Unedited Synnove interview reproduced, with permission, from Heaven's Metal #76 (Aug/Sep 2008).
Your new album, The Whore and the Bride, is quite a departure musically from your EP. Was this change a conscious decision or a natural progression?
Well, in many ways it was both. There were quite a few factors that contributed to the musical departure that you see in The Whore and the Bride. Firstly, we had a change of drummer. Much of the speed, aggression, blastbeats and so forth were not possible with the drummers that had played with us before. Our first drummer, who was more of a doom kind of drummer, had an emotional breakdown. At the time, he was just getting to the point were he could play blastbeats but his health did not allow him to continue. One other drummer tried out for us but was not compatible with our musical vision. We were so frustrated that we decided to get a session drummer and focus on doing a recording in the hope that it might draw in the right person. Aaron from Embodiment 12:14 came in as a session drummer. Rock ‘n’ roll, groove-based hardcore was more his forte, not extreme black metal. So, in a way, the EP was a bit of a compromise. We worked with what we had and I think we achieved a good result for what it was as the time. After recording the EP, our current drummer Steve came into the picture and I was able to start putting together the type of songs that reflected the direction that I wanted to go in. This is reflected in our latest work. Many bands, and Christian metal bands in particular, seem to get more melodic and less brutal as they progress in their music careers. They sell out to the commercialized ‘youth group’ mentality that plagues Christian music. We actually decided to get faster and more aggressive while keeping the sense of melody, dynamics and emotion in the music that was evident in the EP. If anything, I am hoping that our music gets even nastier in the future.
There appear to be a variety of influences found in the music of The Whore and the Bride, from Martyrium-era Antestor to newer Behemoth. What bands have inspired the music of Synnove and in what ways?
I have never heard anyone compare us to Antestor before! That is quite a compliment and, in fact, I only just started listening to them this year. They are great so if any influence has filtered into our writing I hope they take it as a compliment. The Behemoth comparison is also very much a compliment. I would love to be as brutal as they are but I don’t see it myself. As far as what inspires Synnove, we like the melancholy bands such as Virgin Black, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. Also, black metal bands from Scandinavia such as Emperor, Satyricon, Darkthrone and Enslaved are bands that inspire us. We also like death metal acts such as early Mortification, Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, Carcass and Entombed and progressive ones such as Opeth. All this rattles around in our collective musical heads as we write, even some of the Christian bands such as the first Lengsel album, early Extol and, for me personally, even older ones such as The Crucified, Vengeance, Deliverance, Stryper, Rez and Barren Cross. I am particularly inspired by black metal and death metal bands that juxtapose sheer brutality and raw harshness with moments of beauty, melody and the avant-garde.
For someone unfamiliar with the band, how would you describe the music of Synnove?
We are much like our cheesy but apt promo: a dialogue between groove and chaos, melody and dissonance! We like to create black metal with influences from other metal genres such as death, goth and doom, or whatever influence inspires us at time, and create a dialogue between brutality and beautiful melodies and emotions. For us it represents paradoxes such as a God who is love yet pours out his wrath on human beings who are sinful but who also have the image of God in them. Our faith is about coming to terms with the mystery of these paradoxes that we encounter in life and transcending them. I like the idea of finding music that conceptualizes that journey and represents it artistically.
What led you to name the new album The Whore and the Bride? What message were you trying to convey?
