NITE’s Van Labrakis on Balancing Darkness and Light for ‘Voices of The Kronian Moon’ (INTERVIEW)

Photo credit: Rob Williamson

The band NITE has recently released their second album, Voices of the Kronian Moon, and their first with Season of Mist, and are currently on tour supporting their release. Loosely identifying as Blackened Heavy Metal, NITE has moved further away from horror imagery with their second album, but early adopters should feel reassured that they have returned to the same archetypal ideas that have always interested them. This time around, they’ve just moved into fantasy and science fiction to tell their hero story, as well as bringing in a wider arc of darkness and light, something you’ll find suggested in the cover artwork by street artist DEIH.

NITE make striking and unique music by blending elements from different types of Metal that they have found inspiring over the years, including Blackened Heavy Metal and Melodic Metal, and updating them for the current moment in time. I spoke with guitarist and vocalist Van Labrakis about the developments we find on Voices of the Kronian Moon and why it comes so close to making what the band love to hear. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: When did you start thinking about making this album?

Van Labrakis: We started thinking about this album right after we finished recording our debut album, Darkness Silence Mirror Flame. It’s been in the making for a while, and something we do as a band is sketch out ideas for demos constantly. Then when it’s time to make an album, we look at what we’ve done and pick out the ones we like the most, then narrow them down. Since we finished our debut in 2019, which was released in 2020, we had a couple of years of demos to look through. We started working just before the pandemic, and essentially started working on it full time once the pandemic hit. It all happened virtually, via Zoom calls and going to the studio one at a time.

HMS: That’s actually a fairly short time to put together an album, especially under the circumstances. I know you had a lot of attention on your first album, so you must have been eager to follow that up quickly.

VL: The plan was, at first, to do the crazy thing of having an album out each year, but then we were surprised, like the rest of the planet. Our debut album came out the same week that the world shut down, so we didn’t get to tour it or play that album live. But we did finish the album last July, and then we had to wait in a long line for vinyl, where there’s a huge hold-up. The underground artists who want vinyl are being pushed aside. But I think the album has eventually come out at the right time for us.

HMS: Does that mean that when you do play live now, you’ll try to introduce songs from both albums?

VL: Yes, we will, though I think people will know us mostly from this album because we’re now with a much bigger label. We know people might miss the first album, so we’ll keep some of the best songs from that era. We did get to play some of the first album live, actually, before that album was even out. We’ve been doing live shows for a few years now.

HMS: How important was it for you to time the album release around vinyl release?

VL: It was a no-brainer between us and the label since in our scene, vinyl sales are the main driving force behind sales. Vinyl is a very big part of the underground label scene. A lot of people don’t have CD players anymore. I don’t even have a CD player at home. Streaming is kind nowadays, but there’s something special about vinyl. Also, our whole Production was vinyl-focused. We did vinyl-first sound mixing and we even wanted to do singles on vinyl. We wanted this one to be compact, with four tracks on each side, like the kind we grew up on. Also, crafting each side of the vinyl was crucial to us. We spent a lot of time making sure that the songs on each side made sense as a group. It was fun.

HMS: I’m so happy to hear this, as a Metal and vinyl fan, because I’ve had people try to convince me that vinyl isn’t important to the Metal scene. I think it’s great that you’ve made it such a big part of your release, supply chain issues aside.

VL: Even though I’m from Europe, and I lived in Germany for ten years, I think vinyl is bigger over here [in the USA]. Over there, CDs may still be king, but here it’s vinyl. Even the artwork we had done, by DEIH, was geared towards the large format of a vinyl release. We spent more money so that you can open the back cover. It’s a gatefold even though it’s one record. It’s a pity that streaming services don’t offer another image so people can see the back of the album. Right now, all our vinyl for the album online is actually sold out, which is a good problem to have. But we are about to go on tour, and we will have some vinyl with us. 

HMS: Did the music scene in San Francisco play a part in choosing to live there?

VL: I came here for work, but there’s “something in the water” here as people say. There’s a lot of innovation here and people thinking outside the box. The star system is kind of far away, in LA. I lived in LA for a while, and it’s a very different world here. All of that played a role in deciding who we are. 

