It's been quite awhile since I last checked in on Alec Empire. When I first heard Atari Teenage Riot, they pretty much blew my head open with their raw power and pretty much uncensored lyrical attacks. At the time, I hadn't heard something quite so brutal in awhile (sort of like Minor Threat with electronics), and was pretty impressed. As that group wore on and on, so their sound and message wore me down. I didn't stop caring about the message, but I didn't feel the need to have it pummeled into my head. Over time, I discovered that in addition to his rather brutal releases (like Destroyer), Empire also worked on some pretty interesting dark ambient and downtempo stuff.
Intelligence And Sacrifice is the newest effort by Empire, and it spreads 21 tracks over the course of two discs. He's still angry as hell, but fortunately the release isn't full-on blistering beats and skronky guitar noises, offering up some of the dark midtempo work that I was talking about above. The first CD of the set is dedicated to the Empire that most know, one that screams his catch-lines over regurgitated riffs and chunky beats. Opening with the low-end growl and almost gothic string synths of "Path Of Destruction," things only calm down for very brief moments during the course of the 50-minute disc. The former track opens with a spoken-word part by Empire before the drum machines go haywire and the 200 bpm metal riffs full tilt. From there, it's different variations on the same sort of theme and feeling. "The Ride" sounds like sped-up hip-hop gone evil while "Tear It Out (remix)" shucks off to electronically deconstructed thrash-metal. Needless to say, Empire is still pissed as hell, and with song titles like "Everything Starts With A Fuck" (in which the lyrics of the song seem to be almost entirely comprised of that one line) and "Killing Machine," it's not exactly subtle.
But subtlety has never really been Empire's strong suit. Rather than hide behind cryptic lyrics and vocals about revolution and a new world order, he'd just as soon cut the BS and deliver lines in a style that unfortunately sound like the pissed-off rantings of a junior high school student who likes to deliver expletives in order to hammer the narrow point home. On the second disc of the release, Empire mainly lets the machines do the talking, delivering over 70 minutes of dark midtempo electronics full of blistering 909's and lots of resonance filters.
The opening track of the disc, "2641998" rumbles through almost 30 minutes of dark wonderland, opening with layers of skronked-out arpeggios and a stuttering filtered hip-hop beat before slowly adding riffs and blips and all kinds of squeals and squelches. Meanwhile the beat is alternately started and stopped and mangled, making the track lurch along like an aging mechanoid that still wants to put up a fight, but has limbs that are slowly falling off from rust and decay. It's overlong and a bit indulgent, but I suppose that's sort of the point. From there, Empire shows some other interesting ripples to his sound. "The Cat Women Of The Moon" is a nice, retro-feeling ambient track that slides along with a warm beat and warm flutters of electronics while "Silence And Burning Ice" mixes a slowly shifting sine wave and deep bass hits as fragile electronic blips breath through the murk, eventually coalescing into a thumping beat over toybox melodies. He also delves into aimless electronic noodling on tracks like "Vault Things Of The Night" and "Two Turntables And A Moog," but the results are almost throwaway, feeling like filler more than anything else.
Empire is actually at his best on the second disc when he takes the more subtle route. The electro-infused "Electric Bodyrock" again kicks things up a notch, but it again sounds like a dabble into another genre without as much thought as to how it would fit into a track. The brutal reprise of "2641998" to close out the second disc is a nice addition to take things full-circle, but overall the release is so scattershod that it's hard to really get into things. While the first disc is more cohesive musically, it's again so relentless that it's hard to take in one setting, and while the second CD works as an overview of material that Empire has been working on lately, some of the tracks feel so tossed-off that you have to wonder about their inclusion. In summation, he's still angry, and he's dabbling in a lot of different styles of music, but unless you're a big fan of his work, you'll probably find yourself a bit frustrated over the course of the 2 hours running length.