Friday 19 June 2015

The Luciferian Phoenix: Johanna Sadonis Finds Life After The Oath Alongside Gary Jennings

“Death was hovering over my bed, a big cloaked figure, and he said he’d take me under his wing like a sleeping baby. I was lying in his wing and we were flying through the night. I knew I was dying. But the feeling that I had, instead of being scared, I felt comforted and protected. So that was very strange. Death is such a huge topic in your life – everyone fears it – but I woke up with a positive feeling. He was like a father figure.”

There are points in everybody's life where we wake up from a deep slumber, the feelings of an intensely realistic dream or nightmare still staining our thoughts like red wine on a wedding dress, like a blood stain in snow. For Lucifer vocalist Johanna Sadonis, the Germanic and angelic siren to this new project, that has risen like a phoenix from ashes of the unexpected demise of The Oath, this was one such dream. Even to a creative soul who admits has always had a "morbid streak," the inversion of Death as a terrifying, skin prickling entity who appears before a pair of eyes whose last remaining seconds of life are flickering away within, to a parental, guiding figure was unusual.

"It impressed upon me so much that it stuck in my brain and when you’re going through a phase where you’re required to be creative I called upon that dream and the idea of it. I felt that it was one I needed to get out of my system.  It was a very intense dream. I guess everyone has dreams in their life which they will never forget.  The lyrics in Lucifer are very spiritual but they always have one or more personal stories entwined within them. Every song is very personal which relate to things in my life that I’m dealing with, wrapped in symbols or figures that stand for those thoughts and issues," she continues.  "So on 'Anubis' – who is the Egyptian god of the dead – as much as it is about Anubis, it also stands for a certain someone in my life. My songs always have several meanings. With The Oath my lyrics were very personal as well but maybe I try not to be as over the top blunt in Lucifer."

14 months ago my fingers, inspired by the sounds then reverberating in my ears, tapped away on my keyboard. The Oath's debut album - an occult draped collaboration between Johanna and Swedish guitar player Linnéa Olsson - was killer. But shortly after its release - one encircled with hype, buzz and positivity from fans, bands and critics alike - the band announced their split. A split, I must add, that not only came as a huge surprise and a great shame, but one that has, as far as details go, been somewhat unspoken about. Just like the music they created, mystery hangs in the balance.

"I don’t wanna talk about it much, there were personal differences. It was a fiery affair and a very intense relationship on all levels which worked pretty well for song writing, but on a personal base not so much. It was devastating when The Oath split up, I didn’t want it to end, I had plans for the band."It’s been a lot of ups and downs in the year since," she adds with a reflective tone. "So after the death of The Oath I took all this energy that I had pent up and wanted to use it to create something new and turn the situation around. It was quite a year of hard work but now it’s one I’m really happy with now I have the finished Lucifer album in my hands. As much as I love The Oath and I’m really proud of that one album, Lucifer is my thing now and it’s more defined for me and it reflects what I really want to do."

So who are Lucifer? In short, Lucifer are the result of Johanna spearheading her energy and creativity into a new project which involves Cathedral riff shaman Garry Jennings. The Oath's drummer and a bassist who, had Johanna and Linnéa's incendiary relationship not gone the way it did, would have soon also have been a part of The Oath fold, complete Lucifer's line up.

Explains Johanna: "I’ve been a Cathedral fan for many years. I met Garry one time when we
were playing in London with The Oath for the Rise Above anniversary and that was a really cool conversation that we had. He told me that he loved The Oath. I had the drummer and bass player already, our drummer Andy Prestidge was the live drummer in The Oath so he was also devastated that the band was over and so was keen for a new project. Dino Gollnick, the bass player was already in talks for becoming The Oath’s bass player anyway. So then Lee Dorian [Rise Above Records] suggested I ask Garry Jennings if he was interested because he’s so creative and just has so much to give. So I had in mind that he liked what I did with The Oath and we got nerdy talking music and sharing obscure videos with each other. So it was a good relationship from the beginning. I think you can sense when you’d like to work with somebody straight away."

Despite The Oath being an Anglo-German and Swedish act, they were still able to rehearse together and let spontaneity dictate their music. With Lucifer, the practicalities of Garry Jennings living in London and Johanna being in Berlin posed logistical problems. But they were problems which they were able to work around.

"Yeah, that was very different because with The Oath we were jamming in the rehearsal room and came up with stuff on the spot but with Lucifer and with Garry Jennings being in England we had to send files to each other. I’d describe an idea for what I wanted a song and for Lucifer to sound like and he’d ask me for references. We would talk a lot about old bands and I’d mention songs for him to take reference from. He would come back with tonnes and tonnes of riffs so then we’d take those ideas and I’d say maybe ‘let’s change the bridge into something less heavy metal and a little bit more moody.’

"For me, the core of the two bands are very similar but The Oath was leaning more to the NWOBHM stuff. In Lucifer I wanted to put more emphasis on 70s heavy rock and doom. Then when we had the songs I would sit down in Berlin and work on vocal melodies and lyrics."So we had those demos and then wrote the album together before sending the files to the other guys. We only met five days prior to recording the album in Berlin and so we got to rehearse the songs together for the first time. Then the drummer and bass player would add their touches to the songs and we’d add more life to them and make them more organic before recording the album.

"I wanted to catch all emotions with this record, the light and the dark, because that’s life. But I do have a thing for the moodier stuff so I wanted less fast heavy metal action going on. I also noticed live that I like to perform the gloomier songs because I’m a very melancholy person and that feels more natural and honest to me emotionally. That’s my own musical language."I want people to be able to draw their own meanings and interpretations from them also. For me, writing lyrics is a tool to draw the line over something that lies in the past now, to evaluate a certain situation and then move on, so I don’t really want people to know their true meanings. I guess other people write a diary but I write lyrics, but it does leave room for interpretation. I think it’s boring if it’s too blunt. For me music should have that room for your own feelings. It should take you away to somewhere where you can relate to.

"Another dream I once had, was where someone was holding a barrel of a gun to the back of my head; I felt its cold metal on my skin. Then I knew someone had triggered the gun because everything went numb and deaf and all my senses shut off. I couldn’t see anymore, everything was black, I couldn’t hear anymore and all I knew was that I was lay on my back dead. The back of my head was wet, I knew that was my blood from my skull being blown off, it was horrible."

Lucifer's debut then, is an album cloaked in a misty darkness. While similarities to The Oath are strong - fans of that band will most likely welcome this record with open arms - this is a record which draws from 70s heavy rock rather than it does Judas Priest and beyond. It’s not so much that this music could be mistaken for a Led Zeppelin album however, rather, the roots can be traced back to the fertile soil of 70s heavy rock while the tree that blossomed from the earth resembles something completely different. It's more about emotive atmosphere than gritty, earth shaking riffs that get right up in your face.

The results are stunning. 14 months after The Oath's fan fare arrival, mass critical acclaim and untimely demise there is a new breeze blowing through these parts and it promises to pick up where The Oath left off and run like hell.

Words: Phil Weller

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