Svn.Seeker – Traversing a Fragile Life

Saturday, 10th July 2021

Discovering a melodic death metal act in my home state of Connecticut, Svn.Seeker are a newer quartet that are gaining traction due to their impressive musicianship and stellar blend of influences. Pulling from both the American and Scandinavian scenes as far as melody, harmony, aggression, finesse, and sophistication, they’ve released a solid debut EP for Means to an End. It’s the type of stuff that would impress fans of Arsis and The Absence just as much as Soilwork and early In Flames followers. We reached out to guitarist/vocalist Nikita Khrenov to learn more about the band. You’ll find this conversation fascinating as we delve into his history, the recording of the EP, challenges facing the band, and plenty of metal/music talk plus learning more about his time as a college music radio program director and his worries about the environment and media literacy.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about your initial memories of music growing up in childhood – and how you first discovered heavy metal and eventually wanting to pick up an instrument to develop your own music?

Nikita Khrenov: Discovering music, my earliest memories would probably just be my dad had a computer that I grew up in for an apartment the first two years of my life. My dad through some way got some early MP3’s of like Backstreet Boys and NSync (laughs). We would play the songs over and over again, we had a downloaded video of “Larger Than Life” on our computer, back in 1999. From then on, it was playing in school band and figuring out my niche to what I liked, I had no direction until I went to see Iron Maiden when I was 13. However, when it comes to heavier music my parents had always listened to the Russian rock band DDT. That’s the earliest recognizable band I can remember enjoying.

When you are a kid in the early 2000’s, the only access you have to music is through MTV and pop radio. It’s the same crap over and over. DDT was one of those bands that I consistently listened to and played in the car and at home. When it comes to discovering heavy metal, I played a lot of video games as a lonely child (laughs). Playing through Grand Theft Auto Vice City, they had a hair metal and thrash station. I would listen to that a buttload while playing the game, Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, stuff like that. I heard Maiden was coming to Connecticut back in 2006, and I knew of “Two Minutes To Midnight” – my friends asked me if I wanted to go to the show. This is me not knowing the significance of Iron Maiden as a thirteen-year-old. From then on, the rest is history. The show was Bullet for my Valentine and Iron Maiden, A Matter of Life and Death tour. I saw Maiden and I wanted to play guitar and make loud music.

For a while I had a childhood friend of mine and one of my second cousins, they were both playing guitar. I started expressing interest, I wanted to do it. I got my first acoustic guitar when I was 14 and built on that to move to electric. Here I am now… 14 years later.

Dead Rhetoric: You spent 2014-2016 in Archaic Decapitator – what can you tell us about your time with this band, and did it plant the seeds for developing Svn.Seeker in 2017?

Khrenov: Kinda, yeah. I joined Archaic kind of on a whim. It’s an interesting story. I worked at a shitty moving job in the summer, and Craig who played bass for Archaic, he messaged me and asked if I still played music. I didn’t know that Archaic was still active, I thought he was asking about Formless. That was a band… and I told him yeah, but I’m not good enough to play Formless stuff. Thanks, but you are barking up the wrong tree. He said no – Yegor is coming back to Connecticut from California and he needs a rhythm guitarist for Archaic Decapitator, and he wants to know if you are interested. I said sure – I had stagnated playing music and I wanted to play in a band for a long time. It would be my first time doing a decent musical thing so I said why not.

That band, playing with those dudes for a year and a half, two years – it really shaped everything I needed to know, or at least what I know now about a band and how it should run. Being with Archaic set my mind right and how a band should be operating. What steps need to be taken in order to have success, or at least go somewhere outside of a basement. I had a lot of fun, I really wish I didn’t leave, but I didn’t have the choice unfortunately as I was still in college at the time and the direction they were going in for rehearsals would not work well, I had to back out.

That definitely set my mind right with what I would need to do to develop a band. I dabbled with writing my own stuff, separate from Archaic, and a lot of that stuff ended up being Svn.Seeker material. I don’t think at the time I was thinking about doing my own thing. It helped me realize how a band should be run, and gave me the knowledge to have Svn.Seeker be where we are right now, being able to play shows, record, keep moving forward rather than stagnating.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the initial lineup of Svn.Seeker come into being – and did you know right away the trademarks and style of melodic death metal you wanted to develop or was there a natural growth/ feeling out process to arrive at the sound of the band?

Khrenov: With the lineup, it was definitely happy accidents! (laughs) I was really depressed in 2017, it was not a good time for me mentally. I don’t remember how the decision came up between me and our bass player Rob. We started jamming a couple of things I had written and a couple of covers I knew at a practice space for his other band. He was playing guitar at the time, it was fun for a couple of weeks, maybe a month. We got to talking, and I thought it was working okay, I asked him if he wanted to make this into a band, and he said yes. He sent the stuff to Pat, who at the time was living in Massachusetts. Pat was digging the stuff, and by his own account he was itching to get back into a band, regularly. He came down a couple of times to jam out, it worked out really well. He moved back to CT, and it worked out easier for us. While we were looking for a bass player, that was the hardest part to try and find a bass player that wasn’t in a band already (laughs).

