Interview: Barbara Blackthorne of EMPRESS
Empress is an American symphonic metal band from Pennsylvania. With their 2022 debut album Fateweaver receiving positive reviews and opening slots with the likes of legendary power metal acts like HammerFall and Visions of Atlantis, the band is currently wrapping up the finishing touches on their anticipated second album.
I sat down with the band's lead vocalist Barbara Blackthorne to talk about the band's history, the making of their second album, women in the symphonic metal scene, and the band's new Patreon page for it's fans.
TDIM: How did Empress form?
Blackthorne: Empress formed sort of on accident – it was originally started when Mark, our drummer, invited Vlad and Joseph over to his place to jam. Vlad and Joseph weren’t aware that the other would be there, and it was from that night that those three would regularly meet and work on music that Vlad had been writing. They did this for over a year working under the name of Xenith Prime and auditioned various singers until one day Vlad reached out to me. At the time, after a few sour experiences working in other bands, I had promised myself that I would not do another project unless I really loved the music. When Vlad sent me “Black Arcana”, I was absolutely sold, and when I auditioned for the band they thankfully seemed sold too, and offered me the position that same night. Nick joined officially the week after me, and soon thereafter we took on the name of Empress.
TDIM: Empress' debut album Fateweaver came out in 2022 and was very well-received. What was it like making the debut album?
Blackthorne: Making the album was a very interesting experience, as a lot of it occurred during COVID and it obviously slowed things down quite a bit. However, we obviously never gave up on it and I think it’s that kind of tenacity that really comes through on the final album.
TDIM: Do you have a song that is your favorite off the debut? Or holds special meaning to you?
Blackthorne: I feel like in terms of my favourite to listen to, I always love coming back to “Immortelle” because it’s so much fun! But in terms of most meaningful, I’d say “Monarch”. It’s the most personal I’ve ever been with my lyrics, and contains a lot of symbolism that is specific to me and where I was at at that point in my life.
TDIM: The band is currently finishing up your second album, do you have an album title?
Blackthorne: I have one that I really like and am hoping that the rest of the band will go for, but only time will tell!
TDIM: What was the direction the band took with the follow up? Anything you wanted to do differently from Fateweaver?
Blackthorne: I think we all have definitely agreed that we want to push ourselves even farther as musicians than we did on the first. And so far as the sound goes, it’s even bigger in a lot of ways and sleeker in others. I’m very excited to share this record because I truly think it’s already exceeded our own expectations in what we could make after our debut!
TDIM: Is there any themes or concepts you wrote about with the new record?
Blackthorne: Thematically, I’m finding that things are trending in a darker, yet hopeful direction. I’ve described it as saying that if Fateweaver is about the hero, starry-eyed and eager to begin their journey, then Album 2 is about that same hero in the thick of it, and realizing that stories and tales never could have prepared them properly for the reality of it all and that the only way to go is forward. That in the darkest times, we must reach deep within ourselves to find the strength to endure.
TDIM: You announced on your website that you are launching a Patreon for the band, what made the band decide to launch one? What are some perks if you join the "Legion"?
Blackthorne: We decided to do it after looking at our future plans for the band and realizing the costs associated with doing it all in accordance with the vision that our fans deserve and have come to know. With our Patreon, it allows us to really focus our efforts on writing and gives us the ability to take our live show to new places. Joining the Legion gives you exclusive access to covers before they’re released publicly, as well as content you can’t find anywhere else!
TDIM: As part of your Patreon, you perform covers, do you have a favorite cover so far that you've done?
Blackthorne: I’ve done quite a few that I really love – fans have the option of selecting and then voting on songs for me to cover for the next month, and they always pick such amazing options! I actually just released a cover of “Phantom of the Opera” that was selected by my Patreon with my husband, R. A Voltaire, and it is definitely my favourite that I’ve done to date!
TDIM: You have such an impressive vocal range, when did you decide you wanted to sing for a metal band?
Blackthorne: Thank you so much! I decided when I was a teenager that I wanted to do metal, but never got the real opportunity until I was much older. I had gone to music school to study voice theory and got vocal cord nodules just as I was beginning to audition for conservatory. I was devastated and didn’t sing at all for 3 years, until one day I went to see Korpiklaani and determined that being around music and metal is what made my heart happiest. I swore to myself that I would get my voice back and get back on stage. I did 3 months of vocal rest and then worked with a voice therapist until one day I was able to sing again! And at that point with classical singing being out of the picture, I was finally free to turn my full attention towards metal.
TDIM: Empress have performed with symphonic & power metal heavyweights like HammerFall and Visions of Atlantis, how did it feel opening for such legends in the genre?
Blackthorne: It was (and still is) quite surreal, honestly! Especially having been previously at a point in my life where I never thought I’d be able to sing again, getting to do events like 70,000 Tons of Metal and supporting artists I’d been listening to since my teens like Moonspell feels like a faerie tale. The gratitude and appreciation that I feel for having had such experiences will remain with me for a lifetime.
TDIM: The symphonic metal scene is very female fronted genre with legendary and talented singers like Tarja Turnen of Nightwish and Simone Simons of Epica, why do you think the genre is such a welcoming and encouraging place for female singers like yourself?
Blackthorne: I think that people (such as myself) really enjoy contrast. There is something sublime about harsh sounds coming together with something lyrical and beautiful. It’s sort of like a sweet/salty thing with food. There are those of us whose palettes need a little diversity in order to not get bored, and so I think Symphonic Metal really does such a wonderful job of giving us that dark/light combination all wrapped up in such a fantastic package.
TDIM: I like to end my interviews with this question. What are some bands/albums that yourself or the band are digging that fans of Empress should check out?
Blackthorne: Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband’s band, Glyph! If you enjoy bands like Sabaton and Battle Beast, I think they’ll be right up your alley. AfterTime is a symphonic metal band from the U.S who are phenomenal and fans of the genre should absolutely check them out! Other than them, in these winter months I especially find myself gravitating towards darker and more ambient material. I just revisited Vadak from Thy Catafalque last night and forgot just how much I love that album.
I want to thank Barbara Blackthorne for giving This Day in Metal the time to talk to us about the band. If you want to check out the band's music, Patreon info and update for the new album and gigs, check out https://empresslegion.com/ for more info.