Dark Empire @ Knitting Factory (8/1/2008)

New Jersey’s own Melodic Metal masters Dark Empire were playing a short tour with both Suspyre and Odin’s Court and hitting the “Old Office” club way down in the recesses of The Knitting Factory. The interesting show brought a lot of cool Metal to the table so those who might want to learn more need only scroll past the logo below. I made sure to document and photograph all three of the bands that performed so dig in.

Logo - Dark Empire

Artist: Dark Empire
Venue: Knitting Factory: The Old Office (New York, NY)
Opener: Odin’s Court, Suspyre
Date: 8/1/2008
Label: Killzone Records

Before this particular show being discussed, I had actually been to The Knitting Factory on a number of occasions and attended performances that occurred in what is referred to as “The Main Space”. I’ve even been to the room directly below this area which is called “The Tap Room” and I have to say that both areas are perfect scenarios for bands of the heavier model. I had seen The Gathering, Unexpect, Alex Skolnick Trio and a host of others here but tonight’s gig would not be in either of those regions of the club and instead draw me down one flight further into the buildings deepest recesses – the third room in the club known as “The Old Office”. Clearly this must have been a spot where office space was once kept judging by the title, but now its been set up to have a small stage on the far left hand side, a general area for standing and some seating and a fairly decent sized bar. I thought it a great thing for the Knitting Factory to have three different areas to have bands in for this allows shows to be going on at all times and delivering entertainment to the fans who earnestly support their favorite music. I had no idea what to expect of this space having never been down this far for any reason but tonight I would get my chance as a three act Power Metal mini festival would be taking place. The bands scheduled were Dark Empire, Odin’s Court and Suspyre and while I was led to believe that Suspyre was headlining this particular show, it would instead be the guys in Dark Empire. We reviewed that bands debut CD “Distant Tides” a couple of years ago and knew what to expect from them, so the fact that they would headline didn’t matter much to me and was just par for the course of the ever changing manner in which gigs were delivered to the public. Instead the start off band or opener would be Suspyre, a band whose name I had heard in the past but never seen and now would be my chance. Here is how the night went down for those interested.

Suspyre: Suspyre is a band who is newly signed to Sensory Records and when I originally set the coverage up had believed them to be the headliner. Apparently this was an eleventh hour switch and Dark Empire would close out the night while they in turn began the fun. I knew that the group was a Power Metal group that owes some influence to the likes of Dream Theater and Symphony X and with those two powerhouses giving them inspiration I was really eager to see what they were going to do for me. They hit the ground running, but it was very early in the set that I realized that this particular space was working against a band of this kind. For starters there is not a lot of space up on the stage and this band has five members, one of them being a keyboardist with a full rig at their command. As result they were jamming out literally on top of one another and since there is no barrier between audience and band either, the crowd assembled was at eye level with them. They sounded good but it wasn’t what I was expecting in terms of being blown away and yet I also felt that a lot of this was coming from the way the overall mix was being done. Let’s face it, a five piece Metal band is not the easiest thing to get locked in and sound was going all over the place in my opinion and taking a lot away in terms of my enjoying the set. The band is fronted by a capable vocalist in Clay Barton and has their own guitar wizard in Rich Sibinsky. Tonight their drummer would be a fill in musician by way of Rob Cross, who did a fine job of keeping the time moving forward and apparently they were welcoming to the lineup their new keyboardist April Sese. They really seemed to have their chops together overall but again I felt that some of the scenarios around them this evening were making this a difficult group to absorb and enjoy. They had a CD released by Nightmare Records called “A Great Divide” and they would do a few numbers from it as well as their debut self release “The Silvery Image”. Among the highlights of their set was when guitarist Gregg Rossetti picked up the saxophone and added a little bit of difference to the bands music. Their new CD on Sensory Records is called “When Time Fades” and I think that I shall be better at gauging them once I sink my teeth into that one. Given that label’s output over the past couple of years I am rather hopeful about it. Odin’s Court would be next on the bill.

