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Behind the Cover: Dying Wish — Symptoms of Survival

Learn of the sequential cycle of pain that represents the highly anticipated record.

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Words by Luis (@HeaviestofArt):


The consensus that hardcore is bigger and better than ever is strengthened with an abundance of quality releases hitting shelves on a routine basis. Whether it be Triple B or Flatspot or DAZE, scrolling through any of the genre's consistent players would provide a ripping listen that builds upon the ever-growing community. Portland's Dying Wish are among those at the forefront, serving as a driving force delivering hard-hitting instrumentation, moving lyricism, and for their latest album, Symptoms of Survival, an invigorating cover illustration by artist Paul Romano that inspires. Arriving on November 3rd via SharpTone Records, Symptoms of Survival builds upon the strong foundation set by Fragments Of A Bitter Memory (2021) on every level.


Earlier in the release cycle, we jumped on an insightful call with the band's own Emma Boster, Pedro Carrillo, and Paul Romano to expand upon the album's visual identity, their collaborative strengths, and art as conduit for release among other topics. The results are an extensive Q&A that highlights the intentionality of every element invested within this year-end contending release:

 

Emma and Pedro, you're on a high right now with having destroyed your Sound & Fury set, a massive new album on the way, and a headlining tour to go with it. These are exciting times, but not without the personal struggles that led to the creation of "Symptoms of Survival". In what state of mind does this new chapter find you in as a band and as people?


Pedro: For me, "Symptoms of Survival" is a continuation of everything we started in "Fragments", which was reflective of the things that had happened to me. These are the same things that are going on in the world, they're happening to all of us as humans. With "Symptoms", I feel like we're okay with those things that are happening still, but now, we have accepted it. This album is essentially asking, "What are we going to do about it?" There's really no reason to still wallow in all of that, you know? It's time to grow. It's time to progress.

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Pedro Carrillo, Photograph by Joshua Alvarez

Emma: Definitely, and we have all grown significantly as people, not just as a band in the last three years since we wrote "Fragments". We found a new place in the world and within ourselves, so the understanding of our role within our healing and our journey with music has taken on a more mature perspective compared to "Fragments".


It shows in the songwriting and of course extends into the emotional heft of the cover artwork, which was done by our good friend Paul Romano. We'll get into that just a bit. Having invested so much of yourself into this and slowly seeing its release is truly an act of reflection of sorts. Seeing as "Symptoms" is personal yet universal, how did you as a band work to kind of capture that through your lens? You write for yourselves first and foremost, but are also very intentional about your lyricism.


Pedro: A lot of the topics that we touched on the new album are relatable. I was focused on writing about the human experience and just encapsulating that feeling. For example, there's a very strong, very emotional song centered on Emma's relationship with her sister and her family, which is actually the ballad on the album. Then, there's another song centered on feelings of triumph and the act of overcoming certain aspects of life, like betrayal. There's just a lot of things that people at large can connect with, and it makes "Symptoms" a very relatable record in itself while also being very personal to our unique experiences.

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Artwork by Paul Romano

Emma: It was all really intentional. Pedro and I sat down and mapped out exactly what it is that we really wanted to talk about topic wise and we came up with like 15 or so songs. Not everything got used of course, but the creative process was guided towards wanting to make a record that was relatable for anyone to hear regardless. Obviously, we have personal opinions and we've steered a certain direction politically, but we tried to bring home the point that it's us as a people versus them in a lot of ways. We kind of wanted to open that up as a perspective as far as topics go.


Paul, from your standpoint, how do you as an artist work to capture that through your own lens? Beyond the cover illustration, there's a back and inner gatefold piece that completes it.


Paul: Have you seen the center panel?


I haven't, I don't believe the band shared it yet.


Paul: Let's try to include that in the feature because it'll answer a lot of questions.

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"Symptoms of Survival" Inner Gatefold Artwork by Paul Romano

Well anyway, I picked up on the universality of what was in the lyrics pretty quickly. There's quite an age difference between us, and I had to ask myself, "How do I illustrate what someone in their 20s is going through?" Problems are just a variable in life but perspective is key. X is always in the equation and it's constantly replaced with some new awful thing that you couldn't imagine. I remember experiencing some pretty intense, crazy stuff at my age, and I picked up on that in the record. It wasn't such a hard task to come up with something as we do all go through these things. I remember exactly the pain of some things that have happened to me when I was younger, but that passes. You can certainly whip back around with something new in life and overcome these obstacles.


With the artwork, there's the three stages that complete a cycle of that central character, which you can pick up on from the back cover and everything else. The interior piece represents what you are sort of going for in the end of the struggle, like your armor.

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"Symptoms of Survival" Inner Gatefold Artwork by Paul Romano

It's sequential in a sense, illustrating the various stages of feeling the pain, understanding and embracing it, and later overcoming and becoming stronger because of it.


Paul: Definitely, and there's actually a fourth painting that I've done that relates to it for me. The whole thing can be known as somewhat of a martyr cycle. I think it doesn't matter where you begin in it. You can begin anywhere, you can begin right at the martyr stage where you're burning and dying to eventually becoming something new. Just pick a spot and it goes cyclically.

dying wish
Reference Points by Paul Romano

In other words, this is a record you must own on vinyl. Tracing back a little bit to when the band was busy writing lyrics and songs and approaching the visual element of the release, what drew you to Paul's work for this album cycle? He of course has a wealth of projects under his belt and the inspiration is endless, but sometimes it's one particular record or a style preference that really clicks.


Emma: It was honestly the maturity of his work and complexity of everything that he has done that really sold us. Our last artwork was kind of just something that we picked out at the time, and this was different. It was also the fact that he was able to create something with such an immersive thought process into our art, as well as a strong interest and involvement in becoming a part of it and really immersing his ideas into the music. Paul makes it a package deal, which was something that I haven't really experienced before working with an artist and I thought it was really cool that he viewed our music as a product of him. I really, really admired that a lot.

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Back Cover Artwork by Paul Romano

Pedro: Adding to what Emma said, there's a few albums that I looked at from his work that he did, like the Mastodon ones. Everyone knows those. Then, there's like the Acacia Strain and Animosity covers, which are insane. Like Emma was saying, our first album was more of like, "Okay, let's find a cool picture and let's put our name on it." With Paul, we can truly call this our own from the layout to the artworks themselves. It's really cool because we've never really had a person with an art perspective take on the band and guide us on how everything should go to make the album even better. It was a new experience, and I really liked it. He killed it, the album artwork is amazing.


I've seen a lot of people saying that it's the cover artwork of the year, and I'd argue it's up there. "Symptoms" is all encompassing with its themes of duality and symbolism, offering many details for listeners to dive into. What role would you say that Paul's work serves in completing the experience for you all?


Pedro: Visuals are a huge factor, especially because Emma and I really pushed ourselves in writing this record. The artwork that came with it complements it so fucking well. A lot of the words that are in the songs can be pinpointed on the artwork, which highlights the symbolism to it. This is all just crazy to me, I've never had that.

dying wish
Mood Board for Paul Romano

Emma: To me, I feel like it makes the final points that we never got to say. In a lot of ways, this record kind of feels like a purgatory to me, like kind of an in between. I feel that way when you look at the art because it really drives home the point that this is a new phase with the body decomposing and foliage growing out of it. The three part character that illustrates a hollow side and then with armor drives home the point that this is a new chapter, but also kind of an in between.

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Artwork by Paul Romano

After "Fragments", everyone was like, "Wow, I can't wait to see what this band does next." Honestly, I think that people are more so going to think that after this record because of the level of growth that was involved with it.

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Alternate Cover Option by Paul Romano

It's quite literally depicted in the visuals; full on growth. You all tapped into a very vulnerable side of yourselves for this record and its seamlessly reflected on the lyricism and Paul's artwork. Paul, is there perhaps a sense of realization that you get from having musicians entrust you to depict a very personal body of work? You're at the forefront of bringing their emotions, aspirations, and message to life. Surely there's some pressure.


Paul: Nobody can put pressure on you like you can put on yourself. I constantly do that for everything I try to do because I'm suddenly dropped into the family that is Dying Wish and I have to make sense of it. That's a huge responsibility that I take seriously. This is their art and I'm left to portray it the way I understand it.


Relating back to your last question about how important the artwork is, I always found it was the punctuation for whatever you're going for. It's the first thing people see and it answers several questions like "What does the band look like?" or "What are they going for?" It catches people that aren't in the know and leads to them to check out the band's further albums. That's my hope with this cover, and every cover really.

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Words and Artwork by Paul Romano

The obvious take away in our culture is if an artwork is tattooable because of how attached one can become with the album. It's a big thing because when people listen to the songs, they might get them through something. That impact might lead to them taking it further and wanting something that they can own, like a tattoo, that symbolizes when something is that important to you. And I think that's the way you know, it's through tattoos and stuff like that. I like that presence to be there. When I first started doing this 20 something years ago, I didn't think about this at all. I got an email from someone in Israel three months after Mastodon's "Remission" (2002) came out with photos of somebody's full back tattoo. I was pretty blown away because that's "my thing". That's my art on that person's body.


It's a humbling experience I'm sure, and you can likely expect some "Symptoms" tattoos in the months to come. We touched a bit on the symbolism, which includes the crown of thorns, the protagonist in a crucifixion pose on back cover. The front cover gives off strong feelings of desolation and ruin with its empty lake and overall dark atmosphere to it.


Paul: You got to keep it metal. That lake isn't just a lake, but a sea of tears that are emerging. "laughs*

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Words and Artwork by Paul Romano

There we go. What informed your element selection and focal points? In a lot of your covers, especially the nine panel Mastodon cover that we covered last year, there's certain visual cues that you look for and strategically place to bring viewers back to a lyric or a song. Pedro touched on this as well.


Paul: The universality of it, you know? I tend to do that with a lot of the projects I work on. That's the one thing that links all my work together. I try to always think on that level and ask myself, "What is a universal sort of collective unconscious thing that we could all relate to from this?" The crown of thorns, the crucifixion pose and everything like that links back to Christianity, but that's not where I was intending to go with this, but it rolled over naturally. It symbolizes a universal martyr and I see the crucifixion pose as defiance, not just martyrdom. Some would say it's an empowering position in some ways. I've cited the Henry Rollins covers and I've also been seeing hardcore guys do that pose on stage since I was 14 years old.

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Reference Points for Paul Romano

It always resonated with me. In that pose, you're open to anything, you're welcoming it and know that you can take whatever they give you.

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Alternate "Symptoms of Survival" Cover, Digital Color Mockup by Paul Romano

Definitely, and it's these symbols that make it accessible yet personal to the experiences of the band and of course the viewer. There's a variety of covert messages and as people sink time into the artwork, it all begins to unfold. We see that a lot in hardcore — universal yet personal. Would you say that those two factors intersect for you?


Pedro: Yeah, especially coming from a DIY community like hardcore. Everything is largely accessible because it is community oriented regardless of what informed its creation.


Emma: Absolutely. I don't have a lot more to add because Pedro said it well, but I love how diverse our community is right now. I love how diverse metal music is. I feel like we kind of add something special that not a lot of people are really talking about in metal music right now. Even for those who can't relate to our music, they can still appreciate what is being done in the genre. However, I do think there are a lot of people out there that are going to relate and to a band like us that they haven't necessarily done before, if that makes sense.

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Emma Boster, Photograph by Joshua Alvarez

Definitely. Expanding on that a bit further, does that create a sense of pressure or inspiration even? You're realizing that the reach and the responsibility that you have as musicians is greater than perhaps what you thought it was. You're only two albums in of course, but with "Symptoms", you're bringing a whole new dimension of your work to fruition in a very intentional, expansive way.


Emma: There's both. Pressure because when you are so open, personal, and vulnerable in your music, people have an idea of you in their head and they think that they know you. That inspires me to open up and talk about how complex we are as a band and how complex we are as people as well.


Pedro: It's a weird feeling because there's definitely a mix of pressure and also responsibility. You don't want to let your fans down by putting out something forced, dumb, or inauthentic. For me, personally, it's these type of situations that always make me work in the best way. Pressure is a good thing that a lot of people should have in whatever world they're in, to make them find a different side of themselves.



Emma: We have always been the ones to put the highest expectations and the highest pressure on ourselves, and because of it, the outside noise didn't matter so much.


Paul: That's great, and I think that's how it should be, especially with the new responsibility you have. Like we mentioned with the crucifixion pose, accept the new things coming and keep going.


Paul, what do you take from this entire experience? As we touched on, this is more than a mere business transaction but an engaging one that finds you becoming an extra band member because of how invested you are in everything. You get to learn the band as people and put a face to their message.


Paul: Emma and Pedro, I told you guys this when I first talked with you, but one of the main reasons I wanted to do this was because I love where you've been going. I wasn't familiar with your band initially and when I looked into you, I loved what you were doing sonically, and especially through diversity like you mentioned. Hardcore is a whole array of different folks now that normally wouldn't see. It's no longer just four bearded white dudes. This is amazing. I have a 13 year old stepdaughter and she means the world to me. I want her to see Emma at the forefront and know that she can go for whatever she wants. I had a lot of that personal connection to this album envisioning where my daughter goes. Her summer is a metal record in and of itself right now with the things that a 13 year old has to deal with, you know? She's getting it from all ends right now. For people in general, if you look at what's going on in your own life, you can definitely relate to this.


Same question for you, Emma and Pedro. Is there a feeling of detachment that you feel from seeing the singles and videos roll out? When you're writing and producing for the record, you're in a certain headspace and you're obviously pouring a lot of that into what eventually becomes the lyrics and the composition. Once the singles and eventually the album releases, you kind of detach from it, in a sense. That part of your life is done with and you move on to the next thing.


Pedro: I'd say so, at least in my view. Looking back to that time, it was during a really dark era of my brain. We went through a lot of stuff and obviously it's gonna be in the music, people will hear it. A lot of the times when we're in the studio, I listen to the music a lot obviously, and then after we're done with the studio, I don't. We're playing these songs every night on tour and it always bring us back to a particular moment and how we're beyond that. Other times, you listen to things so much that you're just like, "I'm over it, I don't want to think about it." I don't know if this is like a part of growing up, but looking back at this album is a reminder of like, "Damn, you went through all that during that dark six month period." You then think of all the fucking cool things that are about to happen because of what you've learned from being at "rock bottom". As a 15 year old hardcore kid, I used to brush off things that were "adult stuff" or whatever. I wouldn't worry about it, and now I'm dealing with it and it's like, "Oh, shit."


Emma: There are certain songs that I listen to on the record where I'm like, "I can't believe I felt that way." In a way, I think that opening up about it and writing about it really helps you process it and get over it. I felt that way about "Fragments." There are some songs that I listen to that still really hurt, so I haven't found myself getting sick of it, yet. I still listen to it pretty regularly, but I know I'm gonna burn myself out on it. I just want to get to the point where I have digested these songs whole and I don't really feel like I'm there yet.

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Emma Boster, Photograph by Joshua Alvarez

Songwriting is a therapeutic experience.


Paul: It truly is. I have a question for you two. Are there songs that you've written and don't play anymore because it's too cringey?


Pedro: Yup, off the first album.


Paul: That's funny because the thing is you no longer feel what that 18 year old version of yourself felt.


Emma: Yeah, there's a few songs that I just can't. Ugh, I don't like that feeling.


What songs are those?


Pedro: I love "Now You'll Rot" off the first album, but there are certain elements of it that I now think could've been said differently. The breakdowns are sick, so we obviously still play that one live.


Emma: Yeah, that song was really blunt.


The thing is you never really know how a song will play out until you put it out. Once it releases, then you just have to live with it at that point. Having this conversation with all of you highlights a central point in "Symptoms", that being camaraderie. Despite the uniqueness of each of your lived experiences, you came together and found a commonality. Paul's art encapsulates it all. Where did you all find common ground?


Emma: It was achieved pretty easily because we trusted whatever Paul was going to do. He understood what we were doing enough to build something cohesive from it. There was never a back and forth discussion. It was more so us sharing songs, lyrics, and meanings. He did his thing and we were open and trusting of it, and it came out perfectly.


Paul: Tom, their manager, sent me an email initially with the band's fully realized ideas. Nowadays, you can type that into Midjourney and you have your cover. When you come to me, you're coming to me because I'm a thinker as much as I'm a pair of hands that does the work. I like the room to always expand upon the initial idea. This is what I do, I immerse myself in visual art. Music has been the inspiration for my personal artwork, so it comes full circle with being entrusted to represent Dying Wish.


In closing, what do you hope "Symptoms" achieves? I'm not talking commercially, but emotionally and compositionally? What do you hope people take from it?


Pedro: Loaded question, but the whole reason I started playing music was because a lot of the things I was listening to would relate to me and reach out to me in a particular way. I knew what the emotions in these songs felt like. When you're still a kid picking up a guitar and start playing local shows, you don't really think about that. Now, this is basically what I do. I hope it reaches people from the accessible standpoint we mentioned. I want people to know that anybody can do this, anybody can be on stage playing guitar and singing the song.

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Pedro Carrillo, Photograph by Joshua Alvarez

With the lyrics, I know I can't be the only one feeling a certain way. I don't see it as a picture thing, but if one kid says a song meant a lot to them and got them through a moment in life, that's enough for me.


Emma: I got into hardcore because it accessed a part of my soul that I had never experienced before. I hope that there are people out there that feel that way about our band and this record. Not only that, I hope that people discover more of how magical hardcore is from this record. We're going to be doing metalcore tours and metal tours. Hardcore is bigger and better than ever, it's more accessible. I hope that people watch us play on stage with Hatebreed, Throwdown, or The Rival Mob shirts, or whatever other band really, and want to check us out to learn about the roots of our band and the roots of ourselves as people.

 

Symptoms of Survival arrives November 3rd via SharpTone Records (Order).

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Cover Artwork by Paul Romano

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