WHILE HEAVEN WEPT - Of Empires Forlorn  DLP
WHILE HEAVEN WEPT - Of Empires Forlorn  DLP
WHILE HEAVEN WEPT - Of Empires Forlorn  DLP
WHILE HEAVEN WEPT - Of Empires Forlorn  DLP
WHILE HEAVEN WEPT - Of Empires Forlorn DLP

HRR097/IK015, limited to 500 copies, gatefold cover, 180g black vinyl, 12 page booklet, 2nd pressing: special coloured vinyl (PMS) lim. 500

Tom Phillips - vocals , guitars & keyboards
Scott Loose - guitar
Jim Hunter - bass
Jason Gray - drums

-The Drowning Years
-Of Empires Forlorn
-Voice in the Wind
-In Aeturnum
-Epistle No. 81 (Candlemass cover)
-Sorrow of the Angels
-From Empires to Oceans

1st pressing SOLD OUT!
2nd pressing AVAILABLE

Originally, While Heaven Wept’s “Of Empires Forlorn” was released via Italy’s Eibon Records in early 2003. The recent vinyl re-pressing on High Roller Records was sold out even before it reached the open market. As a result, many fans have been looking for it. That’s why it was decided to put out another special edition of this (melancholic) Metal masterpiece. The band’s mainman Tom Phillips had once described everything While Heaven Wept released before “Of Empires Forlorn” as “developmental material”. What did he actually mean by that? This is the explanation: “Despite the fact that we clearly had our own identity by the time we recorded the first notes in a professional studio, the fact is all of the material from the ‘Chapter One’ era (1989-1999) was created when I was 16-17 years old, so my understanding of music was limited to my influences, which fortunately were very diverse. Still, all the influence in the world doesn’t necessarily translate to a deep understanding of harmony, counterpoint, arranging (etc.) – each of these topics are in fact often dedicated courses for an entire semester at most universities. At any rate, although the early material of While Heaven Wept wasn’t exactly ‘basic’, it’s audibly clear on ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ that I was able to apply a lot of concepts I’d learned in music school; from the counterpoint at the end of ‘The Drowning Years’ to the fairly complex harmony and key changes of the title track … these would’ve only happened by chance in the early days, whereas during the ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ era, the arranging was very much a conscious effort. I do want to point out, however, that the underlying exoskeleton of all the songs developed in the same way as always: through emotional catalyst and revelation … but from there I definitely put pencil to paper and applied theoretical concepts to finalize the arrangements. So, when all is said and done, it’s not that ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ was the first ‘real’ While Heaven Wept album, rather it was the first one that I felt good about (the final result) when I left the mastering facility, and it was certainly more mature both musically and emotionally.”
The album was recorded on and off throughout 2002. The guitarist and vocalist of While Heaven Wept reflects: “It wasn’t a long period of time in While Heaven Wept terms, but I imagine it was still longer than most bands spend on an album! The initial recording sessions started in February 2002 and then we had a forced hiatus from July until October or November due to another artist having blocked the studio out. We took that opportunity to produce ‘The Drowning Years’ 7” single which featured early mixes from the sessions. Once the recording recommenced, we really only had a few vocal parts to finish and some of the subtle layers/nuances before the final mixdown. By Christmas 2002, a series of handwritten CD-R advances made their way across the EU like something of a tidal wave, taking both our mates and ourselves by surprise. This mix was ultimately released as a limited edition via Italy’s Eibon Records in the Spring of 2003, and housed in a stunning digipak. Around this time, I was contacted by the now defunct Rage Of Achilles Records regarding a re-release of the album, and Duncan’s enthusiasm for it convinced me that it would be a worthy endeavour, so we returned to Assembly Line Studios to complete one song ('In Aeturnum’) that we left unfinished from the original sessions. This resulted in a remix of the entire album, followed by a subsequent new mastering in July of 2003. All in all, it was probably about nine to ten weeks worth of actual work spread out over a year and a half. The advantage of this unquestionably was we had a vast amount of time to really ‘live’ with the countless rough mixes we did along the way, so by the time of each subsequent session, we knew exactly what we wanted or needed to do.”
Before the recording of the album commenced, the band had some line-up changes, as Tom Phillips explains: “When we started rehearsing the material in 2000, it was actually with the current line-up of While Heaven Wept, sans Rain Irving of course, but there was a falling out between myself and Brave (whom I co-founded with the members of Arise From Thorns). Scott chose to stay on with us despite that, and Michelle remained on the periphery, but Trevor was definitely done with While Heaven Wept at that time. Long-time drummer Jon Paquin returned to the fold for a few months and contributed to the arrangements Jim and I had been working on, but it soon became clear that he couldn’t handle the emotional intensity of the music at that time, and wasn’t really ‘there’ very much either. For a few months afterwards we jammed with Phil Bloxam (formerly of the legendary Washington D.C. Metal band Hellion) but ultimately he decided he wanted to pursue more of a fusion direction. Finally, my then roommate, Jason Gray stepped in mere weeks before the dates we’d booked for basic tracking, and although we didn’t have a lot of time to develop intricate arrangements, his heavy-hitting style did the material justice. We also worked with another keyboard player for a period of time, but in the end, he was far too spaced out on experimental drugs to make any profound contributions; he did play a few parts on the album, but I performed the majority during the initial sessions, and Michelle had returned full-time by the sessions in the Spring of 2003. In the end, despite a bit of shuffling, the core line-up has remained the same since 1998 with the exception of the drum position, and of course the addition of Rain on vocals in 2008.”
The recording itself was problematic as there were severe health problems involved. Tom confirms: “There were in fact some long-term health issues resultant from drug and alcohol abuse that certainly affected me in a severe capacity prior to the album sessions … not to mention a host of legal problems, but by the time we really sunk our teeth into the recording process, I was driven by pure emotion, and unhindered by substances. That said, during the initial sessions both Jason and myself were incredibly ill with viruses making for very long and unpleasant hours. Being that we were already weakened and spaced out on pharmaceuticals, it was no surprise when towards the end of the drum tracking Jason could barely stand, let alone play his parts. That said, he did soldier through his parts, and despite some obvious tempo fluctuations on a few songs, he really gave his all. We’re lucky we were even able to capture what we did, as we literally had to help him to his car after the last session.”
At first, Tom was frustrated by how his vocal performance turned out. Then, all of a sudden, everything fell into place. What had happened? As usual, Tom’s answer is very in-depth: “When I started the vocal tracking, I think I had stopped smoking cigarettes specifically with this in mind and that surely had some impact upon the timbre of my voice, but being that it had been a few years since ‘Sorrow Of The Angels’ the tonal quality of it had changed or perhaps matured. Plus, I was singing in a higher register than on previous outings. I just wasn’t ready to hear it sounding the way it did during the playbacks at the studio, and at one point was so mortified that I almost aborted the entire project! Of course, that happens at least once every album anyway haha … but Jim and Scott talked me down in that instance. Once I calmed down, and especially once I started layering harmony lines, I started to feel much more comfortable with the way my voice sounded, despite the fact it was heading in much more of an AOR direction than I ever planned to roll (don’t get me wrong, I grew up on both AOR on the radio and Metal on my turntable, but I just never thought the AOR influence would ever creep into the music of While Heaven Wept). In the end, I basically just sang from the heart and yielded myself to whatever the cosmos intended … during those later sessions in 2002, that’s when something really magical transpired … ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ took on a life of its own and as it evolved into its final phase, we all listened in awe … something mystical happened, and none of us really had anything to do with it. It’s hard to explain, but it was definitely felt and heard in the studio … something celestial or mystical … the only thing I can compare it to is ‘Awaken The Guardian’ or something similar, where the whole is far beyond the sum of its parts.”
After hearing Tom’s vocals combined with the music, bassist Jim Hunter was quoted as saying: “That shit sounds like Styx meeting Celtic Frost”. A really nice quote! Tom thinks so too: “Jim actually hit the nail on the head, as usual. He really knows his music, and as absurd as that description sounds, it was totally accurate. This was particularly true during some of the rough mixes; we originally had all these layers of timpani and other madness, sounding not unlike Master’s Hammer or ‘Into The Pandemonium’, but ultimately the music required a different EQ curve. But if you listen closely to ‘The Drowning Years’ and ‘Sorrow Of The Angels’ you can still hear the timpani faintly!”