I can’t actually remember who came up with the title itself - it may have been Adam from Soundmass - but the ideas behind the title all started many years ago. I was in a church where the leader was spiritually abusive, legalistic and controlling. It caused many friends of mine who I deeply love to either leave the faith or to be so wounded that they have never made it back to being in fellowship with God’s people in a local church. Much of what I wanted to write is a lament on their behalf. Later in my journey I was in a church where the horror of sexual abuse occurred as a youth leader abused young boys. At the time, the hierarchy of the church seemed more concerned with possible lawsuits than with helping the victims. This was very painful for the minister of the church, to have someone that he had trusted abuse the children of his church, and watching what it did to him broke my heart. I began to write songs about it as a part of the healing process for myself and others. I have also come to be disturbed about the amount of greed and materialism that is in both the church and society and the fact that so many people and more concerned with selfish pursuits than with the gospel, social justice or the care of the earth. In many ways, I felt like an angry prophet or John the Baptist as I began to write, drawing from Old Testament imagery where Israel is called both a whore and a bride as grief is poured out over their falls. These Old Testament texts speak to us today as we come to terms with our own failure as the bride of Christ. Our love of money, sex and power has taken us away from our first love, Jesus Christ.
Now that The Whore and the Bride has been out for a little while, are you happy with the end result? If you could go back in time, what one thing would you change about the album or the recording process?
Overall, we are very happy with the result, although there is much I would do differently. I would maybe trim some songs down a bit here and there. I would have liked to make it darker and colder but I’m not sure that the songs lent themselves to it at the time. There is still a sound and a feeling that I am searching for which I call ‘the darkness and pathos of God’. I think we have only just begun to find it. When we, through our sound, make ourselves and others feel like they are in a storm of wrath and passion that comes from the heart of God, then we have achieved our goal, but we still have not reached that. Kyle from Slaughter House Studios did a fantastic job and we would love to keep recording with him. He made a real effort to get into the headspace of our genre and now he’s even starting to like the blacker stuff himself. What we learnt from the whole process is that preparation is everything, so we will probably spend more time in pre-production next time and refine our ideas more to save time.
One change from the EP to The Whore and the Bride seems to be less singing by Stephanie. Furthermore, the “thank you” portion of the album notes state, “My beautiful Stephanie - thank you for your contribution to Synnove - you will be missed.” Why is Stephanie leaving Synnove and will the band attempt to find a replacement?
Of all the line-up changes that could happen in the band this was one of the most painful for me. Stephanie, our bassist and vocalist, is leaving the band. But she had done enough and worked so hard that it was time for her to have a rest from such a hard regime as managing both a band and a family. I love her voice and I will miss her contribution. Stephanie is also my wife and the mother of my children. She has endured so much to share this dream with me but after our fourth child it was getting too much for her to find time to practice and to look after our young family. She is every bit the perfectionist and I could see that she was being stretched too thin and could no longer give her all to band and our kids at the same time. I miss her very much but she made the right choice - our kids come first. She may appear from time to time for some guest vocals but, until our youngest child is in school, her musical ambitions are on hold. Synnove does not stand or fall based on having female vocals, though. Her role was to provide a melodic effect over all the aggression, something which is achievable with either male or female clean vocals.
What songs from The Whore and the Bride have the most meaning to you and why?
Each song has its own particular meaning for me, but for very different reasons. The one that I am most passionate about at present is Rhythms of the Apocalypse. We’ve had so much positive response from that song from so many people and it is such fun to play live. I also like it lyrically because it’s about the great exchange that happened on the cross, with Jesus Christ taking all that is filthy about us and giving us all that is holy about him. The opening song Funeral for Innocence is also meaningful to me. It is such a lament and I find it so cathartic. Each time I sing and play this song I feel much of the pain that I felt over years slip away. Beside that, it has an element of rock ‘n’ roll that I like too see appear in black metal, much like early Venom. The sixth track, The Cry of Creation, is also meaningful to me because of the social justice issues it addresses and I also love the twin guitar sound at the end of the song.
The lyrics of a couple of songs on the new album are about satan--specifically, his fall and his curse--in a very descriptive manner. For example, the lyrics of the song Non Servium state, “At His feet you will bow, grovelling one, before His throne you will cry, Christ is Lord, lake of fire, burning one, judgment comes.” Some people would say that it’s not appropriate to sing so intimately about the devil. How would you respond to this and what was the band hoping to accomplish with these songs?
