The Silver Cast A “Ward of Roses” In Glittering Starlight (Interview)
Before it blooms, the rose is a temperamental plant. Its thorns protect it from larger pests, yet it is susceptible to smaller ones and fickle about things like soil acidity. But then comes the payoff—thick buds unfurl in a succession of flowers that, as they die, litter the ground with colorful confetti. So it is with The Silver’s debut LP, Ward of Roses. Prickly and vicious, the band’s barrage of rhythm and guitar, coupled with vocalist Nick Duchemin's pained wails, blooms, making space for V’s virtuosic lead lines and impeccable delivery of emotive, soaring clean vocals.
V is better known as Matt Knox, guitarist and co-vocalist of venerable death metal act Horrendous. His brother Jamie, drummer for Horrendous, takes up bass duties within The Silver, while Crypt Sermon percussionist Enrique Sagarnaga propels the band from behind the kit. On Ward of Roses, this quartet of Philadelphia metal veterans have assembled a genre-bending collection of songs that is an even mixture of punishing darkness and thrilling optimism. It is organic, vulnerable, and unified. For a debut featuring a first-time musician—this is harsh vocalist Duchemin’s first credit in a metal act—it is an album with remarkable poise.
“Fallow,” the record’s lead single, is a good encapsulation of everything else on Ward of Roses. From its frenetic beginning to its triumphant ending, it is a showstopper of a song, a bouquet of each band member’s strengths in full flower. The tracks that follow offer glimpses of black metal (“Vapor” is a great example), trad metal riffage, and emotive vines of proggy goodness snaking up the walls of Sagarnaga’s relentless drumming. “Behold, Five Judges” is a particular highlight for its combination of fast-paced shredding, layered vocals, and poignancy.
That poignancy, as well as the avoidance of any genre dogma, is one of the things that makes this debut so striking. Ward of Roses is rooted in the recent chaos of several band members’ personal lives, which, as the record grew, manifested in a collaborative songwriting approach. This has yielded a vocal attack from Duchemin and V that pulls off the difficult balancing act of being both ferocious and soul-baring. The title track is one example of a song that draws on personal tragedy, taking up the story of a family friend of the Knoxes who was killed in a motorcycle accident while the band was crafting the record. Mixed and mastered by Horrendous member Damian Herring, who has recently also done production work for acts like Slovenian death metallers Siderean and Ripped to Shreds mastermind Andrew Lee’s new project Heavy Metal Shrapnel, the record’s production glistens.
As befits Ward of Roses’ aesthetic, there is real romance in this record. It’s hard not to be drawn in by its beauty. The band is clear that The Silver is not a side project and has been an invaluable way to work through personal difficulties while creating something sonically different. I spoke to Matt Knox and Enrique Sagarnaga about the origins of The Silver, the deep bonds and cooperative processes that underpinned their first release together, and the future of the band.
The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
You both have been active in bands out there in the Philly area for a while now. How did you all come to work together on The Silver? What was the genesis of this project, and how long have you been at it as a group?
Matt Knox: We met many years ago, I think in 2015 or 2014, because we were both on Dark Descent and in the same city. We always hung out and had a natural connection as people who loved heavy metal, and then a couple years later I ended up filling in on bass for Crypt Sermon when they were on tour. Through the process of actually playing together and just being friendly, that kind of started things. [But The Silver was] Enrique’s idea from the start.
Enrique Sagarnaga: Before I was in Crypt Sermon, I was in a Philly black metal, kind of punk band. That started to approach what I wanted to do [in The Silver]. Then, I did drums for another very abrasive black metal record that I still won’t really tell anyone about. (laughs) And that was too extreme. So, I wanted to find a band that kind of met that stuff halfway… And this isn’t completely different from our other projects; you can kind of hear little things from Crypt Sermon, and it’s the same with what we’ve been calling the Horrendous-isms.
