"Empyrean Realms" is where Armory begins to move mountains instead of settling for the small stones stirred by "The Dawn of Enlightenment." The band took its sweet time creating "Empyrean Realms"-six years to be precise-but that gestation period proved necessary for the band's creative efforts; their sophomore record works out the kinks which tainted the better part of Armory's debut album, and refuses to depend on power metal clichιs or cardboard cutouts of Edguy worship. "Empyrean Realms" sounds like Armory breaking out of its shell and soaring high above the clouds, proudly dynamic and boasting explosive, mighty feathers of elegance and poignancy. I don't care much for their first album as you probably guessed, but Armory's efforts here won me over-I'm thoroughly impressed with "Empyrean Realms" through sanctums and eternal minds alike.
"The Dawn of Enlightenment" turned me off because it was horribly inconsistent, although the band's performances there are superb. The songwriting had some holes in it, and little beyond the first four or five songs did much for me (the cover of the Mega Man 2 Theme made them heroes, however). "Empyrean Realms" is just an all-around improvement on pretty much every level that the band could've sharpened up a bit. The songwriting is stronger, the riffs are better, the vocals are more profound, the rhythm section is explosive, and they aren't screwing around with pointless cover songs or excessive soloing. What Armory does here shows just how magnificent and powerful they are when all the creaks have been oiled and the pretenses dropped. The record's fifty minutes show a new beast entirely.
It sounds a lot like "The Dawn of Enlightenment," but as I said, they're using the actual music to impress instead of power metal clichιs, and that shift in focus is really significant. Armory comes off as very sophisticated yet comfortable. The progressive influences are profound in the general complexity of the record's backbone; the riffing angles and song structures they use brighten up the zesty riffs with that progressive mindset. In essence, "Empyrean Realms" has the potency of catchy power metal and the dazzling elements of progressive metal together in one excellent, natural concoction. The consistency of "Eternal Mind," the soaring opener, never lets up throughout the album's nine chapters. If "Quest for the Fleece" isn't proof of Armory's superb chemistry and instrumentation, then I'm a loon.
"Empyrean Realms" appears like it was handled with a degree of professionalism. In general the album soars on a medium between Symphony X-esque elegance (especially with the guitar and keyboard arrangements) and big power metal choruses and mannerisms. It's both a proper representation of the progressive power metal sound yet soaked in an idiosyncrasy which "The Dawn of Enlightenment" lacked. Bottom line, "Empyrean Realms" is an encapsulation of the potential of Armory reaching critical mass, and it is a very impressive piece of work that I've enjoyed since listen number one. As I said, it's "The Dawn of Enlightenment" with the edges smoothed out and the kinks oiled up. Can't complain about that.