French extreme metal outfit Svart Crown are not a band to be pigeonholed. Seamlessly switching between death, black, progressive, rock and doom stylings without sounding uncertain or indecisive, this is a group whose very ethos is built on constant change. Their very founding statement, according to their bio on the Century Media Records’ website reads as follows: “Never stand still or you shall wither and die! Shed the skin, over and over again. Be reborn!”
And their latest album, their fifth full-length, Wolves Among the Ashes, does not stray from this path. A vast, sprawling record, it spans the full gamut of extreme metal yet somehow remains cohesive: a strong, individual entity that characterizes dynamism without becoming frenetic or chaotic. I enjoyed the privilege of discussing the album with the founding member, JB le Bail, and he had the following to say about the album.
What the interview fails to convey, is just how astonishingly clever this record is. Wolves Among the Ashes could easily slot in alongside the likes of Celtic Frost’s Monotheist (“Down to Nowhere”) or Behemoth’s The Satanist (“At the Altar of Beauty”) in terms of willingness to experiment, and musical ability to pull it off convincingly. And that isn’t even counting the impact of hard-hitting numbers like “Thermageddon” or slow-burn seethers like “Exoria.” Svart Crown have crafted an absolute stunner here, and if this does not propel their career to new heights there’s even more wrong with the world than I thought.
Ok, so… first question I’d like to know is that on the press release you summarised the Svart Crown ethos as “never stand still or you shall wither and die… shed the skin over and over again… be reborn” and listening to the album this comes across in the sheer variety of sounds and styles you present on Wolves Among the Ashes.
JB le Bail: “Yeah…”
The official video for “Blessed be the Fools” might have some pretty ignorant viewer commentary likening it to extreme leftism and other radical movements, but that’s perfectly appropriate given the song’s themes.
It’s also something that you can see on older albums as well that you do not stick to one thing. So what made Svart Crown follow this path, instead of developing a signature sound and sticking to it, like so many other acts do?
le Bail: “The thing is, like since the day one of Svart Crown, I mean as far as I can remember when I created the band like fifteen years ago. I wanted a really open-minded thing… I didn’t want to stick to any genre because I wanted to put all the influences and all the music that I could listen, into the band. So, you know, I didn’t want to do like a pure black metal band like a “true” black metal band that was the thing at the period and um… or old school death metal band or stuff like this like, I wanted to do my thing and my thing was always to listen to a lot of kinds of music coming from the extreme metal… from the death, the black, hardcore thing… And I was like since I’m, I grew up, I listened to many kinds of music so I can take everything that I like and put it into a band and just you know, do whatever I want, that’s like this.”
From that, something else that is quite a rare thing in metal, as well as trying to have multiple influences, is that all your band members have contributed different vocal performances on this album.
le Bail: “Yes, exactly. We had the chance on this record to have like, four vocalists, with different voices and different styles of voices. I knew that the vocal will be really important on this album because we had, I think a strong base and a good instrumental base, but the vocals were something really important. So yes that’s it, I mean especially on the clean vocals I’m not the best singer in the world and I can’t really do it so I’m really lucky and happy to get all the guys involved in the vocal aspect. And yes, that is why we tried at the beginning, we were just supposed to be three vocalists like we do live, but when we were recording the album and especially the vocal parts, the drummer Ranco (Muller) said ’look, I can help’ and he did amazing things. It’s just super cool to have everyone involved on the album.”
That actually leads to the next question, that Ranco came up while you were recording, because I was going to ask how much of the album was complete in your minds before you entered the studio and did any of the tracks change extensively once the recording started?
le Bail: “No not really, like I basically do everything, that I am writing most of the songs on my own, at my place, I like to be in my comfort zone. Alone and in a quiet place, then I can you know, just extract the best parts that I can write. I put everything together and sometimes I just write the entire songs, sometimes just skeletons. Then I am showing everything to zero zero one, then when I am 200 percent certain of my things I show it to the other guys. And that is what I did and I mostly wrote the entire album with Ranco, so you know we were just me and him in the rehearsal room, writing. We did the songs that I got… We also changed some stuff, structure…sometimes I didn’t bring any ideas so he brings some ideas to the table but I pretty much had the whole album in mind since the beginning. I knew where I wanted to go and we didn’t really change that much in the studio. It was just more about the arrangement and stuff like this.”
