Wolves at the Gate’s first album Captors released in 2012 on Solid State Records, and had a large impact on my own personal faith journey. I was so excited to hear heavy Christian music so focused on worship. There are only a few of these bands being given credit, though some of them have seen exposure on review websites like https://musiccritic.com. Seven years later, Wolves at the Gate are releasing — today! — their fourth studio album, Eclipse, again through Solid State Records. Lead vocalist and guitarist Stephen Cobucci was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the album. Enjoy the read, then go check out the record!
This is your fourth album with Nick Detty, Ben Summers, and Steve Cobucci all in the lineup. How have the new members, Abishai and Joey, integrated into the band? What unique influences do they bring not only to the music, but to the social and spiritual atmosphere of the band?
Abishai, our drummer, has been in the band since the end of 2014, so he was a part of the whole process of writing/recording our previous record Types & Shadows that was released back in 2016. Ab definitely brought the same impact he had on the last record, which was a great sensibility for rhythm and structure of the songs. His impact only became more significant on Eclipse as we spent a lot of time together fine-tuning the songs while we were on tour during the spring of 2018. During this time, Ab was a great sounding board for me to sort of explain the broad meaning of each song to him before I started on writing lyrics.
Joey’s impact on the band did not start until after we had released Types & Shadows and were in the middle of the writing process. We had been working on a separate music project together for the past two years, so we naturally just shared the music we were working on to get each other’s feedback. This just naturally morphed into Joey joining the band and eventually taking the reins with me on producing and engineering the record. Apart from the technical side of things, Joey also brought a solid awareness of structure to the formation and sculpting of the songs.
Both of these guys obviously bring a lot to the table regarding the musical side of things, but they also are such great personalities to have in the band. Their experiences, wisdom, and compassion are really helpful and valuable assets.
On a similar note, I’ve been a fan since just before Captors, and it seems to me while Captors and VxV were fairly heavy hardcore or post-hardcore albums, Types & Shadows was more of a “heavy rock” album and the four tracks I’ve heard from Eclipse seem to continue this trend. Was this a conscious decision to change your sound, or is that simply how the songwriting has happened organically?
We’ve never talked about “changing our sound” as a band, but simply getting better at what we do and in our songwriting. While we are always looking ahead to what we hope to accomplish as artists, we are also simply just trying to do the best we can in the moment. There are no strategic moves, just simply a band trying to best art we can in each album.
Often, Christians seek to find good Christian music simply to “listen to music that doesn’t cuss” or avoid feeling like they are sinning by listening to secular music. However, in contrast, many of your lyrics are squarely focused on worship. Do you have songs from Eclipse that have a unique bent, either on worship itself, or on particular personal or Biblical stories, that you could share?
This is a tough question because it makes me want to talk about all of the songs individually, but I’ll just focus on a couple. “Response” is a song written as a response to the Ghandi quote, “I like your Christ, not your Christians.” The truth of this statement is not lost on me and to be honest, it grieves me. There is a truth to this statement, but also an element that’s incredibly illogical. In the song I say, “You find a lot of fault in me – I find it hard to disagree with you – I’ll own my crimes – My guilt has shut my mouth.” I’m not here to talk about myself, there isn’t much good to say. But I believe in a good Savior. This strikes at the very heart of what we want people to see in our lyrics. Christianity is not about a person’s ability to be perfect, but imperfect people trusting in a perfect Savior. Our guitarist Joey summarized the song well by saying, “The presence of hypocrisy does not equal the absence of God.” This song is a call to take your eyes off of messed up people and to take a look for yourself at who Jesus is.
Another song I’d like to highlight is the song “The Sea In Between” because of the imagery used to communicate my salvation experience. This song is an imagery of my salvation. I pictured it as I was a man stranded alone on an island waiting to die. I knew there was a place of solace, comfort, and life, but could do nothing to get there. There was a great expanse of an ocean that separated me from it. This imagery founds its parallels in the fact for all of my life, I knew God existed and that I was separated from Him. I was on a shore and an endless sea separated us. The sea was a metaphor for my sin and attempts to live self-righteously. I tried to live a perfect life and make up for all my failure and sin. Every time I navigated those seas, I failed, was destroyed, and washed back to shore left with nothing. Yet in the goodness of God, Christ came and saved me, trudging through the sea that separated me from Him by dying the death I deserved. Christ was covered in the seas of my sins so He may carry me across the death and hell I deserved in order that I may have life in Him.
