Records of the Week with Jon and Ted #1
Each Friday, Editors Ted Nubel and Jon Rosenthal will share their picks for Records of the Week — not necessarily what's out this week, just whatever's on our mind or on our record players.
The release show for The Rescue was a highlight of 2019 and certainly a bittersweet thing to look back on now, over a year later when I've seen just a handful of other shows since that night two Novembers ago. The band was performing at the Burlington Bar, a hotspot for weird progressive music in Chicago's Logan Square, and had gotten a visual artist to put together a crazy projected backdrop. That resulted in some wild visuals to accompany the band's unusual mix of progressive rock and post-rock/metal, and the performance helped cement this album as one of my "go-to" comfort records, and I happily snagged a physical copy on my way out.
Side A lays out American Draft's chop-heavy and dynamic capabilities, ranging from the jarring metallic hookiness on "Running Scared" to the yearning progressive leads that sparkle through the sunny "Solace of Light." Heck, they even pack in an ambient track, "Blades," for a penultimate build-up. These songs flow together like a single entity, but they're different sides of the band's prismatic sound.
It's all unified on side B's monolithic "The Rescue," which, over an 18 minute runtime, entwines some of the heaviest and lightest moments on the album into a spiraling, cathartic conclusion. Pulling out perhaps the final stop, a guest vocalist even shows up to contribute the only vocals on the album -- a risky move that pays off.
Über den Sternen
Empyrium in 2021 is an entirely different beast when compared to the band's earlier musings as a metal band in the mid-'90s. Though there is reverence to both A Wintersunset… and Songs of Moors and Misty Fields's fusions of folk music, doom metal, and black metal there, something multi-instrumentalist Markus "Schwadorf" Stock carries with him throughout this journey of self-rediscovery, new album Über den Sternen, Empyrium's first in half a decade, shows a band completing itself through maturation. Comparisons can rightfully be made to earlier material, but Über den Sternen's both aggressive and laid-back approach looks inward with years of musicianship and studio work with other projects, fueling itself in perpetual, Romantic motion. Though the Byronic naivete which defined a lot of Empyrium's earlier work has been replaced with something more learned and experienced here, this is undeniably Empyrium, and, to this writer's surprise, is the band at their strongest.