Wolves Among The Ashes is due out February 7th, 2020 via Century Media Records.
All right. After all the recording and the preparation out of the way do you have a song on the album that you are most proud of?
le Bail: “Yes I think so. It’s changing a lot from time to time but I think ’Down to Nowhere.’ It is maybe not one of my favourite songs but it is the song I am the most proud of because it is really out of our comfort zone and I never thought that I… that we will be able to write such a good song like this. It really is different, it is really rock… with this pop structure but, there is still this dark vibe like this deep down dark vibe and I am really proud that we were able to achieve that kind of song because it is really hard to write and we did it well and we wrote a good and simple stuff and to make things work like this. So yeah, so I think it is definitely that song that I have on mind.”
Well thank you. I can tell you that I appreciate the work you have put in. That’s a stunning piece of work for me.
le Bail: “Oh geez, that is nice to hear, thank you.”
Then let’s move on there. You mentioned that you write most of it on your own and that a big theme that I get not so much in the lyrics but in the actual music itself, there is a lot of isolation that I feel. Do you think that comes from you writing on your own?
le Bail: “Isolation?”
Yes I feel a very… introspective actually might be a better term than isolated.
le Bail: “Yeah, yes a lot. I mean every subject, every song is connected to one feeling, one particular feeling. And especially, I always try to write something that I experience or about something that I feel or something that I want to say and I also always reach out, always connect to the mood that I have when I was writing the instrumental part. So you know, so it is really connected because all the instrumental parts and the riff really came from my deepest feelings and soul. It is really important for me to reconnect everything. So that is why this album is like a pure introspection and it is just all the sound that I get since like three years now and then talking about everything.”
Ok, excellent. If you had to describe Wolves Among the Ashes in one, two maybe three words… What would that be?
le Bail: “I think I will use the word ‘journey’ because it is a real journey from the first songs to the last songs. I think yes, the word ‘introspection’ will be used because it is really introspection and I think I would do something to describe it like ‘mature,’ yeah maybe mature. I won’t say it is maybe our best album to date but it is the most mature album we ever did.”
Relive the music video for “Orgasmic Spiritual Ecstasy” off of the band’s last album Abreaction:
It is definitely the most ambitious that you have done like you mentioned.
le Bail: “Yes ambitious also, yes, maybe…”
You have pushed the envelope…
le Bail: “Yeah, mature… or ambitious – that could be a really good term to describe it.”
Okay, on the subject of maturity, you have been going for about fifteen years now. Over these years, are there any bands that you would say that have been major influences on the Svart Crown sound?
le Bail: “Hmm, I mean there’s of course two bands. I think on the extreme metal parts I will say, I will speak about death metal bands like Morbid Angel, Immolation… Black metal like Gorgoroth, Mayhem that are really major bands for me. I will also speak about some bands that I am listening since a long time like, for example The Roses that kind of have been there and have a really good influence on my writing and everything since 2010, stuff like this so yes it is a pretty long time.
And I will also say a band like Alice In Chains…. It’s maybe not really like… It is maybe not really like metal but is one of my favourite bands ever and I always loved all their writing songs and especially all their putting harmonies and the lead guitars together and that’s a big influence on my guitar playing. Especially when it comes to track the third guitar, the lead part and ghostly stuff and you know there is this, Jerry Cantrell is writing this lead guitar sound, it is up and down, it is a few notes here and there and it is always good. And there is this ghost thing all around, really foggy and I really love it. And that’s… and of course all the metal gods like Slayer that has always been a huge band and been super important for me.”