Many of your worship songs pull inspiration from liturgical practices in traditional church services, i.e. incorporating Psalms and other Scripture verses common to hymns (“Great is thy faithfulness” in “Awaken,” for example). When you set out to write a song with worship as its focus, how do you decide what and where to pull from as traditional inspiration?
There is nothing scientific or planned out about it. All things are simply and honestly pulled from the heart. Just as Jesus said, “From out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Thinking about the great love and mercy I have received causes me to remember lines from old hymns or psalms I have read and committed to memory. It’s a strange concept to “set out to write a song of worship,” because worship is a reactive action. There’s a cause and effect. The cause being the grace and love of God and the effect being worship.
When songwriting, how do Steve and Nick decide which lyrics are screamed, sung, or yelled, and by which person? How do you balance each person’s role in the song?
Those are primarily musical decisions and not lyrical ones, although there are times when a lyric is clearly more powerful sung quietly or passionately screamed. It generally comes down to what best serves the song, emotion, and message.
Now that your catalog is four albums deep, how do you decide on a set list, particularly on tours where you are opening and have a shorter time slot? Are there songs you think you might never play live? If so, why not?
We know there is a time and place for each song. There are definitely songs that might not ever get played live, simply because of how many songs we now have. Each tour we try to consider what we have played in the past, the types of bands we are touring with, and if there is a new record that we do our best to play as many of those new songs as possible.
How did you decide on the name Eclipse for this fourth album? Is there any kind of continuing theme from the four album titles, or the albums themselves?
The concept of an eclipse seemed to effectively encapsulate the lyrical landscape. Light being obscured by darkness. The light of the sun burns as bright as it ever did, but the darkness comes as it is blocked by the cold moon. It may seem as though there will never be light again, but it takes faith to believe the sun still shines just as bright as it did despite the darkness.
The record carries a lot of different imagery of light and dark. Signifying the spectrum of the truth and the lie and how close they tend to be at times (“The Cure,” “Enemy”). They are so close we actually believe the lie thinking it to be the truth and sadly this is how we have ended up with so many awful off-shoots of Christianity that plague our culture (“Counterfeit,” “History”) and our own hearts (“Evil Are The Kings”). There are many references to the face of God (“The Face of Forever”), whether seen or unseen, and there are a number of references to the sun (meaning God or the face of God) which tie well into the imagery of an eclipse. There are also numerous references to shadows and how we hide there so others won’t see the darkness of our own hearts (“Face To Face,” “A Voice In The Violence”), which work well with an eclipse being the most grand form of a shadow. Lastly the reference is to when the sky went dark at Christ’s crucifixion similar to an eclipse. This was symbolizing His death yet also foreshadowing the life He would bring because of His death (“The Sea In Between”) and the necessity for our own death to self (“Face To Face”) to know the life of God. There is no intentional continuing theme amongst the records apart from all of the records being a chronological personal journey through my faith.
How many tracks did you record in the studio for Eclipse? How did you make the decision to cut the songs you did (if any)?
We came in with sixteen songs and during the pre-production process we decided which were the strongest and came up with the thirteen on Eclipse as the best songs we had this time around. The songs we cut had some promising elements, but still were in need of a lot of work and therefore we set them aside to focus on the thirteen we knew were strong.
What are you watching/playing/reading/listening to/enjoying lately?
My wife and I have been enjoying watching the show Shark Tank. That may seem weird, but I actually learn a lot watching the show; it’s pretty interesting. There was a lot of good soccer this summer I enjoyed between the UEFA Nations League, the Gold Cup, the Copa America, and the African Cup of Nations. I also really enjoy the show Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. As for what I’ve been reading, I’ve been enjoying The Story of Grace by Horatius Bonar.
How can our readers pray for you all? When I saw you all on tour several years ago, Nick had mentioned having trouble with his vocal chords handling all the screaming. How are Steve and Nick doing there? What else should we be praying for?
Touring can be quite fatiguing, but I would say our most immediate need is that we would continue to be faithful to our responsibilities in the home first and for our families when we are on the road. Also, for us while on tour that the Lord would provide good soil for the Gospel message to take root.