Sound — 10
Empyrium, one of my most favourite bands, is a German folk metal & dark folk project of Ulf Theodor Schwadorf aka Markus Stock. However Empyrium is more known and acclaimed for their two last albums, 'Where At Night The Wood Grouse Plays' (1999) and 'Weiland' (2002), where purely acoustic music is performed. In the former of these two (i.e. the album under review), you can find everything that is melancholy in it's purest and most exquisite form - dark, moody neulon-string guitars beautifully mixed and produced with an excellent quality, deep baritone male vocals of Schwadorf and the higher-pitched intense tenor of Helm. Sheer sadness, lamentful beauty. The album takes you from it's very first track, which gave the album it's title, into a mysterious, wood-grown land of ghosts and night birds, filled with heart-rending stories told by those who are dead but whose hearts still harbour the never-healing wounds. The music is as if to tell you that you have arrived at a place where nothing ulterior is impossible, a Stygian forest, thick with undergrowth, or a vastly spreading moorland where a beatiful maid comes to render her last sigh before dying 'embraced by the green blankets' of moss. I am now speaking about the second track ('Dying Brokengearted'), which is in my opinion one of the most brilliant masterpieces of acoustic guitar playing ever, the whole track which last about 5 minutes never getting cheerful or even playful, but maintaining a gloomy, dark, if painfully melodic atmosphere of remoreseful sadness that you will hardly find in any other composition at all (although some songs by Forseti or Orplid come close to that). You can find the tab for this track here (tabbed by me). Last but not least, the album sounds very coherent; the tracks seem to come in the proper sequence, telling you one wistful story after another, and concluding with a tranquil 'outro' which ushers in the first gleam of dawn but makes sure we leave that sad place with heavy hearts.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics (English) are quite in line with the general atmosphere of the album, narrating about evening landscapes, ghosts, shepherds and what a lonely benighted traveller may happen to encounter on his way through the wood. Occasional mistakes in the English language are observed, and that sullies the impression a little, but this frustration is infinitesimal in comparison to the music.
Overall Impression — 10
Overall impression sadness and meditation. I think you can call the album 'bewitching', if there are such at all. There is nothing I don't like about it, it is all solid, murky, bemusing and wonderful. It is a gift from another world - a world of never-ending tragedy, though subdued to appear just melancholic. At times this melancholy is even reduced to a tint, a hue that hovers over an intricate tracery of guitars ('A Pastoral Theme', 'Abendbrot'), and that only proves the accurate sense of measure that the artists (in particular, Schwadorf) are endowed with; nothing is ever 'overdone'. 'Where At Night the Wood Grouse Plays' is by all means a must-have for the dark folk audience. Nay, it is a guideline, a blueprint for making sad acoustic music. And a perfect example of production quality, too. Buy it.