Heilig-Kreuz Kirche & Passionskirche, Berlin, Germany
22nd November 2013
Listening Session and Concert: Duncan Evans & Empyrium
While the fans made their way to the Passionskirche where this night’s show was about to go down a few hours later, reporters and journalists were invited to the Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche before for a full-length listening session of EMPYRIUM’s forthcoming record, which is scheduled for release in early 2014. The songs, which were written and recorded from spring of 2010 to summer of 2012 and go back to the roots of the band in form of the collaboration of Thomas Helm and Ulf Theodor Schwadorf as a two-piece. The record that will be entitled ‘The turn of the tides’ follows the loose concept of the seasons and their effect on the human beings.
‘Savoir’: The song opens with a piano melody transporting a strong undertone of hope, soon resolving into a bombastic orchestra part with picked acoustic guitars only to go back to the keys with eased, almost musing vocal lines. Intended as a song about the beauty of oncoming fall and the last gossamer days, the music fully reflects the theme with its majestic undertone and concluding choirs and functions as a great opener for the record that definitely is EMPYRIUM.
‘Dead winter ways’: As already performed only live before, it starts with a mystical seeming keyboard passage and Helms voice conveying grandeur and pride. The congealing of nature and the powerlessness of man reflects greatly in the antiphony of keyboard and electrical guitars as well as Helm’s singing and Schwadorf’s harsh vocals.
‘In the gutter of this spring’: This is the most uncommon EMPYRIUM song so far in percussion aspects. It begins very text heavy, as a piece about a hard time in Schwadorf’s life in contrast of the flourishing of nature which works superb in the song itself: A thick layer of strings and a picked acoustic guitar is suddenly interrupted by a fast picked, distorted guitar, transporting the feeling of the inescapability of grief, but with a kind of hopefulness underneath. It is not a very versatile piece in structure and a versatility elaborated one at the same time.
‘The days before the fall’: Since it has been released before in 2010, I don’t have to spend many words on this song. For me it is maybe the most typical EMPYRIUM song, functioning as a kind of transition and progression of their music into the present time. As a fun fact on the side, we unintentionally got to listen to it in a “new rendition” because the church bells audibly proceeded ringing for quite a while.
‘We are alone’: A short and minimalistic piano ballad which carries feelings of melancholy and severity and works well as an interlude and conclusion of the seasonal part of the album.
‘With the current into grey’: For me the best song on the record, at least on the first peak. It is a song about loss not because of death but spiritual alienation due to personal development that accompanies the aging process. This is the first time, the message didn’t accord the sentiment I felt listening to the song. Despite the severe theme it has a lightness and detachedness to it which kind of felt contradicting. Opening up with string pads and acoustic guitars as well as again atypical (I am almost leaned to say pop) percussion, like in song three the fast picked distorted guitar comes in after a good minute to contrast the tone. The vocals here are restrained and almost choral. Though the above mentioned discrepancy it is a great song I look forward to listen to again once the record is released.
‘The turn of the tides’: The final and name giving song is meant as a confession to overcoming the fear of death and evanescence. This melancholic track concludes the record in a good way with the guitars being the leading part, feeling a little reminiscent to the Shoegaze / Post-Metal genre, as if Neige of ALCEST contributed in spirit as well. Vocally there are “ha”-choir chants until some spoken words by Schwadorf break up the song. With sounds of the sea it is fading out eventually, making the track a very thoughtful and thought-out closure of the CD.
Right after the listening session ended roughly after an hour, I headed over to the Passionskirche, which took about fifteen minutes. On arrival there already was a small queue, though the doors remained closed for another 20 minutes. Inside you were able to get a first glimpse of the innards of the over 100 year old church, which was amazing as each church has its peculiar charm. The first thing to notice was that there were not only seats in the nave but on the gallery as well. Consecutive numbers laid out on every seat counted up to the seven hundreds (from which about 400 were actually taken that night), matching the ones on the hard tickets handed out on entrance. The whole procedure of synchronizing these tickets to the printed ones the people brought (buyable for the quite proud price of 30 euros) and instructing them were they can find the respective seats took almost one and a half hour until every visitor got in. In the meantime there was time to get some drinks and merchandise. For the special occasion a limited amount of shirts (in light grey and brown; 50 pieces each) showing a drawing of the venue underneath EMPYRIUM’s logo had been printed. After everyone took their seats the supporting act of the evening entered the stage, which, as expected, was located on the sanctuary area of the church, right beneath a large organ. But no organ resonated tonight.
DUNCAN EVANS (aka Henry Hyde Bronsdon) is a singer-songwriter which roots lay in the tradition of English Folk with influences as Nick Cave or Tom Waits. His acoustic guitar play is complemented by Phil Wilcox on accordion. In 2013 DUNCAN EVANS was signed to Prophecy Productions. https://www.facebook.com/duncanevans.music
Music & Performance
The duo’s minimalistic approach to balladry, eerie songs matched the occasion very well and was a well thought through choice in order to get the people attuned for the things to come. DUNCAN EVANS did a solid performance as he clearly showed that he is a great guitar player as well as singer, while the accordion was operated accordingly nice added a unconventional kind of depth to the songs. The audience listened as closely as quietly, only an occasional beer bottle hitting the stone floor echoed through the room. It might have been the thick accent that came with the singing, but somehow I felt that the music would have been a good fit for a cosy pub as well, maybe so much the more than the great stage.
