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Interview with Ninkharsag

The brand new full-length record by UK's Black Metal unit Ninkharsag, released on April 30th via Vendetta Records, is highly recommended for those who enjoy the sounds of Dissection, early Emperor or Bathory!
Following their latest, critically acclaimed album, "The Blood Of Celestial Kings" (Candlelight Records), the band's new album is uncompromising in its vision of what Black Metal should be in this era. It is the perfect tincture of Black and Heavy Metal; a style of music mostly long lost in this day and age. Find out more about the band and their music in this interview…

M.I. - Your name comes from the Sumerian mother fertility goddess. Why have you considered this to be the perfect name for the band?

We no longer consider the original meaning behind the name to be relevant to our music and believe that we have now imbued the name Ninkharsag with our own particular meaning. There is an irony about us using the name of fertility goddess for a band primarily focused on Death and its works. That said, we do revere many of the feminine aspects of darkness; namely Lilith, Naamah, Hel, Kali, Hecate, Ate, Izanami, Ereshkigal, Sekhmet to name a few and this can certainly be felt and understood in our music and artworks thus far.

M.I. - Tell us more about Ninkharsag. Why did you decide to form the band? 

We wanted to create a band that hearked back to the style of Black Metal and Heavy Metal that we grew up listening to the 90’s but also drew influences from the 80’s Metal bands such as Bathory, Venom, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Slayer etc. These bands were obviously the template for the 90’s scene so, for us, it was a case of singing from the same ‘infernal hymn sheet’ rather than trying to sound purely like a 90’s Black Metal band.

M.I. - The band’s been active for a decade! What have you learnt in these 10 years? Has life been nice to Ninkharsag?

It has been a very up and down decade since our inception. We are glad to have released our debut album on the legendary Candelight Records during this time and had the fortune of playing with some amazing bands thus far but we consider the first decade to now be little more than a stepping stone to where we are headed now. 

M.I. - In 2015 you released «The Blood of Celestial Kings» which granted you awesome reviews. Why has it taken you 6 years to release the new album?

When we first created the band, we were all in very different circumstances than we are now so it was easier to simply make the band our primary focus during those early years. After we released «The Blood Of Celestial Kings», we knew we wanted our next album to be more focused, solid and in keeping to where we are now spiritually and mentally. This took some time for us to truly get to grips with the creative process of writing and refining the material we had into something which felt monumental and important rather than churning out another album in an already over saturated scene.

Some of the songs on this new album were actually in a gestation period even before we recorded «The Blood Of Celestial Kings». We knew that they would be a more suitable fit for the new album rather than be shoehorned in to the first. The songs in question are ‘Discipline Through Black Sorcery’ and ‘The Necromanteion’. 

M.I. - Are there any guidelines that link the previous album to «The Dread March of Solemn Gods»?

In regards to songs from the first album, the ones that are musically similar to this album are the tracks ‘Tartarus Unbound’ and ‘Iron Wolves’. Those songs were written towards the end of the writing process for that album when we had also begun preliminary work on ‘The Dread March...’ and capture the use of melody and grander scope we now currently aim for.

M.I. - The debut full-length «The Blood of Celestial Kings» was «inspired by magick, dark history, nature and warfare”. What inspired «The Dread March of Solemn Gods»?

Those themes are still very much present on this album however we are using those themes in a philsophical way rather than to just tell a story on each song like we did on ‘...Celestial Kings’. During the writing process for ‘The Dread March...’ I moved to live in the fells and mountains of northern England and chose to write a lot of my lyrics for this album on location in the mountains, forests or graveyards either at night or early morning when I could harness the power of that time. I believe that dedication truly shows on this album and it is not an experience to be taken lightly when listening to the album. 

M.I. - Your debut got awesome reviews. Did this put any extra pressure on your shoulders?

No, we did not feel under pressure because we knew we could easily top that first album, as arrogant as it may sound. The first album was simply a collection of demos and ideas that we simply wanted to record and release at that time. However, with this album, we wanted to write a more solid piece that fit together in a seamless way. To write a modern classic. We actually shelved about 4 songs for this album as they did not fit the theme. However, we may record them soon for a special release.

M.I. - The music is impressive, old-school but with modern touches. How have the reactions to the new singles been so far?

The reaction has far surpassed anything we could have hoped for! As a band that pays very little attention to the modern scene, it is good to know that there is still a hunger for a more traditional Black Metal sound in this age of oversaturation. 

M.I. - How does the writing process happen? Do you write the lyrics or melodies first? Why?

We usually start with the process with a guitar melody then progress from there. We’ll then begin writing and recording a demo at our rehearsal tomb. We have always been very much a guitar based band and we want the songs to be stuffed with riffs and harmonies so we let the music do the lion’s share of the work and I will then write my lyrics accordingly.

M.I. - You are influenced by Crowley and Austin Osman Spare… how did you get acquainted with their work? Why is it special? How do they influence you?

Well, there is hardly a metal band around that is not in some way influenced by Crowley in some way, whether they know it or not. His shadow has cast long over the hard rock and metal scene since the 1960’s and his work is a gateway for many into whole new outlook on life, philosophy and religion. For me, his work was extremely eye opening when I first read it and has led to further discoveries of a far more powerful nature which I have tried to harness on this album.

