Not quite a year has passed since the release of her second official solo album, The Corruption Of Mercy, yet former CRADLE OF FILTH backing vocalist Sarah Jezebel Deva is back with new music. Short but not exactly sweet, the three-song Malediction EP will be embraced by the diehard fans as a rousing stand-alone success. It’s also guaranteed to attract the attention of folks that normally wouldn’t have given Sarah and her bandmates the time of day, perhaps convincing them to stick around for future escapades.
Sarah makes it clear up front that Malediction isn’t the result of too many leftovers from the Corruption Of Mercy sessions. Nor is it a shot at trying to obliterate said album from memory as she did to her 2010 solo debut A Sign Of Sublime - which she considers a disappointment - with her previous outing.
“We didn’t have these songs lying about or anything like that,” she begins. “We never planned on doing this EP up until four or five months ago, and it was actually three things that led to making Malediction. We had a UK tour coming up, and the UK doesn’t give a shit about us. I suppose if I was a size 0 and had fake boobs to sell magazines they’d give a shit about me, but because we had the tour coming up we needed something to promote it so that people know we exist. The other part of it was loyalty to the record company (Listenable Records). We’ve suffered a lot because of illegal downloading and our physical sales are minimal, but the label has been so supportive since signing Angtoria (in 2006) that I felt I owed them something. And we did this for the fans. It’s a cheap buy so it’s not going to break the bank, and we’re not expecting to make any money off it. We want our fans to know we give a shit and they’ll be able to spread the word about the band. We absolutely love it and we hope that everyone sees what we see in it.”
“The internet is such a powerful tool, and we want or fans to be able to see us. We get so many requests from all over the world, and the chances of us playing the US or Canada or South America are really low without people knowing who we are.”
Sarah is adamant about pushing the new EP as a band effort rather than a solo project, stepping up the claim of working in a unit that was established with The Corruption Of Mercy. She and guitarist/producer Dan Abela are the creative heart of the band, and their collective brainstorm of ideas for Malediction resulted in a few outstanding surprises for fans and naysayers alike.
“Me and Dan do everything together – and to elaborate on that, we don’t sleep together and we don’t use the same toothbrush – which means that whatever I do for this band I clear with him, and vice versa. It’s not because we’re the bosses, it’s because we do most of the songwriting. We believe, and from my past experience, if you don’t communicate in a band it goes tits up very quickly. We have this understanding that we tell each other everything so that nobody can be accused of anything and there won’t be any problems.”
This open line of communication led to the decision of having three guest musicians on the album, two of which played key roles in Sarah’s development as an artist. The third was someone she’d never met but was determined to have him on the EP after hearing his voice on SOILWORK’s ‘Let This River Flow’: frontman Björn “Speed” Strid.
“We had an idea that we wanted to have these two guest singers for the EP, and because I write the lyrics and the vocal arrangements I had this idea of a clean and powerful male voice on the song,” Sarah explains. “In my eyes it had to be a specific voice, and when you came up with those suggestions it was Björn that hit the nail on the head. He was just perfect. Dan is a huge fan of Soilwork; they’re either his favourite band or in his top 3, and when he found out Björn had agreed to do the track I think he exploded all over himself. He was so happy.”
“We didn’t use Björn for his name,” Sarah adds. “I wanted someone who was established, yes, but mostly because of the experience that comes with being in a studio. If we wanted to use a big name we would have gone for Mike Patton (FAITH NO MORE) or Sebastian Bach (ex-SKID ROW), but Björn was perfect. He has the most stunning voice. In fact, with the amount of messages I sent praising him for his performance on the song, I’m surprised he doesn’t think I’m stalking him.”
“Björn is an amazing guy because the fact that he did this and he didn't know me. He might have known who I was, but he didn't have to give a shit and he didn't have to do it. The fact that he took a chance on our music... he was the icing on the cake. Björn was brilliant and I can't say that enough. I'm grateful to him for actually saying yes to doing this. If we were millionaires we would have flown him in. But, he sent the stuff back to us asking ‘Is this good? Is this what you wanted? If you like I can do it again.’ I knew his vocal tone was immaculate so we weren't overly worried. I told him ‘Do what you think is right. We can always turn you down (laughs).’”
“We did have one problem, funny enough, because my tone and Björn’s tone is so similar when we sing that we sound like we’re in unison. That was really scary because I don’t know who should be offended more; me for sounding like a Swedish man or him for sounding like a British chick. It was really hard to separate the vocals when we were mixing them.”
