Friday 3 July 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Empress, "Premonition"

By: Zac McCune

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 24/07/2020
Label: Independent

“Premonition” CD//CS//DD track listing:

1. A Paler Wanderer
2. Sepulchre
3. Passage
4. Trost
5. Hiraeth
6. Premonition
7. Lion’s Blood

The Review:

Empress’ debut full-length release “Premonition” is somewhat confusing and, in this case, that fact is absolutely not a pejorative. Yes, it is understood that most armchair doofuses would describe something as ‘confusing’ in order to nonchalantly exhibit their full neck-bearded disdain. But we need to move on from this sort of stupidity and accept that all things are capable of defying comfortable genre notions of what music is or isn’t, and start critically analysing things for what they are and not for what they sound similar to. Does it even need to be remarked upon that people hoping for bands to sound more similar, from doom record to doom record, are hatefully stupid morons? From a perspective that dimwitted, are we to assume that bands who sound more familiar are “better”; which would propose that bands pushing weird sonic boundaries are (somehow) lesser because they don’t fit in? Fucking gross.

So, despite being a Sludge and Doom and Post-Metal band, it sounds like Empress takes more cues from 90’s buzzbin heroes à la Shiner or even Failure than they do from contemporary clean-production doomers like Conan or Torche or even Khemmis. Empress’ impressive ability to transition between and around these lines is especially present in Peter Sacco’s (Seer) vocals. At times his vocals are big broad ethereal clean-singing overtones which take on synth-like quality. At other times, he conjures familiar screeches that really push Empress’ riffs to their limit.

This is no more obvious than in “Premonition”s second track, “Sepulchre”. As it fires off in one direction with snare-driven marching style bursts of essential 90’s alternative smoothness, it quickly pivots into harsher realms with high timbre screaming and tritonal chugs, gaining access to the familiar domains of Conan, Torche, Floor, and Black Cobra. Helping this chameleon of a song dip between contrasting sonic temperatures, the riffs and drumming shift ferocity. From what feels like only a little bit, but, from what causes a seachange in Empress’ tonal focus, they yank the gloomy atmosphere from once place to another, but without tearing it. To maintain momentum like this is what most would call ‘songwriting’. And Empress has it. Unlike far too many in the extreme music categories, Empress’ focus is on songwriting. They accomplish this by way of artistic flexibility. Where others drone and “crush” and monotonously repeat hard hitting anti-riffs with endless guttural slurring, Empress utilizes a whole helluva lot of stylistic impulses ranging from Rock, Alternative, Psychedelia, and Doom to get their message across, even if it is a potentially confusing one.

With touches of celtic-fantasy via song titles like “Hiraeth” or the religiously oriented content vis-à-vis “A Pale Wanderer”, and coupled with yet another anciently derived European word for a specific mood like “Trost”, it would appear that Empress want to explain themselves or their music in old languages. This may be enough to understand a possible interpretation of humanity that through all eons and all experiences, not much has really changed in regard to the ways in which people experience death and gloom. They are final. “Premonition” becomes a much more knowable title when listening to the album through this lens, as do Empress’ tonal choices.If that sounds a little emo, well, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it sure as hell ain’t a dog. 

More importantly, the way Empress crosses genre lines sounds like an encouragement as if to prove Doom does not need to sound like it (contemporarily speaking) in order to better embody it. You can find doom anywhere you’re willing to look or listen.

“Premonition” is available to order HERE 

Band info: facebook || bandcamp