When one hears the term “sludge metal”, one would think of unbearably slow pacing and a claustrophobic atmosphere that feels like a pressing weight on your chest. It also implies having a dissonant tonality that feels like agony to the inexperienced listener. This, combined with the harsh vocals and the experimental instrumentation, can make sludge an impenetrable genre for those who have not spent time immersing themselves in its murky depths. However, not all sludge metal feels like swimming through a thick, viscous liquid; sometimes, it’s light, easy to digest, and enjoyable. This is evident in Empress' first effort, Reminiscence, a springboard of ideas that all seem to work well together.
Reminiscence is an EP that, despite its run time, somehow still sounds elaborate and complete. Empress take your expectations of short run times and shatters them, but then do this in slow time. At first, everything is standard: the first song, “The Offering”, offers sludge on a platter, allowing you to sink into its warmth. However, the stoner is strong on this song, as the melody has groove and moves at a faster pace than most sludge I’ve been acquainted with. This stoner element becomes more relevant on “Immer”, a song that takes things to a new level with its prog influences and its black metal tonality halfway through the song. It makes the music enjoyable and intricate, while also keeping things simple and to the point.
As the album continues, you can hear more elements woven into the music that makes this EP an excellent springboard of ideas; the harshness of sludge in the vocals and guitar playing; and the stoner elements embedded into the musical structure, allowing for the groove feel that makes this record a standout. It allows for effective experimentation to become the centerfold, showing a kaleidoscope of sounds and tones that displays where Empress can potentially go next.
What impresses me most is the EP’s ending, as it solidifies the concept of experimentation the EP has established. The quirky, instrumental track, “Dawn”, reinforces this notion, as it sounds more like VOLA's prog tones than actual stoner or sludge. Expect more of these in the future, as Peter Sacco, vocalist and guitarist, has stated that the band “would like to continue the theme of having a song without vocals so the instruments can do their thing."  To this end, I look forward to more of these instrumental tracks in future releases.
I am excited to see where this band goes next, as Reminiscence is a fantastic first effort. It is clear that these guys have been at this for a while, and the variety the EP has shown is a testament of that, given it's loose and comfortable. Reminiscence is a breath of fresh air for two subgenres being woven together, but, all things considered, it’s definitely one I am not complaining about.
Reminiscence Track Listing:
01. The Offering
04. They Speak Like Trees