Interview with Knjaz Varggoth
June 24, 2017
MonteRay Live Stage, Kiev
Interview by Oliver M.
Two months ago, Ukrainian legends Nokturnal Mortum finally released their new, long-awaited album “Verity”. They offered an exclusive set for the return of cult festival Kolovorot Nove Kolo (formerly known as Kolovorot Fest) and to promote this critically-acclaimed masterpiece. After the show, I had the great opportunity to discuss with founding member Knjaz Varggoth about “Verity” and its current projects. Since Nokturnal Mortum rarely give interviews, I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to him for his time and patience. Many special thanks to the band’s crew for the translations and great support as well.
Hails Varggoth! Nokturnal Mortum has just performed at Kolovorot Nove Kolo with Graveland and Burshtyn for the launch of your new album. You played many times at Kolovorot Fest in the past. What’s your opinion about the revival of this cult Ukrainian festival?
I wanted the return of Kolovorot Fest since a long time ago. Dmytro Blyzno who is one of the originators and co-owner of this festival, didn’t want to make it at all at first. Then, I pressed him for that and finally, he did it. We are pleased of what we have done now and we are glad that Graveland finally came to Ukraine. This is a very good beginning for a new circle of Kolovorot Fest with such groups as Graveland and us. We are happy with everything!
Last month, you finally released your 8th album “Verity” through your own label Oriana Music. Your previous opus “The Voice of Steel” was released in 2009. How long did it really take you to craft this new masterpiece?
We have been working on the new album right after the release of “The Voice of Steel” but we have been doing it from time to time, not permanently. We had several line-up changes and different problems. So, it took us a long time to make the album. Of course, general problems in Ukraine also played a role in it.
The cover art of “Verity” was done by Kristian Wåhlin (Necrolord). Many fans have recently said it’s very similar to some of his previous artworks such as Tiamat’s “Wild Honey” and Earth Flight’s “Blue Hour Confessions”. Do you have the feeling this cover art exactly represents the music and concept of the album?
From the very beginning of our cooperation with Kristian Wåhlin, I wanted him to make the work in his signature style, in the vein of “Wild Honey”. For me, Kristian Wåhlin is the AC/DC of metal cover art. He’s got a very recognisable and unique style. I wanted this artwork to look like the classic artworks he did back in the 90s. He also had a sketch for the album when we started to put the finishing touches on the record. Then, when he heard the album at the time we were recording it, he finally decided to change almost everything about his cover art. So, I’m sure this artwork truly represents the spirit of new Nokturnal Mortum album.
Regarding the lyrics, what are the main themes of “Verity”?
The lyrics are mostly based on Ukrainian and Carpathian folklore. I wanted to represent in the lyrics the same Ukrainian mysticism which was represented in some works of Nikolai Gogol (the famous writer of Ukrainian origin) and female poet Lesya Ukrainka. I wanted to represent the mysticism which is directly inspired by our native folklore and make some sort of fairy tales for grown-up people.
You have recently welcomed Hyozt (from KZOHH and Reusmarkt) as new Nokturnal Mortum keyboardist. He performed the synths on “Verity” along with you. Why did you choose him to replace Saturious?
To be honest, Hyozt is not exactly a keyboard player but rather a creator of soundscapes and ambient type of sounds. Many people played on our new record including myself. Hyozt is also one of the very few people who truly understand the atmosphere of our music and the atmosphere I wanted to create for “Verity”. Our communication was very easy and that was very good.
Concerning the keyboards, there are some very interesting electro elements that remind me your old, excellent side-project Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra. Are you planning to release a new album for this side-project in the future?
I always create some ideas for Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra and it would be more electronic than the old works of this project. However, I never tend to create something finished. So, there are some ideas but I don’t finish them. I don’t know if I will record a new album for Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra but for now, we’re planning to re-release the old records of this project.
In my opinion, Nokturnal Mortum has never got a sound as great as on “Verity”. Greg Chandler (from Esoteric and Priory Recording Studios) did an amazing job on that. In the past, you used to manage almost everything. Why did you choose him for the mixing and mastering of the record?
Well, we are a self-financed band. Finally, we have grown-up and become mature to work with well-known and professional sound producer. So, it’s a natural course of things. We are really pleased with his work. We listened to the works of many sound producers but it turned out he was the guy who really felt how this album should sound. He did a great job. For example, the song “Molfa” contains no less than 150 audio tracks. So, it was an enormous task to do but he has done it. His attitude was to make a really good production, a great work and he didn’t think about money. So, we are very satisfied with the result of his work. It’s perfect.
