Combining great things can, when done right, lead to a wholly new experience out of the synthesis of multiple elements. Deathgrind, blackened thrash, slam…these all take pieces of different genres’ identities and meld them together to create something that is, hopefully, the best of both worlds. When everything has been done before, mashing your favorites up into one cohesive package might just be the best way to make something original these days. For San Francisco-based band, Nite, that is exactly what they did to create their own sound.
Nite, which formed in 2018, sounds like the product of a guitar-driven heavy metal band like, say, Iron Maiden, combined with the intensity of traditionally harsh black metal vocals. It’s a unique mix but one that the band has pulled off quite well on their two LPs, 2020’s Darkness Silence Mirror Flame and this year’s follow-up, Voices of the Kronian Moon. In the middle of their tour supporting the new record, I caught up with the guys in Nite to discuss their original style and what drives the band.
First off, how did the band get started? You guys have had a pretty consistent lineup so far, how did you meet and what has made you guys work so well together?
Van Labrakis (vocals, guitar): Nite started as an idea I had when I was living in LA back in 2017. I wanted to revisit the music of my youth and start a band that featured all my favorite things in metal that I was missing from the scene at the time. Most importantly, I wanted to make a guitar-forward act, featuring over-the-top guitar leads and dual harmonies but instead of going the usual clean singer route, I wanted to try coupling that with extreme black metal vocals. After working on some demos I knew I was onto something.
Shortly after, I moved to San Francisco and started looking for the right people to take this off the ground. I met Patrick (Crawford, drums) and our founding bass player Bryan (Coons) via a common friend from Germany, where I lived for 10 years prior to moving to the US. Scott (Hoffman, guitars) joined shortly after and we recorded our debut.
Avinash Mittur (bass): Hopefully my joining the band last year will be the last lineup change we have for a very long time! I met Scott years ago at the last Motörhead show in San Francisco and we stayed friends ever since. Scott already knew this but for Van and Pat, it was apparent early on that I was raised by the same kind of music that they were too. That ignited our personal and musical chemistry just about instantly.
Van: I think what made us gel was that we all come from similar backgrounds and we all share the same love for good old heavy metal. No shortcuts here though. We did put in a lot of hours practicing, writing songs, and recording. We eventually got to know each other, know what we all like and dislike and worked though our problems and difficulties. None of us being an alcoholic or a drug addict helped a lot (laughs)!
What got you guys into black metal and extreme metal in general at first? Who were some of your early influences?
Van: For me personally, extreme metal was the natural continuation of my path down the heavy metal road. When I started listening to metal as a 10-year-old, I had a cassette tape that had Metallica on one side and Sodom on the other one. I would muster the courage to listen to Sodom at the time as it scared the shit out of me. Fast forward 10 or 20 years and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Even though my first recollections of black metal was the first Cradle of Filth album and the very unique sounding Equimanthorn in the ’90s, the first act that made me fall in love with the absolute abysmal nature of black metal, for me personally, was Leviathan and that came much later. It all made sense when I heard Massive Conspiracy Against All Life. I had, of course, listened to a lot of black metal prior, but that was the turning point for me. Before that I was of course very much into Meshuggah and other extreme bands like the mighty Entombed. All these acts I feel have taken metal forward, to where it is today.
What is your writing process like for the music side of things? Has it changed at all between the two albums?
Van: It has not changed that much, no. What we like doing is to just write songs without overthinking them. Just record demos of ideas and try to piece them together to something that makes sense. We usually demo about 30 songs per album, which we narrow to 16, 12 and eventually eight. The ones that stand out and also fit together well make it to the final album.
What is the lyric writing process like? Do you have any particular inspirations you turn to and how do you decide what to write about? What, to you, makes an effective Nite song?
Van: Lyrics tend to come last in the songwriting process. There are some words here and there that pop up but the final lyrics usually are the last thing written on each song. A song usually starts with a name, what the riff or the drum beat sounds like. That takes a life of its own and the song kind of unravels. I like to think that we are receiving the songs rather than creating them. Music has this funny thing going on that a melody or a chord progression is like it’s talking to you in a sense. A melody is requesting things to happen. If we listen close enough and get our personal agendas out of the way of the song, it is going to take its natural form, pretty much like a plant in a flower pot, the pot being the band.
We enjoy using archetypes and mythological images and scenarios in our writing. We dwell in the dream world in a way. What I like about that approach is that each listener will reflect upon the imagery of the songs in a very personal way. All these archetypes we deal with, the tower, the arrow, the albatross, fire, the sun, moon, Saturn etc. All these images resonate inside all of us in different ways. I like to believe that processing these images helps us understand ourselves a little bit better and in the process heal our wounds from past traumas.
That is the ultimate goal here, to help people get past what they’re dealing with. Give them strength and courage to heal and grow. The same applies to us in the band, of course.
You guys have a really confident sound and compositions that, as a listener, keep me guessing. It makes the albums really stand out to me. How important is that variation to you guys as songwriters? As a fan, it gets boring when everything sounds the same, so your two albums have been a blast to listen through because they keep me from being able to predict exactly what’s coming up.
Van: Thanks! I’m glad to hear that. We try to not confine ourselves to the scene and the norms of the genre as much as possible. It’s hard to write songs that still sound like Nite but are “out there”. But that’s what we like about what we do. This coupling of the black metal voice and classic heavy metal is a great vehicle for that. For example, songs like “Night Terrors” from Darkness Silence Mirror Flame or “Edge of the Night” from Voices of the Kronian Moon should not have worked but they did work so well! They were both risky songs to try, the former being a borderline Sunset Strip rocker from hell and the latter being a very early ’70s heavy metal gallop in the likes of Led Zeppelin combined with black metal and ’90s guitar leads. Risky business! But it works and it is refreshing to us to not feel confined in what we can or can not do. At the end of the day, that’s what heavy metal means to us, breaking the norms and thinking outside the box.
