As Empyre frontman Henrik Steenholdt admits, his native Northamptonshire doesn’t have many local heroes, especially when it comes to music. The band’s pitch as the Midlands county’s great rock hope began in 2016, when Steenholdt, guitarist Did Coles, bassist Grant Hockley and drummer Elliot Bale forged a shadowy sound touched by the anthems of Pearl Jam and Alter Bridge.
Now, with the orchestral flourishes of second album Relentless, Empyre are entering their imperial phase. And these are the six things you need to know.
Relentless is out now via Kscope.
007 inspired their new album
Obviously they wouldn’t have wished for the lockdown, which broke the stride of 2019’s debut album Self Aware. But Empyre used the downtime to add swooping orchestration to the alt.rock stylings of Relentless.
“Metallica on S&M or Guns N’ Roses with November Rain, that’s what we’re aspiring to,” says Steenholdt. “Soundtracks are a big influence – like Max Richter, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, John Barry. If you listen to [new-album track] Your Whole Life Slows, there’s a little ode to Goldfinger, with the trumpets doing that ‘pah-paah-pah!’”
They’re proud to be killjoys
You can tell when Empyre have hit the stage, because the temperature in the venue drops.
“The bands we play with, like Massive Wagons, are way more ‘party band’ than us,” says Steenholdt. “We’re more morbid, introspective, darker. We have a joke that we come along and kill the vibe. The rules of an Empyre gig are: one, no singing; two, no clapping; and three, no looking as if you’re having a good time. We take a crowd shot after each show, and instead of devil horns, everyone does Italian-style pinched fingers. Even our merch T-shirts have the Grim Reaper doing it. Pinched fingers are the new devil horns.”
They skinned Steve Vai. Well, sort of
Empyre are formidable giant killers, winning our website Louder’s Track Of The Week on three occasions, and even scalping shred lord Steve Vai with their recent single Hit And Run.
“I’d like to think Steve is licking his wounds, but I’m not sure he’s got us on his radar,” considers Steenholdt. “Hit And Run is about going back to the Danish town of Sønderborg, where I spent my college years, and finding my friends had all moved away. There are a few new songs about mental health. With Forget Me, I wanted to write the saddest song I could about a guy who’s made the conscious decision to kill himself. That’s not to say those lyrics are about us. I’d like to be immortal, actually!”
They laugh in the face of food poisoning
At the sharp end of the rock circuit, says Steenholdt, you can’t show up with a sick note.
“The hardest gig we ever did was a festival just before the pandemic. All of us were in a terrible state. Grant just had his appendix out. Did was on painkillers for a back injury. I’d passed out in the toilet the night before. As for Elliot’s stomach, let’s just say he did well not to use his drum stool as a loo. It felt calamitous. But the gig was unbelievable. I even hit the note in our cover of Chris Cornell’s Bond theme You Know My Name.”
Their music will make you cry like a baby
If you find sweat and tears flowing equally during Empyre’s set, that’s how they planned it.
“People tell us: ‘When you played that song, I cried’,” says Steenholdt. “That’s exactly what I want to hear. When I see a band, I want to feel the hairs on the back of my neck, which Eddie Vedder and Myles Kennedy manage to do. As a frontman I want to emit an ambience, an aura. The only bit I don’t like about Eddie Vedder is when he starts ranting about politics. That ruined the last Pearl Jam show I went to."
Getting older doesn’t scare them
The Empyre line-up might be skirting their forties, but ageing holds no fear for them.
“Myles Kennedy must be in his fifties and he’s still hitting amazing notes,” says Steenholdt. “Axl Rose is not what he was but he’s still pretty good. And how on earth are the Rolling Stones still so good? The likes of those guys – what a demonstration of how it can be done. We aspire to be like them."