"In a genre of music that is often deliberately controversial, the cover of Empire of Love by Violet Cold may be one of the most provocative of the year. But unlike other artists where this seems, at times, needless (ahem, Bloody Cumshot, ahem), Empire of Love’s provocation serves a serious and noble purpose. Mastermind Emin Guliyev’s native Azerbaijan has the worst human rights record for LGBTQI people in all of Europe. There is no protection for this community, and atrocities and hate-crimes against them are a depressingly regular occurrence. So to superimpose the Azerbaijan flag onto the pride flag is both a middle finger to his nation’s bigotry and hate, and a challenge to black metal fans who believe the subgenre must conform to their narrow interpretation of it. I had earmarked this for TYMHM treatment before Grymm’s important piece, but that spurred me on to write about an album that brought me a lot of genuine joy in a year where that was a precious commodity.
Everything about Empire of Love seems designed to challenge (and potentially irritate). The bright cover. The generally upbeat and transcendent tone. The song titles (“Pride,” “We Met During the Revolution”) that sound like a psychedelic hippie band from the 60s. There is rap (“Be Like Magic”), and pop vocals (“Shegnificant”), and shoegaze. Many will not like this brand of metal smoothie and Guliyev doesn’t care. Like Deafheaven, he is uninterested in conforming to the black metal tag, preferring instead to use it as a starting point for explorations. Unlike Deafheaven, however, he hasn’t abandoned the aesthetic completely, and his take is ultimately more interesting and bold.
Empire of Love wouldn’t work as well as it does if the songs weren’t of the usual quality we have come to expect from Violet Cold. Notably, the tracks are not just optimistic, they’re downright triumphant. And using black metal to maintain and sustain this tone without becoming unbearably cloy is remarkable. Guliyev takes concoctions that should creak under their own ambition and melds them into something memorable and… happy. Whether the soaring synths of the blackgaze-heavy “Pride” or the post-metal orchestrations of “Togetherness,” Empire of Love is never less than massively enjoyable. One criticism would be that despite all the boldness and experimentation, Empire of Love does not quite have the staying power of Violet Cold’s earlier work. It’s sometimes like those gumballs filled with flavored goo: delightfully explosive when you’re eating it, but without the deep, lasting textures of a full meal.
Black metal was borne of a rebellion against religion and modernity. Violet Cold has boldly extended this to use it as a rejection of the nationalistic, anti-LGBTQI stance of many in Azerbaijan (and beyond). Where they offer hate and bigotry, he offers an inclusive, broad, and kind vision, which he expresses through this effervescent, gorgeous collection. If his imagination sometimes exceeds his compositions, and he stumbles occasionally in his experimentation, well, it’s better than simply reheating satanic second-wave riffs. In a genre not known for its optimism, Empire of Love, like the responses to Grymm’s piece, may just restore some faith." - ANGRY METAL GUY