It has been quite long since the latest new album ‘Yav’ came out, more precisely almost four years. Was there a special reason for this longer break and what happened to Arkona in the meantime?
There were no special reasons, it just happened. I never do anything on purpose, I do not write songs when I do not have specific ideas. Songs are just born at any time. The album ‘Yav’ took a lot of energy. We put a lot of effort into it, so that's why we took the pause to create new material. I believe that when you are engaged in creative process, you do not need to do this specifically to just write something. Everything should come by itself, only then you can write really conscious and worthy material. During these four years, Arkona travelled all around the world, played so many concerts on different continents. We also re-recorded our debut album ‘Vozrozhdenie’, which was realized in November last year. By this release we also broke a bit this pause before releasing the new album, and of course, refreshed the old material and gave people the opportunity to look at our old material in the new way. This release was also very interesting. We've recorded various live folk instruments instead of previously recorded samples and also live drums and different vocals, gave the album a modern sound, so the listeners would feel the difference between what was before and what is now.
When did you actually start writing new material that ended up on ‘Khram’ and can you tell a bit more about the writing process this time? Mainly Masha again or serious involvement of other band members in this process?
Material for ‘Khram’ was born gradually, at different times, in different circumstances. Some songs were born on tours, some I wrote at home. I could not tell you the exact time of writing, but everything was done for two years or even three. I write all the songs in the sequencer program Cakewalk pro audio. During travels I always have my computer with me, so any time I can start writing something. There I also make a full arrangement of songs and then I give individual parts to the musicians for learning. This songwriting process is always standard for me, so this time it was the same. When I created all the songs for ‘Khram’, the musicians learned them and we started rehearsals before recording. Learning songs for a live performance took about a month, after which we proceeded to record the material. All the songs were written exclusively by me, all the other musicians took part only in learning their parts and recording of the material. It happens sometimes, that me and Sergey share ideas for new songs. He creates some interesting ideas from time to time, as for example for the song ‘Zov Pustyh Dereven' from the album ‘Yav’. Sergey created some interesting guitar riffs and I developed the song further. Or for the song ‘Slavsia, Rus’, Sergey wrote the whole musical part. But for new album I wrote all the material.
Did you have to face any line-up changes since ‘Yav’?
In the process of recording the album ‘Yav’, we parted ways with our previous drummer Vlad Artist. He left the band due to some disagreements about our oeuvre and his reluctance to make, as it seemed to him, a very complex material. Vlad is a really great musician and a very close friend of ours, because we all have known him for a long time and played together from the very beginning, but there are circumstances that sometimes people leave. Vlad managed to record six songs for the album ‘Yav’, after that he refused to record the material and was replaced by Andrey Ishchenko, who recorded the remaining three songs on the album and from that moment on became our constant drummer. There were no more changes in the band.
I think that ‘Khram’ is a continuation of the direction you started to develop of ‘Yav’: more complex and longer songs with even progressive twists and turns without losing the ethnic pagan glory. Sometimes even any Moonsorrow influences in instrumental parts. What are your thoughts about that?
I can't really agree with you here, because the styles of the two albums are different. The ‘Yav’ was more melancholic and progressive, but ‘Khram’ is in more depressive-aggressive style. This applies to music and texts in general. Even if judging by the sound of these two albums, the album ‘Khram’ turned out to be more clear and easier to listen to than ‘Yav’. It's because of the arrangements. ‘Yav’ - in my opinion - I have overdone with instruments and in most parts of the songs much was lost due to supersaturated sound, so for many people it was probably difficult to understand the songs properly. I took these drawbacks into account and for ‘Khram’ I made the arrangements of songs easier, so that people could hear and understand the complex themes of the songs in more detail. But, I want to say that the ethnic moments in these two albums are also presented, but in the ‘Khram’ album they are less noticeable and look more like an addition to the music. As for your comparison with Moonsorrow, I can't see any parallels, because our music is completely different. Perhaps, in general, the atmosphere of the album or its more black metal sound could remind you of this band, but I do not see anything in common. But no doubt, Moonsorrow is a great band of course!
By the way, how was ‘Yav’ received, because it was far from the rather simple approach from the first record, just to give an example…
The reaction to ‘Yav’ was very ambiguous, of course, no one could expect such a sharp turn in our music. People expected the same Arkona that everyone knows. They expected to hear merry folk songs, but we have provided to the listeners with thoughtful and complex material that many have not understood or appreciated. But this album has many fans, I still find people's opinions that this is our best album, and it pleases us. In general, it seems to me that lovers and non-lovers of ‘Yav’ are like 50/50. But I think that this is a good indicator, because really everyone has different tastes, and we do not try to please everyone, we do only what is important to ourselves, and people will decide whether to stay with us or look for other musical inspirers. The same happens with album ‘Khram’ now. After we published a teaser, a certain percentage of listeners began to resent that Arkona had become a black metal band and betrayed their old style. But we didn't! We remain faithful to what we do, did and will do. We are not attached to a certain musical style, but we also remain primarily a pagan metal band with our own philosophy and ideology, but probably without a label "folk", which is very popular now.
