For the most part, the death metal/black metal field has favored bombast for the sake of bombast and brute force for the sake of brute force. But that isn't true of the closely related styles known as melodic death metal and symphonic black metal, both of which have sought to combine death metal/black metal with the intricacy and musicality of old-school power metal and even progressive rock in some cases. There is plenty of power metal and prog rock influence on Sinthetic, the debut album by Finland's Shade Empire. But these guys take it a step further, providing music that is elaborate even by symphonic black metal standards. The fact that they are melodic and use keyboards extensively isn't what makes Sinthetic unusual; it's the way they use them. On this 2003 recording, the keyboards are right up front and very dominant while the guitar is -- believe it or not -- relegated to the background. What Shade Empire end up with could almost be described as a union of black metal, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and power metal with hints of European electronica; the Finns are as intriguing as they are ambitious. Of course, black metal purists will likely accuse Shade Empire of watering down black metal just as some folk purists hated Bob Dylan for going electric and some bebop purists called Charlie Parker a sellout for recording his lush Bird with Strings sessions; whenever an artist does something expansive, purists will inevitably cry foul. But quality is quality -- and while Sinthetic isn't for black metal purists, Shade Empire's blend of intensity and musicality is happily recommended to anyone who is eclectic enough to enjoy Dimmu Borgir one minute and ELP the next.
by Alex Henderson