Sleep Rebellion's debut album Empire of Lies bills itself as a prog-rock Libertarian sci-fi epic. That may seem like a lot to take in, but in actuality it's a very simple package. Recorded by Chris McGraw (vocals/guitar/synth/bass) and Randy Hart (drums), the duo creates a full sound that calls back to genre standards like Rush and Muse.
McGraw penned a short story to serve as a companion piece to the album. Ideally the story would expand on the themes of the album, which it does to a degree, but the songs themselves are direct enough that they can stand alone without the need of further explanation. McGraw's lyrics make no bones about communicating his ideas: our narrator lives in a world of constant surveillance, global armed conflict and minimal freedoms. McGraw keeps this concept tight by leaving out many of the specifics of the accompanying short story and by utilizing some level of redundancy in his writing.
The album's first half is largely low-tempo, radio-friendly offerings. The title track sets up the album's world by illustrating how easily we become complacent (â€œDid you believe the TV screen? Or did you have a choice at all?â€). The anti-war anthem â€œMachine Gunsâ€ teeters between surrender and survival, swirling around McGraw's near-whisper. These first few steps sway rather than burst, choosing to entice the listener with melodies that take their time with deliberate pacing.
With our bleak surroundings fully fleshed out, there's a brief intermission in the instrumental track â€œTranshuman.â€ It's here where McGraw's revolution begins and the music takes on a more aggressive, heroic tone. Drum fills become more pronounced as the synth rises and falls against heavy guitar sounds familiar to fans of the genre. Those put off by the Libertarian label will be happy to know that politics only arise in â€œThe Agorist.â€ Strangely enough, that same track is also the most infectious on the album purely because of its massive arena-rock style. The story closes on â€œFearless,â€ the final call for action. Though this is the conclusion hinted at throughout the entire album, itâ€™s here where McGraw's writing falters, making use of a few clichÃ©s to pad out what is otherwise meant to be an important message.
Fans of prog-rock will find the arrangements satisfying, if not a little repetitive. Each track seems to be playing towards its big guitar solo, which seems unnecessary at times. The concept isn't exactly breaking any ground, either. But overall the music provides an immersible experience sprinkled with lasting lyrical images here and there.
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