Empyrium


A Wintersunset

Empyrium - A Wintersunset ©1996 Prophecy Productions
1. Moonromanticism
2. Under Dreamskies
3. The Franconian Woods In Winter's Silence
4. The Yearning
5. Autumn Grey Views
6. Ordain'd To Thee
7. A Gentle Grieving Farewell Kiss

Essentially a less developed version of the sound the band would further develop on their second album, Songs of Moors and Misty Fields, Empyrium's first album, A Wintersunset, works well in establishing the basic aims of the band. All of the essential qualities are present, but with a less developed sound and presentation. The delicately beautiful guitar melodies and sparse synthesizer associated with the second album are the meat and potatoes of A Wintersunset, essentially the driving force of the music. The guitar lines have an immediate, emotive quality, visceral and intuitively Romantic. The percussion and bass are adequate, given the emphasis on melody and harmonic texture; the drum work is anything but bombastic, with ample reliance on cymbal rides and far less attention to needlessly metallic double bass runs or overt heaviness. Front man Markus' voice is extremely uneven, with little of the confidence or clarity of his later singing. His voice on the album has led many to dismiss the band outright, a tad unfair, given his relative inexperience and the utterly serene beauty of the music.

The debut is a very subtle contemplative work, with fragile melodies, endearing compositions, and a resplendent atmosphere of the pastoral. Acoustic guitar work (albeit somewhat amateurish in nature), cello, and flute fill out the sound, adding some texture to the oft-sparse music. The transitions are somewhat clumsy and arbitrary at times, and the faltering vocals can get a bit tedious in parts, but overall the album is a solid debut full of shimmering emotional moments. A Wintersunset is a solid doom metal album, with effective folk components, Romantic overtones, and a very independent and original voice in the genre.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 04/2001

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Songs Of Moors And Misty Fields

Empyrium - Songs Of Moors And Misty Fields ©1997 Prophecy Productions
1. When Shadows Grow Longer
2. The Blue Mists Of Night
3. Mourners
4. Ode To Melancholy
5. Lover's Grief
6. The Ensemble Of Silence

Songs of Moors and Misty Fields is the sophomore effort of German romantic metal masters, Empyrium, and a brilliant exploration of loss, bereavement and melancholy set to some of the most somber and pastoral doom metal ever recorded. It is that rare variety of metal best listened to in the late fall and early winter, when the leaves have fallen and the first snow has just arrived (living in Las Vegas, I have to drive to the mountains for the snow, but you get the point). From the opening piano, cello and voice, the listener is immediately confronted with a gentle mixture of claustrophobic grief, a slightly foreboding atmosphere, and stirring beauty. The intro track maintains the chilly, dark atmosphere throughout before launching into the inspiring charge of the first proper song. By time the first guitar riff hits, the mood of the album has already been firmly established.

The music is richly layered, with a whole network of synth/keyboard lines, low-key rhythm guitars, soaring and organic guitar leads, a wall of cymbal crashes, cellos, flutes, and overlayered vocal tracks, all tethered to a highly active bass and prog-rock like drums (with constant rolls and very little reliance on double bass runs). The songs are divided into segments of straight folk music, slow crushing doom, piano interludes, and blasting black metal mayhem; fear not, even the blasting black metal mayhem retains a solemn, romantic air. The electric guitar leads are some of the most eloquent, refined pieces of pure brilliance you're likely to ever hear - no wankery, just tasteful, well written affairs with a strong sense of visceral composition. There are leads on this album that bring tears to my eyes. They just float over the music, encompassing vast emotion and spatial resonance within the compositions. The music moves subtly from the aforementioned wall of sound and fury into gentle folk interludes comprised primarily of keys, flute, cello, acoustic guitar and voice. These sections add a higher dimension to the music, placing emphasis on thought and reflection between the torrents of (nearly) symphonic bombast.

