Beyond the Black – The Whole Big PictureSunday, 8th January 2023
After establishing themselves as a reliable symphonic metal act consistently hitting the European charts from Germany, Beyond the Black move into the next step in their career with their fifth album. Usually, self-titled albums happen early in one’s discography, but for this band, now moving onto Nuclear Blast they seem poised to make major breakthroughs on a global scale through their sound. Equally engaging with strong musical hooks, soaring melodies, and a diverse approach that incorporates modern, electronic, folk, and pop/rock influences, this could be the album that garners stronger major mainstream attention.
We reached out to vocalist Jennifer Haben who was very happy to discuss their latest headlining tour memories, thoughts on the songwriting approach/plan for the new record, working with Nuclear Blast and where that could take the band further in terms of reach, video work and incorporating their nerdiness into the mix, thoughts on being better human beings, as well as what’s on the horizon for touring in the next year or so.
Dead Rhetoric: You recently completed a co-headlining tour across Europe with Amaranthe that had obviously been postponed for a while due to the pandemic. What were your thoughts on the shows, the response, and the feelings of finally being back playing live on stage?
Jennifer Haben: It was an absolutely amazing tour. Some of the best shows that I have ever played. Even if financially it was really horrible for us (due to the delays), the feeling that was in the air was just incredible. With all the travelling, the bands, and the people in front of the stages, every single moment was so precious, and you could feel that. It was amazing. For me, I was so lucky because I didn’t have any problems with sickness, I had three days of my nose being stuffed up, but it was nothing with the vocal cords, I was really lucky. I prepared to stay healthy, six weeks, no sickness was perfect. I have never had that happen before.
Dead Rhetoric: Your latest album is self-titled and the fifth studio record for Beyond the Black. You are now a part of the Nuclear Blast roster – what made this new deal ideal for the band after your time on Napalm Records, and how do you feel in regard to the recording and songwriting sessions behind this set of material?
Haben: This new album feels like a new start with the new label and all that goes with it. As you may not know, we started Beyond the Black with Universal Music. We always had the German speaking areas, and the rest of the world with another label like Napalm. Universal was the main label, and now Nuclear Blast is with the whole world. This changes a lot – we have a whole new team, starting with how we are now and how we are working now. I was 18 when I signed that first contract. I am a different person now with a new team, we chose a different start with different possibilities as well. I loved to work with the team we had before, but now having the whole world there, everything can be one big area and we can work on this. It feels much better than before.
We combined a lot of stuff musically than we’ve ever done before. We have been facing a lot of questions that we never thought about with this intensity. Where do we stand? What do we want? Where is our future, and what do we want to do? These questions that we were really thinking about and getting some answers, that was the base of writing this album. You can see that in every single step. Back to the previous album Horizons, there were a lot of different songwriters because I wanted to experiment a lot to see what people can inspire and do something with it. This time we wanted one team doing everything and thinking about everything, and then we have a whole big picture. You can hear that on the album as well.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the songwriting, are you working on the lyrics and the music hand in hand, or does one aspect come before the other?
Haben: Mostly we have one vibe or some words that we want to work on with the chorus. It always helps, because you don’t have to put something meaningful there yet if you have a few words and melodies. And then we start with the music and arrangement, before we end up going back to the lyrics again.
Dead Rhetoric: How difficult of a process is it to pick which singles will be released to preview the album? Do you ever worry about the response between satisfying yourselves and your current following while hopefully gaining newer people into the fold?
Haben: It’s not easy to pick singles. Of course, you have a feeling what could work and what could not work. For me, every song is very special. It would be fine for me to release everything as a single. It’s more like, we have a lot of songs on an album that we believe in, let’s see what the people could imagine when they are listening to it. It’s more like a game. What is what we want the people to hear first? And then something totally different so they can see the whole world of Beyond the Black after some singles. It’s a constant, playing around thing. What could confuse them? That could be interesting as well, sometimes. “Is There Anybody Out There?”, that first exhale thing, the people were writing very funny comments, that was so cool. At first listen, they thought it was amazing, but some people couldn’t make out that sound. It’s catchy. It’s fun to see how the people react to something like this.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you enjoy shooting videos and the visual medium in general to present Beyond the Black?
Haben: Oh yeah. Especially with these new singles, we added some nerdiness (laughs). I love cosplay and all that stuff; I am so glad we could combine this in this whole big world that we are doing with this album. I am so happy we have found a team like that that can help us do something like this. It doesn’t look cheap; it looks high quality.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the special W.O.A. Acoustic Clash (The Lockdown Sessions) EP release from December 2020, where you delivered special covers of Sabaton, Disturbed, Volbeat, and Iron Maiden – how did the specific choices come about, and what do these bands mean to the musicians within Beyond the Black in shaping your outlook on music?
Haben: This special was a bet between one of the CEO’s of Wacken and me. He said we are not able to do some rock and metal classics in acoustic songs within a short time. Our followers and our community decided which songs we should do. It was a challenge, and we did it. Also, I had the chance to put some special instruments in there, some I never played before. It was a lot of fun to do that, and also a lot of work as well.
