Seraphim is a five-piece post-hardcore/metal band hailing from Grand Rapids, MI that recently re-emerged with new members and a powerful new image. After the release of their new EP, Tabula Rasa, back in March, Seraphim has been making waves in the local music scene with their outstanding production quality, heavy breakdowns, and overwhelmingly catchy melodies.
My first opportunity to watch Seraphim perform was on March 9 of this year when they opened up for Asking Alexandria at The Intersection. Having heard only whispers of their name from their performance at Warped Tour in 2015, I had very little idea of who Seraphim were and what they were capable of. From the moment they walked on stage and announced that they would be shooting a live music video, I knew I was in for something special. More impressive yet, they had the music video fully produced and uploaded by the time I finished my show review just a couple days later.
After a few quick conversations with their drummer, Niko (Nee-ko) Cortes, I was invited to shoot some candid photos and meet the guys during the two-day filming of their music video for “Gravity Slave.” Loaded with a million questions and a bunch of gear, I ventured down to Grand Rapids and met up with everyone at an enormously creepy old warehouse building. Throughout the two days I was able to sit down with all of the members on an individual basis and pick their brains about who Seraphim really are and what they aspire to become.
Seraphim began in February 2011 and started to gain momentum that summer when they recorded their first EP, The Passage, with ex-Attack Attack! guitarist and vocalist Johnny Franck featuring their original line-up. In 2013 they returned to the studio with Franck and recorded their first full-length album Roots & Ruins. In 2015 they won best post-hardcore band at Ernie Ball’s Battle of the Bands at Warped Tour in Detroit. On the surface, Seraphim seemed like they were doing all of the right things, making all of the right moves, but behind the scenes they were plagued with challenges.
Facing the reality of some members not sharing the same passion, the interjection of personal lives, and a feeling of insecurity with their ability to sustain themselves as a band, Seraphim was tasked with making some difficult decisions if they hoped to survive. Recognizing both the delicacy and severity of their situation, their only option was to reconsider their lineup and remove or replace every member that didn’t share the same burning passion that kept Seraphim alive for all of these years.
In early 2016 Seraphim began performing with their current lineup consisting of Jordan Radvansky (vocals), Lee Albrecht (guitar), Travis Moore (guitar), Joel Baker (bass) and Niko Cortes (drums). The release of Tabula Rasa not only accentuates the creative potential between Lee and Jordan—who did the majority of the writing during the lineup changes—but also exemplifies the ability of the new Seraphim to grow far beyond the reach of the old.
With so much new content, a new lineup, and even a whole new conceptual creative process moving forward, I became curious as to why they didn’t just rebrand themselves altogether. Their response was, if you have a following and an image already, it’s counterproductive to waste the time trying to redevelop yourself as something new which will ultimately take time away from your other creative endeavors and put you in a loop of renaming yourself every time you lose a member. It’s rarely something you will see bigger bands do regardless of the controversy surrounding them and it wouldn’t make sense for Seraphim to dissolve their already loyal fanbase just because they have grown into something better.
Tabula Rasa is a five-song EP beginning with “Belial,” which portrays the story of Lucifer’s rebellion against God in Heaven. “Gravity Slave” tells the story of Lucifer being cast down to Earth and the disgust he feels for this new sensation of physically being pulled down for the first time. “Exile” continues the story by telling about the overwhelming spite and resentment Lucifer holds for the ones who stood against him and the promise of a violent revenge. In “Dust Eater,” Lucifer realizes his power of manipulation and vows to corrupt mankind by using their gift of free will against them. Finally, in “Tabula Rasa,” we learn that all of Lucifer’s efforts go in vein because his fate has already been determined and God cannot be defeated or undermined.
You might find yourself asking, “Whoa, that’s a lot of Bible! So, is Seraphim a religious band?” The priority behind Seraphim isn’t religion; it’s a focus on any idea that transcends the ability of simple comprehension. As Lee states in one of our conversations, “it’s about finding things that are bigger than us. Not necessarily to find things that are controversial, but we do want to avoid simple subjects like relationships and social drama.” While all of the members are open to the idea of religion, Jordan is the only one who still regularly practices his faith and later explained that it helped him tremendously with the writing of Tabula Rasa and his ability to connect with it on a personal level.
There are two different stories being told in the production of Tabula Rasa–the first being the literal and lyrical portrayal of Lucifer’s banishment from Heaven. The second story comes in with the production of the series of music videos. Starting with “Belial,” we are introduced to two businessmen who develop the vaccine for cancer. One of them believes that the vaccine should be made openly available for the good of mankind; Jordan on the other hand sees the vaccine as a source of income and wants to market it for his own gain. After causing a violent car crash that puts the protagonist, Blake, in the hospital and in a coma, Jordan takes control of the company and begins to influence them to consider his proposals for marketing the drug. Waking from his coma, Blake regains his memory and the video ends with Jordan being arrested for attempted murder and fraud.
