Hailing from Alabama in the US, Embr (pronounced Ember), are an experimental metal quartet who effortlessly mix many heavy elements of rock including doom, grunge and post rock to create a truly unique sound.
Embr released their debut album ‘1823’ on July 17th through UK label New Heavy Sound and are the first American band to be signed to the label. ‘1823’ delivers a haunting, yet beautiful debut album jam-packed with emotion. However, one misstep stops the album being the heavy-hitter it could have been.
‘1823’ is a personal album for the band in more ways than one. Embr have dedicated the album to the deceased kidney donor and surgeons at the Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville for a successful operation on drummer Eric Bigelow after a four-year wait. After the procedure, when asked if anything was known of the anonymous donor, the only details given were that the donor was aged between 18 and 23. Once you know the backstory, the album hits much harder than expected and the more you feel just how much Embr have allowed their life experiences to intertwine with their music to create something deeply personal, yet relatable.
Album opener ‘Prurient’ kicks things off and is a strong start to the album. The grunge guitar riff, reminiscent of early Alice In Chains, combines perfectly with vocalist Crystal Bigelow’s enchanting vocals to create a soundscape that immediately grabs your attention. ‘Where I’ve Been’ continues the theme of heavy, down-tuned guitars which really helps encapsulate that iconic grunge early 90’s sound the band aspire to.
Tracks like ‘Stranger’ show a different, much lighter, side to the band with the guitars and drums taking a back seat to a sublime vocal performance. ‘Stranger’ is not only one of the album’s strongest efforts it is also some welcomed variety to the grunge inspired 'wall of sound' approach of the previous two tracks.
‘Powder’ is easily the heaviest track on the album and includes intense vocal snarls which, I believe, show the band at their best and the track is full to the brim of angst and emotion. Tracks like 'Eyes Like Knives' and album closer ‘Vines’, end the album on a strong note thanks to a stellar use intertwining clean and scream vocals. These tracks show that when Embr bring the heaviness, they can hit as hard as anyone.
The only downside to the album, is unfortunately the production and mixing. Whilst the vocals on display throughout the album are staggering, they feel almost distant from the rest of the track. This combined with the juxtaposition of styles between vocals and instrumentation make the vocals sound a lot shallower than they should and, because of this, a separate entity to the track. It is hard to explain but one listen and you will understand what I mean. The vocals on several occasions lack the punch they warrant and deserve because of this, and that really hurts the album overall.
‘1823’ is an excellent, confident debut album from Embr and shows bags of potential for the genre-bending quartet. There are moments of sheer heaviness and calm tranquillity scattered throughout the album which are tinged with an ethereal quality resulting in a truly unique sound. However, some mixing and production issues stop ‘1823’ from being the powerhouse it could have been.