The word ‘gimmick’ is a pretty loaded one in the world of music. Sometimes it’s used to summarise a bands’ predilection for a certain way of dressing, or focusing their sound around a specific theme. Are Lordi or GWAR ‘gimmick’ bands because they have fanciful back stories and dress up in impressive/mental outfits? If they are, does that mean KISS are? Do we only use ‘gimmick’ as a pejorative term against bands that we don’t like who indulge in these things?
We only bring this up because some will take a shot at Galactic Empire for being a ‘gimmick’ band. To an extent, we can lend this accusation credence – the band are named and styled after Star Wars, and play metallic covers of songs from the film scores. The band don’t seem to have any pretense about this, and why the hell should they? It’s an excellent concept, and thanks to the new injection of life thanks to the recent releases of Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Rogue One, Star Wars is more popular than it has been in quite some time.
The real question is this; are these just fan service, tracks that will appeal to trenchant followers of sci-fi, or will they appeal to a broader listener base? Realistically, it’s a little of the first, but an awful lot of the latter.
From the opening notes of ‘Main Theme’ it becomes pretty clear what you’re in for: a slightly cheesy but undeniably righteous guitar nails on the familiar theme from the films. What you don’t expect is what sits behind it: a muscular, triplet-heavy kick drum groove and slightly djenty guitar and bass layers that add a pleasingly rhythmic weight. It shifts through more sparse sections dripping with atonality, into a chaotic, tumbling descent, then back into the main riffs, before ending strong on a synthy 80’s guitar rock close.
That’s what is most surprising about this release – the gambles the band take in expanding the familiar tracks. ‘The Imperial March’ is fittingly militaristic, all sharp, rolling snare and mechanical precision. But midway through it lapses into a proggy light meander, evoking bands like The Ocean, before ascending into a dense, manic crescendo. ‘Battle Of The Heroes’ kicks in with an almost surf rock guitar line before building into a monster, propelled by a shuddering double kick run. ‘The Forest Battle’ races breathlessly, careening like a speeder bike through punchy stop-start rhythms. ‘The Cantina Band’ sticks close to the infectious oompa-stomp of the original version before bursting outwards into a dizzying cascade of tapping and fretwork.
Although the band do an excellent job of mixing it up, what still remains is the sheer breathtaking drama of John Williams’ original score. ‘Duel Of The Fates’ retains the anthemic choral vocals of the film version, ‘Across The Stars’ lives up to its’ title, with contemplative guitars lancing into the void. ‘The Throne Room/End Title’ wraps things up with the triumph and sweeping scope we are familiar with. It’s obvious that the band, not just as fans, but as musicians, respect the source material to such a degree that they are comfortable enough to let the original arrangements shine through as much as they seek to put their own stamp on things.
Yes, some of the tracks are a tad weaker than others, and eleven tracks long may see a ‘weeding out’ of those not truly committed to the Star Wars cause. But this is a fantastically executed album that takes a trench runs’ worth of daring chances. Search your nerdiest feelings and chuck your inhibitions in the cargo hold – the force is strong with this one.