Chicago’s Immortal Bird caught my attention with their breakout 2013 EP, Akrasia. It was a dark and nasty little collection of songs steeped in black, grind and death metal, yet had a terrific, emotional undercurrent that reared its head in the sparse quiet times. Now they’re back with their debut full-length, Empress/Abscess, which picks up precisely where they left off. Things are a little cleaner sounding this time out, but the basic framework is intact, and the band’s just as volatile as ever.
After pulling double duty on both drums and vocals for Akrasia, powerhouse frontwoman Rae Amitay gives her full attention to the vocals this time out. And she’s positively vicious across these five tracks with her growled, evil sound now fully realized. On “To a Watery Grave,” it’ll sound like she’s gargling with barbed wire, yet her enunciation is as clear and defined as ever. The track itself is as close as the band comes to black metal—unrelenting in its pacing and one of their most aggressive pieces to date.
“Neoplastic” and “Saprophyte” are both grounded in grind attitude and delivered with fury, but manage to fall a bit flat when compared to the rest of the tracks. That’s not to say they’re not good, but neither really stand out. “The Sycophant,” on the other hand, brings in a higher range of guitar tones and a near-Kylesian sound in the early going—and comes out of nowhere to surprise the hell out of you.
The highlight, though, is closer “And Send Fire”—the longest thing here at over 10 minutes, and the best representation of the band’s stylistic diversity. The chords capture all of the emotion of the broken and bloodied little girl depicted on the cover—her sorrow, her anger and her aftermath. It’s an altogether brutal trip that fully necessitates the final three minutes of noise that close things out.
With Empress/Abscess, we’re now nine tracks deep into the Immortal Bird catalogue. The discography may be small, but the band’s thoroughly maximized their potential so far. This album only continues their promising development.