The Empyrean Review

artist: John Frusciante date: 12/24/2010 category: compact discs
John Frusciante: The Empyrean
Released: Jan 20, 2009
Genre: Experimental Rock
Label: Record Collection
Number Of Tracks: 10
John Frusciante takes another step away from his Chili Peppers' roots with his latest experimental solo release.
 Sound: 9.5
 Lyrics: 9
 Overall Impression: 9.5
 Overall rating:
 Reviewer rating:
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reviews (4) 87 comments vote for this album:
overall: 8.3
The Empyrean Reviewed by: UG Team, on january 20, 2009
15 of 15 people found this review helpful

Sound: John Frusciante has always has always been a free thinker musically, not to mention embodying the persona of an anti-rock star off the stage. Hearing the Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitarist's latest solo album drives that point home even more so, and you should prepare yourself for a bit of a trippy experience. The Empyrean is the farthest thing from anything you would hear in RHCP, instead hovering somewhere between folk rock and psychedelia. Of course, if you've heard any of the solo albums that Frusciante has released since the mid-90's, then you know this is revealing nothing new. Perhaps the best info about The Empyrean was given by Frusciante himself, who said the album should be played as loud as possible and it is suited to dark living rooms late at night. The first track Before The Beginning sets the bar very high, with this instrumental emphasizing Frusciante's laid-back, effects-driven guitar. While most of the other tracks give the spotlight as much to vocals, piano (electric or otherwise), and percussion, Before The Beginning allows you to just appreciate the David Gilmour-esque delivery of the guitar work. While the track does reach a huge crescendo at the end, it takes on a cool, low-key vibe for the most part. Given that pretty much every other song features vocals, an instrumental is a welcome addition. It's apparent early on that Frusciante's vocals bear a striking similarity to Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam), and that can a times make for a much mellower experience in itself. It's not the traditional rock style, but it's likely that Frusciante's fans will still be able to appreciate the unique delivery. He's at his most moving in his rendition of Tim Buckley's Song To The Siren, which is easily one of the most haunting tracks on the album and shows off Frusciante's wide vocal range. Rock lovers might be taken aback by how quiet the mix is, but it's still a powerful tune. Frusciante got it absolutely correct when he stated that you should probably play The Empyrean at a specific time in specific surroundings. Although guest musicians Flea, Johnny Marr, and Josh Klinghoffer offered their skills to this project, it's obvious still Frusciante's oddly beautiful baby. The Empyrean is not like a RHCP's album that is chock-full of possible hit singles, but the track Unreachable does come close. Out of all the tunes, Unreachable is one of the most accessible between the hummable chorus and the infectiously grooving electric piano line. At the other end of the spectrum is the bizarre Enough of Me, which features a solo that is purposely all over the place. It should be mentioned that this is one of the tracks that Johnny Marr performs on, which means that the song could be a result an experimental session. If the solo wasn't coming from Frusciante or Marr, you might even question the guitarist's skills. Enough of Me is just one example of why The Empyrean is an album that needs to be listened to in its entirety. Its otherworldly sound will either immediately connect with you or leave you scratching your head in confusion. // 8

Lyrics: There are no throwaway lyrics on The Empyrean, and you know that these were songs that came straight from Frusciante's heart. With titles like God and Dark/Light, you can immediately expect something much deeper than a Nickelback album - or even a Red Hot Chili Peppers record for that matter. Unreachable delivers some of the most thought-provoking ideas with lyrics such as, Reach into the darkness for what you can find; Travel great distance in your mind; The world gets stronger as you start trying things; Turn around towards me and walk away from dying. As was mentioned earlier, listening to The Empyrean takes you on quite a journey. // 9

Overall Impression: Buzz around The Empyrean has been generally positive from Frusciante's dedicated fan base, but the general public might not find it an easy pill to swallow at first. There are some odd mixing choices (at times the drums are way up in the mix, at other times the vocals come blasting through), and it all adds up to a wacky, but interesting listen. The guitar work is at times understated and quiet, but it confirms that Frusciante has put the songwriting first. If you're not willing to commit to a trippy, often moody listening experience, this won't be the album for you. But if you're someone who thrives on experimentation and has been pleased with Frusciante's past solo work, you'll likely find The Empyrean another inspired creation. // 8