Actually, only Non Servium deals with the subject of Satan, but you are correct in saying that the lyrics are very descriptive. I don’t know if people would say that it’s not appropriate to sing too intimately about the devil. The Gospel is very explicit about it and Christian bands have done it for years. Stryper did it on ‘To Hell with the Devil’, Vengeance did on “Burn’ and Deliverance did it on ‘Weapons of our Warfare’, so all I am doing is following in a long-standing tradition of Christian metal. In many ways, it was in homage to that tradition that I wrote it, with tongue firmly in cheek and fully aware that it is a little cheesy!
Your lyrics are blatant and leave no doubt about the bands’ beliefs. Given that your music is in a sub-genre where bands are often anti-Christian and blasphemous to God, has this ever caused a problem, at a concert or otherwise?
It does not make sense for a Christian black metal band not to be overt about its beliefs as our secular counterparts are overt about theirs. If we were a goth band it would make sense to be a little more vague and arty lyrically, but this is black metal! In regard to persecution - not much that is overt. Most of the anti-Christian vibe is unspoken. The average black metal fan is more of a beer drinking “bad boy” than a serious church-burning Satanist, not that the later is not out there. I know of one band that has said stuff about us, but nothing to our faces, and I know that they asked to have us taken off a bill that we were sharing with them. The singer of that band used to be a Christian so I think that it is more a matter of him being bothered that God was on his case than of him being a serious Satanist. I also had two guys at a black metal gig give me some grief, but I was disappointed with how passive and lame it was as I was hoping for some debate. When I started doing this I expected the hostility to be a little more pronounced but, as I said, most of it is unspoken. At the end of the day, ‘musical’ actions speak louder than words in the local scene. If you are Satanic and crap people will eventually loose interest in what you are doing. Likewise, if you are Christian and good at what you do you will win an audience eventually, which is something that Virgin Black proved. Often, because we are Christian, the average metal fan is expecting us to preach at them. They assume that our focus is to be there to preach at them, so they expect us to play average or weak music. So we have to worker harder to impress them because we have the “Christian” tag. We just quietly go about our business but try to put together the best music we can and to work on and improve our live performances. Any mistake you make, any lack of passion in playing, is often seen as somehow coming from the fact that you are a Christian band. So we keep plugging away at the music and, in time, we hope people will take it for what it is.
You play a fair number of shows locally. What is a typical Synnove concert like? Do you have any plans to tour to support The Whore and the Bride?
Mmmm… let me see: drunk guys yelling “Play Reign in Blood by Slayer”, other guitarists looking at you saying “I could do that better”, the sound-guy telling you to hurry up so that the next band can get on, make up running all over your sweaty face, band mates being disorganized and needing mommy to hold their hands and wipe their butts! No, it’s not really that bad! But each show is a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. When you play, you only seem to notice what goes wrong, even when you have a show that goes well. Murphy’s Law always seems to be at work when you play live. When you perform well, hardly anyone is there to see it and when you have a bad night, every man and his dog is there to see it. We have had shows where I felt we connected and shows where we have screwed up, but we keep coming back for more and we don’t give up. That is one thing that I am determined will set Synnove apart: stubborn determination to do well. I think that people are slowly gaining some kind of respect for us, but I also sense that it is difficult for some people to understand the combination of our faith with our music, so they kind of hold back. In time, I think they will see that we are just as committed to giving them a good performance as we are to our faith and, in fact, that our desire to perform well comes from our faith. Playing live is something that we are passionate about, even if it’s just twenty people at one in the morning, because we are there for reasons other than just entertaining people. Our ultimate audience is heaven.
If you had the opportunity to play a concert opening for a band that has anti-Christian lyrics, such as Bathory or Dimmu Borgir, would you accept the offer?
