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Empyrium – Into The Pantheon

Empyrium-IntoThePantheon

Empyrium is one of those acts whom I have always known were one of those special bands, yet somehow I never gave them the attention that they deserved. To me, they are on that same mythical level as bands such as Agalloch, My Dying Bride, Opeth, Ulver and an honest handful of other bands that seem to be creating music from a completely different perspective. Although some of the aforementioned have certainly not impacted me in recent years like they had in my youth, I still recognize who they are, a generally accepted legendary act. Somehow, Empyrium got passed over by both me and it seems many others, for they were supposed to be considered on that same level.

Sure, they very likely could not give a damn. Many do not, and that is fine, but as a fan of music, when I know of a band that is deserving of that same recognition, it kind of breaks my heart. Maybe it’s because I know so many others who would enjoy them as well, possibly even more so. With that, I am thankful for this live performance; the first, ever, by a band whose main man, Ulf Theodor Schwadorf (Markus Stock) is in — or has been part — of so many criminally underrated projects. This, with no reason I can fathom, includes Sun of the Sleepless, a band for which you should be ashamed if you have yet to experience. Many of these albums, from The Vision Bleak onward, have been alongside Thomas Helm. After nearly two decades at the time this live performance took place, saying it is about time does not quite do it justice.

moody

Thomas Helm & Ulf Theodor Schwadorf

For their first performance, they chose to grace the stage at Wave Gothic Treffen,  a very respected annual event in Germany, even by the Metal crowd. And what a perfect combination, easily having a background of some brilliantly devastating Blackened Doom Metal, to a modern Neo-Classical Doom Folk with traces of its ugly former head rising up to appease the fans of traditional Metal, albeit these moments are rare. Along with Ulf  and Thomas Helm, this concert featured a stellar Prophecy Productions-fueled line-up that consisted of Allen B. Konstanz (The Vision Bleak), Eviga (Dornenreich), Neige (Alcest), Fursy Teyssier (Les Discrets), Christoph Kutzer (Remember Twilight), and Aline Deinert (Neun Welten).

Christoph Kutzer

Christoph Kutzer

This very well might be the perfect show. Aided by the sound of wind in the background, with incredibly deft acoustic guitar work by Neige from Alcest, Ulf’s vocals are often calm and pleasant, sturdy and self-assured. The acoustic work reminds me of Ulver’s infamous Kveldssanger, with Thomas Helm on the keyboards and operatic clean vocals, and — speaking of — do not be surprised if this is not the next band to be backed by a national orchestra on the next album. It is so incredibly strong, it seems a shame that they were not performing like this a decade ago. Perhaps an apology is in order. Empyrium not only delivers its first show, they do so with a grace and style that is fitting for a band with such a long history and underground respectability.

This performance certainly exhibited a few elements of the Empyrium that I recall from years past, but if the sounds and production values on this release are any indication of the direction of their more recent releases, then I have made a huge mistake by ignoring them. It contains all the best of what one would want to find in the vast world defined as Neo-Folk; three acoustic guitarists that inspire me to pick up the six string and practice with a whole new ferocity, and the perfect blend of whispered and clean vocals, including an operatic variety that is awe-inspiring.

Aline Deinert

Aline Deinert

Living in the Pacific Northwest, I have heard a ton of bands going the acoustic route whilst incorporating stringed instrumentation such as violin and cello. Other acts in Empyrium’s homeland of Germany, from Dornenreich to Neun Welten, have tread similar paths. All of these elements of which I have heard at least a few dozen examples of, have culminated and coalesced into this fine  performance. It is simply flawless, all held together by a clear bass and a drummer behind a plexiglass acoustic panel. Halfway through, all I can exclaim is “this is so good, this is so incredibly good”. Tomorrow, I am going to see Anathema, a band that isvery special to me, beyond words, and Empyrium may have slightly already ruined this experience for me. When it comes to this style, this is that loathsome word of perfection, which is in essence ineffable, for what is perfect? Well, Empyrium, apparently so.

