Album review: Empire State Bastard – Rivers Of Heresy

Biffy’s Simon Neil and Mike Vennart melt ears and riverbanks on Empire State Bastard’s scorching debut.

Album review: Empire State Bastard – Rivers Of Heresy
James Hickie

Empire State Bastard’s debut album is, in many ways, exactly the album you’d expect from Simon Neil and Mike Vennart – bandmates in Biffy Clyro bound by an appreciation for caustic cacophonies and acerbic social commentary. That’s not to suggest it’s in any way obvious, of course. Its feeding frenzy attacks frequently startle (Blusher), as do its sobering sojourns into more beautiful terrain (Moi?).

Despite the duo talking the prospect of Empire State Bastard up for more than a decade, a name in search of a band, fury in search of an outlet, Rivers Of Heresy still manages to surprise by bringing out lesser seen sides of its creators. Mike Vennart’s exceptional work in Oceansize and Vennart has long showcased a songwriter of craftsmanship and nuance, so it’s startling to hear him being so unremittingly brash here. As it is to find Simon, no stranger to moments of righteous indignation in Biffy, letting rip in larger, scarier increments.

Rivers Of Heresy is also awash with Simon and Mike’s shared reference points, for those looking to trace the roots of ESB. Tired, Aye? and Sold! recall San Diego noiseniks The Locust and the more feral efforts of Mike Patton, whose most famous band, Faith No More, changed the life and listening habits of Mike. Sons And Daughters, meanwhile, with its deliberate, buzzing riff recalls stoner gods Sleep. Even recruiting ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, whose thrash-tastic playing powers Stutter, is an act of musical wish fulfilment.

It’s testament to how thrilling Rivers Of Heresy is that by the time you reach at closing track The Looming, released, somewhat boldly, as an early single from the album, that its impact hasn’t been lessened. Having been on that journey, the words ‘I won’t see you around’ sound like a menacing, punch-drunk threat.

Contrary to what Simon says, though, we hope for more from Empire State Bastard, as this soaring monument to disappointment and despair leaves you wanting more. And let’s be honest, given the bin fire status of this planet right now, inspiration isn’t exactly in short supply.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Biffy Clyro, Fantômas, The Locust

Rivers Of Heresy is released on September 1 via Roadrunner

Read this: Empire State Bastard: “I’ve been needing to make a record like this for a long time”

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