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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.