December 15, 2020

Australia’s Empress blur the lines of many musical genres, from indie to shoegaze, from post-rock to metal – so perhaps the best way to describe their music is with adjectives like immersive, screeching, soothing, haunting, and delicately massive. What they do specialise in is dark theatrical melody, underlying menace, emotional and ethereal vocals, some fantastic guitar vibes all blended in a gothic soundscape.

The Gold Coast group first introduced themselves to the Brisbane dark and alternative music scene in 2017 with a six-track self-titled LP. The product of a complete year of writing and recording, the LP was an emotional collection of songs that possessed an extraordinary ability to pull the senses of listeners and drag them to their immersive and dark world. That first album got them a fair amount of attention when touring locally and throughout the East Coast of Australia.

Empress are a post-metal/doom band that have anticipation and looming menace down to a tee, grabbing you with every element of their sound, from ponderous guitars to operatic vocals, to create a sense of the theatrical. Now in 2020, Empress are ready to release their second album Wait ‘Til Night, an eight-track album that once again defies easy categorisation. More refined and mature than before, Empress is a clash of emotional and musical contradictions, soft and harsh, calm and hysterical.

Golden Orb sets the tone with an unsettling, daunting guitar riff, with drums from the deep – there’s a cavernous feel to the sound-mix, with vocals alternating between soft almost croonery and a touch of scream / death metal. The pace is ponderous, heavyweight, full of foreboding, dark shades of Black Sabbath’s eponymous track. This woman can do a female Ozzy! A mixture of aggressive shoe-gaze(!) and dark ambient-rock abounds, unsettling but hypnotic. Wait Til’ Night continues the blend of slow-beat “native american” drumming (sorry, I can’t think of the right adjective, but this works tho!), a ponderous, threatening riff and vocals that are frightened, frightening, dramatic, post-rock.

Scorpio Moon straight away grabs you gently by the throat, a deeply unsettling tone, the guitar work is positively malevolent! It does again have the sheer menace of the early, slow Sabbath tracks whilst managing to be even more pagan in atmosphere. This is heavy rock, metal, doom, whatever, it shimmers with bad vibes and I might not sleep too well tonight! Even the simple extended bass note at the end is scarey. The vocals are doomy but soft, its like a 60’s horror/suspense film with Siouxsie-esque emotion. Not comfortable but mesmerising …

Back to the Ground is relatively pastoral in comparison, a slow, gentler intro beguilingly leading into the darkness of the singer’s lair! Theres a simple percussive tapping, dripping echoing away in the background which manages to sound evil, unsettling, we’re back to that 60’s sense of naive scarey horror… and that’s before the funeral drums with tolling bell come in before fading . VERY aptly titled.

Void Shaped Void is all about loss, and the sheer physical and mental pain that goes with it. As with earlier tracks, there’s a blend of menace, connecting softly ragged verses with monstrous, heavyweight choruses, the drums sounding like the Depths of Moria, the guitar like Kurt Cobain on a particularly grey, miserable day…the slow pace somehow only adds to the tension, misery and heartbreak. As a composition the track really hits an emotional target, the arrangement is at once simultaneously sparse and sense-surround. The band have this to say:

“Void Shaped Void” is a song about loving, longing and losing. It encapsulates the feeling of missing something or someone completely irreplaceable, a constant pain that won’t leave. An ache with every small moment remembered. It is mourning the loss of a part of yourself that someone else will forever hold. It is an emptiness that will never be filled.

Curse is back in full-blown Siouxsie territory – and I do mean that as a compliment, both in terms of the range, pacing and emotion of the singer’s voice, every word lingering in the air, and the gothic arrangement so ably created by the timbre of the guitar work. This track is another that is memorable for the sheer atmosphere generated, someone in this group has had some very bad experiences!

Where No Light can Remain continues the overall vibe of post-rock, post-metal, shoegaze, indie, goth…’s a hypnotic blend that defies adequate description, partly because it sounds like a very dark contemporary take on mediaeval English folk tragedies. The song itself is haunting, the background effects blended with sparse piano work and clear hymnal vocals to create a very clean, stark sound that captivates. Beautiful in a very modern way.

I Let You In licks off in more ‘traditional’ post-rock fashion, a slightly distorted, chugging riff underpinned by more bombastic drumming that allows the vocals to float above. Another softly haunting bridge section then follows, calm but unsettling at the same time, building hypnotically and organically into something of a crescendo and conclusion to this fascinating body of work.

The album as a whole has clear (dark) character, it becomes compulsive if not comfortable listening from end to end. For me, it has an alluring air of decay, sepia-tinted melancholy, dark, gothic undercurrents of early Sabbath and Siouxsie at her best. The controlled pace, timbre and overall mix in their arrangements lingers long after the album has finished.

In conclusion, this album bulldozes boundaries, defies descriptions, shatters stylising, poo-poos pigeon-holing! A whole new meaning to the word “Enjoy”?!