Starting with the outcry of the guitars to the sensuous purr of the lead vocal, you could say that Cedars’ new single “Empire” has all the parts of a classic alternative rock track and be entirely right. That said, what separates this release from the countless tributes to the legacy of iconic alternative rock and post-grunge music has more to do with the lyrical drive than it does any of the instrumental features.
In this single, Cedars aren’t aimlessly pounding away at a riff for no other reason than to be brash and intense with the usual rock n’ roll elements, but instead to make a point about contemporary culture – or lack thereof. The music is very gritty and sports some feature leftover from the grunge of The Gits and the dirge of Deftones, with perhaps even a touch of Korn thrown in for good measure, but its modern saving grace is its production stylization, which tethers the core values of this band to a new wave of alternative songwriters disinterested in playing to the somber lyrical themes of yesteryear.
There’s plenty of angst and discord in this song, don’t get me wrong, but there’s no self-loathing. If anything, catharsis is just around the corner of each chorus, waiting to remind us that tomorrow is waiting for us as well.
The bass is pretty basic in “Empire,” but I suppose Cedars didn’t need a big low-end presence to get the tempo stomping like an early Queens of the Stone Age-esque desert rock track. The minimalist layout of the arrangement, as well as the fuzzy guitar solo at the heart of the track, allude to heavy rock influences that I would love to hear this crew explore a little more thoroughly than they already have, primarily to hear how far they can go with a lumbering, groove-oriented sound. There are still some components of a pop single within the structure of “Empire,” but they’re not dictating the flow of the track at all. The lead vocal is too much of an uncaged beast to share the spotlight with the technical aspect of the song, which is saying something when taking into account the detail that went into making this composition a fully reinforced heavy rocker.
It’s 2023, and the sad reality is that material like this is becoming pretty hard to come by, which is what makes this all-new single from Cedars such a sweet find this season. It’s felt like a rather dismal period for a lot of alternative rock music as the scenes that provide its most thriving culture have been shuttered by just about everything that the industry can manufacture from the inside out, but there’s some hope to be found in the three minutes of play this band offers up in “Empire.” It’s not the most existential rock song you’re going to hear before the year is over, but the main question it raises is by far one of the most relevant that I’ve had the chance to ponder in a while.