Beyond the Black – Reaching New HorizonsTuesday, 9th June 2020
Justifiably moving their way up the ranks rather quickly over the course of three previous albums, Beyond the Black have become a more prominent force within the symphonic/modern metal scene. But what happens when the band wants to change things up a bit for their latest release? Horizons will be launching soon via Napalm Records (PRE-ORDER HERE) and it brings with it some sprinklings of new flavors into the Beyond the Black camp. The pop elements the band has always employed have taken a larger role in some tracks, bolstered by singer Jennifer Haben’s emotive and powerful vocals and some energetic riffing. We talk about these changes and more about Horizons with Haben herself, as well as what she has been doing during quarantine, her appearance on the German program Sing meinen Song last year, and the benefits of having a supportive family behind her musical endeavors.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see Horizons as a bit of a change for the band?
Jennifer Haben: I think Horizons is definitely something different compared to everything we’ve done before. It’s not like it’s something that you really wouldn’t expect, but it is a bit different. I think we changed a bit of the sound and moved some of the lyrics into a different direction. I hope that the people will understand and really enjoy what we have done. I also hope that a lot more people will perhaps listen to it, that maybe didn’t hear us before. That’s always something you are really looking for as a band. It would be amazing. The most important thing for me is that I’m super, super proud of the album. I’ve never been more proud of an album. So I hope that people will really see it that way too.
Dead Rhetoric: As it always goes with the internet and the loud vocal minority, were you prepared for some fans to cry foul when they heard some of the new material?
Haben: Yes, of course. I really understand it, and I was expecting it to be honest. I know that “Misery” in particular is a song that we really didn’t do something like it before. So I knew, that especially some haters would have something to really hate [laughs]. But it’s something that we expected. We have always gotten things said about us being more ‘pop’ than other bands, and we don’t give a fuck [laughs]. That was one reason why we said, ‘let’s do something that’s super different and maybe something that haters would hate even more.’ That’s why the first song we wrote for this album was “Misery.” We wanted to free our minds of all of these things we had before, and to say, “Would the fans like that?” As a band, you always have to have that in your mind.
This song was something that we went into knowing that fans might not like it. So it was freeing – it was also the reason why I said to release it as the first single. To see if people would be open-minded and really listen to the song. The song is good. So there are a lot of people that are open-minded, and we really saw that. But there are other people who had to listen to it a lot of times to really like it. It was amazing to see and watch, and read the comments.
Dead Rhetoric: From my point of view, it’s one of my favorite songs on the album, and the acoustic version you just released was fantastic. It is curious to see the response to it. It’s not like you haven’t had pop elements in the past [laughs].
Haben: [Laughs] Yeah! That’s right. It’s one thing that is important to Beyond the Black. We aren’t like the other metal bands, and it’s something good I think.
Dead Rhetoric: Heart of the Hurricane was the first album you put together with the new line-up, and the line-up has been pretty stable since. Do you feel the band has really gelled as a unit now, particularly with the new material?
Haben: I think it is really like that. For the last album, we already wanted to change some things. Since we had a new line-up. But we didn’t have a lot of time to experiment. So we couldn’t try things out as much as we did this time. We had six months of trying things out, and writing as a whole band – which we didn’t do before. It’s risky, because when there are a lot more people there are a lot more people saying, “I like that, I like that, I don’t like that.” It’s something that really needs work. But it was something that was important to us. To say, “What are we actually listening to on tour and what can we add to our music so that it is more like what we are now?”
Dead Rhetoric: Could you discuss the collaboration with Elize Ryd on “Wounded Healer?”
Haben: I think, first of all, it’s amazing to work with Elize. She’s so funny, and also so chaotic. I have never met a human being that sleeps longer than her [laughs]. I thought I slept long, but she is the queen of sleeping. That’s something I find super nice. The second thing about “Wounded Healer,” when I think about it, is that it was not easy to get it together. We wrote that song, and everything was finished. Then we came up with the idea of having something together with Elize because we wanted to go on tour together and it could be a nice thing. So we wanted to do something together, and I sent her what I thought would fit the most to her voice. That was “Wounded Healer,” and she liked the song. So she planned to record it while she was on tour with Sabaton. They had so many things to do on tour! On the off days, Amaranthe did headline tours – so she couldn’t couldn’t do it on tour, and after the tour she was sick. I know that – I’m always sick when I finish a tour.
So we had like 3 days before we had to have the album done to give to the label – that was when we got her vocals [laughs]. So we had 3 days to put it all together and finish it. That was a bit chaotic, but it’s really amazing to have her voice on the song. I really enjoy listening to her live, and her studio vocals. I actually listen to Amaranthe when I am doing sports, so I’m super happy that we could do something like that.
Dead Rhetoric: As ‘The Ballad Queen,’ when you write a song like “I Won’t Surrender,” how do you gauge the line between poignant and emotional versus melodramatic and cheesy?
