Empyrium - _Weiland_
(Prophecy Productions, 2002)
by: Pedro Azevedo (
Gone are Empyrium's metallic days, when memorable works such as _Songs of Moors & Misty Fields_ [CoC #30] were created. Andreas Bach -- one half of the duo -- has since left the project, as Ulf Theodor Schwadorf is now joined by a classical vocalist (Thomas Helm) as well as Nadine Wolter (who, as usual, helps out with the flutes) and three other guests. This is an entirely acoustic album, like its predecessor _Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays_ [CoC #42]. But whereas _WtNtWGP_ was supposed to be a one-off acoustic record and ended up suffering from just that, _Weiland_ is a full-bodied, lengthy, involved album. The music is at times chillingly evocative of majestic open spaces or dark forests, driven mostly by acoustic guitar lines, some occasional percussion, flutes, violin, cello and (later in the album) piano. And, of course, vocals. These are essentially of three qualities: Schwadorf's spoken passages, his blackened vox (which are used sparingly and work very well indeed with the delicate music), and the classical vocals provided by Thomas Helm. Schwadorf's contribution fits very well in the music, and his delivery is very good. As for Helm's classical vocals, they seem technically irreproachable, but to me they tend to sound somewhat jarring amidst the sombre atmosphere of present day Empyrium's tragic neo-folk. Fortunately, these vocals are also used sparingly enough to avoid becoming a major annoyance. _Weiland_ is divided into three chapters and subtitled "Naturmystik in Drei Kapiteln", which is where an uncanny Ulver connection starts: Ulver's _Bergtatt_ is divided in five chapters, and their dark folk album _Kveldssanger_ contains a song titled "Naturmystikk" -- which, give or take a "k", is a bit of a coincidence already, only the superb _Weiland_ booklet itself is quite reminiscent of the interior of Ulver's own _Nattens Madrigal_ booklet. Anyway, _Weiland_'s first chapter contains a few short tracks that don't really seem to go anywhere (also known as the _Kveldssanger_ syndrome) and a couple of longer, more involved ones, both of them very good. The second chapter consists of the seventh track, which is a 14 minute song. Despite its length, it flows very well and contains plenty of variety. Midway through the song, a sad, stirring string section reminds me of Samuel Barber's Adagio -- powerful stuff. The final chapter is slightly more sombre (not that the previous two weren't sombre already) and contains more bits of sullen piano, which can't be heard on the first two chapters. This is my favourite part of the album, but _Weiland_ has the very pleasant quality of starting out nicely, though somewhat irregularly, improving with the second chapter, and finishing with a really good set of tracks. Some of these are also quite short, but work together very well. The classical vocals on the first half of the record will probably take some getting used to, but overall this is a superb release for anyone into dark acoustic atmospheres. The closest album I can think of as a reference is Tenhi's also excellent _Kauan_, though _Weiland_ shows slightly less folk influences. I can't really recommend one over the other; both are definitely worth having in case the description above sparks your interest. It is a loss that Empyrium are no longer a metal band, but at least they have mutated into something similarly interesting.
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