Crack The Sky: How Empress AD Are Conquering Metal

So imagine you start a band. What would your hopes and dreams entail? If you were being ambitious you might hope that you’d attract some attention after only a few gigs. If you were to go out on a real flight of fantasy you’d maybe wish that you’d be handpicked by some of your favourite bands to open for them on your first tours.

If you were to disregard reality then you may well aim to come off tour and find an offer from the biggest metal label in the world waiting on the table. This is, of course, highly unlikely and almost totally unheard of, but it has happened. Welcome to the whirlwind world that is Empress, or rather, Empress A.D. as they’re now called (to protect themselves from any name issues down the line).

“This [meteoric rise] was not part of the plan for us! No, no, no!” laughs guitarist/vocalist Ollie Loring. “All this has just cropped up. But we spent so long writing our first three songs, over two years, and just doing our own thing, ignoring what our mates’ bands were doing and writing songs for no one else but us, that when we started getting messages from the industry we were all like ‘No way!’ and couldn’t believe it. It just snowballed after that.”

So let’s bring you right up to speed. Before signing with Roadrunner for the release of debut album Still Life Moving Fast, Empress were personally requested by Cancer Bats to open for them on what would be their first ever tour, and they’ve since toured with the likes of Bring Me The Horizon, Crossfaith, Bury Tomorrow and Kvelertak. It’s the sort of story that you imagine will make many of their peers incredibly jealous.

“No not at all,” Ollie responds. “In fact most people have been really supportive. You know, they do say, ‘Oh man that’s sick, I’m so envious’ but there hasn’t been anyone saying that we don’t deserve it or talking shit about us.”

In fact it would seem that the harshest criticism has come from the band themselves.

“There are pros and cons to doing what we’ve done,” admits Ollie. “It’s been great to play these big shows, but we’ve had to look at ourselves a bit. We got thrown in at the deep end and there have been times, like when you’re touring with BMTH, who are such a well-oiled machine, that you have to ask yourself if you deserve to be there. There’s a standard that is expected of you, and early on we struggled to match it. The people that saw us with, say, Bury Tomorrow saw 20 per cent of the band we are now.”

This is the most believable thing heard in this unusual tale so far. Of course a young band are only going to get better and more confident as their experience levels rise. But don’t take our word for it, just have a listen to Still Life Moving Fast. This is a record that belies Empress A.D.’s youth. A slow-building and varied experience, it recalls the hard riffing likes of Mastodon, Baroness and Kylesa at their most ingenious but also contains more than a trace of more commercial and mainstream British indie acts like Elbow and Gomez. This is a good thing by the way, and you hope the band would see it as such.

“Definitely,” is Ollie’s response. “That Elbow album, The Seldom Seen Kid, was a huge influence on us when we were writing this record. We listened to it almost every day.”

OK. At this point many of you might be wondering if it’s a good idea, as a metal band, to be admitting to your fandom towards such an… umm… ‘unique’ set of influences. This is Metal Hammer after all, there’s no place for twee, lo-fi, ballads here!

“Well, we really aren’t interested in what people think we should listen to or be influenced by,” shrugs Ollie. “All the bands we’re influenced by, be it Elbow or Deftones or Metallica or Pink Floyd or The Beatles, follow their own path. We’re interested in finding our own sound.”

All well and good, but the suspicion might linger that with all this good fortune and a soft spot for indie music that Empress A.D. aren’t the real deal. So let’s sort this out once and for all, yes or no answer only, Ollie: Regarding your band and you personally, do you identify as metal?

“No for the first and yes for the second.”

You’re saying you aren’t a metal band but you are metal fans?

“That’s right,” he replies. “I can’t say that we are a metal band because I think there is so much more to our sound than that and I don’t want us to be pigeonholed into a genre, any genre. But we are all massive metalheads – Metallica are my favourite band of all time and if there were one band that we could follow in the footsteps of, then it would be them. I love the fact that they’ve had their ups and downs and their moments of misfire but still continue to challenge themselves and refuse to stand still.”

Following in Metallica’s footsteps is quite an ask, but judging by what’s happened so far you can’t blame Ollie for his ambition. But could that genuinely happen?

“Me, personally, I want the music and the lyrics to inspire as many people as possible, that’s the first thing,” Ollie reasons. “I mean, all those bands that I mentioned being inspired by are huge international touring rock bands, so I’d be a liar if I said that wasn’t an aim for us. But we are a brand new band and we’ve only just released our debut album, so it isn’t something that we can really think too much about. The infrastructure is there for us to achieve a great deal, we just have to keep writing good music.”

The infrastructure, of course, is Roadrunner Records, home to almost every big-selling, influential big-hitter in metal’s last 25 years. Surely there isn’t a metal fan or band in the world that wouldn’t want to be in such exulted company?

“Definitely, we met with some other labels and it just didn’t feel right.” Ollie says. “We met with the Roadrunner guys and they got it straight away. As for our labelmates? I mean, Slipknot! What can you say? I remember seeing them on TFI Friday when I was a kid and thinking it was the most insane thing ever. Opeth are a massive one as well, but you look at the whole roster and every band has made a huge impact on the rock and metal scene. We hope to follow in their footsteps.”

You wouldn’t bet against it. If they keep this up, all their dreams are going to come true.

Still Life Moving Fast is out now via Roadrunner. The band tour the UK with Turbowolf in December


Four rock greats that changed up their identities.

Ghost B.C.

Papa E and co had to change their name for legal reasons in the US. The band insisted that they were still called Ghost and that the B.C. was silent. Hmm.

Vista Chino

Everyone was delighted when John Garcia resurrected a version of Kyuss called Kyuss Lives!… except former members Josh Homme and Scott Reeder, who took out a lawsuit, forcing the guys to rethink the name.

Linkin Park

The nu metal titans used to be Hybrid Theory until Warner Bros made them change it. They named themselves Linkin Park in tribute to Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Although they weren’t fussed about spelling, clearly.

Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page’s new venture was originally a nod to his past in The Yardbirds, named The New Yardbirds. The Who’s Keith Moon suggested that would go down like a lead Zeppelin and the rest is history.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.