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I think it is kind of unfair to compare this album with Ulver's Kveldssanger, even though it seems inevitable, given the circumstances it was published. It is unfair because I feel that, when composed, the intention was to make it go through sensations and emotions that were different than the ones Kveld was aimed for, much simpler and less intense emotions by the way. I understand that sustaining "my album was supposed to feel simpler" can be used as an excuse to justify mediocrity, but it is not the case.
I personally prefer the way this album sounds much calmer than Ulver's, and it manages to perfectly set you in a bucolic, tranquil pastoral mood, constantly flirting with dark thematics like death, sorrow and even ghosts. You see? It is all about short stories of villagers/shepherds in moors or forests lamenting some past grief or reciting about once seeing dead people. Kveldssanger did sound way more epic, intense, and yet managed to still sound intimate with its acoustic instruments and choirs, in a very original way - that's why it stands out so much and (I guess) that is also why people tend to compare it to Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays. However just because Ulver managed to do such a brilliant job and this one sounds really really similar (okay, this one lacks originality in my opinion, but it is acceptable still), it doesn't justify downrating this album because of the comparison.
The vocals are fairly executed here, with Helm's tenor being very satisfying. In the album you'll hear from low spoken word to high and loud tenor singing, which makes it dynamic and not repetitive - a very good point. I enjoyed a lot the whispered songs ("The Shepherd And The Maiden Ghost" and "The Sad Song Of The Wind" are personal favourites) and the female vocal guest. Sometimes they can get over-enthusiastic with choral singing, which sounds good as a result, but lacks originality as it shamelessly resembles Kveldssanger. Another bad point for some would be the repetitive simple guitar lines that are layered to exhaustion. Yes you can clearly hear they are very simple lines, but still very enjoyable, so no big deal (at least for me). You can also clearly hear that they wouldn't get their objective if they sounded like technical death metal, haha. "When Shadows Grow Longer" gets an acoustic version here that sounds awesome, the mood was greatly constructed.
So in its own way, I keep this CD in my shelf as a really special album. It is perfectly acceptable if you find it bland and even generic, music is always subjective anyway, but if you enjoy feeling contemplative, immersed in the soundscapes of eerie dark nights in the woods or in archaic farmlands, give this album a try - it will be worth it.
Empyrium, along with Ulver, have ventured from metal to the dark acoustic scene. The only difference is that Ulver went back to metal (only to fuck it for electronica) and Empyrium spilt up with this sound as their final sound. “Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays” is the first of two acoustic efforts from the band. And though it is a success, it does have some problems.
First, we will discuss the pros of the album. Right off the bat, the tenor (high male singing) vocals are seriously beyond belief. Thomas Helm is the man behind the tenor vocals here. He has a sweet, angelic voice that are powerful, yet not overbearing. The vocals are very operatic, so some will be turned off. Very pretty sounding male vocals. Helm is certainly at the top of the vocals outlook in all of metal.
Another highlight is the guitar. The acoustic guitar dominates this album as its main focus. Fair to superb melodies are created here by Marcus Stock. I don’t think his classical guitar skill matches to Haavard of Ulver’s Kveldssanger, but he can really play.
The cons of the album are mostly vocal. Although Helm is seriously talented, co-vocalist Marcus Stock does not compare. Stock is the baritone (low male singing) on the album. He is fair at best. He lacks range, variety, emotion and passion. All the elements that Helm has conquered here. Stock is also way too obsessed with whispering. Come on, anyone can whisper, man! If there is one style of vocals that really crawls up my ass the wrong way, it’s whispering. “The Shepard and the Maiden Ghost” is filled with lyrics and your thinking “Yes, Helm will get a chance to shine here,” but the whole song is whispered. I would much rather have an instrumental than that.
Speaking of instrumentals, I do believe there are way too many on this album. I’m all for instrumental folk music, but when you have a singer like Helm it might be wise to use him. “Kveldssanger” by Ulver used the mighty Garm just enough; not too much, not too little. Helm is used way too little. I would not advocate every song, but a little more than three out of nine would be nice. I think five of nine would have been perfect.
