Empress is a Philadelphia, PA-based Symphonic Power Metal band formed in 2019. Their compositions are immense, and the soundscape they create is massive. They fuse power and symphonic metal in the most remarkable ways, weaving a tapestry of beautiful tones and textures that delight more than just the hearing sense. They help the listener visualize the story being told by integrating cinematic elements into the mix.
- Barbara Blackthorne – Vocals
- Vlad Khavin – Guitars
- Joseph Muir – Guitars
- Nick Bonsanto – Bass
- Mark Stainthorpe – Drums
Empress will unleash their debut album, Fateweaver, on August 19, 2022. This is nine songs lovingly built to transport the listener to another place, magically taking them to a realm of sound that will delight and enchant them. This is not just an album; it’s an epic journey.
- Beyond The Sleep
- The Fall Of Kingdoms
- Black Arcana
- Into The Grey
The disc opens with “Legion.” After a short piano intro, they turn up the power. The guitars chug along, for the most part, occasionally diverging for a few quick leads and fills. The drums are rapid-fire and beautifully paced. The bass gallops along, providing not just a foundation or a tempo, but acting instead like a third guitar, even throwing in a couple of subdued fills. The keyboards underlie the whole composition, providing ambiance and texture. The vocals are clean and range from ethereal to powerful.
“Beyond The Sleep” has a dynamic start. This is excellent symphonic metal. The keys blending with the guitars and the rhythm powering the whole thing with speed and precision is sonic bliss. When the tempo drops and the vocals enter, those minor pauses tantalize for just enough time to build the anticipation. I love how the bass breaks the silence on a couple of those with one sliding note. Every instrument shines through in this song in some way. This is a beautiful mixture of power and symphonic metals. Here, we also get the first taste of Barbara’s harsh vocals. They are brutal and lovely simultaneously, fitting into the fabric of the song succinctly.
Next comes a cautionary tale. At seven minutes, “Chimera” is power metal in its’ finest form. Epic, with progressive elements, telling a story of how greed can lead you to your doom. There are twists and turns in the music that is just astounding, and there is no lack of things to amaze the listener’s senses. Gentle keys, brutal guitars, frenetic rhythms, and drastic tempo changes rock your world. The vocals are clean, classical tones where needed, and belted chest voice in other places. Everywhere you turn, something extraordinary is going on.
The intro is arabesque and creates a beautiful tension with its’ haunted melody. The rest of the song is symphonic power metal with progressive flourishes and even some harsh vocals layered under the cleans. The Arabesque theme is revisited with the electric instruments, bringing the theme back to the forefront. The vocalizations towards the end are crystal clear and beautifully ethereal. The guitar solo is precise and fits into the composition perfectly. The odd cadence of a few lines of lyrics adds a nice touch to an interesting piece.
The orchestration is on full display at the start of “The Fall Of Kingdoms.” So are the progressive influences. Lyrically, it’s about a ruler and their belief that his legacy will live on as long as his bloodline does. The drums on this track are astounding (as they are on all tracks). Here, the transitions from single to double bass and the shifting of patterns throughout the track are eloquent. The bass line where the guitars drop out a bit is impressive, both for the phrasing and the beauty of the tones.
“Black Arcana” starts with heavy riffs that shift to melodic for the lyrics. Again, we get Barbara delivering clean, clear tones for the most part, but she lets her inner beast out, going harsh with incredibly fierce tones. This one is about how dreamers who let their minds wander, and wonder, are often the least confined. They also tend to be some of the most misunderstood. There is a return to “normal” thinking towards the end, but not until after the journey is taken. For one night, the mind wandered free. The thing that really struck me during this song was the keyboards. They really added so much texture to this composition.
“Monarch” references the chrysalis rebirth of a butterfly but also evokes the image of the phoenix rising from the ashes. There is an arrival at the conclusion that life is not necessarily fair, and growth comes when the realization hits that perfection is not attainable. Musically, the horns and strings are playful between the riffing of the guitars. The rhythm is steady under all those shifting phrases. There are no major progressive shifts in this song, but there are changes in patterns.
The chugging rhythm of “Into The Grey” is impressive. This is more on the power metal end of the Empress spectrum. Lyrically, this is about jumping into the unknown to try something new, braving fear to follow a dream. Musically, it’s a wild ride of symphonic and progressive metals woven together to create both the trepidation and the euphoria of taking this chance. The soaring vocal note at the end of the song just feels triumphant!
“Immortelle” is another chugging riff song full of beautiful leads and alternating phrases. There are quick vocalizations that draw attention to specific spots. The term “come taste eternity” evokes the quest for immortality. Darkness beckons, and the trip is but a step out on faith to accept the gift being offered. Empress shifts the instruments in and out of the song so fluidly. The guitars will drop out, leaving the bass and drums or turning to the orchestration to continue the song. Here, they give us an acapella moment, adding one more tool they use to affect the texture of the music.
The record concludes with the seven-minute epic “Eventide.” The lyrics are delivered in odd meters, using different bits of timing. The words speak of crossing over and taking strength from those already there. This is the rebirth into the afterlife beyond. The guitars are as heavy as the subject matter, the keyboards are somber, and the rhythm hints at doom, mainly in the tempo and the tones used for all the instruments. There is a darkness that is offset by the pitch of the vocals, indicating a bit of fear trying to move from one place to the other.
There are central themes here, both lyrically and musically. They weave throughout the entire record, tying the story together and wrapping everything together for the listener. The story is told, and the epic journey is completed. Care was taken to ensure this album started and finished exactly where it was supposed to. This lovingly crafted story is meant to allow the listener to take a trip with their mind, painting a picture with sound and words, giving the mind a cinematic piece to create your own mental movie.
There are no “stock-standard” songs on this record. Every song has a level of complexity to the composition. There are guttural vocals, classical vocals, and spoken word layered in new and exciting ways. The guitar work is stunning, both the massive riffs and the intricate lead work. The bass and drums both play more than just a rhythm part; they are integral to the progressive nature of this record. They steer all the twists and turns, navigating the changes and shifts beautifully. The orchestration is phenomenal. The added strings, wind instruments, and horns create an exuberant tapestry of sound.
Empress is bold. They dare to challenge the norm and stand out. The mixture of instruments, and the sheer audacity to use everything at their disposal to create something this big and beautiful, is a testament to their vision. They have not just the talent but the drive to make a titanic opus. Their ability to bring something this magnificent to life is a wonder to behold.
- Guitars – 10
- Rhythms – 10
- Vocals – 10
- Songwriting – 10 0
- Production – 10
- Overall – 10