Interview with Helle of IGNEA

Interview with Helle of IGNEA

- in Written interviews

@ Sergii Chernov

Pryvit! Your upcoming album, “Dreams of Lands Unseen,” is a concept album that tells the story of Ukrainian photographer and documentarian Sofia Yablonska. What inspired you to create an album around her life?
Pryvit 🙂 I really love traveling, so it was tough being stuck at home during the pandemic. Our keyboard player and composer, Yevhenii, had made some demos that had folk influences from different countries, which made me feel like I was going on a trip. I had the idea that each song could be about a famous traveler. But then I learned about Sofia Yablonska, her exciting adventures, her personality, and her lifestyle. I was so impressed that I decided we should make the whole album about her.

Can you walk us through your creative process for “Dreams of Lands Unseen”? How did you go about translating Sofia Yablonska’s story into music?
Like I said, Yevhenii is the composer of IGNEA, and, just like always, he showed some demos to me and, after we’ve chosen the album concept, I started digging everything I could about Sofia: reading her travelogues, looking through her photos, trying to get any info (which wasn’t easy, as she’s not as famous, even here, in Ukraine.) For the lyrics, I had a small notebook where I’d put some phrases from her books, or situations she encountered, or just some thoughts I had when learning about her. I also told these stories to Yevhenii, so he was inspired to finish up several more songs. For instance, the song Opiumist came out exactly out of Sofia’s experience of smoking opium on her trip to China.

The album includes a mix of symphonic, electronic, and ethnic folk elements. How do you incorporate these different styles into your music, and what do you hope they bring to the overall sound of the album?
I feel, such a mix has been a red line through all of the IGNEA releases, and it has become some kind of our sound signature. We’re often asked which genre of music we actually play in, and it’s the hardest to answer. However, usually the prog metal reviewers and lovers really dig out music the most, so we could say, we have the prog metal basis, not in terms of the weird song structure, but rather because of tons of elements we bring together. We also want our music to be some kind of a soundtrack to the stories we’re telling. The adventures of Sofia were so intense and diverse that they perfectly matched with the sound we’ve already been making.

You’ve mentioned that the ongoing tensions in Ukraine presented immense challenges during the album’s production. How did you overcome these challenges, and did they have any impact on the creative direction of the album?
The war is still ongoing, so the tensions and challenges haven’t gone away. Sadly, a lot of people abroad don’t feel it anymore, compared to the attention Ukraine was getting last year. Replying to your question, the composing part for the album was finished in 2021, so it wasn’t affected at all. We also managed to record half of the album before the full-scale war rolled out. For the first two months after February 24th, it was all about survival mode for us. We couldn’t listen to any music too because any sound was scary. When we got back to recording, we had to go through multiple checkpoints just to reach the studio, and we recorded the rest of the album in-between air raid sirens. With the album being postponed to 2023 anyways, we also filmed three music videos in two months, when the biggest blackouts and missile attacks were happening in Ukraine. Needless to say, together with the strict curfew, those have been insane challenges for video production. But we managed it all, and I’m very glad that the album will see the light of day.

How has it been working with Napalm Records on “Dreams of Lands Unseen,” and how do you think their support has helped to elevate your music and reach a wider audience?
So far, so good. We’re definitely getting more press coverage, as it’s very hard to get some as an unsigned band. Being signed to such a big label also raises the band in the eyes of the industry. We’ve been taking it professionally before, and now it means an even bigger responsibility. What I like about working with Napalm Records also is that we get to still make the music we want, so we’ve got the freedom of the creative process. That’s truly important for us. Hopefully, this cooperation is mutually beneficial and gets even better. Time will tell.

One of the tracks on the album, “Далекі Обрії,” is sung in Ukrainian. Can you talk about the significance of including your mother tongue in your music?
On this album, there are actually two songs in Ukrainian: the one you mentioned, and also Zénith. Our fans loved the one Ukrainian song Чорне Полум’я we had in our previous album so much that we decided to include more of our mother tongue in this new album. It felt like a natural fit, considering that our band members and Sofia Yablonska are all from Ukraine. Even when she traveled to different places, Sofia always carried a part of Ukrainian culture with her. We love the way our language sounds in our music, and we hope that people will use Google Translator to understand the lyrics.

The album features guest vocals from Tuomas Saukkonen of Wolfheart. How did that collaboration come about, and what was it like working with him?
“Opiumist” is a track inspired by Sofia’s experiences in China, where she used to smoke opium with an old Chinese friend and discuss the cultural differences between China and Ukraine. To capture the feel of a conversation, we wanted to include deep male growls in the song. I personally enjoy the growling sound that Tuomas makes, so I’m pleased that we were able to get him on board as the guest vocalist for this track, through our connection with Napalm Records. In the end, the song turned out exactly as we had envisioned it. Hopefully, we’ll meet Tuomas somewhen to thank him in person, or maybe even perform the song live together.

“Nomad’s Luck” has a very ominous sound that symbolizes the constant questioning of one’s lifetime. Can you elaborate on the meaning behind this track and how it fits into the overall theme of the album?
Sofia Yablonska traveled to remote parts of the world mostly on her own, facing numerous dangers on her journeys. There were many situations where she could have lost her life, but her love for discovering new places overpowered any possible risks. “Nomad’s Luck” is a song that reflects on the risks that she encountered on the road and could have faced. It’s as if Yablonska questions herself in the song, wondering how long she can continue to “push nomad’s luck.” In our interpretation, time is the only thing that she cannot overcome.

