I’m sure I’ve made this point before, but some things are definitely worth repeating. I’ve been obsessed with music pretty much since the first time I heard the Beatles at age four, doing the Vault makes me feel like one of the luckiest bastiches on the face of the Earth. I mean…most people still have to search for new music, but I have an embarrassment of musical riches show up in my inbox on an almost daily basis. Granted, I get sent a lot of music that isn’t particularly to my liking, but the real gems that show up from time to time make wading through the rest of it more than worthwhile.
Calling Kyrkogård‘s out-of-fucking-nowhere demo Empathie Fatale a gem, however, may actually be a case of damning with faint praise. As our loyal Vault Hunters are well aware, my writing may tend to get florid and overly-effusive, but I’m not given to hyperbole – so believe me when I say that “Empahtie Fatale,” the single, 20-minute song that comprises the San Diego-based black/doom duo of guitarist/bassist/vocalist Gabriehell Blasphodomy and drummer/vocalist Cheyenne Sparrow’s maiden release, is as close to perfect as music gets. Layers of melodic guitars, intertwining leads, constantly shifting male and female vocals – from a compositional standpoint, it’s stunningly ambitious and utterly breathtaking. It’s also flat-out fucking gorgeous – a dark, shimmering ache that will repeatedly break your heart.
I had the chance to chat with Gabriehell Blasphodomy about the band and Empathie Fatale. Give it a read below, while also checking out their magnificent demo.
Indy Metal Vault: Hey – so for starters, thank you for the interview. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anything that grabbed me as immediately and forcefully as Empathie Fatale did the first time I hit play on it. I think I’ve listened to it at least twenty times in the last two days, so I’m stoked to have the chance to talk about it a bit. Since you appear to be a new band, why not begin at the beginning – who is Kyrkogård, and what made you decide to make your debut with a single, 20-minute long song?
Gabriehell Blasphodomy: KYRKGRD began in the shadows of my first project, Sleep White Winter, and was mostly unused ideas from our last album Degeneracy of Nostalgia. The instrumentation for that album was completed sometime in 2015, and since then I had been brewing up concepts for a more black/doom oriented project, with a redirection in songwriting towards more sinister, majestic soundscapes. I was living in Eugene, Oregon at the time for university, and spent countless hours in the middle of the night obsessively crafting riffs in altered states, fueled by the tensions of personal experiences I had been going through. The material which would become our debut Empathie Fatale was originally intended to be two parts intertwined by reoccurring riffs and lyrical themes. We decided later on to just leave it as a single track intended for physical release. Our music is meant to be played in a ritualistic sense, and should be experienced in a single, attentive listen. This should set the tone for how our future material ought to be perceived.
IMV: Even though “Empathie Fatale” is 20 minutes long, there is so much happening over the course of the song that it doesn’t feel anywhere close to that length. What was the songwriting process like for it? Did you go into it with the mindset of wanting to write a 20-minute track, or did that just kind of happen? How long did it take to write it, from the first riff to the final version on the demo?
GHB: After I moved back to San Diego in 2017, I had years of riffs and ideas ready to be actualized into playable material. I reconnected with former bandmate and drummer Cheyenne Sparrow, who shares a similar vision in how I envisioned the material to sound like – majestic, ethereal, eerily romantic. The process of Empathie Fatale took about a year to reach its final form, with months of rearranging riffs and rehearsals to achieve a satisfying result between the rhythm guitar and drums.
When we finally began the recording process in the summer of 2018, I wrote the leads and bass tracks with the intention of being performed as a four-piece project. Lyrics took the longest to write and subsequently delayed the demo until late October, when we finished recording vocals a week before release. In total it took around three years to get to where it’s at now. We have several other songs that are ready to be recorded for our first full-length, Fatal Empathy. We’re aiming to re-record “Empathie Fatale” for Side A and record the other songs for Side B, ideal for physical format rituals. Empathie Fataleis just a taste of what will be heard on Fatal Empathy. We will also record material for future splits during these sessions, and will be looking for similarly visioned bands to work with
IMV: I think the thing that impresses me the most about “Empathie Fatale” is how layered it is as a composition. I’ve listened to it primarily on earbuds, and I’ve kinda had fun trying to pick apart how many different guitar tracks there are at any given time. The way they’re panned in the mix makes it a bit easier, but there are times when you’ve got leads going in both channels where I lose track. With that kind of layering, it would have been very easy for the arrangement to sound overly busy, but it never gets to that point. Roughly how many different guitar parts are there on “Empathie Fatale” – do you have a rough guesstimate? How did you know when to stop adding more layers to the song?