The Alice in Chains connection is actually very interesting for me because I have spoken to goth bands, industrial bands, sludge bands, doom bands and other metal bands that all say that Alice In Chains have been an influence at some point and for some reason. So that is also very exciting for me.
le Bail: “Yeah but it is like… I discovered Alice In Chains pretty late. When they came back actually with Black Gives Way to Blues… that’s when I discovered them and I fell in love with this album and I discovered the first album just a little bit after so… I really like everything from that band, it is like one of my favourite band ever and yes, I am listening to Alice In Chains all the time.”
“Exoria” is one of the highlight tracks off of Wolves Among the Ashes:
Ok also on the subject of other bands… because Svart Crown has got such a varied sound, who do you think would be an ideal band for you to tour with?
le Bail: “I don’t know. I mean… artistically speaking, I really don’t know because that’s what is cool with this band is we can fit many different kinds of bands. Like in the past we toured with old school death metal bands like Deicide and stuff like this. Or we did stuff with pure black metal like Marduk, we did stuff with Rotting Christ and that was super cool, we had a good connection… I really don’t know what to say but for sure what will be a good step for the band is to tour with a bigger band who are bigger than us to you know, for a bigger audience. For example, if we are able to tour with like Behemoth, or I don’t know like Gojira it will be amazing for us.”
I can see it working with either act actually that you could fit in there because you have such a varied style.
le Bail: “Yeah, I think so.”
But now thinking of stylistically… French black metal has a bit of a strange past. I mean, historically it is often associated with that underground elitism of les légions noires. So what are your thoughts on keeping black metal so underground?
le Bail: “I really don’t know. To be honest I am not connected at all to les légions noires. It is something I really don’t listen to and I am not that much aware about that kind of band. I don’t think artistically speaking they are super relevant. I’m way more focused on and connected to bands like, for example that appeared in the mid-2000s, like Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, Antaeus, Aosoth. Stuff like this, more recent bands? So then I cannot really talk about les légions noires because really that’s not my thing.”
Still good to know. You mentioned Blut Aus Nord. What did you think about the recent problem with their most recent album that got leaked early? What do you have to think about that sort of thing? Fans leaking albums when they shouldn’t be?
le Bail: “Oh that’s really really bad… that’s really sad that… I don’t really get it.”
Watch the lyric video for “Khimba Rites” also from Abreaction:
It is one of those things that also kind of pisses me off that…
le Bail: “Yeah… I really don’t know about the story, I just saw the posts about it. I think it was like the label manager of Debemur Morti who said something like this. It’s really sad… I really know how it is to write a complete album and put everything that you have into it and at least the only thing that people can do is respecting this you know. Respecting the artistic value. I mean you can now, you don’t have to buy CDs, you can listen to it for free on YouTube. You can download it for free when it is released. You can even download it before, I mean but putting an album on purpose on the internet before the release date is really shitty. I mean if you really want to support the band, at least wait for the release date or you know, don’t do it. It’s… it doesn’t make any sense.”
None at all. Especially in the genre that already 99 percent of the artists have to have day jobs they cannot support themselves with their music.
le Bail: “Of course… exactly!”
Ok! Last question… your press release also detailed that you had a number of internal difficulties following your 2018 touring season. Are there plans for the future for you to tour or even do small live shows to support Wolves Among the Ashes?
le Bail: “Um… for now it is like we have a European tour with Gost, the U.S. band, and it will be more like a co-headlining tour so, for now, we are more focusing on playing a bigger set with our own, bringing our own crew, bringing our own show than supporting really bigger bands. But, I think we will try to do both like you know… play our show, our main headlining show and also later playing more supporting. You need to really do it if you want to catch a bigger audience. So, for now, it is like we must be in Europe and we are discussing with other territories about everything. But for now, there is nothing confirmed yet.”
Okay… well, I think that is all that I have that I needed to ask you. Do you have any closing comments that you would like to leave us with?
le Bail: “No… but I would like to thank you for the support and the interview. I hope you like the album and that’s it like… I just invite everyone that likes the album to come to support the band live. That’s all.”