Symphonic Metal union, Empress becomes the weavers of fate with their debut album “Fateweaver“. The Philadelphia-based quintet comes into a scene, filled with veteran contenders, bringing something familiar yet unique in their take on the genre. Intertwining fantastical lyrics with mesmerizing melodies, the female-fronted band paints stories through the velvet brushes of epic riffs, bellowing choirs, and angelic solos.
Established in 2018, Empress is made up of of drummer Mark Stainthorpe, bassist Nick Bonsanto, singer Barbara Blackthorne, and guitarists Joseph Muir and Vlad Khavin (who also produced and engineered the album). In addition, keyboardist Vikram Shankar (Redemption, Silent Skies) assisted with the production, while Dan Swanö (Evergrey, Opeth, Bloodbath) mixed and mastered it. Having pulled inspiration from Symphonic legends such as Nightwish, Rhapsody of Fire, Kamelot, and Symphony X, Empress offers a unique take on the ever-expanding genre whilst still staying true to the elements that make it so well-received amongst Metal fans across the globe.
With songs like “Beyond The Sleep” coming in on a dream-like melody, only to be ramped up by harsh vocals and terrorizing lyrics, it’s easy to see how Empress took hold of the Symphonic genre and made it all their own. Like Galadriel’s tempt of the ring, we see Blackthorne’s vocals shift from that of a velvety Goddess to one of a horrifying Siren. Particularly inviting is the line, “evil wears the skin of mortal men. Spinning out their mouths into your head,” that comes in quick and leaves a bitter taste upon your lips like the taste of fruit gone sour. With a luscious guitar solo to wind out this track, Empress truly brings in the variety, touching on old Nightwish orchestration at this song’s back but, taking a different turn in execution.
“Chimera” follows up with a haunting tune that quickly turns into a battle-driven track with beautiful choir and smooth orchestration that’s amplified by high-soaring riffs and a quick-paced drum beat. This track is a waltz through a darkened dungeon corridor filled with enemies at every turn. At the center is a blackened pit, emitting a sound like no other. Memories of tranquil shorelines, and waves crashing on fallen rock sweep over you, winding you down the path that once led you to this place, to this ‘Chimera’. This track boasts a beautiful image of a story-line both within and exposed. Of inner darkness and a literal beast that must be faced in order to move forward.
“The Fall of Kingdoms” gives me “Ghost Love Score” vibes from the very beginning, sending in a hail of arrows and soldiers on horseback to fight an unforgiving war. From epic choir to battering drums, this track hammers down until the visions begin, and we’re pulled away into an elusive memory. Blackthorne’s vocals are gentle, caressing us with compassion and understanding despite the ferocity behind her words. “And the final hours of my life, I wonder what I leave behind,” sits as a line that lingers both in modern world and in fantasy, to a Warrior faced with a burden they and they alone must carry but, what of their own legacy? Of the life they left behind? Will they be washed away like the shoreline or, remembered for eternity? This track sits as one of my favourites for both its lyrical content, and its beautiful melody. Closing my eyes, I am taken to a battlefield to sit across from a warrior in the dim light of a bonfire. I can see them contemplate, whether to run or remain, with tears streaming and anger gripping on what choice is to be made. With the combination of vocals, fast-paced drums, and balanced riffs, it’s easy to see this track as the scene for a bloodied, desperate battle and who remains at the end is decided by listeners.
“Monarch” soars in on vicious instrumentals, bringing a sense of fear and desperation on its wings. Harnessing Epica-like performance, Blackthorne takes hold with held notes and angelic calls that linger throughout. It goes lighter than previous tracks, offering bits of serenity to give listeners a true feel for the unseen spoken to them yet, there is no denying the epicness of this track. The instrumentals are divine, giving conflict and emotional intensity to a track already deepened by a sense of fallen dreams and hope long lost. An inner plight grows outward, and the Demons that plague mind and heart now attack body and soul. Every bit of composition from the beginning speed, to the ending battle is done so with great detail so that even without vocals, you can feel and see every inch of this song’s story down to the fallen tree, and the new sapling in its place.
“Into The Grey” feels very “Wishmaster” to me, especially with its speedy introduction but, Blackthorne’s vocals come in on a different pace. One of the most popular from the album for Spotify listeners, this track brings the speed we’ve been waiting for on this album, keeping the melody and pace upbeat throughout. Not only is this track quick but, the guitar solo at its center is next level, bringing Rhapsody of Fire vibes with its execution but switching up the chords to drive fans wild. Another of my favourites, the speed and vocals on this track are divine, making it a song to be cranked LOUD and listened to over and over.
“Eventide” rounds out the album on a vibe that feels much like Within Temptation‘s “The Howling” in its beginnings. The divinity in orchestral introduction is surreal, luring me in to turn the volume up higher and higher. Blackthorne displays vocal complexity on ever second of this track, from the soprano highs, to the low drags to build the power. The emotional impact this track has through its musical composition is sheer stunning. With one of the best guitar solos I’ve heard in ages, “Eventide” is limitless in every second that its played, crushing Symphonic Metal expectations, and blowing their dust into the wind. As a finale to this album and its ‘battles’, my jaw was left on the floor, mesmerized with the intricacies exposed and how this could be the final track, leaving me going mad for more. Quite honestly, I never wanted this track to end.
This album is breath-taking. As a long-time Symphonic Metal fan, I hold bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Kamelot to high standard in their composition and performances. Happily, I can say Empress belongs standing beside them. From vocal performance, with Blackthorne easily displaying a variety of range, to the instrumentals with spine-tingling guitar solos, and solid foundations, Empress has only debuted but, will quickly climb the ladder to success, having not only matched the intensity of their inspirations but, the passion as well, there is no limits, and no clouds in the sky for them to explore.
You can find out more about Empress via their Facebook page, and Instagram and don’t forget to grab your own copy of “Fateweaver” via their bandcamp, and you can also grab it alongside some merch via the Empress website, so check ’em out!