Empire of the Sea – Skywatchers EP – 81%

Skywatchers EP cover art

Formed in 2010, Empire of the Sea are a four-piece post-rock band from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Their latest release is a 4-track EP called ‘Skywatchers’ that clocks in at around 25 minutes. This EP has a lot going on for it and shows a band experimenting with a wide range of sounds and ideas. I’ve listened to this EP extensively over the last two weeks and as I sit here writing this review, I’m still on the fence about how exactly I feel about it.

The best starting point would be to discuss what I do like about on the EP. I really like the chill atmospheric vibe the album presents through the first two tracks. The album maintains a solid flow even throughout  its spiraling crescendos  build ups in “Mother Hawk” and even through the quick tempo of “Father Owl.” Guitar work is on point throughout the album and is a solid combination of post-rocky distortion textures, power chords and bluesy solo work, which is particularly excellent in “Father Owl.”

These two tracks are good, but Empire of the Sea really start to show their range on the latter two songs on this EP. “Sister Sparrow” brings the tempo down a notch and is a much more ambient track that presents a huge field of sound into a tight package. My favorite moment in this track is when the guitars start to rev up a couple of minutes in. The front guitar layer that roams freely in the higher end of the mix really gives the rest of the distorted layers a strong level of depth and purpose. This track just builds and builds to no end and that’s really one of the bands biggest strengths. The track goes on to make a stark transition and end in a completely different direction than what it built up to.

The first time I heard “Brother Crow”, the EP’s final track, it instantly reminded me of some of the earlier work of The End of the Ocean, particularly their track “We Always Think There Will Be More Time.” Both tracks have this really dreamy after vibe going on for them. This track also has a ridiculously strong build up that should more than satisfy those into the heavier side of the genre.

That being said, this EP suffers from two big flaws that can hamper any release. First, there is the disappointing overuse of cymbals to be found absolutely everywhere on this album. Even during the much quieter, slower build up in the intro to “Sister Sparrow” cymbals crashing completely overshadows the guitar work to the point where the slightly distorted layer is completely covered up and even the main clean layer must fight for its spot in the mix. I’ve never been a fan of bands relying on crashing cymbals just to ratchet up their sound wall and Empire of the Sea is guilty is charged.

Secondly, while the four tracks are technically sound and Empire of the Sea have presented themselves as knowledgeable musicians, the music here lacks defining characteristic to them. I’ve listened to this EP no less than 10 times and to be completely honest I’m not confident I would be able to identify any of the tracks if one of them were to come up if I hit shuffle on my ipod. I think this harkens back to the fact that the band themselves have said their tastes and talents have grown significantly as has their sound. This is something that a lot of younger bands struggle with in their earlier releases.

Still, I think that “Skywatchers” is an excellent starting point for the young band. I have no doubt in my mind that they have all the musical know how to take this band to the next level. Time will tell if they can put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and I’m guessing that they will.

Available for free on bandcamp: http://empireofthesea.bandcamp.com/album/skywatchers-ep