When Bad Omens frontman Noah Sebastian enters the Zoom chat, he’s sitting in an empty backstage room of a music venue in Massachusetts, wearing a black hoodie that all but envelops his skinny frame. We introduce ourselves and offer our gratitude to him for taking the time to talk to us. “No problem,” he replies, as his eyes dart around the room.
There’s really nothing to suggest it from our opening exchange, but this is a man who fronts a band that took metal by storm in 2022. Shy and unassuming he may be, but Noah Sebastian is a superstar in the making. Last year was massive for Bad Omens. The Richmond, Virginia quartet went from being another bunch of modern metalcore also-rans to a breakthrough act. Much like Lorna Shore or Spiritbox, the groundswell of support for their third album, 2022’s The Death Of Peace Of Mind, seemed to come from a grassroots level.
Music fans, and lots of them, loved the record – and by the end of the year, the noise they were enthusiastically making about Bad Omens was impossible to ignore. At time of going to press, three songs from last year’s album have clocked up well over 20 million Spotify streams, and the official video for the title track has been viewed just shy of eight million times on YouTube. To put that into perspective, that’s a few hundred thousand more than the video for recent Slipknot single Yen on the same platform. Bad Omens are a big deal.
“Initially, a lot of people didn’t really get our new album, because there are a lot of pop influences on there,” shrugs Noah, when we ask him to explain what it’s been like to experience their rise. “But when you make an album that is as experimental as we did, it’s not always going to capture people immediately. Our song Just Pretend just got picked up on TikTok, and it just sort of snowballed from there…”
Noah trails off somewhat as he tells us this. You get the feeling that he isn’t quite sure how his band have been catapulted into this position, and, if we’re totally honest, people who’ve only heard their first two albums might be wondering the same thing.
Bad Omens formed in 2015, released their self-titled debut in 2016, and followed it up three years later with Finding God Before God Finds Me. Both albums performed perfectly adequately, but hardly set the scene on fire.
By contrast, The Death Of Peace Of Mind boasts huge tunes. There’s the subdued electro throb of opener Concrete Jungle, the anthemic modern rock crunch of Like A Villain and the sexy industrial disco of What Do You Want From Me? – all of which could appeal to fans of massive mainstream guitar-pop artists such as Glass Animals, Tame Impala or even soul pop megastar The Weeknd, who are looking for something relatable but with more crunch. What prompted this astonishing transformation?
“We were too cautious and worried about what we were supposed to be doing back on those first two albums,” Noah tells us. “I’ve said I wished The Death Of Peace Of Mind was our debut, because it’s the first time we just did what we wanted to do. I don’t know about you, but I get really frustrated by metal – not the music, but the attitude where unless you have a breakdown part in every song, it’s not good music. If it’s not heavy then it sucks.”
The pop elements that have made The Death Of Peace Of Mind such a success come from a deep love of the genre. Artists such as The Weeknd and everyone’s favourite slinky, new wave, Metallica tormentors The 1975 are mentioned as inspiration for the record.
“There is so much music from outside of metal that we are inspired by, and what really frustrates me is that some metal fans just call it all pop… like… there are so many different varieties of pop!” exclaims Noah, warming to the theme. “Just like there are so many subgenres of metal, it’s the same thing! I want people to be more open-minded, and so we decided that we weren’t going to stick to that formula anymore. And this is really the first time we’ve had the confidence to do that.”
Noah’s evolution as a vocalist has been one of the most startling aspects of Bad Omens’ improvement. On early records he sounded like most metalcore vocalists, but this time around he challenged himself and believes he’s now found his own voice.
“I used to just sit in those typical metalcore tropes,” he remembers. “But I started to appreciate my own voice and then started singing in a more natural way. When I realised I liked it, I started to lean in on it. I realised I had a pretty decent natural falsetto and vibrato and all these things that are ‘singer’ attributes, not ‘metal vocalist’ attributes. I thought, ‘Wow! I’m kinda decent at that Post Malone vibrato or that Weeknd falsetto!’ Those are the things that draw the ear to a song, finding those hooks.
“I just can’t tell you how much more confidence I got as a singer and a songwriter,” he continues. “It meant that I got to make the record I’ve always wanted to make.”
The word ‘confidence’ keeps coming up when we talk about The Death Of Peace Of Mind, although confidence doesn’t seem to be something that Noah Sebastian is naturally blessed with. Don’t get us wrong, he’s a lovely young man – articulate, thoughtful, friendly, but also quiet, reserved and seemingly, initially at least, slightly unsure of himself.
It’s understandable if you’re aware of his history. Noah has previously hinted at the mental health struggles he faced in the aftermath of Finding God Before God Finds Me. It’s a subject we broach, and he clearly feels even less comfortable talking about the situation than he does anything else we mention throughout our time together.
But we’re happy to say that he appears to be through the worst of it, and, despite the damaging clichés that would suggest otherwise, it’s obvious that his improved mental health has improved the quality of his output.
“Yeah, that’s the thing people always think, isn’t it – the tortured artist makes the best art,” he smirks. “That’s absolutely not true in my case. I need to be happy, I need to feel like I can concentrate. If my mental health is hindering me, then I can’t work. I’m not sure The Death Of Peace Of Mind would have come out the way it did without me getting into a better place.”
Noah believes his excessive cannabis consumption, along with the long-lasting effects of traumatic events from his childhood – events that, as is his right, he doesn’t want to go into detail about – contributed to a full-blown episode. This would result in him having panic attacks on the tour bus on his way to venues, or, even worse, he would get triggered by something while he was onstage, hampering him at the worst possible time.
“It’s weird. You think that you’re over something that happened years ago, and then it can just creep up on you,” he shrugs. “But I work on myself every day now. I eat better, I have worked on my physical fitness and diet. I know it sounds kind of trite to say the body is a temple, but it’s true for me.
And people don’t think that cannabis is a ‘dangerous’ drug like some others, but it really badly affected me. The guys in the band have really helped and I feel like I’m in amuch better place, but we always have to keep an eye on it. I would say to anyone: you need to keep checking on yourself to make sure you’re OK.”
Watching Noah quietly detail his troubles and his journey, it’s amazing to think we might be looking at the next iconic frontman – not just in metal, but maybe even in more mainstream circles. Bad Omens certainly have the songs to do something similar to Bring Me The Horizon, surely the only other metal-adjacent band worth mentioning when it comes to breaking through the metalcore ceiling.
“I think Bring Me The Horizon are a big inspiration, yeah,” Noah says. “There’s no doubt they are the big breakout band from this scene. They are basically a genre all of their own now. They are exactly what they want to be. They can still write some really heavy songs, and that’s awesome – but then if they want to do a pop song, they do it. That’s so cool. If we could reach a place where we’re thought of in the same way, then that would be amazing.”
It’s not a crazy idea. If Bad Omens continue on this trajectory, Noah Sebastian might just be metal’s next crossover star.