Here in Alberta, we are landlocked, immune to invading marauders, Kraken induced shipwrecks and many other fantastical misadventures. That doesn’t stop us from imagining them or creating art surrounding such themes. Though some metal fans and bands might take themselves too seriously, many excel at indulging these fanciful voyages. Calgary and Edmonton band Scythia is one such band, a searing amalgamation of Blind Guardian and Ensiferum who channel this epic mindset into grandiose tunes that’ll inspire you to mosh, arm in arm, fists to the sky.
Composed of five members, including bandleader, guitarist and vocalist David Khan, bassist and growler Terry Savage, drummer and backing vocalist Celine Derval, keyboardist Jeff Black (also of Edmonton’s excellent Gatekeeper), and guitarist/backing vocalist AJ Bergin, Scythia has carved a unique niche in the Canadian metal landscape. Hot off the release of their third full length, …Of Conquest, the band is enjoying a worldwide interest in their tunes, revelling in the recent move to Alberta and enjoying their upwards trajectory, all while being impressively independent and musically multi-faceted.
“A paragraph can’t really describe our genre,” begins Khan, who met up with us for lobster mac and cheese in Marda Loop alongside newest band addition, Bergin. “I think what it boils down to, is if you take late ‘70s era prog rock, you combine that with classic metal, and you add a bit of the modern production elements and you overlay it with folk metal” you have the sound of Scythia. He cites bands Dust, The Flower Kings, Jethro Tull, Sabotage, Symphony X and Spock’s Beard as among their influences.
It’s a fitting list, given they’re often dubbed “that band with the oboe player.” Indeed, Morgan Zentner rocked the woodwind instrument for two releases, including the group’s second full length, 2011’s, …Of Exile, as well as their 2012 EP, For the Bear. They also featured a traditional instrumentalist on their 2010 debut, …Of War, courtesy of fiddler Mari Valerio. In 2014, however, the oboe is gone. As a result, …Of Conquest is their strongest release to date, with driving riffs, gang choruses, and unrelenting percussion. It’s the modern keyboards with a vintage flair that strongly correlates them to ‘70s prog, a strong contrast that weaves triumphantly amongst blast beats, guttural then soaring vocals, and duelling guitars.
“Writing [took] about a year. We were going big. We were shedding ourselves of the folk instrument thing and redefining ourselves in a more traditional way,” explains Khan. “I thought that might put us at a disadvantage, so let’s just go big with this one. We started writing for about a year and took into consideration what a lot of critics were saying and learned from them. And so, the writing was mostly a year, then rehearsing, then we went to Germany to record in about two weeks, and mixed and mastered a month later for two weeks in Finland.”
It’s their continuous hard work and momentum that enabled them to work with high profile names: they recorded with Lasse Lammert (Alestorm) in Germany, had the album mixed by Nino Laurenne (Wintersun, Ensiferum) and mastered by Svante Forsbäck (Korpiklaani, Sonata Arctica) in Finland, despite being unsigned (simply because the offers so far haven’t been to their liking). To top it off, they left to record the album a short year after work and life changes relocated band creators Khan and Savage to Calgary, and drummer Derval to Edmonton.
“We always loved Alberta. Alberta was a very good place for us. Both cities have been great to us for play, it’s always been strong and we’ve had a great reception,” says Khan. “It all worked magically at the same time.”
Although the band is somewhat of an anomaly in our death, thrash, and black metal dominated province, they use their difference to their advantage. It makes them hungry, and hungry bands get things done. Scythia is a glowing example of this, and ..Of Conquest is in testament to this drive.
“We are doing it all ourselves. We are booking tours, everything is going up,” explains Khan. Fittingly, he caps the interviews off by describing the album, concluding that it has a “really kind of glorious, raise your invisible orange, kind of vibe.”
We can all raise a mead horn to that!
Attend the Scythia album release party on April 19 at Lord Nelson’s Bar & Grill with Viathyn, Enemyus, and Skymir. You can catch them again for the Wacken Metal Battle at Vern’s on April 26.
By Sarah Kitteringham
Photo: Jenna Kiernan