Leon : On my doormat I found a CD of the band Southern Empire, of which I have never heard. Yet, immediately I noticed something about this album, it only contains four songs, all of them longer than nine minutes long! Better yet, there is even a thirty minute song on it! My prog-heart was getting excited, who are these guys? Southern Empire is from the faraway Australia and have released their self-titled debut album in 2016. Bandleader Sean Timms (Keyboards) actually has much more experience than that, with his previous band Unitopia he has released five albums. When the band broke up he decided to continue in a new formation, so he reached out to singer Danny Lopresto, who he knew from previous projects, to see if he wanted to join. After some auditions the other bandmembers were found, Brody Green on drums, Cam Blokland on guitar, and Jez Martin on basguitar. ‘Southern Empire’ was the first release for the group, which was two years ago, this year their second, new, album will be released, named ‘Civilisation’.
From the start I am being misled, I thought I would be presented with complex progressive rock, instead I get to hear a nice classic rock sounding song. That’s a good start of the album, the song contains a number of very interesting elements! Immediately I’m convinced by singer Lopresto, who sounds a little like Jeff Scott Soto! Even though his voice has a typical classic rock sound, it fits very well with the music, his calmer vocals sound very nice too. Besides the vocals, I am also enthusiastic about the guitars, Blokland is an excellent guitarist and plays some great solos that make me jealous! Now, I really can’t skip the other instruments, it’s clear that all musicians really know what they are doing and at certain moments we hear strong bass lines, drum fills, or piano parts. Now we know that everything is musically great, there is really only one question left; how good are the songs? As said before, the first song, 'Goliath's Moon', started very strongly, even though it did caught me off guard, and this level is kept pretty well throughout the album. Also in the songs 'Cries For The Lonely', 'The Crossroads', and 'Innocence & Fortune' the band often knows how to make great sounding music, a bit more in the style of Dream Theater or Transatlantic, but without sounding like a copycat. Nevertheless, I regretfully must conclude that, during the last three songs, there are clearly less interesting parts that fail to keep my attention to the music. During the up tempo pieces the band is very strong but mainly during quiet melodic parts I miss something to make it interesting enough to keep the focus, whether it’s a beautiful melody, an interesting rhythm, or a very emotional piece of vocals, whatever! An example of this is the calm part just before the middle of 'Cries For The Lonely', here I lose my attention and I start thinking of other, unrelated, things, but as soon as the instrumental part kicks in, I'm pulled back again as the band is doing very interesting things here.
While writing this I must admit that I’m conflicted. If 'Civilisation' could have kept the high quality of the best parts, it would be a very interesting album for every progressive rock / metal fan. I would love to give the band an incredibly good score, they do deserve it, but I really think that the calmer, melodic, moments are a weakness on the album which I find difficult to ignore. In addition, I also think the lyrics of opener 'Goliath's Moon' is anything but strong ('Let me tell you my friend, about a diamond I once owned' or 'I found it in a market but I could not pay the cost, for I've never been a rich man, so now my diamond is lost'). Well, perhaps that’s a matter of taste, so I won’t deduct any points for that, especially considering the chorus does sound very well. The bottom line? Southern Empire is a band with a lot of potential, if they can develop ever so slightly I guarantee that these guys will get a name in the prog scene. I would recommend every fan of Transatlantic, Frost *, Spock's Beard, and all those other bands to give ‘Civilisation’ a listen. Even with my critical notes in mind, I enjoyed the album very much.