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Vince Wilquin — Using Saxophone in a Death Metal Band

The saxophone was not Vince Wilquin’s first choice in his musical career. He is indeed the guitar player and vocalist for the French progressive death metal band Fractal Universe.
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Vince Wilquin death metal
Photo credit: Christian Ballard

Introducing saxophone, most often associated with jazz or classical music, in metal is not entirely new as bands such as Shining, Rivers of Nihil, or even the multi-instrumentalist John Zorn have added saxophone into more extreme music.

In Fractal Universe, it is the first time in their musical career that saxophone is present on their 4th album, soon released. The numerous saxophone solos invigorate the record as Vince Wilquin states, “I first picked up the horn in late 2019, as learning it was something I had at the back of my mind for quite some time. Initially, I wanted to do it mostly for fun, but the more I fell in love with the instrument — and the more the others encouraged me to — the more I wanted to include it in the band. On top of that, all the saxophone parts I will now perform live as well, which will make a solid addition and give a unique character to the band’s performances.”

Photo credit: Pascal Jan

Vince, what’s your musical education background?

Music has always played an essential role in my family. Although he did it primarily for himself, my father was a confident conga and percussion player, and I got exposed to a lot of rock and world music at a very young age. I started playing drums and guitar (the latter quickly taking the overhand) at the age of 9, taking lessons at a local music school. There, I also learned the basics of music theory.

During my teenage years, I continued discovering a lot by learning my favorite albums by ear. Subsequently, I got fascinated by music theory and read a lot about it.

After high school, I entered Music Academy International in Nancy, France, from which I graduated in late 2013.

Since then, I’ve started studying Jazz Guitar at the Conservatory of Metz, France, strengthening my ties to the genre and thus to the saxophone. Finally, in late 2019, I decided to pick up the saxophone!

What made you want to pick up a saxophone? Was it for fun, or did you already have the idea of incorporating it in your new album?

Being a big fan of jazz & fusion music and having studied the style for years, the saxophone has always held a special place for me. I love the instrument’s expressivity and versatility: you can shape your tone with such precision and get an immense amount of power out of the instrument. You can make it growl and squeak but at the same time play soothingly soft melodies.

I had the idea at the back of my head for quite a few years, and when I moved into my house where I built my studio booth, I finally decided to pick it up: I could now make noise without being worried about my neighbors!

When I decided to start, it was purely for fun. Still, I immediately got passionate about the instrument, and I quickly realized — and my bandmates encouraged me in that direction — that there was some serious potential to include it in our albums and live shows.

What model of saxophone do you own?

I own a Thomann MK IV Handmade Alto Sax. Before that, I started with a cheap one but quickly reached its limitations as it was aggressively out of tune, so I went for this one. It’s by no means a high-end instrument, but it feels comfortable enough so far.

It has some beautifully engraved motifs and a coppery mat finish, which gives it a different look!

Photo credit: Pascal Jan

The saxophone is most often associated with jazz or classical music; in your opinion, what does the saxophone bring to your music and this album in particular?

We’ve always loved incorporating sections with different instruments into our music, such as congas, darbuka, and various synths. We even had some guest saxophonists in the past, so I would say this experimentation is part of our sound.

As for the saxophone, I think it gives the album a particular flavor. It’s a timbre you don’t hear that often in the Metal genre yet, and it immediately gets your attention.

To me, it feels natural, though, to make it fit in, and it worked well in a variety of musical contexts on the album: from softer and more open parts to climactic heavy sections.

Do you listen to other saxophone players in jazz or classical music? Can you tell us about your musical inspirations regarding saxophone? Do you listen to other metal bands that use saxophone (like Shining, Rivers of Nihil, Five the Hierophants, John Zorn)?

I don’t know a lot about classical saxophone, but I’m a huge fan of jazz saxophone. Some of my favorites are Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, or Branford Marsalis.

As for my other musical influences, mainly because I’m still relatively new to the instrument, I think many of them also come from my guitarist background, and funnily enough, from people getting a lot of inspiration from saxophonists themselves: Allan Holdsworth, Per Nilsson, etc.

Bands like Shining (especially) or Rivers of Nihil have influenced me. Still, most importantly, they showed me and gave me a point of reference of what was doable with the instrument in the Metal genre.

Can you see the challenges of having a saxophone on stage while singing and playing the guitar? How will you ensure the saxophone will have its place in such a dense and powerful sound?

I look forward to doing this live. It’s going to be challenging to be switching instruments within and in between songs, but also a lot of fun! During the first rehearsals, the most challenging aspect of it was to get in the mindset of the new instrument within a few seconds, but now I feel comfortable enough with it!

I think the range of an alto saxophone fits well in a dense musical environment like Metal. However, for now, I use it mainly as a lead instrument. So to get through and to sit on top of the massively distorted guitars, its high register works well, as it’s close to the range of — and thus plays a similar role as — a lead guitar, for example.

 

Wilquin’s musicianship can be appreciated in the band’s recent video A Clockwork Expectation, directed by Vincent Tournaud and shot at Gouffre de Poudrey, France’s largest equipped cave — “It was a unique and unreal experience to spend two days all alone in extreme conditions — seventy meters underground, 7° C — of this beautiful, otherworldly location.”

Fractal Universe will release its new album The Impassable Horizon on June 25th via Metal Blade Records.

Tracklisting is:

  1. Autopoiesis
  2. A Clockwork Expectation
  3. Interfering Spherical Scenes
  4. Symmetrical Masquerade
  5. Falls of the Earth
  6. Withering Snowdrops
  7. Black Sails of Melancholia
  8. A Cosmological Arch
  9. Epitaph
  10. Godless Machinists
  11. Flashes of Potentialities (Unplugged)

Fractal Universe line-up:

Guitar/Vocals/Saxophone: Vince Wilquin
Guitar: Hugo Florimond
Bass: Valentin Pelletier
Drums: Clément Denys

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