Split EPs have always been a fun and novel project to see bands take on. They make a lot of sense – by contributing a song or two to an EP, two (or more) bands each have the potential to reach a new crossover audience while generating some exciting touring opportunities. When covering Disembodied Tyrant as a recent Weekly Featured Artist, I became aware of the split EP they were working on with Synestia. However, what sets The Poetic Edda apart is that the entire project results from shared writing and performances from both bands. The quality of this collaboration inspired me to check out both acts in more depth. As I dug back through Maleficium, Synestia‘s 2022 debut full-length, I was inspired to reach out to this symphonic deathcore act as a Weekly Featured Artist.
This decision was motivated by a few factors. Of course, my penchant for symphonic deathcore is well-documented. Additionally, it is rare to find a new independent, non-touring act with this music this extreme reaching an audience of over 70 000 monthly listeners, and I wanted to know more. As I delved further, the thoughtful and calculated nature of Synestia‘s material was readily apparent.
Synestia is a two-person project. Sam Melchior writes all the instrumental elements of the band, including orchestration and sketches for drums. Based in Minnesota, Sam works with Ville Hokkanen who is based in Espoo, Finland and provides the devastating vocals required for such an epic sound. Sam explains how the project came together:
‘The band formed in the fall of 2020. I had gotten back into playing guitar after not playing much in my early 20s, and decided to start writing some songs. Once I had a few songs I was fairly happy about, I started looking for a vocalist. Ville was one of the first people I found and after a few conversations, I decided to lock him in as the vocalist. As far as the band name goes, I wanted something unique and memorable. I was listening to a podcast and came across the word Synestia. It had all the traits we were looking for in a name and so we went with it.’
The galactic nature of the name is no doubt suitable for the grand scale of tracks like “Burial Hymn”. The second song on the band’s debut, Maleficium, opens with creeping keys, string swells, and synth pads that quickly evolve into a complex rhythmic section overlaid with massive choirs and Hokkanen’s versatile mix of low screams and blackened shrieks. But the song is not simply a sonic onslaught – there are clearly melodic hooks established in the track that provide memorability while maintaining the track’s intensity. A vocal feature from Distant‘s Alan Grnja only furthers the professional yet powerful sound of the track.
I was immediately impressed by the maturity of Synestia‘s debut. Part of that maturity is of course attributed to the impressive skill of the group’s two members, but another is the group they assembled to bring their vision for Maleficium to life. The debut features drums performed by Bryce Butler (Shadow of Intent), orchestration from Francesco Ferrini (Fleshgod Apocalypse), and mixing and mastering from Chris Wiseman (Shadow of Intent, Currents) – ‘Working with Chris, Bryce, and Francesco was a fantastic experience. They’re all wonderful human beings and some of the best at what they do.’
Building on some foundational support from legends of symphonic death metal and deathcore, Maleficium also includes guest spots from massive voices in the scene. In addition to the aforementioned Alan Grnja, the debut also features Dan Tucker (Crown Magnetar), Johnny Ciardullo (Angelmaker, Carcosa), and Adam Warren (Oceano). Coordinating so much as a two-person project making their first release is impressive, but also no doubt overwhelming:
‘Creating and releasing Maleficium was an incredible experience. Exhausting and incredibly frustrating at times, but also very rewarding. In order to release 10 songs we were happy with, I wrote 16 songs and tried to pick the best 10. I take quite a bit of time to write songs compared to others I’ve talked to, so this process took me about 8 months of sitting down and writing every day. On top of the writing process, I also had to line up live drum recording, orchestrations, mixing, mastering, features, artwork, music and lyric videos, marketing, release schedule, and merch. It was an insane amount of work and very stressful at times, but we’re very happy with the final product.’
The work pays off, especially on songs like “The Descent”. Its opening would not be out of place on the score of a contemporary fantasy television series, with strings, choir, and percussion that conjure feelings of foreboding and hope. Percussive blasts quickly take over alongside Hokkanen’s screams, blending a mix of cinematic and crushing musicality that shows Melchior’s mastery of the genre. This appreciation for both orchestral and metal music is evident in Melchior’s influences, which include Shadow of Intent, Lorna Shore, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and early Make Them Suffer alongside composers like Two Steps from Hell, John Williams, Danny Elfman, and Hans Zimmer.
It is this same appreciation for all things heavy and epic that led Sam to reach out to Blake Mullens of Disembodied Tyrant:
‘The project with Disembodied Tyrant came together very shortly after the release of our album. Blake followed both my page and the band page. I sent him a message telling him that I loved his stuff and that if he ever wanted to collaborate in some way, I’d love to make something happen. After some discussion we landed on the idea of an EP ‘split’. The original plan was for each of us to release 2 songs under just our own band’s names on the EP and co-write one song. After starting the cowriting process, we decided to just co-write four songs together for the EP.’
The resultant upcoming EP, The Poetic Edda, has two singles out currently. The title track and “I, The Devourer” ratchet up the qualities of what made Maleficium so strong while furthering the technicality of the performances and the progressive ambition of the arrangements. Having amassed over 300 000 listens in just over a month, the title track leans heavily into neoclassical influences with a jaw-dropping display of synchronized guitar and synths, rapid riffage, and massive orchestral sections.
Mixing many elements together could easily explode with less intentional composition but instead build into something equally technical, massive, and memorable. A feature from the gigantic voice of Ben Duerr (Shadow of Intent) doesn’t hurt either. Sam explains the process of creating the song and EP:
‘I think Blake and I would both agree that the music we’ve created for The Poetic Edda is in a different tier than anything either of us have written to this point. Blake and I work extremely well together and our strengths and weaknesses balance very well. He has an incredible mind for music, and I thoroughly enjoy working with him. Following the EP release, we plan to continue collaborating and co-writing together on a new project while still continuing our individual work with Synestia and Disembodied Tyrant.’
After The Poetic Edda, Synestia will release some singles while Sam continues composing. Reading the comments in lyric videos for the upcoming EP, I am confident the metal community can not wait to hear what comes next from this collaboration and each standalone project.
Sam Melchior – guitar, orchestration, programming
Ville Hokkanen – vocals