Although I enjoyed the performance, I have to admit that the 40 minutes given to the duo felt like 40 minutes. Despite the very dynamic play I missed some variety in the songs especially in the continuously very similar rising and subsiding way of singing. However, DUNCAN EVANS made good use of their time and left with the earlier released single “Girl on the Hill” which was the most versatile of the set and the one I enjoyed the most.
01. Bird of prey
02. The old lies
03. She and I must part
04. The curtain
05. Sailor boy
06. Forever so
07. Girl on the hill
Total: 8 / 10
EMPYRIUM were founded in 1994 by Markus Stock (Ulf Theodor Schwadorf) and Andreas Bach. Bach soon was replaced by Thomas Helm, with whom the first two albums, 'A Wintersunset' and 'Songs of Moors and Misty Fields' were recorded. Stylistically EMPYRIUM’s sound can be considered doom metal with folk and symphonic influences. EMPYRIUM combine harsh and operatic male vocals with deep slow guitar parts and atmospheric keys. The following albums, ‘Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays’ and ‘Weiland’ turned to a different sound with acoustic instruments and choirs with close links to the Neofolk genre, but much more diverse and melancholic. After ‘Weiland’ (2002), Schwadorf wanted to return to metal and disbanded EMPYRIUM to focus on THE VISION BLEAK. EMYPRIUM disbanded never to appear again until all of a sudden a reunion took place in 2010 including a fantastic show at Wave Gotik Treffen in 2011, resulting in a creative reunion and the long awaited album scheduled for 2014. http://www.empyrium.de / http://myspace.com/empyriummistyfields
Music & Performance
After some dunning words regarding the avoidance of reverberation caused by falling bottles, the stage was prepared for the main act EMPYRIUM. Like on the - by now almost legendary - WGT concert in 2011, the two masterminds Ulf Theodor Schwadorf (guitars, vocals) and Thomas Helm (keys, piano, synthesizers, vocals) were accompanied by Eviga (DORNENREICH, guitars), Neige (ALCEST, guitars), Fursy Teyssier (LES DISCRETS, bass), Allen B. Konstanz (THE VISION BLEAK, drums, keys, vocals), Aline Deinert (NEUN WELTEN, violin) and Christoph Kutzer (REMEMBER TWILIGHT, cello). Besides slightly different stage segmentation, the main novelty was the grand piano enriching the setup. After the introduction that swept some mystically distant sounds though the aisle, the ensemble set foot on the stage and opened with their most recent song ‘The Days before the fall’. The band managed to instantly cast a spell over the audience which listened in awe. And it was not difficult to be amazed by the atmosphere that inherited the air form the first to the last minute, only sparsely interrupted by measured announcements and frenetic applause. The first time the latter reached a peak when the song ‘Mourners’ was declared to be next, and again for me the reselection of ‘Der Weiher’ und ‘Die Schwäne im Schilf’ for this set. The great mood the sacred environment created did its bit.
The sound was really great and absolutely fitting. That the drums came across not quite as perfect in the ranks is only the nit-pickiest thing to mention. Each musician did a superb job on his/her own without any flaws I would have noticed. There was good use of the lighting as well due to the use projected patters, but unfortunately the members were not equally well lit. While the guitar section with Schwadorf in the centre always was in focus, Thomas Helm and the string players were very poorly attended. Luckily there were the songs the pianist stepped to the centre to perform solely the vocals of the song, like in the new track ‘Dead Winter Ways’, in which Schwadorf took over some of the keyboards. As the first encore song after the regular set EMPYRIUM performed ‘Many moons ago’, where on the other hand Allen B. Konstanz left the drum stool to show some prestidigitation. When you have seen the DVD/Blu-Ray or were on site of the WGT yourself, you will notice, that the performance and choice of songs at large parts correspond. Therefore another highlight had been the inclusion and brilliant performance of the song ‘Fossegrim’ of the ‘Weiland’ especially by Aline Deinert.
As one may have guessed by now this was an evening of great moments, so was the concluding, especially great vocal performance of the above reviewed ‘With the current into grey’ which should have sent shivers down several audience member’s spines and definitely left and impression on me. So did the whole concert and the musicians, who received well-deserved standing ovations after the last notes of ‘Das blau-kristallne Kämmerlein’ faded.
01. The days before the fall
02. The Franconian Woods in winter's silence
03. Where at night the wood grouse plays
07. Die Schwäne im Schilf
08. Dead winter ways
09. Der Weiher
10. Many moons ago
11. With the current into grey
12. Das blau-kristallne Kämmerlein
Total: 9.1 / 10
All pictures by Florian Schürmann