We’ve all been privy to the axiom hundreds of times in our adult lives: ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ We recite it with rolled eyes and flat cynicism, but somewhere inside, the entirety of the population recognizes the ring of truth within the rote words. This goes just as easily for music as it does for literature, with cover art an oftentimes important piece of the total musical puzzle.
So here we go with the lesson again, this time for Forty Winters’ “Rotting Empire.” To look at the cover art is to expect little (with all respect to the artist who put ink to paper.) A sunset, a lot of orange, a pile of rotting bones, some ghouls, a rivulet of some sort of fluid, you get the idea. Looks like a pretty typical bottom-barrel grind record.
What’s inside is starkly different, however. Living somewhere at the highway intersection of Pro-Pain and Autopsy, Forty Winters brings the power and pace of the former while channeling the macabre mentality of the latter, giving us a finished product that resonates both as a gore-soaked decaying metal remnant and a supercharged punk/metal beat down.
The other aspect of “Rotting Empire” that comes as a surprise is the depth of the production. Albums of this type typically suffer from a sound that is too thin even by the crunchy glass standards of thrash, but Forty Winters has made sure that the ever-present thump of bass is intact.
The trade here, before we get into specifics, is that Forty Winters (hailing from south Florida, for those curious,) is giving us an awful lot of the same thing. Which for albums like this that live under the banner of ‘hit hard and hit often,’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that “Rotting Empire” is sort of akin to a crater lake; the sound is very deep, but the total spectacle isn’t very broad.
Again, that’s not necessarily an issue for albums of this type, but it does mean that the continual rolling rampage of album opener “Summoning Spirits” sounds very much similar to album closer “Disease of Time,” the only difference being a moderate adjustment to pace. As such, it’s difficult to single out individual tracks from the record, as one sort of blends into the other without pause.
We’re getting carried away though, and it probably sounds at this point like “Rotting Empire” has few feathers in its cap, which isn’t the case. Rather, Forty Winters, who as much as admits in their press release that they’re learning and gaining confidence as they go, shows some very promising hallmarks. Full production sound aside, “Empty Tombs” displays a well-measured gallop, doubly so because the cadence of the lyrics has been patterned to fit inside it. “Choke” is a full-bodied thrasher that accomplishes a lot in two minutes and seventeen seconds, showing above all that Forty Winters is aware of how to cut out the fat and get to the meat quickly and with quality, which is no small thing.
So, is “Rotting Empire” an all-time classic? If we’re being honest, probably not. However, it does show great promise from a young group of musicians, the combination of hardcore punk and death ideals itself being an interesting juxtaposition. There’s some nice rhythm here and a fair amount of solid pounding, so while “Rotting Empire” doesn’t get full marks per se, it does scratch a particular itch for many metal fans. Just know that the cover art isn’t completely representative.