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Empress AD: Still Life Moving Fast

Ambitious debut from new kids on the prog-metal block.

Previously trading as Empress, this youthful Reading quartet expand the prog-metal horizons on their impressively confident debut. Citing Elbow, Pink Floyd and Mastodon as influences, their expansive rock symphonies are dense with sudden mood swings and loud-quiet lurches, vocalist Ollie Loring already a master of that Jekyll-Hyde switch from melodic whimper to skull-splitting turbo growl.

At its best, this wide-ranging formula produces mighty tracks like Invisible Conductor, which moves through multiple tonal shifts from finger-picking emo-folk to hyper-intense thrash without once straying into cliché. Or From Where I Can’t Reach, which clothes an urgently propulsive jazz-metal beat in delicate minor-chord ambient trimmings.

As if to prove a point, these artfully bearded youngsters do lean and compact too – Did We See is a relatively neat four-minute power ballad of moody moans and angry convulsions. Heaviosity fans will savour the Zeppelin-ish Eastern blues piledriver riffs that close On My Return, or the gnarly snarls and stacked harmonies of the epic finale Consumed.

But overall, Still Life Moving Fast is an album of subtle shades and textures: prog without the muso noodling, metal without the devil-horned histrionics. Their focus may still be a little blurred on this sprawling debut, but Empress AD overflow with promise.

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.