Anyone passingly familiar with the Chicago metal scene in the past few years will have at some point encountered Immortal Bird. In Dr. Fisting and my neck of the woods, they’re one of the better groups to grace the dingy ex-speakeasies and frostbitten holes-in-the-wall. Their tight live performances do their sludgy, blackened death metal great justice and a full-length release has been awaited for a while in la casa de Kronos. Empress/Abscess, the group’s first full-length LP starts off on the right foot and runs forward on prosthetics. As crusty, greasy and incredibly appealing as a bucket of Harold’s chicken, Empress/Abscess is the closest anyone is going to come to dethroning the new Trials LP as the second city’s best metal export in 2015.
Immortal Bird are billed as a deathgrind band, but their influences extend far beyond Dying Fetus or Aborted. “Neoplastic” opens with a rhythmically bewildering sludge interpretation of Meshuggah before diving into more typical deathgrind blast beats, but recovers the opening theme at a faster tempo for the bridge. The verse of “Saprophyte” sounds like a fuzzed-out Leprous riff, plodding and droning uncomfortably underneath faraway black metal leads. As the album progresses, things get ever darker and more experimental. “A Watery Grave” opens with a simple blackened riff and plummets through blast beats and breakneck grindcore, showing off some of the album’s best performances all around, especially in the case of the drums. It also packs a surprise piano interlude which really hits the spot about 3/4 of the way through a deathgrind album.
The album isn’t free of missteps; while quite memorable, the mid-album “The Sycophant” seems a bit out of place among the decidedly less melodic and less punk-influenced songs surrounding it. Incongruous, maybe, but it’s a kick-ass song in its own right, adding a bit of levity to the disc before the much heavier second half, which caps the record with the 10-minute “And Send Fire.” The song, crediting a one Mr. Marston for ‘additional fire,’ finishes Empress/Abscess on a high note, combining heavy drones with grind riffing to great effect before fading into atmospheric noise and feedback in its last moments.
At five tracks and just over half an hour, Empress/Abscess is snappy and awash in character. The band has employed Colin Marston’s mixing and mastering talents with sterling results; every instrument is accounted for and grimy as hell. Evan Berry’s sludgy, blackened riffs sound menacing and Rae Amitay’s growls and screams nest themselves perfectly within the rancid gutter between the lead and rhythm guitars. My only complaint on the album’s production stems from the drums, which occasionally feel a bit lacking in body. Apart from that minor quibble, Immortal Bird‘s debut sounds excellent, and is texturally similar to the debut Epistasis EP, Light Through Dead Glass.
Empress/Abscess might flaunt its influences, but those influences’ sheer variety ensures an interesting listen. The album’s length and nuanced sound makes it easy to hit repeat after “And Send Fire,” and it’s five for five on the songs front. A debut to be proud of, for sure, and quite appropriately paired with some deep dish and frostbite. Ya done good.