Empyrium - Über den Sternen

Angry Metal Guy 80

If you asked me to name an underrated band, Empyrium would be one of the first out my mouth. Beginning life as a symphonic/folk/metal band in the mid-1990s with gems such as Songs of Moors and Misty Fields, they strayed into pure neofolk territory as they developed before disbanding in relative obscurity in the early 2000s. 2014 saw their return with a fresh, post-metal influence in their sound in The Turn of the Tides. It borders on an atmospheric masterpiece and remains one of my favorites from that year. An EP entitled The Mill followed in the same vein shortly thereafter but things have been silent in the six years since. 2021 has arrived and with it the long-awaited sequel entitled Über den Sternen (Above the Stars). With great quality comes great expectations so I was all-too-eager to get my grubby hands on the album.

Über represents a reversion to the folksy, blackened approach of olde but with the measured, post-influenced approach of new(e). It’s an album more about mood and atmosphere than moment to moment demands. “The Three Flames Sapphire” opens the album with beautiful acoustic melody before a cello slowly swims in. When this track released as a single, I was transfixed by its hypnotic, enchanting quality. Neofolk is presented more obviously than on The Turn, lending a peaceful but dark temperament. The controlled pace doesn’t let aggression and brute force power loose often, but this ensures that when it does, the music is all the more potent. When electrification on the guitars does take hold, this is frequently for its texture in the mix and not just melody or rhythm.

Further contributing to this atmosphere are the sonorous clean vocals. It’s a baritone but uniquely musical, offering a somber twist to counter-balance the occasional harsh vocals. These are also strong, with a retched shriek piercing the soundscape to bolster those moments of heaviness. The record benefits from grandiose but somber chants, softer vibratos and the fierce shrieks, all of which blend into the dynamic music. Despite the record’s strength in softness, readily stripping back into sparse compositions, this dynamism also facilitates passages of grand heaviness and density. “The Wild Swans” typifies these qualities through its dramatic drum rhythm which bridges into an epic chorus, layering choral chants, shrieks, riffs and commanding percussion. Further, the closing title track stands alone in directly opening with a heavy but nifty guitar lead before transitioning into a strings-laced melodic theme which permeates the finale, slipping in and out of heavy and light passages.

Empyrium here write simple songs. Most tracks feature one core melody and plenty of repetition, but they excel in taking their time. Lots of things feed into how engaging things are: the hypnotic atmosphere; the memorable melodies; the diverse vocals; the folksy instrumentation; the subtle variations on core melodies; the selective harmonization; and the instrumental flourishes across transitions. Each meaningfully develops the music while retaining Über’s cohesion. The songs are internally cohesive and contribute to the album’s whole. On my first listen through the entirety I wasn’t so enraptured, but it was reaching the title track at the finale that signified its staying power. As the first single available, I had heard it multiple times already and it was immediately my highlight. The more time spent with it, the more I liked it, and this quality is true of the remainder. The exception which proves the quality in completeness here is the pairing of “Moonrise” and “The Archer” at the record’s core. They’re individually lovely interludes but sequencing them together hinders Über’s momentum. It’s a small stumble which stands out next to the remainder’s careful construction.

What strikes me most is how mature Über sounds. It’s the creative output of experienced musicians and songwriters who demonstrate skill, care, and control. It draws from Empyrium’s heritage while pushing their sound forward, referencing 90s-style production but sounding unlike any single previous release. The Turn began its life as a solid recommendation but now sits as one of my favorites of 2014. I consequently took my time with this album to allow it to gestate. It similarly initially struck me as a (mildly disappointing) good record, but its undeniable quality has strongly grown on me. Will it continue in this vein and finish as one of the top records of the year? That remains to be seen, but initial signs are promising.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prophecy Productions
Websites: empyrium.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/empyriumfans
Releases Worldwide: February 26th, 2021

The post Empyrium – Über den Sternen Review appeared first on Angry Metal Guy.

Sat Feb 27 13:42:34 GMT 2021