The captivating Dutch sextet has released four EPs, as well as a successful debut album since 2017 and is swiftly following them up with their highly anticipated second strike “A Dark Euphony”. We have met up with BLACKBRIAR’s heart and soul, chanteuse Zora Cock and drummer René Boxem, for a relaxed chat on Zoom about the new material, their all-time musical favourites and the band’s unexpected rise in the symphonic/gothic metal realm.
INTERVIEW BY: ISABELL KÖSTER
Your sophomore album is called “A Dark Euphony”. When did you choose that title?
ZORA: We decided on the title last minute when we had already recorded the whole album. It was inspired by our song “Cicada”, it’s a little bit in the lyrics, and in our opinion fits the album perfectly – it’s a dark record, with beautiful melodies.
How would you describe the new album musically compared to your debut album?
RENÉ: I would describe it as a very good follow up to “The Cause Of Shipwreck”, because we didn’t change anything in terms of songwriting. But we’re growing and exploring new elements and tricks to add on to our music.
ZORA: I would say it’s a bit more romantic.
RENÉ: Yes, definitely more romantic, but still very dark. Hence, the name!
My personal impression is that it’s a bit less dark than your debut album. Or is it just a different darkness?
RENÉ: I agree with you in terms of the songs having a different tone of darkness to them – like we stated before, it’s more of a romantic darkness this time. That was not a deliberate choice, though. Zora just got inspired by different things. We always write songs about what inspires us at that moment. And those are also the tracks that will be on the album. Other bands might have written 20 songs and in the end pick 10 for the album. But we literally write one song, finish it, and then write the next one. That seems to be quite different from how it’s done traditionally.
Zora, where do you generally find inspiration for your lyrics?
ZORA: Oh, there could be absolutely anything, like a series, a book, a painting or a tree. I got inspired by a perfume sample once. But I especially love folklore, myths and legends. They are my main sources of inspiration, apart from my personal life of course.
How does the songwriting work for BLACKBRIAR?
ZORA: I always start with writing the lyrics. Then I come up with a melody, which I record a cappella and send to René. He then composes the music based on my vocals.
So, the two of you basically write all the music for the band?
RENÉ: Yes. In a later stage, our producer Joost van den Broek is being introduced to our work. He’s the guy who has the oversight, and he will make structural changes if necessary and handle arrangements like the orchestration. But the music is mainly written by me, our lead guitarist Bart Winters is generally being introduced to the songs just before we go to the studio. That’s when we focus on the guitars. But at that point, the rest has already been completed.Talking about musical influences. Which bands are your all-time favourites?
RENÉ: That’s hard to say, because we don’t really come from a metal background. We came into this thing that we’re doing now from a completely different direction than you would expect. So, at first we were making dark pop music like Kate Bush with more of a dark undertone and not metal. At that point, we didn’t have any distorted guitars in our sound. Then one day we went to a show of Slash in the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam and the American hard rock band Halestorm were supporting him. When Zora saw them she was like: “This is what I want to do! This is crazy!”. So, we started off more hard rock-ish, when we founded BLACKBRIAR. And then we rolled into the thing that we’re doing now by accident, basically. Which means that we weren’t inspired by any other symphonic metal bands when we started this, because we didn’t really know what we were doing. We didn’t even know that it was symphonic metal.
ZORA: The hard rock didn’t really fit my voice, so it was a long journey for us to find music that would fit me and would feel good.
RENÉ: Exactly. All in all, it took about five years for us to find out that Zora needed more space in the music. So, we came up with writing our first song, “Until Eternity”, that many people would categorize as symphonic metal. Even though there are actually only four strings present and the rest is just a band. However, we suddenly got invited by symphonic metal festivals in the Netherlands and that was it. Now, if you look at inspiration – not in terms of songwriting, but in terms of everything else – I would have to name Epica. They are just a massive influence in Dutch symphonic metal, and they just do everything perfectly. It’s mind-blowing to watch them create new music, film music videos, do live streams and nail it every single time. For me, Epica would be a very good example of influence and inspiration for this band.
ZORA: I would agree!
What other musical influences do you have that aren’t metal?
ZORA: For me, that would be Kate Bush. Already from the very start, when we were still doing a completely different style of music, she was the biggest inspiration for me.
RENÉ: I was listening to Guns N’ Roses a lot when I was younger, and to American hard rock in general. But these days, I listen to a lot of the modern music that surrounds us. Right now, we are full-blown metal heads. But we just weren’t when we started. We quickly did attract metal band members though and they inspired us to dive deeper into the subculture.
Maybe one of the reasons for your unique sound is the fact that you started out from a completely different place than other symphonic metal bands.