The vocals are provided by main man Markus (he's responsible for nearly two thirds of the music as the band has only three members) and tend to vary in quality. He sings in a very low baritone voice (not entirely unlike Fernando of Moonspell), a higher choral voice, and pulls a lot of spoken word action throughout the album. His higher voice has a powerful, hymnal quality, invoking an epic atmosphere of everything rural and rugged; the lower voice is less thrilling a thing, but rarely disrupts the haunting effect of the music. Whatever the case, the emotion is always there; even in the more awkward moments, Markus cannot be accused of lacking conviction. There is also a vast assortment of growling shrieks, surprisingly emotional in he context of the music. The lyrics are concerned with the usual doom metal themes (intimate suffocating love, mourning, existential angst, cold winters, and all those other uplifting topics), but are imbued with a strong sense of the pastoral and the Romantic - man is tied to th natural order, the seasons, and cannot escape his passions or desires. Desire is a word the lyrics are quick to invoke.

Songs of Moors and Misty Fields is a powerfully emotional, utterly inspiring work. Each song is an immense journey, a whirlwind of imagery and feelings; a strong rope comprised of a vast network of musical threads and textures. The music is dark but never sinister, never needlessly abrasive. There are sections that I consider some of most the powerful moments in the history of rock music, and in fact the history of western music in general. This album does not have mass appeal, but will remain close to the hearts of those that seek out this kind of music and cherish it. You can consider that a recommendation.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 06/2000

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Where At Night The Wood Grouse Plays

Empyrium - Where At Night The Wood Grouse Plays ©1999 Prophecy Productions
1. Where At Night The Wood Grouse Plays
2. Dying Brokenhearted
3. The Shepherd And The Maiden Ghost
4. The Sad Song Of The Wind
5. Wehmut
6. A Pastoral Theme
7. Abendrot
8. Many Moons Ago...
9. When Shadows Grow Longer

For their third album, Empyrium decided to axe the metal and rock in their sound, and emphasize instead the pastoral folk elements. And to good effect, I might add. For those of you who cried "Ulver wannabes!" I'd highly recommend listening to the album with deep attentive detail. For while Empyrium might have been a metal band, and while it's true that they're not the first metal band to have dabbled in pure folk music, their music is profoundly more dense and developed than Ulver's stab at more sylvan fare. Acoustic guitar and cello forms a well-woven base, on which Empyrium constructs a thick superstructure of choral arrangements, dual voice harmonies, and highly animated melodies provided by woodwind instruments and guitar. A dark medieval atmosphere pervades, the music very reminiscent of the French Romances, with lyrics steeped in abandoned ruins, dense forests, and haunting ghost stories. Markus' lyrics are of exalted quality, simple (if slightly archaic) language in the employ of intriguing philosophical ideas.

Markus' voice is much improved, a low baritone replete with restrained sorrow; his contribution here is significantly better than anything he's done before. A guest vocalist, Thomas Helm, provides a great addition to the band's sound, a contribution of intriguing results. His voice is powerful and tempered with a musical education, ranging from a high, nearly effeminate voice more attuned with Renaissance music, and a more subtle mid-ranged singing voice. Markus sometimes performs the function of a bass vocalist, while Helm often provides the more melodic lead voice. Their voices are best used in unison, particularly on the later songs, where the lyrics are emphasized a great deal more than usual. A choir provides a powerful backing when the music demands it - very professionally arranged and never used carelessly. As usual, Nadine provides cello and woodwind work, which is much more important in the context of fully acoustic music; her work fully compliments the sound, always used to the fullest.

Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays is an excellent dark folk album by a band formerly associated with an excellent doom metal sound. People who have accused the band of aping Ulver are not particularly attentive, given the massive difference in terms of quality and sound between the two bands. Ignoring these occasional accusations, I can wholeheartedly recommend the album to those of you looking for quality atmospheric music for late winter nights.

Review by James Slone

Review date: 04/2001

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