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Album Reviews : Espionage – Digital Dystopia

By on May 19, 2018


There has been one debut album that I have been long anticipating, and that is this one! Espionage burst onto the scene in 2015 with their self-titled EP before following up with an excellent second EP, Wings of Thunder, in 2016. Now into 2018, the traditional heavy metal four-piece are releasing their first full-length, Digital Dystopia, an album that both holds elements of the band’s excellent traditional heavy metal style, as well as an active attempt to push their music to new and bolder heights.

However, I’m not remiss to say that the opener to this album, “Prelude to Power”, felt rather like a small misfire. You know when you sometimes read a novel and there’s a prologue preceding chapter one? Sometimes it’s great and it really sets up the book very well by helping you to immerse yourself into its world. Other times, you’re left wondering why that was there when you really could have cut it because the story feels like it really kicked off in the first chapter. While composition-wise, there isn’t anything particular ‘wrong’ with “Prelude to Power”, it also feels like it doesn’t serve too much of a purpose other than to show off the musical talents of the band, which are better put on display in the songs that follow anyhow. Digital Dystopia really begins to kick into first gear with “Enter the Arena” with a truly inspiring series of guitar notes that draw you in immediately. The cry out of “legions of steel!” was also a nice touch if you know anything of the band’s history. Espionage’s lead guitarist and string-wizard, Denis ‘Den Den’ Sudzuka runs his own touring/promotion company, and every year, he puts on an annual local metal fest under the aforementioned name that pulls in great numbers. It was a pleasant little nod. This song was an awesome way to truly kick off the record – showcasing not only the clear talents of drummer James ‘Shelvo’ Shelverton and the vocal prowess of Andrew ‘Frosty’ Morris, but also Sudzuka’s more-than-formidable guitar skills – and the series of guitar solos that follows is a cavalcade of talent! Showcasing Mark Furtner (LORD), before leading in with Espionage’s newest member, guitarist Matt ‘Matto’ Carroll, Sudzuka, Tim Brown (from Canada’s Striker), Brendan Farrugia (Envenomed), and then followed by famous Bosnian guitarist, Emir Hot.

The solo that erupts in “At Lightspeed We Strike” might be one of the best new songs I’ve heard this year; showcasing Espionage at their unabashed best, kicking ass on the level of Judas Priest-esque late ‘80s/early ‘90s speed metal. These are definitely the songs in which Espionage truly shines: writing heavy metal anthems that are just made to be headbanged to and for lyrics to be cried aloud until hoarse in a live venue setting. Within the album’s single, “Nightmare Approaches”, Frosty channels King Diamond and a young Don Dokken from Dokken in the best way possible. This song also gives Matto another chance to shine, notably performing a swell rhythm section throughout the track.

As the fifth song of the album, the opening to the title track really took me by surprise! Beginning with one of the smoothest synthwave-inspired openers I’ve heard, the song soon kicks into high gear with pounding drum work and heroic leads, driven forward by melodic vocal work that blends perfectly with the musical compositions.

Through “Haunting Horror” (which contains some neat backing harsh vocals and one of the most enjoyable choruses I’ve heard in a while), “Light Begins to Fade”, and “Hellfire”, the album is a non-stop thrill ride that doesn’t ever exhaust its energy.

A point could be made with Digital Dystopia that it’s not a particularly ‘new’ or ‘original’ album. However, I believe the point Espionage is going for with this album and their choice of subgenre as a traditional heavy metal band isn’t so much to try and be ‘different’ from everyone but more to recapture that amazement and wonder of hearing bands of this style in the 1980s. Something that was wholly fresh and exciting and new back then but is almost wholly lost in metal today. To Espionage’s credit, at many points, as with the guitar solo on “Lost in Space”, they even do it better than some bands did back then.

“Final Breath” is a decent enough track but falls a bit flatter compared to the more energetic and compositionally interesting tracks that preceded it. The final track of the album, “Wartorn Atrocities” is a hard-hitting gem that puts on full show the musically cohesive nature of the band and gives each member their time to shine, along with special guest appearances from Andrew Hudson (Harlott) and Chris Themelco (Orpheus Omega) that pack a punch.

All in all, Digital Dystopia is an excellent, if not imperfect, album. As the band’s debut full-length effort, it is undoubtedly one of the finest you will find in the scene right now and is a genuine treasure trove for the old school metal-hearted in Australia and beyond. Pick it up and judge for yourself.

Band: Espionage
Album: Digital Dystopia
Year: 2018
Genre: Traditional Heavy Metal
Label: Independent
Origin: Melbourne, Australia

About

Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.