The Sentient Being

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When I first listened to Sybreed’s latest album The Pulse of Awakening, I didn’t know how I felt about the band’s Marty McFly shenanigans (read: ’80s influence). While it was different compared to their previous two albums—Slave Design and Antares—the band’s sound had still remained somewhat intact… go figure. And figure out I did as I got to interview the main man behind the controversy, lead singer Benjamin.

First things first. The most classic and the most boring question of ’em all: you’ve got a new album out and have had a few months to reflect it. How do you feel about The Pulse of Awakening now and how has the new material been received at gigs?

This is indeed the classic question… yet it’s the necessary one. [Laughs] Well, right now I can say we are very satisfied with the new album. Of course, as months have passed since completing it, there are now some things we wish we could change. Yet, I guess it is a normal reaction, as no album can be perfect.

What we are really happy about, is that the reactions from the media and the fans have been good so far… without being too consensual. It’s very funny to see that some people still can’t understand our music and almost see it as a threat, handing out very negative feedback. However, the positive reactions seem to dominate. Plus, the songs work very well on stage, and despite having a lot of melodies, they are heavy enough to make the audience headbang and mosh.

At first sight, The Pulse of Awakening seems to be a completely different album from Slave Design and Antares

Yeah. We had line-up changes after the second album so when Kevin joined [the band] as a drummer after Antares, he did indeed bring his own musical sensitivity with him. What’s more, as musicians, we’ve kind of grown up and become a bit more confident musically. So, it is normal that we’ve evolved since Slave Design – which was, after all – our first album. We’re certain that exploring the full scale of our musical range is part of Sybreed’s concept, and we couldn’t just keep on repeating the same thing over and over without feeling like going nowhere. But I wouldn’t say we’re totally different. It is still Sybreed playing the same kind of music as before.

However, after a few listens it becomes apparent it’s somewhat of a logical continuation to those albums. In a way, the coldness that was part of the sound on Slave Design has taken small steps to the sidelines and you’ve got a bit more humane touch going on…

Indeed we’ve become somewhat more organic on the new album. I guess it is also because in the beginning, we had to rely a lot on technology to achieve the sound we wanted to obtain. There used to be a lot of effects and computer work during the recording process previously. But now, we don’t need to rely on this anymore to achieve what we’re looking for. The latest album is definitely played and not typed.

Was it something you planned or something that just came to be?

It wasn’t completely planned and it’s mostly a result of our evolution as musicians. However, we kind of worked on The Pulse of Awakening with the idea of having a more natural feeling in the sound, despite having a lot of synths and loops. It might be the result of being influenced by all the synth-pop bands, such as Depeche Mode. Even if we have a lot of electronic elements, the guitars and especially the vocals still have a real rock ’n’ roll aspect.

How was the writing, recording  process?

Concerning the writing process, it was big piece of fun. We wrote the whole album in three months, working all together, which was the first time we did such a thing. Making it a collective effort was definitely new for us and I have to say, we’ll keep on doing so in the future. The recording process was on the other hand a bit more difficult as The Pulse of Awakening is the most technical music we’ve ever written, even if it doesn’t sound like it at first. It was a complicated and a very demanding process. We came out of the studio totally exhausted.

Did Rhys Fulber affect the end product’s sound and what was it like working with the guy?

He did affect the sound of the album and that’s precisely what we were expecting. Actually, we really wanted to have that electronic, yet, raw sound you can find in Front Line Assembly. Rhys came up with a heavy mix, which was a complete surprise to us, since it was kind of different from what we had intended to have in the beginning. We needed some time to get used to it, but we finally wound up saying how goddamn cool it sounded! So you can say that Rhys Fulber had a big impact on The Pulse of Awakening. More so, he is a very easy going guy and working with him was a lot of fun,so we’re definitely thinking about working with him on the next Sybreed LP.

The Pulse of Awakening seems to be quite a fitting name to the album considering the evolution of your music and it becoming somewhat more lively and less mechanic in a sense.

It must be, because I often come up with the name of the album – as well as the title of several songs – before we really begin to compose the music. Ergo, when I come up with a title for our new album, I show it to my band mates and it might turn into a guideline and source of inspiration for the material we write afterward, as well as for the atmosphere that we want to obtain at the end of the recording process.

Going back to the musical side of things, there seems to be quite a contrast between the two extremes on the album; you’ve got some of your hardest moments (“I am Ultraviolence”) on the album but also the softest and dare I say, happiest (“Doomsday Party” seems like a fun, party song).

Well, we like to play with contrasts, and being limited to just one sort of atmosphere is pretty boring in our opinion. We like to use both aggressive and soft elements, for metal isn’t only restrained to the faster and louder dogma.

However, there’s always a dark aspect at work in our songs, and even a song like “Doomsday Party” is actually pretty bleak, no matter if there’s sort of a fun side. Somehow it’s more about a cynical witticism than something really positive, because it’s a notion of how, in the end, we all die one day. I know people sometime feel like being thrown on a roller coaster when listening to a Sybreed-album. But at the end of the ride, I’m sure they like it. [Laughs]

With each album you’ve introduced new elements from various genres that weren’t present or as apparent as on the previous album. For example, “Lucifer Effect” seems to dwell into a more Northern European ground with all the symphonic elements…

Definitely! You know we have grown up with ’90s metal, [ranging] from the more mainstream stuff to the most extreme side of metal. And the entire Black Metal scene had a big impact on us. So it was a natural move for us to inject those kinds of influences again after our first album. The difference is that, when using a Scandinavian kind of sound, now, we do it full scale which is why a song like “Lucifer Effect” seems to come out directly from Norway, with of course, our own musical sensitivity. It’s also the first time we felt being able to write proper symphonic elements, as it’s a long and difficult work. So that’s the reason why they’re introduced on The Pulse of Awakening. Yet, it will surely become part of our music from now on.

And related to that, there seems to be a huge ’80s pop music influence as well, especially since you’ve put a Killing Joke cover on the album.

That’s part of our influence too, definitely. We have a strong taste for all the cold wave and synth-pop from the ’80s, as well as several rock bands from this era. Somehow we find the melodies of those bands more flamboyant than what is proposed today in the pop-genre, except for bands like Muse which kind of revived these sort of melodies. In my opinion, no pop music from today can produce a song as good as what Depeche Mode or The Cure have done in the past – music which you can put on the radio but that doesn’t sound cheap and hollow. It was natural for us to make a homage to this sort of music and “Love Like Blood” from Killing Joke was the perfect choice for that. It surely has the heaviest rhythm of all the ’80s new wave hits.

You seem to have become less restricted with the vocals and the amount of ‘clean’ vocals has increased quite a bit. At least online, there’s been some debate about the move, but what’s your side to the story?

I have heard and read about those debates and have found them funny, because in my mind, it’s completely irrelevant with the vocal job I’ve done on The Pulse of Awakening. In fact, I have never thought about giving a soft edge to my vocals, for the extreme part is still very present. My only wish was to try to break the modern metal routine of the screamed verse – sang chorus – scheme and somehow adapt my vocals to the music. No matter if I had to make a song with only screams or just with clean vocals. In my opinion, it’s more interesting [that way] than always serving the same dish, over and over.

Speaking of individual members, you also had some line-up changes going on as well?

Yeah. The most recent one being the arrival of Stephane [Grand], our new bass player. Concerning Kevin [Choiral], he’s now a full-fledged member after joining us at the end of 2007. Thus indeed, there’s only Drop and me who remain as original members. However, since we were in charge with the music and lyrics [in the first place], these changes haven’t had an impact on our music. On a positive side, I would even say that Kevin brought a lot of new ideas when he became our drummer and we hope Stephane will do as well with the next Sybreed albums. Anyway, the current line-up is surely the best we ever had.

When you place your albums side to side, how would you describe each album and their relation and essence as individual releases, but compared to the grand scheme of things as well?

That’s a hard question! OK, Slave Design has the energy of a first release, yet it kind of lack of a strong personality in my opinion. It is brutal and it has some nice melodies too, but we stuck a bit too much to our influences to produce something fresh. Antares, was a big step forward as we begun to sound a bit less digital and we began to explore a wider range of atmosphere and melodies. However, we weren’t completely satisfied [with the results]. The Pulse of Awakening is, in my mind, the first real step in creating the real Sybreed-sound. Like some people say, it’s definitely more organic compared to, for example, Fear Factory and the soundscapes we design now are ours and only ours. Then again, if you watch the whole canvas, you can see that from a mechanical digital kind of death metal we have moved towards a more organic, atmospheric kind of music. And this, is, where we see the future of the band.

Looking back at your discography, and I know it might be far too early to think of such things yet, but at what direction will Sybreed evolve to their music on the next outing?

It is indeed a bit difficult to foresee how the next Sybreed’s release will sound like. Nevertheless we already have an idea of what we want to do in the sense that we want it to be even more epic and futuristic than The Pulse of Awakening. We’ve already written a couple of things, yet we won’t be able to say more before we will complete the composition process.

Were there some elements and ideas you perhaps didn’t get to experiment with that you would have loved to include on The Pulse of Awakening?

Oh, well, we tried so many things on the new album that I couldn’t say. Actually, I think the next step won’t be to find new elements, but more about how to integrate the actual ones in a more streamlined sound, which is definitely the most difficult thing to do. It isn’t only a question of inspiration, but also of pure musicianship.

I read somewhere that you’re fans of remixes. With that in mind, can we expect a remix album in the vein of Fear Factory’s Remanufacture?

I don’t think we will make a full album of remixes. I mean, Fear Factory has done it and it doesn’t seem fresh to me. However, we will surely propose remixes once in a while, because indeed, we like them a lot. But it’s difficult to find the guys to do so. I think we will surely follow the example of Celldweller and propose some kind of remix competition to the fans in the future.

And, finally, what does Sybreed have in store for 2010?

Well, this year is going to be devoted to live performances. For now, we are looking for tours in Europe or USA as a support [band], but we’re also planning headliner shows here and there. Meanwhile, we’ll begin to write the material for the next Sybreed album as we want to take our time [with it]. We prefer having one year to do so, in between tours and shows.


  1. Commented by: gordeth

    Nice interview. It sounds like this guy has a good head on his shoulders. I never looked into this band before but I will now. I’ve been searching for some ’80s new wave influenced metal and it looks like I finally found some.

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