(Music journalist Konstantin, who in past years has written for Serbia’s Nocturne Music Magazine, makes his first appearance at NCS with this extensive interview of Kozeljnik, founding guitarist and composer of the long-running Serbian black metal band The Stone and a participant in many other groups as well. Part 1 of this interview can be found HERE.)
Proudly standing in the underground waters for more than two decades, The Stone have engraved their name as one of the pivotal names in the Eastern European black metal scene of the ‘90s. From a war-torn country under embargo where buying the latest CD of your favorite band was practically impossible to touring with Revenge and Inquisition, they have cleared their path with strength and spirit.
In a detailed conversation with Kozeljnik (The Stone, Kozeljnik, May Result, Oculus, Murder, Ophidian Coil) we recall those days; and we discuss such topics as where metal has made mistakes in the last years and why that one legendary US act decided to have special gigs in the Balkan woods years ago.
From the very beginning, the core of The Stone has consisted of Nefas on vocals and you as guitarist and songwriter. Do you still function in the same way as in the beginning or has the process changed over time?
The principal energy which was there at the beginning is still there even today, but it wouldn’t be true if I were to say that nothing has changed. We are more than 20 years older and of course things are different. We are more mature, more experienced, both as people and as artists, but the main desire and initial ideas are still alive. Other guys who play now with us have been here for 10 years, but the fact is that a lot of people have passed through our band, most of them being drummers.
You mentioned now that the history of the band spans more than two decades, so do you tend to look back and analyze the things that have happened, with any regrets or some remorse?
Generally speaking I don’t try to regret things or my actions, quite the opposite in fact. However, I do tend to be critical of our work, as most other artists do as well, I would say. I think that it is natural, and all musicians look like that upon their previous work. So, yes, I do believe that some things could have been done differently, but that is something which you accept and then you move on. I am really satisfied about how we were working in the past, what we have achieved and created, but of course there are situations in which we could have acted better or differently.
Most bands look on things like that — probably even Iron Maiden would change something in their first album — but I think that is the essence, it remains at one point in history, and it cannot be changed. You can go back to any point in history and criticize it, sometimes it is good sometimes bad, but in the end you cannot change it. It’s quite a natural way of seeing things from the past, I would say.
I tend to look like that on life as well. You know that in a certain moment, under certain circumstances and conditions and with given resources, a decision which you make you believe is the right choice, but later you may look on it quite differently…
Absolutely, I agree with this. There were many situations in which we simply needed to make a decision. One of those, probably the biggest one, was to change our name in 2001. We needed to change our name from Stone to Flesh to The Stone. It’s a huge thing for a band. Many people think that this is a different band now, but no, everything remained the same besides that. We were facing two choices and we agreed to continue working, but it meant that we needed to change our name, and in that moment it was the best choice we could make.
It is similar in the case of a band’s style. We have numerous examples of bands losing their identity or profile, or trying to do something which doesn’t make much sense, and then later to look differently upon it. I believe that we managed to keep our road straight, that we know where we are and what we want and that even if we experimented with some ideas there has always been a typical or characteristic The Stone sound that we managed to keep.
Taking into consideration what you’ve previously said, would you agree that Nekroza comes as your most mature album so far? How do you look on the production on it, which is significantly different from the one on Magla or Golet for instance?
I believe that not even those two (Magla and Golet) sound the same. They are quite different records. From my perspective, all our records differ from one another, but there is one bond for all of them together and it can be recognized in all albums, from the first to the last. Of course, public impressions are various. One could say that we gained something with this production, something we lost, but generally people do say that this is our best effort so far.
Today, I would say that our attention was not so much on production but rather on the atmosphere and feeling that the album creates. The sound of the album went really nice with the music we played. The next album, on which we are already working, could have a bit different shape, it depends on how the music will be in the end.
You are also active in other bands, but Kozeljnik was started by you as well. How do you separate writing for The Stone from the writing for Kozeljnik?
From the very beginning I put the two things on completely different “roads”. I separated the ideas, concepts, and structure so that, in fact, the two bands do not have many things in common. LG and I play in both bands, so this is the only fact that connects the two entities somewhere in the end. It was the same in the period when May Result was still active.
What is the story behind the guest vocals of Niklas (Shining) on Kozeljnik’s EP?
We met around 2007 and remained in contact after that. He came to Belgrade for a visit, so we recorded vocals for our new material. He is a great professional, an amazing artist, and a really cool guy. Stories surrounding him are mostly from people who don’t know him, and therefore are only stories or rumors – those who know him personally know how great a person he is. He did amazing work when we were recording and confirmed once more how unique is Shining as a band and he as a vocalist.
Back in 2002/3 you cooperated with Akhenaten from the legendary Judas Iscariot and you even performed with him at the infamous fest in Pancevo, Serbia. Tell me how it came about that you cooperated and that he played in Serbia back then?
We met in 2002 at Open Hell fest in Czech Republic where we played with May Result. A year later, he performed with Krieg, and during the summer tour they had several dates in Central Europe and around the Balkans. He had just released an EP with Debauchery so he wanted to present it live. He proposed and we agreed, so in the end besides Serbia there were also several dates in Slovenia. He spent some time here with us, so we were hanging out a lot in those days. However, soon after that he left black metal completely and consequently we lost contact. Nonetheless, one nice experience and a nice memory from that period.
Over the years The Stone has had several good tours. The one which I think was maybe the best is the one with Revenge, Inquisition, and Corpus Christii in 2011. Which one do you remember the most, or which would you consider to be the most successful?
There were about 6 major tours, I would say, and definitely the one you mentioned was one of the best. The tour started the day Golet was out, and Inquisition were also promoting their latest album (Ominous doctrines of the perpetual mystical macrocosm). Actually, this was the tour which was their big breakthrough, if I may say so, as I remember that some of these shows were their first sold-out concerts. Many people who did not take them seriously several years prior to that were now fans. From the very beginning they were accepted rather specifically, and I am happy that nowadays they have the status they do, since I think they well deserve it. I have always respected them and I am glad to see where they are now. They are one of the rare USA bands who have lasted so long and who have managed to keep their unique style and expression.
Besides that one I would mention our tour with Volcano and Nifelheim a few years later.
In the beginning you mentioned that you still follow Alex from Daimonion Prod and his bands, so I’m curious — what other bands do you listen to lately and what is your perception of the current black metal environment?
There are a lot of bands who receive a lot of attention, or are reaching statuses which I don’t think they actually deserve. Too many of them are praised so much after just issuing very little.
When it comes to Greece, I still follow the Greek scene, but I must say that there aren’t many of them who have developed their own style, but instead that typical recognizable Greek style which was brought by Rotting Christ or Necromantia in the beginning. I still like Agatus and Zemial; I do follow the work of bands such as Acherontas, Thy Darkened Shade, or Serpent Noir. But I would say that their sound is a mixture of Scandinavian and Greek style, so, a bit far from black metal which made Greece recognizable years ago.
At the same time, I do follow the happenings in the so-called “orthodox black metal” ambience. It seems overcrowded; I would say there are so many varieties within it, yet a lot of low-quality bands and music, so that one needs to be selective in order to find something really good. Attention is put more on visual identity rather than on the music itself, and bands remain popular during the periods of hype which can last from a few months to maybe a couple of years.
On the other hand, you have bands who have a deep story and who are popular, and then over time their popularity decreases. Take Deathspell Omega as an example. I don’t think that more than 20% of the people who listen to black metal actually listen to them and really understand what they say. It is difficult to get their story, their music or their lyrics. It asks for dedication and patience, and many people seem to lose interest due to that. It is similar with Mgla – a lot of people listen to them but I doubt that there is high number of those who actually try to fully understand their message. Instead, people listen to them (if at all) just so they could be defined as followers and be recognized as part of that scene. Bölzer were hyped after releasing 4 songs. During the ‘80s it would be impossible.
Over the years the outlook of the scene and the music industry has completely changed. Nowadays everything is measured by the amount of followers, likes, or whatever. It’s irrational, practically makes no sense. Visual identity or presentation. or name it whatever you want, is in the first place, while music, message, and essence are put aside as less important things. It is completely the opposite of how it was previously.
Furthermore, many people who were once making fun of black metal or had nothing to do with it are now glorifying it and shaping it as a genre. It has led to the situation that today black metal is completely available everywhere and to everyone. It is easy to connect to and identify with it, and the question is how many ideas and concepts which once existed are still left today. Unfortunately, I would say almost none.
Complementary to the general image of metal today, black metal as well has become an economic category which is used only for trade. Individualism (as one of the cornerstones of black metal as a genre) is almost completely gone, and as a consequence of all of that, many things have become a regular part of this subculture although they have nothing to do with it. You have instant bands — they record one album, accompany it with visual imagery, and are quickly “placed on the market”. You can easily find media which will launch it as something incredible and you quickly receive a mass following. Just like instant coffee.
Labels are part of that as well. You can play whatever you want, no matter how good – if you are not following a aesthetic matrix or trend, there is no place for the music. That leads us to have albums that look almost the same and cannot be distinguished from one another.
Photo credits here and in Part One: Profanity; Zoran Stanic