Another full house on a particularly grim evening in the Valleys, but for once, it’s the right weather for the headliners. They’ve been riding high in 2023, and I believe that it’s unlikely that we’ll see Empyre at a venue this small again. No wonder the Patriot is bursting with fans, many of whom are here due to the band’s performance in the rain at Steelhouse exactly two months earlier.
Empyre – Ethyrfield
The Patriot, Crumlin – 30 September 2023
Words and Photography: Paul Hutchings
They’ve brought their unique brand of dour misery to South Wales several times in recent years, but a headline set is something a bit special. So, the stage was set for an evening to remember.
Killing the vibe is now something that Empyre actively enjoy, and as they climb onto the stage, the chants of “You’re shit, and you know you are” demonstrate that their fans are in synch. Rather than cheer at the end of each song, it’s tongue-in-cheek boos that ring out. This may be the cause of some confusion to those not attuned to the Northampton-based band, but it’s all part of the show. I think!
Frontman Henrik Steenholdt is a master of the melancholy, and he quips delightfully about the coffin perched above the stage, sucking all the joy out of the show. Underneath this contempt lurks one of the best rock bands in the UK today.
They’ve scored high with their second album, Relentless and judging by the numbers at the merch and already clad in the band’s shirts, they’ve also struck the right nerve musically.
It’s a fabulous setlist. Sixteen songs, drawn from their two albums, and for 90 minutes, they captivate. Some of the songs are now singalongs, something that seems to irk the four on stage, although judging by the grins on drummer Elliot Bale, he may not have quite gotten the memo.
Waking Light is the perfect opener. The right level of darkness to crush the buoyant mood and instantly recognizable for those familiar with Relentless. The evening rarely slows in quality, and the quips between songs get better and better. “Did we just play Thunderball?” Asks Henrik. “No, because this isn’t Tom fucking Jones,” he says in response to repeated cries for Delilah. He steadfastly ignores the demands of the slightly inebriated ladies to take off his shirt. Several times. Did Coles on guitar is more circumspect. “No one’s asked me,” he laughs.
Regardless of the downbeat vibe that Empyre try their best to create, their songs demand applause. They play the whole of Relentless with a swagger that is just the right side of arrogance. It’s masterful, and with the Patriot’s high-quality sound, it’s perfect to the ear.
Parasites resonates beautifully. There’s the heights of the title track and the indie perfection of Hit & Run, which provides those delicious U2 reminders. Interspersed with these, we get a liberal smattering of songs from 2019’s debut Self Aware.
They can take it down, as they do on Homegrown, one of the lesser known, which sees the noise in the audience just elevate a little. But Empyre knows how to bring it home. It’s a triumphant finale, Only Way Out, and the anthemic riff-heavy New Republic bring the house down.
It’s a magical night for all. Henrik, Elliot, Did, and bassist Grant Hockley, despite their best efforts, momentarily break into a smile, and the audience provides one of the most deserved ovations that this venue has ever seen. Simply a stunning band, 2023 has been huge. With the right direction and support, 2024 could be gargantuan.
It’s been over a year since I last saw Ethyrfield play. That night, at the Thekla in Bristol, the trio supported The Von Hertzen Brothers and held their own. That might not be that much of a surprise, for underneath this progressive three-piece lurks an experienced outfit with a decade of musical experience behind them. These guys have played virtually everywhere, including Bloodstock and, most recently, the NWOCR weekend.
Do they fit in the NWOCR label? Probably not, because they have a much more progressive sound, enhanced by the fluid guitar of Ben Cornish. The dual vocals of Ben and brother Zach work neatly, whilst drummer Dan Aston has always been a solid pair of sticks at the back.
There’s a good number already in when Ethyrfield take to the stage. Forty minutes later, there are newer Ethyrfield fans in the room. This is how you win over a crowd.
A solid eight-song set sees most tracks drawn from the excellent 2021 release In Delirium. This is a band who can take it down or ratchet it up a few decibels, and their cleverly constructed songs find a home here.
There are a good number of their own fans, proudly supporting the band’s tees, but for many, this is their first encounter. They open with Sunstroke, which grabs the attention with its crunching riffs. They bookend with the big sound of Bitter Wishbone.
It’s a show full of confidence. These boys are building slowly but surely. They’ll be headlining the next time they visit here.