I think the musical development is also due to the fact that the musicians are getting more skilled after playing many years, if we compare it with the beginning, isn’t it?
Of course, we do constantly develop, both creatively and professionally. Story of our tours can tell more itself, we practice all the time, we have many tours all over the world, and of course development is obvious, it's seen and heard. I even get a ridiculous feeling when I watch our old videos, where we behave in an inappropriate manner on stage, the movements are constrained, singing and performing are not good enough, now everything is different - I watch our videos from concerts with great pleasure and of course I notice some small flaws that I try to eliminate. It is always useful to look at yourself from the outside, and evaluate how your group looks like in front of the listeners.
Why the title ‘Khram’ and can you go a bit deeper into the lyrical contents this time?
Khram (Russian: temple) - this is a very broad and multi-valued concept, because everyone in this world has his own temple. It can be anything, a temple of the soul, a temple of nature, a temple of the living, a temple of the dead, a temple of the universe, a temple of the inner world, a temple as a holy relic of all living and non-living, movable and immovable. On the new album I open the door into my temple for people, which for me is also very meaningful. In the album, the word Khram itself is a thread throughout the entire musical canvas and is found in absolutely every song, giving it special sense to its individual meaning. The lyrics are very multifaceted, the texts contain a lot of philosophy concerning our world, living, the existence of man in this life and beyond. I also write about cosmogony from my point of view on this, I cover the essence of the chaotic movement that is born inside our temple and interacts with the chaos outside, creating the absolute balance and harmony of our world, both inside and outside ourselves, the theme of life and death is touched upon as two sisters who endlessly lead an eternal ritual dance. Also there are songs about my feelings, experienced at different times, and ‘Volchitsa’ which is a cover-version of a song from ‘Vedan Kolod’.
The recording process was often interrupted for playing gigs last Summer. Wasn’t that hectic? Or did you rather considered it refreshing for having more focus when coming in the studio again?
When you have a specific goal, your whole brain thinks only about it and you can no longer do anything except reaching this goal. Therefore, being at the concerts while recording the album, we thought only about the album and nothing more. Concerts do not interfere with anything, because we had trips after the completion of certain stages of recording. For example, after we finished the recording of the drums, we went to play a concert. We finished the recording of the guitars and also went to the concert, and then continued the remaining stages of the recording upon arrival.
The intro and outro are super ethnic. Can you tell a bit more about that?
In the Slavic pagan mythology, the image of Mara is the image of the goddess of death, which is the being complete opposite of everything living; she is the (dark) goddess from Nav who, in the face of death, takes over with the advent of winter, because with the coming of this season everything dies and becomes cold , lifeless. There is also a spring ritual that takes place at the celebration of the Maslenitsa, on the day of the vernal equinox, when Mara, as a straw effigy, is burned at the stake, thus committing her funeral, which is commemorated by the official arrival of spring. So, as Mara is the dark goddess who dwells in the dark world, I invite her to come down to us in the world of the living and take people with her to the Nav, the dark world. Thus, I impose a curse on people to immerse them in a different dimension, the dark kingdom of Marena, while listening to our album, so that people are most deeply immersed in our creation at the time of their arrival to that dimension. In ‘Mantra Outro’, I un-curse people, I urge Mara to return them from Nav to Yav, to the world of living.
And there are several guest musicians on the album who did a magnificent addition. Please tell us all about the guests that contributed this time? It is surely an improvement that you use real instruments to add the folkloristic tinge these days…
Almost all the musicians who participated in recording are our old good friends, except the tuba player Alexey, one of Sergey's friends recommended him for us, we didn't know him before. For him it was the first time ever when he participated in recording metal music. But for us it also was a first time when we used this instrument in metal music. He performed in the song ‘Tseluya Zhizn’.
Anatoliy is a vocalist and songwriter of Siberian ethno-folk band Nytt Land, with him and his absolutely wonderful band we met during our joint Russian tour. He can make the unique overtone singing, which we planned to use in our album even before we met with Anatoliy, and after, when the fate gave us such a great chance to get acquainted with Nytt Land, we immediately realized who will become the participant in this magical vocal performance of overtone singing and invited him to take part in it.
Alexandr Kozlovsky is a good friend of ours. We've worked together earlier both in studio and live performances. This time he also helped us and played a violoncello part in the song ‘Kissing The Life’. (Tseluya Zhizn’)
Robert Engstrand is one of the ex-members of Turisas. We are good friends with all musicians of the band Turisas, we had some amazing tours together. So when we started to think who will play the piano parts that were already written by me at that time, we've certainly chosen Bob, because he is one of the most talented musicians I've ever met. He agreed willingly and he played it so well, when we got a final version of solo, me and Sergey literally had tears in our eyes, that's how extremely beautiful it sounded. He didn't just play, but brought a diversity into his part and made it unique and individual.