RENÉ: We like to think so. But Joost is obviously a very large component of us being symphonic, and we just like his work. Looking back, the first time we went to Joost, and he did his thing, we were like “Oh my God, this is a completely new world!”. Because at that point we only wrote songs with guitar, bass, drums and vocals, which was a little boring. But then Joost brought our compositions to life with his symphonic sprinkles. And all of a sudden it felt like this is what we’re supposed to do.In any case, I feel like you had a gothic storytelling and aesthetics in your songs and videos from day one as BLACKBRIAR. It’s hard to believe you weren’t a goth before, Zora?
ZORA: Well, I think Kate Bush was kind of a goth as well. But I wasn’t a full-blown goth when I was a teenager. I’ve grown into it since, though.
Talking about aesthetics: The cover artwork of the album intrigued me. There are different symbols to interpret – and a cat.
ZORA: The cat is actually our cat Reggie. He is also a part of the music video for “Walking Over My Grave”. We just felt like including him again. Moreover, I came across the flying hourglasses with the two different wings in a graveyard in my hometown and thought they were very cool. I learned later that the separate wings symbolize life on earth and the afterlife. On the back of the album we also added a bunch of references to the songs. The artist is once again Alpino Alip Hudaya. He’s an Indonesian guy who has been with us since day one and drew our logo back in 2012. He has been doing everything for us for several years – all the merch designs, all the artwork for the EPs and the debut album. I don’t see anybody else doing artwork for us anytime soon, he’s like a seventh band member and developed a signature style for us.
Zora, you’re part of many artworks and the face of the band really. Is that something that you’re happy with?
ZORA: I have to admit that it’s sometimes a bit of a struggle for me, because I’m a naturally shy person. So, taking centre stage on all the promo photos, et cetera, isn’t something I’m particularly good at. I do love performing and playing these different parts in music videos. That’s really my thing. But doing promotion, and putting myself in the spotlight like that, is often difficult for me.
“A Dark Euphony”
Track-By-Track with Zora Cock
01. “An Unwelcome Guest”: That’s one of the most personal songs on the album for me, because it deals with the sleep paralysis that I suffer from since my childhood days. It’s also inspired by a painting by the Swiss artist Henry Fuseli called “The Nightmare”, which really spoke to me.
02. “Far Distant Land”: Is a tribute to my favourite historical fantasy series called “Outlander”. It has a very folky vibe to it, which I really love. It’s one of my favourite songs!
03. “Spirit Of Forgetfulness”: Is inspired by the Goddess Lethe, the spirit of forgetfulness from Greek mythology. Content wise, it’s about wanting to forget a specific person so badly that you try everything and you call upon the spirit of forgetfulness Lethe. She decides to help you, but ends up being a bit of a trickster, and as a result you forget everything except for the person you wanted to forget in the first place.
04. “Bloody Footprints In The Snow”: Is inspired by a mythical creature called the Wendigo. It’s part of a Native American legend and symbolizes greed, gluttony and selfishness. Wendigos are said to be cursed, to wander the northern woods and eternally seeking to fulfil their appetite for human flesh.
05. “The Evergreen And Weeping Tree”: Is the only ballad on the album. It was inspired by a tree that I came across in a graveyard in my hometown. It’s a very beautiful tree with hanging branches that you can disappear under. So, I created a love story around that tree.
06. “Cicada”: Is inspired by folklore and Greek mythology. They say that when the muses came into the world, they enchanted some people into singing. And those people loved singing so much that they forgot to eat or sleep and died. However, the muses rewarded their love for music by turning them into magical cicadas, so that they could sing forever. That idea inspired me very much. And the folklore behind bluebells as well: they say that if you hear a bluebell ring, then you are going to die.
07. “My Soul’s Demise”: Is based on this sin-eater idea – a person consumes a ritual meal to spiritually take on the sins of a beloved deceased person – that we got to know through “Outlander” as well.
08. “We Make Mist”: Is a very atmospheric song. It talks about the personifications of fire and ice falling in love.
09. “Thumbelina”: Is another very personal song to me. I wrote it last year as part of a learning and healing process for a phobia that I have.
10. “Forever And A Day”: Is inspired by a series that I love called “Poldark”. It gradually developed into something more and became a bit of a continuation of our song “Mortal Remains” (from the EP “Our Mortal Remains“).
11. “Crimson Faces”: Is inspired by the gothic novel “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier. I read the book a long time ago and always wanted to write about it, but found it difficult. I ended up watching the latest film, the penny finally dropped, and I wrote the lyrics for “Crimson Faces”.