Operation: Mindcrime, a sprawling concept album that legitimized them as a progressive metal unit. The popular tag at the time was "thinking man's rock." With Empire, they did what every band does at some point - they released a commercially viable album. I'm hesitant to use the term "sell out" because I don't think they sold out. I think they wanted to move away from Iron Maiden comparisons and focus more on songwriting. No biggie. If you can look past the synth-pop inclinations, this is a rather enjoyable collection of hard rock songs. And "Silent Lucidity" isn't even the best ballad.
Geoff Tate and friends kick things off with "Best I Can," a maudlin arrangement that could be described as feelgood. I hate feelgood music. Thankfully, "The Thin Line" follows and saves the day with a Rush-y riff and lush guitar harmonies. "Jet City Woman" is the first grand slam of the album. It's accessible, but it's not vacuous. Tate's heartfelt phrasing fleshes the song out and gives it esoteric depth. I usually skip "Della Brown," as I've never been fond of mood pieces when they're tacked onto complex, arcane records like this one. It doesn't fit. "Another Rainy Night" is the other up-tempo single. The chorus and the solo make this track. It's no epic, but in my opinion, if Empire has a centerpiece, this is it.
"Resistance" is another keyboard-happy rocker. I can't get into it. After the indelible "Silent Lucidity," Empire goes on cruise control until "Anybody Listening." This is one of the best rock/metal ballads of all time. That's right. Tate's vocal range is awe-inspiring, even though he was beginning to lose his upper register by this point. Again, a streaming, melodic solo completes the package. On the whole, I can't say that Empire measures up to its predecessor (what does?), but it's a solid session. They haven't topped it since. The Promised Land came close, but it was all downhill from there. Oh, I forgot about the title track. It's cool, too.