Review Summary: Drowning itself in the rising tide
As much as there is to say about Empyrium and what they have done in the past, there is more to say about what they could have done with The Turn of the Tides
. The band has crossed genres multiple times in their venerable, if under-appreciated, career in the world of neofolk and black metal, and are perhaps most renowned for their seamless fusion of the two genres in a way that really hasn’t been replicated since, even now that the band has awoken from their 12 year slumber. In a way it is unsurprising that the band has seemed to largely move on from the dark, sweeping folk black metal of their early days, because they really haven’t played that style in almost 20 years, yet it is nice to see that they haven’t completely forsaken their roots. The style of Songs of Moors and Misty Fields
is only present in spirit rather than in body, and while this muted heaviness does lend itself well to the brief swells of scathing growls in “Dead Winter Ways” or the surging tremolo riffing of “In the Gutter of this Spring”, it does not prove to be a driving force of a record that instead looks for other ways to continue the creative evolution of Empyrium in this most recent iteration.
That evolution comes largely by way of a massive Dead Can Dance influence that is felt throughout the unique blend of building, driving folk that Empyrium use as a centerpiece on The Turn of the Tides
. It is a sound that is constantly shifting and never quite settling down; building towards peaks that never materialize. That’s the main fault of the record: the fact that it rarely capitalizes on the opportunities for further exploration or evolution of a given song’s potent mood. “The Days Before the Fall” sets itself up for a masterfully executed transition to a radiant, earthy acoustic riff that is soon ripped away in favor of a jarring electric guitar that completely eradicates any semblance of the calm, depressive atmosphere that the track had worked so hard to craft. While that is not necessarily the norm on The Turn of the Tides
, it does occur with enough frequency to keep you from becoming truly engrossed with the album’s more impressive pieces. “With the Current Into Grey” juxtaposes a hint of old Empyrium with the new, showcasing a blend of distorted guitar riffing and Thomas Helm’s deep, operatic vocals, while also dancing between different moods and tempos in a way that gives the track unparalleled variety on an album that really doesn’t present much in the way of exciting moments. There just isn’t the closeness that was present on their past records – it is so much harder to connect with The Turn of the Tides
on an emotional level simply because it feels so detached through much of its run time. This is mainly due to the fact that the album really has no central focus, but it also has to do with the inability of the songwriting to provide a truly palpable atmosphere that the listener can latch on to.
The album is at its best, then, when Empyrium take a given atmosphere and develop it in a more thorough, personal way, rather than tossing around ideas and abandoning them seemingly at random. There needs to be room for expansion, and the band needs to be able to recognize what has to be expanded upon. As it is, the songwriting is often oscillating between focused and shaky, sometimes on the same track. “In the Gutter of this Spring” seems far more unsure of itself than the concise, razor-sharp evolution of “Dead Winter Ways”, and the closer “The Turn of the Tides” shows a serene restraint that the bombastic crescendos of the opener “Saviour” simply cannot fathom. Even the interlude “We Are Alone” knows its limits, confining itself to a wonderful piano piece that instantly ushers in moments of Weiland
through the use of a simple but evocative formula. There is no real secret to reveal here, it is just that Empyrium need to shake off the rust and focus on developing those ideas that do work, rather than simply injecting these little gems between the mounds of ideas that didn’t fare so well. When this does happen, The Turn of the Tides
is nothing short of a radiant, yet depressive journey through a side of folk we don’t often see, and when it doesn’t happen the band completely lose their way. The Turn of the Tides
sways perilously between the two.