Amidst the torrent of newer bands that have been grouped under the NWOCR label in the last half dozen years or so, it was always going to be those who had something special that would stand out, and so it is that UK band Empyre have been picked up by the much respected Kscope label. The band have always stood out from their contemporaries, not in terms of talent, but their overall sound sets them apart,
It’s interesting that it was Kscope that have signed them, as the label tends to specialise in rock of a somewhat progressive nature, including bands like Anathema, Tesseract and a lot of Steven Wilson’s various projects, although we should always be aware that this particular genre can be a very broad church, despite what some of its more hard-line fans believe. However, Empyre are a band that seem to construct their music so carefully, and sound so different to most of their contemporaries, they fit the template of a genuinely progressive band, and definitely have all the attributes of a band that would have attracted a label like Kscope.
One of these attributes is definitely musicality. There’s some superb playing on this record, notably from Did Coles and Henrik Steenholdt on the guitars and Elliot Bale on drums, although the other half of the rhythm section, bassist Grant Hockley, is no slouch either. In front of it all is Steenholdt’s deep and resonant vocal, that not only adds to the air of melancholy that hangs over much of the band’s music, but helps to make the word ‘atmospheric’ almost compulsory when describing it. Another facet of the band to be appreciated is their dry sense of humour, wryly acknowledging the seriousness and often the atmospheric melancholy of their music, by having the hashtag #killingthevibe, and having a t-shirt giving rules for gigs, ‘no clapping’, ‘no dancing’, ‘no singing along’ etc., although there’s a lot of Relentless where the band show that there’s far more to them.
When the opening lyric, in fact almost the very first notes you hear, on an album is ‘Watch me torn apart’, you can probably be confident that it’s not going to be a party album, although the track itself, the title track, is verging on the commercial, thanks to its insistent riff, and as the album progresses, while it’s still definitely Empyre, there are so many ways the band bring additional shades into the music, it’s a real pleasure seeing how it’s all put together. Second track ‘Waking Light’ may have an anthemic chorus, but the track feels a lot sparser than usual, with more space in the music than the band usually seem to have. ’Parasites’ seems to be a typical Empyre track, but the choral opening and Elliot Bale’s drums give the track a different tone, with definite Prog touches, while ‘Cry Wolf’ is almost a straightforward rock song, even, momentarily, bringing Judas Priest to mind, despite its mournful opening.
‘Hit and Run’ changes gear with its almost ambient opening, and then going into what for Empyre is almost a big ballad, whereas ‘Silence Screaming’ ups the tempo a little, with Henrik’s vocal comparatively low in the mix. There’s a nice twist in the riffing of the chorus, and the dynamics of the instrumental section definitely have a Proggy feel, as does the following track, ‘Road to Nowhere’, although the chorus is comparatively upbeat, despite the lyrics, and there are some proper jazz inflections in the solo, which will delight the more progressively inclined. The longest track on the album is ‘Quiet Commotion’, another slower track, but no less intense, it verges on being a big ballad, and there’s some nice guitar work to add to the atmosphere, then the album ends with ‘Your Whole Life Slows’, which has more fine guitar working around the vocals, and a terrific, riffing coda.
For all Empyre’s focus on the more introspective, melancholy aspects of the world, this is one of the most musically fascinating albums I’ve heard for a while, and if you like analysing music, you’ll feast on Empyre. It’s a record packed with ideas and ambition, an album that has depth, and will be well suited to the much bigger arenas that are in Empyre’s future. In the meantime, they’re playing Album Release Show KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton on April 22nd, which will be well worth seeing.
- Reviewed by Paul Quinton.
- Relentless is released via Kscope Records on 31st March 2023.
- Official Website
- Waking Light
- Cry Wolf
- Hit And Run
- Forget Me Not
- Silence Screaming
- Road To Nowhere
- Quiet Commotion
- Your Whole Life Slows