Q&A: NITE Guitarist/Vocalist Van Labrakis Heavies Blackened Metal


San Francisco-based blackened heavy metallers NITE have a new album, Voices of the Kronian Moon, out via Season of Mist right now. As in fresh off the presses. Decibel has covered NITE extensively since the four-piece issued debut album, Darkness Silence Mirror Flame, via Creator-Destructor Records, and we’re back with another round of questions with guitarist/songwriter Van Labrakis. NITE have an uncommon motto. Take the tenets of the NWOBHM, ’80s thrash, and the second wave of black metal, force them into a figurative black hole generator, and shape it accordingly as it comes out the other end. This is like Iron Maiden teaming up with Tribulation, while Marty Friedman soloing against an approving Abbath. But it’s more than simple comparisons or projections. NITE have a “feel” about them that’s different from the current wave of heavy metallers vying for white Reebok high tops and crushed Pall Malls. There’s a high-flyin’ ’80s sci-fi/fantasy thing happening–from the music to the lyrics–recalling the transportive, late-night reads (by our much-younger selves) of Piers Anthony and Timothy Zahn.

Voices of the Kronian Moon pulls out the stops. Singles “Kronian Moon,” “Edge of the Night,” and “Acheron,” a continuation of “Night Terrors” from the Darkness Silence Mirror Flame album, soar, pull in, weave through, and astound in their sweeping mid-paced gallop and overt harmonic quality. Other tracks like “Last Scorpion,” “Liber ex Doctrina,” and “The Trident ” are right at home across the album’s 37-minute scope. The continuity of Voices of the Kronian Moon as it traverses track-to-track is not only felt but understood. There’s a logical progression and an distinct “album-like feel,” something that’s not only hard-won but rare in the digital age.

Ride on the comet of NITE’s success as we transport with Van Labrakis to another Kronian dimension.

Darkness Silence Mirror Flame was released in 2020. Voices of the Kronian Moon followed this year. I gather the two years between albums was probably a combination of hard work and frustration due to the pandemic.
Van Labrakis: Right, it was both. We didn’t see each other for seven-eight months. We were doing Zoom calls every week. We’d work on songs individually. I mean, we had two songs like the opener “Acheron,” but there was no need to have two, so we picked the better song. We actually demoed 30 songs. We picked eight of them to appear on the album. There was a lot of trial and error. Song choices on phones. Stuff like that.

What do you think the differences are between the two albums? Obviously, the label switch to Season of Mist is more an administrative difference.
Van Labrakis: The main difference between the first album and this was we were trying to put out the album as fast as possible. OK, we were also trying to get the second album out as soon as possible, but then the pandemic happened. Suddenly, we found ourselves with more time. We spent a lot more time looking at the songs, really listening to how they worked together. We knew each other better, too. Of course, we had more resources, too. We signed to Season of Mist. All of this had an impact on what this album really is.

To me, Voices of the Kronian Moon is a more mature effort. That’s obvious. But sonically, it has a feel-good quality about it. Not happy, but there’s an upbeat, brighter element to the overall songwriting aesthetic.
Van Labrakis: We have grown quite a bit. I started the songwriting for the first album in 2017. When I met the rest of the guys in 2018, we were able to finish up the songwriting. Still, we didn’t really know each other. Since then, we’ve rehearsed a lot. We’ve played shows together. We were able to figure out what was working and what wasn’t. In my mind, I had a picture of how we were going to evolve. I kind of knew what the path in front of us was going to be like. I’ve been an engineer for the past 25 years. I’ve worked in metal music and in other types of music. I’ve worn the producer hat quite a few times. So, I have a good idea of what I want NITE to sound like—a heavy metal band with black metal vocals. The first album was definitely underground, but I don’t really see much difference in the new album sound-wise.

Tell me about the heavy metal component to NITE. I hear the obvious references–even Marty Friedman in your lead playing–but what is it about heavy metal that you felt was ripe for incorporation into black metal? Obviously, one came before the other.
Van Labrakis: It’s a combination of things, I believe. For starters, I think we are far away in time from that moment that grunge obliterated any hope of guitar leads and any hint of the pre-grunge guitar era. Everyone was running away from those extravagant guitar times of the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was a sad time for me as I love that stuff so much. [Laughs] It’s either that we moved away from that phase or that we are too old to care about trends. The black metal element for me came naturally. That is the voice that I’m comfortable with nowadays. It helps that I can’t sing to save my life also! All joking aside, extreme vocals are the norm for us these days. I personally could not find anyone out there that was doing what Megadeth were doing in the ’90s, and how far out they sounded back then, but in the 2020s. That’s what made us want to do this. To play the music we like but we can’t find out there. There is, of course, a renaissance in the genre and a ton of bands doing trad metal out there, but I like to think that we are a bit more than that. The aim here is not to replicate that era but to explore and evolve. We use the same tools from these two genres, but we are using them as the vehicle not the destination. We love the freedom it gives us to do whatever we want really. We can go as melodic or soft as we want and the black metal vocals will neutralize the niceness, or going the other way we can go super dark with the lyrical themes and vocal style but uplift everything with soothing guitar parts. It’s given us the freedom to explore such diverse songs but still sound cohesive. It’s very refreshing.