M.I. - “The Dread March of Solemn Gods” was recorded and produced in 2019 at Foel Studios under the helm of Chris Fielding (Conan, Winterfylleth, Primordial). Why has it taken almost 2 years to be released? No label or the pandemic?

It took so long to release due to various factors outside of our control. Firstly, we wanted to remix it after the first attempt as there were aspects of the first mix that we wanted to adjust. However we could not get back to the studio until late autumn of 2019 due to Chris’s prior commitments with Conan.
We then settled on an artist who could capture the look we wanted for the cover. We chose MFA XII as his work had that grim and cryptic feel that we felt would really work for the material on this album. Then Covid hit as well as production plant issues regarding the vinyl and here we are two years later.

M.I. - Your debut was released via Candlelight Records and this one via Vendetta Records. Why have you changed label? Did the contract come to an end or were there any other reasons?

Our contract for Candlelight was for just one album which we fulfilled but then never really heard anything from them again. As it is a legendary label, we are extremely proud to have worked with them on ‘…Celestial Kings’ but sometimes it is easy for a small band to fall through the cracks on a large label.

M.I. - How did the deal with Vendetta Records come up?

Stefan from Vendetta Records had been in touch since the first album about releasing our second album so after some back and forth, we chose to release it with him. We are glad we took his offer as he has been extremely supportive since the deal was struck and we simply would not have gotten such a great deal with a larger label!

M.I. - The cover is quite intense. Who designed it? How does it connect to the title and album in general?

It was drawn by MFX AII (Mayhem, Necrot) from designs created by ourselves. We wanted something that was both epic and grim to capture that ancient feeling and we feel it fits the cold, harsh nature of the music! You can smell the rusted armor, rotten bones and night air just by looking at it. The title and cover are very much intertwined and it represents the spectral armies of Death. 

M.I. - The new album was released on the 30th April, on Walpurgisnacht. Was the date carefully chosen or is it a coincidence?

It was absolutely chosen on purpose! What better date (other than October 31st) to celebrate the release of our new album than when the veil is thinnest and all manner of witches, spectres and unholy entities walk abroad…

M.I. - The gold vinyl sold extremely fast. Were you expecting it? How many copies were there? For those who wanted to buy it but didn’t get the chance, will there be other opportunities?

We were hopeful that it would sell out but we did not expect it to be gone within 24 hours! The Gold edition was limited to 150 copies and the first press of Black vinyl is 300. Vendetta have now sold out of both colours and we are down to our last copies of black vinyl. However we have already arranged for a repress of another colour which we will reveal in due course…

M.I. - How will promotion be done for this album? Any plans so far? Do you miss playing live? 

The promotion is being handled by All Noir PR and Vendetta; both of whom have done an excellent job thus far. We have also been blitzing social media with our own onslaught to try to reach as many people as possible and it is having the desired effect. 
We have plans to tour with Ante-Inferno for 5 nights in England at the end of August so we are hopeful it will still take place. After that our aim is to get into Europe and Scandinavia to capture those places. Booking agents get in touch!

M.I. - The band’s been compared to great Black Metal acts such as Emperor, Mayhem or Dissection. Do you take it as a compliment? For those not familiar with Ninkharsag, can you name a few bands that have a similar style?

We do consider that a compliment, yes. For us, the greatest years of the 2nd wave of Black Metal were from ‘94 to ’98 and that is where our allegiances will forever lie. The music written during that time was probably too good for its time and a creative peak for all those musicians involved. Sadly, the only way is down from the pinnacle and eventually the scene crumbled into a depressing hybrid of cyber aesthetics and unnecessary experimentation. When we started this band, there were precious few bands still keeping the old flame alive so our intention was always to play a style of music that we felt was authentic.
We are also huge fans of Sacramentum, Necrophobic, Dawn and Vinterland. All of whom definitely fall into the more melodic end of the spectrum! 

M.I. - Soundwise which bands appeal to you the most and why? 

As mentioned above, we are fans of bands who use melody to their advantage. At the start of the 2000’s, a lot of Black Metal bands had either become too polished and melodic or had eschewed melody for endless blasting. It was our intention to straddle both of those worlds.

M.I. - England has some awesome Black Metal bands and Ninkharsag is in that lot. In your opinion, how’s the Black Metal scene there? 

The scene here is very active at the moment with Winterfylleth, The Infernal Sea and Ante-Inferno being some of the popular bands. There is also an excellent festival in the forest near Lake Windermere called ‘Darkness Over Cumbria’ or’ The Blackwood Gathering’ (depending on which promoter is running the event) which I’d say is the best festival of its kind that we currently have here due to its unique nature and location.

M.I. - Have you ever read a review about Ninkharsag that made you laugh or got you very angry for some reason? If so, what caused your reaction?

No, because we are indifferent to people’s opinion about us. Our goal was to write music that we ourselves want to listen to and therefore we don’t really care what anyone else thinks about it. However we seem to have hit a right chord with people as the reception to our new material has been overwhelmingly positive and of course, that will certainly keep our own fires stoked when it comes to keeping this band alive and pushing it further.

M.I. - Any final words you’d like to share?

We would like to extend our gratitude to everyone that has supported us thus far. It is only the beginning! Hail death!

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca