We’re spotlighting the symphonic death/gothic metal group Saphath in this week’s Meet The Band. They just released their debut album Ascension Of The Dark Prophet. Vocalist Alexey Duraev and guitarist Dmitriy Badulin introduce us to their band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Saphath.
Alexey Duraev: Saphath was just my sick idea for a long time, since 2013. I was singing in another band, it was melodic death metal in between Children Of Bodom and Arch Enemy, but I have always wanted something darker, something epic, poetic and theatrical at the same time. I had a couple of songs composed and some lyrics written, but I needed right people to do it all with and finding those people took 6 years until the moment I was talking with my friend Dmitriy and said: “Listen, man, I have this and this in mind, let’s just do it!” Since then, we started processing what I already had by the moment and composing new songs, and more and more musicians would join us bringing their own ideas to the table. We were not exactly looking for people intentionally, we would just show our demos to our friends and those who liked it joined the band, it’s more about believing in the entire idea. Finally, we had the LP album ready and sent out to Christian Donaldson of Cryptopsy for mixing and mastering and there you go.
Describe the songwriting process for Ascension Of The Dark Prophet.
Alexey: it’s different every time. Some songs are sitting on my old GTP tabs, which Dimtriy has refurbished greatly and then I made lyrics on top of it. Sometimes we sit together, playing parts on different instruments and then they derive into songs, like it was with “Children Of The Night.” I bought a mandolin just for fun and was playing around with it at Dmitriy’s place and suddenly we record an intro to a song and Dmitriy already continues my mandolin parts with thick riffs and a few moments later we think of orchestral arrangements. Pretty much every time we compose something with Dmitriy, our bass player Alexander drives by and rushes at our tired brains with a flurry of ideas, sometimes turning song structure upside down.
Songwriting with Nikita, our guitar solo guru, is different since he lives on the opposite end of the country. I would just talk with him on a video call sometimes and, if something happens in my life, express how I feel and then, all of a sudden, he would send me a raw record of a music piece exactly expressing my emotions. “Asphodel Meadows” is the best example of it, a song very deep in emotions. What remains constant is whenever we send a demo to our drummer, the Faceless One, he would alter the drum parts right on point and sometimes change the entire impression of the song. Same consistency goes for our choir director/ arranger/ singer Alexandra. She has put her hands on most of the orchestral arrangements and enriched them greatly and wow, we have recorded actual live choirs which she has written parts for. As for the lyrics – I always throw some thoughts in my notebook occasionally, and then they develop into the whole thing when the music is ready in no time, I just pick the vibe of music and go on with it. Songwriting was a big work, but extremely satisfying.
Dmitriy Badulin: Basically, it all starts with ideas or feelings. Me and Alexey are normally sitting around at each other’s place playing an instrument or singing something and several hours later we enjoy a ready made track puzzled how it happened. There have also been songs that were taking months to write and were practically re-written in the end. Good thing we always had ideas and notes to carry on non-stop.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
Alexey: It might sound silly, but it was the first time in my life I was recording clean vocals the proper way, with side tracks and intervals. That was educational for me, and there was a funny story related to it. I was singing the lowest part of a vocal part and every furniture piece in the studio started vibrating. Dmitriy cracked a joke saying I have caused an earthquake somewhere on the planet and the next morning I was reading the news and found out an earthquake did happen in the opposite part of our island EXACTLY at the moment I was singing the part. And jokes aside, recording live choirs was quite an experience.
Dmitriy: Writing and recording orchestral arrangements and choir parts! It was such an immersive and unpredictable process; no one could ever guess the final result. That was a great experience and we will only use more of it and improve in the future which I am only looking forward to with great anticipation.
Did the pandemic affect the process?
Alexey: Yes, it affected everything, but not exactly in a bad way. On one hand, I was stuck on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean for almost entire 2020 since my back-to-back simply could not travel to relieve me. On the other – my band mates had quite a few days off from their jobs and were able to do a lot when I was away and only able to participate in the process by staying online. In other words, we did not really suffer or benefit from it – just reorganized the process.
How would you characterize the album’s style/sound?
Dmitriy: there is a lot of variety in musical approaches on the album. Some of the songs are closer to death/black metal, some lean more towards gothic metal. There is a lot of rather old school melodic death metal vibes and at the same time it sounds quite modern. Christian Donaldson did a masterpiece of sound design, utmost gratitude to him for that. A true professional he is.
Alexey: as Dima said, a lot of variety there, I can’t even name the genre. I normally refer to it as dark metal, and rather leave the definition to musical critics. There is a piece of this and a piece of that, and they work together perfectly even though they should not. Overall, the best definition for the album is that sounds massive. That’s mostly because of reach arrangements. Also it definitely is dark, emotional and a bit disturbing in a good way. What I like about it most is that when we show something to our friends who are not into metal, the reaction would sound like: “Wow, that is not my type of music, but it sounds solid and I like it for some reason.”
What lyrical topics do you cover?
Alexey: The story of a lonely man. The album is called Ascension Of The Dark Prophet. The Dark Prophet is a character of harsh fate, an outsider in his world, rejected by society, but possessing indomitable willpower and independence. Since his youth, he hears a voice of darkness in his head and the darkness is personalized, she is not just a universal power, she is a lady of forbidden knowledge and defiance. You may look at him as Antichrist or Cain and perceive her as Lilith or Mara (Slavic goddess of death), but it is more to them than the known mythological characters.
The Prophet aims for reaching the city he sees in his dreams, and this would be the story of his ascension. On his lonely path, he travels around the world seeking knowledge of half-mad wizards, he falls in love and loses his beloved, he gets sentenced and kills, he becomes a ruler and a demigod god and finally reaches his goal, falling into the arms of darkness in the land of his dreams. The music and lyrics are filled with a poetic combination of loneliness, despair, pain, anxiety, compassion, rage, judgment and questioning of what is believed to be truth. Summarizing that, every song expresses a particular emotion a person like that would feel, and it is very personal to me, I lived through every hardness expressed, so everything described is a sincere thing in Byronish style bars.
What led you to go the independent route for the album release?
Dmitriy: The musicians that are only starting with a debut album do not really get an opportunity to get published on a label. We would look at labels’ offers, but we never received any. Independence has its own benefits, so we do not consider it a big loss.
Alexey: The best thing about labels is that they pay your production expenses. The album record took us longer than expected, but we paid everything from our own pockets, so by the end of the production phase we did not really need any help.
What are your goals and expectations for the album?
Alexey: I just want it to be heard by as many people as possible. If it wins the hearts, we will have our tours and merch sales. Pretty much everything a musician wants is making a decent living with music to exclude necessity to wake up in the morning and go to work and rather dive in the music-related deals instead, whether it is songwriting or content making – anything that people like.
How was the video shoot for “Outcast of Eden”?
Alexey: Let me start from geography of Russia. It is huge, and we live on Sakhalin Island in the very Far East, right next to Japan. When we were looking for a filming crew, a guy from St. Petersburg (which is the far West of the country) responded that he was interested. He read the scenario, liked it a lot and a couple of weeks later called his friend to assist him, took a plane from the opposite end of the country to get to our city. When waiting for the guys, we spent two weeks looking for all kinds of stuff we would use in video production, making props, negotiating locations and basically preparing everything we could prepare.
The filming crew arrived, we met them in the airport and we all started working like we were possessed. There was three insane days of driving around the city, carrying stuff around, 9 hours of filming every day. The scenes where you see the whole band playing are taken in the local puppet theatre, it was closed for summer season at the moment and we literally had to build the stage there and disassemble it again. It all was crazy but fun. Many the thanks to filming crew of Artyom Ditkovsky, Vadim Ivanov and our director Semyon Dobrolyubov, great professional job and lots of help besides!
Do you have any plans to play live?
Alexey: Absolutely! Once the album is released, we start playing live and we are focused at making amazing shows. Although, it’s inside Russia for now for obvious reasons.
How did you get started in music?
Alexey: I was around 12 years old when I was getting into metal music. The more I listened to it, the more I realized I want to do it myself. Most of all I was interested in vocals, but I also wanted to compose a lot. There I started studying different instruments to understand the backside of the song structures. I’ve spent many years playing bass and singing in a couple of bands, doing shows around the island and self-developing, taking parts in vocal contests and winning, but as I said, I always wanted to do something bigger and here we are!
Dmitriy: All of our band members are experienced musicians who’ve been with several local bands. I started back in school and I was 16 when I became touring as a singer and guitarist of a local death metal band. It’s 9 years with them by now.
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
Alexey: The first bands that twisted my mind were Sepultura, Machine Head and Korn. They shaped my expectations of metal music and some time later Cradle of Filth turned my vision upside down, I realized how dark and melodic it could be, still staying fierce. I’d also name Dimmu Borgir for their epic massiveness and Moonspell for showing me how can a low pitched clean voice fits in metal music which normally has tenors on the microphone. And yeah, more ferocity from Behemoth!
Dmitriy: I’d call the bands I was listening to most around 14-15 years old: Burzum, Mayhem, Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse, Suicide Silence, Dying Fetus and many others.
What was the first metal concert you attended?
Alexey: Numerous local bands, can’t even remember a half of them. As for world-known bands, the first band from outside of Russia for me was Cradle of Filth.
Dmitriy: If we don’t take local bands into account, the first known band for me was Cannibal Corpse and that happened when my band played a show with them in Serbia back in 2019.
What’s the metal scene like in your area of Russia?
Alexey: If we bring up our island, it does not really exist here – just one small bar for headbangers. There are a couple of really good bands playing there once in a while, all the rest of the time it’s mostly cover bands. If we talk about Far East in general – there are quite a few great bands and some decent gigs happening around, though not too often.
Dmitriy: If we bring up Far East in general, it really depends on city. Khabarovsk has several bands well known outside of the city, some of them are touring the country. Vladivostok is mostly underground, but underground scene there is so well developed that I cannot really say which city is bigger in heavy music. As for Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, where we live, it is different, as Alexey said. There used to be a lot of bands and musicians pushing the development of local stage, but not anymore. There are just a dozen of idealistic people who make their own music and play live against all odds.
What are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
Alexey: I read a lot, mostly classical literature and decadent poetry, thrillers and some fantasy. DC comics are my guilty pleasure, too. I also like playing tabletop games with friends, drawing (in fact, working on a graphic novel with two fellow artists right now) and writing. Hitting the gym when I got time for it, although right now I am too busy working, running two businesses and doing thing for Saphath. Used to go for martial arts, too.
Dmitriy: Not so long ago I started working as a light artist in our international theatre. The new job is as good as a hobby, I like it. I have away been into electronics and device design, but right now it is only experience and a bunch of radio leftovers.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Alexey: Just one thing to whoever is reading this: no matter what happens, we hope to see you at our show, no matter where it happens. We will keep on working hard on it and wish you all the best. And there will be another surprise from us this fall.
(interview published April 9, 2022)
Watch Saphath – “Outcast Of Eden” Video