All in all, Tom Phillips liked the production of the record: “It’s been almost a year since I’ve heard it, but it was definitely the first recording out of any band I’ve been involved with that I was happy with production-wise when we left the studio, and listening back around the time of the Cruz Del Sur Music re-issue CD’s, I was pleasantly surprised by how well it held up. That said, after the strides forward with ‘Vast Oceans Lachrymose’, I believe that it could be a bit more ‘organic’ and I believe we will achieve this in the future during the re-mix for the ‘Ultimate Edition’ series. Otherwise, there are just a few minute details that I’d change … certain reverbs, volume levels. In general, I’m still quite pleased with the end results, especially that of the second mastering (although I prefer the ‘flow’ of the Eibon version). Honestly, I think it sounds best on the High Roller vinyl edition!”
It’s hard to describe the press reactions to “Of Empires Forlorn” ... critics were confused and did not really know what to make of the record (and the band). Once they got it though, they were full of praise. Tom Phillips shares his thoughts: “Being that it was unlike anything else that was coming out at the time, it took everyone by surprise, in the same way that ‘Vast Oceans Lachrymose’ did … and I’m sure all subsequent releases since we’ll never rest on our laurels or duplicate any album a second time with different songs; they are all entities unto themselves. By in large, the media reactions were astounding and extremely flattering, apart from a few folks that took umbrage with the vocal style and those who clearly were coming from the ‘Extreme Doom’ side of things. When all is said and done, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we never claimed it was a Doom Metal album to begin with, so I don’t think it’s fair to pan it just because it doesn’t sound like Evoken or whatever an individual’s definition of Doom Metal might be; take it for what it is, without the pretence of a genre. The bottom line is, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today without the reaction ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ received, and we are extremely grateful; it’s the album that ‘got our feet’ into several doors … which we subsequently kicked in with ‘Vast Oceans Lachrymose’, haha.”
On a scale of “happy” to “bleak”, where would Tom Phillips rate „Of Empires Forlorn“? This is what he has to say: “A lot of people considered it this surprisingly uplifting album, which I was astounded by; in actuality it is far bleaker than even ‘Sorrow Of The Angels’ lyrically and I wouldn’t exactly call ‘Soulsadness’ or ‘Empires’ itself ‘uplifting’. There were a lot of negative emotions channelled through the album, so to me, it’s definitely NOT a happy album. That said, it was on this album that the 'aural paradox’ of While Heaven Wept began in a musical sense; we started to use major keys to provide a contrast to the minor keys, thereby making the dark passages darker … so I guess in that respect I can understand why some people found the album uplifting … but it’s simultaneously gutting … that’s the aural paradox, and it’s also very much present on ‘Vast Oceans Lachrymose’ as well.”
I always asked myself where the mastermind of While Heaven Wept got his inspirations for the band’s very “deep” lyrics from? Has the holy bible been an influence on any of While Heaven Wept’s texts at all? Here is the answer:” All of the songs in the While Heaven Wept discography are entirely based upon real events, relationships, circumstances, and people in my life … there is absolutely nothing fictional whatsoever. All fantastic or religious imagery is purely metaphorical and for the purpose of conveying the magnitudes of emotion pertaining to each subject. Getting back to your first question, another reason why ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ was a more mature release compared to the ‘developmental’ recordings has to do with the lyrics; it was during this time that I started to write in ‘dualities’ … where the lyrics do actually have multiple meanings … literal and figurative. In some cases, there are even more meanings than that, and I think that’s where you are picking up on biblical aspects. One fan wrote me with the notion that the protagonist of the song ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ was in fact Lucifer. I didn’t refute that, as I don’t really ever want to tarnish any listener’s perspective with what the lyrics really mean to me and what I meant to say. Almost every While Heaven Wept song is really an ‘A-B’ conversation between myself and one other person, exposed in an open forum, but I won’t go beyond that apart from saying to those who know me the following: ‘If you think something in the lyrics pertains to you, it probably does’. One thing I do want to be clear about is that While Heaven Wept is NOT a religious or political band in any capacity, so the lyrics should never be approached as anything other than genuine emotional expression. Regarding the bible, I’m a ‘recovering Catholic’, so yeah, I’ve read it. I’ve also read the Thesaurus and Dictionary. Dante’s Divine Comedy, Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, Werther’s ‘Faust’ … all of these books could be considered ‘reference materials’ from my perspective … but apart from some biblical imagery used as metaphor, the bible is not an influence at all.”
