Songs of Sorrow For the Sleepless
CoC interviews Ulf T. Schwadorf of Empyrium / Sun of the Sleepless
by: Pedro Azevedo
_A Wintersunset..._ and _Songs of Moors & Misty Fields_ [CoC #30], Empyrium's first two full-length releases, painted gloomy, melancholic feelings upon a darkened emotional canvas with the untouched beauty of nature as background. These were followed in 1999 by Empyrium's acoustic _Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays_ [CoC #42] and also the _Poems to the Wretches' Hearts_ MCD [CoC #45] by Sun of the Sleepless -- a work of grim, yet melancholic and sorrowful black metal of remarkable quality. The mastermind behind Empyrium, and also sole member of Sun of the Sleepless, Ulf Theodor Schwadorf, took the time to answer my questions about both his projects as well as other matters, and revealed himself not only a brilliant musician but also an extremely nice individual with very interesting things to say.

CoC: Looking at albums such as Empyrium's _Songs of Moors & Misty Fields_ and _Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays_ as well as the Sun of the Sleepless MCD _Poems to the Wretches' Hearts_, one can find very different musical styles. Nevertheless, they seem to share a common essence to a certain extent. Can you describe this bond, this common essence that makes you want to play each of these styles?

Ulf T. Schwadorf: Their most obvious common point is definitely that both SotS and Empyrium are in essence focused on the dark side. But whilst SotS is filled with, how I call it, philosophical agony, Empyrium's music is solely performed for the purpose of bringing forth the secret mystique of nature in both word and tone.

CoC: Something that I found quite remarkable in both _Songs of Moors & Misty Fields_ and _Poems to the Wretches' Hearts_ is that these titles suit the music really well. Can you describe the feelings and musical objectives of Empyrium and Sun of the Sleepless in greater detail?

UTS: Thank you for the compliment. I spiritually strive for finding titles upholding the distinctive atmosphere of the music featured on the records. As mentioned above, Empyrium's intention is to bring forth certain moods and atmospheres, and exists exclusively for that purpose. We are also working with a tightly woven concept for each release (this excludes our debut album) and are focusing deeply into the right mood to genuinely bring forth what we have in mind, atmospherically. SotS is a lot more spontaneous in this respect. I simply do with SotS what I can't do in Empyrium; that which would ruin the concept, sort of. Which doesn't mean that SotS is the garbage can for Empyrium. It's not like that, I assure you. But I need an outlet for the most spontaneous emotions of mine to clad them in whatever form I desire. It grants equilibrium to my artistic ego. Also, SotS is lyrically focused on a more philosophical base. My despise for the decline of the masses and our culture and my heartfelt agony that results from it -- very misanthropic and grim lyrics. Still, I think I managed to clad these dark feelings into an aesthetically appealing form, leaned towards classic romantic poetry.

CoC: What is the meaning of the two band names? How does each relate to the respective music?

UTS: Literally, Empyrium is translated as "the burning heaven" or plainly "heaven". Its roots are in ancient Greece. The Stoics, a Greek school of philosophers, proclaimed that beyond the horizon that is visible to us, there was Empyrium, and thus the stars are just holes in the firmament. We chose this name in the first place because of its somewhat mighty and mysterious sound, but I think its meaning upholds what our music is aiming at quite well -- the mystical, esoteric and unexplored. The dark sides of nature. An attentive reader of romantic literature shouldn't have a problem figuring out where the term "Sun of the Sleepless" comes from. It refers to the moon -- the light of the night and the light of those few and brave individuals living on the outskirts of society, full of despise for the meaningless, spiritually empty hordes of sheep.

CoC: Respect and admiration for nature, or the darker and more melancholic side of it, are present throughout your releases, as indicated by what you wrote on your debut _A Wintersunset..._. Can you describe how you think the two perfect locations would be like for one to listen to Empyrium and Sun of the Sleepless? Should the person be alone or in company, or doesn't that matter to you?

UTS: I think that the music of both bands should be listened to with full concentration. Empyrium's atmosphere is explored very well when listened to in absence of electrical light: it grants a ticket to the olden realm of fairytales, myths and sagas and you'll find yourselves amidst a grand mystical landscape -- I promise! SotS, for obvious reasons, should be listened to at maximum bearable volume with headphones.

CoC: Do you believe that nature was created by some superior entity -- something like the gods most of mankind seems to believe in? Are you religious? And consequently, what do you believe is there to be found beyond death? (If anything, of course.)

UTS: I would say I am a spiritual person, not religious. I am more concerned with enhancing my spirit in the here and now than in the after-world. I try to gather as much emotional satisfaction and wisdom in this life as I can, which also means to respect the darker sides of life and to live this in full consequence. I have not thought too much about what comes afterwards. I think I will do that when the time is right: in the Autumn of my life.

CoC: What are your opinions regarding the progress of civilization and its effects upon the planet? Are we all more alone than ever and heading straight into our own doom, or are you more optimistic than that?

UTS: In theory, the world almost can't be overpopulated, as there is enough room for more people (whether that is desirable is a different question). However, the way the masses have chosen since the industrialization surely leads, sooner or later, to the fall of mankind. We should not forget that we are but children of nature, and that the cycles of nature could well do without us, but not vice versa.

CoC: The poem by John Keats which you chose for the first song on _Poems to the Wretches' Hearts_, "Thou, Whose Face Hath Felt the Winter's Wind", excellently portrays the feeling of the song, in my opinion. What does the poem mean to you? Do you feel as uncomfortable during Spring and Summer as it seems to describe?

