by Connor Shelton
With the success of Voyager in the 2023 Eurovision Contest, all eyes have gone to the Land Down Under’s progressive music scene. The continent has long been a bedrock for promising prog groups (Alchemist, Caligula’s Horse, Karnivool), yet few have reached the commercial fortunes of their European or American peers. So it is that with the newfound attention, many bands are jumping at the bit to capitalize on the influx of listeners that Voyager has brought in. Enter Southern Empire, who are set to release their third album Another World and their first with former ‘The Voice – Australia’ contestant Shaun Holton.
While there were potential signs of concern for Southern Empire given the departure of singer Danny Lopresto early in the year, the band’s third studio effort thankfully proves nothing has been lost. Another World retains the band’s signature melodic fingerprint across all 7 songs, yet it also benefits from new vocalist Shaun Holton’s intensity. He brings an energy and enthusiasm to the project that takes the already sharp material to another level, a fact which is evident from the very first song on the album. “Reaching Out” is a brilliant reintroduction to Southern Empire, concise yet intricate prog-metal which balances its anthemic nature and serpentine rhythms with aplomb. It sets a high bar for the rest of the record, yet thankfully the band keeps the momentum going for the hour-plus runtime.
“Face the Dawn” is the first of two mini-epics on Another World, and one which offers a thorough display of Southern Empire’s ensemble skills. The dark chugging guitar riff from Cam Blokland is complimented by band leader Sean Timm’s tasteful synth tones during the song’s iconic opening, while across the 12-minute runtime, various instruments weave in and out of the mix to create a dazzling cinematic atmosphere. Things take a turn on the lighter ballad “Hold On To Me,” which strips things back and puts the focus almost squarely on Cam Blokland, whose more gravelly vocal tone works wonders in contrast to Holton’s powerful tenor. The composition borders on cheesy, yet the sincerity of the lyrics ensures that the song tugs at the heartstrings without any queasiness.
Though the middle two tracks on the album, “When You Return” and “Moving Through Tomorrow” suggest a complacency in the group to play things safe, Southern Empire test themselves with the sprawling epic “White Shadows,” Another World’s clear centerpiece. It’s far from the first composition by the band to push past 15 minutes in length, but it nevertheless feels like an accomplishment considering the personnel change the band went through earlier in the year. Everyone delivers their A-game on the track, whether it be Shaun Holton, who adds the right amount of grit to the vocal passages toward the end of the suite’s first part, Cam Blokland delivering a litany of solos throughout which range from technical to modal, Sean Timms working wonders with soundscapes, Brody Green keeping the rhymes locked in throughout, and Jez Martin putting some funk in the jazz-fusion section around 15:30. Together with the additional musicians, they cook up a storm that makes the runtime mostly go by in a flash.
“Butterfly” concludes the Australian prog ensemble’s third studio album on a soft note. Much like “Hold On To Me,” the track makes full use of Cam Blokland’s vocals and sees the guitarist deliver one of his most delicate solos put to record. It aches in a way that is honestly jarring for a prog band, yet such intimacy acts as the perfect release to an album focused on the limitations of the human condition and its fleeting nature.
Despite the ambitions of Another World – Sean Timms described the record as an encapsulation of “everything the planet has endured over the past 18 months… from wallowing in the depths of despair to overcoming the greatest of obstacles.” – and the hardship of replacing a key member of the band, Southern Empire’s latest LP might just be their most polished and accessible. Whatever difficulties there were during the recording process are nowhere to be found on the album, suggesting that the band has entered a new golden age. With any luck, these guys will gain the larger audience they deserve with subsequent releases.
Released on September 4th, 2023
1. Reaching Out (4:17)
2. Face The Dawn (12:44)
3. Hold On To Me (6:30)
4. When You Return (6:13)
5. Moving Through Tomorrow (10:23)
6. White Shadows (19:25)
7. Butterfly (4:22)
You can now Pre-Order Another World here:
& Orange Marbled Vinyl: https://gep.co.uk/products/another-world-orange-marbled-vinyl