Empress hasn’t been hibernating during the live music hiatus we’ve been forced into. I came across them in November 2020 when they played the Modified Ghost livestreams, hosted at the Rickshaw. As I was missing live music like a raccoon misses an open garbage can, these streams were a welcomed break from the COVID monotony. Their set poured out of my speakers like thick, gloomy molasses and I immediately hit ‘Follow’ on Empress’s Spotify page.
Their prior release, Premonition, had attracted decent attention with its hard hitting collection of deep riffs; however, we see “Libations” take a more refined direction. While that refinement sounds inviting, it most likely comes from a place of heavy grief due to the untimely passing of guitarist Brenden Gunn. Gunn left behind a slew of broken hearts and a gleaming metal legacy that should have gone on to span decades. “Libations” is special as it’s the last song Empress recorded with Gunn before his departure from physical form. With that context, “Libations” definitely hits different.
The beginning of the song is melancholic and ethereal, incorporating more prog rock fundamentals than we’ve seen from past Empress work. Towards the middle, the track grows heavier with each bar and there is a distinct emotional intensity that differs from the slow build we saw at the beginning. There is a raw vulnerability that comes along with witnessing someone’s swan song.
To support the single, Empress released two other versions of “Libations.” First, an acoustic version that still maintains metal qualities even though electric instruments are missing. The vocals are soft, far away, and a perfect compliment to the weeping guitar. Where the original song gears into heavy riffs and gloom, the acoustic version garners a more western sound, leaving me with images of hardened cowboys traveling across rough terrain. As an added bonus, the music video is a beautiful visual accompaniment to the acoustics.
The second version is a remix done by Thegn. Personally, when an artist does a remix, I want them to create something brand new and really make it their own — Thegn does just that. Layering hellish moans, synthesizers and organ over the original track showcases a jarring kind of genius. It takes the song from doom metal to a deep industrial experiment that invokes feelings of dread and excitement all at the same time. However, you can still feel the deep emotion the original version intended.
If you’re a fan of YOB, Russian Circles, or King Woman, Empress will be right up your alley. For anyone beginning their journey into the depths of doom, “Libations” is nothing short of a perfect introduction. R.I.Power Brenden Gunn — gone in the flesh, but your riffs remain. —Shayna Bursey