Sylvaine spirits us away to share the guitar secrets behind her dreamy, shoegaze-inspired atmospheric metal sound

(Image credit: Martin Bärmann)

Sylvaine’s label describes Nova, her head-turning fourth album, as “atmospheric void gaze.” Sylvaine calls it “black gaze” or “atmospheric metal.” With its haunting layers of clean and distorted guitars alternating with crystal-clear rhythm tones and vocals that move seamlessly from angelic whispers to guttural screams, it’s not surprising that the music defies easy categorization. 

Sylvaine, aka Kathrine Shepard, hails from Norway. “My music doesn’t have a huge audience here; I did get a nomination for a Norwegian Grammy in the metal category in 2019, and after that things did change a little bit for me,” she says. Sylvaine sees a clear progression from her last release, 2018’s Atoms Aligned Coming Undone

“With each album, I think my sound and my vision are becoming more intensely focused. This record is simultaneously organic and, at times, quite harsh, yet it has some of the most ambient tracks that I’ve recorded. There are a lot of opposing forces at work on it – light and dark, heavy and melodic.”

Sylvaine plays all the instruments heard on Nova – everything except the drums, that is. “I started Sylvaine as a solo project because I wanted the freedom to express exactly what I wanted to,” she says. “I know that might make me sound like a control freak. [Laughs] I like not having to compromise on my artistic vision, and I found the best way to put all my most personal feelings and struggles into music was to play everything myself.”

As a guitarist, Sylvaine has some unusual influences and gear preferences. “I love the playing of Neil Halstead from Slowdive – and also [instrumental rockers] Explosions in the Sky. 

I like not having to compromise on my artistic vision, and I found the best way to put all my most personal feelings and struggles into music was to play everything myself

“I play a Mexican Fender Jaguar and a 1998 Fender Toronado through a Marshall JCM800, which I combine with a Peavey Bandit. I have to give a big shout out to EarthQuaker Devices, who I’m lucky enough to work with. Their Palisades overdrive is all over this record.” 

Sylvaine appreciates the technical knowledge her classical training affords her. “I think it’s very helpful to understand the way music is structured, although it doesn’t factor into my creativity,” she says. “I like the idea of creating ‘pieces.’ If you have a long song without many repeating parts, it takes you on a different kind of journey. I want to take the listener on an emotional rollercoaster.”

  • Nova is out now via Season of Mist.

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Mark McStea

Mark is a freelance writer with particular expertise in the fields of ‘70s glam, punk, rockabilly and classic ‘50s rock and roll. He sings and plays guitar in his own musical project, Star Studded Sham, which has been described as sounding like the hits of T. Rex and Slade as played by Johnny Thunders. He had several indie hits with his band, Private Sector and has worked with a host of UK punk luminaries. Mark also presents themed radio shows for Generating Steam Heat. He has just completed his first novel, The Bulletproof Truth, and is currently working on the sequel.