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Prognan interview (02/2024)

With: Kob
Conducted by: Netzach (e-mail)
Published: 23.02.2024

After having reviewed and rated both of its albums 8/10, I got interested to learn more about the band, so I had a chat with Kob, mastermind of Croatian cinematic black metal band Prognan, about storytelling, the history of the Balkans, storytelling, and more. Fortunately, he was very forthcoming with his responses!

Tell me a bit about Prognan. What are your aspirations for the band?

Hello, Metal Storm community.

If you would have asked me a decade ago what was my mission with the band, I wouldn't have known what to tell you except to play live shows and record albums. Now, 10 years later, this is a band with a clear vision to the point that we know what all the future albums will be about, how many albums there will be and when the band will cease to exist.

That's pretty strange and scary when you think about it: you have an exact amount of albums left to convey your artistic message and that's it. No redos, no new albums to maybe fix the last one which hypothetically might not have been that great - just a small amount of albums left and that's it.

The story and lyrics in this band is everything - it just happens that the band will need two more albums to tell it and call it quits.

Prognan started a decade ago with an EP and then nothing happened for very many years. What made you decide to bring this project to life again? Was there something stopping you from doing it earlier?

Prognan started when I was a teenager, just out of high-school in 2008. When you are young, you have all these grandiose dreams of creating music that will resonate with the metal community and of how you'll play and do many shows, festivals and bla bla bla...

After a few years, reality settles in and you realise that will never happen. In retrospect, we were just one of millions of unoriginal bands that played unoriginal music thinking the world owes us something. Life has a funny way of making sure to prove a point that no one owes you anything. After a few years, the fire burned out; we were tired of constant new members coming and leaving, private stuff happened for all of us and it just organically died down.

Years passed and me and my drummer always joked about how it would be amazing to come back and finally do that one album we've talked about ages ago when we were active. I was the one that was always reluctant to do it. I've lost passion for it, I've lost passion for metal and I've also lost passion for music because my primary job was creating music 24/7, 365 days a year. You know that bullshit thing people say: "Make music your job (or hobby or passion or whatever) and you'll never work a day in your life."

Well no one tells you it will completely kill your creativity and make something that you loved doing in your free time creatively now something you must do all the time even if you don't have any creativity left. I am not complaining, but my social network feed is full of self-proclaimed music gurus with 30 Spotify listeners teaching you how to make money.

Anyways, even though the fire burned out, a small flicker remained… All of a sudden, the pandemic happened, my schedule opened up and one weird idea got planted in my head with the headline: "What if?”

Ideas are strange, they grow on their own even if you don't water them down and have a weird way of infecting your brain. Even with all the doubts (I haven't played guitar in around 8 years) and thinking I have nothing left to say, I bought a guitar and started to re-learn to play it. I was never a good guitarist, but this time something happened: my riffs were different, I could play much faster, I even held the guitar differently - like I was a totally different player. The first few riffs came out which ended up being the song "28061914" and after that I never stopped. Six months later Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje was released to the public.

You have a background as a soundtrack composer, which can be heard clearly in your music. What comes first when you write music, metal or the orchestra?

I have had a very good thing happen to me: I came back to metal music after a decade and I haven't listened to metal for such a long time. It gives you a fresh perspective and makes you not be part of any genres or limitations whatsoever. I like to create music that makes me feel something regardless what metal genres might it be.

Of course I first write riffs. Orchestra comes last since it's only there to make the story move forward or to emphasise some kind of feeling. It is a tool, like many tools we use on albums. Even though I start with riffs, when the lyrics happen, that might completely change the riffs and the song. That's the beauty of it all; even though I know the storyline of all the albums, I honestly don't know how I'll arrive there.

The great thing about my background is that I'm always thinking about the story from a perspective of almost a movie and not so much of a metal album. I've said above about a clear vision with this band and one of it is to bring the period of time, musically and lyrically, right in front of you. If you close your eyes, the idea is to be transported to that time and place. It's almost like we are creating a stage play and you are in the front seat watching it unfold. I don't let limitations impact me, I rather embrace them and try to create something new and hopefully something good.

Speaking of orchestra, it’s real on the album, right? What's it like to work with an orchestra and how did this collaboration come to be?

