Empyria was born in Vancouver in 1991. The founders guitarist Mike Kischnick and singer/bassist Paul Falcon were soon joined by drummer Simon Adam.
The band plays many West Coast shows and released first a self-titled demo in 1992 and then the Ornamental Ironworks demo in 1993. Another tape followed in 1994. One final two-song demo was further completed with assistance from government grant. The trio entered Greenhouse studios in Burnaby and recorded its debut album Behind Closed Doors in 1996 for T&T Records of Germany. The band was now managed by future Nuclear Blast America boss Dustin Hardman. A few shows followed and Falcon soon left the band. Philip Leite and Ken Firomski replace him respectively on vocals and bass - the latter joining in 1999. This line-up records Changing Currents for the band's own imprint. Next up is The Legacy EP, which is recorded in 1999 and released in the autumn of 2000. In the meanwhile, the band enters the studio, the result of which is Sense Of Mind, which is released two years later via Vancouver's retail store/label Scrape. Sense Of Mind is issued in DVD-styled packaging and features ten songs.
The band's moniker is derived from the word 'empyrean' which pertains to either a place of pure heaven or pure hell. Empyria plays progressive metal. The band can be heard on samplers like Scrape Records Westcoast Canadian Metal Feast and KMI's (Kamelot's Thom Youngblood) PowerQuest among others. Band leader Kischnick co-wrote several songs on Thor's 2002 release Triumphant.
Mike Kischnick was completing the vocals and music for a new solo album called New Horizon III in late 2004. He played all instruments with the exception of some guest bass player spots and the vocals played by a newcomer, namely Pat Brown of Ten2nine. Kischnick also played on Ten2nine's upcoming demo and was writing music for Thor.
After a long period of silence, Empyria returned in 2009 with a new album comprised of old and new songs. Paul Falcon was also part of the line-up again, albeit only on Bass. Scott Gamble was the new drummer.
EMPYRIA - SENSE OF MIND - SCRAPE
Empyria's Sense Of Mind leaves one of two minds. Put in another way, the music featured herein is superior to the vocals. The music from these west coast metallers is not revolutionary, but certainly quite respectable. It is above average in form as it twists and turns into one's ears. The guitar leads are entertainingly powerful, smooth and the best part of the album. Furthermore the quartet has had the shrewdness to keep the use of the ever-trendy synthesizer to a minimum. It is interesting how the music is docile and compliant when accompanied by vocals, yet picks up and becomes adventurous once seemingly free from the shackles of the vocalist. The voice of Phil Leite is from the realm of Queensryche, Dream Child and even Arcane. Oddly enough, the vocal phrasing is incongruous with the music.
Empyria is often compared to Dream Theater. Indeed, rare instances like the mid-section of Heaven's Cry are reminiscent of the New York-based band, but that is where the comparisons must end. For one thing Empyria is a heavy metal band. For another this foursome is not trying to appeal to the Journey fan base.
Empyria is lead by guitarist Mike Kischnick who recently contributed to Thor's Triumphant album. He has also engineered and mixed the album. Fine job too; the first 500 copies of Sense Of Mind come in DVD packaging. These can be ordered directly from the label which you will find at www.scraperecords.com. Now can someone write in and tell me where have we heard the dance riff on No More Lies before? - Ali "The Metallian"
EMPYRIA - THE LONG ROAD HOME - NIGHTMARE
The Long Road Home is a compilation of material by Vancouver’s Empyria. The songs are, says the band, a collection of older demo material, unreleased tracks as well as songs performed on stage, but not immortalized on album. It is so surprising then that the songs are of this high a calibre. Many a band would be proud of any of these songs. Having said that, the disc does come across as slightly disjointed given the variety. It all somehow smells of not belonging to the same composition time-frame.
Empyria has been kicking the can for twenty years and pre-dates most of the scene, but references to other bands can be made. Much of the music is of the power metal variety with a nod to progressive metal elements. Icarus Witch is one obvious comparison. No Other Way is remarkable for its Dream Theater and Rush-like mid-section that takes one back many years. The DT section drifts into a whole segment reminiscent of Rush’s progressive doodling circa 1980. Then - typical for Empyria - the songs glides into a heavy metal ending. Lonely People starts like a Primus waste of time, but soon rises to deliver excellent Canadian power metal vocals and a few impressive bass runs with a dose of Steve Harris-ism. This superb heavy metal song might be the album’s best. Last Rites likely smashes the notion that this is white metal. This aspect is quite puzzling. While Empyria constantly touches upon religious themes and is on a white metal label, much of the lyrics express raging doubt about the whole affair. Have to ask the band about it all. The guitars are let loose on this track either way! Can’t Wait Forever has a powerful drive to it, yet is hampered by the more progressive bend, awful keyboards and a complex, but weaker sound. Told you the album mixes that with this. Solitude is almost an outro and bears a mention because it is an impressively beautiful instrumental.
