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Empire State Bastard - Rivers of Heresy (Album Review)

Thursday, 07 September 2023 Written by Will Marshall

Do you ever listen to Biffy Clyro and wish they made weird, arthouse grindcore instead? If so, here’s some great news — that's Empire State Bastard. Formed by Biffy mainman Simon Neil and Oceansize's Mike Vennart, who has been their touring guitarist for years, the band makes good on a dream they fostered by sharing the oddest, nastiest music they could find with each other while on the road.

The first thing that’s immediately obvious on their first LP ‘Rivers of Heresy’ is that we haven’t heard Neil like this in a very long time, if ever before. Jettisoning his trademark croon, he employs a demented shriek that’s barely intelligible at times. Oceansize, meanwhile, weren’t exactly known for grinding, serpentine riffs either, but that’s exactly what Vennart rips from his six strings throughout. 

Harvest opens with a whirlwind of frantic drums — performed by Slayer’s Dave Lombardo — and howling vocals, while Blusher follows its onslaught by slowing ever so slightly into a grinding assault.

Moi is the first time the album employs anything approaching more traditional melodic moments and as it sprawls across four-plus minutes Neil intones: “It’s always someone else’s fault.” 

It’s not all frantic screeching, either. At its core, Harvest is an exercise in maddening desert-rock, while Moi has notable stoner-metal influences. Closer The Looming veers from a morose opening into glitching electronics, caustic howls and guttural roars. 

But as visceral and, ultimately, fun as ‘Rivers of Heresy’ is, Tired, Aye represents its one real misstep. Stripped back to just vocals and drums, there's a sense throughout its near three minute running time that there should be more happening. It’s just that it never really materialises. 

It's one moment among an otherwise exhilarating listen, though. Here Empire State Bastard careen wildly through myriad influences and styles, and it's certainly been worth the wait to hear them stretching their wings. 

Empire State Bastard Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu November 09 2023 - CARDIFF Cardiff Students' Union - Y Plas
Fri November 10 2023 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy2 Birmingham
Sat November 11 2023 - LONDON Electric Brixton
Mon November 13 2023 - MANCHESTER New Century Hall
Tue November 14 2023 - GLASGOW SWG3 TV Studio

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