Roadburn Recall: Tracing the Blade of Silver Knife

Roadburn Festival has in recent years served as a key crossroads for those looking to discover artists at the progressive edge of European black metal, and 2022’s edition was no exception.

Midway through the event, we spoke with Nicky (N), H, and D of the enigmatic Silver Knife about the genesis of the band, playing their debut live set at the festival, and who they’re eyeing up for a guest guitar solo on their next record.

Thinking about the collaborative nature of this band as it started out, and the sense of community that Roadburn seems to foster, in particular its relationship with European and Dutch black metal – do you feel there’s a strong connection between the scene and the festival itself?

H: Well, no, it’s more of a coincidence, the connection to Roadburn, because the band formed around Nicky and I meeting all over Europe randomly, touring with other bands, getting to know each other like that. And that’s how we got to the point of recording. But of course, given N’s experience with Roadburn, there was always the flutter of an idea. In the beginning, it was just the two of us but when we went to the studio, we involved D because he was so enthusiastic that he was like: “I want to be in the band!”. He also had a connection with Roadburn through Wolvennest, and Roadburn Records of course.

N: Throughout the years, Roadburn has been very welcoming to a large group of Dutch metal musicians, which eventually resulted in Maalstroom; a collaborative effort. Besides that, it showcased local acts in which I’m personally involved like Laster, Nusquama and Wolves In The Condo, so I do feel a personal connection with the festival and various bands involved. I don’t think that Roadburn has a strict continental focus though. It seems to invite (black) metal from multiple parts of the world – although it would be fantastic to see more bands outside of Western Europe / North America finding an audience in Tilburg.

So there is a line of continuity between you and the festival but the initial arrangements were made by bumping into each other, and making connections on the road.

N: Silver Knife is still a young and growing band, not only concerning our discography, but also through connections with other musicians and listeners. When you enter a musical landscape as a new entity, it is quite uncertain who you’ll eventually run into, what type of connections feel right, and what direction you’d like to steer the band.

H: When you make an album, you don’t really know where you’re going to land musically, we just wanted to do our own thing. And it seemed that we landed on something a little bit unexpected. So like N says, it’s like we’re going to carry on & see what happens with these connections we’ve made.

N: (looking at D.) Because with Wolvennest, for example, it seems that you walk a specific musical route. It’s a bit laid back, very much focussed on its atmosphere and hypnotic qualities – attracting an audience that relates to that in the process. Then, with Laster, we’re a bit more at the eclectic end of the spectrum – energetic, divisive. Hypothermia hits another niche completely, and so on. With Silver Knife, we’re still a bit left in the dark. I honestly have no idea whose faces we’re going to see out there tonight.

Given that Silver Knife started out as a collaboration and you’ve now satisfied your curiosity of working together, do you still see it that way, or has it morphed into something else?

D: I think this was something we realised at some point when we’d just finished the first album. We were just like, yeah, this is not just a collaboration, we are actually a band. Saying at the time that we just don’t know when we’re gonna go on stage, but we will. Because of the pedigree of who we are, and who we’ve worked with, we quickly felt that we could trust each other.

N: Yeah, and especially due to rehearsing. At first, we would function as a studio act; meeting in people’s living rooms, writing riffs, hop in the studio to record an album, and eventually show it to the world. This does create certain social and artistic connections but it wasn’t until we were actually rehearsing that I truly felt “Oh, we’re a band now! I am part of something new!”

H: Yeah. we all felt like, now it’s for real.

So given the extra time that there’s been between planning this show and actually playing it, how has the dynamic with each other shifted? Was there more time to practise? What has changed with you?

H: We definitely don’t feel like we had more time! I’m speaking, I think for the three of us in saying that we had quite a stressful year, life seemed a bit much at certain moments. But last week, we had the one rehearsal.

N: It was a long one. It was eight hours (laughs).

H: And then we knew, Okay, we got this.

In one of your interviews around the release of the first record, you mentioned there were some additional songs that were tracked, some more material. Was it a case of let’s play a show, let’s remind everybody who we are before that material sees a release?

H: We finished the album in the summer of 2019. Basically, N and I got together and puzzled some riffs together into songs in my living room. We went to D the next day, started recording, and had a really good time. D started doing some of the bass lines and some extra vocals. And then we were done. We realized we had some time left, so D pushed us into writing and recording two more songs. That was really him pushing us. They were mostly written on the spot if I am correct, yeah, except for a few existing riffs, I think. And then we kind of put them on the shelf, just waited. So then the Roadburn story happened, separately from that, but of course, we tried to bring it together so it could be released at the gig.

So the first album has these moments of triumphalism and what sounds like victory amidst the bleakness, and in those first interviews, you talked about seeing the music as a harsh incentive, and not being browbeaten but instead taking affirmative action; is there a positive message in Silver Knife?

N: For me 100%. I’m not here to spread nihilism or a misplaced sense of superiority. We have plenty of metal dudes clad in robes who’re doing that ad inifinitum. To me, Silver Knife is based on the desire to push towards collaborative dreams, actions, and creations. Besides that, we really, really love riffs.

Aggressive music can carry all these different messages that aren’t just about negativity or anger. And I think it comes through in the riffs as well as your writing.

