Sylvaine – A Dream Within a Dream

Wednesday, 25th May 2016

Metal oftentimes overvalues credentials. You know, the scene police, keyboard goofballs who monitor all that is supposed to be true and (un)holy in our little universe. If, for whatever reason, a band doesn’t have the right cred, they sure will make life difficult, something that has struck down the likes of Ghost Bath, Myrkur, and virtually every ‘core band who has come into existence since 2010. Norway’s Slyvaine, on the other hand, should pass with flying colors…you would think.

She (real name: Kathrine Shepard) spent her formative years studying music for seven years prior to release of her (most-excellent) debut album, 2014’s Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart. She also found time to get her musicology/music science degree from the University of Oslo, and, has held down a gig with Live Nation Norway in the process. (Question: Does she ever sleep?) But fundamental to this piece is her new album, Wistful, which saw a May 2016 release via Season of Mist. Fully submersed in the post-gaze world of metal and rock, Sylvaine is able to seamlessly blend elements of black metal, dark rock, and folk into one of the year’s most mesmerizing and enchanting albums. It’s the ideal successor to Silent Chamber, which according to Ms. Sylvaine, was released without any expectations.

“I just decided that it was the right time for me to release Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart at that time, as I finally felt ready and had the confidence to start the first steps of the Sylvaine journey,” she begins. “I was quite surprised by the amount of interest people showed for this album and of how well it was received, not only by people around the world, but also the music press. I’m very thankful that this album turned out to be a good start for me and really hope the future holds more positive things!”

The future appears to be now for Sylvaine, who received interest from five record labels after sending out the demos that would comprise of Wistful. As noted above, it was French/American label Season of Mist who got Sylvaine to sign on the dotted line. “Season of Mist not only gave me the best offer, but were also a label I wanted to work with [for] a long time,” says Sylvaine. “They are renowned and respected and could give me a worldwide reach and a contact net I could only dream of having on my own, so I thought it would be a very good collaboration partner for Sylvaine. I’ve been very happy with this decision and must say that Season of Mist are a great label, made up of great people. I’m lucky to have the chance to work with them.”

It is of immense importance to highlight the fact Sylvaine handles all instrumentation on Wistful. Save for a handful of drum tracks laid down by Alcest mainman Neige (more on him in a moment) and another session player, Sylvaine’s do-it-yourself approach is the result of her not wanting to compromise with anyone, even if she fears that will make her a “control freak.” With songs as good (and monumental) as “A Ghost Trapped in Limbo” and in particular, “Like a Moth to a Flame,” the results speak for themselves.

Wistful was actually quite an easy album to write, as I was still very inspired when I had finished my first album,” she notes. “I just continued to write and had already started recording Wistful before Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart was even released. The whole album was written in a matter of about six months, something that made the process more focused and also faster than for my first album. The songs on Wistful are longer pieces and also quite layered, so it was a lot of work building them up piece by piece.

“Some of the songs unfolded in a very natural way such as ‘Earthbound’ or ‘Wistful,’ while some other songs took almost the full length of the writing process to be finalized, like ‘In the Wake of Moments Passed By.’ When I’m making my songs, I always record demos that are as close as possible to what I want the song to sound like after it’s recorded in the studio, something that makes for a longer pre-production process, with a lot more work than just recording the outline of each song. This way I save a bit of time during the recording process, which is really good, seeing as I’m recording most everything myself.”

The most obvious contrast to Sylvaine is this: Her vocals are pretty as daisy, sometimes drifting into pop territory. (It should also be mentioned she lets out a few surprising black metal shrieks for good measure.) Fully capable of carrying a tune with a single line, or engaging in some truly heavenly vocal layering, Sylvaine her band serves as her way of dealing with things that otherwise would be bottled up.

“On Wistful, I spoke a lot about the feeling of not belonging to this place, being stuck in a human vessel that is restricted by its senses. I also spoke a lot about this feeling of longing for something in a profound way, without knowing what or how to reach. The feeling of that something is always missing inside of you, no matter is you are happy in your life or not. Other than my inside issues, lyrical inspirational sources can be the duality between my inner and the outer world, the duality between nature and urbanity, specific events, movies, books and so on. I’m also very inspired by visual things.”

Wistful’s undisputed highlight is the above-mentioned “Like a Moth to a Flame.” Words best used to describe this song include “ethereal,” “godly” (or should we say “godessly”) and “enchanting.” While our words are some of value, we’ll allow for Sylvaine to explain the song more in-depth.

“As soon as I started to make this song, I decided that I wanted the choruses to consist of a small choir instead of a main vocal track, to make the part more dreamy and ethereal, as well as being a bigger contrast to the verses that are quite naked in comparison. It took me a really long time to find the right vocal part for the main voice on the verses for some reason. I remember the day I found it, very randomly while working on a few of the track on Wistful. Now I’m very happy with the main vocals and think it exudes melancholy and underlines the relentlessness feeling you get from the lyrics of the song. The lyrics in the song speaks about always getting yourself into the same bad situations over and over again, to the point where you almost feel like you are doing it intentionally, just to hurt yourself. Yet, you just continue and let yourself get burnt over and over again.”

One of the first breaks Sylvaine received was when Alcest invited her out for a run of live dates in South America in 2014. It was on this tour where she developed a musical partnership with Alcest leader Neige, who mans the drums on three of the album’s tracks. While her live repertoire can consist of a full band or just herself (she prefers the full band setting, by the way), having the support and/or “approval” of Alcest has turned out to be quite the confidence booster as she heads into the promotional cycle for Wistful.

“I never thought I would be playing together with Neige, but am super happy to have had the chance to do so! His attentive drumming really brought something special to the three tracks (‘Delusions,’ ‘Earthbound’ and ‘In the Wake of Moments Passed By’) he participated on for Wistful and works really well in a live setting as well. He most likely won’t be able to join us for all of our future concerts and tours, as he’s obviously very busy working with Alcest, but it will be a pleasure to share the stage with him on those special occasions.”

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