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overall: 9.7
The Empyrean Reviewed by: KorbalBroach, on january 21, 2009
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Sound: The Empyrean is Frusciante's 10th album (11th if you count the fan album he released free online a few years back). I have waited with baited breath ever since Curtains and in short, it more than lives up to expectations. To take a leaf from the UG Team, this is not a commercial album. There are no radio-friendly songs and I doubt there will be many people who like it. However, if you are a Frusciante fan, this is probably the best album he has released and if you are a fan of the psychedelic avante-garde then this should also be a good buy. In other words, the album is far from accessible but it can hardly be criticized for achieving the very thing it set out to do: to push musical boundaries and let John stretch himself more than he can in the Chili Pepppers. The album is perhaps best described as a mixture of A Sphere in the Heart of Silence and The Will Death but with less emphasis on the stream of consciousness and lo-fi elements. Everything is much more controlled and neater, the mixing is of a higher standard, setting a nice contrast between the understated, gentle melodies and more biting, sharper guitar work and vocals. Frusciante's stripped down guitar style is very clearly present, with familiar hooks in Unreachable and Before the Beginning. His vocals vary from incredibly mellow (Dark/Light) to loud and strong (Central). However, he seems to have much greater control of his voice than before and nowhere is this more clear than in the cover of Tim Buckley's Song to the Siren, one of the high points of the album. A point to note is that most of the vocals are treated in one way or another, so that there is distinct echo flowing through most of the album. Many of the instruments are also heavily edited with some sort of echo/reverb effects. For me this works well with the concept elements of the album. Frusciante described the Empyrean as a story within the mind of one person but one which has no obvious plot. Instead, the lyrics and the music combine together to form a coherent whole. The echo treatment appears as one of the devices to achieve this unity. Josh Klinghoffer, Flea and Johnny Marr collaborated with John on this album but it is difficult to tell without knowing in advance which songs they were involved with, which demonstrates the emphasis on a unified goal and sound rather than individualist expression. John's attention to arrangement helps this along, and he seems as competent at arranging strings (One More of Me)and backing vocals (Dark/Light) as sweeping piano (Central) or synths (just about every song). An acoustic guitar is used but there are no strictly acoustic songs, although considering that Curtains was wholly acoustic this is probably welcome. // 10

Lyrics: The lyrics are not obviously coherent. Frusciante says on his blog, "attention was given to writing words that would gently direct themselves towards the listeners' intuitive brain, and their sub-conscience" ( However, the words do work well with the general theme and sounds of the Empyrean and seem to deal predominantly with reality, time, the spiritual, the mind etc. Frusciante's range has never seemed better and the backing singing is a great compliment to his lead. // 9

Overall Impression: As mentioned, I think the Empyrean is John's best album. I have listened to it all day and it's grown on me more and more. The lyrics, the arrangements of the various instruments, from strings to signature guitar hooks and impressive vocals is very accurate. The mixing compliments the psychedelic, progressive underpinnings of the album. Although Song to the Siren, Central, Dark/Light and One More of Me are the highlights for me, I find it difficult to pinpoint any real faults. Perhaps Dark/Light could be shorter towards the end or One More of Me could do without the misplaced screaming in the middle, and the climax of the album (After the Ending) is a bit of a letdown after the quality of the other songs but there are no major flaws for me, this is just nitpicking. I think it is wrong to penalize the album for being unappealing to the mainstream since that is not what it is meant to do. It is certainly different to any of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' albums (perhaps Venice Queen and Warm Tape from By The Way are the closest to the style of the Empyrean)but this is John's solo project and he can hardly be blamed for at least trying to sound different from almost everyone else. To answer the classic UG question, if it were stolen/lost, would you buy it again, I have to give a resounding "yes". I would probably buy 2 copies too, so that if I lost it again I would have a backup. // 10

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overall: 9.3
The Empyrean Reviewed by: panquelito, on august 20, 2009
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Sound: A creative genious has completed yet another album. This is yet his most creative and most elaborate piece of work yet. This collection of songs, if you may, take place inside the thoughts of the protaganist. One may have to listen to this CD as a whole several times before understanding the message Frusciante is sharing with us. The first song, titled 'Before The Beggining' is an instrumental track that takes you on an eleven minute voyage into the following tracks. This "intro" develops slowly and builds one's anticipation and grabs the listener(s) by their souls and creates a suspenseful ride in space. As the rest of the tracks follow, you can hear a lot of overdubbing and multiple guitars fading in and out from all speakers, creating an intense collaboration between the different frequencies that travel through your speakers. // 10

