When we last left our musically-inclined heroes, Dead Empires, they were releasing their sophomore album, Secret Snakes / Silent Serpent. Since that time, they’ve done something rather unusual: this instrumental band has adopted a vocalist! The New York trio has brought in a new member, Jason Sherman of Torrential Downpour, who has taken all those unusual song titles I spoke about in the past, and he’s put poetry on paper. And as grandiose as the display upon Liberty Island in 1983, when David Copperfield caused the Statue of Liberty to vanish before the eyes of onlookers, so is Dead Empire’s new album Designed To Disappear.
Now, my friends, I must eat my words, for in my review of that previous album I said, “Vocals? They don’t need no stinkin’ vocals!” And while the band might not need vocals, per se, they certainly work them into what they’re doing quite well! But Sherman brings more than just that to this ensemble, for he is adept at noise manipulation. Armed with a slew of digital deviations, he adds to the already monumental sonic acid trips regularly embarked upon by the remainder of the band. This is readily apparent in tracks like “The Form,” in which the foursome take the listener upon a journey through digitized vocals, static ether, and a nebula of changing rhythmic patterns. One can experience that for themselves in an exclusive by Invisible Oranges, though I must warn those prone to epileptic episodes to stick strictly to the audio.
I’ve been listening to this band since Monuments debuted, and I’ll admit that I was skeptical when I heard of the altered line-up, fearing Dead Empires might opt for a more straightforward approach to songwriting. But Designed to Disappear is 8 tracks which cover a plethora of styles, both vocal and musical. From the instrumental opener entitled “Spectacular Ruin,” we’re greeted with an auditory vision of a crash landing, causing us to roll and tumble our way into this forthcoming endeavor. “A Summertime Song,” midway through, slow things down a bit; arpeggiated chords expanding the atmosphere of the experience, while the low-end digs a trench between the notes over which clean vocals soar. There are plenty of other adventures to be had, all the way to the final, 12+ minute title track, where organs blare as we catapult through wormholes of space and time, the bass keeping us afloat in a cosmic sea, and the guitar dancing like starlight, while the percussion washes over us like pulses from far off supernovas; we are in no danger of the mundane here. One moment we are in the ether, transcending mind and body, and the next we’re in a punk rock mosh pit, alive and well.
John Bryan, Phil Bartsch, DJ Scully, and Jason Sherman are not ordinary men, nor is Dead Empires an ordinary band. Each album they release forms less of a tracklisting, and more of a painter’s palette, blending aural colors for the delight of all those who enjoy partaking in riptides of riffing and guttural screams, with the occasional clean vocal. And one more thing I should note about Sherman’s lyrical contributions: they’re beautiful. As harsh as he can be, and listening to the first single, “Slay Rider,” will certainly confirm he can be, the lyrics are poetic, thoughtful, and full of hope. So many of these tracks conclude with a smile across my face, and that’s welcome indeed. Designed To Disappear is not only a great Dead Empires album, but it might be my favorite yet.