In this streaming self-promotional world, many doubt the role of record labels in the modern music industry, but when it comes to curation and band selection they do still play a part especially the smaller niche labels. Like InsideOut or Bad Elephant, Kscope is for me a sign of quality, so when Empyre, a band I had no prior knowledge of, put out an album via that label it piqued my interest. They’ve been described as the lovechild of Pink Floyd and Soundgarden (which could place them smack-bang in the middle of a musical Venn diagram), gaining plaudits from the likes of Classic Rock magazine, Kerrang! and Planet Rock along the way. I can kind of see how that comparison works, but it isn’t a true reflection of what’s on offer here on the Northampton band’s latest record.
My first thought was that in some ways they remind me of O.R.k, another band who have prog elements, a hard rock feel and a grunge-era style vocalist. They also sit perfectly alongside label mates Godsticks, which is a great place to start, but then as I got further into the album the cracks started to show for me. There is a late ’90s, early 2000s feel which I’d say is more post-grunge than tied to the true Seattle sound, also shades of alt-rock but with a much more anthemic stadium vibe at times, which I don’t always mind. To be honest, Stiltskin’s Levis ad fuelled mega hit Inside wouldn’t be out of place on this record. That’s what holds this LP back a bit for me; trying too hard to be a crowd-pleasing stadium rock outfit can make songs all fur coat and no knickers (as my late Nan would have said).
This is a collection of songs with interesting moments or elements to them, but never quite enough to transcend to true greatness. The first break, when the chuggy guitars kick in on opening track Relentless is infectious, there’s the subtly layered intro to Waking Light or the sonic swagger of Parasite, which veers into Disturbed territory. But there’s also the slick blandness of ballad Hit and Run, which melodically reminds me of late era Funeral for a Friend, but slickly produced to be more like U2 or The Stereophonics written to use for a Match of the Day highlights package, which isn’t what I signed up for – even if it was Classic Rock’s ‘Track of the Week’. Forget Me has a gorgeous blend of piano and acoustic guitar, in its less obvious moments. Then songs like Road to Nowhere and Quiet Commotion sees the band at their most cookie cutter and uninspired. Arguably they save the best to last with Your Whole Life Slows, which has more layers to it than some of the longer and bigger sounding tracks.
Pink Floyd and Soundgarden are two of my favourite bands of all time, and the weight of that comparison bears down on this record, setting the bar so high that it’s almost impossible for those expectations to be met. On the guitar front, David Gilmour and Kim Thayil are two iconic figures that anyone would be hard-pressed to match. Vocalist Henrik Steenholdt has an interesting raspy voice, but it’s reminiscent of too many other singers to make you really stand up and take notice. This is more Bush than Seether, the more commercial, overly polished approach to post grunge (though not quite Creed or Nickleback levels), with a little slice of prog in there just about, which is when it gets more interesting. I just knew where each song was going before it got there, which left me feeling a little empty and with no real emotional impact from the music or lyrics, which is the opposite to what I look for in music. ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris likes them, and I trust his judgement, but sadly something rang hollow for me.
It’s a really solid album with quality playing and production, it just lacks any real stand-out moments to put it head and shoulders above similar records. It’s a little bit generic and safe which makes me less likely to revisit it as much as other similar LPs. It makes me think of Alter Bridge, who they have supported in the past, a band whose work I appreciate and who people I trust rave about, but who I wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to. I am interested in what the band does next, as this feels like it’s on the cusp of something truly spectacular once they hone their songwriting and find their own unique style, probably by leaning into the less mainstream rock moments more. If they do that they could end up as the next Anathema. I can imagine these songs really coming to life live and I’d be interested in seeing them on a festival bill at the very least, even if it’s just to sample their cover of David Guetta and Sia’s Titanium.
01. Relentless (3:57)
02. Waking Light (4:36)
03. Parasites (5:18)
04. Cry Wolf (5:28)
05. Hit and Run (4:00)
06. Forget Me (5:47)
07. Silence Screaming (5:00)
08. Road to Nowhere (4:34)
09. Quiet Commotion (6:10)
10. Your Whole Life Slows (3:18)
Total Time – 48:08
Henrik Steenholdt – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Did Coles – Guitar
Grant Hockley – Bass Guitar
Elliot Bale – Drums
Record Label: Kscope
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 31st March 2023