At the halfway point of the show they return for a minute to the sounds I know, my beloved genre of Doom Metal, and I do not mean this modern, largely American, exceptionally aggro Doom. I mean Doom; melancholic, thoughtful, patient, and above all, beautiful in its depressing drapery. Doom is poetic, for the readers of Baudelaire and Poe, and Empyrium does it well. Putting the acoustic guitars down, and picking up the electric, it hardly seems that drastically different. The lonesome depravity exists in all of it, the vocals unbridled with passion, like the Ace of Cups in the Tarot, spilling over with too much water. It’s a daunting task, trying to bridge a band’s career — a career that has spanned well over a decade — and appease fans from all these times. The thing is, they do it, and do it well, and what has got me spinning in my chair trying to figure it all out, is how this can be the same band that was performing such chilling acoustic pieces a minute ago, to this somber violin and vocal form that howls with desperation at the moon. Oddly enough, it all makes sense, as the thoughtful acoustic guitar fits just fine just minutes after a guitar solo with more passion than most men have the courage to muster.

Into the Pantheon is a fitting title for this work, perhaps signaling a recognition that has been a long time coming. Various individuals who identify themselves under these particular genres will enjoy and be encouraged by such a work; throughout the various genres they travel, refusing to settle with just one. One moment is a militant drum and the tongue of the already harsh German language, followed by a cello and violin performance that brings it back to a melancholic serenity.

Fursy Teyssier, Neige, Eviga

Fursy Teyssier, Neige, Eviga

Epic does not even begin to describe the overwhelming feeling of watching this. It has that same sensation of watching Green Carnation or Ulver’s live work, something you know which is special not only because it is so rare, but because these are the type of musicians that break new ground for future generations to sow their seeds. It’s over the top good, the kind of show that will ruin everything else for you. Flawless is an obvious description; they took their sweet time getting on that stage, and we can be thankful someone pressed the record. I’ve seen many incredible performances in my life, but this is beyond comparison. I just feel sorry if any other bands had to play after this, as it will not be topped by anyone for a long time.

Allen B. Konstanz

Allen B. Konstanz

It all ends with Thomas and Ulf by themselves, the other performers respectfully taking a moment to recognize how fortunate they were to support these incredible musicians. As merely a bystander in terms of being a fan, my heart strings were certainly pulled, and I can imagine any hardcore fan of Empyrium at that moment absolutely losing it. My past mistakes corrected, I shall surely remember from now on that this band is one of the best in music today, capable of delivering a performance that few can even compare to, both in passion and musical talent. This is not just some other show, it is the show, a moment in time that I guarantee many who were so fortunate to attend will remember until the day they die. It’s that memory you reflect on years later, knowing how valuable that moment was, for times like this are rare. That is what makes them special, for the music itself reflects on the impermanence of this life and how for just one moment, a calm settles that is a knowing that this, moments just like this, are why we exist.

Band Documentary 1993-2012: Directed by Ronald Matthes

emp_doc_screencap

This lovely documentary on Empyrium gives quite a bit of insight into this bands history and personalities. Going back to the days of Impurity, it shows the journey of an atypical hero beginning with raw Death / Black Metal, to the Romantic wanderings of where they have gone. It is certainly interesting, and retrospective on an individual sense as well. Seeing how they went from angry youth to poetic adults reflects many other paths as well, and how many never break free from the bonds of a “scene” in fear of doing something creative, that may not be instantly accepted by others. Citing early influences such as My Dying Bride and Cradle of Filth (Principles came into my life at about 14, I still recognize it as an incredible album regardless of how the band turned out), any music dork will see some of themselves in this. After giving a brief history of how the first demos came out, which shows a long history with Prophecy that in itself is quite interesting, it moves on to influences beyond music.

