November Listening: End of an Empire by Celldweller

It’s been a while since I have done a reading/listening/playing update, so this is way overdue. But I promise you, November’s list is packed with a fantastic item.  In fact, this is basically an album review. Let’s jump right into it:

Listening – End of an Empire by Celldweller

end of an empire cover art
I’m a huge fan of Klayton of Celldweller, going back his work in the early 90’s as Brainchild/Circle of Dust/Argyle Park. I’m honestly amazed by his skill, determination, and prowess in building a personal brand that any company should learn from. He does just about everything right, and for the right reasons – because that is how he wants to do things.
His story of persistence is featured briefly in my book Mastering The Game, and example to anyone who dreams of creating anything of value. There’s just something authentic and immersive about his art. I approach EoaE as a concept album, as Klayton referenced the rise and falls of kingdoms as inspiration. I guess the best way to approach this album would be a quick song by song reflection:

Track by Track Thoughts for End of an Empire (EoaE)

Faction 01

The album opens up with Faction 01. The “Faction” tracks are storytelling and environmental soundscapes that include spoken word and dialogue executed so well that you would think they were lifted from an A-list sci-fi blockbuster film. It’s amazing how these pieces along with breathtaking artwork create such a compelling experience. You will want to experience the album by listening in a single setting without shuffling or skipping around – a rarity in modern musical releases.
These comments apply to all the Faction tracks, so I won’t comment on them individually.

New Elysium

A driving electronic beat, catchy chorus, progressive intensity, and an uplifting message may all cause you to hit repeat a few times before even going further into EoaE.  And that’s really okay. Polished and raw at the same time, this anthem holds promises for both a new future and the end to the old. Yet as I consider the placement of this track, I feel as if the hubris and pride demonstrated in the lyrics are a foreshadowing how short lived this new empire may be.

Favorite lyric: “Sometimes we need reminders of everything that we are worth”

End of an Empire

More guitar driven and rock style in percussion, but cinematic in execution, this song declares the end of an empire in no uncertain terms. The original chapter titles of the two song release format find their way into the lyrics: “Time” “Dreams” “Love” and “Death” are all referenced, unifying the themes of EoaE. This title track smoothly transitions from one style to another, and just when you think the song is ending, it surges back to life with even more urgency and drive.

Favorite lyric: “But even death will end in time”

Heart On

In addition to being dark and heavy, Klayton is also incredibly clever and humorous with this tongue-in-cheek song, filled with hyperbole, dramatic imagery, and cheesy-cool. Note, this particular song (along with “Good L_ck, Yo_’re F_cked”) is responsible for the Explicit Lyrics Advisory rating, with the oft repeated refrain “I f_cking love you.” It makes sense within the song context, and as a rather cool bonus “clean” versions of both songs are included with the digital download (more on that at the end of this post). Oh, and the song is super catchy, so I am appreciative for the clean versions.

Favorite Lyric: “I’ve pinned my heart to my sleeve, So that the whole world can see, I have a heart on for you.”

Just Like You

I originally felt that the song could have been a never released Circle of Dust track. It’s rich, emotional, yet comparatively minimalist approach is driven by smooth vocals that are personal and intimate, brutal and infectious, and not unlike elements of “Against the Tide” another of my favorites from Celldweller‘s previous album, Wish Upon a Blackstar. At 5:03 in length, it’s also the shortest piece on the album, up to this point.

Favorite Lyric: “The stormwinds are growing as my dreams are blowing away…Just like you.”

Lost in Time

The brooding tone of Just Like You melt into the epic journey that is Lost in Time. This song was originally released with an official lyric video that included dinosaurs with lasers, and it’s difficult to picture anything else once you see the video. However, if you have listened to Klayton’s collaboration with mindfreak Criss Angel (the original Angeldust album), you might hear a familiar sound that is welcome, yet fresh. At this point, I realize I am listening to another 7 minute song, and loving every bit of it. Not an easy feat to accomplish.

Favorite Lyric: “I feel lost in time, but if I wait for direction my lifetime will pass me by”

Good L_ck (Yo_’re F_cked)

In the vein of Heart On, this song is both cheesy-cool and loaded with F-bombs (also given the clean variation treatment). But below the surface of the lyrics is profound depth:

Favorite Lyrics: “Your luck is sliding like a bat out of hell, You’re empty-handed at your life’s show and tell, You have no idea what’s coming down.”

Jericho

By far my favorite piece from this album, Jericho is smooth, addictive, and a cautionary tale to the many self-absorbed, self-righteous, and arrogant. Bonus points for reference the city that found its impenetrable walls defeated and itself exposed without defense. The lyric pattern and cadence of the song remind me so much of Klayton’s early work in Circle of Dust, which coincidentally contribute a remix on this album (Jericho: Circle of Dust Remix).

Favorite Lyrics: “Arrogance justified, Self-importance amplified, It’s down you go, When your walls fall like Jericho.”

Breakout (feat. Scandroid)

A song for the ages, and the dance floor. A perfectly executed concept piece, this song ties Klayton’s clone from the future (Red of Scandroid) into the world of EoaE (it’s a long story, but it’s all good). And you really wont have time to think about the nuances, as this song is pure fist-pumping, fight the man, 1980’s/2513’s synthpop/rock goodness.

I love it.

Favorite Lyrics: “And we eye the sky through prison bars, Hope fading with the light.”

Down to Earth

Again I hear what I loved about Circle of Dust embedded in this song, especially the delivery of the line “You’re falling…down to Earth“…and I could not be more thrilled. We again have themes of pride, arrogance, and the fall. For fans of the Celldweller debut album, you will also feel a sense of home in the sounds of Down to Earth.

Favorite Lyrics: “But broken wings won’t let you fly above all your broken dreams”

Precious One

Electric Organ. 80’s power ballad stylings. Celldweller‘s signature electronics, even vibes of Frozen (the song, not the Disney Movie)What an amazing song. Both a spiritual ascent into the afterlife and a mirror/bookend for the opening New Elysium, this song is a fitting conclusion for the journey of EoaE. Oh, and it’s another 7 minute epic journey of bliss.

Favorite  Lyric: “I begin to pass through darkened glass, And I cannot help but wonder, As I stand before open Death’s door, Should I be afraid to enter?”

Jericho (Circle of Dust Remix)

Ok, this blindsided me. I never expected to actually have any new material identified as Circle of Dust, as I understood Klayton to be very future focused…but for whatever reasons he choose to resurrect the CoD moniker I am grateful beyond words. CoD was a significant part of my formative years in Jr. High School/High School, and this remix is nostalgic, futuristic, and  I cannot stop smiling – ok, I guess there is no way for me to be objective on this remix…

But this is everything I could ever hope for: on point programming, crunchy guitars, and 90’s style samples, culminating with “you are fragile” from CoD‘s swansong Disengage…it almost makes me feel like this mix was created personally for me (I guess I am that narcissistic?).

G4M3 OV3R

So Klayton has further progressed into mindblowing territory with a chiptune style tour of the album as the bonus to obliterate all bonuses.
So I’m pretty much speechless at the end of this album, and left feeling like the biggest fanboy ever…
Except that one time in Miami…
celldweller klayton miami florida
Bonus tracks – As previously mentioned, the digital version album even included clean versions of Heart On and Good L_ck (Yo_’re F_cked). Heart On is well executed, with the vocal glitching replacing the profanity in such a way that you would not even know better. Well done. Good L_ck is a bit more challenging, as the rhyming structure of the song basically allows you brain to fill in the blanks, with the lyrics “Good luck, you’re ______” In this case, I was actually expecting the lyrics to be changed to: “Good luck, you’re stuck” as that would flow without appearing as obviously censored.
Then again, this only matters to those who care that the clean version even exists.