Well, we would not be opening up for Bathory as that was a one man band and he is now dead! But let me answer by telling you a story. I was at a Christian all-ages hardcore show at a local church. Half way through the gig I began to feel like I did not belong. I also felt this inner nudging to leave and go into the city. As I sat on the train, I reflected on how many of my friends in bands were so focused on making it big in the Christian music scene and playing in a little “Christian fish bowl”. I also reflected on how trend-conscious they had become and how any sense of being in this for ministry had been lost. It occurred to me that there was not much extreme black metal, death metal or grindcore being played by Christians and that the very trendy “youth group” hardcore, emo and punk had taken over everything. When I got off the train, I saw this guy walking down street wearing a Cradle of Filth shirt that bore the statement “Jesus is a cunt”. Seeing this made me very sad inside and I wondered “Does this guy even know anything about Jesus at all? Are there any Christian bands reaching out to guys like this?” I followed him into a local metal and goth club and there was this band playing black and death metal to only about thirty people, complete with upside down crosses and the yelling out of your usual blasphemies. Right then and there I knew that this scene was to be both my mission field and the place I was called to express myself artistically. Earlier, I was more into goth metal stuff, but from then on I consciously started to listen to, and write in, a more extreme vein of music, and eventually came to form Synnove. So I have no problem playing with a local band and that is Satanic because, aside from being there to play metal, I am there in the hope of our music being a bridge to where a relationship can take place and the Christian faith can be shared and people’s views about Jesus can be changed. So, if Dimmu Borgir asked us to play, why would that be any different? I would still be there to play metal to that one guy in the audience with the Cradle of Filth shirt that says “Jesus is a cunt”, with the hope that I could change his mind about that. So, yes, I would play with Dimmu Borgir. The interesting thing is that if I was in a hardcore band and I had the opportunity to play with a secular hardcore band, I doubt that anyone would ask that question, and yet there is often just as much of “the world, the flesh and the devil” in operation in that scene as there is in the black metal scene!
Are you satisfied with your record deal with Soundmass and the support the band receives from them?
We have a very good deal with Soundmass and Adam goes beyond the call of duty to help us, especially me! So, yes, I am very happy! In many ways, I have the same passion for Soundmass that I have for my own band. I would like there to be a strong Christian label that has artistic integrity while still being committed to mission, which I think encapsulates Soundmass very well. Australia has produced some good Christian metal bands over the years but there has often been no, or minimal, label support, so you had to deal with the tyranny of distance when it comes to labels overseas. We’ve seen a couple of attempts at labels but, as good as they were, they were run by people that were in bands themselves. In the case of Soundmass, it is Adam’s total focus, not his side project, so I feel that we are working with someone that is as focused on being good at what they do as we as a band are. With Soundmass, I feel like I can focus on being an artist and not have to worry about the business end of things, so I hope we can keep this relationship going. If not, well… I know where Soundmass lives!
What three goals do you have for Synnove over the next year?
Well, I actually have four goals. Firstly, I would like to improve our live performance and make it more of an artistic expression than it currently is. On a recording, Pro Tools covers a multitude of sins, but live you are naked and on your own. So I want to keep improving our performance and make a Synnove live experience on par with the experience of listening to the CD. To do this we are going to have to grow the team and find some people who are good at sound and lighting and I would definitely like to have a V-jay who can incorporate multimedia stuff. Secondly, I would like to start touring around Australia and promoting our album. Thirdly, I’d like to start writing again and expand on what we have done on this album as we have so much more to say and express with our music. Fourth, I would like to write some Synnove music that would fit the setting of the Mass and combine our music with the Eucharist to create an ancient, but alternative, experience of worship.
Do you have any last words for the readers of Heaven’s Metal?
Well, firstly I’d like to thank Doug Van Pelt for getting the old-school Heaven’s Metal out again. I grew so much from that magazine and it put me in touch with some great bands. I would also like to encourage readers to not illegally download music as it hurts the artists who make the music that you claim you love. Something that is also very important to me is that fans of Christian metal do not just live in a “Christian fish bowl”, but get out there and make friends with those non-Christians in “offensive and demonic” shirts. Build relationships with them and share your faith with them in gentle but engaging ways.