Über den Sternen

Germany’s Empyrium have been around for close to 30 years, with a hiatus in the 00’s.  I’d always seen the band name, but always stayed away from them because of not quite grasping the folk metal genre, until relatively recently.  Their prior releases are a mixed bag containing a variety of sounds, vocals and instruments.  Their 1996 debut album  A Wintersunset… and follow-up in 1997 Songs of Moors & Misty Fields are outstanding, I give the edge to the debut.  The band combining folk, black metal, trad metal and even some doom elements.

The band’s other albums Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays in 1999, Weiland in 2002 and The Turn of the Tides in 2014 I would not even place them in the category of metal.  The band really embracing a new age type of neo folk music, pretty much devoid of guitars and drums, except for a few smatterings here and there.  I would describe the music as extremely relaxing and meditative.  I do enjoy that type of music, but after those first 2 albums, well…I guess you could say this was their musical evolution.  When I did see the new release for Über den Sternen the first thing which drew me in was the mystical and fantastical album cover imagery.  I think I even used the word enthralling and although I am new to their music, was happy to see the band return more to their roots of their first 2 albums.  Über den Sternen brings back the distorted guitars, some of the black metal type vocals, mixed in with their folk influences and calmer and more serene new age influences.

8 songs in 52 minutes and 2 of those are instrumentals – I would rather have had only 1 instrumental and another regular song, however when music is this great, I tend to give the band a pass on such subjective matters.  “The Three Flames Sapphire”, at over 8 minutes, begins with some acoustic guitars and then the drums come in and then vocal folk laden crooning – I’m hooked, because of the catchiness and then other musical elements of a flute – oh yeah, lots of guest musicians on this with violins, violas and cellos.  The soundscape, is their most expansive since their first 2 albums.  The song meanders back to the acoustic work and vocal croons and electric guitar – YES, makes an appearance, and this is just a beautiful opening song.  I feel like I have been transported to a forest, with a babbling brook, some frogs jumping in the water, with the sun breaking through the dense forest to cast a light on the bark, as well as the various dirt trails and in the distance I can sorta make out a castle and it’s very calming.  The musical arrangement at the 7 minute mark with many of the various instruments gelling together and vocals make this an incredible opening and emotive song.

“A Lucid Tower Beckons on the Hills Afar” starts with acoustics, distortion, drums and some black metal vocal rasps-really tying this album to their first 2 monumental albums.  Then the folk crooning vocals come in as a chanting, aria sort, then mixed with more of the black metal rasps and this is so catchy-like ridiculous.  Schwadorf  and Thomas Helm’s vocal ranges are breathtaking.  “The Oaken Throne” starts softly and vocal crooning is drenched in atmosphere and very catchy.  The 5 minute mark has more epic vocal moments over the drums and acoustics and getting into a little doom/goth territory, in my opinion.  Guitars and drums get heavier towards the end of the song.

“The Wild Swans” is incredibly catchy with more black metal infused folk, mixed with those incredible crooning vocals and over the music once again has a goth feel.  Heavier guitars are ushered in and extraordinary melodies from all the instruments with the flute being emotively played.  This song reminds me of Sojourner, the atmospheric/symphonic black metal band, that I am a big fan of.  The title track is the longest song at ten and a half minutes with a strict folk black metal opening with the raspy vocals mixed with layered crooning and the instrumentation is very catchy as the vocal patterns closely follow the melodies.  This ending song is beautiful and well there you have it.

After going back n forth with Über den Sternen and Empyrium’s extraordinary debut A Wintersunset… I am torn with which one is better.  Their debut definitely had more metal, but this new one combines their metal aspects along with their other elements, which they’ve developed over the years.  Believe it or not I am leaning more towards Über den Sternen as their best – yes that’s right, their brand new album.  My main reason is how incredibly catchy and moving this album is.  Production is terrific and this is an album and genre Frank Rini should not like, but damn this album is outstanding in songwriting, musicianship, production, emotional connectiveness to the listener and one of the best albums for 2021.  This will be in my year end list, for sure and if any of these musical elements are of interest to you, just get the damn album now – it’s a magical listening experience.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Frank Rini
July 14th, 2021


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