The Long Road Home is one of those albums that probably won’t fall into too many hands, but should. The song deserves it and it is clearly much better than the album’s description implies. - Ali “The Metallian”
To interview Mike Kischnick of Empyria makes sense for several reasons. Firstly and perhaps most importantly, Empyria's brand new album deserves recognition based on its musicianship. Furthermore, the Canadian quartet is undeservedly underexposed. Were the band based in Europe, they would be granting interview after interview while touring across that continent. Finally, the guitarist is a friendly and congenial musician who likes giving interviews. it all adds up to a great addition to Metallian's interview dungeons, doesn't it? Ali "The Metallian" interviewed guitarist Kischnick, who comprises the band alongside singer Philip Leite, bassist Ken Firomski and drummer Simon Adam, on the occasion of the group's new album Sense Of Mind - 02.11.2002
METALLIAN: Mike, why don't you fill in the readers on Empyria's history. With three full-length albums under its belt, the band remains little-known on the heavy metal scene.
MIKE KISCHNICK: Empyria was formed by singer Paul Falon and myself around 1991. We then added Simon Adam on drums and recorded our first 6-song demo in 1992. We did some gigs and then came our 8-song second demo called Ornamental Iron Works in 1993. This tape was fairly prog' rock-ish. Then came a 3-song demo '94 with the original version of The Lighter side of Darkness part 1 on it following which we received a demo grant from FACTOR (The Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records) for a two-song demo which contained songs later on our first album. These were Test of Time and Secret Visions. They were recorded with a different drummer named Sean Stubs. That demo garnered us our management with Dustin Hardman Entertainment (Kamelot, Oppressor, etc.) and subsequently got us a deal recording with T&T/Noise Records.
METALLIAN: What was the first demo called?
MIKE KISCHNICK: It was just a self-titled 6-song demo. The tracks on it were: Open Skies, Can't Wait Forever, The Calling, Seasons Of Change, Of All The Dreams and Lonely People.
METALLIAN: How did you hook up with the Florida-based Hardman?
MIKE KISCHNICK: A friend of mine knew him through another band he was interested in and told me Dustin would probably like our stuff. We sent material to him and he got us our deal with T&T/Noise Records. At the time Kamelot, whom he managed, had just been signed as well. We worked with him for about three years. As for where he is now that is a mystery. He stopped managing bands, got married and, I guess, wanted to get out of the music business. Great guy though, excellent to work with.
METALLIAN: Why don't you tell the readers about your personal history? For example, were you born in Vancouver?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Yes, I was born in Vancouver. I was given a guitar and lessons when I was really young, but wanted to play soccer instead which I did until I was about thirteen. At that point I heard Judas Priest who became a huge influence, Van Halen, Triumph, Rush, Queensryche, Fates Warning et cetra and got interested in music really quickly. Then I got hooked on metal/prog' metal's many great bands. This has lasted until now with some newer bands like ARK, Symphony X and the deceased Conception which keep me very interested in music. I am also into a jazz and fusion violinist named Jean-Luc Ponty. It is good to listen to instruments other than guitar. Through the years I have taken a few lessons, but I am mostly self-taught. When I was around nineteen I took a music theory course and went for some jazz guitar lessons. I have been in several bands before Empyria namely New Horizon, Infra-Red and... one other thing I can't remember what the hell it was called! For a while I would fill in for gigs as a second guitar player for a friend's band called Gradient Profile as well.
METALLIAN: With the new album Sense Of Mind, Empyria has landed a deal with Scrape Records. How did you come across them and how serious a company is it?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Scrape Records is an 'all metal' store in Vancouver which is owned by a friend of mine. Our album Sense of Mind is the first official release where they also act as a label. They did release a compilation disc in 2001 called Canadian West Coast Metal Feast though, which featured Devin Townsend, Thor, Empyria, Infernal Majesty and a side project of mine called Deadblow Hammer on it. Actually when you buy Sense of Mind most copies come with that compilation disc as well. The version of Sense of Mind on that compilation has a slightly different mix courtesy of Paul Blake, who has sound engineered Annihilator.
