We Came As Romans on the tragedy and tribute that shaped Darkbloom
With their sixth studio album, Darkbloom, metalcore titans We Came As Romans aren't only surviving — they are thriving in more ways than one. Following an insurmountable tragedy with the passing of co-vocalist and keyboardist Kyle Pavone in 2018 and a pandemic shortly after, just as the band were beginning to pick up the pieces, no one would have blamed them if they'd decided to call it a day. However, for We Came As Romans, their story is one of perseverance and meaningful tribute to a fallen brother who still continues to shape the band’s evolving legacy “spiritually.”
On Darkbloom, their first release since 2017's Cold Like War and first with vocalist Dave Stephens taking over sole vocal duties, We Came As Romans confront tragedy with a stunning sense of vulnerability. Darkbloom is a well-deserved victory lap, with many of its songs (“Black Hole,” “Daggers,” “Golden”) already becoming some of their most streamed tracks to date, thanks to their sheer emotional and the modern, rejuvenated sound that the album embodies. Darkbloom is a pivotal record to bring the band into the future, with razor-sharp hooks, epic arrangements, pulsating electronics and high-profile collaborations — including Caleb Shomo (Beartooth) and Zero 9:36 — that memorializes Pavone to the utmost degree and expands upon an undefeatable legacy.
Following the unimaginable tragedy of co-vocalist Kyle Pavone passing in 2018 and a pandemic shortly after, what was the band's headspace like during this time, and how did it inform your new album Darkbloom?
DAVE STEPHENS: Even through everything, I never once doubted if we could do it — it was more of how do we get through this and continue on as a band? I’m thankfully in a band with some of the most goal-oriented and driven people. Even when it seems like the task is impossible, we somehow push through to the other side. The silver lining of the pandemic and Kyle passing away is that it brought us a lot closer together. There were a lot of days where I was like, “Well, I guess everything I worked for is gone.” We have just all been there for each other, and one of the other good things that came out of the pandemic was that we had a lot of time to really think and stew on new music.
With Darkbloom, there's a noticeable jump in the sound quality, where everything from the guitar tones to the synths feels like they were pushed to the next level. What went into the production this time around and working with your producer Drew Fulk?
Working with Drew was really important to us because he and Kyle had a very special relationship [in the past] when it came to programming and [electronics]. Kyle was always very particular about programming, and everything we did had to be ahead of the curve. Certain pads or tones, Kyle would just laugh at them and say, “That’s so yesterday!” [Laughs.] There was no one else we wanted to work with when it came to producing this record because Drew had Kyle in mind every step of the way. When it came to the overall songs, we fired our old management during the pandemic and rehired new management. When we sent over a few songs we were working on, our [new management] was brutally honest with us and told us, “This is cool, but I don’t think this is it.” In the past, we didn't have that, but this time it pushed us to go back in and work harder. We ended up writing 30 songs. I think our sound is bigger than it’s ever been and a little more epic.
Speaking of pushing yourselves harder, you have never sounded stronger as a vocalist, pulling double duty for both the melodic and screamed parts.
Thank you. I stepped into Kyle’s shoes, and for the first few years of doing it, I was always just like, “Sing the notes. Don’t lose your voice.” I eventually got more comfortable with it and worked on it a lot during the pandemic and developed a different mindset. Now that I know I can sing both parts, it helps me develop my own character as a singer and sell the parts with emotion in them. It took a lot of practice, and I’m not ashamed to say that I took a lot of vocal lessons. A big step for me was learning how to put more character into my lower range, which I never used before this record. There was a lot of pressure on me to do it well because Kyle was a phenomenal singer, and our fans probably wouldn’t listen to it if it wasn’t at least decent. [Laughs.]
With the lyrics on Darkbloom, did you find it necessary to reopen those old wounds to not only heal yourselves and find catharsis but to also be vulnerable with your fanbase, who already seeks so much solace in your music?
Yeah, 100%. It wouldn’t be real if we wrote this record about Kyle passing and these tragedies but said that everything is “OK” — that’s not how grieving works. It’s always going to be there, but you have to learn how to deal with it even though it’s always going to be a part of you. It was really important for us to be real about the pain that we felt, and it’s a huge problem in the world today where not enough people talk about how they’re feeling and bottle it up until it becomes a timebomb. We try to talk openly about how hard it was because those people who look up to us sometimes see us as superhuman and can feel no pain — but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Why do you think the music continues to resonate with people after so many years?
We’ve never written anything to be in style or to any gimmicks. Every word and song we have ever written has been real and from the heart, so I think that’s why it keeps resonating with the fans. It’s exciting to see people latch onto the record because there were times in the last few years when I wasn’t sure if we’d come back.
You announced an impressive headlining tour for this year in support of Darkbloom. What are you looking forward to the most about bringing these new songs to life onstage?
We actually got to try playing all of the new songs when we played it in its entirety in Detroit to celebrate the record coming out. The songs felt so good live, even the ones the fans didn’t know yet still went off. “Golden” was maybe three weeks old at the time, but it ended up being one of the loudest songs live. I’m just amped to play these songs live more and to have two awesome bands [Erra, Brand Of Sacrifice] on this tour.
Do you feel like Darkbloom successfully memorializes Kyle in the way you intended, and did you feel his presence was with you during its creation?
Absolutely, he was with us in a very spiritual way both in the studio, and especially live. Every part of this record was written with his influence in mind. It sounds cliche, but I very much know that he is still with us in his own way.