If you build it, they will come. If you build it and they come, it will crumble. When it crumbles, they’ll blame the people and not the architect. — I’ve seen the same glazed look of tired distress in the eyes of too many beloved beings, that of being misunderstood and disenfranchised without a second glance and at every turn. Feeling the consequence of being heard, categorized low, and left to rot can only fuel the dissolution of a person towards seeing the faux blue skies of society as the truest, most bleak illness; Humanity offers its own sort of false-normative collaborative death-ray, scatter shot upon disillusioned folks who’re encouraged to wear their truths openly in sight of a writhing mass of terrible collective consciousness, uncaring and void. Idealism and reality cannot collaborate in this sense, there is yet any effective enough social structure in any western democracy that’d deliver any such reward for divergent self-actualization. Collapse under the weight of conditional, mundane existence always felt inevitable. The claustrophobic wrench of grief, the restless solitude of mental illness, and the glazed eyes of mourning for one’s dreams all compress and weigh heavy as a flood’s force as Vancouver, British Colombian progressive sludge metal trio Empress unveil their long awaited debut full-length ‘Premonition’. They’ve saved the best and biggest moments for this main event as the fruits of the process arrive with greatest highs and greatest lows expounded.
Perhaps the best place to start is the least interesting part, right? The gist of it is that I’d written a draft of a review for this album back in the end of July when the band fulfilled their original run of self-released CDs and tapes via Bandcamp, the reason for holding on and rewriting the review ’til October is due to the record being picked up for official release via Hammerheart‘s recently formed Petrichor imprint. So, I’ve been listening to this album for four months and I know it inside and out at this point. This isn’t because I’ve such diligence in my process so much as I am already an existing and enthusiastic Empress fan since receiving their ‘Reminiscence‘ EP for review back in 2017, which I’d glossed over pretty quickly in a short review. This is where the notion that the trio were saving their most effective, their most powerfully emotional material, for the full-length debut stems from.
Set into motion via their drummer and vocalist/guitarst seeing Elder live in Seattle a few years back, the real takeaway of the formative motions deployed by Empress prior to this debut suggested outright that each member brought professionalism via experience alongside a knack for developing extended melodic phrases that evoke post-metal and progressive sludge textures with great insight. Pete Sacco‘s presence as a guitarist in underrated sludge/doom band Seer has been notable from from the get-go and pulling in a rhythm section via members of post-doom metal band Crater created truly electric simpatico out the gate. A split with German stoner/sludge metal band Piece in 2018 found the band pulling away from the brunt of their aggressive side (well, slightly) and leaning heavier into the loft of atmospheric ideas. With that said, none of Empress‘ previous material will necessarily prepare folks for what an advanced specimen ‘Premonition’ ends up being.
Comparisons to Isis, Mastodon and Yob are superficially made on all counts — None match the mood nor any further interpretable modernity yet each offers some worthwhile aid in suggestion of ornate movements, emotional resonance, and the impact available via heavier stoner/sludge metal movements. The first single from the record, “Sepulchre”, makes clear that Empress stand apart from those associations with their own sound, dictated by its sombre stoner rock roll and prog-tinged Elder influenced compositional dynamic. If you were as enthralled and continually thrilled by ‘Omens’ earlier this year and likewise enjoy a tinge of ‘classic’ post-metal you’ve really got to dig into the deepest recesses of this record. “A Pale Wanderer” presages this as a most dramatic opener, leaning into blackened tremolo surges of post-rock proportions (see also: “Trost”) for leverage as some of the darkest, most difficult to make revelations are propositioned up front. The sentiment that one might be encouraged to share their difficulties to encouraging masses and be left to fend for themselves as the room clears gives the album a mood I’d initially described as a sorrow among wolves, where any encouraged vulnerability sends one reeling down a social ladder. That said, I’m focusing on one bit of lyrics within a whole record that intends to pour with a revelatory amount of unburdening that spans the greater personal experiences of Sacco and crew.
What is already a dark and affected piece of modern metallic art is inescapably presented with the reality of death, that of bassist Brenden Gunn (Crater) late last year. His contributions to the record are invaluable as prominent bass runs and moody transitions are a major draw within the experience, deftly sliding between anchor and major driving force within most every piece. If he had to leave, at least it was via this incredible performance that sets atop a legacy of strong Vancouver-area rock/metal bands. The cathartic meeting suggested in the lyrics of “Trost” is conveyed expertly via the break in the middle of the song, a moment that not only reinforces the major goals of the trio but reinforces the level of virtuosity brought beyond the typical prog-sludge or stoner doom gear. There is some real triumph in the achievement of these songs, both their divergent, memorably applied mastery and the intensely personal songs resultant. There is yet more weight to consider as ‘Premonition’ was purposefully a void to fill with freely poured issue and expression via the trio — It’ll surely be overwhelming to some as a result; Ailing loved ones, the toll and duty involved with being a caretaker, personal relationships, the toil of life itself and greater existential dread. Empress haven’t aimed anywhere but within themselves when putting thoughts into words and the result is effectively emotional and appropriately arduous.
‘Premonition’ is a descent that spirals off into space as it ends. That is to say that the prog-sludge and stoner-rocking heft of their most memorable and detailed pieces comes early, long before Side B collapses into drifts of post-metal’s more shimmering affect. Those first four or so pieces are effectively the beating heart of the record, strung together seamlessly and with unsteady waves of dejection and spirited reprise. “A Pale Wanderer” makes this balance of forms evident in and of itself though I’d found myself wanting more of those kicking 4-5 minute pieces a la “Sepulchre” and “Passage”. The title track is just on the edge of excess post-music dangling and 9+ minute closer “Lion’s Blood” only compounds that feeling before fully picking itself up and dusting off for a grand exit. Though the listening experience is burdened with yearning and souring reality it is yet presented with ease and one must pull the conflict from it with a closer look at the lyrics and symbolism within. — Whatever the listener would glean from it unguided will inevitably be personal and I believe that is not only the sort of affecting music Empress enjoy most but what they’ve managed to divulge across ‘Premonition’ in earnest outpour. A very high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||Self-Released [Ltd. CD] |
Petrichor Records [All Formats]
|RELEASE DATE:||October 9th, 2020|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
|GENRE(S):||Progressive Sludge Metal,|
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