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Nite's Van Labrakis: "Metal doesn’t have to only dwell in fields of blood, crushed skulls and the domain of hell. Although that sure is fun too!"

Interview with Van Labrakis from Nite
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 22 May 2022, 9:51 PM

Think about an open season. A band reaches its debut and then heads out to explore new grounds In a varied market such as today, there is a clear need, even though not a real necessity, to come about and create something that is out of the reach of normality. The blackened styled Heavy Metal band, Nite, took on an explorative journey in order to perfect themselves, and unleash a kind of album that would make a difference, for them at first. Signing with Season Of Mist turned out to be a boost, and the new album "Voices of the Kronian Moon" showed that there is an ongoing prospect. Steinnetal had a good talk with the band's vocalist / guitarist, Van Labrakis, about the experience of the new album and the importance of exploration. 

Hello Van, it is my pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing?

Thank you for having me. All is good, we just got back from a 2-week tour with Bewitcher, doing a run from the west coast to Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma, Texas and the amazing Hell’s Heroes festival and back home through Arizona and SoCal. Good times.

Your band, Nite, hasn’t been around much, but it appears that you guys have been working like clockwork, releasing a debut right at the beginning of the pandemic, and here we are with a sophomore already. Have you been pushing yourselves beyond your limits or it is merely a natural process for the band?

We might be somewhat new as NITE, we are together for a little more than 4 years now, but we all have been around in the scene for quite some time. We were hoping for a slightly more prolific output and go for the album a year madness, but we took our time with this one. Vinyl production holdups, as I’m sure you’ve heard from others, played a role in the 2-year gap but in retrospect we are happy with the timing of the release.

I tend to say that an album’s worth of things happen to you during a year’s time. It’s important to spread the songwriting through different seasons and times of the year. We all tend to think a little differently in the winter and the summer simply put. That brings variety and also gives us time to reflect upon our songs and lyrical ideas. For the next one, which we are currently halfway through the process of writing, we intend to take our time as well. No need to rush things. I think a 2024 release is the most realistic right now. Ultimately the music has to be there. Everything moves fast after that.

Talking about the pandemic, it seems to me that it didn’t really affect Nite’s integrity, or the motivation of its members to continue to push the wagon forward. Was it that of a subtle situation for you personally, and for the guys, in particular on the tougher stages of the pandemic, with all the lockdowns and stuff?

For starters we didn’t get sick, at least back then in the thick of it. None of us died and we didn’t lose loved ones close to us. That would have been catastrophic of course. So, compared to many other people around the world, we had it very easy. On a more self-centric level the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for us as we released our debut on the week of the pandemic, March 20th 2020. We didn’t get to celebrate that album at all at the time. No record release shows, no touring, no live shows whatsoever and not even a celebratory band dinner (laughs) as we were all in quarantine for the first 7-8 months of that. Pretty anti-climactic.

We are all very serious about what we do. One thing that we know how to do well is get to work when things get tough. And that’s what we did. We came up with a plan and started working on “Voices” remotely while isolating. Having weekly or biweekly Zoom calls. Recording demos, exchanging notes, writing lyrics etc. The Zoom call approach proved to be very efficient. We got a lot of work done in a limited amount of time and we managed to perfect the second album to a degree that was new to all of us. It was a process that we are definitely applying to the next one too.

Your new album, "Voices of the Kronian Moon", sure turned up my appetite for a cosmic, and mystical, journey in an unknown, and blackened, universe. Prior to that, this record was your ticket to enter the great roster of the French label, Season Of Mist. How do you find this rather major step for the band’s career? What are your expectations from the label in order to take Nite onwards to glory?

Good to hear that we stirred your imagination a bit! To be honest with you, our ticket to Season was our debut, “Darkness Silence Mirror Flame”. When we signed with Season of Mist we were halfway done with the writing of “Voices of the Kronian Moon” and they didn’t get to listen to the album before it was actually finished a good 9 months later. We are grateful that Michael of Season of Mist recognized the potential in our vision regardless.

We had Season of Mist in our crosshairs for quite some time so that was a huge milestone for us. Our expectations from the label have been met tenfold already. The expectations from ourselves are the key here! We got the bigger stage, we got the big label backing our efforts, now what do we do with it is the question. Season of Mist has been around for way longer than we have, their part of the deal is guaranteed. The ball is in our court. We intend to make the most of it.