UTS: I don't feel uncomfortable in Spring and Summer at all -- I can well cope with those seasons as well and they surely have an encharming effect on my emotions, just as Autumn and Winter have. In my interpretation, the poem rather says that every Winter is followed by Spring. And so it is with our emotions -- every period of profound sorrow will be followed by delight and so forth. These differences create energy and inspiration. One should learn to respect life's dark sides in the same way we respect life's bright sides -- only then can we live our lives in full consequence. The poem obviously illustrates a period of profound sorrow, and thus I choose it to underline the grim, melancholic character of the music. In many respects, the poem is also a hymn to intuition.

CoC: I was thoroughly impressed by the remix of that particular song -- which is going to be part of a forthcoming 7" EP, as far as I know, after having been featured in Prophecy Productions' _To Magic..._ compilation. In my review of that compilation [CoC #45], I described your remix as "a sad, melancholic black metal dirge of the highest quality." Will we be hearing more tracks from Sun of the Sleepless in the future that might fit that description? And does it fit what you intended to achieve with that remix?

UTS: Thank you. The remix was simply meant to bring forth the emotions of the original in a different, more dynamic form. I tried to combine calm, almost pop-like sequences ["almost" definitely being the key word there, in my opinion --Pedro] with mighty emotional outbursts leaning on the black metal form of expression. I think there's much truth in what you wrote, since the song has a very melancholic and genuinely dark atmosphere.

CoC: What more can you tell us about that 7" EP? And what can we expect from Sun of the Sleepless in the future? A full-length follow-up to _Poems to the Wretches' Hearts_ sounds like a potentially excellent idea to me...

UTS: The 7" EP _Tausend Kalte Winter_ should be released in the next couple of days [mid-February]. Besides the remix we talked about before, there will be a trance-like, monotone interpretation of Darkthrone's classic "En As I Dype Skogen", which goes under the title of "Tausend Kalte Winter" and is quite in the same direction as "Spring 99" [the other remix], though it takes some obvious elements from trip-hop music and trance.

CoC: About Empyrium now, how satisfied were you with _Songs of Moors & Misty Fields_?

UTS: I can still bear listening to it, ha! No, honestly, I am still quite satisfied, even though the musical performance is rather dissatisfying. But the atmospherics are there and it was a huge step forward for us, compared to the debut.

CoC: The sad guitar melodies, beautiful acoustics and the contrast between clean and harsh vocals are used exceptionally well by Empyrium. Will your future work continue to be based upon those elements, or do you expect major changes to occur for the next album? And, by the way, when can we expect a new Empyrium release?

UTS: We are still heading for a contrastful, dynamic sound, bearing a strong resemblance to classical music, but our form of expression will change on future releases compared to _SoM&MF_. It should be quite obvious that dynamics are not exclusively expressed by the usage of noisy electric guitars in contrast with calm, serene parts, even though some heavy metallers seem to think so. We will try to compose deeply dynamic, atmospheric music only by the usage of acoustic, classical instruments. I am planning to start the basic recordings in November this year in my own recording studio, but since the music and the recordings will be quite complex, it will surely take a while until everything is finished. There will also be a concept and it will take time and inspiration to the get the poetry and the visual appearance in balance with the music.

CoC: Regarding your acoustic release _Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays_, what was your motivation for recording it? It seemed to me that, despite its quality, it lacked a bit of a greater consistency, that it could have benefited from being more consistently gloomy, for example. What are your thoughts on that? Were you satisfied with the result?

UTS: I have very split feelings about this, and can agree with you to a certain extent. During the composition and also the recordings I had strong battles with myself about whether to include the lighter, pastoral pieces as well, and in the end decided to let them be a part of the album, since they build a grand contrast with the darker and more tragic feelings performed on the first half of the record. Nowadays, I think they definitely enrich the whole listening experience, though I can understand your viewpoint.

CoC: Empyrium became a three-piece when Nadine joined the band full-time for _Songs of Moors & Misty Fields_. Can you tell us more about her inclusion in the band? Has the ideal Empyrium line-up been reached?

UTS: Well, without wanting to sound arrogant, I think Empyrium is in the first place myself. Nadine has never really been involved in the songwriting process or the creation of the concepts. Still, her role is of course important, since I can't play the instruments she plays, which are an important part of our music, and she can surely bring forth the desired atmospheres faithfully. Nowadays, Thomas Helm has also joined full time (whilst it seems like Andreas has left the band for good) and he is a great help when it comes to the performance and arrangements of the choirs, vocals and classical instruments. He is classically educated and can identify with our concept 100%.

CoC: Are you involved in any other projects besides Empyrium and Sun of the Sleepless?

UTS: I will help Autumnblaze on bass-guitar and electronics for their next release. I know Alvar Eldron, the main man behind this band, very well and we have a lot in common -- musically and spiritually. Even though I think their first album has many flaws, I think we can do something really good on the next one, since its conception sounds really interesting. I will also help out my friends of Nox Mortis on their next album again on synths.

CoC: I think your label, Prophecy Productions, currently has several interesting new bands. What is your opinion about your labelmates?

UTS: I like almost all bands on Prophecy and can really identify with their philosophy. My favourites amongst the lot are surely Tenhi. Their music is stunning.

CoC: What albums mean most to you on an emotional level?

UTS: This is hard to answer. But I think the following are definitely the closest musical pieces to my heart: Ulver's complete Trilogie, Landberk's _Riktigt Zkta_, Darkthrone's _Transylvanian Hunger_ and Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suites.

CoC: Care to leave a message for our readers?

UTS: Thank you.


(article submitted 5/3/2000)

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4/13/1998 P Azevedo 10 Empyrium - Songs of Moors & Misty Fields
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