"The transition into what we’re doing now has been very strange.” How Halestorm, Slash and Ghost's Mary On A Cross unexpectedly helped Blackbriar become symphonic metal's new hopes

Blackbriar in 2024
(Image credit: Press)

When it comes to subgenres, symphonic metal can sometimes feel like the very antithesis of modernity, and certainly not one that lends itself to making music DIY-style – not without some deep pockets, or a serious compromise on sound.
Enter Blackbriar, the plucky young Dutch band who made one of Hammer’s favourite goth-tinged symphonic albums of 2023 with their second LP, A Dark Euphony.

A triumph of fantastical symphonic storytelling and beautiful soundscapes that sounded totally modern, the record was a remarkable feat for a band without abundant resources. The songs of A Dark Euphony, while drenched in folkloric and fantasy metaphor that’s synonymous with the genre, are mostly grounded in a tangible reality. Take An Unwelcome Guest, for example, one of the more personal songs on the album.

“It’s inspired by a painting called The Nightmare, which made me think about my own experience with nightmares,” explains singer Zora Cock. The painting by Henry Fuseli, in which a demonic creature sits on a sleeping woman’s chest, is widely understood to be a depiction of sleep paralysis, a frightening phenomenon that Zora has also experienced for most of her life. “It’s very scary,” she admits. “I’ve had it since I was very young. I used to think that I saw ghosts and stuff as a child, so I was very scared. But now I know a little bit better where it comes from.”

Zora met songwriting partner and Blackbriar drummer René Boxem while studying music and sound design. Paired for a project, René “fell in love” with Zora’s voice. The duo began writing in what they describe as a “dark pop” style, with Zora citing Kate Bush and Lana Del Rey (“for the atmosphere”) as her early influences back then.

“I’d never even put on a metal album in those days,” admits René of his own musical background. “Growing up, I listened to a lot of hard rock, Guns N’ Roses, Creedence Clearwater Revival, AC/DC: a completely different type of music. So, the transition into what we’re doing now has been a very strange path.”

The beginning of that transition? A lightning bolt moment at a Slash concert attended by Zora and René, when the formidable Halestorm took to the stage as support and opened their eyes to the possibilities of a heavier sound. “I said to René, ‘Oh my God, I want to do this’,” gushes Zora, remembering how impressed she was by Lzzy Hale.

After experimenting with a hard rock sound that they admit didn’t fit them, Blackbriar’s path took a detour when Zora, an exceptionally talented and angelic-sounding soprano, tried her hand at harsh vocals on the band’s debut single, Ready To Kill. “We were basically wasting her talent when she was grunting,” groans René. “At some point, she said, ‘This is no longer what I want to do. I’m going to write something and see if it fits this band.’ So she wrote what would become Until Eternity, which is one of our most streamed songs. That’s where it all started.”

“But,” he adds with a laugh, “we kept Ready To Kill on YouTube, just so people know how much we’ve evolved. It was terrible, but we’ll keep it on there. We still read comments that say, ‘I wish she was still screaming.’ And we’re like, ‘Nope, you have no idea how bad it was!’”

Using platforms like Patreon and Discord has enabled Blackbriar to cultivate a dedicated and engaged fanbase who, for better or worse, can always let them know exactly what they think. It’s a smart move for a relatively young band, but does it also invite undue pressure? “Definitely not,” says René. “When we started this band, nobody knew us. Then people started getting into our music and we enjoyed hearing them talk about it. It’s always been extremely important for us – like, our number one priority – to give our fans and listeners the opportunity to be able to communicate with us. If they leave a message, we always reply personally to each and every single one, to thank them for their time, or their compliments. We decided to do Discord just to make it easier for them to get in touch with us; all the bandmembers are in the channel.” “It’s actually a very tight group of friends now,” adds Zora proudly. “That’s really nice to see as well.”

With more than 2,000 members across their Discord and Patreon, the band makes sure they give something back as frequently as possible, even casting subscribers as extras in their music videos. “The people you see in the My Soul’s Demise video? All Patrons,” says Zora. “That was an unforgettable day.” 

Blackbriar: the people’s metal band. In 2024, things are certainly looking up for the sextet – last year, they completed a 10-date co-headline tour with the excellent Ad Infinitum, and they’re set to go to the US with Finnish power metallers Battle Beast this spring. They have also toured with symphonic metal giants Epica and collaborated with ex-Delain singer Charlotte Wessels on a spellbinding cover of Ghost’s viral megahit, Mary On A Cross. But among all the excitement of new possibilities, they’re still looking to each other for their inspiration.

Not just a pretty voice or merely a ‘muse’, frontwoman Zora is the driving force of Blackbriar’s music, with René admitting that when it comes to songwriting: “I just write to what Zora produces for me. My biggest inspiration is what she does.”