As odd as the pairing of Sarah and Björn may seem, having Cradle Of Filth frontman Dani Filth on the EP comes as a complete shock. Upon her departure from COF in 2009, Sarah made no secret of the fact she’d parted ways on bad terms and had absolutely no intention of working with the band again. And yet, the diminutive shrieking hellmouth is all over the song 'This Is My Curse' with a performance worthy of any Cradle Of Filth production. It’s fair to assume Dani’s participation was done in trade for Sarah's willingness to take part in the new orchestral Cradle Of Filth album, Midnight In The Labyrinth, but the fact is he could have phoned in a performance and given the bare minimum.
In actual fact, Dani blows the doors off with an over-the-top and fully entertaining black metal vocal theatrics.
“You’re right,” Sarah agrees, “and this has changed all the crap that happened in the past in my eyes. You can quote me on that. I felt wronged in many aspects in Cradle, but since having my own band and taking charge I now see how it is to be in the other person’s shoes. I now see how hard Dani’s job is. It’s actually really hard to put it into words. A lot of stuff has happened over the years, a lot of decisions have been made in Cradle not necessarily because Dani wanted to make them, but because they were business decisions. He could have said no to doing the song, or he could have done the bare minimum, but I felt that he bent over backwards to make the song what it is. We loved the song without his vocals, but the theatrical drama that Dani added to it matches the song perfectly and he’s brilliant at doing that. In my opinion he’s a master of the theatrical vocal style. No one can touch him.”
“Dani didn’t actually come to our studio," she reveals. “He did the vocals in Springvale, where Cradle Of Filth rehearse and make their demos. We kind of wish he didn’t record his vocals there because it’s better when he’s in the building. We would have loved Dani and Björn come to the studio to record their parts, but sometimes it doesn’t work like that because people have certain priorities in their lives. Dani has a wife and a daughter, and he has Cradle stuff to do, so it was a timing thing.”
The third and final guest on Malediction is former Cradle Of Filth keyboardist Martin Powell, who contributed his compositional talents to the proceedings. He and Sarah have, according to her, a solid friendship that made his participation an easy bet.
“I threw him a Mars bar and a bar of soap, and he was up for it. I’ve always loved Martin, but when we were in Cradle together, although we did get on very well the atmosphere became very hostile as the years went by. An ‘every man for himself” attitude developed, so my relationship with Martin deteriorated a little bit. I’ve always loved him, though, so we didn’t lose contact which made it easy to get him involved on the EP. I asked him, he wrote back ‘Yes, I’ve got no friends, I’d love to.’ Martin is so intelligent and so talented, such an amazing composer, and not many people can touch him on the scene either, in my opinion.”
With regards to playing musical directors for their guests, Sarah reveals that she and Dan Abela never concerned themselves with doing so...
“We let people have their freedom. It might be our band, but if you’re a guest we want you to treat it like it’s your music. I said that to Dani, Björn and Martin because I want them to be proud of it.”
Full points for keeping the band dynamic alive on every level in spite of issuing the music under Sarah's name alone.
“Sadly, I’m stuck with that,” she says. “I wish more than anything I hadn’t listened to a few ‘professional’ people and gone with Sarah Jetebel Deva because I feel it’s really unfair to the rest of the band. We are a band, and it makes me cringe. I can’t go on stage and say ‘I am Sarah Jezebel Deva and this is my band.’ That sounds really dismissive and I hate it. I wish I could change it, but from a marketing point of view people know the name because of Cradle Of Filth. I get it, but I don’t like it.”
Malediction was still new to the ears for most fans at press time, but it's a no-brainer that it will build on the small but solid buzz generated by The Corruption Of Mercy. The media, meanwhile, is still looking for a way to categorize the Sarah Jezebel Deva sound; it's not black metal, not gothic, and not female fronted symphonic rock, making that task even harder.
“We’re already being compared to the Midian album,” Sarah laughs, referring to Cradle Of Filth’s fourth record. “That’s cool, but I should point out that we are in no way, shape or form inspired by Cradle Of Filth. Midian and Vempire are phenomenally brutal albums in my eyes and I love them, but we haven’t set out to copy them. If there’s any band we want to sound like it’s EMPEROR during the In The Nightside Eclipse, which many people know is my favourite black metal album. Or DIMMU BORGIR. But that’s only if we wanted to rip a band off. It certainly wouldn’t be a band I spent 14 years in (laughs). What would be the point of that?”