SYLVATICA: "We find it intriguing and even enjoyable to have created something that polarizes opinions and sparks lively discussions"
Danish Melodic Death Metal band SYLVATICA already sparked my interest in 2021 with their previous record "Ashes and Snow", and now caught me again with album No 3, that got the lovely title "Cadaver Synod" and came out on October 20th (find my review here).
Glad about the opportunity to chat with Thomas Haxen and Jardén Schlesinger about Sylvatica's newest work, the band's background, and the shift in their sound - Welcome to read more here:
Hey, thanks for making time to answer my questions. How are you today?
Thomas: Hey, thanks for having us! Just got the kids settled in for the night, sipping on some evening coffee, and tackling these questions. Hope you're doing great too :-)
Jardén: I'm doing well. It's currently 10 pm, and I've just arrived at my workplace. I'm enjoying a cup of coffee as well, and thanks to having what might be considered the easiest job in the world, I've got plenty of time to help answer any questions!
Awesome :-) So let's dive in straight away: Could you please introduce yourself and Sylvatica to our readers?
Thomas: My name is Thomas, and I am the bassist in Sylvatica. Jardén and I have been part of the band since its inception in 2009 - He was only 15, and I was 18 years old when we began playing together. The band initially started with a folk metal influence, inspired by acts like Svartsot and Finntroll. However, we quickly developed an interest in melodic death metal, drawing inspiration from bands like Kalmah and Wintersun.
Over the course of a decade, we released our debut and our second album, which took a while to create and record due to life and other projects taking up our time. However, only two years have elapsed now between "Ashes and Snow" and our newly released one, so we're back on track and going strong! Just two days ago, we performed at a festival in Odense, and it went really well. We're already in the midst of working on our next album, so things are looking up these days.
Sounds highly promising to me :-) Congrats to the release of your new opus! How do you feel about it, and how was the reception on “Cadaver Synod” so far?
Thomas: Thank you very much! It has been fantastic thus far. The album appears to be somewhat divisive, eliciting strong reactions from listeners. Some people adore it, while others simply don't resonate with it. Approximately 50% of the reviews fall within the 4/10 and 6/10 range, while the remaining half consists of ratings ranging from 8/10 to 10/10. This doesn't concern us in the least, we firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions :-) However, we find it intriguing and even enjoyable to have created something that polarizes opinions and sparks lively discussions.
"Cadaver Synod" is significantly different from our two previous albums; therefore, a negative reaction from some fans was to be expected. However, we genuinely appreciate those of you who love it, and we ourselves are very proud of the work, feeling like we have created something that sounds quite unique.
It does indeed! The music is brutal and beautiful at the same time, with a good pinch of craziness, and I love how you melt the different stylistic elements to a mighty, new whole, with especially the organ sound standing out for me. What is your musical background, and where do you draw your inspiration from?
Jardén: I'm quite certain that we all share a similar musical background. We spent around 3 to 5 years in music school, all the while jamming on our own or with each other, attempting to replicate the sounds and techniques of our musical idols in the confines of our teenage rooms at our parents' houses. Our sources of inspiration have been incredibly diverse, especially on our most recent record.
On our debut album, we drew a lot from Kalmah and Wintersun, with a strong desire to maintain a raw, unadulterated sound, hence the absence of keyboards or synths on that release. However, things took a different turn on our second album, "Ashes and Snow:" In hindsight, we might have gone a bit over the top with synthesizers and layers of guitars as we were in pursuit of that quintessential Finnish melodic death metal sound, almost aiming for a cinematic quality.
Our latest album, however, tells a completely different story. After the recording and release of "Ashes and Snow," which demanded an immense amount of work and two long years of dedication, I found myself quite fatigued with the entire process. It was then during lockdown, that I began delving into the music of the '60s and '70s, with bands like Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, and others. The enchanting sound of the Hammond B-3 organ and the way these bands played it was truly remarkable, left me yearning to experiment with it. However, I soon discovered that obtaining a Hammond B-3 organ would come at a steep price of $25,000, so we had to come up with something else ha ha.
I started composing songs in that nostalgic style and shared them with some friends, hoping they might join me in this new venture. Unfortunately, both of them had become busy with the responsibilities of parenthood and just didn’t have the time. So, I turned to my bandmates and proposed the idea of incorporating this new sound into our repertoire. To my delight, it clicked perfectly!
This is how "Cadaver Synod" came into being, heavily influenced by the old-school rock bands and the haunting sounds of vintage horror music, serving as a fresh source of inspiration for our music.
Oh yeah, and it was awesome to hear how you evolved your style. Could you briefly describe your writing and recording process, please?
Jardén: Our songwriting process primarily revolves around me, my guitar, and a MIDI keyboard, all stationed in front of my computer. I typically start by noodling around until I stumble upon a chord progression that resonates with me. From there, I dissect it, crafting riffs and infusing synths while tweaking the direction of the composition. Gradually, a song begins to take shape.
