Rating: ★★★★☆

Shoulders & Giants is the third full-length album from German duo Collapse Under The Empire. Formed in 2007 Collapse Under The Empire, who I am told chose the name specifically so they could use C.U.T.E. as an acronym, is Martin Grimm (guitars, drums) and Chris Burda (keyboards, synthesiser, drums), originally from Hamburg, Germany. Instrumental Rock with elements of Electronica is how I have heard people describe the genres that Collapse Under The Empire blend. However if I am honest a fusion of these genres is something I would not usually be interested in exploring preferring my music to sit comfortably into one genre rather than a fusion of two. You see in my opinion when you have two or more genres mixed together it appears to make it all the more difficult to produce an originally creative piece of work but when it does happen that work is stronger than its parts. However upon further investigation I found C.U.T.E and in particular this outing to be a more rewarding that I initially expected.

The album opens up with the ominous sounding Shoulders. This song starts with a dark guitar riff and some crisp snares that would sound at home on a drum and bass track. It then progresses onto a sparse sounding guitar led track with some lovely drums coming in about half way through the track before being joined by some crisp cymbals. All the while the guitar carries on throughout occasionally being joined by the odd electronic sound and muted drums towards the end. A good track, which sets the tone for the album going forward. This is followed up with Giants which opens up with a distinctly electro flavour coupled with well-defined percussion. As the track progresses these elements are joined by both keys and guitar riffs that build to an almost marching soundtrack with increased percussion that makes for a more mellow but still hard track.

There’s No Sky is the second longest track on the album weighing in at 6.21 and its starts off with a mellow yet mounting array of keys and strings alongside electro chirps. As the impressive drums kick in the keys and strings still manage to hold their mellowness creating a relaxing track reminiscent of Radiohead’s Kid A and perhaps Pink Floyd at times. I really enjoyed this track and even though the length of it may put some people off I found it very relaxing. The fourth track on the album, The Last Reminder continues in a similar vein to the last beginning with subdued keys and an interesting guitar riff before the impressive percussion comes in. Alongside the percussion the guitar steps it up a notch before the tempo of the song increases to create a faster track than we have heard on this album. I ran to this one a couple of times and found it really invigorating, what Nike+ would call a power song.

The next track is The Sky is The Limit and this is the longest on the album clocking in at an impressive 6:52 however it doesn’t feel long. In fact it feels just right and there are enough change throughout the song to make it interesting enough to hold your attention. The drums are more rhythmic and the guitar changes pace enough times to keep you guessing throughout. All in all a great track that in no way feels long and the slow decline that starts with a lull about a minute and a half form the end creates a sense of serenity before the fade out. Track six, Disclosure starts with a low single piano note soon joined by a simple but effective piano loop. However about a minute and ten seconds into the track a heavily distorted drum comes in creating a sound reminiscent of the first DJ Shadow album in fact at times this track could easily sit next to Shadow’s seminal Midnight in a perfect world. The track is dark and brooding and not at all “party music” but that makes it absolutely perfect for the more intelligent and mature fans of both hip hop and rock who are prepared to look outside their own genres.

The crisps drums and upbeat guitar that starts off After the Thaw give way to a lovely drum solo about forty seconds into the track. The drums coupled with crescendo like guitar build an atmosphere of mounting anticipation throughout the track that slips into a pleasant lull about two minutes into the track. Another strong track with enough character to differentiate it form the rest of the album but at the same time keeping in line with the duo’s overall theme. Days of Freezing, the album’s eighth track is a more laid back affair than the majority of the album. With light percussion and more mellow strings to begin with the track creates a feeling solitude. This continues throughout the length of the track creating a sort of interlude within the album between the more intense tracks that sit either side of it.

The haunting vocal samples at the beginning to the album’s ninth track, Incident creates an intense feeling that grows as the track progresses. The hard drums and heavy yet melodic strings produce a strong track that doesn’t let up for about four minutes then it gives a brief respite before once again hitting you with the drums and guitar and then finally returning to the haunting vocal sample from the beginning. The album ends with A Riot of Emotion, which begins, in a similar vein to earlier tracks with the electro sounds, crisps strong percussion and nice strings. It’s a formula that works well throughout the album and it works well again here.

In summary I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this album especially for a duo that some people would say fall in a genre called German instrumental electro rock. The album is strong and full of its own character. I am glad I listened to it and have found myself going back to it again and again over the last month. The lack of vocals allows you to focus on the music and to be honest this is a very good thing. The tracks are uncomplicated and at times almost stripped down to the most basic elements; percussion, guitar and some electro sounds. I would say that the only possible point where the album could be said to fall down would be the similarity of some tracks however if the formula works why change it. Groups have built whole careers on a sound and if that sound is good as in this case then its not a minus but a plus. On the whole I would give this an 8 out of 10 with points only taken away for the similarity of some tracks and the short length of the album. I guess it can only be a good thing to leave the listener wanting more.

Shoulders & Giants will be available from Amazon later this month.

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This article was first posted on October 14, 2011