdelivers on the promise of a Klingon-themed musical journey, you can feel SKELATOR’s blood, sweat and ambition crackle through the speakers with promises of something big next.
Blood Empire is out now via Gates Of Hell Records.
Like SKELATOR on Facebook.