Working with an orchestra is extremely easy since they are all professionals. You orchestrate (or someone orchestrates for you), give them notes and they deliver.
We are not a symphonic band, but rather cinematic - we use orchestra sporadically and at some places in the album. It's like a tool you use to craft something, but you need many other tools to finish it. Everything is important, if you miss something, well then it is not 100 % your vision. I sometimes feel like an old grumpy grandfather always preaching the same thing, but so many bands leave out the art from their music and do it just because they have to. I'd hate that to happen with Prognan and that's why I've limited us to only four albums.

On the album you can also hear a blend of my own samples I've recorded over the years and also other virtual orchestras - basically anything that will support this strange vision I have in my head of what the album should sound like. Also many, many solo instruments recorded either by me or by other people. It is a blend of everything so you can get the sonic identity you've wanted.

What are some of your main influences when it comes to music? Metal bands and otherwise.

I don't find influences in music... or rather I should say that I rarely find influences in music. For Prognan, the only music that makes me want to create is film music. The reason why I ended up doing that type of music and making it my profession is because you can say a thousand words without one spoken lyric. You just close your eyes and it is there. The emotions, pictures, entire worlds - it is pure magic...

When you are not playing for years and you come back, on the first few albums you have insane creative drive. And also, even though I haven't listened to metal music for ages - it is still my passion and I've only realised that when I came back to it.

The problem comes when you have such a huge and very important story to tell which is something foreigners can't really understand how important that story is to Balkan people. Doing it I've realised there's a reason why no one has done it so far. To summarise it: my main inspiration is finally finishing these albums. Like I've said before, ideas are strange and can infect your body. This idea to create 4 interconnected albums into one big storyline is such an insane thing to do, but I have to get it out of my system or I have a feeling I'll go insane. I sometimes feel like I'm a junkie always needing that poison, but in reverse: I need to get it out of my body because I can't really live that long with it.

I also have a personal stake in those albums, since the next ones are strongly connected to my family's past. Because of that reason and where the storyline of the next two albums will go, the amount of research I am doing is absolutely insane. Not just that, the topics I'm researching would send shivers down the spine of any human being, but that's what needs to be done so the album gets the authenticity and historical accuracy I'm always aiming for. The last thing I'd want is to create something half-assed and just for the sake of a new album.

Is Prognan purely a studio project or are there any plans for taking it live?

So far it is only a studio project. I really don't have any aspirations to hit the road or do concerts. Even if I wanted to, I'd need so many people to do it and live orchestra also… these things cost so much money. Even if I put money aside, I am at a point in my life where I don't find that much joy in doing live concerts. I know many bands live for that, but I am satisfied with where the band is now when you take into account that it was inactive for ages. One step at the time.

Storytelling is a big part of Prognan, it's like a miniature universe of stories and characters based on real events. What were your inspirations for taking this approach? Interest in history? Literature? Filmmaking?

Story is everything with Prognan. It is so much upfront that sometimes music takes backseat and storyline takes over. Doing cinematic music before reviving the band made me realise that I can tell so many things with music and I don't even need lyrics for it. That's what will come very handy for the next few albums, but you could also get a glimpse of that on Sjene Nad Balkanom. Sometimes I may go too far, but I need to be true to myself and to my vision of the album to the point where I doubt most people will understand it.

Just to give you an example: On our latest album Sjene Nad Balkanom you can clearly hear that there's not a lot of ethnic Slavic music on it and that's intentional in its nature. The first album was full of it because the soldier was exemplar; perfect morals, fighting for his country and to return home to his wife and child. He was connected with himself, his nature and his country, his morals were unshakeable and perfect, he knew what he fought for; his ideals were pure and that's why we hear a lot of ethno music on that album which Balkan countries are known for.

On our new album, the only few ethno moments are in the first track when the king was killed. It's like the last echo of dying times that will no longer be and that's one of the reasons it appears, somehow reminding us about the previous album. As soon as that song is done, it never materialises again until the ninth song and there's a good reason for that. The main protagonist of that new album is, as we will find out, a man without identity, a drunkard, lost in the time and just living for the sake of living. He is not connected with anything except his addiction which ruins him and he knows it will be his doom if he continues to abuse it, but he can't help it. Even with the case he is trying to solve, the more time passes and he doesn't solve it - the more he drinks so he can cope with it. In all honesty, it is not entirely his fault as we will find out that his so called father is a killer that raped and killed his mother as well as concealed the true identity of his father - which was a soldier we've followed on our first album Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje. That's the second time we hear Balkan music on the album because he finally realises who he is and who his father was. That's also the reason why we'll hear more of ethno music on the third and fourth album because he becomes more and more connected with himself, his past and his people.

