Home > Music > VNV Nation – Empires (1999)

VNV Nation – Empires (1999)

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This album was my first experience with VNV Nation; I’d like to say there’s an interesting story behind how I discovered this band, but they’re basically just one of those bands I stumbled upon. Of the albums by this band I’ve listened to, Empires is likely the most aesthetically consistent, occupying a sweet spot between the unintentional jank of the band’s debut (Advance and Follow) and the intentional exploration of later recordings, like Matter + Form. As far as I know, this is transitional material. When you get down to it, Empires isn’t a huge leap from VNV Nation’s past, but it mainstreams the band enough to make the differences easily apparent with familiarity.

In general, VNV Nation onĀ Empires comes across as an earlier form of the electronic dance pop prevalent today (these days it’s all about sidechain, wubs, and similar onomotopaeia); one that’s arguably in closer communion with the various forms of EDM prevalent in the mid-late ’90s. In fact, vocalist Ronan Harris went as far as to give us a name for this – “futurepop”; it relies more heavily on arpeggio textures and certain types of repetition than… uh… contemporarypop, but it’s still generally structured in a similar fashion. There are a few more abstract tracks (“Fragments” comes to mind) to break things up between the vocal pop. I haven’t listened to anything by this band past 2005, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their overall aesthetics follow contemporary trends at most times. To be fair, I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened in most of the popular music out there, but VNV Nation doesn’t quite approach what passes for “mainstream” sales figures, and that does occasionally lead people to believe such bands are immune to the forces of the market when, in fact, it makes them especially vulnerable.

It turns out that Empires is kind of hard to write about in any significant aspect, at least if you’re like me and you want to compare it to the rest of their discography, but the essential similarities in VNV Nation’s discography do keep popping up. This could be the album where the band actually found itself, for all I know, but its newfound cohesion leaves it with a relatively narrow focus. Even Futureperfect, released a few years later, pushes the formula established here significantly further, although it doesn’t stop being pop music in the process. It’s not that I want to disparage Empires too much, since without it I don’t think we’d have the foundation for such later and more accomplished works, and it definitely is ahead of its (admittedly interesting if flawed) predecessors. It might even be a good starting point for appreciating the band; I would indeed be fortunate if this were the case.

Highlights: “Saviour”, “Fragments”, “Darkangel”

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