Essence Without Light: An interview with Raven X
Interview by Rich Leggatt
One of the joys of covering the global underground metal scene is the pleasure of being exposed to so many fascinating and unique musical acts.
One such act that took me completely by surprise is a very talented musical duo from Ohio, U.S.A. called Raven X.
With only two members, Nÿx (all vocals and lyrics) and Khâos (all music and instruments), Raven X have succeeded in creating a wonderfully dark gothic album both biting and beautiful, stark yet rich in haunting melodies. And judging from their impressive online following I can only assume that I'm not alone in my opinion.
I was privileged to have recently reviewed their debut album with Bat Zuge Records, "Essence Without Light" (you can read it here). So when I was given the chance to interview the band about their music and their creative process I leapt at the opportunity. Please read what Nÿx and Khâos have to say about their album, their unique style and their approach to songwriting…
HMS: Raven X has such a unique sound. How did that sound evolve? Did you start off in one particular style (like death metal for example) and branch out from there?
Khâos: We never approach anything with any preconceived agenda in mind. We both love many styles of music other than metal and that inevitably works its way into the Raven X style. The death metal genre is a huge favorite of both of ours and the aggression and groove influences of death metal seem to come out more often than other styles in our songwriting, but it really isn't forced or predetermined. Unfortunately labels are important, so we refer to our style of music as Gothic Death Metal because it is probably the closest genre that it can be labeled as, but I am not sure that that really nails it down either. We feel that our music has many other elements in it such as thrash metal and black metal as well as industrial and ambient styles. In the future, we will be incorporating other styles into our songwriting and this has already been reflected in the early material we have written for the next album.
HMS: Were there any particular bands that influenced your sound?
Khâos: I wouldn't say that anything conscientiously influences the sound of Raven X. As a matter fact, we tried to do our best to not sound like anyone else both with our song writing and performances, along with the production. The album was recorded with long takes and without the use of looping or auto-tuning to ensure that it did not have that overly perfect, computer generated sound to it. We tried to record the album in the vein of how albums were recorded prior to the digital age, while still taking advantage of technology to record the album in our home studio. As far as musical influences are concerned, I have been influenced by many metal and classic rock bands over the years including everyone from Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd to Opeth and Ihsahn. I am also into a lot of non-metal music. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a big favorite of mine and I am highly influenced by his layering of melodies and combination of instruments. I also have a lot of respect for Prince. His ability to write and perform all of the instruments on many of his songs has been influential in my path away from playing in a band to recording all of the instrumentation by myself. Also, he always writes each instrument part to fit the song and not show off the instrument itself. This is definitely something I keep in mind when I approach songwriting and recording the instruments.
HMS: I don't know a lot about the Ohio metal scene, but I get the impression that Raven X isn't exactly typical of a lot of the metal from there. What was the reaction like to your album "Essence Without Light" in your hometown?
Nÿx: The Ohio metal scene is more hardcore. Raven X is not typical, but we have had an amazing reaction of support from people. It's not everybody's music style that they would normally listen to. I personally have talked to some of these people and they were surprised of how the music also has beautiful changes and sounds. It was great to open the ears and minds of people that normally wouldn't give this style of music a chance.
"We both are open to any way that we feel will bring out the song and ideas we have." – Nÿx
HMS: Nÿx, you have such diverse vocal capabilities. What attracted you to the extreme vocal style of death/thrash metal?
Nÿx: I have always been a fan of metal. I love the emotion and feel of metal music. I am a very emotional person and I use these emotions when I write my lyrics. These emotions also help me with all my expressions I am trying to deliver for the song. When I first heard Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy, I was blown away. Not only was she an influence, but the absolute power she delivers is amazing to me. Then to see her live and to hear her overpower the men singers of the night, I was blown away again. Another singer I idolize is Michael Akerfeldt from Opeth. His vocal style and abilities are not like anyone else. He has the most beautiful singing voice and deep, dark growls that I just absolutely admire. His singing is just as powerful and his death growls.
"We never approach anything with any preconceived agenda in mind." – Khâos
HMS: Khâos, give us a little insight into the songwriting process of Raven X. As it's only you composing and performing all the instrumental parts, how do you go about writing a complete song? Do you start with guitars?
Khâos: More often than not, the ideas start in my head without playing an instrument. The idea can be a guitar riff, drum groove or just a feel or vibe. I usually try to take the sound or idea in my head and try to turn it into a guitar part next. This is not always as easy to accomplish as I would like because it can be difficult at times transforming the sound in my mind to audible music. After I have the basic feel and groove on the guitar, I turn to drums and try to create a drum track that both compliments the guitar and stands on its own without following the guitar too much, because I really feel that the drums are the backbone of the song and should not be structured in a way that just makes the guitar the focal instrument. Once this is accomplished, I move to the bass with the idea of finding a solid way to marry the drums and guitar together. After the main structure of the song is complete I hand it over to Nÿx to handle the writing of all lyrics and vocals. Keyboards and guitar solos are usually worked on at this time or just after the vocals are complete, depending on the needs of the particular song. Occasionally, I will improvise on the guitar and come up with an idea or riff for a song first, but I don't like to focus on the guitar as the main instrument for the song. Even though I am a guitar player first and foremost, when I am writing a song it is about the song and not any particular instrument. If my face ever ends up on the front of a big music magazine, I would prefer it to be Rolling Stone rather than Guitar Player.
HMS: Nÿx, which comes first – lyrics or music? Or is there even a formula?
Nÿx: Most of the time the music comes first. After the song structure is finished, Khaos will hand me over the demoed music. His melodies alone take me on a emotional ride, so lyrics and vocal melody ideas for the most part will come naturally for me. For "Poet" I had the idea of what the song was going to be about and discussed this with Khaos. From there he brought out the feel I was going for with all the changes. We both are open to any way that we feel will bring out the song and ideas we have. There is total creative freedom for whatever these songs need.
HMS: There is definitely a consistent atmosphere on "Essence Without Light". Even the gorgeous, and ominous, cover art fits the music perfectly. Was the album composed with a specific theme, story or concept in mind?
Khâos: There wasn't anything specific in mind when composing the music for the album. As a matter of fact, the songs were written over a 3 or 4 year period. The "Immortal Beloved" and "Take The Pain" demos were actually posted online and were heard on internet radio stations before many of the other songs were written. The title track was the last song written and that didn't happen until about 6 months before the album was ready for release. I would say that any consistency in the atmosphere of the music comes mostly from my writing style and being the sole composer of all of the parts. The theme aspects of the album are written based on Nÿx's emotional reaction to the music and the lyrics reflect the way she hears and feels it. Our album cover was created by a very talented artist named Maira Pedroni. We discussed the concept of the album and the feel we wanted for the cover with Maira and her vision for the artwork ended up fitting perfectly with the overall atmosphere of the album and songs.
HMS: Do you plan to expand the band to involve other musicians, allowing Raven X the opportunity to play live shows?
Nÿx: This has been and will always be a personal dream of mine to actually play Raven X live with other people someday. We have looked for the right people to join Raven X on either a permanent or live basis, but so far this hasn't worked out. We will continue to keep an ear out for other musicians that would work well in Raven X, but until then we will carry on as a two-piece band.
HMS: Nÿx, Khâos – thank you both so much for taking the time to talk to HMS about Raven X. We look forward to hearing more great music from Raven X in albums to come!
Nÿx: Thank you for the opportunity and support!!!
Khâos: Thank you Richard and HMS, we truly appreciate your support!!
Rich Leggatt, HMS