Continuing the story with “Gravity Slave” over the weekend, we follow Jordan as he is arrested and thrown into prison. Due to his current social stance, he is hated by inmates and authority figures alike. While in prison, he faces the reality that he is no longer in control and the only way to survive is to adapt. Later responsible for inciting riots, Jordan manages to assault a guard and once again gain his freedom.
When asked why they decided to change to storyline for the videos, they jokingly suggested that God and Satan had busy schedules and weren’t able to participate—but on a serious note, it goes back to picking subjects that transcend easy rationale. The idea of being willing to compromise the health of the world for financial gain seems taboo, yet it is done every day and met with little resistance.
When I showed up on set Saturday morning, I was overwhelmed by how incredibly nice and welcoming the band, extras, and even some parents were to have me joining them. After filming some scenes in an old police vehicle, we all rendezvoused at the massive abandoned factory and began shooting the prison arrival scene for Jordan. Within an hour I was suited up in an orange inmate uniform and more involved in the shoot than I ever expected. We spent the next six hours or so running around in the sun trying not to laugh as we pretended to be competent, aggressive inmates. As I returned home for the evening, they continued shooting yet another music video. After climbing sand dunes on Lake Michigan with the drum kit and all of their gear, they shot a sunset acoustic video for “Dust Eater” to wrap up the day.
The next morning, I returned to Grand Rapids to continue my coverage of “Gravity Slave” only to find that there were easily three times as many extras that showed up. Everyone had stories to tell of the old Seraphim and their love for how the band has grown as they continue to evolve. Their acknowledgement of the past challenges and their continued unrelenting support helped me to realize for the first time that the image of Seraphim has already outgrown the band. To this crowd it wasn’t just about supporting their local clique; most of them have been with Seraphim since the very beginning. Sharing a similar message as the members in the band, the extras also advocated that this isn’t about just supporting their friends—it’s about supporting an idea that is bigger than themselves. Their friends just happen to be super talented and able to effectively spread the message.
The day was filled with fight scenes and riots between cops and inmates. From back ally stabbings to all-out 20-plus person brawls, there were enough extras arriving all day to keep a constant rotation of friends and supporters in the video. There was also a lot of focus on large-scale performance shots as well as individual fights that break out as a result of Jordan arriving at the prison. We wrapped up day two by shooting Jordan’s escape in a make-shift jail cell and setting up the story for the next installment in the series, “Exile.”
The constant positive energy in the air was enlightening. Groups of people that had never met prior to the shoot were all laughing and sharing stories of how they became fans. There were hilarious characters from all walks of life that showed up to support their friends, and above all else, just have a good time. I don’t know that I have ever laughed so much over a two-day period, and I made memories that will stay with me forever.
Overall, the amount of talent and creativity that I was introduced to over the weekend was awe-inspiring. While Seraphim is clearly benefiting from all of the synergistic effects of having a group of guys that are great at what they do, it’s important to realize that even on an individual basis every one of the members is equally impressive and dedicated to their art—and to the band for that matter. Lee, for example, is an audio engineer that has worked closely with Johnny Franck for almost a year now and is currently in the process of finishing his own in-home recording studio. Joel, I learned, was originally the drummer before becoming a guitarist and later the bassist. Niko has been playing drums since he was three years old and has already been on tour with two bands prior to joining Seraphim. Travis came over to Seraphim with Niko and has been playing guitar since he was eleven, studying blues and jazz extensively with Donald Kinsey, best known for his work with Bob Marley and the Wailers. Jordan was a childhood prodigy vocalist, performing solo bits in front of as many as 10,000 people at the early age of eight. As his talents continued to flourish he was chosen as the lead role in a Tom Sawyer musical and was later accepted into the North American Choral Company on the highest collegiate level—all before the age of 15. Every one of these guys is uniquely talented and loaded with ideas that they can’t wait to explore.
With their following growing rapidly and the new lineup finally locked in, you can expect to see Seraphim everywhere in the near future. Their immediate plans are to finish the music video series for Tabula Rasa and try to get as many people familiar with them as possible. Looking beyond the EP, they spoke about the likelihood of working on a new full-length album as early as the end of the year and intend to release it sometime next year. The concept behind the full-length album is still being discussed, but they did mention that the idea will follow the same monumental tone as Tabula Rasa.
In the meantime, you can check out the fully-produced video for “Gravity Slave,” available now courtesy of Ned Ingalls. And if this is your first time hearing about Tabula Rasa, I would highly recommend starting with the first video in the series, “Belial.” Even as I’m writing this article, huge things are developing for this band—they were just added as the primary opening support for Of Mice & Men on their stop at The Intersection in Grand Rapids on July 16. Seraphim’s fanbase is growing at an astounding rate and it’s all a result of hard work and dedication—two qualities shared by every member of this band. Keep your eyes locked on their Facebook page for all of the latest announcements and don’t miss an opportunity to get out and see them perform live.
Below is a gallery of images from the shooting of “Gravity Slave.” To view the full 250-plus image gallery click here.