HMS: How did you and your bandmates arrive at the sound that we find on Voices of the Kronian Moon? You’re making choices in terms of songwriting and sound that are very specific, for instance, having longer song formats, and pretty intricate instrumentation.

VL: I generally believe that the more that we grow, the more we get out of the way of what we want to do. I think this album is even closer to exactly what we like and exactly what makes us happy to play. This project started because of that. I’ve been in music for twenty to twenty-five years as a satellite guitar player for other bands. I’ve also been an engineer. I always tried to fit in with what was happening, but I was always an extravagant guitar licks person. I loved the extravagant guitar licks of the 80s. 

At some point, when I thought about starting this band and looking for bandmates, I wanted to do exactly that: the music that I loved to listen to but didn’t see out there, no matter whether it would fit into a scene or not. This album does take things a step further. With our first album, we did hide in the underground a little, but that’s not all we are. With this album, I looked at the albums on my wall, which are Power Slave, Somewhere In Time, and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son from Iron Maiden. Maybe Power Slave is a little dark, but the others are uplifting, bright albums. 

Breaking free from the horror genre was something that we wanted to do. We felt a little confined. With this album, we tried to focus on something a little dreamy and futuristic, almost science fiction oriented. We still use the same archetypes that we tend to dwell on but from a very different perspective. With the first album, we went through eight cards of the Tarot card deck, and here we’re still talking about the same eight archetypes, but from the science fiction perspective.

HMS: This album is very expansive and I did pick up on the ideas blending fantasy and science fiction. What else can you share about the album’s mythology? The single “Edge of the Night” seems key to the ideas of the album.

VL: The key to everything is “Edge of the Night”. It solves the album and is a conclusion to the tale. There’s an extra chapter there, though it’s not in the land of the living, after “Edge of the Night”. The story continues into the limbo or otherworld, and it’s written from the perspective of someone scouring the planet and finding ruins. This is our version of the Arthurian myth, the hero’s tale, or the journey of the hero, which is basically a metaphor for human life. It’s a universal mythological concept among humankind. This is our way to reflect upon the fact that we are finite and will be buried someday. We have to go through life’s struggles and joys along the way. 

“Edge of the Night” is the end of that story where our main characters reach their destination. They are on a pilgrimage towards the sun, in a way, and they come to terms with the fact that there’s a fine balance between darkness and light, and the “sun will rise at the edge of the night”, as the lyrics say. You have to stay on the path until the end of your time. What I like to think about these archetypes is that it doesn’t really matter what it means to us, the band, but things like the Sun, or the river Acheron, or the Trident, or Kronos, resonate inside each of us in a different way. 

The thing about art, or poetry, is to tap into those archetypes and activate them inside each of us in a different way, so that we can heal and process. It helps us get through trauma, find strength, and figure out how to be good people. We are using mythology to tell our stories because we love how these archetypes work. 

HMS: Telling a cyclical story, that’s not just an underworld journey, is definitely less common in Metal music, and makes for a more varied experience for fans. How did you get into the idea of archetypes?

VL: I came across Carl Jung in my twenties and it’s a very interesting topic, though I don’t pretend to be a therapist. When it comes to my craft, I really appreciate all that stuff as a means to an end. Music operates in a different frequency than speech, too, so even though we can talk about these things, the music will reflect upon the words also. I don’t like coming down to the literal plane. For me, music is such an otherworldly experience that I can’t really couple it with words that mean exactly that. I find solace in metaphors and symbology. I feel way more comfortable there.

HMS: A lot of the lyrics on this album suggests visual imagery, too. I was surprised by the song “Heliopolis” because it has such Sun imagery, and I know that was a real place in Egypt, a center for sun-worship. 

VL: I love the notion of that. Actually, Heliopolis is also the district of Athens where I grew up, so the song has a very different meaning for me, but then again, it doesn’t. People have to make the songs their own, but for me it’s a nod to where I come from. That district was named by an architect who moved from Egypt to Athens and named it after Heliopolis. Our label’s address in France also contains “Heliopolis”, which is even weirder, since we wrote the song before we signed with them. 

HMS: I’m sure it’s the right thing to think about the audience and the journey you want to take them on, but it should also be a journey for the band, creating it. Otherwise, what’s the point? 

VL: Yes, we have to have an emotional response to what we’re doing. If we’re not emotionally attached to the music, what are we doing?

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