My first listen to Windwaker‘s Empire EP was a pretty casual one. I had the music playing in the background while I was doing something else, “just to check it out”. But Empire wouldn’t have it; it was attention grabbing to the extreme and I spent a lot of time with my jaw dropped. I came in to the Melbourne band’s sophomore EP with no expectations whatsoever, and my initial listen launched this into high gear. These guys are GOOD. I’m not sure what’s happened between the release of “New Infinite” and “The Sitch”, but there seems to have been a shift in focus or shift in how Windwaker create. Whatever it is they’ve done, it’s apparently worked very well for them!
Empire begins with “Reject” which is slammingly heavy from its beefy introduction. It continues to grow in intensity at its first verse where the pace is doubled and we’re confronted (aka smacked in the face) by an overwhelm state that’s being painted. As the song continues, it’s a tug of war of attention between the guitars and vocals for me, with both painting tension and uncertainty. If the verse is a hectic mountain climb, then the chorus is a free fall from the top, which feels amazing even though you’re left wondering if your chute is going to even open.
Multi-layered, there’s a stunning slide into a darker place as the song continues, and the chorus is the only reprieve, even as it details a state of disconnect, confusion, and war within the self. This song is Hook City, with “careful as we go” being just as memorable as the chorus, yet it’s a lot more than just polished ‘alternative rock’. Growled vocals are just as at home here as falsetto. It’s like if Polaris and Dance Gavin Dance had a baby. I’m honestly not entirely sure that people are ready for Windwaker’s Empire era. This is destined to blow minds. And we’re only at the first song.
Longevity wise, this song has stuck with me and re-listens times infinity have happened. I was also very happy to hear it nailed in a live setting at Download Festival!
“Careful as we go
The water’s splashing over
I feel it getting colder”
With “Reject” as a strong and savage open to Empire, Windwaker then seem to metaphorically let their hair down with “The Sitch”. It’s a tumble into something more exploratory, while still keeping an overarching focus and strength to the song. “The Sitch” is a really good time, with pockets along the way that you you can fall down into – colourful walls of these sonic rabbit holes painted by grooving riffs and chiming melodies – before fiercely regrouping with roars at the pre-chorus.
Windwaker’s fantastical multi-coloured hooktastic approach to constructing their songs is almost distracting from the message they’re sharing. This isn’t a complaint, but I find myself wanting to dance and enjoy the riff artistry more than dive into the meaning of lines like “I can’t live up to this, I’m so tired I feel I’m crumbling”. With what feels like surrender-heavy moments, there’s still a sense of encouragement to keep going. The two-sidedness is brilliantly expressed by tandem vocals from Will King and Liam Guinane.
While “The Sitch” is a song that’s so broad in terms of sound – with soaring clarity as at home as gutter scraping “Take a part of me” and hefty breakdowns – it could potentially water down a song in catering to everyone, but to me it works brilliantly and is as multi-faceted as each of us are. It’s as much of an adventure as the video is.
Flowing directly into “Grey World”, the third track is a more subdued moment for Windwaker. But not for long. Gentleness is crafted with delicate chimes and looped voice and melodies that are trance-inducing and soothing, despite expressing something thematically heavy. Bursting out in (stunning) chorus, it’s like a last gasp before we’re ‘swallowed by fate’ and continuing our march forward, zombified instead of joyful.
“Grey World” comes across as though it has multiple personalities, where fangs are momentarily bared in metalcore heaviness, and then charm and gentleness returns. The result is something beautiful and defeating, but I’m left uncertain if I’m understanding the intention emotionally, and I make a note to talk with the band about the things I don’t understand. The song could be visualised as a foggy grey cube, where regardless of fight or surrender, the walls still remain. The only hope is following the trail of crumbs to find a way out:
“Light the way. Tunnel through the grey.”
Shedding more of the metaphorical skin of heaviness, we’re in a state of neutrality with “Colourless”, with no sign of a breakdown or growled words. Empire‘s fourth song brings Liam to the spotlight, detailing what seems like the high and low of a relationship. Ethereal with its layers of voice and steady climb, I take “Colourless” as the suspended state of existence when something beautiful no longer exists.
There’s something a little retro to “Colourless”, especially in the closing minute or so. The slow climb of relatively soft and high vocals drifts away into an ocean of synth seriousness and a guitar solo is awash in a storm. This track took a lot more listens for me to get into it, but it has a place with its numbed heartache.
Windwaker’s heaviness hat is donned again with “Arrested”, when numbness is replaced by anger. Waiting patiently until now, the protagonist is now awake, and angry, and not waiting anymore. In fierceness and gentle beauty, we’re heading straight to the core of what’s happening, instead of having been on pause.
The aggression, rhythms, and vocal patterns of the verses of “Arrested” are intriguingly good, giving me Make Them Suffer vibes for brief moments. By the time we arrive at the chorus, “Arrested” is proving to be yet another example of Will King’s vocal versatility, and the interwoven ‘ribbons’ of guitar add to the picture of submersion of the warning signs they never saw before.
Liam’s voice joins in at the bridge, where more light is shed on the theme of “Arrested”; how the familiar and known and comfortable was innately damaging, and this has only been seen clearly in hindsight. The lyric “I’ll give this up to save me” feels like a turning point, where shaking off a toxic relationship is necessary for the protagonist being able to know/be themselves and retain sanity in doing so. Musically climactic, the sonic turning point hits hard, and a multi-layered explanation and farewell is how the impactful song ends.
As far as EP-ending songs go, “My Empire” is a good one, book-ending perfectly with “Reject”. It comes across as an exhale and a collecting of the self before leaping into a new chapter of existence. From the self-hate and bleakness of earlier in the EP, “My Empire” feels like a culmination of effort and the realisation that things were changing even when they felt stationary, because “Time is on my side”.
This is another infectious track for me, and I hear it as a ‘twin’ to “Reject”; two sides of the same coin. But maybe I’m more hopeful than the song itself is, as it still is riddled with uncertainty and slivers of darkness at times. Regardless, the impressive track hits hard and has varying pockets of light and shade, and is another multi-angled perspective of life. I’m in love with the “You sat here telling me off” section of “My Empire” which seems to satisfyingly skid sideways into a pushback, nestled between aggression and realisation.
From the sleepless discomfort of “Reject”, we’ve been through a lot with Empire‘s 23 minutes: The defeat of “The Sitch”, the weightlessness of “Grey World”, the questioning of “Colourless”, the closure of “Arrested”, and the possibility of “My Empire”. Each offering has oozed thoughtful effort by way of song structure, and maintained interest with its moving parts and shifting moods.
Windwaker have mastered the art of glorious choruses and deft placement of hooks. Throughout Empire we’re subtly guided onward, like clues leading to treasure chests. For some the treasure will be sky high vocal soarings, for others the audible instrumental mastery, or perhaps the bristled breakdowns. With countless metaphorical doorways in to their music, Empire comes across as a welcoming invitation to get to know the band, with room to gain more from re-listens due to the layers and song sections as well as ambiguous/open lyricism. Empire is such a treat of a listen, and I can already see it as being something that easily propels Windwaker to greater heights and deservedly gains them attention.
An impressive collection of tracks that are as home in being savoured end-to-end or as separate pieces belted out on a car trip on repeat. Musically clever, skilled, and well-structured. Never a dull moment!
Though they're clearly onto a good thing, and it's hard to fault, I get the impression there's room for the lid to be broken off this thing and for Windwaker to soar even higher, taking greater creative risks in the process. Would love the song themes to pack a stronger emotional punch.