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30th May 2011
Ever since Therion and Nightwish laid the sonic foundations of what would later be labelled by the press as Symphonic Metal, said subgenre has become oversaturated with a plethora of pale imitators and their diluted take on the orchestral/metal fusion. Few bands can genuinely lay claim to affinity with Symphonic Metal's erstwhile essence. French band Whyzdom are one band that most certainly can and have even taken the decision to distance themselves from what has become a misleading term by coining a new label - "Philharmonic Metal". And it's a most apt description in the context of their music which blends metal elements with a real orchestra and a real choir in melodically catchy, grandiose, forward thinking compositions as witnessed on their only album to date, 2009's rather awesome 'From the Brink of Infinity'. Over in the UK for their live debut on these shores at the second day of 2011's Femme Metal Festival, Whyzdom mastermind Vynce Leff and new vocalist Clémentine Delauney met up with Metal Discovery to discuss what sets the self-labelled Philharmonic Metallers apart from the pack...
METAL DISCOVERY: So will tonight be your debut UK performance?
VYNCE: Yes. The funny thing is, I’ve had several other bands that were also signed to British labels but I’ve never played in England at all. This is the first time.
(Vynce Leff on coining the term "Philharmonic Metal" to describe Whyzdom's style)
"...the reason why we decided to use this kind of new term is that, generally, people see symphonic metal as heavy metal with some violin parts. I wanted a term to say, no, it’s not that; it’s something more."
Clémentine Delauney & Vynce Leff outside the Asylum venue, Birmingham, UK, 30th May 2011
Photograph copyright © 2011 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: So have you ever been to England before?
VYNCE: Just for tourism.
MD: Your debut album a couple of years ago, ‘From the Brink of Infinity’, is absolutely amazing – the songwriting, production, execution and everything is flawless. With so many layers of instrumentation in the songs, what was the biggest challenge in recording the album?
VYNCE: It takes time because when you have a simple lineup with just guitar, bass and drums, everything is quite standard. The most interesting problem is to mix the orchestra with the guitars especially because, in Whyzdom, we try to not simply just put layers of strings on the top of everything but intertwine orchestra parts with guitar parts. It’s a lot of work. We then have to record everything very tightly and it takes much time to mix everything. And we also have a real choir on the album which also takes time. The problem is time.
MD: So did you produce and mix the album yourself?
VYNCE: The album was produced by myself and a French sound engineer. We did that together and I think it sounds okay in my opinion.
MD: Well, I think it sounds amazing!
VYNCE: Thanks!
MD: So as you’ve just said, you integrate the guitar, bass and drums as part of the orchestrations whereas a lot of symphonic metal bands seem to write songs with the standard instruments and then, almost as an afterthought, put an orchestra on top. So when you compose music, do the classical orchestrations generally come first and then you fit the other instruments around those?
VYNCE: It depends. Most of the time, I work on metal riffs before and then I study the relation between the orchestra and the guitars. Every time I compose for an orchestra, I am thinking as a rock orchestra. I am thinking how a rocker would play an orchestra rather than doing Mozart or… they’re old, and fantastic, but we are in 2011 now so I’m trying to think how an orchestra would play metal. It’s very aggressive as an orchestra.
MD: Yeah, kind of like how Apocalyptica use cellos, I guess.
VYNCE: Yes, that’s right. I sometimes speak with classical musicians about classical music and, when we speak about our music, they say – “you have to play very, very aggressively”.
MD: Yeah, and not just aggression with the orchestra in your music because, obviously there’s a lot of metal riffing in there, but you tone down the guitars sometimes so they’re not as prominent. It’s almost as if you’re using guitar as an instrument of the orchestra, like on the intro to ‘The Witness’, the way you introduce guitars into the mix is part of the orchestra.
VYNCE: Yes, yes, that’s right.
MD: [To Clémentine] You’re fairly new to the band, of course, so had you heard the album before you joined?