GHB: The original rehearsal track was recorded with two microphones – one to my amp’s cabinet, and one overhead drum microphone – so I’m sure the bleedthrough between both microphones may add to a layered effect to the recording. There’s two guitars at most times with some additional layering under leads to bring them louder in the mix. All the strings are composed with the intention of being played by only two guitars and a bass. The lead guitars were written later after the rhythm guitar and drum track was recorded, intending to create a dueling, complimentary characteristic. Both guitars are drenched in reverb and delay to give it a more disoriented, psychedelic sound. The end result was brilliantly mixed and mastered by Bradley Tiffin, who is the pivotal reason why the recording sounds as clean as it does.
IMV: Speaking of layers…your approach to vocals seems fairly layered as well, to the point where I often have a difficult time telling which of you is actually doing vocals at a given time. How did you approach arranging the vocal parts on the track?
GHB: I wanted a variety of vocal styles to complement the dynamic nature of the instrumentation. I approach my vocal styles like different tones of an instrument; always adapting to the appropriate mood of the riff. Just like the guitars, all my vocals are drenched in heavy reverb and delay. The recording is variously layered between my shouts, whispers, and singing to give the recording a full, complete sound. Cheyenne covers all the feminine vocals.
IMV: So I’ll admit that when I first saw the name Kyrkogård, I got excited because I thought it might have been a stylized version of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s name. Then I looked it up and realized it’s actually Swedish for ‘graveyard,’ but it still got me curious about your lyrical themes. So I looked at the lyrics on your Bandcamp and found…and unreadable word collage. Are you willing to discuss your lyrical themes at all, or is that one area where you prefer to be mysterious?
GHB: For quite some time I couldn’t think of a suitable name for this project. While I was traveling through Europe, I visited Quorthon’s grave in Stockholm, Sweden and vividly remember the cemetery gates which read “Sandsborgs Kyrkogård.” I immediately imagined the philosopher who I had studied extensively in school while also writing most of the material that would become Empathie Fatale. Kierkegaard and existentialism really reinvented my outlook on life and my craft, so the name was personally fitting – not to mention the Swedish name should allude to our influences that come from the majestic sound of early 90’s Swedish bands like Katatonia, Opeth, Dissection, etc. When people inevitably mispronounce Kyrkogård (pronounced sheer-ko-gord), they’ll be saying the name of one of my favorite philosophers, and I definitely find some appreciation in that.
The lyrical idea behind “Empathie Fatale” is a necromantic ritual submitting to and embracing the darkness to achieve higher levels of consciousness and knowledge. If you look closer into the word collage of lyrics on our Bandcamp, all of the words are there, albeit spaced out and obscured intentionally. For those truly curious about the lyrics, you’ll find a way to decipher it online. But the reason to keep the lyrics off the internet is to save them especially for physical releases, so only those who own a copy of the music may understand the lyrics and music in full. KYRKGRD’s music is sacred and for those devout to our craft, and I don’t want just anyone to know what we’re about unless you really look into it. I want to preserve the little bit left of mysteriousness in black metal aesthetics, which often is forgotten about in the information age.
IMV: I’ve never much liked the standard ‘influences’ question, mostly because everyone asks it. However, since you are a new band, I’ll ask a variation of it: if you each had to choose one album that most influenced your performance on Empathie Fatale, what would it be and why?
GHB: Without a doubt, our sole inspiration and influence on my songwriting in general since I was a teenager has been Katatonia’s Dance of December Souls. I remember discovering all of the underground Scandinavian melodic black metal bands, and falling in love with that majestic and epic Swedish sound, with layered melodies and powerful black metal vocals. Stuff like Dawn, Vinterland, Sacramentum, etc. When I found early Katatonia, particularly Jhva Elohim Meth and Dance of December Souls, I felt like I had discovered a new world. It basically took everything I loved about this melodic black metal sound and put it on depressants. The slow harmonized emotional riffing, the journey between each composition, and the soul-crushing vocals of Jonas Renkse can clearly be identified in KYRKGRD’s sound.