Would it be correct to say that „Of Empires Forlorn“ is a (more or less) classic Doom Metal album? At least partially? If you listen to “The Drowing Years” or “In Aeturnum”, for example, that’s nearly perfect Doom Metal ... Tom Phillips only agrees to a certain degree: “While there is certainly a foundation of Epic Doom Metal, and a couple songs that are primarily Doom, as a whole, I’ve never perceived ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ as a proper Doom Metal album; for many years my brethren and I battled in the name of clarifying the very definition of the genre considering there was a point where anything slow was being thrown under the Doom umbrella … quite frankly, ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ goes beyond my own definition of what PURE Doom Metal is. If it is a Doom Metal album in any capacity, it is so far out on the edge … pushing the very boundaries of the genre about as far as they could go and still be considered as such. Personally, I view ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ as more of a modern interpretation of the Symphonic Rock epitomized by older German bands such as Novalis, Jane, Grobschnitt, etc. – with a contemporary production and a heavier musical foundation. But really, what do I know? I mean, I don’t consider anything While Heaven Wept has done since ‘Sorrow Of The Angels’ to be PURE Doom Metal, and people still refer to even ‘Vast Oceans Lachrymose’ as Doom. All I know is it doesn’t sound like Sabbath, Saint Vitus, or Candlemass, so to me, it’s not Doom Metal, just ‘While Heaven Wept Music’.”
While Heaven Wept do perform a cover of Jane’s “Voice In The Wind” on “Of Empires Forlorn”. The number fits the style of the band perfectly. Tom explains: “’Voice In The Wind’ was a song that had always meant a lot to me ever since the first time I heard it … it was so stark and beautiful … haunting. A couple of guys I worked with at Tower Records turned me on to Jane many years ago (and subsequently started a major obsession with obscure Prog/Symphonic Rock bands). After we released ‘Lovesongs Of The Forsaken’, one of them pointed out that we sounded quite a bit like Jane or Novalis, and that resonated within me ever since; I came to realize that independently we were already pursuing a similar path to many of those bands, and also that we had a lot more in common with them musically than any of the Doom Metal bands that we were often sharing the stage with. We’ve never been a band interested in covering other people’s songs, as I personally feel that if you cannot make it your own, then you have no business fucking with anyone else’s expression … but I felt like ‘Voice In The Wind’ was an exception … where it meant so much already, and actually did sound like something we’d write … it became ‘my baby’ on the ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ album. It was done with the utmost respect, and despite it being more of an ‘interpretation’ than a cover song, we really strived to keep the original characteristics intact … the simplicity of the arrangement, the stark character. Musically, the song is nearly identical except for one extra chord change in the second verse and the guitar solos … but lyrically and vocally, it’s totally different … it was what was necessary to ‘make it my own’. I sang that one from the heart just like any While Heaven Wept song, and my new lyrics absolutely had a basis in my own personal life. I really hoped and still hope that our interpretation of ‘Voice In The Wind’ introduced Jane to a whole new generation/audience - that was always my underlying intention. There are so many overlooked bands, that if we ever do any other covers, they’ll be with this intention at heart, or simply because the music really touches us deeply … and always with the utmost respect.”
The title track „Of Empires Forlorn“ bears a songwriting period from 1997 to 2001. So I take it that the number evolved over four years to end up as it can be heard on the album. How was the number sounding back in 1997? There was not much of a difference thinks Tom Phillips: “’Of Empires Forlorn’ was more or less the same musically … totally in that epic Bathory vein but the one hold-up for a while was the midsection; I remember clearly discussing it with Don from Sculptured/Agalloch at his house … as to whether or not the part was ‘too cliché’ or something. In the end, I had to yield to the demands of the music itself and let it be what it was since we kept coming back to the same neo-classical passage naturally. Another case in the same song of adhering to what the music dictated would be the Slayer/Deicide style riff that follows … implementing Black Metal vocals was simply what the part called for. Regarding the more recent While Heaven Wept albums, the latter dates next to the song titles typically refer to the timeframe the lyrics were completed. I’m quite sure ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ was completely structured musically by the end of 1999.”