Once I've got a song in a presentable state, I hand it over to Thomas. While I may have a thematic idea in mind – more often than not, Thomas takes it in an entirely different direction. This creative difference often leads to the best outcomes. Thomas excels in the art of lyric writing, a skill that I readily acknowledge I do not possess.
When it comes time to record, we typically reserve a studio for drum recording. After that, we carry out most of the work either from our homes or in our rehearsal space. We handle all the guitars and orchestration at my place, while Thomas takes care of the bass at his place. Vocal recording is primarily conducted in our rehearsal room. The final stages of mixing and mastering are entrusted to someone who knows what they're doing.
Let’s take a look at the eye-catching cover artwork: What can you tell us about its origins, and how does it reflect the album thematically?
Thomas: We utilized a vintage painting from 1870, created by the artist Jean-Paul Laurens. This painting portrays the notorious Cadaver Synod, during which the decomposing remains of "Pope Formosus" were exhumed from his grave and subjected to trial.
This unusual trial involved dressing the corpse in papal robes, propping it up in a chair, and accusing it of various offenses. The trial found the deceased pope guilty, and his body was mutilated and thrown into the Tiber River. This event took place in the 9th century and is remembered for its strangeness and controversy. Reportedly, the accuser, Pope Stephen VI, was imprisoned and later strangled as a consequence of conducting this trial.
We absolutely had to write a song about this because it's incredibly metal, unbelievable, and fascinating! All the songs from the album are connected to the Middle Ages, so this cover art sets the perfect tone.
Absolutely :-) Could you dive a bit into the record’s topics with us, please?
Thomas: We chose to explore the wild and utterly absurd tales and events from the Middle Ages because that's what the music seemed to demand. Jardén, our frontman and lead guitarist, typically writes the music before I begin to write the lyrics. Just to give you a taste, here are a few examples:
"Papa Poltergeist" is all about the Cadaver Synod, as we've chatted about in relation to the previous question.
"Titivillus" is centered around the daemon known as Titivillus, a creation of the Catholic Church. This demon is believed to murmur in the ears of Catholic scribes, those responsible for transcribing holy texts, thus causing them to make errors in spelling. The issue the church grappled with was the need to account for occasional misspellings made by these holy men of God. I found it quite amusing that the church couldn't even acknowledge responsibility for this minor matter. It makes one wonder how they could ever be expected to address their much more significant transgressions when they couldn't even confront this particular one. Quite amusing, isn't it?
Now, let's dive into "Pope Innocent VIII", a rather peculiar character in history. He had this bizarre habit of drinking the blood of young boys, thinking it could keep him young forever. His personal doctor was the supplier of this rather gruesome concoction. As the legend goes, his life took a dramatic turn with an assassination, and his physician met a particularly grim end – getting his head chopped off. It's the kind of dark and absurd story that I found to be perfect for this record.
Crazy stories, but fitting to the music indeed. Let’s make a little time trip: When and how did you guys get together?
Jardén: We came together in 2009, ranging in age from 15 to 18. Hailing from a small town with virtually no metal scene, we all had some peripheral knowledge of each other. At a certain point, three of us decided to gather in a run-down rehearsal space that one of us had access to. All of us shared a passion for the new wave of folk metal, and that very night, we wrote our very first song, which eventually became our debut single, "Mjölner og Mjöd".
Over the years, we've had several different members join and leave the band, but it's a lengthy story to recount right now. However, since 2016, we've maintained the same line-up. Thomas and I have known each other from Nyborg, where the band originated. In 2015, Christian joined the band, and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure how we first crossed paths with him. He just showed up one day and stayed around, so I guess he is part of the band now.
Thomas: Haha! I remember this. We played numerous shows together in 2015, I believe, along with the death metal band Dreadlord, in which Christian played the guitar. We had a fantastic time with him, and he ended up in our band from there.
Jardén: Jacques joined Sylvatica in 2016, and we know him from the band Horned Almighty, where Thomas also plays bass.
How did you come up with your name, and is there a deeper meaning behind “Sylvatica” for you?
Jardén: I'm a massive fan of the X-Files. Have you watched it? It's absolutely fantastic. Anyway, I was rewatching it in 2009, and Fox Mulder mentioned a Latin word—I can't recall which one exactly. So, I decided to look it up and stumbled upon another Latin word, "Sylvatica." It translates to “of the forest," and I thought, "Yes, that's it!" It was a perfect fit for us. We aspired to play classic folk metal, and what's more folky than a forest? I still believe it suits us well. We've retained our folk essence, and it's a beautiful name.
Absolutely :-) Let’s talk about Sylvatica live: What was your most memorable show so far?
