Prelude to this review: if you have young children into "Star Wars", resist the temptation of answering the perpetually exhausting question, "Whattya doing?" with the answer "I'm reviewing the new VADER album." The succession from gleam to disappointment when explaining this has nothing to do with Anakin Skywalker becomes both comical and too much to bear as a parent. Then again, the Polish death metal juggernauts have titled their thirteenth full-length "The Empire", so of course there's long been something to this Skywalker connection. Sorry, kiddos, like beer pints, this VADER is not quite for you yet.
Piotr "Peter" Wiwczarek can probably recount in full detail seeing "The Empire Strikes Back" for the first time before forming VADER in the ‘80s, but what becomes the bigger story is how he has kept this death grind monster breathing for three decades. "The Empire" is testament to Wiwczarek's refusal to quit, and his capacity for bringing unrelenting havoc to a genre that has tried like hell to emulate and in some cases, surpass his band's bludgeoning speed. Best of luck to those making the attempt.
Following the previously released "Iron Times" EP, "The Empire" is vintage VADER. The release divies out modes set to speed and ludicrous speed, but with the good sense, as ever, to plant slower, if still heavy passages to give these songs bigger verve than ever. What "Angels of Steel" and "Tempest" cover in 2:16 and 2:41 respectively should be held up as examples in a metalhead classroom, from the kickass moshing intro in the former, to the sparkling, marching breakdown amidst the latter. Otherwise, skull-crushing velocity is, as ever, the order to VADER's bombastic warfare odes.
"Prayer to the God of War" is more of a straight thrasher with screechy, fingers-bleeding guitar solos between Wiwczarek and Marek "Spider" Pajak and a lumbering breakdown to spike the agitation. The MEGADETH-reminiscent "Iron Reign" thereafter marks the slowest VADER is willing to get, which is still set to a sweaty pace. Piotr Wiwczarek rumbles about the horrors of battlefield carnage as he does again on "No Gravity," "Genocidius" and "The Army-Geddon". As if he'd ever sing about rose gardens. Well, maybe if it involves nihilistic invaders trampling over them prior to goring its gardener to bloody ribbons.
The pace roars back to full tilt starting with "No Gravity", which still has time for a dropped-back mosh to close, and of course, "Genocidius" is, for its first half, one the most thunderous tracks on "The Empire". At this point, there becomes a noticeable script to this album where slowdowns and breakdowns are expected to manifest amidst the flailing mayhem, sensible metal songwriting. In the case of "The Army-Geddon"'s overt marching rhythms, they make sense, since the blast beats and brief thrash sections contained herein are outright concussive. It helps that "The Army-Geddon"'s riff are so damned huge.
"Feel My Pain", appropriately, is one of the most brutal tracks on "The Empire". Its metalcore-hoisted breakdown is glaring, but this being VADER, it works, particularly with a searing guitar solo ripped like an apology. "Parabellum" thereafter is an unstoppable locomotive with chords that haunt of classic KISS, of all things, but the song careens for a glorious 2:28 with no stoppage whatsoever. Its reservation toward the end of the album is one of Piotr Wiwczarek's smartest moves, particularly with the grooving shredfest of "Send Me Back to Hell" to close things out.
After so many years in the game, a VADER album shouldn't need to be a full-on grind affair. That turf's been long covered to perfection by Piotr Wiwczarek, and besides, the band started out doing trad metal before kicking up the thrusters. "The Empire" is a natural marriage of everything VADER has been to this genre, and like everything else before, it crushes without mercy, no matter what speed the carnage is dealt.