EMPYREAN SANCTUM: Progressive Epicness

Empyrean Sanctum

Empyrean Sanctum is a new progressive metal act hailing from Chicago, IL. Formed by main songwriter, guitarist, and composer, Justin Kellerman, the band consists of Albert Rybka on vocals, Zach Libbe on drums, and Mario Buonincontro on bass guitar.

Drawing influences from a wide range of progressive metal bands such as, Dream Theater, Meshuggah, Symphony X, Ayreon, and Scar Symmetry, Empyrean Sanctum merge melodic vocals and instrumental interplay with aggressive technical displays bearing characteristics from more extreme acts. Their debut self-titled album features Fabio D’Amore (Pathosray, Serenity) on bass guitar, and was mixed and mastered by Zack Uidl (7 Horns 7 Eyes). It is a fantasy based concept album dealing with personal struggle. A 71-minute long musical journey, the album takes the listener to many different places, both musically and lyrically.

Empyrean Sanctum is Prog Sphere’s new Band of the Week. The interview with Justin Kellerman can be read after the break.

Not so many newcomers decide to kick off their music catalog with a 71-minute long record. How did the creating process of the album go?

It’s funny you say that. I actually had to condense down some of the songs and make changes so we would not be releasing a double disc. I had my whole life to write this album. The material spans all the way back to 2008 and was re-worked to what it is today. I would basically program the keyboard parts on a guitar tab program while writing riffs and drum ideas. It just blossomed from there. It’s a prog band so I wanted to make an album that a big prog nerd would enjoy.

Describe how the self-titled album came together.

Well I was basically building the songs piece by piece, but trying to keep them representing the feel of the album, depending on what point in the story it was at. It was a lot of hard work, but worth it.

Where was the album recorded?

The keyboard parts were all programmed at my house and then the MIDI files were transferred to Zach’s computer. We would then sit for hours finding the best sounds for the Keys. The guitars and vocals were recorded at Zach’s place as well. The bass was recorded in Italy by Fabio D’Amore (Pathosray, Serenity) He would send me the parts, usually 3 songs at a time, make sure I was ok with them, and that was that! The drums were programmed at Zack Uidl’s (7 Horns 7 Eyes) studio. The album was mixed and mastered by him as well.

What is your method of songwriting? Do you follow any predefined patterns when composing?

Honestly I do whatever I feel like doing. Writers block is a nonexistent term in my vocabulary, except for the use of it right now…. Having a fairly good grasp on music theory helps with that. In my earlier years I would spend hours looking for the right notes to choose for the sound I was looking for. I don’t miss those days at all. I’m still always trying to improve and try new things.

Empyrean Sanctum's Justin Kellerman

You put yourselves under the progressive metal tag, but it’s evident that there is the element of epicness in your sound. Where does it come from?

Well to be honest, I have a hard time listening to power metal these days. Too cheesy haha. If the vocalist blows my mind though, I’ll give it a shot. I used to be really into power metal and the epic concept albums. I wasn’t about to back away from what I had put so much work into and structured the songs to fit with this story. There was talk of completely dropping the lyrics and starting from scratch, but it didn’t happen. We tried to make the lyrics as vague as possible that way it could be related to your own personal struggle in a sense. It’s always nice to actually connect with lyrics rather than swing your mighty sword.

How would you describe what you guys do to someone who didn’t listen to you before?

Dream Theater is what we always say. Most people don’t have a clue though. I’ll sometimes bring up 70′s prog bands and say we’re that fused with modern metal. I write whatever I feel like and now that there’s material people can hear I just say listen.

You mention different genres influencing your sound. Progressive and power metal have its own differences and similarities. How do you go about fusing these two subgenres in particular?

It feels natural to me being a huge Symphony X, Angra, Evergrey, Etc* fan. It’s just a form of self expression. I like all music, so I’m always looking for ideas.I attend ProgPowerUSA every year, so that’s what I eat for breakfast.

On a lyrical side, you are definitely more closer to the mentioned “epicness” factor which is always connected with the power metal subgenre. What are the themes you deal with in your lyrics?

It’s personal struggle used in a fantasy context. It’s all Metaphors for the crap we go through in life. In the end we prevail. Uplifting right???

You are listed as the main composer, but the band consists of Albert Rybka (vocals), Zach Libbe (drums) and Mario Buonincontro (bass). How much did they influence the final structure of the album?

Zach has always been my right hand man behind the scenes. Yes I basically write everything because I know what I want and it works for us, but I’m sure they’ll all tell me if something sucks. The vocal melodies were a joint effort and then I would figure out the harmonies. The Drums were programed due to a time constraint. A good chunk of the drum parts were parts that Zach would actually play when we would jam out the songs, and others were not.

Are you satisfied with the album’s reception?

So far it’s been getting really good reception. I find it to be quite flattering. I’m a pretty harsh critic on myself, so when others tell me how great something is that came from my head I get excited. There are some things I would have changed and the other guys can agree on that as well, but it’s done and it’s time to move forward.

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

LIFE… can be a big bitch sometimes, right? Honestly as long as I stay positive things are great. If I’m in a slump It hurts my music. I’m not one of those artists that’s fulled by negativity and misery. No Thanks! I want to inspire people and make others happy, you know? I apply the same mentality with weight lifting. I’d say that goes hand in hand with my music. I’ve always had that sort of jock mentality with it, so to speak.

Did you have chance to bring the band onstage, performing any of the songs off the self-titled album?

That hasn’t happened as of yet, but believe me it will! We’ll have better material to play though by that time (Hint, Hint)

What are your future plans?

To market this album more and get Empyrean Sanctum out there! I have a killer group of guys in the band. They’re great friends, great musicians, and great people. I have about seven songs written for the second album which a few of those songs are already 2-3 years old. That material knock your socks off ;) This album is fresh to everyone though, so like I said it will be the focus now. I just want more and more people to hear it and hopefully inspire someone or even change their life with our music. On a side note: these were some great questions! To anyone reading this, STAY POSITIVE!

Empyrean Sanctum on the web:



Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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