Coming back to the genesis… we got to this point where our personal lives just had this weird intersection. Jamie [Knox, bassist,] referred to it as a point in time in which “everyone was burning.” We were just all at a crossroads in our lives… So I always wanted any record we did [as The Silver] to be purposeful. I wanted this band to exist for a reason beyond friends drinking beer on a Saturday. That’s not to say a band with cool riffs isn’t good—god knows we need cool riffs—but I really wanted [this project] to matter and have a weight to it.
I want to touch on one other thing—through and through, I wanted this to be a release on Adam [Bartlett]’s label [Gilead Media]… There’s a very specific voice that a lot of the music Adam puts out has, regardless of whether they’re black metal bands, or noise bands, or something progressive and wild. They all have this genuine sincerity to them, and they’re all very forward-thinking… He definitely occupies this very unique and singular space. When it came to formulating [The Silver], it was very much with that intent. He was the only person on any label that heard [Ward of Roses]. We did a 3-track demo exclusively for him. He’s also been a longtime friend of mine and I like working with the people I love.
Ward of Roses feels cohesive and intentional—there’s the flower motif that carries from the cover art through the lyrics, for one thing. What binds this record together?
MK: Lyrically, we wanted this to be about relatable struggle in different forms and the transformations that come from that stuff—you know, death, relationships breaking apart, professional struggles—it sounds banal and stupid when you put it like that, but we wanted to [speak to] experience that requires vulnerability. We were trying to take the everyday and see the grandiose that’s in the everyday... Everything blossomed out of that sort of “thesis.”
I loved how spontaneous the record was… Once we started writing music and getting lyrics down—and all four of us wrote parts of the lyrics on this record—there was so much spontaneous energy. We really wanted to enter this with a complete sense of openness and freedom, and the final product is indicative of that—it was this entity that grew and grew. Often, the last pieces we wrote and recorded weren’t things we thought of beforehand. I will say we did have the freedom to record pretty freely—other bands don’t always get that. You have deadlines, limited studio time, and other pressures. But we got to take our time and see how things evolved.
Matt, I know you’ve taken on a different identity for your work within the band. Tell me about V.
MK: Part of it is making space for someone different in terms of performance and, I guess, a being to inhabit. Thinking about Horrendous, I started that band with my brother and my friend when I was, shit, 19 years old. In the musical world, I’ve been this same kind of static person for 12 years at this point. It’s a person that I love and a role I love playing—that band has always at its heart been bent much more to 80s bands that are high-flying, larger-than-life, and I’ve always wanted to be that in that band, but the older I get and the more I change personally, I wanted to have a space to be something more. Not in the sense of putting a costume on, which, I’m literally sitting here wearing one, but I think making the person in [The Silver] more reflective of how I’ve changed in life.
That is the distinction—the person in Horrendous can’t necessarily carry the weight of everything that’s happened since I was 19. Part of the fun of being in Horrendous is I still transport back to that age… I think that energy is still there whenever we play, and we love that. But I wanted to really distinguish this band and not just have it be a side project… I really wanted this to be a new entity in addition to exploring different sides of myself.
As far as other personnel, I understand your vocalist Nick Duchemin has never really done harsh vocals before. How was that for the group dynamic? What did having someone with less experience actually making metal do for The Silver?
ES: One of the weird things about it, even now that the record’s done and has been in computers, [is that it] still feels like this living, breathing document because of how much we got to play around with it while recording. To that end, with our vocalist Nick, it was very much the same kind of experience recording stuff over and over just to see what could be honed in on or what had to reined in a bit. At one point, we realized he just really shined when he was unchained and we just let him go with it. He’s been around live music forever and is such a passionate fan of heavy metal, and is such a great record collector, [that] he kind of knew what he was doing off the bat, but there’s this filtering and holding back seasoned musicians know to have when you’re going into the studio. Even when you’re playing drums, you try to do the best take you can, but can’t put all of the gas into one song or you’re not going to make it throughout the rest of the day. He kind of didn’t know to do that, but, man, we rarely ever saw him have an empty gas tank. It was surprising. He really let it out. It was incredible to see. There were a lot of times where we’d be sitting down watching him do takes, like “man, did you just see that? That was cool.” Here’s this guy belting his heart about these tragic things, and we were in the background with these huge grins on our faces. I really wanted the band to have a little bit of a “secret weapon”—something that unified everything in a way we didn’t expect… and he definitely became that.
