December 15, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
According to Wiki, a ‘Solar Plexus’ is “a complex network of nerves located in the abdomen, where the celiac trunk, superior mesenteric artery, and renal arteries branch from the abdominal aorta.” While it sounds very cool, naming your EP after a group of nerves in your gut seems odd to me.
The Empire Shall Fall’s 2009 debut was an awesome release on two fronts. It saw the return of former Killswitch Engage singer Jesse Leach to metal and his harsh vocals that made ‘…Alive Or Just Breathing?’ the landmark it was. It also showed a band with some real musical chops taking a tired Metalcore sound and injecting it with new life.
Consisting of four songs with three interludes and the first EP in a three-part set (vinyl & digital only, the CD will compile all three), ‘Solar Plexus’ takes The Empire Shall Fall’s technical sound and sees them trying to push it even further, almost into the realm of progressive metal. Building of the base of Djent-fused Metalcore, EFS have added layers of jazz, reggae and some good old-fashioned rawk and roll.
Opening with ‘The Genesis Of These Scars’, the EP goes straight for the throat. No intros, no messing about, just straight into the action. In three minutes it pretty much sums up everything that was great about ‘Awaken’. The tempo and mood constantly change, Jesse leading the song easily through the aggression and melody. Lyrically it’s less unite against the repressors and more introspective and dark, which continues throughout the Ep. Jesse has always combined messages and dark metaphors into some great melodies and he does the same again here. Vocally he’s on top of his game (very rare to say otherwise), mixing the melodies that defined his time with Seemless with the harsh screams that made replacing him in Killswitch so difficult.
The centre-point is the ‘Narrow, The Path I Walk’ double whammy. Part I sees guitarists Jake Davenport and Marcus de Lisle showing off some nice guitar-work before Part II kicks in. Mixing Trademark staggered riffing with a twiddly lead before hitting you in the face with a breakdown, which leads into a clean section before coming full circle back to the breakdowns. Six minutes of excellence.
Times Of Grace (Jesse’s collaboration with Adam D released earlier in the year) was an amazing release, but it was a bit safe. Through all the big riffs and melody, the most adventurous it got was an acoustic track or two. Here, the listener is being challenged throughout. ‘Dubrise’ may only be 30-seconds long, but when was the last time you heard Reggae partition music as harsh as this? ‘As The City Sleeps’, the single that preceded the EP, features a jazzy saxophone but it gels nicely and doesn’t overpower the rest of the song. A big melodic chorus and some nice harmonising guitar work brings it all together perfectly, while still being bollock-breakingly heavy.
Being so layered and adventurous does mean it takes a few listens to really appreciate. Theres’s so much going on it’s hard to drink it all in, and the 25 minute running time does lead to it being over before you’ve fully immerse yourself. ‘Solar Plexus’ is the transitional record. The first seeds of doing something really different, taking the core of what they created with ‘Awaken’ and pushing it into new territory. ESF have said they’re already at work for Volume two, and we should expect big things. But the end of the year brings the best EP of 2011.