Voices of the Kronian Moon is a hell of a follow-up to the debut. What was the writing/recording process like on that one? Did you feel more comfortable getting what you wanted out of that when you stepped into the studio being that you’ve got an album under your belt at that point?
Van: Thank you. We were a little more relaxed on this one. With the debut, we were rushing a bit as we wanted to get something out the door as soon as possible in order to start playing shows and get the ball rolling. Releasing something takes ages and we had to start fast.
So, for this one, we were more relaxed and we also had a bunch of shows under our belt already. We saw what works and what doesn’t work live and we adapted accordingly. For example, we love writing longer songs but with the debut we ended up with all the songs being six to seven minutes long. Having only long songs to play live is a little much. So with this one, we wanted to be more concise and avoid having multiple parts in the songs, like the many C-parts and the post-bridge changes that we had in the first one.
Planning live show setlists now is a little easier because we can mix them up, longer and shorter songs, and have a more diverse and interesting show flow.
Between the two albums, how do you feel the band has grown and evolved? I really dig both records but it feels like you’ve really honed your sound there on the second one.
Van: An important thing, of course, is that we know each other better four years down the line than when we first met. We know what we all like and not like and we have adapted accordingly. It also helps that we’ve been thinking and working in the “Nite frame of mind” for a while now. We’ve gotten better at using the tools at our disposal, and by tools I mean us as performers. What we like playing, what we are good at, etc. We often talk about our five layers, the steady, simple but fierce drum beats, the dominant bass tone, the dual harmonies and lyrical guitar lines, the over-the-top guitar leads, and the abysmal vocals. There’s so much to explore there with the interplay of all these elements. It’s like a mini-orchestra. Such a wide palette of sounds.
How affected were you guys by the pandemic? Did that hinder getting music recorded or any live plans you might have had?
Van: Our debut came out on the week the world closed down so that killed all our touring plans. We didn’t get to celebrate that album at all, which sucked, but we made the most of it. People seemed to love that album regardless of the timing and the lack of live shows.
Something unique with our new album was that we were actually quarantining for a good 10 months or so, and we didn’t see each other at all. We would instead have weekly Zoom calls as a band and discuss the demos we have been working on and make the appropriate comments, adjustments, decisions, etc. That was weirdly efficient and helped us really craft and fine-tune the album to a degree that was new to us.
The artwork for the new album is killer. Who did it and how much direction did you give them? To you, what does that cover represent?
Van: The artwork was done by Deih, a mural and graffiti artist from Spain. Deih had never done an album artwork before so he brought this fresh approach to the process which we loved. We basically sent him over the lyrics and asked him to incorporate the central figure we featured on the cover of our debut, which we like to think is something like our mascot.
He came up with the concept of the floating statue, which blew us away. I personally see a lot of the greats in his style, like Moebius, Caza, etc. Season of Mist also did a great job incorporating the artworks in the gatefold and the lyrics pages, which look absolutely stunning. We couldn’t be happier with how everything came out.
I think the cover captures the perfect moment from the album’s story arc. One of the heroes of our tale encountering the personification of the night on his quest towards the sun. I’d rather connect some lyrics with it than give a literal explanation. Something like that can have a different meaning for each one of us and that’s the beauty of music and poetry, in my opinion. “The sun will rise at the edge of the night, follow the path till the end of time, dark is the hour, the road is long, follow the path to the great beyond.”
Have you guys been able to play out in support of the new record yet?
Avinash: As we’re answering these questions, we’re in the middle of our first tour in support of Voices of the Kronian Moon. Before the record came out, we were able to get in a few shows at home to work off the rust a bit before we started playing new songs live. We’re in a unique spot—Darkness Silence Mirror Flame was released at the top of the pandemic two years ago, meaning we weren’t given the opportunity to tour on it. Even though the songs on that record are “old” now, we’re still learning what works and what doesn’t and how to present all that material in the set. We’ve been trying to give folks the best of both worlds in our live show, but it’s been a thrill seeing folks react so positively to the new songs from Voices of the Kronian Moon. Hopefully it means we’re moving in a good direction!
What’s your feeling on the current state of black metal in the states? The genre has done a solid job of defining itself here in the U.S., particularly since the start of the millennium and really seems to be going as strong as ever lately.
Avinash: This is honestly a tough question to answer. Black metal seems to be bigger than ever in the states—hell, both us and our label mates in Abbath managed to snag some Billboard chart numbers! And yet there are so many new bands that it’s impossible to keep up, and that’s where labels like Season of Mist come in. In the modern era, labels have become content curators so fans can find the best stuff with a couple mouse clicks. Black metal is thriving right now and if our band can get a black metal fan to give Iron Maiden a spin for the first time, I’ll be a happy camper.
Lastly, what’s next for Nite? What are your goals for the coming few years?
Van: The goal is to keep doing what we are doing. Play more shows, tour more and record more albums. We are hoping to follow up our first western US tour with an east coast run at some point before we focus on the third album. We have been demoing songs for a while but we are still probably about halfway there.
We’d love to make it over to Europe, that was one of our goals from the start. It will most likely happen in the next album cycle but let’s see! We might get to play some festivals next summer before we actually manage to pull a European run.