Where do souls go after death? This is probably one of the biggest questions of all time. According to Greek mythology, when we pass away our soul is transported to the entrance of the Underworld, a mysterious place at the outer bounds of the ocean, beneath the ends of the earth. Massachusetts post-rock quartet Last Builders Of Empire have used the Underworld as a source of inspiration for their last release, a compelling instrumental 5 track EP that could very well become a turning point in their career.
RELEASE DATE: 27 January 2017 LABEL: Self-released
Their first album Without Remorse (2012) was an aggressive approach to the selfishness of war and its consequences: loss and devastation. Two years later they released Post-War (2014), which continued the journey into the life (or death) thereafter, and offered musically dualistic calm and explosive passages. Where to go afterwards? The answer is Hades, an EP named after the Greek god of the Underworld.
So many things in the recording fit almost perfectly together: warm guitars with majestuous delays, neat orchestration based on strings and horns, and a sense of overall flow that could easily put the listener’s mind surfing on slow motion sound waves while exploring Erebus, Kharon, and Tartarus, the three parts of the Underworld chosen for the voyage. The opening track Ἔρεβος | Descent of Perithous is already capable of trapping the audience into that imaginary space from the very beginning: a practically classical Adagio being climaxed twice by lovely distortions, and followed by its needed continuation Ἔρεβος | The Ruler Was the Ocean which provides a truly orchestral epic ending.
The fact that they recorded live on analog tape lends to the remarkable sound and compositional evolution that can be appreciated since their first album. It is thus hard to understand a subtle key fact about the mixing: where’s the kick? A successful mix usually demands bass and snare drums sounding equally present and powerful, and unfortunately that’s not the case in this release. The bass drum happens to be far, far away, while the snare drum sometimes sounds unintentionally soft.
The lackluster mix, however, is an arguable downside that is surely overcome by the excellent union of the several tracks. Without glancing at the music player, one can barely tell when songs start or end. Possibly the audience won’t even think about song boundaries or anything at all when listening to gifts like Χάρων | Clinostat. Its intense distortion-based loop is completely mind-blowing, wisely followed by a beautiful guitar intro on Τάρταρος | State of Grace that explores itself while building up all sorts of instrumental layers until a rather abrupt ending. That creates additional interest for Τάρταρος | Further Below Than Heaven Above, the last track of the EP containing a final crescendo that keeps unresolved till the end of the song. Unresolved? Yeah, pretty weird, but weirder still would be to imagine the band not being able to book the recording studio longer as the reason for an “unfinished” ending.
My feeling when Hades ends is that I want more. Last Builders Of Empire have certainly moved a big step forward, creating structures that feel complex and balanced at the same time, showing a higher-than-ever potential that is likely to crystallise even bigger in the near future.