Empire Of Gold – The Devil Is In The Details – Album Review
Been a minute or two at the very least since we last had Empire Of Gold up here on our pages! In fact…the timeline goes all the way back to mid-2015 believe it or not…man time sure flies here. Gave’em a spin on the SBS Podcast back in 2017 and played one of the cuts from the Raw EP – but even that’s over two full years ago at this point! I suppose what I’m saying is…it’s great to have this project back in the mix & the music flowing through our speakers once again – AT LONG LAST DEAR READERS, DEAR FRIENDS – drop the freakin’ BALLOONS will ya – The Devil Is In The Details is here!
Besides all that…time away doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing at all…we all need time to hone the ol’ craft, yes? Empire Of Gold has undoubtedly grown & evolved since I’ve last heard from this band of one…this music from the mind of Michael Dole sounds a bit more realized & refined this time around. Dude’s always gonna pack a bit of strangeness in the mix for ya at some point along the adventure…that’s part & parcel of the Alt/Grunge style of music he’s workin’ with; but overall, there’s no question that what he can achieve as one person is more than commendable & I feel like The Devil Is In The Details proves that whatever’s gone down between the last time we heard Empire Of Gold & now, has served the music well. Incidentally…if you ever do end up with a spare minute to read something incredible, take a good long look over Michael’s bio and see what he’s been through to be where he is today…I’m not even remotely kidding when I say he’s overcome an incredible amount of adversity in life…& quite often I’m sure, it’s been music that’s been by his side when he needed it most.
Well…there’s evidence of that for sure I suppose. Might have been a while since we’ve had him here at SBS, but Michael’s been plenty busy…dude added like four EPs to his catalog in 2016-2017 alone. Stoked to hear what he’s come up with for us…we’ll have to get the backstory one day on why Empire Of Gold has stayed away from us here so long *sniff *cry *sniff. We can deal with that later on down the road.
In a genuine combination of altruistic purpose & cathartic need…here we are, The Devil Is In The Details.
The punch into “Lying Through The Cracks Of Your Teeth” comes out HUGE – the kind of gripping sound that’ll instantly tell ya Michael means business this time around on his new record for sure. Main rhythm guitars are crushin’ it for sure – but for real…notice the accent notes added in by the lead & how those give the music another dimension of hooks in the thick of the atmosphere as well. Dole’s latched onto a solid Grunge/Alt vibe here on his opening, “Lying Through The Cracks Of Your Teeth” has verses that’ll pull you in quickly, and the chorus will raise the stakes as it should from there. From the Alt-jangle of guitars at the beginning to the immediate impact achieved as this first tune roars into place – “Lying Through The Cracks Of Your Teeth” comes out with a deadly rumble & rhythm determined to shake the walls. This is what you want though dear readers, dear friends…this is the audible blueprint on how to get things rolling at max potential from moment one…you’ve got a verse that’s got its own pull through the manic performance Dole puts in, a chorus that crushes with solid hooks, and instrumentation that completely adds the spark, intensity, and sound that makes the entire difference. More than an excellent first impression of the new record from Empire Of Gold, the grinding gears & smooth hooks buried within the crunch of “Lying Through The Cracks Of Your Teeth” start this off right.
Gettin’ gritty with it and taking you into a desperate & desolate sound on “Dust & Bones” – there’s a solid chance this slow-churn will catch on with quite a few of you out there listening. Empire Of Gold proves to be a killer hybrid throughout The Devil Is In The Details – but it’ll be songs like “Dust & Bones” that help make that case the best with its brooding melancholy still presenting multiple access-points for listeners out there. Especially those of you out there like myself, who were born Grunge. What you’ve got here though, is something that works with like…a listless version of Primus with the heavy sludge-rock tendencies & depth of a band like Failure, blended up anew, and now called Empire Of Gold. Lyrically, probably also one of my favorites from this record…Dole writes from a really rad perspective where he combines introspection and objectivity in perfect amounts…relatable & real stuff, no matter how brutal the emotions he examines are or burning questions he’ll try to find the answer to. You’ll hear in a couple tunes on this record just how much of an impact the spacing & pace will play a role – “Dust & Bones” is the first example of what becomes an essential contributor to this experience; the whole, it’s not just what ya play but how you play it type-thing. “Dust & Bones” has the perfect energy – but it’s practically energy absorbent at the same time…while Empire Of Gold grinds the right gears to the despairing sounds of this tune, Dole is consequently draining the life from our veins at the same exact time. You’ll be surprised by just how much you might enjoy that feeling.
