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It is a complete mystery to me as to why Empyrium, or particularly this album, is not reviewed more often on MA. Although, it might have something to do with the fact that they released their last real album in 2002 and disbanded soon after. The thought that many people probably missed out on the brilliance that is Empyrium saddens me. Empyrium has been one of my fallback bands ever since I learned about them in 2000, two years before the “Weiland” album was released. I was then confronted with the back-catalogue of Empyrium and it has kept me in its grasp ever since. Never before had I heard a band with such a distinct sound, a sound which changed with every album but always remained Empyrium at the heart. To me, Empyrium is a really special band, that is why I am really excited to hear they have reunited to record new material. But let us not get carried away just yet, this review is certainly not about the band as a whole, or whatever they may or may not produce in the future, it is about “Weiland”.
“Weiland” is the last album that Empyrium released before disbanding, it is a convincingly acoustic album. Instruments which appear on the album, besides the obvious drums and bass guitar, are the acoustic guitar, piano, violin, cello, western concert flute and the bassoon. This makes for a very natural, smooth, slow-paced and easy-listening experience throughout most of the album. This might make you wonder, why is this album even on MA? Is it even metal? Well, for the most part it is not. The only real links this album still has with metal are the occasional black metal-inspired shrieks which emerge shortly on tracks like “Fortgang”, “Waldpoesie” and “Die Schwäne im Schilf” to provide contrast with the otherwise very natural sound. Markus Stock furthermore is responsible for the general singing vocals and whispers on this album which are contrasted by some amazingly performed operatic vocals from band mate Helm, who also happens to be the main force behind the piano.
This album takes heavy cues from the neofolk genre in the sense that it manages to convey a lot of emotions with relatively few and modest use of instrumentation. In short we can say Empyrium continued their neofolk inspired sound which they started to develop on their previous album ”Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays”. Not a big surprise since the writing of “Weiland” followed just after the completion of that album. The lyrics on this album are all in German, which was a most likely a deliberate choice by Markus to better express himself. Contrary to what one might expect they are not distracting at all – in fact I find them very intriguing. My first language is closely related to German so it is quite easy for me to understand the lyrics and appreciate them.
The album manages to paint pictures in my mind’s eye, it summons visions of nature landscapes, moorland, meadows, rivers, creeks, snow-covered pine forests and mountain peaks. This is exactly what Markus Stock intended, in the booklet of the Empyrium retrospective boxset Markus Stock explains that he has always associated certain instruments with natural phenomena. The sound of a piano, particularly in the higher registers he says, he associates with water. Flutes resemble the atmosphere of heath to him, while dark plucked guitars represent undergrowth. It is exactly this that helped him to shape this album. The album consists of three chapters, track 1 through 6 are Heidestimmung (“Moor Sounds”), track 7 is Waldpoesie (“Forest Poetry”) and track 8 through 12 is Wassergeister (“Water Spirits”). Chapter one is characterized by the use of drums and acoustic guitar, chapter two is more of a mixture of all instruments found on this album except for the piano, whereas the final chapter is then fully taken over by the piano in combination with the violin and cello. Very impressive.
“Weiland”, or Empyrium for that matter, is music that I can listen to at any time, be it winter or summer, day or night. Like I mentioned before it has been a band on which I can fall back at any time. The music never lets me down, it always has the same impact on me each time I listen to it. I do not know if this album will have the same impact on you, it relies heavily on personal taste. Seeing, however, that you are reading this review on a metal website there is a tiny chance that you may be interested in neofolk-inspired music, but if this review has peaked even a slight interest for you I strongly advise you to check this album out. Perhaps even start with their back-catalogue if you would rather hear their doom-inspired metal roots first. Closing this review I would like to take a look at the future, what can Empyrium possibly bring after this masterpiece? It seems impossible to come up with something better. I personally believe that Markus Stock would not have revived Empyrium unless he had a grand vision for a new album, so all we can do for now is wait impatiently for the next chapter in this book. I hope it will not disappoint.
Weiland is the fourth and final full length by the atmospheric greats Empyrium. On Weiland you can hear the return to a more slow, drawn out approach that was evident on their earlier works.
The songs on this album are all acoustic pieces similar to Where At Night The Wood Grouse Plays. But the Atmospheres are more harsh on this album. There is more of a droning, sinister feel to this album than that of the more beautiful and romantic atmospheres that could be heard of the previous album. The atmospheres and the occasional use of whispered vocals early in the album reminds me of Dolorian at times. But towards the end of the album romantic, melancholic atmospheres similar to Where At Night the Wood Grouse Plays can be heard.
The reintroduction of acoustic drums on many of the tracks is also a nice touch. The drumming is very similar to that of a Wintersunset in style; Very simple and sparse. Used only to heighten the atmospheres and to keep things interesting.
The vocals are incredibly emotional, from soft, whispered vocals to bombastic vocal harmonies the vocals convey the feelings of melancholy and sorrow perfectly. Adapting to the context of the songs the vocals bring the atmospheres to higher more powerful levels. The vocals are mainly done by Helm. He uses a more classical approach on this album than on the previous album and Markus' deep German accented vocals are hardly heard. Also the use of rasped vocals does appear on this album on at least one of the tracks.
The guitar work is incredible as you should be able to expect from a band like Empyrium. Layers upon Layers of acoustic guitar saturate this album, dripping wet with thick, wholehearted atmospheres evident on ALL tracks. With perfect production the brooding yet seductive guitar work is clearly heard and well delivered.
Weiland is an incredible release and a very fitting final album to one of the most spectacular musical outfits to ever cross my path. Their delivery is flawless, few bands can tell a story or convey a feeling perfectly within the context of an instrumental piece as well as Empyrium. Although their career was shorter than I would have liked it to be, Empyrium has had more quality out put than many bands that have been around twice as long. Empyrium will remain one of my favorite bands and my main musical inspiration for years to come.