Empyria – Divided Review

Review Written by Musicgirl

GenreProgressive Metal
Release Date16 July 2019
Record LabelScrape

Empyria are a progressive metal band from one of the world hubs of the subgenre, Vancouver, BC. They have been around almost 30 years. In their catchy melodies and playing skill, it’s easy to see why they have had staying power. Divided, while only EP length, is a significant part of the Empyria catalog. It features two new songs, the title track and ‘Dark Skies’. Divided is the larger work to pick up the band’s single from a few years ago, ‘Beyond the Doors’. That single’s B-side, a cover of ‘Green Manalishi’ (Fleetwood Mac/ Judas Priest) is also included on Divided. The new EP also delivers rerecorded versions of band staples, this time around with the moving voice of Phil Leite, the band’s vocalist not even 20 years. I did not relisten to the original versions of the rerecorded songs, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ and ‘The Test of Time’, for the reason of not wanting to favor one version over another. Thus, this review gives impressions of the songs as if heard the first time. (I did recently listen to Empyria’s epic 1999 EP The Legacy, just to get an idea of the heights this band reaches.)

Mike Kischnick is the only original member of the band. It is quite clear he is the tour de force here. Both his versatility and virtuosity on his instrument are top shelf. Divided actually features a two-guitar attack, which  gets pretty Sabbath doomy. Steve Bifford has been playing guitar in Empyria since 2010. If you just want to rock out, I would recommend playing Divided full blast on a powerful system. If you want to appreciate the intricate instrumental riffing, I would suggest a lower power, less bass-heavy system. Empyria, unlike many progressive metal bands, lacks keyboards. Kischnick’s ensemble is indeed a very heavy group. Yet the detailed percussive and instrumental work one would expect from progressive metal are certainly present. This particular combination of heaviness and complexity parallels Empyria’s inspiration in early Rush, an influence they thankfully don’t copy. Originality is one of Empyria’s trademarks.

One of Divided‘s strengths is the memorable songwriting. After you give a few spins to the well-crafted masterpieces on the EP, you are going to be singing right along. I believe these deep songs will only grow on the listener over time unlike your typical attention-grabbing but fairly superficial melodic hooks. Be on guard for whiplash! My two favorite tracks are the rerecorded ones, ‘Test of Time’ and ‘Behind Closed Doors’. Both weave in and out of the Phrygian mode, taking the listener on an emotional journey through darkness, light and beyond. ‘Dark Skies’ alternates between Phrygian passages and more conventional keys, as well. This song is a close runner up to my Divided favorites. I just find that ‘Dark Skies’ lags a little behind the other two in subtlety and overall development. 

Lyrically Divided is timely. ‘Beyond the Doors’ touches on moving beyond the abuse and pain in the rerecorded older song ‘Behind Closed Doors’. ‘Dark Skies’ perhaps echoes the prominent darkness theme from The Legacy.  The Divided title track, for which  an excellent video exists, urges society to bridge racial divisions and overcome bigotry, a theme reflecting alarming recent events.

Review Written by Musicgirl

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Categories: Progressive Metal, Reviews

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