The album’s title, as I mentioned, has its darkened mysticism attached to it. What can you tell me about it? As for from my end, it is plainly a riddle that only its creator would know what it is all about

I like to think of music as an interactive medium. The moment the music is released we are all co-creators. We the band serve the audience a few of the ingredients and you have to add your own part of the equation. What it means to us is not the most important part here. I think you are going to make the most of it if you reflect upon it and make it your own. Mythology works in that way. All these archetypes we are touching upon have this wonderful property of adapting to the listener’s personality and life experiences. The ultimate goal is self-awareness. If our music and lyrics help you understand your own struggles, shortcomings but also joys and hopes for the future a little better, then we’ve done our job right.

To indulge the curious though, “Voices”, “Kronos”, “moon”. Reflecting upon these symbols would be enough to get a sense of what we are after here. Kronos is the Greek name for the planet Saturn. A “Saturn” Wikipedia search would be a great starting point if anyone wants to dive deeper to the meaning of the album! Same goes for the moon, the tides and water, the human voice. All very universal, rich and radiant archetypes to reflect upon.

The artwork, made by the Spanish, Deih, if I am not mistaken, produces that same, even if partial, coldness that could be felt throughout the record. What can you tell about the vision behind the title? Who is the rocky figure with the blazing eyes? Why is there a tiny image that looks like a Hangman over there?

“Voices of the Kronian Moon” is our take on the tale of the hero. The Arthurian myth, the Odyssey. The hero who travels north to slay the beast. The list goes on. In our version of the same tale, a group of time raiders are on a pilgrimage towards the sun, traveling through space and time. The moment we see captured on the cover by Deih’s mind’s eye is an encounter between a time raider and our band’s mascot, the personification of the night. We like to call her Night or Nite.

We had such great communication with Deih throughout the early stages of the album and we got to send him over the lyrics and our general ideas. But that wonderful image came through him entirely. We also believe it captures the essence of the album perfectly. The cover also extends to the back cover of the album. Season of Mist and Adrien Bousson did great job with the layout and applying all these wonderful elements in the lyrics page as well, which I absolutely adore. The whole package reminds me of the albums I grew up on and spent countless hours examining closely to spot every detail. I couldn’t be happier with how everything came out.

In your perspective, is there a relation between the reality within "Voices of the Kronian Moon" and our very own reality? Perhaps it is your way to escape what is going on in our world in order to pursue things that have been ignored or put to rest?

Nite is definitely not a literal or political band, even though we as individuals might be. As a band we don’t dwell in the realm of reality even though what we talk about and the topics we explore are very real. We use mythology as the vehicle to explore these matters. Overcoming adversity, courage, justice, equality are all key ideas for us as people. That comes out through the music no matter what.

I believe that mythology has played that role throughout human history. Perhaps it’s easier for us as a civilization to process certain matters in a more detached third person perspective than it is in the literal plain. Tragedy and comedy since the ancient times had that purpose. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel.

The musical end of Nite, with "Voices of the Kronian Moon", had me being a witness to a contradiction at the front center. There is the darkened melodic Heavy Metal, that screams its 80s vibes to the death, while the coldness of your vocals, almost something between chant and storytelling, slices through. What do you make of this notion? Is Nite a sort of a two faced monstrosity musically?

If you ask me, that’s what heavy metal sounds like in 2022. Extreme vocals are the norm for many of us right now. We have come a long way since those first Venom albums and the black metal genesis of the previous century. I like to think of the black metal vocals in NITE as guitars with distortion. In the “prehistoric times” of the Beetles and Elvis, distorted guitars must have sounded insane to most people back then. Fast forward a few decades and we would never think to play rock n roll without a little of overdrive. I think it’s the same with the vocals. A little “drive” in the voice (or a lot!) is how we see the norm as a band right now.

Of course, the coupling is something relatively new. I’m not going to pretend that combining 80s good old heavy metal with 90s guitar shenanigans and black metal vocals is something you come across every day. But I do believe that it’s the way forward.

Most importantly as a songwriting approach, the tools at our disposal are so versatile. We can go as dark with the vocals or as light and upbeat with the music and the 2 sides cancel each other out in a way. It’s a been a blast writing songs like that. I haven’t experienced such freedom in songwriting exploration before.

There has been the labelling of the first wave of Black Metal, which some of the known names are like Mercyful Fate and Venom for instance, and Nite has a lot of the drive of the former rather than the latter. Nonetheless, your songwriting portrays more than an old school admiration, incorporating contemporary, atmospheric, aspects. What can you tell about the musical progress made on the record, and your perception of the nature of blackened Heavy Metal?

