CYHRA – Leaving The Past In Flames
December 3, 2019, 11 days ago
In 2016, the ever-vibrant Swedish metal scene coughed up another gem in the form of Cyhra, a four-piece outfit launched by former Amaranthe vocalist / co-founder Jake E. and ex-In Flames guitarist Jesper Strömblad. A year later they released a debut album, Letters To Myself, which was followed by touring that included supporting Sabaton and Kreator in the US. These achievements were significant given that Cyhra was a very small fish in cluttered and competitive pond, but they approached album #2 bent on leaving Letters To Myself in the dust. One listen through their new outing, No Halos In Hell, and it's a very clear Mission Accomplished. Everything about it is head and shoulders above the debut, from songwriting to production, memorable from the get go whether you like Cyhra's brand of melodic metal or not.
"It's wonderful to hear that; it means a lot to me," says Jake. "I did most of the basic songwriting for the album myself for this album, and the other guys came in after to add stuff after most of the songs were done. There are two or three songs where we did things the opposite, where Euge (Valovirta / guitars) had some ideas and I broke them down. When I was writing, I sat down and thought hard about what worked and what did not work on the first album, and I realized pretty quickly that the songs on Letters To Myself work really well when you're driving in the car, but not all of them work when you're playing them live. What I was focusing on most for No Halos In Hell was to make the songs more live oriented, and I think that live-friendliness makes the songs more catchy. It brings them to another level."
It's impossible not to hear Cyhra's growth between albums, which seems to be a rare occurrence these days when it comes to bands upping their game. It's no secret many artists would rather stay in their comfort zone than risk smacking their fans upside the head with a curveball.
"I know exactly what you mean, and there are so many bands that fall into that trap because, all of a sudden, it's not about the albums anymore. When Judas Priest released Firepower (in 2018), that was their first good album in years. It felt like they wanted to make a new album, they had the energy to write songs again. Bigger bands that have been around for 20 or 30 years, I think the attitude is that they 'have to' make another album because they want to go on tour. KISS is a good example of that; they have a few albums that are fantastic, but they also have albums where it was like 'Okay, here is our second album this year...' I think you write your best music when you're under pressure, and we are in the situation where we really need to prove that Cyhra is here to stay."
Jake also pushed his lyric writing for No Halos In Hell. As with Letters To Myself, the songs are written on a personal level but Jake branched out with his perspectives.
"It is a personal album, but in a different way from Letters To Myself. For example, 'Man Of Eternal Rain' is a song I wrote with Jesper's permission because it's a song about him. For me it's about Jesper, but for other people that hear it, the song might be about them or someone they know. The song is about someone that has fallen into oblivion so many times and rises up again and again thinking 'This is my last chance...' each time it happens. Most of the lyrics on this album, I tried to write them so that they clearly mean something to me, but I want the listener to feel like they know exactly what I'm talking about related to their own lives. I have this thing about religion, for example, where I think people should believe what they want, but I have a big problem with what religion is doing behind-the-scenes. I go pretty deep into that with the lyrics on this album, like on the song 'No Halos In Hell'."
Jake is adamant about the fact that Cyhra isn't interested in using their ties to Amaranthe and In Flames to boost their credibility. The music does the talking, and if it happens to sound like something from Jake's or Jesper's respective pasts, it's an honest representation of who they are as musicians and not a dig into their old catalogues.
"We don't concern ourselves with our history too much," Jake says, "but of course we wouldn't be where we are now if we hadn't been with those bands in the past. People we meet, our fanbase, they don't really talk very much about our past. And, most Cyhra fans who discovered us with Letters To Myself had heard about In Flames, but not that many of them had heard of Amaranthe. It's safe to say that as Cyhra we're standing on our own feet and not living off our past."
Since the release of Letters To Myself, Cyhra has been through a few significant changes. The aforementioned Euge Valovirta, who was involved in the making of the previous album, is a full member on No Halos In Hell. Additionally, former In Flames bassist Peter Iwers left Cyhra shortly after Letters To Myself was completed. And, drummer Alex Landenberg is now pulling double duty with Cyhra and Kamelot.
With regards to having a second guitarist, Jake says "it's fantastic. And the best thing about this band is that everyone is playing for what is best for the song. It's not about 'I could do this lick here' or 'I wrote the song that goes within those chords' or 'I can play that faster.' We're a unit and everyone is striving to make the best songs we can, and that's amazing. With two guitar players we have two sides of the coin because one guy might be better to do the riffs, while the other is better on melodies or solos. We have the best of both worlds."
Since Iwers' departure Cyhra has remained without a bass player, opting to use recorded bass tracks when performing live. Jake explains:
"The thing is that when Peter left he was really sad about it. We're still friends but he had too much on his plate. We wanted to show the fans that we're a band, it shouldn't be that they come to see us and today there's one bass player, and a week later there's a different bass player. When he left we decided to do the full tour cycle without a bassist, but Peter was with us at all our shows even if he was coming out of laptop helper, Mr. Asus (laughs). We can't say if we're going to bring a new bass player into the band for the future... we haven't decided on that yet."
As for sharing Landenberg, he was made an official member of Kamelot in April 2019 after being on the road with them for close to a year. But, he is still Cyhra's permanent drummer.
"We spoke about this with Alex and with Kamelot, so we've set up a plan," Jake reveals. "Sometimes we need to have a temporary replacement, sometimes Kamelot will have to have one, and that's the way it has to work. The music business is what it is, and in order to be able to survive sometimes that means playing in two different bands."
In closing, we talk about the brilliant album title, No Halos In Hell.
"Isn't it great?" Jake agrees. "That was actually Jesper's idea, and he came up with it for the first album. I told him we should wait to use it for the next one, so we knew what this album was going to be called even before we released the first one (laughs). And I think the great thing about the title is that it can be interpreted in different ways. The best interpretation, I think, is 'You've been good your whole life, you can't be here partying with us…' (laughs).