Empusae is a difficult artist to categorize. The project of Nicolas van Meirhaeghe, also known as Sal-Ocin, Empusae’s output covers a wide spectrum of dark electronic sounds, ranging from the harsh techno-industrial of early albums through to neoclassical and dark ambient atmospheres. Over the last few years, he has collaborated with numerous musicians including providing percussion on Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio’s [Vision:Libertine], working with Peter Bjärgö as Onus, as well as being part of the live band for In Slaughter Natives. Lueur is yet another collaboration, this time with Colin H. van Eeckhout, best known as the vocalist of metal band Amenra and for his solo work as CHVE.
Like Empusae’s output as a whole, Lueur is itself difficult to categorize. Despite consisting of only two tracks, each is over twenty minutes long and each includes a fair number of changes of direction.
‘Guiding Light’ begins with an ambient opening, with Sal-Ocin’s tribal percussion providing a gentle rolling rhythm. Layered with Van Eeckhout’s chanting, it creates a ritualistic and sacral atmosphere. Over the next few minutes, as the percussion slowly builds, delicate synth textures round out the sound. The tribal drums then take on a more epic rock aspect and Van Eeckhout’s singing begins in earnest, coming as a mournful, otherworldly wail. After a long breakdown, the song returns in a heavier form, this time with Van Eeckhout’s vocals coming as an intense, nightmarish scream.
‘Retinae Tenebrae’ is even more varied, with three distinct sections. It begins with a dark ambient introduction, with eerie plucking and percussive noises mixed with the sounds of water and birdsong, creating an atmosphere that is at once pleasant and relaxing and at the same time mysterious and ominous. There follows a wistful and nostalgic melody of piano and organ-like synths. The final section builds up with a hypnotic, piano-driven, post-rock intro into a harsh finale, with Van Eeckhout’s screams underpinned by industrial bass rumblings.
The sounds are varied and rich, with intricate percussion driving along the more rhythmic tracks and subtle synth-work providing an eerie texture. The ambient elements are crisp and detailed. Even the heavier moments are tempered with a great degree of control and precision. With the way the various sections of each track blend into one another with slow transitions and long build-ups, there’s a strong sense of being taken on a journey with this album; at some points gentle and meditative, at others hellish and full of elemental force.
It’s a work of some sophistication, with Sal-Ocin’s skillful musicianship and Van Eeckhout’s distinctive voice creating an intriguing aural world. It’s not always easy to listen to, but it is compelling throughout.