Hop in your paisley time machine, set the dials for 1972 with Empty Palace's The Serpent Between the Stars. Expect detours.
LA's Empty Palace remembers a time when instrumental prowess and ambitious concepts were not divorced from heart, feeling, intuition, groove, "soul". Yeah, that's right, we're talking about prog rock here, a time when dinosaurs with monolithic synthesizers and spinning drum stalked the Earth, leaving legends in their wake.
For the longest time, prog was a 4-letter word, particularly in the wake of grunge, which existed to smash the pyrotechnics of '80s arena rock. With good reason, as much of that music was godawful, as were the people that liked it. The problem was, with grunge's blue collar rhetoric, a distrust of ambitious concepts and constructs, as well as the meritocracy that came with prog and glam, meaning that bourgeois trappings, like being able to play your instrument or whip out a bitchin' solo were thrown out with the bathwater.
Grunge emphasized the meathead, roughneck aspects of punk, without bringing along the non-conformity, the gender equality, the openness to other cultures and a lot of other interesting aspects that were replaced with safety pins and spit, and another progressive movement shuffled off into the graveyard of history.
I think Empty Palace may have been raiding my dreams to write their press release as they speak of bridging binaries, bringing together the muscularity and energy of metal with the softness and emotion of folk or indie rock. "Must an audience choose between the dragging of heavy metal knuckles and the soft pining of folk and rock?" Anyone who's listened to metal for the last 15 years knows the answer to that isNO. Metalheads are as likely to cite Cormac McCarthy or Chimamanda Nogozi Adichi as an influence as Megadeth or Voivoid.
And while metal may have been given the approval nod, prog has remained a marginal interest, despite outcroppings, in the early 2000s, from bands like The Mars Volta and other resurrectionists like Wolfmother and Tame Impala. The problem with those bands, however, is they aim merely for anachronism, with the opiate specter of nostalgia along with it.
Empty Palace is not looking to chase the dragon - they are looking to slay serpents, heading into the formless void and making their own way. They pull this off, mainly, by incorporating unusual instruments and textures into their metal bombast, most notably searing spookshow organs and loopy, mind-bending synthesizers, amidst the more common guitar freak-outs and pummeling percussion.
The other distinctive element of Empty Palace is the vocals, which has an early days Ozzy nasal reedy quality to it, along with a bit of King Crimson's Adrian Belew. That's an interesting comparison, because if you were to slam early Sabbath and King Crimson into a wormhole transporter, you'd be entering the Empty Palace. The band recorded The Serpent Between the Stars' ambitious 12 tracks themselves - analog, natch - without ever even bothering to release it. If a band has material like this just sitting in a drawer, you can expect grand things, indeed.
Empty Palace actually has the potential to ACTUALLY influence history and culture, and not just in some slipstream fan fiction. These guys are good! They can play! They write awesome songs! They don't sound like everybody else! Let this be a lesson to the rest of the punks and metalheads out there.
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