MK: The day we were first tracking vocals, I ended up upstairs in the bathroom when he did his first take. And just hearing the shrieks emanating from then basement, I just couldn’t fucking believe it. None of us had heard him sing, and it was kind of all on faith that it was gonna be good. It obviously paid off. I’ve personally been friends with Nick since I was in high school, and I was wanting to do something with this person I’ve been listening to heavy metal with half of my life—when Horrendous is on tour, he always comes with us and slings shirts or drives the van. Having a new project to bring him in to really share the creative space with was really special.
You alluded to the tragedy that’s present in the lyrics. There’s a lot of beauty in this record and a lot of hopefulness in some of the songs, but there’s also tragedy at the heart of some of the lyrics on Ward of Roses—you’ve got both petals and thorns. What are this album’s emotional currents? Are these things you haven’t been able to explore in your other bands?
ES: I have this ethos which is that everything metal should have some brawn to it. Obviously, bands like Crypt Sermon are an expression of that. But with [The Silver], there is that other undercurrent. For me, it was kind of one of the cornerstones of the band. I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t very proud of the kind of person I was. I wanted to create something musical where I could express it, come to terms with it, and tackle it. A lot of those lyrics are tragic and were written under the guise of someone tackling these things and seeing these things. Once you understand it’s from the point of view of someone who’s not proud of [what they’ve done], it kind of becomes even more tragic in a way. With Crypt Sermon, we have very hyperfocused lyrical themes. Brooks Wilson, our vocalist, he handles the bulk of that with our input, but this was very much an all-hands-on-deck kind of approach. We all wrote lyrics independently of one another, and would pass them around for editorializing. All these stories in the record are very unique to some of us… or in the case of one or two songs, it’s kind of applicable to everyone in the band, or the other, the listener.
MK: When it comes to Horrendous, we definitely do explore these things from time to time, but I feel like with that band, because of how music manifests, the lyrics are coded in a way. While we do tackle philosophical, introspective things in Horrendous, there’s always this veil between the human being speaking and the persona of the band. Writing for [The Silver], I felt like… I was able to be a bit more raw and direct in how we were approaching things. And there were other things that happened over the course of making this record that, partly by virtue of not writing for Horrendous at the time, the record was a godsend of being able to express these things. I do think there’s something a lot more direct about lyrics in this band. I didn’t feel the same need to dress them in scary imagery… I was able to say what I wanted to say and make it a bit more romantic.
Horrendous and Crypt Sermon draw in part from the roots of metal. You can definitely hear some of that in The Silver, too, in the melodic guitar work—what you called the “Horrendous-isms”—and the clean vocals, but there is that element of black metal threaded through. Did you draw on—or avoid—any specific musical inspirations during the creation of this record?
MK: In a weird way, I feel like I didn’t put too much stress on deciding what to write, or try and funnel things in a certain way. In some cases, a lot of songs were like my version of writing a black metal song, which is kind of funny to say… we intentionally didn’t want this to be a black metal band per se even though that was a sound we wanted to draw from. As I was writing a lot of these riffs and parts, I was thinking about how to filter this music and guitar through my own lens. [In Horrendous,] I had a philosophy of, how do I take this music I loved when young and make it sound like it’s coming from me? I took that same philosophy with The Silver a lot of the time—taking some inspiration from these older bands, but making it sound distinctly my own. Nothing was really off limits. We weren’t just looking at black metal. There was a lot of dipping into goth, or dark rock. And for me, a lot of more vocal lead driven music. There was kind of an equal task in terms of difficulty in writing music and developing how to sing over music. I knew I wanted to sing clean vocals for that project, and that was a fairly long process of trial and error.