Thank you. That’s our goal here. Not to merely copy our inspirations but to evolve upon their great work. Metal has come such a long way since its early days. So many explorations, sub genres and unique takes. The genre has truly blossomed in the last 40-50 years. I think we lost a few things down the road that were not meant to be left behind. Extravagant guitar leads are one of them! I’m crazy about guitar leads and all the masters of the 80s and early 90s. My love for Steve Vai and Marty Friedman is not something I can hide very well (laughs). I think the grunge explosion of the 90s kind of annihilated those amazing guitar times from the scene. I think that’s a shame. Of course, some sunset strip nonsense were destroyed in the “nuclear blast” which was not a bad thing, but fearless guitar explorations are a core element of heavy metal and something that is core to our mission as NITE.

Now, regarding the evolution of the band from the debut to this one, we consciously let our guards down after the debut. We wanted to go as “far out” as we felt like with the music, without been too judgmental, conservative or trying to fit in the scene. That translated into a more melodic and uplifting album. Song like “Acheron” and “Edge of the Night” pushed the threshold for us. Those major chords in “Acheron” were shocking to us too! What was shocking about them was that they worked. We have gotten a little too used to dark topics and dark moods in metal. There’s much left to be explored outside those realms. Metal doesn’t have to only dwell in fields of blood, crushed skulls and the domain of hell. Although that sure is fun too!

Metal means freedom in my book.

The songwriting attributed to the darkened vibe with finesse, shifting between haunting tracks to even courses towards enchanted obscurity. What can you share about the songwriting process surrounding "Voices of the Kronian Moon"?

Our main songwriting approach is that we try to get out of the way of the music. And by that, I mean that we try to write music without over analysing it and overthinking it. We demo a lot of songs each year. Some good, some great and some truly terrible! In the moment though we just let things happen. We let the songs come out. They might not be NITE songs in the end, but we at least demo them nonetheless. After that process is done, we of course edit ourselves. That’s when we become judgmental and try to curate the album.

Music has a funny property that certain melodies, certain chord progressions are in a way requesting certain things to happen. A melody is demanding certain chords, or a particular verse is asking for a big breakdown and so on. It’s an interactive experience even at the songwriting level. So, in a way songs have a mind of their own. We are just there to capture them and serve them to the best of our ability.

If there is a challenge when songwriting is to find a cohesion between the lyrical and musical end. How were you able to find that edge on the album? In particular since your vocals aren’t displaying much emotion but rather the music does the talking

Ouch! (Laughs)… well I like to think that I do have a unique way of displaying emotions through my voice. But I agree I’m definitely not as agile emotionally in the vocals as the guitars are. And that is fine. Of course, there is room for growth all around so maybe a time were the vocals have more variations are ahead of us. I wouldn’t get anyone’s hopes up for clean vocals though!

That contradiction between the abysmal vocals and the beautiful guitar work is very close to our essence as a band. The voice though has this particular task that musical instruments of course cannot touch. And that is the lyrics and communicating with the audience using language. I love how disjointed these two parts of our music are.

Even though these two elements are clearly separated sonically, the lyrics of each song are directly dictated by the music. The way this usually happens is that certain words surface during the songwriting process. A certain riff sounds like, a scorpion dying, or a sunrise, or a thorn. These images come from the music itself. It’s a natural process and again we try to get out of the way and not force certain story elements or meanings if we don’t first “feel” them in the music.

Van, as the album’s main producer and engineer, you were able to capture a sound that is no less than amazing. Bursts of coldness and warmth come together beautifully within the songs. What can you tell about the sound production for this album? How did you envision the record to sound in the first place?

Thank you! It didn’t happen by accident I can tell you that much! (Laughs) I’ve been an engineer and producer for close to 25 years now, so the production part of the job is not new to me for sure. I was careful to not over produce the album especially at this stage of our career. That’s the sound we set out to get for this one and I’m happy with the outcome. I take a “song first” approach to producing so I’m far from being a sound purist, which drives my engineer friends insane sometimes. But if the songs are not there, I don’t see the point in expensive microphones and $100.000 mixing desks. So a lot of time was spent in fine tuning the songs themselves, tempos, lyrics etc. Even during the last stages of the album.

The recording process was somewhat harder as we were still in quarantine when we recorded. So, I would set up mics for Patrick, our drummer, in our studio alone, and then he would go in the next day and record by himself, send me the parts along with videos of him recording. We would then critique the takes and repeat the process. It was wild!