Creating stories is something I enjoy doing since I was a small kid. What we create with this band is rooted in history and as we progress with new albums - that history is not fun at all. I am also a very big researcher and very much interested in the period of 1914-1945 that the band sings about.

My big love for film made the band sound the way it sounds now. I want to create a movie in your head when you listen to our music. Making a decision to write lyrics in a language most people from Balkan will understand is something that is a strong point of albums, but also very limiting in terms of broader reach.

Did you ever consider singing in English or was your own language the natural choice? Many bands sing in their own language and I appreciate that, but do you think it could limit the enjoyment of your music when it is in a foreign language? Would it have impacted the story if it were written in English?

I am very aware that writing in my native language limits the potential of reaching wide masses. I also feel in my body that if I wrote all of this and sang in English, the band would be much, much more popular. The great thing is that I don't care so much for that broader appeal, that is not the main focus for me. Of course I am extremely honoured when people abroad listen to us, don't get me wrong.

Most foreigners don't even know about countries from Balkan and surrounding states and if they do, most of them think of us as lost in time and 30-40 years hanging behind the west. The history we have, even in the smallest countries, is a history that not a lot of bigger Western countries have. Balkan is an enigma and the researchers studying all of our past can tell you how big and convoluted it is. That's why we are singing in our native language. We are a band from Balkan with an identity that is purely rooted in it. If I sang in English, I wouldn't be true to the vision of the band, like I've said previously.

On the other hand, there's a reason why portals, magazines, webzines and people that can understand the lyrics gave it such a big rating: it hits strongly for us. This is our history we are singing about. The music is also our old, Slavic music mixed with just about everything else. This is our great-grandfathers we are talking about. Since lyrics and storyline is the main focus for us and it is actually what's driving the album even more than music, the foreigners can't really understand how monumental the achievement of creating Sjene Nad Balkanom is. To create something as big as this, with storyline like this, living actors, creating sounds and connecting everything destroyed me to the point where I now have to take a break from doing any music whatsoever.

The war, unfortunately, is not a foreign concept for Balkan countries. Even before World War 1, most of it was 100, 200, 500 years under the Ottoman Empire. I could write five albums about it. After that there were two big uprisings against Turks in Serbia. There were also two Balkan wars against the Ottoman Empire (at least the first one was) happening right before World War one: the first one in 1912. and the second one in 1913. There are so many battles, turbulent times and very bad things happening here. We could make 15 albums about it if we wanted to, but we've chosen 30 years from the First World War until the end of the Second World War to tell our story.

Your second album was released not long after the first one. How do you maintain this level of productivity? I read that many songs were already written for this album during the first recording sessions, so are the songs already written and it's a matter of recording them?

They were not written during the first recording sessions, but the storyline was "created" for the next three albums. I don't find joy in writing music for future albums, when I'm doing a certain album, I am 100 % in it. I know for a few songs on the third and fourth album what they'll sound like since the storyline begs for them, but other than that - I want to surprise myself as well as listeners.

Even the people on the album, they sometimes dictate the music I create. To you they might just be a character on a paper, but to me they are almost like a living person, a people with their own needs, stories and characters. Even though I know how the story will end, I really don't know how I'll arrive there.

The thought of creating a third album, which is something I was doing as I was finishing the second one (rough sketches and stuff like that) and I've had to stop as it is something that scares me, to be honest. I know I need to get back to it, but I need to be in the right state of mind to be able to do it. The scope of it is really terrifying to me since now I have to be very careful how to approach it... which is nothing compared to the fourth album because of the magnitude of it and the setting & story is something I don't know how I'll do. That uncertainty sometimes is a great driving force, but most of the time it is what's holding me down. I am a great overthinker to the point of small details which drive me insane and most people won't even notice it.

How does the story writing factor into the composition process?

The story is absolutely everything. It is even more important than the music, which is really weird since it is a music album. It can even change the music so it fits the storyline and now we come back to that same old where foreigners can't really get a grasp of it since they can't understand it the same way people living here do. It's a catch 22 - I'd love for everyone to get it, but I know I need to keep on writing it in my native language.

It is also very weird, our music is rooted in black metal which is known for burning churches and being against it... but there's a part on Naši Životi Više Ne Postoje where the soldier is fighting, trying to win the mountain peak as a strategic location knowing it is the first step towards coming back to his family and he is on his knees and praying to God to save him so he can see them again. If you look at it from black metal point - this would be a sacrilege against the philosophy of it, but if you look at it from the storyline and how it fits in it - it works perfectly. As more albums arrive, the more we are not following any genres and step out from that black metal role since the conceptual nature of those albums demands us to do it.

For listeners unfamiliar with Serbo-Croatian, tell us a bit about the stories told in the albums released so far. They take place during different time periods but seem to be quite closely tied into each other, right?

They are like two sides of one coin. Even though I've said most of the stories above, one without the other can't really exist. Also the two albums arriving can't really exist without the previous ones. I feel that all of them will be even more popular when the entire storyline is finished and just then you'll be able to get a full appreciation for them.

On the first one we are following the story of a soldier who gets dragged into something he doesn't really understand, but knows he needs to fight for his country and family, he feels it in his bones that's the right thing to do. We follow him through hell of World War 1, through all those battles and read that his only thoughts are coming back to his family. At the end of the album he comes back to find his house burning, his wife dead and his son missing. Thinking they all died, he disappears into the night and we don't really know what happened to him.

On Sjene Nad Balkanom we follow a detective who just graduated from school trying to solve his first case. The murder of old man in the apartment ends up sending him on international journey through Balkan where he revealed that his father he knew for over 20 years was not his real father and that he killed his mother. Not just that, he also finds out that he is that same son from the soldier we followed on our first album.

What's next for Prognan? The second world war is on the horizon in your second album, will the story take us there or go further? I want to know what happened to the soldier from the first album

Yes, the third album will arrive and the second world war will have started. Since we really don't know what happened to the soldier (and his father) from the first album, his son ends up coming back to that soldiers hearthstone, only to be dragged into something he doesn't really understand, the same way his father was dragged into almost 30 years ago. Almost the entire album will be on the mountain called Kozara where historically a lot of people hid and perished during WW2. It will not just be a continuation of the father-son storyline, but also about those three friends we've come to know in Sjene Nad Balkanom album.

There are so many emotional and historical moments on that album, from the raid in Southern Backa to one of the saddest occasions in the entire war where the German army killed almost 3000 people in Kragujevac as a retribution for the death of around 300 German soldiers. Among the killed people were an entire classroom of children aged 11-13 years old.

I can't really say more about it, but we will continue following that same detective on his path full of emotional journey that will ultimately lead to his redemption because the last track track on the album has just a few lyrics when translated they closely are "Terrible punishment will come and find you for all the evil deeds you have done..."

...and we will also find out what happened to the soldier from first album

Tell me a bit about the metal scene in Croatia. Are there any other bands we should be aware of? How popular is metal among the general population?

I think I could be the worst person to ask about the metal scene in my country or surrounding countries. Like I've said, I was out of metal for a decade or so and I didn't know what was happening at all. But I can say that some bands I really like to listen to and I'd definitely recommend to anyone is: Sikasa, Forever Storm, Praznina, Šakal, Gavranovi, Morkera, etc. That's what comes to my mind and all of them are amazing at what they are doing.

Anything else you'd like our readers to know?

Thanks for this interview and stay tuned for more releases, I can promise that they will certainly be the wild rollercoaster of emotions and music that Prognan is known for. Stay heavy!

Posted on 23.02.2024 by 100% objective opinions.


Comments: 2   Visited by: 53 users
26.02.2024 - 22:11
This was a really interesting interview. I appreciate his very detailed answers and the thoughtful approach he takes with his work. It is not unheard of but certainly unusual for someone to launch a project with a predetermined life span and to have planned out so thoroughly what its purpose is and how long it will take to accomplish that, so his perspective on the whole creative process of a metal band is fairly unique. I wonder whether he will decide to continue making metal under a new name or with a new concept once Prognan has run its course. It's a lot of effort to go to as one person, especially if he's already writing music all the time for his day job, and I do appreciate the idea of letting something simply reach its end and expire. It'd be nice if that happened more often. I do wonder, though, since he's evidently good at this.

My engagement with the story has come entirely through his explanations and your interpretation in your review of the first album, but the story and the music seem to suit each other very well and both suit the setting. I haven't listened to Sjene Nad Balkanom yet but I liked the first one, so I have good expectations.
"Earth is small and I hate it" - Lum Invader

I'm the Agent of Steel.
13.03.2024 - 20:18
It's somewhat ironic that I decided to finally read this interview in full the day I finished reading The Bridge Over Drina, which spans from the 16th century up until the first world war, coincidentally when Progran's storylines start. Due for a relisten then.
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?

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