I love surprises. Those moments when you are climbing the on-going pile of albums you're reviewing one at a time, giving each one the respect they deserve. Feeling their heartbeat and sniffing the surface of their hard work, digesting every morsel of what the band are about and what has been invested in their latest release.
With this Chicago-based crew which includes former Texas Hippie Coalition guitarist Randy Cooper, they set about the release of their debut album. I wasn't expecting a great deal, keeping my expectations low and the canvas blank.
Then I was assaulted by the professional production values, the top draw arrangements and by the time I had reached the end of 'Devil In The Lake' I was under no confusion that I had been seduced.
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Modern Hard Rock is the order of the day with this album. A little teasing trickery from the studio environment in places but mostly songs; plain ol' songs in all of their gory glory!
Whether you're driving on one of the many highways across the U.S. listening to some Rock radio and hearing Nickelback, Seether, Alice In Chains, Shinedown or the abundance of bands that carry a similar spirit, one day soon you're going to hear this band as they join the throng.
The U.S. should be aware of this addition to their radio rosters as Emperors And Elephants would fit the bill nicely.
Over here, the UK has embraced Shinedown and seems to adore and appreciate Alice In Chains which makes me believe that we'll embrace these guys once the word gets about. Time will tell as with all things.
Kicking down the door and getting 'Devil In The Lake' off to a good start is 'Bring It Down' which glides on a vocal style not too far removed from Layne Staley/William DuVall on the verses. Top riffs back up each and every syllable and the momentum of this opening track is over before you know what is going on.
The first single from this debut album then grapples with the ears in the guise of 'Who You Are' bubbling over with its own confident swagger. There's a low count of cheese evident with plenty of self-belief and an accessible punch to the sound. 'Your Will' mixes up their rocking edge with some sensitivities adding in subtle amounts of different textures.
After drowning in regret, some industrial style blips introduce 'Man Of God' which lumbers along like a possessed demon. Smooth sounding jarring riffs adding to the atmosphere of what has been a solid opening salvo only for 'Locust' to add a spasm of up-tempo belligerence. So far; so utterly satisfying!
Recognising that the listener may well need a breather, acting as a relaxed commercial break advertising an acoustic guitar and the art of fine strumming 'Hit Of Red' begins. It builds up the emotion revealing that it is a power ballad wearing the coat you'd expect to find with a band like Shinedown perhaps.
Other notable highlights include the controlled Rocker 'Change', the haunting 'Ghost In The Mirror' (which at times hinted at a tough sounding Live) and the tender album closer 'You And I'.
Plus, for those who aren't tired of listening to the cover version of Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game' by H.I.M. (His Infernal Majesty) yet, can experience it again as Emperors And Elephants cover the H.I.M. cover version! This is of little consequence to what is undeniably a strong debut album and a solid release.
Apart from the blemish of including that cover amongst the tracks on offer, 'Devil In The Lake' is going to satisfy many people who are enjoying modern Hard Rock today. My copy also added a remix of 'Man Of God' as a bonus track which exhibits mostly industrial leanings and allowed the angst in the original to surface more.
There isn't a lot I can criticise with this strong contender of an album, suffice to say that it's getting a positive review here and I would love it if you found a moment to explore their sound for yourself.
Remember where you heard about them first.
Bring It Down
Who You Are
Man Of God
Hit Of Red
Ghost In The Mirror
You And I
Man Of God [Dupermang Remix]