CLÉMENTINE: I heard some titles but not the entire album.
VYNCE: Ohhh, ohhhhhh…. shocking!
CLÉMENTINE: But the songs I heard were very impressive from a French metal band. I mean, there are not a lot of symphonic metal bands in France that have managed to… and I guess in the metal scene… managed to have all these orchestral parts and not just layers of violin and so on, just to make it sound bigger. So I was very, very impressed. It was the first album where the compositions and sound were very well executed and coherent so, when I discovered the band, I was like, “oh my god, where do you come from?!” [laughs]
MD: So you were a fan of Whyzdom before you joined?
CLÉMENTINE: Actually, I honestly thought, before being the singer, that this is exactly the kind of band I would love to join.
VYNCE: So welcome! Welcome aboard!
MD: There’s a kind of progressive vibe in parts of your music as well so is that why you’ve decided to call your style “philharmonic metal” rather than “symphonic metal” to differentiate yourself from other bands? Because when you hear the label “symphonic metal” you imagine something quite generic whereas, obviously, Whyzdom stand out as being very different from the usual type of symphonic metal band.
VYNCE: Yes, the reason why we decided to use this kind of new term is that, generally, people see symphonic metal as heavy metal with some violin parts. I wanted a term to say, no, it’s not that; it’s something more. But I don’t think that, honestly, we are the only band to make philharmonic metal. I think Epica, Nightwish are philharmonic metal but they are quite rare. Very rare. And, sometimes, I am very shocked because we are told it’s symphonic metal but, of course, that’s not true. Real symphonic metal is very rare.
MD: So what do you think about metal bands who go off and do something with an orchestra, like Metallica with ‘S & M’, and Sepultura have just done a big live show with an orchestra? What do you think of that kind of thing where bands have established metal songs and then put an orchestra on top?
CLÉMENTINE: I actually discovered Metallica with this ‘S & M’ album and the orchestra was used as an orchestra with many rich parts and not just following the main melody. It really brought something new to the old Metallica songs. When I listen now to the old tunes of Metallica, I think there’s something missing!
CLÉMENTINE: I really, really enjoy the way we use it.
VYNCE: Yeah, I agree!
MD: Kerry King from Slayer said in an interview earlier this year that when metal bands go off and play with an orchestra they’re masturbating themselves.
VYNCE: That’s not far from what I am thinking. I think there’s some kind of thing… “everyone goes with an orchestra so, okay, let’s do it”. Peter Gabriel did it as well and…
MD: Yeah, and Deep Purple did it years ago. I think they were one of the first.
VYNCE: It’s expensive with an orchestra but they have something like that in their mind. If it’s great, it’s great.
MD: I interviewed Andreas Kisser from Sepultura a couple of weeks ago just after they’d done the big orchestra thing and I asked him about that Kerry King quote. He said – “yeah, but masturbation is good”!
MD: So what was the turning point in your musical career when you decided you wanted to make big, epic music with Whyzdom in this grandiose kind of way because you’d obviously done some progressive stuff previously?
VYNCE: Yeah, that’s right, I was in the progressive rock scene before. Actually, I already made some orchestral stuff but, sadly, when I went live… sometimes, I got questions like – “Don’t you think the Mellotron is much better than an orchestra is?” You know what a Mellotron is?
MD: Oh yeah, yeah, it’s used a lot in progressive music.
VYNCE: I would say – “What are you saying? The Mellotron is great but you cannot compare with an orchestra!” Then I saw, one time, After Forever with Floor Jansen and they had some cello parts at a concert in Paris. I was amazed because the audience were listening to the cello and they were appreciating it. So I just said - “Okay, that’s the audience I want to reach.” I saw they were interested in the orchestra so I wanted to make this kind of music.
MD: So After Forever were the turning point?
VYNCE: I’d already written something like that but it was part of my decision. I saw that the audience did like the orchestra, for real. It was not just something annoying in the middle of metal music but something they are longing for.