I feel this album, as every other album, is a steppingstone in our progress. I wanted this one to be the natural continuation of the debut. Emerging from the underground with a lightly more polished sound. Our sound is going to continue to evolve alongside our music, our songwriting ability and our skills as performers.

I was amazed by the tantalizing atmosphere of “Liber ex Doctrina”, displaying fine melodies, and in a way a developing mood swing that made the experience highly interesting. What is your appreciation of this particular tune?

I’m glad to hear that. “Liber” for us plays a similar role as the song “Bright” did in our debut. It’s our nod to the great ballads of our favorite albums of the 80s. In particular, “Fade to Black” and “Sanitarium”. The idea of a ballad had always been intriguing us. It’s a hard task for the blackened voice to tame that mood but we love how it came out and that it offers that different mood right at the end of Side A. In a similar way that the aforementioned songs did back in the day. The perfect segue to Side B and “Heliopolis” in our case which picks up the pace again and leads us to the climax of the album, to the “Edge of the Night”.

Somewhat taking a different turn, in contrast to the vast majority of the album’s songs, is “Thorns”. In a way, it channels how contemporary Black Metal sounds, but with a Traditional Metal touch to carry it, maintaining a fine measure of fusion. It is quite an interesting track, even though less melodic. What can you tell about its creative process? Would you say that it made an impact on the record?

Thorns appears on the album at the moment were the story and our heroes transcend from the domain of the living to the domain of the dead. The story ends in a way with the ending of “Edge of the Night”. Thorns is a song about life and death as a cycle. Rebirth and eternity as human concepts. It has definitely stood out to people and that was the point to be honest. Some people cannot stand it and some can’t get enough of it. Regardless, this song is us throwing a wrench in the cohesive storytelling of the previous songs. Mimicking death in a way.

An interesting fact about this song is that it was conceived on the drums first. Not common for us as we normally start with a few chords and a melody line or a vocal phrase. Patrick came up with this hypnotic drum pattern and we worked the riffs upon that. Also, there is a particularly “far out” section towards the end where Pat took it a step further with the drums. I worked a guitar lead on top of his drum take to compliment that frantic drum pattern. So that ending guitar lead is again conceived after the drum part was recorded which is, again, unusual for us at least.

Even though you have been a musician, and a songwriter, for sometime now, what can you tell about the experience of "Voices of the Kronian Moon" as a learning curve?

The most important thing I learned from this album is to be fearless and trust my gut. We took so many chances with this album, all at a pivotal point of our career. From going more melodic and “major chord” sounding, making a concept album, getting a mural artist that had never done an album cover before and going full Moebius comic book style with the cover art, to shooting a daytime music video and doing a photoshoot with a bright pink background. All very risky things. And yet we loved it. We had so much fun doing it and it shows. Knowing the amount of exposure that was ahead of us with Season of Mist putting the album out could have easily made us freeze. In a “deer in the headlights” kind of way. Yet we did every crazy thing we wanted to do.

I have to give credit to Michael Berberian, the head of Season of Mist for backing us up, as in times when we cowered towards playing it safe, he pushed us to take chances and do what we really wanted to do regardless of if it was risky or not. Very grateful for that.

Is Nite also a touring band or mainly a studio project? If it is the former, is there a plan to support the record in any way?

NITE is definitely a live band. That’s our core. Our essence. We hit the scene at a funny moment in time as the moment we said “Hello World” in March 2020 the world closed up. Thankfully the world seems to be reopening. As I mentioned before we just came back from a 2-week tour with Bewitcher that was an absolute blast. Meeting all the people that appreciate what we do will always be surprising to us no matter how many years we do this for. We all love heavy metal more than anything and our music resonates with very likeminded people.

Playing this music live is why we do it. Sure the road is hard but the moment we are on the stage every night, having those tunes coarse through us is making everything worthwhile.

We’d love to complete our US tour with an east coast run before the end of the year and there are some other exciting things in the works but as nothing is confirmed at this point that’s all I can say!

A little off shoot question, since you have been the guitarist of Satan’s Wrath, is the band still going, is there anything to expect from it in the coming future?

I hope so! Tas and Stamos, the masterminds behind this one are the only ones that know the answer to that though. In the meantime Tas has a bunch of most excellent albums out with his other band Mirror which every heavy metal loving maniac should check out, as well as his new doom band “Friends of Hell” out on Rise Above records.

Van, I wish to thank you for this interview and for the time you gave it. It was quite refreshing to listen to Nite and I do hope to experience more of you guys in the near future. All the best

Thank you for having us!



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