I think a lot of listeners are going to remember Empires Should Burn for its mammoth 23-minute opening track, “And Empires Will Burn,” skillfully spoken-worded by Edward Ka-Spel — and for good reason. But I think neglecting to move past the seemingly eternal sprawl of the first entry (and by the way, most records of this ilk place the 20-plus-minutes track at the back of the line) betrays the trust ASVA & Philippe Petit place in you, the listener, by attempting such a feat, despite the presence of the forever-overused Jarboe.
“A Vision,” for example, is worlds apart from “Empires Will Burn,” despite its drone status. Petit’s ominous, Hitchcockian piano taunt-comps and the whispered threats of Bryan Lewis Saunders open the track, as a tape-loop warbles like a faulty bike tire. Pretty soon, the warbles multiply and the piano tinkles begin to gain steam until they become the focal point of the composition. If you take in the entirety of “A Vision,” it’s more like a minimal showcase than anything else, with two pianos dueling it out as the song drifts into memory.
“Apocryphatic_Ally” is a softer, warmer exploration that peels off the spoken-word sheen and cruises through the drone lagoon like a hovercraft. It doesn’t get much better than this, several elements combining to form a solid whole that’s cosmic enough to trip you out and emotive enough to help score your new indie film. Its density almost makes me wish I could listen to its four or five layers (or more?) individually circa that Pet Sounds box set.
Finally, back to “And Empires Will Burn,” the titular offering of Empires Should Burn and a hell of a way to spend almost a half-hour of your no-doubt middling life. As you enter, an abnormal wind chime-ish ring greets you, and as you sit down, you realize Ka-Spel is sitting on the other side of the table. He’s going to explain things to you, and you are going to listen, and that’s that, innit? You owe it to him to hear him out, and don’t forget ASVA and Petit are doing their damnedest to make sure your brain remains occupied like Wall Street. Less a collection of squiggles and jiggles than a gigantic onward thrust of drone-lite, “And Empires Will Burn” is the sound of a world burning, but at an excruciatingly slow pace. None of us can feel the temperature escalating, and we won’t until it’s too late.