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album review: Empyre ‘The Other Side’

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The Other Side

Northampton’s very own Empyre have songs that are built for the biggest stages, and that is exactly where these tracks which comprise The Other Side have been tried and tested. Acoustic slots supporting luminaries such as Alter Bridge and The Eagles have unearthed a more nuanced, subtle side – and it’s a facet they explore to great effect on this, their second album.

Each track contained here appeared on their debut full length Self Aware from last year. But, sans electric guitar, they become new animals. Opening to the quiet storm that is a piano version of ‘Only Way Out’ ensures this aptly-titled album gets off to the best possible start. It might take some by surprise [which isn’t necessarily a bad thing], and it’s the perfect vehicle for Henrik Steenholdt’s oak-aged whiskey croak. The piano adds an emotional depth as the tinkling keys cascade like rain, and stripped bare it reveals an emotive edge buried on the original. Despite its sparsity ‘Only Way Out’ has a huge, cavernous sound which seems to dwarf the listener beneath its monolithic brilliance.

Fans of Empyre’s more raucous nature needn’t worry as the following ‘Drive’ remains hard hitting, but rather that landing a series of heavy blows – as did the original – it takes a more indirect route which finds its tendrils gently entwining your speakers. With shades of Americana ‘Drive’ would make the perfect accompaniment to an Arizonian road trip beneath a bruise coloured sky. On an album that’s constantly shifting gears it opens the throttle and, powered forth by Elliot Bale’s metronomic drumming, it leaves a trail of dust in its wake.

The Other Side is very much in the spirit of those classic MTV Unplugged albums, and its tight-but-loose vibe ensures tracks like ‘Too Close’ swing with an inherent groove. Now rendered strangely danceable ‘Cut To The Core’ is a delicious slice of acoustic rock, as is the flamenco-flavoured ‘Just A Ride’, both of which set things up nicely for a piano version of ‘My Bad’. Underpinned by some unorthodox drum patterns it’s at once tender and tenacious, swirling like a musical tornado.

In a genre that often celebrates youthful exuberance Empyre bring wiser heads to the party. They’re often described as “thinking man’s metal”, and it’s easy to see why as they display a lyrical astuteness and a musical restraint that elevates them above their peers. That these songs sound so good parred back shouldn’t come as such a surprise as most were conceived on acoustic guitars, so there’s a feeling that they’ve come full circle. That’s certainly the case with ‘Stone’: full of huge white spaces it makes good use of musical dynamics, juxtaposing loud and quiet passages, each acting as a foil to highlight the other.

Another version of ‘One Way Out’ [this time a Radio Edit] bookends the record and ensures things end on a sombre, thoughtful tone, which is exactly where the band came in. Going acoustic on their sophomore album is quite a risky move, but there’s an authenticity bursting from the grooves which means it works rather well. The Other Side, indeed.

Sargent ‘D’.

‘The Other Side’ is out now via CD and digitally

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