Review Summary: Empyrium drop the metal to create the perfect soundtrack for Renaissance fairs
With their first two releases, 1995's A Wintersunset
and 1997's Songs of Moors and Misty Field
, Empyrium wove together the raspy vocals and old lore of Folk Metal with the somber orchestrations found in Doom. The results were, to put it lightly, most epic. Instead of treading in the same path with their third album they pulled a stylistic one-eighty. Everything that could be “heavy” was thrown out the window. The result was 1999's Where At Night the Wood Grouse Plays
Where At Night the Wood Grouse Plays
is thirty-two minutes of stunning, stripped down neo-folk. The distorted electric guitars and mournful leads that dominated Empyrium's earlier work have been replaced with gentle finger-picked nylon strings, creating an overall feeling of mystical wonderment. The warm acoustic guitar is occasionally accompanied by some flute work, but that's about it, no drums, no keys. When vocals are used it is in a harmonious fashion with the louder of the two taking the low. The heavily German accented vocals add to the medieval sound of the record. This vocal style fits perfectly with lyrics like “Be still, O wand'rer!/Dost thou not hear the sad song of night"/How the wind does beckon thee to the rest of a while and to lend him thine ear"”. When put together with the traditional folk of the acoustic guitars, the resulting sound is somewhere between the soundtrack to any Tolkien inspired fantasy film and the music at a Renaissance fair. And yes, that's a good thing.
With Where At Night the Wood Grouse Plays
Empyrium took a chance and it turned out wonderfully. They would continue to work with the sound that they first used on ...Wood Grouse...
on their subsequent releases, though none would work as well as it did here. Where At Night the Wood Grouse Plays
is a simplistic yet gorgeous piece of neo-folk that never overstays its welcome and makes a fitting introduction to the genre for those who have yet to hear it. Fans of Ulver's Kveldssanger
will eat this up.