Rob expressed interest in wanting to move over to bass, try something new. It works out pretty well, he’s picked up on the feel of the bass pretty quickly. Jeff was a friend of mine from college, we worked at the college radio station together, got along musically – he played guitar, and that’s why I grabbed him. As far as the genre of music, I always liked melodic death metal more. I’m all over the shop with musical tastes. Arsis is a big influence, The Absence, Soilwork are the big three influences from high school that I wanted to emulate. I also got into black metal, both good and bad, and that’s been refined. At the core I have loved the melodic death metal style riffing. We all gel on it pretty well. Pat likes a lot of emotionally proggy drummers – he loves The Mars Volta and Dillinger Escape Plan and you hear a lot of that bleed through. Jeff is a meat and potatoes, Metallica/Megadeth thrasher, and Rob loves a lot of groovy bands.

Dead Rhetoric: Means to an End is the first EP release from the group earlier this year. Tell us about the songwriting and recording sessions for this effort? Were there any specific challenges, obstacles, or surprises that came up during the process, and how do you feel about the final product now that it’s been out a little while?

Khrenov: There were a lot of surprises, and this was a big learning experience. Songwriting, a lot of it was me, between from my high school time I worked on “Pilfered”. “Seeking My Own Sun” was material I had during my time in Archaic. I had the ideas for “Death of a Judge” and “Means to an End” more recently. A lot of it was me putting down the guitar parts and trying to work with Guitar Pro to make general outlines of drumbeats for Pat, that was a challenge in and of itself because that program is non-drummer friendly. I’d take constructive criticism from the band, send them the files along with the tab, ask what they think. Jeff changed the clean part in “Pilfered” to what it is now, I think it’s a lot better. Pat offered his flavor on different drum patterns. It’s one thing if I write and I think it sounds good, but you have to separate yourself and realize everything is not going to sound perfect. If you can make things better with outside input from the other guys, I wouldn’t fight against it.

As far as recording, this was the first time any of us did any professional recording with Dave Kaminsky. Honestly I couldn’t have picked a better person to do it with. Dave is an amazing engineer and producer. He doesn’t just hit the red button and ask how was your take. He pushes you to do a better take, tighten up and hit that one part that keeps dogging you. Really just, the record wouldn’t be the same without him. The challenges were getting things really tight, into that mindset how a metal record is made, what should be tracked, what to look out for, small details in lead playing. I really never gave it much thought before, but it was a super, eye-opening experience. That really pushed us all up a level in terms of our musicianship. It’s one thing to practice at home with a practice amp and hear yourself playing with all those small squeaks and squawks. When you are plugging into a real amp, mic’ed up and you hear every tiny, minute sour note, or the ring of the strings from your hands after a palm mute, you have to do a better take and get that noise out of there. You don’t realize that until you do that kind of recording.

I really like what we came up with. It took a lot of time and effort to get to where we were. I’m really happy with it, a couple of months later. It’s the first release, so it’s a big personal accomplishment for all of us. We finally have something that’s on CD, people can listen to it and people have been liking it which is nice. It’s surreal. I like what we did, a lot. I like the mix, how the songs came out, the packaging. I enjoyed our time with Dave and we will definitely be working with him again. It was such a good experience.

Dead Rhetoric: You mention on your Bandcamp site about the EP being a culmination of years of experience and coping with the loss of loved ones. Is this part of what you channeled through the lyrical content, and has it been a cathartic process?

Khrenov: Definitely. The loss of loved ones is something that will never end. I think the catharsis grows as we grow as people. The EP has a major theme of death – suicide, coping with loss, existentialism, accepting it as an inevitability to focus more on life. A major catharsis, a couple of times we have played live. Most recently we played over the Horsebrook Café in Plainfield, and that was a culmination of loss of loved ones and the quarantine. After this all these things it was such a massive relief.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Svn.Seeker when it comes to your live approach versus the studio material? And what have been some of your favorite and/or most memorable moments with the group live to date?

Khrenov: Live we are definitely a bit more fun. I’d like to think as a band we are fairly self-aware that metal inherently is kind of silly. We try to have fun with it, I include a lot of humor in the banter and do my best to encourage crowd participation. We make it more of a fun thing. If you ever have seen Paradise Lost, their singer Nick will throw a lot of jokes and humor despite the music they are playing in between the songs. I feel we have a lot of energy that comes out live. Our bass player is chilled out as a person, but he comes alive in the live set, and his back up vocals help. I love playing live – in Archaic I could focus on the guitar chops, but now I have to worry about singing and playing. We are a high energy band.

I can’t complain about our shows. We’ve played four shows to date. The first show I don’t remember much of a reception. The second time we had more friends there, people dug it. The last show at Horsebrook Café, we were surprised and humbled by the response. I definitely appreciate it. We hope future shows go in that direction. Especially when we pull out the Death cover, that was a big high point to do “Crystal Mountain”. That really warmed us up to a few of the people.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the melodic death metal genre as a whole? It seems you have an equal appreciation for bands stateside just as much as the international ones that you incorporate into your sound, would this be fair to say?

Khrenov: Definitely, 100%. It’s weird, I never heard melodic death metal getting any slack or hate until I started spending more time on Twitter, where some people said it sucks. Which I don’t understand as I feel it has better songwriting, more melodic hooks, the nature of it more than your standard Florida or Swedish death metal. Both stateside and European bands bring different vibes to the subgenre. The best way I can describe European melodeath is spicy power metal. You get the same kind of chord progression and feel of say Iron Maiden, but you have screams and the guitars are tuned down a step or two or three. You will get some more dark chords over harmonic passages. Whereas the US death metal side will explore more of the technical realm, I always mention Arsis – they will keep the hooks but throw in this sick guitar work, counterpoint stuff. I try to pull from both. They have different sounds. Soilwork has so many memorable choruses – especially recently they’ve been killing it. You get the more savage sound from Arsis or The Absence or our friends in Aversed.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest challenges that Svn.Seeker faces in establishing more of a presence not just locally, but on a grander scale internationally?

Khrenov: The internet (laughs). The things you have to do as a small-time, independent band – you can hire a PR firm to take care of the bio, press kit, and send them out to their contacts and push it. It could get us more traction, but we do it DIY because none of us are necessarily rich, we have day jobs and interests outside of the band. It’s a learning experience, work, and effort. A number of other bands are hustling out, trying to get things going – setting yourself apart is tough. We are thankful that people like our stuff. The music is important, you have to have good music, as there’s only so much marketing and PR can do. We have a lot of positive reception to this release – Angry Metal Guy helped us out a lot, to get people to check us out, pick up copies, and follow us on Bandcamp or Twitter. That’s been the biggest challenge – keeping up with this. I do some social media stuff, but once you stop posting as much, people start seeing it less. Try to get interaction, what gets noticed, what doesn’t – do we put up a meme, a funny picture? It’s a trial by fire thing.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider three of the most important metal albums that shape your views and outlook on the genre? And what has been the best concert memory you have, purely from a fan perspective- and what made that show stick out the most for you?

Khrenov: Three albums? I have to put up a Death album, probably Symbolic. It probably did the best for them, to bring that more technical, clean and polished but still energetic death metal sound to a bigger audience. The Number of the Beast is up there, the way that Iron Maiden use a lot of the harmonies with the guitar in there – it’s the whole basis for really how melodeath started in Sweden, from what I understand. I want to say the original Black Sabbath, because that’s where everything kicked off for heavy metal – I’ll go differently and say Diary of a Madman from Ozzy Osbourne. That had some great harmonic stuff in there. That’s just me being personal. Randy’s lead work had the classical influence with some more heavy metal/rock flair. He wasn’t like Yngwie shredding classical stuff for the sake of speed.

Concert memories as a fan. I have been to a lot of shows. A personal one was seeing DDT, that Russian band, in New York City. It was surreal, one I never thought I would see them, and granted not many of the original lineup is still there. It’s the main songwriter and whoever he chooses to hire to play in his band. That was an amazing experience, to hear songs I’ve known since childhood, to be able to see him at 61 years old, it was a three and a half hour long set with some breaks, instrumental stuff. It was a fun show with good banter. The show was perfect, the sound was great, I didn’t need earplugs. It was at the Playstation Theater.

Dead Rhetoric: You were a metal/PR director at a local college radio station – tell us about your time with the station and what insights did you gain about the metal scene and landscape that you could apply to the work of Svn.Seeker?

Khrenov: Oh boy! A lot when it comes to promotion. I saw how many bands would start up, do PR pushes, and then fade away. Working at WFCS was amazing. Not only did I get a closer insight into the business, I made close relationships with people in the metal industry. Doing a promotional campaign for an album – working an album like 13 from Black Sabbath, when you can work a single but only get the download for the album on the release date. Being able to hear so many different bands and styles throughout the years. It opened my eyes and broadened my horizons – there are some bands I never thought I would be listening to today that were exposed to me via college radio.

I never thought of Norma Jean too much in high school, but their album Wrongdoers stuck with me, and from then on I got where they were coming from. Take a band like Iwrestledabearonce. I heard that Late for Nothing album in 2013 and I still hold that album as high in an accomplishment of songwriting. I was sad when I heard the follow-up record, because I was sorely disappointed.

Being at that station was crucial to my musical maturity as a whole. Being around all the other musical directors at the station broadened my horizons even further. Hearing indie pop, folk, electronic music – opened my eyes even wider.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the CT metal scene as far as bands, venues, promoters, and overall fan support? Do you think there is a good cross-section of bands from many different genres, and what improvements (if any) would you like to see made?

Khrenov: We have so many different bands who have been around for decades, plus acts who have just started. It’s a very tight, small scene. That’s the only thing that sucks, there are only so many bands and so many venues to play at. And now there has been even less because of the pandemic. We lost Cook’s Café, which sucks, it was a fun venue. I don’t know of any beefs or squabbles. We play shows and have a good time. We are seeing a changing of the guard. I’m stuck in 2014 – we have Eyes of the Dead, Hounds of Justice. But I haven’t heard of these bands doing anything for the past four years. Continuum is still going, Apostasy is still around, trucking along as much as they can. We are seeing different bands come up now to supplement the scene. We came out, we have our friends in Marvel of Decay, Archaic Decapitor morphed into Fires in the Distance, and they are the next big band from CT. We don’t have to say oh yeah, only Hatebreed is from here. We have a lot of fresh blood coming in.

Part of it is, you get stuck with the same few bands for a couple of shows. I tend to see the same bands, and it’s what I’m seeing. We need more varied lineups. You will see death metal band, death metal band, groove/thrash metal band, death metal band. I don’t see as many hardcore/grind bands thrown in there, spice it up with a different style of metal. We don’t have too many venues to play at. Don’t get me wrong – I love Cherry Street, Sarah and the crew are fantastic, amazing people. I couldn’t even try to think of saying a bad thing about that venue, they are all amazing. But that is the venue. Bleachers is good for certain kinds of shows in Bristol, and the Outer Space in Hamden. Where else can we play? The Webster? I don’t want to have to hire two people to guard my equipment and car. It sucks, it’s not the venue’s fault that the neighborhood went down.

Dwayne from Mourn the Light has been doing a lot more booking in the eastern part of the state. It gives us more places to play. We don’t have to always be in the southern part of the state. More often than not, we have to hop on a bill in Massachusetts or Rhode Island to give us more of a variation.

Dead Rhetoric: What concerns do you have about the world that we live in today?

Khrenov: Being a multi-person band is damn near impossible. It’s becoming so much easier and cost efficient to be honest to be a one-man project or a two-man band that’s just a studio thing. It’s hard to find three or four people to play music together that you all agree on, and keep them around with the finances, schedules. Being able to afford to be a band – this stuff isn’t cheap! This is my first time doing more of the admin work for a band, I have help with other guys in the band. Our drummer Pat deals with a lot more because of the nature of his job. We work together on that – I don’t know how bands can afford like color shirts and more than a hundred of them. Recording costs, trying to make money back.

The uncertainty of our environmental future is a concern. Resources keep getting scarcer, things are getting more crowded. Overpopulation and the wage discrepancy between the so-called middle class, and what the middle class really is before what people think it is. It keeps getting bigger and bigger, the wage gap, but they still expect the economy for people to spend more than they did. It’s only going to get worse, and the arts are being more and more devalued. Arts are a cultural snapshot of the public opinion at that time. When you push that aside for just athletics and things that aren’t super valuable to the nation – it’s bad.

Misinformation – I didn’t realize that people don’t learn about the Cold War in school. I thought about it, and it scared me. I looked it up on my own, took out books out of the library and read up on it at 14 myself because I was curious. They touch on Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Berlin Wall came down. That’s it – but you missed a lot. This country is very, very young in comparison to a lot of other countries in the world. We have 200 plus years to worry about – and you have to stretch that out over 12 years of schooling. It’s only the good stuff that is looked at. I am fortunate that I had teachers in my schools that would teach about the Trail of Tears, the ugly side of American history during the Great Depression. The cherry picking and framing of history and the lack of media literacy in people, it only ends in a bad way. We should teach media literacy in high school – to break down messages that are being shown to you through the news, the media, it’s a very crucial skill that they don’t teach because why bother thinking when you can accept what we say?

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Svn.Seeker over the next twelve months to support the EP? Has work already begun on the follow-up, and if so what direction do you see this new material taking in comparison to the first release?

Khrenov: We are working on new songs. It will be more of a collaborative effort than how Means to an End turned out to be. We have a couple of different flavors and styles of metal that may appear. We may have more of a Revocation feel into some material, and I’d like to advance my songwriting too. I like Alice in Chains, DDT, older bands that focused on writing good songs over fast riffs and blast beats. It’s been interesting, it’ll have a different feel. It probably won’t be nearly as bleak. I’m very excited for it. I have ideas for more atmospheric songs, and some Arsis-style songs.

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