It’s difficult to innovate and sound unique in the world of traditional heavy metal. This is especially true in the very small, niche genre of epic doom metal, which was both established and perfected in one fell swoop with Candlemass’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. While Heaven Wept are a band that managed to do exactly this. Their debut album, Sorrow of the Angels, is a slow and dramatic affair that is more closely aligned with Candlemass’s template of the genre than what would follow. In later albums they gradually moved to a more ambitious and faster paced style that incorporated elements of progressive power metal. Their sophomore release, Of Empires Forlorn, is a transitionary album between While Heaven Wept’s two styles and as result it has its own distinct identity – a sound unlike any other in heavy metal. It’s their most special record to me.
What makes Of Empires Forlorn so special is the unique approach to songwriting and mood found on the album. In particular, While Heaven Wept use an abundance of keys on this record and make a point to use them as tasteful, but consistent compliments to the rest of the instrumentation and especially the vocals. It works well as vocalist Tom Philips sings in a higher register than most of his peers and he is very emotive and varied in his delivery. The keys in turn work to highlight his vocals and together they drive the music much more than your typical doom metal record. The end result is an incredibly emotional album and one of the very few heavy metal records that I find is best described with the word “beautiful”.
Although they are not the primary driving force of the album, lead guitars are still used frequently to craft the overall sound. While Heaven Wept utilize twin guitar melodies to round out the songs and the melodies are structured in an almost neoclassical way where they consistently build on top of each other. It’s tough to describe, but this can clearly be heard on the album’s opening track “Drowning Years” where the lead guitars work in tandem with the keys and vocals to delivery a feeling that I can only describe as “hopeful melancholy”. The rhythm section on this record is largely ancillary, acting as a supporting role for the rest of album, but there are moments where they shine through brilliantly. Like with any true doom metal album, there are a number of slower moments with very sparse instruments and its in these moments where good drumming and bass are key in making sure the music doesn’t fall flat. While Heaven Wept are great at this and a perfect example is “Voice in the Wind” which moves along at an incredibly slow pace – Tom Philip’s voice is the centerpiece of the song and the drums expertly tie everything together.
Of Empires Forlorn is a record that is sickly sweet and emotional, but it’s this saccharine nature of the music that has me consistently revisiting it well over a decade since first discovering it. While Heaven Wept fill a very particular niche and when the mood strikes, there is no band that is their equal. So while on paper this record might not sound like something you’d normally be interested in, I encourage everyone to give it a shot because there isn’t anything else out there like this.
Favorite track: Of Empires Forlorn