I was wracking my brain to the significance of 1823 to historians and Doom fans alike. Well I can now tell you that rollerskates were patented in that year and Brazil overthrew Portugal in the Bahia revolution. Interesting titbits but pointless research. I should have just read the accompanying press release to Embr’s debut album.
The title that the U.S. doomsters have bestowed upon this album is a lot more personal. Drummer Eric Bigelow received a kidney transplant in May of last year after waiting for four years. All he and his wife singer Crystal know about the deceased donor is that she was a young woman aged 18-23. The pair along with their cohorts, guitarist Mark Buchanan and bassist Alan Light have dedicated this album to the donor and the surgeons at Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville. Pretty bloody awesome eh?
Now that would just be a cool intro and outro if the music was no good of course.
Luckily Embr have provided label New heavy Sounds with seven tracks of groovy and fuzzed up metal to offer up as tribute. As a debut it is pretty sound but it is not the complete article, and as such nor should it be.
There are all the hall marks of modern psyche doom – big riffs, great melodic vocals from Crystal who shows great power and range from the get go. However, what is a little different is the guitar sound which at times is more reminiscent of grunge and alt rock bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Skunk Anansie. By jove it works. The fuzziness blends well with the groove – although this may put off some Doom purists who are more accustomed to Iommi worship. “Prurient” as an opener showcases the bands take on things and highlights the controlled passion that Crystal exhibits in her voice.
There are of course traditional doom elements running through the veins of the album. “Where I’ve Been” kicks off with a giant stoner riff as foil to a melodic rise and fall vocal line. My only issue is that the track doesn’t really go anywhere. There are several “jumping off” points but everything remains the same until a brief screamed vocal at the end. There wasn’t quite enough in the body of the song to maintain the consistency over the whole track.
“Stranger” continues in much the same vein and the cleanliness of the vocals begins to grate on me a little especially as they begin to wobble out of tune every so often. Something is needed to break things up and it comes in the shape of “Powder” which begins with the doomy archetypal thunderclap. This sees a harsh sludgy male voice add the mix which offers some added filth which perked my ears up. It also sounds like Crystal adds some harsh vocals underneath as well which sound great. “”Eyes Like Knives” offers more of the same – I am reminded in part of Christina Scabbia’s vocals on early Lacuna Coil with the execution being good but there being no discernible melody to latch on to. “Your Burden” has more punch but the music again does not really get going. It sounds great but there is nothing to hang your hat on. It just happens.
“Your Burden” has a wide gait, like a giant wallowing through a swamp with a neat blues groove throughout. On this track the vocals are pushed with more gusto and the impact is so much greater than the more lacklustre performance on previous tracks. There is a great sense of grandeur and a swagger to Crystal’s voice here that creates a sense of levity and ebb and flow.
The final track “Vines” is so fuzz I have to check if I have tripped onto a Sub Pop recording from 91. Again dual vocals are used to great effect. AN absolute belter to finish with showcasing light and dark, harsh and tranquil, the mix of styles is perfect here.
For a debut there is plenty to enjoy, where it works is when the band move away from straight up psyche doom with aloof vocals and instead layer the honey over the top of some harsh mud.
The good tracks stand head and shoulders above the rest but I await the next release with relish – just make sure that relish contains salt as well as sweet.
(6/10 Matt Mason)