Dead Rhetoric: That was interesting. Did you have any experience with the flute, as I know the cello was something you had to learn on the spot?
Haben: With the flute, I worked on that instrument for three days before the recording. I always wanted to play it, but never was able to do it. I bought one, and I figured out a way to do it. If you listen to it as somebody who plays the flute, the breathing I had was not really good.
Dead Rhetoric: What has heavy music – and metal – meant to you personally as a genre? Can you think of any specific memories concerning other bands, albums, or specific albums that spoke to you in your childhood and helped pull you through some tougher or challenging times?
Haben: For me, the special thing about rock and metal as well as the community, it feels like family. I was coming into this genre very late, to be honest. I was born into a pop environment. I was doing a lot of that stuff when I was younger. Within my first band, there were so many different genres. We would have music like Whitney Houston, but also AC/DC, all of that stuff. When I was young, I did all this, and I experienced how to show all of these different emotions. This was the reason I decided to do symphonic or melodic metal, I could show every single emotion that I have. I came into this genre for this reason, and I feel in love with the community instantly.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess the growth of Beyond the Black from inception to the current incarnation – and your own personal growth as a person/musician?
Haben: I am super open-minded to crossover and do what I love. This can be something super positive. I know that there are a lot of people in this community that don’t understand if you are not deciding at a certain age to just listen to this style, because I am coming into this later. There are some hardcore metal fans, but a lot of metal fans are open-minded and trying to find something different as well. There are all types of music out there that are good, not just in metal and rock. There is a vibe you love about metal and rock – and I always love this. I am open to do what I feel is right.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of heavy music within Germany and other parts of the globe? What excites you most – and what changes (if any) would you like to see for the benefit of all parties involved?
Haben: I think there is a big community for metal here in Germany. But I don’t think there is anything to worry about. I know there are some changes with getting women into the scene. It’s still hard to convince people to be hard enough for this genre. I know there are changes, a lot of people at festivals that are trying to change this for more women to come into the community. It’s still a long way to go. It’s a general thing in this whole world. Rock and metal can be a little later to come to terms compared to other genres, like with music streaming. That can be something good, but also something bad as well if you are thinking about growing and being more open about new stuff. We are doing it, you can see the changes, and that is all that matters.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest misconceptions or illusions that the average music fan has regarding the decisions that have to be made within a band of Beyond the Black’s status regarding promotion, business, etc. that maybe they don’t take into consideration?
Haben: Things that they don’t understand. There are obvious things that every single band is doing. In the past, there was some stuff that people really couldn’t understand. Like the lineup changes, something like that in communication it’s not easy to know how transparent you can be, to not destroy the romance about it. Especially in metal and rock, people like to be in this fantasy world and escaping from reality. Being open and being able to tell the people what is happening here, it’s not easy to balance that. We try to do just good stuff that we love, we put it out there, we try to not do anything that is super cheap.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the development of the Written in Blood wine – how did this collaboration come about, and do you enjoy these diverse promotional opportunities that can expose the band possibly to new, outside the box people?
Haben: (laughs). The Written in Blood wine. We also have a white wine. We love wine, and we drank a lot of that during the lockdown. We also learned a lot about wine. This is more like, a love thing. You don’t really earn money because of wine. We did it because we love it. We are also connecting with somebody who does metal wines, we decided to try something and that was the whole idea.
Dead Rhetoric: How does the band handle the increasing level of pressure and responsibilities placed upon you – are there specific measures or activities you put in place to relieve stress, decompress, and regain focus?
Haben: Of course, I love gaming. I try to always work on myself to always balance stress and relaxing. It’s still a big process to be honest. I’ve learned a lot over the last few years. Everything is changing. It helps a lot to read, and just write songs. Just doing music, I can relax most when I am singing and dancing around. Maybe that’s the thing- if I have the time to have a relaxing morning, with a cup of coffee, dancing to something positive, the day can start. And then the day is already good.
Dead Rhetoric: What worries or concerns do you have about the world that we live in today? What do you think the average person needs to focus on to make the world a better place?
Haben: I think the people need to focus on themselves to be good human beings. Doing something that could be bad for somebody else. That would help a lot. I have to say during the tour, I wasn’t able to think about anything else than being on tour. Giving all my energy to the people in front of the stages. When you come off stage, you are watching stuff again, and then you see how fucked up the world is at this moment. You need to give yourself a break sometimes, to relax a bit and have the power to change something again. Give the people around you the feeling of safety. That is the most important thing if you are not in politics. You can go on the streets and say your piece, but you also need to take care of yourself.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Beyond the Black over the next twelve months to support this release? Are there plans in the pipeline for a North American tour?
Haben: It would be amazing to go to North America. At the moment we are concentrating on things that we know. Financially it is still a challenge. If we have the opportunity and we don’t have to pay a lot to get there, we will do it. We are searching for this opportunity. We are planning a European tour again, doing some festivals, and looking to go into other places. That would be amazing.