H: For me personally, there are also a lot of negative feelings, that’s where I start from because we were always pretty fixed on the idea of what we would describe as aggressive melancholy. For me, those things don’t have to be separated and don’t have to be polarized as it’s happening. Like in music and black metal, saying it either has to be sad or aggressive or happy or this or that: I don’t really agree with that. It’s music that starts from emotions and feelings. And then you translate it into the songs, and that’s what we did. There’s impulses from me. There’s impulses from N and from D and from our drummer. And then it results in what you’re describing. If some people want to see it as triumphant, and some people want to get something positive out of it, and some people want to feel sad one evening, but maybe feel better after that or feel worse after that. That’s fine. They just need to find their own way into and from the music

D: It is the power of music, there is one word that I would use to describe Silver Knife, and it might seem a bit lofty to say it, but it’s very transcendental. It did remind me of one time I was listening to a song by Sigur Rós. And that particular song, if I feel good, it’s gonna uplift me. I feel bad. It’s gonna destroy me.

There’s an immediacy that hooks you in, led by the riffs, and to my ears there are all these other depths that come with repeated lessons.

H: Yeah. Thank you.

Am I right in saying you mastered the first album with Jake from Mare Cognitum? How did that relationship come about, and how was the process?

H: I’ve known him for a very long time, when Mare Cognitum started, we were talking already. It was a really small band. It’s hard to imagine that he’s so huge now. Yeah. We were both connected to Fallen Empire Records. Extraconscious records is one of the second generation Fallen Empire labels that split off from it. So we were always in contact. Then we were very open about the project like: “Hey, Jake, we made this. Do you like it?” and he said “I fucking love it. Let’s do something.” We already had our European label. And so Jake came in as the American label. D was producing the record and recording the record and mixing and as happens in a band with more than two people, you get into a situation where you say: “Oh, this mix is better, or this mix is better.” In the end, we had six mixes, and I think it was D himself that said, just let Jake do it.

D: Yeah. Like sometimes you just need an external ear and he was the perfect one. Because he knows and actually appreciates what we do. So it was very easy to just run with it.

N: Good to have those skills in the friendship group as well.

H: And then I asked him: “Hey, thanks for the mastering! What do we owe you?” He was like: “That’s one of the good things about being on my label. You get it for free.”

That record of his last year, Solar Paroxysm, wow, my days.

N: Beautiful, those solos are crazy.

D: I’ve never heard a black metal record with so many outstanding solos.

N: We wanted to ask him to do a solo on the new Silver Knife record, so why not do it right now: Jake, if you’re reading this, could you please join us for a solo? I can’t do it myself! (laughs).

That’s an Astral Noize exclusive right there and yeah, we hope so too! On the visual identity of the band, am I right in saying that it’s (Silver Knife drummer) Pierre who handles your artwork? How important to Silver Knife is having that cohesion between the aesthetic component and how it works with the music.

H: To me it’s everything, always as a musician I’ve believed in the idea that your music and your artwork, and nowadays even things like vinyl colour or shirt designs, should all fit together. Like, it should all be one whole. I remember we went to Pierre and we told him about Silver Knife and he was very enthusiastic. He came up with that cover in no time just like: “Hey, I have an idea! Do you like this?” We were blown away, but then he gets in touch again, to share the ring logo illustration. “Do you guys like it?” “Yeah man, we do!” And he’s been making other designs and doing other ideas. And then, of course, he’s a freaking brilliant drummer as well. So he is extremely important in the entire process.

N: I feel Pierre really finds this fine line between aggression and vulnerability, both in his drumming and the artwork he brings forth. Those drawings are very layered and detailed; containing a lot of visual information that might appear overwhelming. Yet, there’s a vulnerability in the thickness of the lines and the shading that he uses. I’m probably reading too much into his work, haha, I don’t know, Pierre could tell you more about this.

H: It reminds me of that interview we did where we gave one question to Pierre, and he had this whole conceptual explanation, about the mirror and what it can do, it can show you good sides of yourself, but also bad sides of yourself. And it was not something that we had thought about, but somehow it just smoothly fit into the whole concept of what the band was becoming at that point.

It is a beautiful cover. And the colour scheme in particular is something that I think makes it stand out. Was it deliberate to lean slightly away from a more black metally, tropey kind of design?

N: I might not be big on tropes but they are very helpful for navigating your own artistic ambitions. You need to know what you want to avoid in order to find what you crave for. Concerning the artwork, I wanted the color scheme to match the character of the music. The blue, to me, gives the detailed illustration a softer presence, comparable to the layered melodies that occasionally occur within our overall aggressive pallette. 

H: I remember you showed it to me (the blue colour scheme) and I’m always the guy that thinks: “Which vinyl colours can we do?” And then I found I’m browsing through these, you know, print plant websites saying let’s do this or let’s do this. And I think the end result of the first press, at least, was really fitting. The second press will be here today. Let’s see if people decide if it fits as well.

D: I like it. It’s pretty.

Are they up in the merch hall already?

N: I think both the EP and the repress are available at the merch stand right now. And I think they’ll drop on Bandcamp tonight at 12.

H: Nice. Yeah. And the merch tomorrow, depending on how much goes today.

What I’m hearing from you today is that this performance is not just a point you’ve been working to and then it’s off to do other projects. It sounds like there’s so much bubbling under here. So in addition to the repress and the EP, any clues as to what’s around the corner?

N: There is a new record in the making.

H: In lockdown we waited for the perfect moment to cross the border when it was allowed, like for two weeks to Belgium. We already recorded parts for another album, but we’re not done yet. We have a lot of ideas though, so maybe the album takes five more years, and maybe we’ll have two albums in the upcoming two years. I don’t know. We’ll see.

You’re on stage at eight o’clock. Anyone you’re gonna be catching before then?

H: I kind of want to hit the Emma Ruth Rundle show, but apparently we’re eating then. I definitely want to see the Ulver show as well.

N: The upcoming days I’m rooting for Terzij de Horde, Solar Temple and Grey Aura. The latter is still unannounced, but people need to see them.

Ring by Silver Knife is out now. Order here.

Words: Luke Jackson

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