You’ve described the album as a “cinematic concept album.” How important is storytelling to your music, and how do you balance the music and lyrics to create a cohesive narrative?
Storytelling is highly important to me personally and I think, it’s a thing that complements our music a lot. I don’t want our music to be a backgrounding sound, or just a thing people headbang to. Having a story also simplifies writing process for us. It’s way easier to write about a certain complex topic than to have each song about unrelated stuff. All in all, it’s just a part of what we do, and it comes out really naturally.

The album cover art for “Dreams of Lands Unseen” is quite eye-catching. Can you talk about the concept behind the cover and how it relates to the music?
Thank you! On the album cover, we see a desert, with some trees, and the remains of the ship. It gives a feel of previous traveling, which could have been the traveling of Sofia Yablonska. There’s also a lighthouse, which gives a feeling of homesickness and the target to reach when you’re traveling. Moreover, this particular lighthouse is a real one, painted from the Adziogol lighthouse located in Ukraine. The album cover is gloomy and colorful and haunting at the same time, and I just like that it looks great and brings up very different associations among people.

You’ve previously released tracks like “Jinnslammer,” “Alga,” and “Disenchantment,” which have all received significant recognition. How do you approach creating music that is both innovative and accessible to a wide audience?
I think, the main reason is because we don’t listen to metal only. When your mind is open to different genres, be it pop, techno, classical music, soundtracks, jazz, etc., it’s not limiting, and you’re able to create not a copy of other metal songs, but something unique.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your musical career so far, and how have you overcome it?
The biggest thing we’ve struggled with is touring. For a long time, touring abroad was pretty much unavailable for Ukrainians, because of visas and costs. Then, we couldn’t find a worthy booking agency. Then, we did, and we had the most amazing European tours. Then, the pandemic happened. And, just when everyone started getting back on the road, we were stuck in Ukraine again because of the war. It’s just unbearable, especially, when we really have fans waiting for us there, and when the music industry is so overcrowded that bands need to be on the radar and touring all the time. In a nutshell, we just haven’t been able to properly start as a band.

You’ve received recognition as one of the Best Ukrainian Metal Act Awards. How has that recognition affected your career, and what are your future aspirations as a band?
I cannot say it affected our career vastly, but this recognition warms our hearts and it’s great to have this award in our bio, as promoters and music industry representatives abroad pay attention to it. Brings some additional value to our music and other achievements of IGNEA.

How has the metal music scene in Ukraine evolved since you first started making music, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
It has evolved a lot, definitely, because during pre-pandemic times, Ukrainian bands finally started touring, showcasing themselves. Bigger labels like Napalm Records and Season of Mist started signing Ukrainian bands. The local underground scene has also exploded after 2014 and, especially, in 2022, because we all feel the need for the Ukrainian musical product. I also feel that the new generation of musicians is more open-minded and supportive within the scene, which is amazing. We still don’t really have an industry for metal in Ukraine (meaning, magazines, labels, etc.), but we’re on a good track. We just need a country with open borders and absense of the war, and it’ll explode, I’m sure of it.

You’ve mentioned that you draw inspiration from a variety of sources, including literature, history, and mythology. Can you give us some examples of specific works that have influenced your music?
Well, this album is particularly influenced by traveling and travelous of Sofia Yablonska. BESTIA, our split album with the fellow Ukrainian band ERSEDU is fully based on Ukrainian mythology. The Realms of Fire and Death, our previous full-length album is a plot of my imagination in terms of lyrics, but I was really learning different aspects of history on the topic of fire, its meaning, influences, myths, etc. Sometimes, it’s really hard to track the original source of inspiration, but here are at least some examples.

What do you hope listeners take away from “Dreams of Lands Unseen,” both musically and thematically?
I hope they really listen to the album from the start until the end and have this feeling of a journey. Being a lyricist and putting a lot of work into song texts, I also hope that people read through the lyrics and also translate the songs in Ukrainian. Musically, the album is very diverse, from a metal ballad to a 7-minute atmospheric song with stoner metal and blastbeats, so I hope that every person will find their favourite song.

Can you share any memorable moments or experiences from the making of this album?
I remember sitting at the table many nights, going again and again through Sofia’s travelogues and writing down the phrases and stories I liked most. I also remember that Yevhenii brought some separate parts of a song (we called them bricks), and asked me to play with them like with lego. So, I was shuffling them into a song, and it became some kind of an experiment. Now, it’s also funny to remember that the first song written for this album was, in fact, The Golden Shell, and it was written in full, including the lyrics, even before the album concept. And, this song is fully based on the Chinese traditional fairy-tale that has the same title. Later, when I was reading about Yablonska’s visits to the Chinese theatre, I imagined that she was watching a play based on this fairy-tale…

IGNEA has been compared to bands like Nightwish and Epica. How do you feel about those comparisons, and who are some of your other musical influences?
IGNEA is compared to different bands, based on which songs people hear 🙂 We mix so many different genres in one that you’ll hardly call us a symphonic metal band. I’d say, we’re way closer to bands like Amorphis and Orphaned Land than to Nightwish and Epica. And again, we listen to many different genres outside of metal, so our musical influences are very broad.

What can fans expect from IGNEA in the future, and what are your plans for after the release of “Dreams of Lands Unseen”? Slava Ukraini!
We still hope to reach the European festivals announced for this August, although, right now, it’s very hard for men to leave Ukraine for shows, because of the military law. We’ll drop some more videos, like live session videos, playthroughs, album track-by-track videos, and more. We want to get the most out of this album and tell people about each song. We’ll continue posting weekly on our Patreon, like we did for four years now, and we’ll hope we can get on the road, as this is our top priority. We want to bring this album live on stage, please our current fans, and also gain new ones.

Thanks for having me, and, Героям Слава!

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