Since I discovered Katatonia decades after their prime, a goal of mine is to continue their majestic doom/death sound into my own songwriting, as I feel similarly with one of my other biggest influence, Beherit. Beherit’s Drawing Down the Moonwould be a secondary, less direct influence. Together both bands are solely responsible for KYRKGRD’s sound, along with influences from Warning’s vocal delivery, Mercyful Fate’s dueling lead guitars, and early Opeth’s progressive instrumentation.
IMV: Empathie Fatale was mixed and mastered by Bradley Tiffin of Haunter – who, as far as I’m concerned, is the most unjustly overlooked black metal band in the US. If I’m not mistaken, you and Brad go back quite a ways, correct? Back even further than your band Sleep White Winter?
GHB: That is correct. Brad and I go way back as far as Catholic elementary school. In fact, Brad’s a huge reason how I got into metal and playing guitar in the first place. When I first started exploring music at around ten years old, I remember Bradley would direct me to all the metal bands he knew at the time. Of course, we started our respective metal journeys with the most mainstream of mainstream bands, but that created a foundation of what metal was to me back then. It made discovering new music that much more enjoyable, especially during those formative years of YouTube and music sharing services. We had years of garage band “death metal” projects where I would eventually learn the basics of songwriting, but it wasn’t until we started Sleep White Winter in 2011 that our combined efforts would be recognized internationally. Back then, it was as simple as uploading music to Bandcamp and watching it spread across blogs, forums and social media. No algorithmic news feeds, no external pressure from content hosts. It was a glorious time as a young person discovering and participating in music, and the feeling of being a part of that era reminds me I’ll always have a calling as a musician to share my art.
Because we had both moved away from San Diego, the direction of Sleep White Winter shifted because we could no longer collaborate together in person like we did before. So in many ways, KYRKGRD is a continuation of how I wish Sleep White Winter could be today had we never moved and went our separate paths musically. That’s why it was a no-brainer to have Brad work with me as a producer on this release, because not only does he understand my songwriting and vision, but everything that guy touches turns to gold. He’s like the Dan Swanö of American black metal. No doubt he’ll continue playing a role in KYRKGRD, with the intention of someday being a part of our touring lineup.
IMV: I noticed on your Facebook page that you’ll be making your live debut soon. How do you plan on replicating the sound of Empathie Fatale live? Do you plan to flesh out your two-piece lineup with additional musicians for the gig?
GHB: Indeed, our first live ritual will be performed at the end of this month with Silver Talon. Some of my closest friends in Oregon will be performing with Silver Talon, so I’m ecstatic our debut performance will have them in our presence. KYRKGRD’s first ritual will feature a guitarist and a bassist, who both have their own unique playing styles which will mix well with our sound. Their contributions will make this live ritual slightly different from our recording, which personally makes this debut performance that much more special. We won’t be playing local regularly, so live lineups are subject to change and every ritual will be unique in that regard.
IMV: At the moment, the demo is only available digitally. However, I really want a copy of it on cassette. Do you plan to release it on any physical formats? Are you looking for a label to partner with on a physical release, or do you want to go the DIY route and self-release it on any other formats as well?
GHB: We certainly have plans to release this material on physical formats down the line, and we are actively searching for a reputable label to publish our music on cassette and vinyl. CDs and merchandise will be sold independently through my startup label Anghellic Records, which in due time will have all my bands’ music and merch for sale.
IMV: Thanks again for being willing to answer a few questions. I like to leave the final word to the artists – anything else you want to add?
GHB: Thanks again for the interview, I appreciate the attentive questions and enthusiastic support! ANY LABELS INTERESTED IN WORKING WITH KYRKOGÅRD FOR THE EMPATHIE FATALEDEMO OR FUTURE RELEASES, CONTACT US THROUGH FACEBOOK OR SEND AN EMAIL TO [email protected].