ES: I’m in a few other bands. At any given time, I’m writing music with those bands as well. In the case of [Ward of Roses], it overlapped. One thing I always try to do is not to make my drumming sound the same across multiple records [and] get myself out of my comfort zone. Anyone who writes music always has reference points and things they want to try, whether it’s to approximate or find stuff they don’t want to do. With [The Silver], there was nothing I wanted to leave off the table. I wanted this to be as unfiltered as it could possibly be, even at points when it made me uncomfortable.
I know the black metal sounds are pretty blatant, but I don’t personally like saying [so]… There’s this very religious context for black metal that is very important to that genre, and obviously this doesn’t have that. This is not Satanic in any way. I always hesitated to call it that for that reason. In my own exploration of what I wanted this to sound like, I didn’t go into that genre too much. Things like guitar tones, I thought we’d hone in on [those] in studio. As we were writing, my biggest concern was developing songs out of very specific rhythmic ideas that I wanted to just come up with with Matt. In “Fallow,” there’s this rhythmic accent that kicks in fairly early in the song where it’s just the snare and guitars. That little rhythmic idea was the basis for that whole song.
What role did COVID play in the formation of The Silver? How did it affect you all and the timing of this album?
ES: [COVID] held us back for sure. Part of it was because we had to go into lockdown before finishing the record. There was an upside to that—we got to sit with what we had recorded up to that and continue to develop our ideas… In regards to isolation and where my brain was at the time, I had so much going on in my life, both great things and terrible things, that the nuances of getting through the pandemic never crept up into record musically in any way. If anything, it was just kind of an obstacle.
MK: I would agree there. It put a pause on everything. We did eventually get to get back to it in December or something, or January?
ES: I believe we went back into the studio throughout December and January, yeah.
Now that you’ve been working together for a couple years, what’s next for this project? Are you all planning to support the new record with live shows? What do you see coming down the road for The Silver?
ES: We do want to play live. I hate wording it like this, but this is a real band, not just some project that you’re going to hear about every five years. I want it to be special. I think it should be kind of a bigger deal because [Ward of Roses] was such a big deal for us on a personal level, and hopefully we can get enough people to get that feedback loop going with us… I kind of want to line up the right place at the right time [to play live]. When that’ll be? I can’t tell you yet. We’ve already been working on writing new material. A lot of this stuff is fresh for people’s ears, but we’ve sat with this record for quite a while and that’s already inspired a lot of things.
MK: [In Horrendous] not everyone lives in the same place, so it’s been exciting for me to actually have access to everyone [in Philadelphia] and not having to coordinate schedules as much and worry about practicing. In Horrendous, planning practicing, writing, and recording can be a nightmare, and even planning a tour can be a nightmare because of where we all live. I’m hopeful that, depending on how things go, [The Silver] could be band that plays a good amount.
ES: One really cool thing about writing a new record now—like I said earlier, Matt and I wrote a lot of songs on this first record, and then Jamie and Nick’s contributions came a bit later… There’s definitely a shift in dynamic when it comes to the new record. Now we’re writing all of it together in a room, which, for a good amount of [Ward of Roses], just wasn’t possible.
MK: I think this just happens with any band, but the first record was so much about figuring out what we could do and what the sound is. There is a degree of complete exploration and freedom that’s maybe slightly lost on a second record, but when you lose that, you also gain kind of “here’s where we are, here’s what we can do,” and you can kind of push the limits. Writing for me has been really exciting with [the new record] so far. [On Ward of Roses], I didn’t really know how I was going to sing or even where clean vocals would be… Having a vision and a sound in my head at this point and knowing what we can do is opening up so many doors from a songwriting perspective.
Is there anything else you’re working on you’re excited to share?
ES: Crypt Sermon is working on LP3, Daeva is on the first LP, and we’re working on this.
MK: I’m first and foremost very excited to continue on our new material [for The Silver]. I just think it’s great. We’re taking it to heights the first record wasn’t quite at. I love the first record, but because it came from nothing, it’s not as informed as the new songs are to my ears, anyway. I’m excited about taking time over the next couple of months to really hone in on that and finish it and get the ball rolling as soon as possible. Also, Horrendous is almost done with our next record. That should be coming out soon enough.
Ward of Roses releases today via Gilead Media.