Reviewed: July 2020
Released: 2020, New Heavy Sounds
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
1823 is the debut album of U.S. quartet Embr, and shows us a flavoursome, and often downright stunning take on doom metal and heavy music in general. It’s actually named for the age bracket, “18-23” that Eric Bigelow was given for an unknown woman whose kidney he received in a transplant in the midst of writing the album. A disconcerting piece of information, yet also a nice way to pay tribute to an unknown person who ultimately helped him.
Right off the bat in opening track “Prurient”, 1823 swings its club and hits you with what this band is all about: big, chunky, skull-crushing riffs driving forward a wall of sound, all topped with Crystal Bigelow’s passionate, vibrant vocals. That interplay of stirring, haunting female vocals over crushing doom stomp calls up comparisons to Oceans of Slumber and their last album, The Banished Heart, though here things feel a little less cerebral, with a greater focus on the rough grind of the instruments behind it all.
That thick morass of sound forms the groundwork, the canvass and broad strokes upon which the rest can be painted. The vocals, which include not just Crystal’s stirring work but also occasional dips of harsh snarls too (both male and female), are the highlighting brushstrokes over the portrait Embr put together. It all comes together into a swirling vortex of hypnotic danger, riffs and stomp to get the head banging, melodies and singing to stir the soul and let it fly. Everything is about immersing the listener in the textures created, and the landscapes therein are broad and expansive.
The music can ease off at times into quieter segments, but these are presented as accents to the wider musical experience, rather than as breaks in the pace. “Your Burden” in particular has some very nice mellower verse sections, almost groovy, with the vocals bringing up genuine chills at times. “Powder”, by contrast, makes good use of those coarser vocals, almost shifting into death-doom territory. “Stranger” is one of the most mermerising tracks on an entire album full of hypnotising rhythms.
All that said, there’s definitely potential for more. These guys have a good sense of an engrossing and immersive song that doesn’t outstay its welcome, and how to make the effective parts work as a whole, but as rewarding as the overall experience is, some of the tracks do lose their own identity a bit in the wider album. With a bit more branching out in stand-out moments and structure, there’s no doubt Embr could craft some startlingly good material. As it stands, 1823 is a remarkably high quality debut, and well worth checking out for any fans of the heavier, sludgier side of things.