Live Review: Empyre at KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton on 22-04-23 supported by Black Orchid Empire

Written by: CRAIG BAILEY

Photos by: LISA BILLINGHAM (billibeecreative)

The finest example of why we are so drawn to the temple that is a gig, and pray at the altar that is the barrier

This night was originally planned to be in the small lounge bar at KK’s, so it was great to hear on the Wednesday beforehand that ticket sales had been such that the show was being moved into the larger capacity main room.

A very healthy-sized crowd has already gathered as Black Orchid Empire take the stage. The three-piece from London have been around a little while now, with their first album release being in 2016. I’m not sure why I’ve not come across them earlier, as they are right up my street; so I feel that I’ve kinda missed out, especially as I have really been enjoying their new album Tempus Veritas.

They have a sound that is solidly based around the signature riffs of Paul Visser and he launches the night into Singularity, with Dave Ferguson’s bass rumbling deep beneath it. Straight away the crowd get a sense of Paul’s vocal melodies that the band twist around the heaviness.

Natural Selection has a bouncing indie-rock groove to it which leads into a gorgeous chorus that has Billy Freedom all animated and off his drum stool! This leads into recent single Deny The Sun, with its thunderous opening rolling riff and rhythms. There are a lot of great tracks on the new album, but my favourite The Raven follows. It has a huge echo of Incubus having one of their heavier moments, and it’s a sound that threads through many of Black Orchid Empire’s songs. What also comes across is that the band feel totally at home on a bigger stage and frontman Paul is quietly confident and enjoying engaging with the crowd.

The pace is slowed a little with Winter Keeps Us Warm, which has a gorgeous chorus and “whoah-whoas” that could easily have festival field crowds singing along. Riff of Death really does live up to its name as it heads into punkier territories, whilst Evergreen is a really cool track with inventive drumming and a bass line that sounds almost off key but it all knits together seamlessly. This track really shows off the impressive musicality of the band, and the highly appreciative crowd are given one last treat with the multi-layered and faceted Death From Above. I will be making up for lost time and looking out for the next opportunity to check out Black Orchid Empire.

Tonight was all about celebrating the release of Empyre’s stunning new album Relentless. It’s an album that has lived up to and exceeded all the high expectations. By the time Empyre come to the stage, the expectant crowd, who have travelled from all over the country, had filled out further.

As the strains of the intro to Waking Light build, Henrik’s voice soars out over the crowd, then the rhythm drops and the band and crowd are in total unison, calling out the chorus. There is immediate electricity in the room that sparks, as the fluid and pulsating rhythms and Did’s chopping riffs of Parasites charge the atmosphere.

Henrik takes a moment to wonder at the fact that they are playing on the big stage and thanks everybody for making it happen. He lets us all know that they’re going to play the whole of Relentless, along with classics from Self Aware. Wow, now we all know that a good night is going to be a great night!

At that, Elliot creates what feels like bass and tom explosions as he swings into the intro to My Bad. The crowd sing along with Henrik’s impassioned vocals as Elliot continues to hammer his kit. This guy is an astonishing player, technically brilliant while still having power that makes it feel like your soul is being pummelled.

Stone follows, with Grant’s bass lines putting me in mind of listening to A Perfect Circle. This track shows perfectly the bands astonishing songwriting.

The huge video backdrop to the stage at KK’s enables bands to present a visual extravaganza to complement the music, and the guys take full advantage of this. Along with the smoke and lights, the whole effect lifts their emotive soundscapes into the realms of the epic.

An Empyre gig would seem strange to the uninitiated as the crowd, encouraged by the band, hurl appreciative boos towards the stage. The band are clearly failing to live by their mantra, as they are clearly enjoying themselves!

The wonderful Quiet Commotion with its slowing burning build to the climax eases into a cover version of Titanium. With its melody and huge chorus, along with crushing riff, Cry Wolf is a song that engages every person in the venue. This is one of those songs that when heard live just takes on an extra dimension that takes it into the territory of greatness.

Relentless is an album with no fillers, so when I say that next song Forget Me is my favourite, it indicates that it’s a blinding song. It entwines around you, and when you are experiencing it live surrounded by kindred souls, it is mesmerising. In years past there would have been a sea of lighters held aloft.

Empyre have been accused in the past of being devoid of humour, but tonight that myth is totally destroyed – the band demonstrate a finely tuned sense of self deprecating humour as they ask the crowd if they had had enough, and if they just want to head to the bar instead. A band without humour would not write a song about Grant getting really pissed off with his washing machine, but that’s just what they did with Your Whole Life Slows, which Grant beautifully opens with a weaving bass line, and Did builds on with stunning guitar effects.

They wind up the tempo again with Road To Nowhere and a spine tingling Silence Screaming. This song is another monster radio killer with its elements of light and shade providing stunning contrasts and Henrik’s emotional vocals conveying the torment.

The album’s title track has everybody dancing and then we are into the stellar Homegrown from Self Aware. Did’s soft and intricate playing slowly builds and leads the crowd into the first call of the chorus. This is hairs on the back of your neck standing up stuff. With Henrik’s dense riff, this song magnifies to unchartered heights and Did just mesmerises us as he shows he is one of those rare guitarists that can convey so much feel and emotion with so few notes.

Hit and Run lifts every person up as they join in with its message of always moving forward; this song has movie soundtrack written all over it. So that was all the songs from Relentless done and dusted, but there was still time for two pieces of brilliance from Self Aware. Did settles himself into his armchair (yes, armchair) in front of his keyboard, and taps out a soft and melancholic opening to Only Way Out which is joined by Henrik’s plaintive and piercing vocals. After the first chorus, Elliot and Grant come back to the stage to bring the song to huge crescendo.

The magnificent New Republic brings the evening to a triumphant conclusion and leaves everybody breathless and genuinely lost for words. Talking to people afterwards there is a real sense of wonder at what we have experienced.

Tonight, Empyre proved they are the real deal, with a performance that showed they have songs and a sound that can fill big venues, and a performance capable of entrancing and capturing an audience. This evening we were given the finest example of why we are so drawn to the temple that is a gig and why we choose to pray at the altar that is the stage barrier.

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