Empyrium - _The Turn of the Tides_
(Prophecy Productions, 2014)
by: Mark Dolson (9 out of 10)
I remember scouring blackmetal.com's website way back in June of 1997 for obscure and interesting looking black metal releases. I ended up ordering so many CDs from that site -- just because the band name sounded interesting or the cover looked compelling. It was through blackmetal.com that I first discovered bands like Helheim, Arckanum, Dismal Euphony, Scheitan, Dawn, and the mighty Empyrium. And out of all of these bands, it was Empyrium that really captivated me with their purely nature-oriented theme.

While I never bought their first album, _A Wintersunset..._ from 1996 (it wasn't in stock at the time I started visiting the foresaid website), the cover and description of their second album,_Songs of Moors and Misty Fields_ (1997), pulled me in -- so I ordered it right away. I enjoyed the interplay between acoustic interludes and slower, almost softer black metal (if you can call it that). On their subsequent album, _Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays_, the band completely ditched the metallic aspects of their sound and went in a completely acoustic / neofolk direction -- not unlike Ulver's _Kveldssanger_. This newfound direction was developed even further on their album _Weiland_ in 2002, which showcased the crooning talents of vocalist Thomas Helm. Accompanied by mellotron, drums and violins, this album -- like its predecessor -- features absolutely no traces of metal whatsoever (save for some black metal style shrieks here and there).

After a very long break (eleven years), Empyrium released a one song EP called _Dead Winter Ways_ in 2013, which was to be a taste of things to come for their studio album, _The Turn of the Tides_, released a year later. _The Turn of the Tides_ is a rather fitting name for their new material insofar as it does indeed mark a fairly drastic "turn" stylistically for the band. In somewhat of an "Ulveresque" fashion (only in terms of the degree of change; I'm not saying they sound like Ulver now), the band shifted from a style characterized as purely acoustic neofolk to something that I would say sounds like a keyboard/guitar-oriented interpretation of Dead Can Dance -- mind you with a darker, more depressive edge.

Thomas Helm's voice is the centre-piece for the band, and the music revolves effortlessly around his melancholy-infused baritone croon. The shrieks make an appearance on the song "Dead Winter Ways", accompanied by a slightly metallic guitar refrain. The song "The Days Before the Fall" starts out with an interesting Dead Can Dance like intro (sounding similar to something from _The Serpent's Egg_ album), but then breaks way into Empyrium's interpretation of doom metal -- metallic guitars, slowly winding through and between a plodding and repetitive drum beat. Lyric-wise, the themes centre on what I see to be existential and emotional themes regarding life's more difficult moments: the passage of time and the seasons, and the desolation that comes with ageing.

While marking a complete departure from their previous album, _Weiland_, I find each and every song on _The Turn of the Tides_ to be highly atmospheric, alluring and enjoyable. However, this probably has to do with the fact that I'm a fan of Dead Can Dance -- particularly their _The Serpent's Egg_ album from 1988. If you aren't a fan of Dead Can Dance, though, but do want to hear something contemplative, thought provoking and quietly melancholic, make sure to give _The Turn of the Tides_ a chance. My only complain -- if there really is one -- is the album is a little on the short side, as it clocks in at 43 minutes. I think the inclusion of one or two more songs wouldn't have hurt, but that's just me.

(article published 27/1/2015)

3/5/2000 P Azevedo Empyrium: Songs of Sorrow For the Sleepless
1/18/2007 P Azevedo 8 Empyrium - A Retrospective...
9/1/2002 P Azevedo 9 Empyrium - Weiland
8/12/1999 P Azevedo 7 Empyrium - Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays
4/13/1998 P Azevedo 10 Empyrium - Songs of Moors & Misty Fields
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