By Carl Begai
Released in early 2010, A Sign Of Sublime should have been Sarah’s triumphant return to center stage after making her mark four years earlier fronting Angtoria. A host of production woes and assorted cock-ups turned into little more than a nice try as far as she’s concerned. Rather than cop a wallowing “why me?” attitude,she chose to play live as much as her wallet and promoters would allow, with her heart set on a follow-up that would smoke A Sign Of Sublime into nothing more than a drink-addled memory. That mission has been accomplished in epic fashion with The Corruption Of Mercy, the album that should have followed Angtoria’s debut, God Has A Plan For Us All, and shares a similar vibe and attitude.
“You know, to be honest I don’t think it sounds anything like Angtoria in any way, other than some big orchestrations,” says Sarah, “but people need to find something to compare it to. And yes, it does smoke A Sign Of Sublime. That was the intention; to make sure people forgot that album, but only because of the mess it was left in thanks to a certain man at a certain record company. Dan (Abela / guitars) and I wrote this album together, alone, in a dark room, naked…. actually, no dark room (laughs). AblaZ (God’s Army), the bass player, wrote a track, so did Luke Sibthorpe (The Dead Lay Waiting), and then Pzy-Clone (The Kovenant) added his amazing parts, which was the icing on the cake for us.”
“So, to answer your question, Dan and I were directors with an aim, and that aim was to take over the world and to make sure people could notice a major difference in writing, recording and all aspects of production. We have the same musical tastes, or very similar, but of course we never once said ‘Right, gotta rip this band off’ or ‘Gotta sound like this band to give us huge record sales…’.”
Sarah may have a hard time downplaying the Angtoria comparisons, as the orchestral sections of the new album are even more intense than what can be heard on God Has A Plan For Us All. Opening track ‘No Paragon Of Virtue’, for example, is worthy of being dubbed soundtrack material thanks to the musical score backing up the band. Credit where it’s due according to Sarah.
“Pzy-Clone (Amund Svensson, previously known as Blackheart) asked to get involved, and of course we were like ‘Hell Yeah!’ We had timelines but we just said, ‘Do what you like, we trust you.’ I mean, he does a lot of writing for TV and, well, when we got ‘Paragon’ back we were very close to weeing ourselves. He’s just amazing. We wanted big, we got big. Some tracks we wanted small, we got big and loved it. You don’t mess with the master Clone and we didn’t want to (laughs). He did us the biggest favour, he’s a dear friend to me. We’re lucky there, people want to help us. We must be too nice (laughs).”
“The new drummer Jamie Abela changed the entire album in our eyes,” Sarah adds. “He’s 20 years old, he drums with barely any mistakes and hardly needed any editing. When we did “The World Won’t Hold Your Hand” in the studio, which was the last song written for the album, Dan sent it to Jamie and said ‘Look, we need this done fast. Can you listen to it a few times, come in and record?’ Jamie got to the studio within one hour, drummed the track about three times after hearing it once on his computer. For being so young he’s an immaculate drummer.”
Asked if she and her bandmates went darker and heavier than God Has A Plan For Us All and A Sign Of Sublime on purpose, Sarah chalks up the sound on The Corruption Of Mercy to not over-thinking the music.
“Two of the tracks I wrote about eight years ago and believe it or not, they were very old Darkthrone / Satyricon sounding to begin with, not that anyone would ever tell now. When I listened to them, I knew that would all change during the writing process. We never plan for things, I never plan. I tried to plan with the last album and it went tits up because there were too many people involved. This time, we just wrote over a period of time and sat back and watched it progress. We just took chances. We all have to take chances and I still say, don’t plan stuff because it never ends up the way you want it to.”
“Oh, and no, no Cradle Of Filth, Angtoria, Therion or anything was an influence on the new album. We did know, however, that this album had to be on par with God Has A Plan For Us All. We just tried to push A Sign Of Sublime to the back as far as possible.”
The lyrics on The Corruption Of Mercy echo the music’s dark mood, in stark contrast to Sarah’s rather upbeat view of life at the moment. Between having a solid band with a strong chemistry and preparing, at press time, to get married, she doesn’t come off as fed up or pissed off.
“(Laughs) I’m really happy, but I focus on situations and people. I know many, many good people but they’re crap for writing songs about. I did ‘That’s What The Wise Lady Said’ (Angtoria) for my godmother because she deserved something like that, but writing that kind of song was hard, almost felt gay for me. I did explore banshees and sirens on this album, which is unlike me, so for the best part it’s people, life and situations that have affected me. Actually, my ex just found out that some of the tracks I wrote on the last album are about him. I wrote them when I was angry, as you do (laughs). Now I kind of feel bad because I know he has a good heart. Thankfully he found it funny and said he wrote one for me, too, called ‘Black Metal Deva’ (laughs). I’m dreading it, and sadly, I can’t kick his arse ‘cos he’s in Oz.”
