Interview with Kobold / Illuminated Manuscripts

[ITALIAN interview HERE] English version by Giuseppe D’Adiutorio.

Let’s start by introducing yourself, given the obscure nature of this project. Kobold, is yours a stage name? Hi! First of all thank you for the interview, I wanted to answer in Italian because I don’t like talking in English and I’ve studied Italian language. Mine is not perfect, but I hope you’re going to correct my answers! Kobold is a nickname I’ve chosen for rather silly reasons. When I met Giuseppe (Heliogabalus or G.E.F.) from Xenoglossy Productions, he showed me a “local hero” of the Roman scene: Richard Benson. He rambles about gobins, elves, cobolds and goblins in a video, and I really liked the mythical figure of the cobold. This is a rather obscure project, so I wanted to incarnate something which isn’t real. I chose the German translation “Kobold” because my real name (which I don’t want to reveal) starts with a K. I think it’s an interesting reference.

How and when did you start playing raw black metal? My interest towards black metal started when I was 14-15, when I moved to St. Petersburg. I think I’ve been influenced (as everyone has) by the most popular records of the genre: early Darkthrone, Samael, Mayhem and Sigh’s “Scorn Defeat”. Over time I lost a bit of interest towards the better produced black metal because I believe it’s too far removed from the real meaning of the genre itself. I prefer (what is nowadays called) raw black metal, although in my opinion the “raw” tag is just there to sell more tapes within certain scenes. As for the interest in playing this style of music, I wanted to create something that united early black metal and sound manipulation: I often use noise, pedals and effects to creat raw and deviant atmospheres, I like that.

When was Illuminated Manuscripts formed conceptually? Why that weird monicker, so far from the usual metal imagery? I’ve always been fascinated by medieval aesthetics and I think it fits black metal well, although it’s still a rather unused concept. That itself is not strictly medieval per se, I use cryptic, deliberately inscrutable and often ciphered imagery. In a broader sense the idea of the project comes from the inexpressible, the limits of human language, communication, semiotics and the interpretation of images. I almost never use vocals (I was about to change idea about that for a moment) for this very reason. Over the years I read a lot about Russian formalism and other subjects related to language and communication, and those influenced Illuminated Manuscripts as well, I guess.

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How did you come in contact with the Xenoglossy Productions bunch? Why did you stop collaborating with Heliogabalus (Thecodontion, Perpetuum Mobile, Framheim and others) last year? I studied in Italy in 2016, I met Giuseppe/Heliogabalus there. I’ve never thought that kind of music could be sold anywhere actually, so meeting him and Xenoglossy Productions encouraged me to make more music, since we share a lot of ideas. We’ve never stopped collaborating actually, we developed the Dalì concept together so I wanted him to be a full time member for that.

Kenos from Sacrilegious Crown said he writes material very quickly, it takes just a night for him to write a demo. How do you work? Do you follow some specific criteria? I write some drum patterns and then guitar parts. Sometimes I note down some riffs, sometimes it’s improvised, there isn’t a specific pattern. After that I try to manipulate the sound a bit, adding noise, changing the volume, tempo or key. Sometimes it takes just a couple of hours to complete a demo, indeed.

What are your songs about? I want to create an abstract and mysterious imagery, references aren’t super specific, though. I like to keep everything blurry and a bit confused on purpose, it’s to maintain a certain level of mystery which I think is fundamental for these kinds of concepts. Specifically, Stilgar came up with the concept for the split with Deathvoid, the self-titled demo is dedicated to Salvador Dalì but in a more obscure and non-conventional way. My last work is about Persian philosopher Ibn Sina’s (Avicenna) manuscripts.

Is there some meaning behind the bedroom used in the artwork for the split with Deathvoid? I got instantly fascinated by that. Deathvoid developed the concept for the split. Interiors, surreal objects and dreams, these are the main references according to them. I had some songs with a similar mood, but I didn’t have much of a conceptual input for the split release.

What ties you to Dalì, inspiration for the second output, simply titled Illuminated Manuscripts? Salvador Dalì was a master of Surrealism and I wanted to use something related to the artistic avantgarde of the XX century. Those were very prolific decades for art, despite being often unappreciated by the masses and I find that very fascinating. I shared the idea with Giuseppe / Heliogabalus, so I involved him as a full member in this demo because we both share a common interest in this concept. For the cover artwork we distorted Dalì’s popular “melting clocks” because the goal was to create a sort of “distortion” of Dalì’s ideas. I think it turned out really interesting, maybe closer to drone/ambient than black metal, but I liked the result so that’s fine.

