VNV Nation – Empires

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

This almost makes me forget that crap music exists at all.

For the uninitiated, VNV Nation are fast becoming huge on the electro-industrial scene. A year after their awesome PRAISE THE FALLEN album (my album of 1998), the follow-up has left me almost speechless. This is my album of 1999.

EMPIRES is epic from start to finish. The album is book-ended by the opening FIRSTLIGHT and closing ARCLIGHT, where Aphex Twin style bleeps are filled out by imposing minor chords which, in the case of the latter, mutates into a beautifully haunting trance before fading to black. The music is typical VNV Nation throughout – powerful melodic beats, augmented by rousing strings and chord progressions that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Another one of VNV Nation’s unique points, besides the extraordinary music, is Ronan’s vocals. As with PRAISE THE FALLEN, the lyrics are touching and thought-provoking. Lands are conquered, empires built and nations reborn by the sword, but as Ronan asks in KINGDOM: “Are you ashamed, are you afraid, by destroying what the gods have made?” Religion has much to answer for, and when it drives us against ourselves, we can no longer rely on God for refuge.

The single, DARKANGEL, appears near the end of the album and a re-recorded and improved version of RUBICON appears near the beginning (Ronan publicly denounced the version of the track as it appeared on the famous SEPTIC compilation and now I can see why), but of particular note are the tracks that make up the middle section: SAVIOUR and FRAGMENTS.

SAVIOUR is an instrumental of such driving intensity that The Chemical Brothers should start taking notes. It also has a chord-change sequence to die for. FRAGMENTS is the most un-VNV track on the album, straying into Dive / Noisex territory in a similar way to VNV Nation’s rather surprising remix of : Wumpscut’s TOTMACHER.

I was fortunate to meet Ronan earlier this year (see my interview elsewhere on PHASE9) and he gave me a brief indication of what this album would be about. I must admit I didn’t know whether VNV Nation would be able to improve on PRIASE THE FALLEN. I’m delighted to say that they have. Where they go from here, God only knows.

Buy this album and lose yourself for 50 minutes. I only wish I could give it more than six out of six.

6 stars