The sequencing on Voices of the Kronian Moon feels pretty fluid. How important was the song-to-song flow?
Van Labrakis: Very. We spent weeks tinkering with that. Certain albums from the ’80s like the early Metallica albums had a profound effect on us growing up. The placement of “Liber ex Doctrina,” for example, is a nod to “Fade to Black” and “Sanitarium,” ending side A with a ballad. We wanted to do a single vinyl release and work on that four-track-per-side experience, so even the song lengths were adjusted to achieve that. The ending of the album was also very deliberate. After song six, “Edge of the Night,” there is a sharp turn as the album’s protagonists transcend beyond the land of the living.

What are some of the songs that stand out to you now? You’ve had some time for the songs to sink in.
Van Labrakis: Of course, that’s still hard to do as we are all pretty close to all of them. That said, I think “Edge of the Night” is the most significant song we’ve down to date. It was a very hard song to finish. I was going mad trying to find the correct lyrics for that chorus till the last week! I knew what the song meant from the start but I wasn’t happy with the poetry used. We finally managed to figure it out and I couldn’t be happier. For me this song is something like my personal manifesto. The way I go about life. It is also the climax of the album’s story. The moment the heroes of our tale transcend to the great beyond. And the music is just some of the best stuff we’ve done so far. I’m also extra proud of that guitar lead which, funny enough, was improvised. I had to re-learn it in order to play it live of course. [Laughs] Playing that song day in day out–it never gets old.

The lyrics have a sci-fi feel to them. There’s also an occult angle in there, too.
Van Labrakis: Right. The first album was more horror-like. We had very disturbing lyrical themes. We were into dark, occult archetypes. This album isn’t that dark. It’s not fixated on demons and Lucifer. It’s a different kind of occult theme this time around—more science fiction than sinister. I wanted to break free of the horror theme. Heavy metal isn’t just that. It’s more than blood, guts, and gore. Iron Maiden, for example, handle a lot more than just horror. It’s there, of course, but they’re exploring a lot more themes.

There’s a bit of Greek religious/mystic history imbued in the lyrics. Or, am I interpreting that incorrectly?
Van Labrakis: I think the themes aren’t really Greek per se. They’re universal. We all have the same archetypes that resonate with us. It doesn’t really matter what the religion is, the archetypes are still there. The sun means something, for example. It’s one of the most significant things in our lives. Sun and water. We’re using images like that. “Acheron,” for example, isn’t a literal lyrical handling of the mythology. My family is Greek, and we’re from the area of Greece where that originated, but it’s not about that. There’s personal stuff in there but it’s more a metaphor for space and time travel (or transportation) in the context of the story we’re telling. Sure, there’s heavy, personal topics I’m exploring, but at the end of the day the lyrics are just metaphors.

The feedback to the “Kronian Moon” and “Acheron” videos has been positive. There’s also a good number of positive reaction videos on YouTube discussing the album. What’s your take now that the album’s been released?
Van Labrakis: We are all very happy with the reception the album is getting already. We got to also play most of it live in our recent tour with Bewitcher, and I was blown away by the amount of teary-eyed metal heads that came to shake our hands afterwards saying thank you for the metal we play. That’s as good as it gets for me. We love heavy metal more than anything and I think people can clearly see that.

What are your plans to get NITE out there in 2022 and beyond?
Van Labrakis: Lots of things in the works but we can’t yet announce anything unfortunately. We just came home from an amazing tour with Bewitcher circling from the West Coast to Texas and back and also played a killer show at the Hell’s Heroes festival in Houston, which was an absolute blast. We are hoping to do an East Coast run before the year is over and maybe something more than that!

** NITE’s new album, Voices of the Kronian Moon, is out now on Season of Mist. Order LP (three colorways), CD, and t-shirt bundles HERE. Gaze into the Kronian Moon today!

** Check out NITE’s Top Sci-Fi Films of all time HERE.