One band that has been a huge foundation for me and my interests in neofolk, classical and black metal is the band Empyrium from Germany. When I first got my hands on “Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays” back in the early 2000s I was immediately hooked to the dark, bardic melodies of Empyrium that allowed me to appreciate the beauty of night and all its mystery and wonders. Since getting lost in their music and diving into their discography deeper and deeper I have grown to develop an affinity to what the world offers when the sun sets. Another element to Empyrium’s music is how much their music hits me in my emotional core. I always found ways to escape the negatives of my existence by getting lost in the enchanting music of Schwadorf (Markus Stock), and Thomas Helm.
I have decided to start another run of mini reviews of Empyrium’s discography and will be beginning with their early albums from 1996 until 1999. I would say the first half of Empyrium’s works where revolutionary during the times of the big three doom metal giants (Anathema, My Dying Bride, and Paradise Lost). Also, their music gave the world a hint of what German black metal could sound like influenced by Ulver’s original black metal trilogy specifically “Kveldssanger” with these first three albums. I would say these years of Empyrium were full of creative, and innovative fire because hearing these earlier works were nothing I have really heard before when I got into underground metal.
A Wintersunset… (1996) 8/10
I listened to this album later in my foray into Empyrium’s music. Hearing “A Wintersunset…” shows a youthful energy that has a mystical even dreamlike quality to the music and production. There are obvious goth tinges mixed in with classical music, and black/doom metal. It reminds me of all the thoughts and memories I have had in my later teens and early twenties regarding melancholia and yearning, but also, escaping from a banal existence. The album evokes misty images of fall and wintertime and wandering through woods and meadows engulfed in the elements. It gives a warm, cold, and even hazy energy to the listening experience. I rate this album a little bit lower because there is a definite naivety to the album, and I think it just comes with being Empyrium’s first album. What makes it such a good album is the fact it gives a precursor to how much Empyrium has grown as musicians in future albums. Best Songs: Under Dreamskies, The Franconian Woods in Winter’s Silence, and The Yearning
Songs of Moors & Misty Fields (1997) 9/10
A year later Empyrium released easily one of their best albums in “Songs of Moors & Misty Fields” hearing this album takes you on a journey unlike any album I have heard. There is a real sense of mystery, wonderment, pain, sadness, and pensiveness to the writing in this album. It takes you down multiple paths to venture and always gives you a beautiful end to the different song trails. The album has a knack for giving real emotions about the sadness of love both unrequited and ending. There is a genuine sense of vulnerability and frustration in both the instruments and lyrics. I think it is one Empyrium’s most well-rounded and consistent albums. The songs are all great quality with great imagery abound. It hits all the right black, doom, goth, and folk notes in every single song. It is the perfect atmospheric record to listen to and it does an incredible job getting you lost in its various nooks and crannies throughout. Best Songs: The Blue Mists of Night, Lover’s Grief, and The Ensemble of Silence
Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays (1999) 10/10
Surprisingly “Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays” was my first real introduction to the neofolk/dark folk sound. It is to this day my all time favorite Empyrium record. When I first got the CD and put it into my player I was immediately lost in the bardic, mystical, and medieval sounds of the album. I absolutely loved the vocals it brought out the dreamlike vibe to the album in a multitude of ways. The album brought me back to ancient times of decrepit castles, wandering ghosts, dark woods, and meadows dancing with mist and fireflies. There is a real sense of pastoral nature throughout the record. Hearing the album while driving at night in the woods of New Hampshire is the perfect place and time to get lost in the music and imagery. When it comes to a potential soundtrack of night and its mysteries “Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays” is the way to go. Best Songs: All of them!