Odin’s Court: This would be my first go round with Odin’s Court as well and similar to that of Suspyre before them came out with a five member lineup. I had no real background in their brand of originals but had to say that they were doing a decent job of keeping the crowd assembled entertained during their set. At first listen I felt that a lot more of the classic Hard Rock vibe was going on in this band and their Progressive angle while commendable was not as technical as was Suspyre’s. This was good because then it would have seemed like a set continuation with different players to me. The band is led by Matt Brookins, who is apparently also the bands founder, and this evening the singing guitar slinger was sporting a highly decorative almost armor like jacket which made him seem like a Vegas lounge singer at points. It was amusing because up close this looked cool, but from afar one might scratch their chin and wonder what they were seeing. If the task was to make me remember it, well then it surely did the trick on that end. With no background on their originals I had to say that they were at least keeping my interest and sounded good musically. They have an album called “Dethanity” I was told and they were winning me over until they chose to do a cover of the Type-O-Negative staple “Love You to Death”. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes covers are a good call, but when it’s a band whose material works best based on the personnel performing it, I think that should be taken into consideration before choosing it as a tune for ones own repertoire. Peter Steele is not an easy vocal to do and I don’t recommend it for a Progressive Metal band at all. I did forgive them this but they lost me quick with the rendition of Lionel Richie’s “Hello”. Yes they did a heavy version of the tune but it was so out of left field that I felt I was missing some kind of inside joke that only the band and close friends knew about. Guys, please leave stuff like that out of serious gigs or the lounge jacket is something you will all need going forward. It doesn’t work in the larger framework of a growing Progressive Metal band. I snared a copy of their CD that night and look forward to absorbing it since it features a guest vocal by Sonata Artica’s Tony Kakko and if Tony K can give them a chance why shouldn’t the rest of us. Dark Empire was next up and would close out the gig.

Dark Empire: After what appeared to be a considerable equipment switch out time Dark Empire took the stage for their set. The band was formed and founded by guitarist extraordinaire Matthew Moliti, and with their debut CD “Distant Tides” offered up some really intense Melodic Thrash Metal meets Power Metal. The band features singer Jens Carlson who many know from Savage Circus and for having a voice not too far off the mark from Hansi Kursch (of Blind Guardian) but tonight Jens would not be a part of the bands roster and in his place filling in would be Brian Larkin. The core membership of Dark Empire alongside Moliti finds Andrew Atwood (guitar) and Randy Knecht (bass) forming what appears to be full lineup outside of the absent Jens. It should be noted that while Brian was handling the singing, that both Moliti and Atwood offered up some of the required Death vocals to the bands newer material. Their drumming tonight would also be done by a non-member and gave us Omar Davila to pound the percussion aspect of the band out. When they hit the stage they made no bones about being the heaviest of the three groups on the bill and also what seemed to be the band with the most technical axe-work of the night. It’s hard to define and pigeonhole Moliti’s style but if you like guys like Yngwie Malmsteen and Mike Romeo (Symphony X) then he is a musician you might want to watch out for. The band had a decent showing of friends and curious new fans for their set but it was at this final point in the night that I noticed how those who came for the earlier bands were not as visible and seemed to have moved to other areas of the room as opposed to remaining to watch the other acts. Dark Empire chose to mix things up by suggesting a circle pit and since this space was not the best setting for that I felt this was a bad idea. Of course they did have one of their friends/fans who was moshing and head banging like an insane asylum patient and even decided to showcase that he was wearing a woman’s bra under his shirt. The things our friends do when they come to see gigs must continually test the patience of their buddies performing on the stage. The band had released a new CD on Killzone Records entitled “Humanity Dethroned” and unfortunately they had no advance copies for the audience to purchase at the gig. My guess was that this plagued them for the whole run of shows and that’s a bad thing but this is the kind of stuff bands have to deal with when they are not lucky enough to have the support of a Universal Music or Warner Brothers. I’m not sure if this was the reason that Moliti sent one dedication of a tune out to be “a big F-U to the music industry”, but I would warn him that stuff like this is better left for later in his career and not before he delivers some substantial impact. The band totally delivered and came off to me as perhaps the tightest of the three groups if not the most intense of the lot. Of course I would see all of them again barring certain circumstances and hopefully in a totally different setting from this one.

In the end I would have to say that while it was a largely entertaining evening that I did have an issue or two with the night on the whole. The first was that this was not the best room for these kind of bands and this should have been upstairs in the Tap Room at least since the layout was better. The congestion of bands moving gear back and forth and around was getting in the way of people who paid money to see the group and one never wants to annoy the audience by making it difficult for them to have a good time. The other thing was how it seemed as though each band had their own audience as opposed to a unified Metal presence and let me tell you how bad I think this is my friends. The scene we love so much has enough against it as it is so when there are quality musicians on the boards offer them up a little time from your night since you already paid to get in the place. You never know who you are going to see and what band they might have come from or will go to next. Don’t be blind to potential greatness and be so willing to pass on other groups. It does the genre no good and only sends it to the abyss faster than mainstream music does. All of these bands tonight have releases to check out so if Progressive Power Metal and Technical Thrash stuff is your bag then make sure you get out there and order a copy from them so they can return and entertain everyone again.

Dark Empire Set List:
1. Northern Sky
2. No Sign Of Life
3. Salvation Denied
4. The Forgotten Sin
5. Prelude/Haunted
6. Possessed
7. Eyes Of Defiance
8. Humanity Dethroned

Official Website: http://www.myspace.com/darkempireband
Official Website: http://www.odinscourtband.com
Official Website: http://www.suspyre.com

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