Mental illness is for real. There are people who will try to argue otherwise, and if you’re one and you claim it has something to do with toughness, let me know so I can tell you to go fuck yourself. This is after five tough years of therapy and learning about social anxiety and other issues that helped me keep it bottled up and basically untreated for most of my life.
Empress’ debut record “Premonition” is based in a lot of that as the album touches deeply on mental health issues and the way they weave through our families and loved ones. This album specifically focuses on the struggles faced by vocalist/guitarist Peter Sacco and his family as well as the trauma and difficulties that can go along with that. There also is a measure of protection involved, discouraging people from pressuring those with mental health issues to come forward and instead letting them handle their life and struggles as they see fit. On this record, the band not only makes its mark with its prog-infested doom but also has a very human touch that should help those who identify with these issues feel a camaraderie and others in the dark about these matters help opening their eyes and hearts. The band is rounded out by drummer Chris Doyle, and bassist the late Brendan Gunn, who passed away in late October. This record is dedicated to his memory.
“A Pale Wanderer” has a fluid open before Sacco’s clean calls reach in, and the music heads into a proggy gaze. Doomy trudging lands punches while the soloing heats up, and a calm brings cooler air while sounds rush. Drums open up as the vocals turn to wild cries, moody melody brings cloud cover, and the track fades out. “Sepulchre” gets off to a raucous start as the chorus belts you, with the track taking on more of a rock n roll vibe. Gruff cries team up with the doomy chugging while the bass sinks in its teeth, yells punish, and the song ends abruptly. “Passage” trickles open as the guitars tread water, and Sacco’s signing hits Ozzy-style highs. The pace gallops as the guitars heat up and burn the hair on your arms, while a strong chorus gives an emotional boost. The bass rumbles as the track blasts ahead, and wild shrieks contributes to the end’s dust up.
“Trost” has strange effects on the cries, then the track cracks through the surface, and there’s a slight black metal edge to the melodies. The playing jolts your blood flow, as Sacco goes back and forth between harsh calls and clean vocals, and the playing eases into a driving bassline. Dreamy guitars come with a breeze as the singing floats in the air, wild cries explode, and an atmospheric soup leaves you coated in condensation. “Hiraeth” has a hazy start that flows in, setting the stage before the playing rages in flames. Guitars buzz while raw cries punish, and the underbelly pulsates and pounds before the tempo pulls back. The bass gets things moving again as yells echo, guitars blaze, and the track lands crucial punches before the track begins to melt back into the earth. The title track is a strong instrumental that leans in already on fire as the long intro sets the vibe, and all kinds of colors explode on the horizon. Things bubble while the drums tap away before the lid is torn off again, with the emotional surge challenging your psyche. “Lion’s Blood” is the cataclysmic closer that starts calmly, dripping in with softer vocals as the intensity ramps up. Once the awakening happens, crazed cries emerge, and the playing gets even more compelling, with Sacco’s wails reminding a bit of Bruce Lamont. The pace blends into cold, simmering there for a bit before the track trudges again, wild yells scrape the flesh, and the track burns out of time.
“Premonition” is a record that has two experiences, one musically and the other emotionally. It’s certainly possible to sink into Empress’ progressive doom and let the music wash over you as you disappear into the atmosphere. But if you connect to the lyrical content and have experienced mental illness yourself, it opens even deeper, digs into your heart, and provides an experience that every part of you can indulge and come out emotionally tested.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/empressBC
To buy the album, go here: https://thisisempress.bandcamp.com/