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I don’t know Arabic language so I can’t properly name your latest demo, released in February by Xenoglossy as usual. What is the concept about and what are the differences compared to your previous releases? It seems to be a bit more “musical” in the ordinary meaning of the term. The English title is “The Canon of Medicine”, which in Arabic is translated as “Kitāb al-Qānūn fī l-ṭibb”, while the original title is the one I used for the demo. I decided to create something closer to the actual meaning of the monicker, using a real “manuscript” aesthetic. The artwork is simply a page from a late XVI century edition of the “Canon of Medicine”. In general it’s a tribute to Avicenna, a fundamental thinker of the Middle Ages. The western world owes a lot to Arabic culture and I wanted to pay homage to a very remote period related to knowledge. I think the concept of the remote as in space and time fits black metal well since it’s a very introspective genre of music. Musically it turned out to be a bit less noisy, I didn’t do enough sound manipulation for this, I guess. But I don’t usually plan how my records should be beforehand, that’s why they all sound a bit different. They’re all conceptually reconstructed streams of consciousness to me, in the end.

What 2019 albums influenced you in some way for your EP? What were your favorites? I don’t think I’ve been influenced by anything recently, my songwriting process is very spontaneous.  Last year I really liked electronica and drone albums like Vatican Shadow’s “American Flesh for Violence” and Sunn O)))’s “Life Metal”. As for black metal, I loved the last Black Cilice album, it’s probably the biggest name in raw black metal right now.

Is there some sort of distinction between your three releases? 99% of the listeners would think it’s unlistenable noise anyway, right? I’d like for everyone to have their own ideas about them, distinctions are made by what pops into my head at that moment, it’s a very intuitive process, there is no specific sequence in my “discography”. You’re right, 99% of the listeners will think it’s unlistenable noise indeed, haha! There is nothing wrong with that, after all.

Are your three releases to be listened separately or is there some sort of connection between them? In what order would you like them to be listened? There is no specific connection. The split tracks are more melodic than the others, I guess. I don’t like making “rules” for listeners, they can explore my music however they prefer. Speaking as a music fan, I personally prefer listening to something in chronologicar order, I like to imagine what’s going on in the artist’s head over time, trying to understand their artistic course. It’s a very subjective thing, I believe.

Where does art end and bullshit begin for raw black metal listeners? I’d say when tapes get sold at 20 or 30 €, but I’d like to know about your point of view on that. Bullshit, as you call it, is when some labels deliberately choose to print few copies so that people can resell albums at exorbitant prices, gaining popularity as a consequence. It’s rather strange since it’s not exactly easy listening music. I think it’s some sort of a trend: some people just buy those because they go sold out instantly, they put a photo on social media and resell them right after. I’ll never understand that honestly, it’s just weird.

Using recycled tapes isn’t a new thing, think about the well known Dutch raw black metal label The Throat. Are you doing that just to cut production costs or is there a philosophical choice behind that? Part of that is nostalgia for a past we young people never experienced. But yes, it’s also a rather low-cost choice, I own some old tapes and used them to record my music. Illuminated Manuscripts’ first self titled demo was originally published in 10 copies using my grandparents’ tapes, there was some old Soviet music on there, I think. I didn’t have to spend anything for that!

Why don’t you use social media, as everyone does nowadays? Don’t you like communicating with people? I get very distracted by social media and I decided to stop using them 3-4 years ago (I just used VKontakte anyway). I feel a lot better since then, I can spend my time in better ways, I go out for a walk or seeing Zenit St. Petersburg at the city stadium…I have more fun this way. This is not a “misanthropy” thing, if you’re wondering. Moreover, I don’t like promoting my stuff anyways, I don’t think I’m even good at doing that.

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A tape of yours, the split release, is being sold in Malaysia according to Discogs. How does it make you feel seeing that Illuminated Manuscripts’ music is known worldwide, in a way? The guys from Xenoglossy told me! It was a guy from Malaysia who bought two copies so that he could sell off the other one, I guess. But I don’t think he might make much money out of that, sadly. But I’m happy to know that my music got as far as Malaysia, it’s a weird feeling and it’s funny, in a way.

Could Estonia or Italy develop a raw black metal scene like Tasmania, Netherlands or Bosnia someday? This question comes at the right moment because I wanted to clarify something: I was born in Estonia but I am of Russian ancestry. I consider Russian to be my first language and I moved to St. Petersburg when I started listening to black metal, so I consider myself to be more Russian than Estonian. I don’t know much about Estonian bands except for Sõjaruun and Rattler. The only Estonian extreme metal bands that are known abroad are probably Loits and Neoandertals but I’ve never listened to them. I think it’s difficult to create something in such a small country, but even in Russia, which is a lot bigger, I don’t see many possibilities. As for Russian raw black metal bands I like Bokkenrijders. There’s not much interest for raw black metal in Italy, but I might be wrong.

What’s in the future for Illuminated Manuscripts? Are we going to listen to something from other projects of yours soon, perhaps something very different to what you’re doing at the moment? I would like to play ambient or electronica, I think it might be a natural evolution of my musical interests for Illuminated Manuscripts, but I don’t have plans currently, we’ll see. I don’t think I’ll ever be part of a band, I tried when I was younger but I don’t like band dynamics.

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