Haben: I think it’s how you sing it. I know that on the demo I sang, it was kind of sweet. But in the end, this is something that is super important for me when I am doing the recordings for a song. I want to have it super pure. I think that’s something that’s important for singers in general. If it’s too perfect, it’s really not as good as when you really feel the emotions and really just sing the notes [passionately]. It needs to feel pure. It’s the dynamic too, to have a loud moment in the chorus maybe and then a quieter moment too. The dynamics keep it from being not too sweet.
Dead Rhetoric: Would you consider doing a solo project that was more focused on piano and ‘quieter’ material?
Haben: I would say no at the moment. I really, really like that but I would not enjoy a show as much as I do now if I didn’t have the powerful, “Hallelujah” songs too. That’s the reason that I do this kind of music. To show everything and have all of those emotions – and have so many ways to get those different emotions into the songs. It’s super important for the whole show.
Dead Rhetoric: Last year you performed on Sing meinen Song in Germany. Do you feel these sort of appearances help the band, as well as giving some listeners a different opinion of heavy metal, in hearing you sing outside of that context?
Haben: Yeah, definitely. I think Sing meinen Song was really good for Beyond the Black in that way. We are much bigger now live, than we were before. There’s a lot more people who know us now, and some people who know us that didn’t know any metal bands. There are a lot of people that have written to me, saying things like, “Oh my god, I have never listened to anything like that, and I just searched for other bands as well! I really enjoy that music!”
I think there’s a lot of people out there that hear the word ‘metal’ and think it’s just screaming and heavy stuff. But there’s also bands doing what we do, like us or Amaranthe, Evanescence, or Within Temptation. This is not just screaming. It’s something that people don’t really understand. That it could be something for them. So in Germany especially, there are a lot of people that really love that kind of music, but didn’t know it before. This was something that I really liked doing.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s funny what you are saying because I talked with Floor from Nightwish a few weeks ago, and she had gone on one of those types of shows as well. It’s interesting that it pulls out people who may not have paid attention before and brings them into it.
Haben: Yeah, I can’t understand it! Nightwish is such a big band, so that people don’t know her, it’s like, “What?” But it’s amazing to hear that from her as well.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s a moment that stands out to you that you’ve had with Beyond the Black?
Haben: There are two things. One thing that was something that I always wanted to do, which was possible after doing the Sing meinen Song stuff, was to play Rock am Ring. I was watching that when I was small every year. So to be able to have to opportunity to play this festival that I have always wanted to play for my whole life. Also, another thing that I am really fascinated by when I’m watching it, was the Wacken show last year. We never had so many people watching before. When you see on the screen with 50,000 people – I don’t know, I don’t see it from the stage that way. So to see it on a screen, wow! It’s something that I never expected when I started Beyond the Black.
Dead Rhetoric: You often give shout outs to your parents on social media. Is having that sort of support been crucial to you, particularly since you have been involved in music from a very early age?
Haben: I don’t think I would be at the point I am at right now without my parents, and my brother. There’s so many things that I couldn’t do. What is also super important, is whenever something is going wrong with the band or anything, I know I have a place where I feel comfortable and where everything would be alright. I think it’s super important for everyone who is doing something like music in these times. There’s no safe space. You can always fall down. That’s really important for me to be able to do what I am doing right now.
Also, at a young age, I was creating it when I was nine years old. In this band, my brother was in it. My daddy was doing the sound, and my mother was the management. We were always together on tour, in a small area, but we were together. I wouldn’t play as many instruments if my parents didn’t drive me to everything single thing that I wanted to do. I’m not sure how parents can be so unselfish – to do everything for their children so that they can do what they want. Not everything that they want, but if it’s a hobby that they are really interested in – not just giving them all the things they want.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you been up to during the quarantine? Other than I know you’ve been doing some streams on Instagram.
Haben: I’ve focused a lot on social media of course, but I also was moving to another flat. That was something that required a lot of time. I did a lot for the release of the album too. I’m not having the worst time at the moment, because I feel like I can go deeper into thought than I normally do. I’m not moving from one place to another to another. I have the time to be bored [laughs]. That’s something I normally don’t have. I have moments when I can think about deep stuff that I normally can’t. I have really enjoyed it. Even if you can’t see a lot on social media, a lot in the background is happening.
Dead Rhetoric: Knowing that everything in the world is the way it is, I’m going to ask this anyway. Will this album be the one to finally get you all over to the US?
Haben: Hopefully [laughs]! That’s a difficult question at the moment right now! We always have tried it, and at the moment I’m not sure if we are focused on it but we have always wanted to see America. It’s kind of a different culture and I’m interested in that. But we have no plans, like a support tour or anything like that. We tried it twice, but let’s see. Maybe we will find a point in 2021 or 2022? Let’s see when we can do a tour anyway.
Dead Rhetoric: So is there anything planned in relation to the band for later this year? I’m not sure if your tour with Amaranthe has been cancelled yet.
Haben: No, it won’t be cancelled. It will be postponed if anything happens. We have a Plan B for it, for 2021. I think we won’t be cancelling anything. We have been focusing on this during the quarantine – if we have to cancel or postpone, we want to do every single show. Every band is now postponing their shows, so it’s super difficult for all of these locations now to get every band on tour. But we have a fixed Plan B right now and everything will happen.