“I have written a few songs about children – self harming and sexual abuse – and on this album, the actual song ‘The Corruption Of Mercy’ sums up every aspect there. If you just look at the front cover image, her face is covered so no one can see her for what she has really become and this track is about neglect, about parents having children and letting the world, the media, raise them. When you don’t raise your child, someone or something else will.”
Sarah has gone on record claiming the recording sessions for A Sign Of Sublime were less than stellar. She was anything but apprehensive about going back into the studio, wanting to redeem herself with a new record done from start to finish on her terms and with the right people.
“All the pressure was on me, no one else, and when others heard the album we knew this stuff would play well, so I thought ‘Okay, I can’t change what’s happened, but I can learn from it and play the best we can with no budget.’ Live, the tracks from Sign come across well, and when I say live I mean not on some crappy mobile phone upload or camcorder, where all the sound is out and frequencies clash. If you see us live, you see we execute the music much better than how it turned out on the album. My heart goes out to Ken (Newman), who wrote his arse off, and for him to hear how his parts turned out, well, I think it pissed him off in a big way. It pissed a lot of people off.”
“This time we used a good recording studio, with someone who knew how to use Pro-Tools, who didn’t over-edit and get bitchy when we remarked on stuff, a studio where files didn’t get lost… I could go on for days. No more working with pirates. Dan is trustworthy and a saint and, due to him being so kind and having a goal, the new album didn’t turn out to be an unprofessional mess.”
“The amount spent on this album was paid back to Dan in the form of magic beans,” she adds. “At first, he was just doing me a favour. He knew I was gutted over the metal tracks on A Sign Of Sublime but then he got involved, I didn’t feel so bad. I bought him a few sandwiches as a thank you and got him a few bottles of booze, and that shut him up for a bit. Buy Dan a pint and he is putty in my hands (laughs).”
The Corruption Of Mercy stands out from God Has As A Plan For Us All, and A Sign Of Sublime in particular, also due to Sarah’s vocal experimentation. Long time fans are familiar with her operatic singing and have become familiar with her clean “pop” vocals, but if one make the effort you can hear her using several different ranges and harmonizing over the course of the album.
“It’s confidence with who you are working with,” she says of branching out. “Dan, who is in the band but also owns Escape Route Studios (soon to be Legacy London), attempted to save A Sign Of Sublime, and as we got to know each other I started to trust him. Joseph, who also works in the studio as an engineer, gained my confidence pretty fast. When you spend a lot of time around a few people, you don’t mind making a twat of yourself… as long as they haven’t saved my mess-ups and foul language and made a rap out of it and put it up on YouTube (laughs). I just trust them both to be honest with what works and what doesn’t. They’re both honest with me, they tell me how it is because we’re friends. So again, I don’t plan, I spend most of my time improvising in the studio.”
“I don’t copy, I don’t aim to sound like anyone else nor do I want to sound like anyone else, and I probably improvise 95% of the time in the studio. That goes back to not planning. I have ideas but until you’re in that studio, behind that mic, you have no real idea how things will work out. I mean, the way I sung on ‘The World Won’t Hold Your Hand’, it’s a very, very different style for me and one I’ve never really had the opportunity to explore because I’ve always been typecast and hired as an operatic singer. My fault for letting it go on so long, I suppose. I shocked myself on that song and I’m proud of it, very much so.”
“Singers shouldn’t limit themselves due to a particular scene they’re in just to keep others happy. My happiness is more important than anyone’s, as it’s my work, my visions. If I fuck up, then that’s my problem, no one else’s. No one else should make it their business, either. I should learn, we should all learn that we’re free to explore different things, different styles and that’s what makes us human. I keep threatening to rap on a song, stand by (laughs).”
Add the pink hair to her list of experiments. Or call it a middle finger for the folks that can’t see beyond her once-upon-a-time goth image.
“Bah, labels are crap, image is overrated, fashion and dress codes annoy me. We are who we are, people need to stop focusing on fitting in and focus more on doing something good with their lives! I’m a bit tired of ‘But you are Satanic Witch from bottomless pit of Hell, yes? You live in castle with bats, yes?! Drink wombat blood and eat eyeballs, yes?! Satan not like PINK!’ Along those lines, I get it a lot (laughs). See me in the street and I look like a housewife. I just wanna sing and be me, and try to do something good with the words that come out of my mouth.”
– photos by Samantha Bruce. Used courtesy of Sarah Jezebel Deva.