Galactic Empire @ O2 Academy2 Islington, London

Date: 1st February 2017
Review by: Lee Carter

It is a period of civil unrest. Activists, striking from all corners of the internet and taking the fight to the streets, begin to make their presence felt amongst the fledgling authority. In their efforts, these activists managed to raise concern and movement against their masters’ future plans that were set to divide nations across the galaxy.

Galactic Empire Galactic Empire

In pursuit of an evening’s solace from these tumultuous times, patrons of a different kind of Empire descend upon a London base to bear witness to sonic annihilation and the rise of a formidable threat to aural apathy…

Kicking things into hyperdrive is SITHU AYE and his merry men of metal. Technically proficient and clinical in execution is the name of the game, but unlike many modern progressive metal acts sporting Fractal Axe FX audio units, absent is the harsh, scratchy djent tone and delightfully so as the guitar tone on offer is warm, and with a seemingly natural level of distortion. It all rather complements AYE’s music – a resplendent and jazz-inflected brand of metal that offers little twinkling of the celestial (with tracks like “Set Course To Andromeda!!!” sounds just darling).

It’s not an energetic or intense performance by any means, but then it doesn’t need to be. The finger-flying riffs and leads performed by both axemen are a precise joy to behold (with AYE’s right-hand man a perpetually-smiling wizard). The group’s enjoyment is evident, with every track played with life and zest that proves infectious to the crowd gathered. A simple, refined and sophisticated curtain raiser from the Scotsman and his troupe of talented troubadours.

Whilst it can be argued that the ardent and fervent fandom that Star Wars boasts has never really waned in the decades since it first burst onto our cinema screens (with the possible exceptions of the prequel trilogy and that squeaky-voiced abomination of characters that is Jar-Jar Binks), the recent additions to the film chronology has seen the series’ popularity soar somewhat. Toys and lightsabers, once again, line aisle-upon-aisle in shops, whilst every new trailer and announcement is greeted with rabid and enthralled excitement. Like a snowball, it gathers more and more fans, becoming bigger and bigger still, with almost every facet (save for George Lucas’ twitchy editing hand) celebrated.

Delightfully, the musical genius that is John Williams is rightly gaining a resurgence in plaudits for his work. So what better way to combine one’s love of the films with one’s favourite musical genre of metal? Enter GALACTIC EMPIRE. Riding the crest of the modern Star Wars wave and donning beloved costumes of some of the Empire’s most infamous, the group set about reinterpreting John Williams’ works into a shred-tastic blast of metallic fun. Yet what could easily pass off as a mere gimmick, with disingenuous beginnings, is actually a far more glorious affair.

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Opening the show with the two biggest pieces from the Star Wars score in its main theme and “Imperial March” could be argued as a risk – what if everything is peaking far too early and everything else is just colossal filler? If it were a risk, these villainous masters have clearly tapped into the Force and pulled it out the bag as the two only serve to suck everyone into proceedings, with every subsequent track greeted with warmth and joy (none more so than the buoyant and danceable “Cantina Song” – even the bar staff were having a wee jig about the show!)

The performances of every member stood up to the task admirably, with nary a note wrong and the enjoyment of playing their debut UK show apparent in abundance (despite the masks concealing each face). On top of that, the between-song chatter was sublime, including: cracks about the US political situation (combined with a classic quote from British cult-classic “Shaun Of The Dead”), Darth Vader’s love of Padme and hatred of sand, acknowledgement of the superior guitar skills of support SITHU AYE (whose abilities far outweigh those of Sithu B) and even an amusing skit revolving around the Death Star misfiring. The chatter is brief, quick and delightful which only serves to take this show to a greater height.

Such a show does run the risk of becoming nothing more than a joke; something done for the simple cashing-in of a resurgent franchise that will be gone and replaced by next week’s flavour of the month. Yet what is patently obvious, without considering that GALACTIC EMPIRE’s tour (and album) were supported by fans, is that the band genuinely love what they are doing. The work of John Williams is treated with the warmth and respect it deserves from the fiendish fivesome who masterfully reinterpret the score to a metallic maelstrom of merriment. With that in-mind, it makes for an absolutely wonderful night out, with sublime music from both acts and a fantastic feel-good factor buzzing through the room as the new recruits to the Empire file out. All hail our new galactic overlords.

1. Main Theme
2. Imperial March
3. The Force Theme
4. Ben’s Death
5. Across The Stars
6. Battle Of The Heroes
7. Death Star Fail
8. Cantina
9. Forest Battle
10. Throne Room
11. Duel Of The Fates

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