And, of course, my children also took part in the song ‘Tseluya Zhizn’, where they were narating a very philosophical poem about the two sisters, life and death, who, holding hands, are leading their endless dance. For Radimir, the eldest son, this is already the third participation on our albums, but the younger one, Bogdan, did it for the first time, so you can easily congratulate him on his debut hehe.
I would like to say "Thank you!" to all our participants, without you the songs would not have their own individual character and monumental atmosphere!
Folk instruments have been used for a long time, since our third album ‘Vo Slavu Velikim’ where they sounded for the first time, performed by the real master of folk wind instruments Vladimir Cherepovsky. Since 2009, Vladimir Reshetnikov became permanent member of Arkona, and now he performs all the wind instrument parts, not only on our records, but also live on all our shows.
What segment of Russian heritage and history is most dear to your heart? Is there a subject in that respect you would like to create a concept album about in future?
Before start creating something, I never think about what the main topic I will have on the album. The lyrics come as suddenly as the music. But most likely concept album with this topic will appear, because I am against any political concept on my album, in the texts, as a rule, I set out my own philosophy for the whole world, and moreover I do not stretch one theme throughout the whole album. I like the lyrics to be diverse and multifaceted.
Which characteristics are the most specific in Russian musical history, influences you use I mean?
I almost do not know the Russian classics. I'm generally not very keen on musical history and somebody's music in general, I try to give more time to my own creativity.
Many bands are very enthusiastic after touring in Russia. How does Arkona see that? Do you prefer to travel in Europe, US or Russia when touring?
I like to travel everywhere, whether it be Russia, Europe or other continents. Each part of the planet has its own beauty, unique somewhere in another place. I have great pleasure to see nature, beautiful cities around me, to meet so many new interesting people on my way and I find inspiration in it. It's my life, because each place has its own unique soul, which gives me a part of itself during my stay there.
What was the reaction of the fans in the US? Any difference with Europe?
We have many fans in America. I always really enjoy playing there, they are so full of energy and always wait for us with open arms. I do not see the differences, people meet us very sincerely. After all, when you play a concert - you give them a piece of yourself, there is an energy exchange between people and you. I don't like the word "concert". For me it's like a ritual that covers the entire small world, in which only we and our listeners exist. For me, everything is always very individual, but there is an equally warm atmosphere, so I cannot tell if there is any difference between our shows.
Are there plans for shooting a video clip?
Now we are in the process of working on an animated video, which we will present on the eight of January. This video will be made for the song ‘In Pursuit Of The White Shadow’ (‘V Pogonie Za Beloj Ten’yu’), it will visually describe the whole meaning that I laid out in the lyrics for this song. The video will be very abstract, not everyone will understand its essence exactly, but for sure everyone will be able to find in it its own specific meaning and feel the message that I tried to bring, writing this song. Initially, we were prone to make a lyric video, but later, we thought and decided to provide it as a normal video clip. Therefore, I advise you to be patient and prepare, because the video plans to be very interesting and atmospheric!
What can you tell about the artwork and the booklet?
The main cover of the album fully reveals its internal concept. The first thing you see is some kind of a two-headed thing, one head is black, another one is white. This thing lives inside us all and is in eternal struggle with its opposite, which creates a chaos inside us. On the cover this thing cuts its flesh and reveals its inner world as a universe, full of absolute chaos, which was created by us ourselves, inside us, and which later we released outside. Actually this two-headed thing is our primordial inner khram. And it opens then the gates to her temple to the world of eternal chaos, of which our entire universe consists, which, in return, is the temple of our world and shows it to us through her flesh, in the form of a two-faced thing that lives inside us. Everything is intermeshed in interaction with each other and revolves strictly in a circle, creating the movement of all existence on a universal scale. The booklet will contain illustrations for each song. There also will be my manuscript that consists of lyrics, that I wrote with my own blood. Also in the booklet you can see the English translation of all our lyrics. We have been publishing such translations in booklets for a long time, so that people could understand the meaning of the songs and feel them fully. Both the main cover and all the illustration were made by Russian artists Vladimir and Elena from a well-known «Rotter Fantom».
In February you are going to tour with Korpiklaani and Heidevolk. Are you looking forward to it? What can we expect?
Yes, I'm really looking forward to this tour. It will be the presentation of ‘Khram’ and we will play four songs from the new album. In addition to the new songs, we will also play our old good hits for our fans, who are waiting for them. In general, we want to make a memorable event, we will play 70 minutes, we also plan to make a really beautiful light show to present our performance in all its glory.
If there is anything you’d like to add, feel free to write it down here…
Wait for our shows, see you soon and follow us on our web-pages. You will probably find a lot of interesting information there!