METALLIAN: Empyria, as mentioned, has several album releases prior to Sense Of Mind as well. How do they contrast with the new album?
MIKE KISCHNICK: First thing to be mentioned is how, I think, all of our releases have a different feel from each other. I remember listening to bands like Judas Priest and thinking that it was cool how each album was unique; yet it was still Judas Priest. Sense of Mind is much more song and guitar-oriented - which is like Behind Closed Doors whereas The Legacy was an attempt at a theme album where the four parts of the song flowed together as one twenty-five minute piece of music.
METALLIAN: When reviewing Sense Of Mind my favourite aspect of the album was the guitar playing. This is probably hardly a surprise given how you, as the band leader, are a guitarist. My least favourite aspect was the vocals. Care to comment?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Thank you very much for the compliments on the guitar playing. I tried hard to make solos which fit well with the song and not be a bunch of 'wanking.' As for the vocals I don't really know what to say other than, I think Phil is an excellent singer with a distinct sound. Hopefully, given the overall sound of the band, we are recognisable from the hundreds of bands out there that are starting to sound like a standard metal/prog. format. And hey, you can't please everyone. Some people didn't like Geddy Lee's voice either, but when you hear it, you know it's Rush!
METALLIAN: There is, what my review of Sense Of Mind termed, a 'dance beat' on the song No More Lies. What is the story behind that particular beat?
MIKE KISCHNICK: I did make a variation of the main riff of that for the Thor album actually! You can hear it on the song Stormbringer (Pilot Remix).
I also wonder if people get to the hidden instrumental track on our album after the song Forever. It's called If Tomorrow Never Comes where I play all the instruments. The band allowed me put it on there.
METALLIAN: Remaining with the current album, one notices how you are also credited as the producer of Sense Of Mind. What experience, in this field, did you bring to the table?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Yes, I produced this album, as well as The Legacy and Changing Currents. Dale Penner, who has worked with Nickleback, produced Behind Closed Doors.
Prior experience was nothing more than always recording on 4-tracks and stuff when I was a teenager. Later in Empyria's early days Paul Falcon and myself always recorded our demos. I used to work for Roland Music, so I always had access to gear and I simply ended up building my own little digital studio and just kept on going from there.
METALLIAN: Sense Of Mind is also issued as a limited edition with DVD packaging. What is the notion behind this formatting and what is the limited edition's availability?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Well, we did it that way so it would stand out more. Say, in a store it would stand out from everyone else's discs. For example, the artwork on the front would be larger and we could put extra stuff in it as in the ones which come with the compilation disc and its artwork in addition to the regular disc. Incidentally, Sense of Mind is available through http://www.scraperecords.com or you can buy it at HMV, A&B Sound in Canada or Nightmare Records in the U.S.A., who released our third album The Legacy.
METALLIAN: How limited is the DVD packaging?
MIKE KISCHNICK: It is limited to the first five hundred copies. They are both packaged that way and also hand-numbered.
METALLIAN: Elsewhere, what are your immediate plans now that Scrape has issued Sense Of Mind?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Well, right now we are just doing interviews and stuff. I am currently writing and starting to record some new material which will either turn into new Empyria music or I may try doing a disc by myself - musically probably a little heavier than Empyria. I have done things like that before. There are two MCDs available through Scrape Records called New Horizon (demo sampler) and New Horizon II where I play all the instruments, Phil sings several tracks and Ken plays bass on a couple of songs. Actually on the New Horizon II we do a metal version of Aldo Nova's Fantasy.
METALLIAN: In my opinion, and this is something that is fast becoming a sore point with many, cover songs are a dime a dozen. One assumes you do not share the hostility towards this concept.
MIKE KISCHNICK: You know”¦ when I first started playing guitar I was never into cover tunes. Even with Empyria we never were interested in doing them because we were more interested in originals and too lazy to learn someone else's material! Then I started fucking around with the Police's Synchronicity II - which I thought was a damn cool song - and wondered what it would sound like if we played it with our sound and style as opposed to an exact copy. This would be similar to how Nevermore was the only band on the Judas Priest Tribute albums to play a Priest song which sounded as if it were an original. I think that's OK, while still paying respect to your influences.
