Most heavy metal fans can remember the first time they encountered harsh, extreme vocals -- guttural growls, grunts, and croaks are either a turn-off or an instant attraction. Others might just write them off entirely. I imagine we are all intrigued, though, by how humans could produce the markedly nonhuman sounds that sit atop the already-intense musical backing of heavy metal. As heavy music diverged farther and farther from its roots, growing more and more immoderate, so too did the vocals. Sometimes, black metal's insidious rasps can find seductive purchase in less extreme settings and offer a new wave of fascination: with San Francisco's NITE, such vocals have been let loose upon a bed of raucous, Marshall-fueled heavy metal that would be the envy of many a British band in the 1980s.

Here, the strident vocals set the traditional metal alight, blistering the edges of the Tolex-and-steel amplifiers that deliver it and blackening the hearts of those who hear it. Listen to "Night Terrors" from NITE's upcoming debut album Darkness Silence Mirror Flame now:



Although NITE can be hastily described as traditional metal with blackened vocals, the blackening drives down to the core of the music. From the song topics and aesthetics of the album to the atmosphere the densely layered guitars evoke, things are darkly introspective and a little bit murky. Instrumentally, though, Darkness Silence Mirror Flame skews heavily back to the classic approach: multiple wild solos and bouncy riffs are packed into "Night Terrors," similar to the rest of the album, and shine brighter than ever in their shadowed domain. The drumming abstains from blast beats and double bass, instead emphasising every twist and turn in the riffing with a measured, driving approach. That might seem like a small tweak, but it's a large ways apart from similar blackened-trad acts which often let the black metal infect their orchestration as well as the vocals.

This merger of two strong-willed metal philosophies is certainly an unexpected combination at first, as stadium-ready riffs and imminently abrasive vocals almost immediately go head-to-head for your attention -- just as moths find allure in flame, however, it's hard to stay away. We consulted Van Labrakis, the vocalist and spearhead of the blackened outfit, to find out more about NITE's enticing musical philosophy and, perhaps most critically, their thoughts on Iron Maiden.


NITE - band photo
Photo Credit: Krysta Brayer


Your style of traditional heavy metal feels really classic and melody-driven, but the harsh vocals give it a blackened edge. Now that you've got Darkness Silence Mirror Flame recorded and ready to hit the world, what do you think stands out the most about the music?

Exactly that I believe. Combining classic heavy metal with black metal vocals is something relatively new. I have to mention Tribulation here as they were the ones that trail blazed down that path, to my ears at least. Even though what we do is quite different from them, their love for Iron Maiden and classic heavy metal is something we share. They remind me of Killers era Maiden with black metal vocals and back when NITE were in a very early stage I wondered what Powerslave and Somewhere In Time era Maiden with blackened vocals would sound like. And here we are!

Every band out there is unique in one way or the other. Everyone is unique and even if you set out to do something as close as possible to the music that inspired you it’s destined to become something new and different. At the end of the day all we can do is make something we are proud of and enjoy playing night in night out.

Was NITE envisioned from the start as a project that had to have the harsh, blackened vocals, or did you entertain the idea of clean vocals at all?

Yes indeed. Blackened vocals were always the way to go for us. As much as we love the classics and the glorious anthems of the 80s, I really can’t imagine us doing what we do with a clean voice. Blackened vocals also counter our melodic side and don’t let it get too over the top and too "nice". It keeps us grounded in a way. Black metal, blackened, black vocals, call it what you will, is also a different type of instrument, a pretty exclusively percussive instrument. Again that leaves space for the guitars to do their thing and lets the voice play a more rhythmic role than what usually is the case with a clean singing voice, while still delivering the message narrating the song.

Rhythmically, the drumming is heavy and favors more mid-paced grooves over double bass and blast beats, not always what's expected when there's vocals this harsh and aggressive at play. How did your drummer, Pat Crawford, influence NITE's musical formula?

Pat is a workhorse of a drummer. Truly remarkable and he is definitely the foundation of our sound. Again, that was something we set out to do from the start. Extreme double bass work was never on the table nor were extreme blast beats and in other words a million notes an hour. We want our music to feel like home in slightly bigger venues where spacing in the rhythm section really pays off. Playing less is a beast of its own. There’s not much to hide behind and every note and stroke must count.

Pacing wise we did get to explore different types of songs in our debut. We do have a ballad, Bright, which was interesting to do to say the least, as well as more fast paced songs like "Acolytes" and "Ezelia."

The album title, Darkness Silence Mirror Flame, conjures thoughts of midnight black magic rituals, at least for myself -- does it have a specific meaning, and does it tie to the songs at all?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Haha... No, we are not quite as satanic as you might have presumed. The underlying theme of our debut is fire. The fire within that drives us to get up everyday and pursue our dreams, the spark of life, flame as the poetic representation of our essence, the destructive force of fire and the tragedy of lives lost in flames, to starlight and the birth of stars and life itself in the cosmos.

The title Darkness Silence Mirror Flame is taken directly from the lyrics of our song The Way, a song about believing in one’s self and choosing to ride, shoot straight and speak the truth, to tip the hat to our heroes from Sweden, the mighty Entombed. Darkness Silence Mirror Flame resembles more a scene of meditation and self reflection to me than an attempt to conjure something not of this world. The peaceful silence and calmness of darkness while looking inwards and staring at one's own flame.

When you premiered "Genesis," Van Labrakis mentioned that the song was inspired by classic Iron Maiden openers like "Aces High" and "Moonchild," and there's certainly some delightful NWOBHM-feeling moments across the album -- as a whole, what's your favorite Maiden album and why?

That’s a tough one! It’s of course a personal thing and it mostly has to do with the circumstances under [which] I first came across the albums in my childhood. I have to say Powerslave, even though it’s so tough to leave Somewhere in Time, Seventh Son [of a Seventh Son] and the rest behind. I do love everything they have done and still do, but that’s indeed my favorite Maiden era. Powerslave is a perfect album. Everything from the cover that I’ve spent days on end staring at, to the best songs I’ve heard blasting out of a boom box as a clueless teenager. The epic intro of "Aces High," the heavy metal staple megalith "Two Minutes [to Midnight]" to the absolute epic "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" that redefined theatrical approach in heavy metal, to the incredible title track itself. I don’t know how you can beat that. Up the irons!


Darkness Silence Mirror Flame releases March 20th via Creator-Destructor Records.


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