Empyrium – Into The Pantheon

In 1996 there was not much chance to get an idea of the contents and real value of an upcoming record, other than to blindly trust the reviews published by the strictly print magazines of the time. It was thanks to one of these (I think it was Rockerilla, but I wouldn’t put my finger on it) that I made my periodic investment with a (almost) closed box, buying A Wintersunset… debut by the then very young Germans Empyrium. Well, never did a gamble prove more fruitful, both because of the undeniable beauty of an album that, with its simultaneously dramatic and decadent tones, showed a first glimpse of Markus Stock’s (aka Ulf Theodor Schwadorf) compositional talent, and because the band would later become a prominent name in the dark gothic scene, albeit with rather limited production and artistic longevity. After the debut, the next three records increasingly shifted the sound toward a more mature and acoustic neo folk, always characterized by an unquestionable qualitative depth. It was in 2002, when Welten put an end to the story and Markus, almost at the same time, kicked off, together with his sodalist Konstanz, what is still to this day his main and certainly most famous project, The Vision Bleak. This is probably one of the reasons why interest in Empyrium did not wane, despite the fact that the band in fact no longer existed, and this led, after the compilation released in 2006, to the planning of an event of particular significance: the organization of the band’s first live performance at the Wave Gothic Treffen in Leipzig. For the occasion, Markus Stock and Thomas Helm recruited a truly stellar set of musicians, including Konstanz himself, Eviga of Dornenreich, Neige of Alcest, and Fursy Teyssier of Les Discrets, and the magnificent result that resulted from the coming together of all these great talents has finally been made available by Prophecy in audio and dvd format. Despite the fact that I have always considered live discs exclusively as a pleasant alternative to listening to full albums, to be indulged in once in a while, it must be said that this document takes on a much higher value than usual also because, at the end of the day, it allows the best of the Bavarian band’s output to be heard in a mostly acoustic version. Clearly, the set list favors the more recent songs, while from the first two records, in which the gothic doom nature still prevails over the purely folk and acoustic one, only The Franconian Woods in Winter’s Silence and Mourners have been taken, which in any case shine even in this version, equaled in intensity by the only, wonderful Heimwarts and Dead Winter Ways (an unreleased track that leaves the mouth watering for a sequel that, probably, will not be there). The rest of the concert revolves around the acoustic brushstrokes of a first-rate ensemble, where piano, guitars and violins blend magically with the vocals, now clean, now growl, perhaps not always flawless but constantly capable of conveying the right pathos. Having said, jokingly of course, that I consider the absence from the set list of any other track taken from A Wintersunset… to be something of a crime, I can only strongly recommend the purchase of this magnificent musical document, taking into due consideration as well the Blue Ray/DVD format option that appears to be of considerable interest both for the quality of the images and sound and for the extra content.

2013 – Prophecy Productions