"From Refuge To Ruin"

By Dr. Abner Mality

If you're getting impatient waiting for the next album from Symphony X, I suggest a dose of Dark Empire to tide you over. This New Jersey band is obviously inspired by the prog-metal legends and they manage to deliver a pretty strong offering in that vein with "From Refuge To Ruin".

Symphony X hovers over just about every minute of this album, but other similar bands like Nevermore and Forbidden also come to mind. It's very guitar-based, with lots of shredding from Matt Moliti, and  the emphasis is on the heavier and faster end of progressive metal. It's not out of line to describe "Dreaming Vengeance", "Lest Ye Be Judged" and "What Men Call Hatred" as melodic thrash and all the other cuts have their moments of bombast and brutality. There's room for mellower, more rock based material as well, but you're never too far from a heavy riffing or a powerful gallop. The Symphony X comparisons really go into overdrive with the husky vocals of Brian Larkin, whose resemblance to Russell Allen is pretty strong. Strong, but he's not quite in the rarefied realm of Allen (and few are).

And thereby hangs the lone complaint about Dark Empire. Despite the excellent musicianship, energy and strong production, "From Refuge To Ruin" seems to miss the sort of X-factor that pushes a band to the next level. There's a whiff of something mechanical in their delivery...a feeling that they are letting others blaze the path for them. That feeling kind of hung over the album for me, but it didn't ruin it. There's good songs and strong playing for prog metal fans here and when Dark Empire finds their "sweet spot", they will be up their with their influences.