“Independence Day” has Michael roaming through a killer vocal rhythm that’ll entice you in through the curious way he sings this tune. What I love about this tune is what I love about a lot of Empire Of Gold’s music, and the same very things I know that Michael Dole himself loves as well – it’s organic y’all. You’ll hear the occasional note that’ll probably bend & twist itself an inch too far every once in a while – but listen to all the freakin’ gems surrounding any moment like that & you’ll find it’s always worth the trade. These slight imperfections have and always WILL be embraced by Empire Of Gold…it’s about where the moment may take you, man, you feel me? “Independence Day” ends up with a ton of instrumentation to fuel its latter-half…Michael gives you the best of both worlds here with an identifiable & memorable set of vocals & hooks up-front, then shifting into an array of imaginative musicianship right afterwards. It’s a move he’ll also make on a few of these cuts from The Devil Is In The Details, and always a welcome one as far as my ears are concerned. I really, really dig the way he flows so slickly & sleekly with such an accessible melody to his vocals on the first half of this cut…I think that’s engaging & strong enough to pull just about anyone in…but for you music-heads out there…you fellow sonic-trippers…DIG how Empire Of Gold makes so much room & time for the instrumentation to shine on these songs. Maybe a couple moments where the tone of the bass or guitars won’t quite fully mesh, sure, but a track like “Independence Day” has the lifeblood of a live cut by that same token…makes for a really unique tune where the imperfections give it an organic appeal that’s a classic staple of the Empire Of Gold sound.
Did you LISTEN to the SBS Podcast this morning? Is that what brought you here to read this? No? You’re saying you’re not one of our six regular listeners? Fine then! Click here to find the show – we played “Girl Like You” and the next tune “Dirty Minds” on the episode today while featuring Empire Of Gold & talking about what’s up with The Devil Is In The Details. JUST SAYIN’ – if you wanna hear a rad sample of this record in a double-shot, this might be the best two cuts found back-to-back on the new record. The sleek & sly sounds of “Girl Like You” are freakin’ magnificent if you ask me…not only does the entire song just SLAY in its slow-burn from the moment it starts, but the explosion in the final forty-five seconds or so is worth the entire price of admission here. Definitely one of the cuts that caught my attention right away on that first spin through this new record…and to this very day & I’m sure long after, still remains one of my favorite cuts on this album. Not only do I love the sly way that Dole sings this tune, but I absolutely love the way the guitar plays around the vocals on this cut. Obviously every time he kicks the distortion into the mix and sends the chorus soaring to the heights it does, it’s amazing – that’s more of an example of a sentence that writes itself based on what you hear. Love the atmosphere in this song though…the vibe is tremendously strong for a slow-jam and I think you get a definite highlight performance from Michael in the way he both sings & plays this song, straight-up.
“Dirty Minds” seems like a given to me…I played this on the podcast partly for me, because I love it, but like many of the songs we spin on the show, I played it because YOU will love it too – damn near guaranteed if you’re listening through the right holes on your body. In terms of accessibility though, in terms of ideas…I think you’ll find some of Michael’s meatiest here; I’ll admit I wasn’t as big of a fan of the production on this particular tune in spots by comparison to some of the rest on this record – but if we’re talking about what people will immediately respond to, “Dirty Minds” has an instantly attention-grabbing sound. What I love about this tune is that the chorus brings both an artistic dimension to this song, but also a tangible one that people can latch onto…there are serious hooks here that are solidly written. Michael gets his Pink Floyd on here for a bit as his guitars soar into the atmosphere, heading into that instrumentation-laden second-half of “Dirty Minds” where you’ll find all kinds of brilliant expression & sound flying all over the place as you cruise to the end of this cut. Dole stays involved on the mic, but he’s no longer singing after about the 2:45-ish mark – now he’s the master emcee – not the rapping kind, but the host…the entertainer…the guitar dude that knows he’s pulling off some savagely rad stuff here, and happily pointing it all out along the way. He fills this cut with personality from what you’ll hear on the mic to what you hear in the wildness of the music in this exceptionally chilled-out-yet-hyperactive tune he’s got going on with “Dirty Minds.” I sure as hell dig it – that’s why we spun it on the show this morning! You float right along with “Dirty Minds” through its stunning second-half…love it.
I mean, don’t get me wrong…Michael can sing & he suits the various styles of music he makes as Empire Of Gold really well when he chooses to join in from the mic – but there are moments of musicianship & instrumentation that are equally compelling and downright fascinating. Listen to “Retrograde” for example – probably one of the best cuts on this album hands-down, and there’s not a single word from Dole on this track. Brilliantly played, from beginning to end, “Retrograde” is a flawless gem of an instrumental tune, working in a large dose of the Post-Punk vibe into the mix, hanging a heavy cloud of melancholy above the melody & emotionally-powerful sounds being so expertly woven together. I naturally love anything that’s going to remind me of something like Mogwai or The Cure…”Retrograde” fuses both those worlds together perfectly on this cut. There’s such remarkable depth & expression in the way that Michael Dole plays his music when he’s locked right into the moment like this; it’s one of only two full-on instrumental song that you’ll find on The Devil Is In The Details, but man is this an essential inclusion! “Retrograde” transcends a mere listen into becoming a pure sensory experience – the textures & tones soar & hang in the air, filled with gripping sound you feel flow right through you.
There’s a wealth of material I could have chosen to spin on our podcast today…and I’m sure there’s a great chance I’ll be back to spin a few more of these tunes as time goes by – like “This Situation” for example…that was a close call and nearly one of the tracks I chose to play this morning. Morphing his Alternative-inclinations just a bit to a more bendable groove, “This Situation” is right on the edge of something you might find in The Dandy Warhols catalog musically…which works really well for Empire Of Gold. The chorus of this cut is actually the part that’ll bring a darker-thread of sound to the whole vibe – but as far as the verses of this song go…I think that might end up being the part people remember most about this song. I ain’t knocking the chorus…don’t get me wrong, it works, it’s good – I’m just saying the personality, character, and charisma you’ll find in the verses of “This Situation” all stand out for the right reasons & would likely be the most defining part of what keeps people coming back to this tasty track. Michael will never really lighten-up lyrically all that much, but the sound of this tune does noticeably brighten up the record again as he surges into the second-half with “This Situation.”
Let’s get ya a sample of what’s goin’ on here…just in case you haven’t heard today’s show yet. Have a look at the anime video for “Sitting On A Shelf” featuring clips from Ghost In The Shell below!
DANK ain’t it? In the right ways of course. Empire Of Gold dives deep into the dirt here to get right into a gritty & gnarly combination of distorted melodies ripping through “Sitting On A Shelf.” Notice the Ghost In The Shell influence on the video is one that exists in the music as well – you can hear it lyrically referenced in the chorus as well too if you’re paying attention…that’s some bonus trivia material for your free beer on bar night right there is what that is – you’re welcome. “Sitting On A Shelf” is a short but savage tune…like the crunch that Dole gets into the guitars here is INSANELY badass…the dude knows how to use texture & tone to his advantage & he proves that here competently once again. All-around though, you’ve gotta give the man credit for how much he’s grown & evolved since the last time we heard him back in 2015 on the Raw EP…these are undoubtedly stronger tunes overall, and the writing continually stands out. Listening to this dude transition from verse to chorus like he does on a track like this one, or cruise head-on into wild solos & instrumentation like you’ll find inside of “Sitting On A Shelf” ends up making this record find endless ways of impressing your ears one way or another.
The longest track on the record will reveal some of Michael’s best on the microphone – he does an exceptional job on “Drunk & Alone” – like, he should be really proud of this performance he’s put into this tune. By the very nature of its six-plus minute size and the less-than two-minute attention span of the world at large these days, the odds are mathematically stacked against a song like “Drunk & Alone” before you even push play…but I think what Empire Of Gold has here with this track might end up being one of the real unsung heroes of the record over time. Being one of the slower cuts on the record would also make it have more of a potential uphill battle to gain people’s attention at first…I mean, that’s just usually how things work on any album out there…but I really think Empire Of Gold is beating the odds in how a song like this would be typically received by a significant single-worthy margin of sound. I wouldn’t normally recommend looking at a track of this size as a potential single – but if I was Mr. Michael Dole, I’d be taking a good long look at finding someone out there to make this into its own mini-movie and put this out there. Maybe not the lead-lead-single, but a third or fourth perhaps; I genuinely believe there’s a gravitational pull to this song that a lot of listeners would connect with.
“Breaking Through These Walls” almost ends up being one of the more straight-ahead tunes you’ll find from Empire Of Gold in a way…I wouldn’t ultimately say it’s too-polished, but you can definitely hear things going extremely right for Michael here. I mean that in the sense of the sound of the song and the tightness it has of course…if you listen to the words of this tune, you’ll hear his world is basically crashing down around him at all times & the dude’s just doin’ his best to SURVIVE all the BS. What I think a lot of people out there will really appreciate though, is that Dole does in fact, give a highlight performance when it comes to his singing on “Breaking Through These Walls” – it’s something you can absolutely hear. A lot of that is the clarity…he’s less masked by the music and rocking a friendlier acoustic-based sound here on this tune – but there is also a noticeable effort to BE more heard on this song as well, which you can hear by the confident way he sings it. You feel that though…you get it, as a listener…confidence can often come through rehearsal for sure – but it can also come through the strength of the material & how much you believe in it…which could very well be the case here. Dole approaches “Breaking Through These Walls” with the slight differences that tell you he genuinely feels he’s onto something special with this song…and as a result of that conviction, it becomes that way. There IS something different, something special about “Breaking Through These Walls” that reveals just a bit more about Empire Of Gold that we’ve yet to hear…and I’d imagine people will love what they find.
“Why do I keep jumping into this rabbit-hole I call my home?” – what a brilliant line…you’ll find many in the emotionally-expressive sound of “These Thoughts I Have…” and another noteworthy performance from Michael on the microphone. I wonder if the dude has ever heard the song “Coma” by The Doughboys…or any of the well-crafted slow-rock jams from that Canadian band…I bet he’d love it. Songs like “Words I Sing” at the end of the album, or “Drunk & Alone” and “These Thoughts I Have…” beforehand all contain a similar fog to their cadence & sound…like that half-awake/half-asleep feeling we all can relate to, where the songs that contain a vibe like this will either gently take you into slumber or keep you fully awake because everything sounds SO GOOD. I get caught in that trap all the time…I’ll put a record on to fall asleep to, and the next thing I know, I end up listening to every single second and can’t even come close to crashing out until the final notes are played. These songs though…these are the ones I find myself most happily lost within…not really caring about getting back to the rest of my day or whatever else I’m doing…it’s songs like “These Thoughts I Have…” that send you adrift into a sea of your own thoughts…and if you’re like myself, or like Michael, well…then you want to stay there forever. I think the melancholy vibes he’s created on this song have exceptionally beautiful qualities that are 100% spectacular to listen to…it’s like an Indie/College-Rock sound that lines the sleepy sounds of “These Thoughts I Have…” – and it’s damn near perfection. Backing vocals are essential, the vocal melody sparkles & shines, the lyrics are thought-provoking, and the sound is just…it’s just…like MAN this NEVER stops being incredible, does it? Love what Empire Of Gold has pulled off with this song, it’s epic – for as chill as it is, “These Thoughts I Have…” is another huge win for Dole on The Devil Is In The Details.
Once the beat kicked into the quaint sound of “Awake For A Wake” I was hooked…that’s what sets this one off perfectly on the right path. It’s a quirky, short tune, minimal ingredients and instrumental – but you’ll definitely notice it’s there, I’ll put it that way. At just over two-minutes, it does fly by really quickly – but I totally get why it appears here on this album…this is definitely a rad idea, no matter how short. “Awake For A Wake” shows yet another dimension of Empire Of Gold’s sound…a gentle lullaby of sorts – a comforting song that’s full of warm, inviting, bright and beautiful tones…a real soul-soothing jam that’s laced with rich tones and curious tendencies, drifting between blissful melody and inventive ambitions.
And I mean, hey, I dig an upbeat song as much as anyone else I’m sure – but I’m more than willing to fully acknowledge & recognize that some of the slower-drones on Empire Of Gold’s new record yielded some of the most truly captivating results, just like you’ll find at the very end with “Words I Sing.” The use of space & pacing on this song is outstanding…Michael makes serious magic on this last cut by not over-stuffing a single second’s worth of sound…it’s the silence that comes with a track like “Words I Sing” that adds so much to the way it moves…it becomes music you can feel, 100%. That signature raw honesty in his vocals and music takes one last quality moment in the spotlight to shine through the highly expressive & emotional performance he puts into “Words I Sing.” And that’s really the key here – Dole is a performance-minded musician that gives himself willingly to the moment…which is exactly the method that ends up producing a whole lot of amazing ones through the process – this album is all the proof of that you’d need to know that to be true. “Words I Sing” ends The Devil Is In The Details with a powerfully subtle & chilling final song that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat through its emotional intensity. Awesome to have Empire Of Gold sounding in such fine form after so long away from us here on our pages…time has served this project well – The Devil Is In The Details – you can certainly hear it.
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