The standouts on this release are the last two songs. “Many Moons Ago” sees Helm recite a story of a man who has seen the ghost of a girl. Very creepy stuff. “When Shadows Grow Longer” is a remake of a previous Empyrium song, but done much better. Helm and Stock are able to harmonize nicely here and the result is perfect. More songs like these two should have absorbed the album’s beginning and middle.
Overall, this is a strong acoustic release. I think it could have been much better, but it does still kick balls. I have the album on CD, but you probably could get away with downloading the last two tracks to hear much of what the album has to offer.
â€œKveldssanger, but worseâ€.
Unfortunately three words wouldnâ€™t get accepted as a review around here (might be worth posting on amazon, though) but thatâ€™s pretty much what this is. If you like Kveldssanger and have a bit of spare money, or you just want to get as much folk as you can get your hands on, then go on and buy this, as this is essentially Kveldssangerâ€™s well meaning but mentally deficient second cousin.
Thereâ€˜s probably three or four people who havenâ€˜t heard Kveldssanger and need some detail though, so this review is for you and you and you. Imagine a bunch of manly- well, as manly as a bunch of Europeans can be anyway- dudes getting all serious and intense on an acoustic and a few folky instruments. Itâ€™s a simple enough formula that works well enough in most cases and here Empyrium pull it off with a reasonable level of aplomb. The title track is a good enough indication of whatâ€™s happening here; dual acoustic action and some heavily accented (and manly) intoning about a forest, where I suppose a wood grouse plays. Gripping, eh? Well, it is actually kinda cool, and the drum rolls and Garm-plagarizing manly choir-freakout near the end was a nice surprise. I guess at the end of the song Iâ€™m wondering exactly what the point of the song is though- so a forest comes to life, and then.. All the forest animals start harmonising? Doesnâ€˜t make much sense, but then again Germans have never been a particularly logical bunch of people.
Itâ€™s all pleasantly and woodlands-esque, but this record doesnâ€™t really award a lot of close examination. As far as I can tell it aims at being foresty and atmospheric, and it delivers a foresty atmosphere, so thatâ€™s mission achieved, but itâ€˜s not hugely satisfying. Some parts are worthwhile- â€œThe Shepherd and the Maiden Ghostâ€ is a well delivered (although as far as I can tell the story is kind of pointless) ballad, â€œWehmutâ€ is all flutey Ostendoor Sol worship, complete with some more Garm-plagiarising- donâ€™t get me wrong, while itâ€™s unoriginal to the extreme I am partial to the well executed manly â€œahhâ€ choir. Flutes and garm-worship returns with the rather cool â€œMany Moons Agoâ€, a frosty little tale about a dude in the middle of winter, or something. He goes for a piss, but his penis gets numb and he forgets to put it back in his pants. Essentially, he ends up getting frostbite on it and has to get it amputated. A cautionary tale for us all I am sure.
Honestly this isnâ€™t so bad- â€œA Pastoral Themeâ€œ is a terrific acoustic instrumental that very evocative and super layered , and it shows that these guys can write excellent tunes when they want to. I guess I just find it hard to take seriously. It really, really wants to be Kveldssanger, and it tries really, really hard but it just canâ€™t do it (the fairly horrible â€œWhen Shadows grow Longerâ€ being a good example of an earnest effort that ends in massive fail). Overall itâ€™s an average to half-decent album that puts in a huge amount of work and good intentions but just canâ€™t stand up on itâ€™s own two feet. A good album to play around hippie girls, though.
I must admit, this album is superb. I honestly think Empyrium's other work far surpasses this though. The vocals are decent, but not nearly as prevalent or as emotional as in their other albums. The instrumentals, particularly the classical guitars, are skillfully played, yet slightly repetitive. Gotta love those apreggios though. The hilight of this album is without a doubt Many Moons Ago. Every aspect of this song owns the rest of the album. The rhythms are catchy and fucking amazing. The mournful backing of the guitar with the flute is a sound that tugs at my ventricles like baby yanking playfully at a phone cord. The vocal layering late into the song adds a magnificently etheral quality to it that soothes me instantly. All in all, this CD was great, but since I grade albums on a curve, contrasting it to other albums by that same band, I had to lower the score, since the others are considerably better. Albeit a lower standard than it's predecessors, this is a great work of art.