In the vein of his other releases on Mille Plateaux, Empire on Etoiles tends towards the subtly creepier side of his work instead of the raging explosiveness characteristic of Atari Teenage Riot. There's no clattering series of sped-up and screwed-up funk breakbeats here -- indeed, there's barely any percussion at all -- and neither is there any singing or shouting in Empire's expected vocal mode or those of his bandmates. Outside of some cryptic song titles, such as "La Revolution Obligatoire," and the glowering, overexposed photo of himself on the back, the usual political/confrontational stance also remains absent. While not as truly unsettling as the solo ambient projects of Mick Harris or Robert Hampson, Etoiles does possess a certain dramatic keep-a-lookout pose that the album's ten songs explore. At its weirdly prettiest, there's conceptual if not direct sonic connections to the similarly counterbalanced work of the Aphex Twin, but Empire's work sounds rougher, less prone to simply being switched on and enjoyed. Low bass tones and squiggly, murky synth lines dominate the pieces, not per se following any central melody but neither simply random notes -- more open-ended free-form explorations around a dominant loop or chord per song. The mix is warm even at its most alien, a bit like strange signals from outer space mixed with some random '70s experiment at proto-new age music soundtracking a grainy documentary on UFOs. As there's little difference between any of the songs in terms of basic sound and mix, the drumbeats and actual hook on "J'ai Tue les Fictions" make for a welcome change five songs in. Etoiles will remain of interest to the hardcore Empire fan most.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett