Interview: Prognan

Introduction

We had an interview with “Kob” from the Croatian black metal band Prognan. The band has been very active lately and released their first full album “Naši životi više ne postoje” in 2023 and will release a second full album this year with the title “Sjene nad Balkanom” So get a cup of the blackest coffee and enjoy the interview.

Prognan - Sjene Nad Balkanom

How did Prognan start as a band, and what does the band name mean to you?

Hello, KingGorthaur. Thanks for the opportunity!

I wish I could tell you some epic and amazing story about the name and the beginning of the band, but the truth is that this was one among many bands we’ve had a thought of creating when we were teenagers.

I was still in high school, 17–18 years old, played in numerous bands that didn’t have anything to do with extreme metal, and I’ve always wanted to play that type of music. After many attempts of actually trying to find people to be part of it, my buddy from high-school one day decided that we will create a band and play music that we like, even if we don’t find anyone else to play with. As fate would have it, this was the one that stuck, and where we ended up having a full line up done and ready in a matter of months. We started rehearsing to the best of our abilities (which were pretty limited at that time), did a demo and started playing live shows, and that was it.

Regarding the name, it was something that as immediately I had said it, we all went like: “Yeah, it fits perfectly with the music.” That was late 2007.

War is a big theme for Prognan, why does this interest you so much and. Where does the interest come from?

When we started playing, we did some kind of terrible pagan black metal which, honestly, I was never a fan of. When you are younger, you always have these big dreams of conquering the world with your music and stuff like that, but I’ve always felt that pagan lyrics didn’t evoke any emotions in me. In the end, I was just happy that I had a band where we could play some loud music, haha.

As we got older, we decided to create music from a famous I.G. Kovacic poem called “The Pit” which was about World War 2 and the atrocities committed against civilians. That was the first time I had a feeling of: “This is important and don’t mess this up…” I’ve started playing my guitar differently and compose and arrange music a bit better. 

In the end, plenty of people liked that EP. As fate would have it, they would have to wait for 11 years to hear something from us again, but that was clearly the beginning where I knew I wanted to do lyrics about the history of Balkan, not just World War 1 and 2. 

Furthermore, in 2012 when the song came out, there were not many black metal bands singing about it, so this was something drastically different and new. Now, just about every other band does it.

Moreover, as I got older and started to investigate the past and history of my family, I was shocked to find out who they were, how big the history of my ancestors was and how they lived and died.

Basically, all the albums, past and future ones, are about some part of my family. Not all of it is 100% the truth because it is an album, and you always have to have that part of theatricality, but most of it is. The third and fourth album (since we all knew what they’ll be about because we always knew we will do 3 more albums after “Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje”) are especially important to me because they are closely related to my grandfather.

As you said, Black Metal with a war theme is getting more and more attention with bands like Kanonenfieber and 1914. What are your thoughts on why this seems to appeal to so many people?

I am not 100% sure, but I can give my thoughts on why that seems to be regarding our albums.

We are living in a world where morals seem to disappear, where lies become truth, where nothing is sacred and where most people, especially young men, don’t have any identity of who they are. Do you know how many individuals in my life talk openly about cheating on their wife, stealing at work, only thinking about their asses and no one else? It is absolutely insane how big that number is!

And then comes some band singing about how your grandfather, who never went to school, left his plow on the farm field, took up arms and went & fought in a war to protect his wife and children, his house and his country. You feel that. That’s part of your history. That house and that field are still there. It is because of him, his sacrifice that you are still here.

In a world where everything goes to shit, you need those brave men and women to step up and say: “That is enough!”

On the other hand, can you imagine yourself standing in a trench filled with mud and blood where your superior is holding a speech to your regiment saying how you’ll probably die today running towards bullets and bayonets…but you and all your army friends go and do it even though you know you’ll most likely die there? Can you imagine yourself doing that?

At that moment, you realize that there’s something bigger than yourself, an idea, something worth fighting and dying for.

Those were the people waging the war for freedom, and I think a lot of us would love to have the same set of principles and ideals they had, at least the good side they fought for.

Or maybe I’m entirely wrong and an irredeemable romantic…

Prognan - Sjene Nad Balkanom

How is your creative process for Prognan? Do you gather your musical/lyrical ideas through time?

The only good thing about recording albums is that creative process. Everything else is a pain in the ass.

It is a bit different with my band, since I know the storylines for all the future albums. The main thing for me is how to do and create something that will evoke some kind of emotions, but in an honest way.

Our music can sound theatrical with those big riffs and orchestra, but you always have to find that perfect line of blending those two in a way where theater is there, but you are so into it that you don’t even realize you are in it. Does that make sense?

To elaborate even more – I absolutely don’t care how much money I’ll make with any of my albums. I love that people support our music, but that’s not the main motivation behind it. I am here to create an experience that will drag you in, and you won’t stop thinking about it for a few days, weeks, months etc. That’s what at least I’d like to do and hopefully succeed at it.

The real art, however good or bad, it evokes some kind of emotion and, if it’s any good, it whitstands the rest of time. Now, every band wants to do that, and we all hope we end up creating a masterpiece, but the time will show whether we did it or not. The least we can do is to give our best at that moment and be proud of it, even if that doesn’t happen.

That’s what drives me to create and, most importantly finish those albums. Those 10–12 tracks you hear on it, at least 10 more were recorded and scraped from the album because in this or that way they didn’t fit the narrative.

What are your musical roots? What did you grow up with, and where did the passion for metal come from?

I grew up in a pretty poor household, where having an instrument was a piece of luxury we couldn’t afford. But as far as I remember, it was all about the music. One day couldn’t pass without me listening to melodies.

My parents weren’t musical at all, so I don’t really know how I ended up loving it so much. I think it was because it made me escape into some uncharted worlds and feelings in my head I never knew existed at that time. And then also came movies. Everyone watched them for the picture, and I watched them because of the combination between picture and music. 

Before taking that musical journey, I was a good writer. My poems and writings were always ranked among the top three in any competition and I got many awards for it. So when I got into metal, I always wondered and dreamed about creating the blend between film, soundtracks and metal, but with strong lyrical accompaniment. The thing was – I was not a good guitarist, and I didn’t know any music theory whatsoever.

When I started creating film music and trailer music, that’s when I learned music theory, orchestration, arrangement, production, mixing, mastering and many other things… and then it just clicked. I realized I could do the music I’ve always wanted to create, so I did just that.

Prognan has many influences in its music, like thrash, death metal and film music. How important are these influences to your music?

You are going to laugh, but I don’t really have any influence since I came back to metal after 11 years. I haven’t listened to metal music in ages. I haven’t played guitar in ages. My influences are the same they were a decade ago, but I can’t use them because they shaped the era that is now long time gone. Nor do I want to use them since that’s what they have created and that was their musical output and I have my own. Of course, you are subconsciously shaped by all possible influences around you, not just music, but I actively try to avoid most of them that are not connected with the storyline I have in my head.

I know myself pretty well – I am a dreamer, so I need to have a strong schedule, or I’ll just wonder off adding more stuff,- changing the story, exploring many more genres and combining them and probably never finishing the album.

The only thing that really influences me is the story. The character. He is angry – maybe the riff that sounds fast and angry is more leaned towards thrash metal. I need to create an atmospheric passage – perhaps the riff is more black metal. I genuinely don’t care what genre the music will be. That’s the reason many people add so many genres to our albums.

On this new album, you can even hear early blues and jazz, as well as modern rapping style. I know it sounds crazy, but the main thing that is important is that it fits the story. I couldn’t be a director; that was an expensive venture to dive in, but I know music, and I’m painting and creating those worlds I have in my head with notes. That’s my weapon of choice.

This is the reason all our albums are long. Like a movie, you either love it or don’t. There’s no middle ground. And I really fucking love it.

Who are your musical inspirations today?

As you probably know, I’m surrounded by movie music, so that’s what I’m listening to when I want to relax. Or classical also. And then you realize that a lot of metal and movie soundtracks kind of “borrowed” some classical music (Gustav Holst Planets is literally everywhere).

I’m not naming any bands because the only thing I’m actively promoting on our Facebook page are bands from Balkan. Our scene is full of amazing bands and if I can give my few cents and show it to someone, I’d gladly do it.

How do your other projects effect Prognan, and can you tell a bit about your passion for film music? Is Prognan your main project?

Prognan isn’t a project at all. It was done and not active for 11 years until we’ve picked it up again. I could have been perfectly fine if the band never played again, but my God damned brain always has to complicate stuff more and more. We said to do one album and that was it, and now we’ve ended up covering the entire history of Balkan states from World War 1 until World War 2 in these 4 albums.

For example, since I had the idea of doing four albums, as I was finishing recording and creating our first one, “Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje”, I knew that at some part of the second album there will come a moment (I’m desperately trying to avoid spoiling the story here) where everything will become interconnected in a way the listener won’t expect it. To do that effectively, it meant I had to go back and re-record 50-60 % of the first album again to a different musical key and change the scales so when that moment comes; you hear it on the second album, you’ll be in shock that it happened the way it did.

That’s part of my craziness I wrote about earlier… but that’s also the great part of creativity in all people who do some kind of art.

You spend extra details on something that a person might not even notice it, but later on down the line on a third or fourth album he or she will realize it and be like: “Wait a minute, I know this one…” and suddenly recognize it was a part of the first album.

That’s why I’m all about motifs. We constantly do that in soundtracks. Plant a seed of a melody that appears here and there until it explodes at the moment you really need it to explode.

Furthermore, their other non-metal “project” is not a project at all. It is my business. I’m not just a composer, I also run a publishing business with my team and with around 80 composers that work for us. That’s why not many metal labels like me because it ends up I know more about running a label (since I run my own) and about legal stuff than they do. So I guess Prognan will always be independent haha.

Passion for film music will always be there. I can create and shape the worlds inside your head with not one spoken word. If that is not magical, I don’t know what is. Isn’t it amazing that we are sitting at home, in our room, and we have an entire orchestra at our fingerprints and endless possibilities of creation? Just 20 years ago, we couldn’t do that. 

Can you tell a bit about Sjene Nad Balkanom? How has this release come along compared to your earlier work?

“Sjene Nad Balkanom” is a wholly different album than our first album. When I started doing it, I would rather not create another “Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje.” That album fits the period it was set out to capture with the music we did. This one is musically different as well as lyrically. Each track is a story and a date in the life of the main protagonist. You get to know him, you get to know his friends, and you have a lot of reading to do. More than you thought. If you just listen to it without lyrics, you are missing out big time.

Prognan - Sjene Nad Balkanom

It has a lot of acting and nonmusical elements, but it is necessary to be there. It sucks you right in. It is also controversial because there’s a thing that happens on this one, and you are witnessing it front seat, where I was having doubts if I should put it on the album or not. But it absolutely needed to be there since, when the next track starts, you are crazy from anger and emotions like the main character is. Life is not all daisy and roses, is it? I am not trying to shock you for a shock value, I’m trying to show you the world those people lived in, which was a pretty shitty one.

It’s longer than the previous one, with many influences. Because of how long it is, you really get to know people in it so you really end up caring for them. By the end, I think plenty of listeners will get emotional and goosebumps where the story leads them. At least that’s what I want to happen. If it doesn’t, then my job was done very poorly, haha. 

Bigger production, much more people, it took twice as long time to finish it. I know for sure that nothing like this was created in the Balkan with such a big scope and magnitude.

That being said – fuck, this was a hard one to do. The first one I thought was hard, but it was miles easier since I’ve had this story in front of me and I just had to follow it chronologically. Everything you hear on this one is 100% made in my head, but what took such a long time was to interconnect everything not just musically, but lyrically also. 

The first one had this big orchestra and “Balkan Trumpet”, this one doesn’t have it. It is still there, but not in a way it was on “Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje.” This one is not epic nor big in scope, even though the storyline might lead you to believe it is.

It is a story about a man lost in time who is in search for the truth. It had to be more intimate and reflect that 1930s period.

Two full lengths and one compilation album is a lot of material for two years, how time-consuming has it been?

A lot. Because I’m insane, and I always have to add more and more stuff to do.

Last year was 15 years of the band. That sounds like a crazy big number, so we had to commemorate it in some way. What better way than to record everything again with better quality. The first album ended up being released in 2023 even though I thought we would finish it in 2022. It took more time than I wanted it to take.

This new album took twice as long time than the first one because, on top of creating the interconnected storyline for this one, I’ve also decided to do voice acting, sound design, field recording for it and then also mix it in a way so you have a feeling like the sound is going all around your head. Did I have to do it that way? No, but those small steps are what’s making it sound the way it does.

But you cannot rush the genius…or madness of creating the record haha

To wrap up the interview, do you have any final words?

I would like to give my gratiude to Black Metal Zine for the interview and a thank you to everyone who has taken their time to read it! I also want to remind you that the new album Sjene Nad Balkanom will be released the 25th of January!