The words on nature would certainly fit well into any academic Eco-psychology article, and risking being a bit personal here I have to admit the dialogue choked me up. I was born in Bavaria, in the same region and probably not too far from where they grew up, and while I have gone back numerous times since my infancy, I never had a chance to grow up in the place of my birth and get to see many of the natural sites that they have been fortunate enough to witness. Essentially, Empyrium is the soundtrack for the Nature in the land I was born in.

Nature - Mysticism

Nature – Mysticism

Reminiscing on the early years, the first albums are discussed and the recording practices. The drums on the early albums were recorded by memory, no click track and no guitars to remember the pace of a song or where a pause is. This method is substantially impressive and daring. Future releases changed based on the recording devices, showing how much the tools utilized impacts the sound. Empyrium is clearly a band that is influential, with a clip from Dornenreich  citing them as such. The lineup changes over the years obviously had pertinent aspects in the changes in this band, yet another that can be deemed as Era 1, which is more the Black influenced Doom, and Era 2, which brings in various folk and classical elements.

Certainly, an hour and a half plus of someone talking can run the risk of being boring. Fortunately, Ulf is actually an interesting fellow who offers a lot of insights on being in a band and recording an album, as well as life itself. He is the kind of guy I could imagine having a decent conversation with, and that is a rare thing considering how dull many individuals are. Empyrium are certainly more than just party animals having a good time, they appreciate Nature and poetry and art and the finer things in life. Referring back to the earlier idea of Eco-psychology, he even relates types of instruments to aspects of Nature. I start to wonder if he is some sort of academic, and if not yet, why not? His mind is certainly worthy of creating some great works of literature, as well as music. The concept of each release is discussed, the emotions, and overall environment it was attempting to evoke, and the thoughts behind it. All this is extremely thoughtful and intentional.

After sharing some thoughts on both the formation of The Vision Bleak, Markus proceeds to explain how even though Empyrium took a hiatus, they never actually broke up. He as well discusses how they ended up playing for the first time, the performance of course being the complimentary part to this documentary. How the show came to be, the line up, and all such things are discussed. Interviews with the live members, including members of Les Discrets, Neun WeltenDornenreich, and Alcest, are shown, which is a very neat thing to include. All Four are incredible bands in their own right, and adds something special to the live performance. To have such an incredible line up on one stage is a daunting thing indeed.

A large part was discussing the possibility for new shows, and how difficult it would be. The interest by the performers to continue this was quite sentimental, I only hope one day I could be so fortunate to see a show. Perhaps one day, they could come here and play an event, as nothing else will get them across the pond. At the least, the documentary does end with letting us know if or if not they will ever make a new album. Now you have to watch it until the end to find out. This informative documentary truly exhibits just what a special band Empyrium is. A part of me feels ignorant for not giving them the same due respect I’ve given others such as My Dying Bride or Virgin Black. This band is truly legendary, and I hope that future events, be they live or new albums, gives others an even deeper appreciation as well.

Track Listing: 

Into The Pantheon – Live In Leipzig 11.06.2011: Bluray

01) The Days Before the Fall
02) The Franconian Woods in Winter’s Silence
03) Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays
04) Heimwärts
05) Mourners
06) Die Schwäne im Schilf
07) Dead Winter Ways
08) Der Weiher
09) Many Moons Ago
10) Das blau-kristallne Kämmerlein
11) Band Documentary 1993-2012

Into The Pantheon – Live In Leipzig 11.06.2011: DVD

01) The Days Before the Fall
02) The Franconian Woods in Winter’s Silence
03) Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays
04) Heimwärts
05) Mourners
06) Die Schwäne im Schilf
07) Dead Winter Ways
08) Der Weiher
09) Many Moons Ago
10) Das blau-kristallne Kämmerlein
11) Band Documentary 1993-2012

Rating: 5/5
Written by: Patrick Bertlein
Label: Prophecy Productions (DE) / PRO 141 / Blu-ray /DVD / DVD-Video
Neofolk / Black Metal / Symphonic Rock / Doom Metal

Available Formats: