Symphonic Metal arguably has become lightly stagnated over the years, the overused cliche of female angelic vocals against flowing symphonies and crashing dramatic sounds is almost formulaic if not too run of the mill, and so it needs fresh impetus to keep it churning. One such band to deviate from the formula is Germany's Beyond The Black who take a slightly darker approach and yet seem to bring in elements of pop or schlager to an extent in the vocal department, either way this quintet are a force that's ripping up the rule book and setting their own rules.
This will be evident on their forthcoming album "Hørizøns" which comes out on the 19th of June via Napalm Records on CD (standard and a limited edition box edition), vocalist Jennifer Haben spoke to GMA during her interrogation about how the band came to be, how she got into singing, where the band is heading given the current COVID-19 pandemic, the new album and of course why Beyond The Black are not your average Symphonic Metal band, they are in their own league.
"[on female looks in metal] it's always a combination of how somebody looks, if you like to look at skin and also if you like to listen to them, this is a combination that I don't really exactly want to combine"
For those who have not heard of Beyond The Black, could you give us a brief history of the band and what the band name means?
"The band started in 2014 and with the first album we started off with a more Symphonic Metal sound, and with this album (Hørizøns) we decided to make it a little less symphonic, but with a more electronic sound - changing a bit of the sound and in doing so add something that actually we're listening to right now on tour.
The meaning behind the band name is that it is showing what the band looks like and is showing what we're singing about, so 'Beyond The Black' - the lyrics connect with the emotional ballads (there are strong boys behind my back) as a contrast to the super-happy stuff you tend to find in Symphonic Metal. With the lyrics, we always have these sad and emotional stories - these are always 'Beyond The Black' moments.
I'd never try to be the 100% Symphonic Metal band that out often know... I just say it (hehe), I haven't been a metalhead always... I started making pop music, this comes also part due to that none of my family or friends at the time listened to metal. This is also why I am not copying things that other bands do, because I don't have it in my blood that says 'this is how Symphonic Metal should be', so I do it how I think it should be done.
When you're inspired by every single genre, there is always something unique that comes out I think."
You have your 4th album "Hørizøns" coming out 19th of June, in aid of the release you have released 3 singles, what was the receptions like?
"They reacted super-different to every song, but they didn't act super-surprised (hehe), because I knew a lot of people would like 'Misery' on the first time they heard it, so this was kind of the challenge for us and also for our fans to be open-minded for something that they don't expect. This is something new that the people would have to listen to, to be more understanding in what we're doing right now; what we're doing is showing the fans and other people that we're just not that one song or one sound, that we are different and can show other faces (which is what we did before). I think that was one song that was really a statement for that.
I think that 'Golden Pariahs' was different to 'Misery' in showing another face; we never stuck to certain things in the recording stage, I never did something like that in my whole life, this was something that I was looking forward to do because I love doing new challenges. I think we show a lot of different things in the singles before the album release."
Now at times bands will release special editions or fan editions of the album, with "Hørizøns" you have a 'limited box edition' coming out, please tell us more about that.
"There are not more songs if that's the line of thought, instead we use the term 'box' to make it super interesting to the fans. We have something special in it - it's a piece of our very first backdrop that we had used, so this is unique and you get it when you buy it. Normally I think something like this you would be able to buy (maybe) 10 years later at a super-expensive price. Of course this is helping us if people are interested in something like that, of course selling CD's has become a little more harder and are not selling as many as perhaps few years ago, so you always have to think about things that could be unique things to buy.
I think there are a lot of things in it that could be interesting for the fans."
Aside from the single releases, given that COVID-19 has put a huge halt on the music industry, what has Beyond The Black been doing given tours / shows are cancelled?
"Of course there are a lot of things that other people or other musicians are doing in general, we did some special things for our fans including a 'Golden Pariahs' home recording / stream, that was something special that we really enjoyed. We're really thankful for the fans for engaging with the challenges that we set, everyday there are people doing these challenges, to see how excited they are to listen to that album."
Given the success that Beyond The Black has had with album releases, signing with Napalm Records, etc., given your a young age, is this something that you have taken in your stride?
"I think that there are definitely times where it's been overwhelming for me, but I also think that because before Beyond The Black I did so many other things, I could understand how it was to be when I was 11. There are a lot of things like that before Beyond The Black, of course being on a big German TV show, 'Sing Meinen Song' was a big difference to everything else that I did before, because it was much more attention; the magazines are different because they want to tell you something that you have said in a wrong way.
But as far as the stage goes, I've been on stage since I was 4 years old so having more and more crowds, I'm super thankful for that and are really overwhelmed when I rewatch our Wacken show online and see what it's like from the crowd, you don't see that when you're on stage. When I see that I think 'wow!... what the f**k?!?!, what is happening there?!?!' (laughs). So I don't really think that it is big until I watch it, this is overwhelming when I watch something like this."
Is metal music in Germany still reaching the mainstream charts? Are the general public appreciating it still?
"I think it's strong in selling albums and that's why it's still super-high in the charts, but there are a lot of people who hear the word 'metal' and there are two ways of how they think about it, one way is 'oh I know Wacken Open Air, this is amazing! But everything else, I don't care' and the other way is 'oh metal? I don't listen to that'... not everyone, of course the metal scene is big, but it's not like everyone is listening or is open to metal. I really understood that when I was in a German TV show called 'Sing Meinen Song', people were writing me afterwards saying 'oh my god I never listen to metal, but I listen to other bands as well now, I always thought that metal was screaming and stuff, so this is something super awesome' - this is one reason why I wanted to make that TV show as well because it was a chance to show to people that metal is super-variant or can be super-variant."
This is the thing though, people will hear metal and think screaming, right? Would you say metal is more than just music, but an identity?
"Yeah! It's like that, but what is funny is what I said before, Wacken Open Air, it seems to be everywhere and for everyone. I see so many cars with the W.O.A. sticker on or on bags and stuff, so I think that there are also a lot of people who are not actually listen to metal a lot, but maybe the softer bands. A lot of older people who maybe don't listen to metal even attend (some have broken out of retirement homes to go), so this is something like a tradition where everyone is accepted - you can also compare it to a carnival to be honest (hehe), because it's that one time of the year where people come together even if they don't listen to metal.
Yeah for sure! That is the point and reason why people are acting the way they are, I think that also Wacken is getting more and more open each year or at least that's what I can see with the band's they are inviting - there's a lot more people that can go and be seen very easily."
You released your music video "Misery" this year, how long did it take to record and what is it about?
"We had like 10 hours in a day, but with every single music video that we do we tend to record until midnight, leading into the morning (around 3 am). The main theme for me was the adventure of being in a bubble, wanting to break out of this bubble and become herself, to be herself."
In terms of your fan base, where there any instances where you were surprised at where fans contacted you from, country-wise?
"I wouldn't say right now because I know our fans are everywhere, but I think the first time I said 'wow we have fans there?' was when a lot of people were writing to us from Mexico and the USA, places very far away and places we have never released any album there, it's on Spotify but we never released it internationally and so I didn't expect something like that; especially when releasing in German-speaking areas. That was a really 'wow' moment and there are other countries like Japan that we could play in, a festival there, I think the far away countries are always the most unexpected."
Addressing the sexism and misogyny issue that grapples not only the society in general, but musicians also, is this something you have personally received?
"I think I'm lucky with this because I have to say that I'm always thinking about how I present myself on stage, or on social media and I'm really looking over not to show too much sexiness or too much... my outfits are not 'not' sexy you know, but they are not showing a lot of skin or stuff and I don't want to be reduced to just how I look; it's always a combination of how somebody looks and if you like to look at skin and also if you like to listen to them, this is a combination that I don't really exactly want to combine - this is maybe the reason why there are not many people out there that wouldn't do that."
Putting that into context with the 'female-fronted' style, do you think it's an out-dated tag that should be gotten rid of?
"This is a question that is still not easy for me to answer, because I think I can understand why people could take that term as one thing that they could think about whether they like it or not, because maybe they like female voices more than male voices; I can understand that because I'm listening to everyone, but I think in some ways I enjoy female voices a bit more than male voices.
This could be something that people can decide whether they listen to it or not, of course there are people who listen to every female fronted bands because it's 'female-fronted'; if they like it, they like it. Of course you should say 'male-fronted' bands as well, I'm not sure about it and thinking about this question (a lot of people are asking me this) I still don't have this one way of looking at it."
Have you got any hello's or greetings you wish to send out to friends, family, fans, etc?
"I want to say thank you so much for the interest in this interview, for the album, thanks to Napalm and the fans. Hopefully we will be doing the tour with Amaranthe towards the end of the year, we will not cancel any shows but only postpone if we have to."