It’s been a long while since I heard from EMBR last. After the success of Idolatry, the grunge covers EP, and then the following release of a three-track EP for the ten-year anniversary of New Heavy Sounds label, things seemed to fall silent for a while, albeit for the sporadic guerilla pop-ups of side project Shallow Black, and it’s been pretty low-key in the EMBR camp ever since.
Back in the summer, the radio silence was broken, and some transmissions were made with rumblings to expect new goodness within the year… And now, here we are, ten fresh cuts of doomy darkened goodness, delivered in a way that only EMBR could pull off so masterfully.
Just as 2023 is ending, and we are all looking to 2024 for hopefully a brighter 12 months, what better way to usher it in than with a soundtrack as visceral as the concept of a bloodied rebirth, to drag us over the finish line, and on to a new year.
Now, for those in the know, it’s no secret that they are up there on my list of favourite bands, I have had the honour of reviewing every EMBR release as it came up, and for Shallow Black too. I always try and give an unbiased opinion, after all, that’s why you want to read these reviews, not for a kiss ass worshipping, but for an honest and open discussion about what the band create together, and how I, the listener, am left by the experience.
With that in mind, I have come to the new album with some trepidation. Not because I’ve worried about the quality of the end product, that’s never been in doubt. This band always excel in putting out hard edged and abrasive music, which can go from broken down to pounding breakbeats within a single breath. It was more so because after the grunge covers EP, I had my idea of where I would have loved to have seen the band go, and that’s always the struggle I guess with a band you love, seeing them head off down a different path completely.
Thankfully, what the band have accomplished is more a melding of all that’s gone before, perhaps using lessons learned and playing to their strengths to concoct a new album that draws all the experiences, to create this updated version of EMBR. A band who hasn’t rested on their laurels, instead choosing to push forward, using new skills, and again evolving from where they were at a year ago.
As ever, Crystal Bigelow’s phenomenal vocal talents compact the quality within the band, and the mix of soaring highs, and softer, more pensive passages work beautifully over the backdrop of a meaty, chugging, slathering monster that is the instrument section.
The mix of Erik Bigelow’s powerhouse drum and percussion, and the twin devastation of Mark Buchanan and Alan Light on the strings of the guitar and bass, is quite the task, and I doubt there are many vocalists out there who would dare to step up to the plate and take a swing vocally, let alone smash it out of the park like Crystal does, time after time.
This is EMBR at their very best…
And that’s the uniqueness of this band. There are plenty of doomy, sludgy bands out there, happy to replicate the figureheads of the genre, who never truly step out of the shadows, and dare to do anything anywhere near as bold as EMBR do. They aren’t copying, they are one hundred percent themselves.
Yes, it can, at times, be heavy going, but that is down to the skill in using dank soundscapes, to make those uneasy feelings a reality, and to then elevate the concepts by adding those killer vocals is such a joy to hear, that it pushes the band far beyond being just another band.
Over the course of the new album, it’s obvious to pick out the elements which have become part of the sound, and while I personally feel like the grungy doom side has dropped off somewhat, there are still some sections where it’s hard to dismiss that influence too.
I am especially taken with picking up the Shallow Black evolution into their sound, and I feel like this has levelled off the ambience somewhat. Possibly because of my awareness of the project so I can hear those dynamics at play, or perhaps it’s just something I hadn’t hit on previously.
As is the case with any album I review, I will always have some stand-out moments, or tracks, which I will want to share, and its no different here, but the problem is there are so many to choose from that compacting it down seems impossible.
Obviously, you have Crystal on top form, especially on tracks such as End Cycle and Corrupt, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Nomega is a crushing exercise in parallels. Equally as vibrant as it is angry, its tracks such as this show just where the band are at the tail end of 2023. The same can be said of Owed, but for me, nothing hits quite like The Conflict, and this is the crux of it all. This is EMBR at their very best.
I could go on forever about this band, but I won’t. What I will say is that if you don’t already know them, you should look them up, and if you do, then hopefully this new evolution will be welcomed and will leave you in no doubt about their real quality.
It’s all doom and gloom but in the best way possible.
Scribed by: Lee Beamish