METALLIAN: The question pertained more to why the fans have to listen to bands' influences and, what's more, pay for the dubious privilege. Regardless, yet coincidentally, you were recently also featured on Thor's Triumphant album. How did this collaboration come about?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Actually J.J. from Scrape Records told me Thor was going to do a new album. He thought I could write several good 'true metal' songs for him. I wrote Call Of The Triumphant and Viking 's Funeral and let Thor hear them. He really liked them so they ended up on his album. Then he asked me if I could help out with the song Intercessor and we both worked on that. Then he heard a song on the Empyria album which he really liked and wanted something similar so I did an instrumental version of Stormbringer - originally intended as a segue for the band to walk onto the stage - but Thor proceeded to add overdubs and lyrics to it.
METALLIAN: Did you also play on Thor's CD or were merely involved at the composition stage? If the former, will you also tour with Thor?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Yes, I did play on the songs that I wrote and co-wrote. Phil and I also sing on that album as well. As for touring, Thor is currently touring and I believe he just did some shows with Gwar. He does stay in touch with me quite a bit though.
METALLIAN: The picture you are painting of Vancouver's metal scene is a more vibrant one than the one generally assumed.
MIKE KISCHNICK: There are quite a few metal bands here like Kiloton, Sir Hedgehog, Zimmer's Hole and Soulscar. There are many people into the black and death metal style and I know quite a few people into progressive metal. There are several bars to play at, but just like everywhere else there are more bands than venues. Still Vancouver does get quite a few metal shows. As far as us, Empyria was asked to play a Power Metal Festival in New Jersey this year, but we were having trouble getting our singer across the border into the U.S.A.! We have been asked to play in Europe, but most of the offers just didn't seem that cost effective.
METALLIAN: It is hard to imagine, given all the activity you described, but do you have interests outside music?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Actually for a long time I did not have any real interests other than music, but I do have opinions in regards to politics and society in general. They usually end up being lyrics (laughs). Other than that I am married and into camping in order to get away from the world once in a while. I collect things like Gargoyle, and Evil Dead and horror movie items. I also just finished going to school to become a butcher last year. I needed a day job and trade and so as of May am a butcher or a meat manager if you wish. Actually my first choice was to become a morgue attendant, but the course was two years long so butcher was the obvious second choice! And you know, it seemed like a metal thing to do (laughs).
METALLIAN: Why don't we bring this interview to a close then with a tangent or two pertaining to your interests. Mike, why don't you begin with politics? What is your analysis of what is transpiring currently in the U.S.A.? As a corollary how do you view Canada's role?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Are you referring to all the stuff with the war on terrorism and the Taliban? I think when the towers were attacked on September eleventh it was a very sad day for all those people who lost their lives as well as the family members, but it didn't really surprise me that much. I had thought that one day something like that would happen, but many Americans were really shocked because many of them thought their U.S.A. was untouchable and things like that just don't happen there. As for the Talibans' reasoning for doing it (Note: there has been no proof as to the identity of the culprits - Editor), I don't agree with it at all. I could see how with all the immorality (prostitution, murder, pornography, the glorifying of serial killers, et cetra) they could see the Americans as being sinful and immoral and justify their reasons for attacking though. Furthermore, who is to say that if one were born and raised in Afghanistan, then one's heard about America other than through their government! But now with the USA wanting to go after Saddam Hussein, if they wanted to they could have killed him before, I believe the reason is not so much fuelled by stopping terrorism or getting justice for its people who died, but more by a need and greed for oil. It may sound harsh, but come on, what does most of this world revolve around? Plain and simple: money with a capital M! It is sad but true. Keep in mind this is only my opinion and I may be wrong.
As for what Canada should do, I believe (Prime Minister) Chretien should have reacted more quickly by helping people out there, not so much assisting in war and getting Canadians killed, but helping out the families. We would have wanted that from the U.S.A. if something like that ever were to happen here.
METALLIAN: And on a lighter note, and for Metallian's carnivore readers, what should one watch for when picking up meat at the butcher shop?
MIKE KISCHNICK: Parts of fingers in your meat! No, I am just kidding. I don't know. Actually we have a very good standard in the Canadian meat industry. Only thing I can think of is how when you see imported meat and it is always cheaper than Canadian meat, then you should figure out what they are feeding their animals can't be that good. Also if you buy really, really cheap hot dogs and on the package says 'may contain beef or pork' well , it might, then again it might not (laughter).
For more information on heavy metal band Empyria please point your browser to www.dreamwavemedia.com/empyria.