To be honest, I've never heard of guitarist Rolf Munkes or his band Empire or his other band Razorback for that matter. I guess he just flew under my radar. Actively recording between 2001 and 2007, the band released for albums. Germany's Pride & Joy Music dusts off the tapes and resurrects the band's albums for a complete reissue. Originally released on the Lion Music label Hypnotica feature some prominent hard rock and heavy metal veterans to assist Munkes: Mark Boals (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen) and Lance King (ex Nightmare) on vocals, Neil Murray (Whitesnake, Black Sabbath etc.) on bass, Gerald Klos and Anders Johansson on drums, and Don Airey (ex Rainbow, Deep Purple) on keyboards.
Essentially, Munkes and Empire play classic melodic heavy metal infused with a significant hard rock groove, something not far removed from the Eighties. Formed by a guitarist, the songs are obviously a platform for Munkes exceptional guitar work. He has the chops for both melodic and harmonious riffage and impressive fiery solos. Yet there are several other elements that make this band and his music work well.
One is the simple fact that Munkes does not depend solely upon neo-classical widdling wizardry. While able to do the same, his style traverses more from neo-classical to hard rock to even some blues licks. Second, he drops his guitar lines into well written songs. In other words, the songs meld harmony and melody, rhythm and groove, with hooks in the arrangements whether by those same guitar lines or a catchy chorus, for example. Finally, landing Boals and King behind the microphone was an exceptional choice. Both have the chops and voice for Munkes' chosen genre, and they have never sounded better. It should be noted that King has the lion's share of the vocal duties, with Boals singing on only two songs: Into the Light and I Will Always Be There.
As for the songs, more than a few stood out for me: the rocker Fool In Love, the metal groove of Into The Light, the fine anthem Spread My Wings, and the bit bluesy Another Place, Another Time. The reissue is called Hypontica(+3) because of three bonus tracks. The acoustic version of the aforementioned Spread My Wings is quite nice. Take A Look Around, an instrumental, gives Munkes a chance to flex his fret board muscle.
All in all, Empire's Hypontica(+3) is a fine reissue, and a satisfying platter of guitar-centered melodic hard rock with a metal edge. If you missed it 15 years ago, now's your chance to grab it. The rest of the Empire discography, three more albums, will be released in 2017. Recommended.
All in all, Empire's Hypontica(+3) is a fine reissue, and a satisfying platter of guitar-centered melodic hard rock with a metal edge. If you missed it 15 years ago, now's your chance to grab it.
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