As all the other While Heaven Wept albums, “Of Empires Forlorn” again features a very atmospheric cover artwork by a certain Gustav Doré: “As I’m sure a lot of people are aware, almost all of our early releases featured the artwork of Gustav Doré, though they were typically the plates from classic literature, and I stumbled across this particular work of his randomly around the time of ‘Empires’; it wasn’t anything contained within any of the folios I owned, nor was it pertaining to a specific book. It’s called ‘The Enigma’ and it depicts the carnage left after a battle: dead soldiers, women, and children … but also a mysterious angelic figure clearly in mourning and perhaps also in the throes of death. There couldn’t be a more appropriate image for this album, specifically in relation to the lyrics of the title track, although this is again more of a metaphor than a literal translation.”
While Heaven Wept’s music is so original and far off from the norm that I always wondered if they, as a band and as individuals, were still influenced by the music that surrounded them or if While Heaven Wept had already completely taken on “a life of its own”? This is what Tom Phillips has to say: “We’ve always been aware of what was happening in the industry at any given time, and we’re all very much devoted fans of all kinds of music, but as far as While Heaven Wept is concerned, we really just have always done our own thing without paying any mind to the latest trends or popular artists. That isn’t to say that on occasion something new doesn’t exert some kind of subtle influence … everything we hear has some bearing up our musical palette but there are a few key points to keep in mind when it comes to the music of While Heaven Wept. First of all, it’s always the product of emotional need and however something from the heart and soul manifests itself, that’s what it will be. Secondly, our primary influences have remained unchanged since the beginning: ‘Awaken The Guardian’, ‘A Farewell To Kings’, and ‘Hell Awaits’ are as adored today as they were decades ago. Lastly, although every now and then a killer album will come along that blows our minds (such as Immortal’s ‘Sons Of Northern Darkness’ in the case of ‘Empires’), and despite the fact that many of our mates have churned out album after album to great success, quite frankly, we simply don’t care about what our colleagues are doing. I mean we totally support them and feel genuinely happy for their successes, but we have no interest in ‘competing’ with anyone. When all is said and done, when in doubt, we always refer back to the very best of the best: Sabbath, Zeppelin, Purple, Floyd, Rush etc. I’m not suggesting we belong amongst the ranks of those, but if we’re going to aspire to be close to anyone else, it’s going to be the Gods, not the ‘Average Joe’ down the street, even if While Heaven Wept never amounted to anything more than a garage band.”
While Heaven Wept take great care that all their albums have a “continuous flow” and sound like a “coherent sonic unit”. When did the band first discover that this approach is vital to their concept and their music? Tom explains: “It’s just something that I’ve always gravitated towards naturally I suppose … maybe some people out there truly understand what I mean when I speak of the music itself dictating the path that we follow … maybe I’m just insane, haha. I’m quite sure it all goes back to albums like ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ and ‘The Wall’ ultimately or any of the great concept albums, hell, ‘Misplaced Childhood’ would be another one - all of those albums were so cinematic and made you feel like you were part of the story. Couple this with the long epics of Yes, Rush, Fates Warning and somewhere therein probably lies the origin of our ‘continuous flow’ approach. There is absolutely nothing random about the way any While Heaven Wept album is arranged … every single aspect is there for a reason, and it all really comes back to the music itself, especially now; I get these very clear visions from the rhythms and melodies that indicate what needs to follow in terms of album ‘structure’. In the early days it was all about preserving a specific mood or color, for example, ‘Sorrow Of The Angels’ was very one-dimensional in its utter hopelessness, but that is the very nature of depression … it’s not as if we didn’t have plenty of other songs including that of ‘Vessel’ or ‘To Wander The Void’, hell, we even recorded songs like ‘Unplenitude’ during the ‘Sorrow Of The Angels’ sessions but yielded to what the heart and the music required … the nature of the overall portrait. Similarly, another reason I considered ‘Of Empires Forlorn’ more of a mature effort is because we managed to convey a sense of motion … a journey … and even though the inherent mood was just as bleak as ‘Sorrow Of The Angels’, it wasn’t at all monochromatic, due in no small part to the contrasts I spoke of earlier. Of course, in the end, we’re merely channels for the music that reveals itself to us, so we really cannot take credit for anything more than the performances … and filtering the music through the kaleidoscope of our personal experiences.”
Matthias Mader