Lyrics: After the roller coaster ride there are nine more songs that your brain can indulge in. Frusciante does a lot of vocal changes in "The Emperyan". In some songs like 'One More of Me' and 'Enough Of Me' you can hear the wide intervals that he uses. It gives his songs great depth and aslo adds to his album to change gears and direction. // 8

Overall Impression: "The Emperyan" is not like any other album out there, and it is not something that sounds like any certain genre. Most of the recording and mixing process was in Frusciante's hands and under his direction with the help of, recording engineer, Ryan Hewitt. He uses his Doepfer Modular Synthesizer on most of the instruments on this album, and also uses analog tape to be able to slow down or speed up the tape to create different sounds with his guitar. This album is definately a collection of songs of which one may have never heard. It draws a very thick line between his solo work and his works with RHCP. John Frusciante has matured musically and creatively to one his best and most distinguished album. An venture that everyone's psyche should take. Let the music guide your mind to an experience that is beautiful and psychedelic. --Rothel De La Cruz // 10

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overall: 10
The Empyrean Reviewed by: DaDude450, on december 24, 2010
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Sound: Frusciante has publicly stated that this (as many of his albums) was recorded in his home studio... This maybe the only home produced album I have heard where I would swear the drums were recorded in a cathedral like dome and the sound quality of the guitars, bass, and plethora of other instruments did not suffer a touch. The music is full of a certain ambiance and layers of sound, that are truly remarkable and one of a kind. Frusciante really took a conceptual, musical idea, and transformed it into a soundscape of epic proportions. From the space jam feel of "Before the Beginning" to the reversed echo reverb of "Dark/Light" Frusciante embraces every end of the sound spectrum. The tripped out wah solo of "Unreachable", the intense dissonant beauty of the solo in "Enough of Me", the shocking low vocal that dominates "One More of Me", the eery, heartbreaking melancholy of "Song to the Siren", and many more things are what separate this album from anything Frusciante has previously put out. The minimalistic beauty that usually encompasses his music has been put aside, in exchange for an unbelievable layer of rich music to take you from one place to another. // 10

Lyrics: Frusciantes lyrical ability in my mind is completly unrivaled. Frusciante has stated and (in his own Fru-esque way) explained the album to be a concept album with the theme relaying back to a 'rise-fall-rise' cycle, but do not expect it to be as cut and dry as that. As a fan of all his albums (Niandra to present day) I have grown accustomed to his style of writing. I love the obscure metaphors that are often rampant in his songs... but this album differs. Yes, it is still VERY metaphorical, but I was surprised to hear that he has kept this enigmatic way of writing with incorporating such literal ideas into the songs. I really feel that each listener of this album has the ability to find their own story in this album if they really listen to the music. Technically speaking this is hands down Johns greatest vocal effort. He really shines on this album proving he is more than just being backround to Anthony Kiedis. His haunting whisper in "Song to the Siren" are what take the song from being just a cover of a classic to an actual emotional experience for the listener. The shocking depths he sings at during "One More of Me" will have you wonder aloud if that is actually Johns voice. The raw, beautiful rasp of his scream during the chorus' of Central will have your head in a whole new dimension. In short, the vocals on this album are interesting, beatiful, and a sonic experience in themselves. // 10

Overall Impression: I hate when you see sub-par albums getting perfect results from teenage kids 4 days after their release dates. I have had this album for nearly two years, and it amazes me more and more as time goes by. It is one of only a handful I deem to be perfect 10s. Frusciante really opened up an entirely new realm for me with this album. This has become my favorite album with an unwavering authority. IMO there is no comparisons for this album... I see it as one of a kind. An exciting, deep, wonderous piece of art. I love the depths that each song explores. So much of this album I would define as "breathtaking" that I am limiting myself to saying it to much. This album was made with the music in mind. The notes do not just flow from one to the next, but intertwine themselves in each other creating a marriage of the sounds. I have unfortunately gone through a couple copies of this album, and each time I buy another one... no questions asked... I need this album. This album is a companion. It is a work of art that will take you to the true Empyrean of musical innovention and creativity. // 10

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