The element that impressed me the most on “Verity” is the extensive and intelligent use of bandura and sopilkas. They really make the album so unique and enchanting. Are you planning to use those same folk instruments on your next works?
Of course, we will use folk instruments in the future with Mikhailo Kuzhba who recorded dulcimer and made the entire folk arrangements for “Verity”. Some musicians played bandura and so on, but the entire arrangements of folk instruments were done by him (except the sopilkas which were recorded by Ivan Kozakevych from Folk death metal band Sectorial). In the future, Mikhailo Kuzhba will play concerts with us and become a member of the band. He will play not only dulcimer but also keyboards because he is a professional keyboardist.
I’ve noticed that Nicholas W. Angel (from the excellent Symphonic power metal act Conquest) provided some vocals in “Night of the Gods”. Since he’s a very talented guitarist, have you ever thought about asking him to perform any additional guitar solos on the album? Is it something you would consider for your next works?
Nicholas W. Angel is a very good friend of ours. Using his clean voice on our records is some kind of tradition, like using trembita sounds in album intros. Our guitarist Jurgis is skilled enough, so I don’t think that we will need any guest guitar performances on our next records.
Do you have any favourite song on “Verity” or a song that means a lot to you?
I like all the songs I’ve written, so this is impossible to pick a favorite one.
I’m aware that you’re currently working on your next EP. Do you have any details to share about it?
Yes, we will release the EP but we still don’t know when and which songs it will contain. We will do it anyway sooner or later.
Do you already know which label you’re going to release your next EP and album through? Is it going to be Oriana Music or a bigger label?
It’s very likely they will be released by Oriana Music and maybe by Heritage Recordings for the vinyl versions only. But it’s too early to talk about it because they haven’t been composed and recorded yet.
Last year, you performed as headliners at Ragnard Rock Fest in France and a Live DVD of that show was planned to be released by the festival. Unfortunately, this project was cancelled due to some technical issues and delays just before you start playing. Are you planning to come back to Ragnard Rock soon and release a Live DVD accordingly?
We are on very good terms with the whole crew of Ragnard Rock Fest and it’s likely that we will cooperate on something. For now, there is no DVD release or show planned with them. They’re just our friends and maybe we will do something with them in the future.
Nokturnal Mortum has a worldwide fan base. You’ve got fans throughout Europe, North America, South America, South Africa, Japan, Australia, New Zealand… Do you have the feeling you are kind of ambassadors of Ukrainian music?
We don’t consider ourselves to be some kind of ambassadors or something like that. We just do what we do best and create music. Ambassadors of Ukrainian music in the world are words that are too loud for us to aspire to be! We have always been an underground band and will stay underground.
Is there a country in particular in which you would love to perform? Do you have any preference?
Well, I would be glad to play anywhere because I’m really interested to see the entire world but I don’t have any preference for a country in particular. I liked the places where we played before. Every country has its own nuances and all of them are interesting to me.
In my opinion, Ukraine has one of the most talented and interesting black metal scenes in the world, with loads of great bands (old and new) playing with passion and keeping the underground spirit. What’s your feeling about it?
I guess that no one in Ukraine ever believed that any local band could achieve some kind of world success. We have always played what we felt. We play from the heart and soul, not with some commercial intentions or something like that. Not so long ago, I watched Varg Vikernes’ video blogroll in which he talked about the way he and other members of the Norwegian black metal scene recorded their classics albums back in the 90s and I felt that we had a bit the same approach. For example, for “Nechrist” we used some old radios instead of amplifiers and so on. We just want to create music and bring our feelings and words to listeners.
Three months ago, Portugal (my country of origin) recognized the Holodomor as genocide. The first thing I did when I arrived in Kiev this morning was to visit the Holodomor memorial and museum. Have you ever thought about writing a concept album about such important subject? Are you planning to do it in the future?
This topic is very important and very close to me. For example, my grandmother remembers the Holodomor. Yes, you’re right, we’ve got some ideas regarding songs about the Holodomor but I wouldn’t tell anything more than that. Let’s wait for the future. Of course, we would like the Holodomor to be recognized as crime and we really would like the ones responsible for that to be punished.
To conclude this interview, do you have anything special to add?
Well, I can wish all people just to have their own mind, brain and stay people in the modern world and always see things, not their reflections in crooked mirrors.