As a film critic and metal enthusiast, I can’t resist a good meeting of mediums. Movies like Deathgasm utilize the devil’s music to further themes and action, while bands like Austrian Death Machine (whose songs are based on Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes) exist to pay homage to pop culture. Movies may be my life, but metal provides my soundtrack – so imagine the speed of my heartbeat after being asked to a “Star Wars themed metal show.”
That’s the exact description a fellow NYC critic came to me with. A Saturday night concert at Webster Hall, featuring a Star Wars themed metal band from Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the headlining slot. Galactic Empire is their name, and they don’t need a Death Star blast to melt your faces.
I arrived halfway through the second opener, Metalfier, but while the growly triumvirate were wrapping things up, Galactic Empire was already making their presence known. Black and white industrial light fixtures sat on the stage, looking like paneling from the Death Star. Then, once Metalfier existed stage-left, the two Galactic Empire roadies came out – dressed in full Imperial officer costumes. Dedication to details? You bet your ass.
Then, the lights dimmed. Fog began to rise as the Empire readied themselves for an on-stage takeover. The crowd pushed towards the front, and in a matter of minutes, out walked a Stormtrooper (bass), a Shadow Stormtrooper (guitar), a member of the Emperor’s Royal Guard (guitar), Boba Fett (wait, but he’s a bounty hunter so – ah, who cares, he’s playing drums), and the dark lord himself, Darth Vader (guitar).
Well, to be fair, extremely close representations of each character walked out, with costumes tweaked just enough to avoid copyright infringement. Frankly, Darth Vader looked more like Darkwing Vader. It’s the only way to explain the swooping bill on the front of his mask. It’s as close to having real costumes from the movie itself, even if they’re cobbled together with patchwork design and varied details.
Jokes aside, Galactic Empire embodies the Star Wars universe in both showmanship and style. Costumes suck you in with rebellion-crushing appeal, and before you can call out any inconsistencies, the Star Wars theme song becomes your only point of focus. You’re transported to a time of hope, Jedi battles and scrolling text, only it’s not through cinema, but superb technical musicianship. Any mid-song interactions are pre-recorded voice-overs played in James Earl Jones’ vocal range, and Darth Vader even force-chokes people out on stage! The experience itself is one that fans will hoot and holler at with much respect, more impressive considering that the band only played a few shows *ever* before their Webster Hall gig.
For the music itself, there is NOTHING second-rate or “good enough” about it. Three technically-driven guitarists allow for harmonic depth and duelling melodies, as they tap and crunch their way through John William’s iconic sci-fi score. These dudes can SHRED – fast and furious – but deliver professional, clean renditions of Star Wars favorites that avoid generic metal grunginess. This isn’t thrash metal or anything that might scare off people whose genre perceptions are soaked in black goth paint.
Galactic Empire remains true to Williams’ source, and does so with A+ quality – then come the breakdowns, head-banging and metal fists in the air. Mr. Stormtrooper bassist keeps audiences entertained by being the most animated on stage (even photobombing a selfie between songs), as drums blast a percussion assault from behind. Who knew an hour-long instrumental Star Wars metal show would be one of the freshest rock sounds of 2017?
Song selection is expected, but wholly necessary and adapted for mass appreciation. You’ve got your Imperial March (video complete with a headbanging Chewbacca), the main theme song, tracks that pay tribute to “that time some teddy bears helped blow up the Death Star” – but NOTHING beats their audible journey to Mos Eisley Cantina. When you hear the Star Wars theme song, a cool wave of nostalgia meets badass musical composition that immediately impresses.
When the Imperial March begins, the epicness of metal pays respect to the evils of Vader with two horns raised high and mighty. But when that Cantina song kicks in – mayhem ensues. EVERYONE started rocking out with the same excited enthusiasm. This is Galactic Empire’s showstopper. The floor beneath our feet started to warp as the entire crowd began jumping in unison, caught up in dusty rhythms now given new life. This is the power that comes from melding two passionate fanbases with furious riffage, when done with complete commitment to servicing both audiences.
Here was my fear going in – Galactic Empire sounds like a gimmick. “We play Star Wars tunes, but as a metal band!” Cut to some dudes on a stage wailing away on guitars with amateur appeal, because you’re there for the hook alone. Something fun but forgettable, right?
That’s not Galactic Empire. Not in a million lightyears.
The music itself stands alone, but the experience far exceeds expectations. In my group alone – a varied mix of metal-lovers and metal-virgins alike – everyone left with hearts full of sonic Star Wars awesomeness. Fans banged their heads along with Darth Vader as he ripped epic solos, while amps projected familiar tunes with layered mastery. Guitars shoot notes like blaster beams, assaulting anyone who opposes such musical mash-up fun. Song composition is air-f*#king-tight, and execution is flawless (at least that night).
These are the rockers you’re looking for, Star Wars fans. There’s no other concert experience like this, and with their first self-titled album dropping on February 3rd (preorders are available), Galactic Empire is one stop closer to total intergalactic domination. Resistance is futile – and also completely unnecessary.
Here’s a little taste of their Cantina groove – rock on you mighty Imperial scoundrels.