Thomas: We have a multitude of memorable experiences. Just a few days ago, we performed at Odense Metal Fest, and it was fantastic. I'm still riding a high from that show! It was one of those moments when everything came together perfectly. Odense is one of Denmark's largest cities and serves as the unofficial capital of Funen, our place of origin. Many people there were already familiar with us, so we had a blast.
In 2022, we embarked on a small tour with Danish bands Trold and Vansind, which was also a great time. Perhaps the most unforgettable show from that tour took place at the venue "Kansas City," also in Odense. Playing on Funen is always a special experience for us. Unfortunately, the venue is facing some challenges at the moment, and it's disheartening to see that many venues in Denmark are currently struggling.
Another cherished memory is from the early days of the band. We were fortunate to land several support gigs for Svartsot, a group that greatly inspired us at the time. We were absolutely ecstatic! Shortly after, we embarked on a tour with the bands Huldre and Vanir, called the "Mjød (mead) & Metal Tour." It was another incredible experience. To this day, all the members of these bands remain great friends of ours.
One more standout memory is our very first real gig at the legendary venue, "The Rock," in Copenhagen. It was an absolutely smashing performance and the perfect way to kickstart our journey as a band. I distinctly remember standing on stage and thinking to myself, "this is what I want to do with my life." At that time, I was just 19 years old, and Jardén was only 16. It's crazy to think about it now, haha!
Awesome! So how would you describe the Danish rock / metal scene, and is there anything special about the areas you come from?
Thomas: Currently, all of us live in different parts of Denmark, and we've been in these locations for many years. Jacques and I reside in Djursland in Jutland, Jardén lives in Odense, and Christian is in Amager, Copenhagen. It can be challenging at times, but Denmark is a relatively small country, so it's not a major hurdle, and we manage it well.
In recent years, Copenhagen has witnessed a significant wave of black metal, while Jutland is somewhat renowned for its death metal scene. Funen, our place of origin, seems to offer a blend of both worlds, as per my observation. Many bands on Funen have practice rooms connected to the venue "Kansas City," which I mentioned earlier, and there's a substantial presence of death metal. Denmark is somewhat of a hub for black and death metal, and it seems that melodic metal, like our own style, is somewhat underrepresented. Nevertheless, we do have a good handful of folk and melodic metal bands. Lately, there seems to be a growing number of thrash metal bands, which is a positive development.
The metal scene in Denmark is truly remarkable, in my opinion. I thoroughly enjoy being a part of it. It's a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone, and it feels like one big family. We've also been fortunate to have some excellent venues with top-notch facilities that are open to booking even if you're not the biggest band in the country.
What are your experiences with today’s music business regarding the biggest chances and challenges?
Thomas: A significant change that I'm not particularly fond of is the shift from physical to digital media. I have a deep appreciation for physical media and believe that something is lost when we exclusively rely on digital formats. Therefore, I highly recommend getting the vinyl if you want to fully immerse yourself in the release.
That being said, digital media has its advantages, especially for smaller bands trying to get their music heard. Navigating the realm of social media can also be a rollercoaster, with moments of both exhaustion and sheer enjoyment. It's a mixed bag, but it can bring substantial advantages to smaller artists. It's a double-edged sword with both advantages and disadvantages.
With all that said, it's only fair to acknowledge that there has been a growing interest in vinyl and physical media in general, and I truly appreciate that.
One of the biggest challenges is probably making your music stand out. There's a multitude of bands out there, creating fierce competition, and it's incredibly difficult to convince people to listen to your band over all the other great options available. I hope we manage to do that this time, but we'll see. If not, we'll keep trying, haha. The truth is, we genuinely love creating these releases, and we'll continue to do so regardless of what people think.
All our albums are released on relatively small labels, with this latest one being on the largest label we've worked with, Mighty Music. As a result, we've never been deeply entrenched in the big music business machine, so there isn't much I can say about that aspect of the industry.
What can you tell us about your future plans?
Thomas: Currently, we are taking a moment to sit back and savor the release of our new album. In December, we have a show scheduled at Vega in Copenhagen, where we'll be performing alongside artists Nicklas Sonne and Big Sun. Furthermore, we have some shows lined up for 2024, although the details haven't been made public yet.
Me and Jardén recently had a discussion about an exciting concept for our next record, but that's a project for a few years down the road. However, if we decide to pursue this concept, I believe it has the potential to become something truly exceptional.
Sounds promising :-) Before we wrap things up, do you have any further thoughts you’d like to share here?
Thomas: Feel free to check out our new record and consider grabbing it from our Bandcamp page, where you can also find some merchandise. Your support greatly contributes to our future projects. We sincerely appreciate all of you for reading this interview and for supporting us. It means the world to us!
You're most welcome :-) Thanks again for your time and these amazing insights into your work.
Thomas: Thank you for having us :-)