Rewriting A Narrative: A Conversation With Këkht Aräkh

New horizons exist for a Ukrainian black metal entity set only on pleasing exploring the self.

Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):


Upon signing with one of music's most eclectic labels, that being Sacred Bones Records, the tale of Këkht Aräkh has hit a high mark, one that finds mastermind Dmitry Marchenko at a creative high welcomed by a keen audience unbeknownst of what lies ahead. Certain connotations are expected of the black metal genre, and though Dmitry treads along those lines, he does so expansively by rewriting the narrative of what one could expect of a corpse-painted, sword-wielding figure. Këkht Aräkh remains raw and uncompromising at the core, but comes forth as multi-layered, injecting ambient melancholy, elegant interludes, and vulnerable moments to counteract an otherwise battering aggression. Though short at only 4 years since inception, Këkht Aräkh has seen a fruitful trajectory of fast-rising acclaim through the underground, and rightfully so. Sacred Bones will now see to a proper re-pressing of albums Night & Love (2019) and Pale Swordsman (2021) for all to bask in anew.


We welcome Dmitry Marchenko to a conversation on all things Këkht Aräkh as he enters a new era:

 

Dmitry, you've now signed with Sacred Bones Records and will be re-releasing your two full-lengths so far, perhaps an act of reflection to see how much you've grown as a musician over the years. When you were creating these albums, you were capturing a place in time and certain emotions running through you at that moment. Has your perspective on these records changed at all, especially now that you revisit them years later, have seen them evolve, and now grown from them?


Këkht Aräkh: At the beginning when I was releasing 'Night & Love' for the first time, it was something rather personal to me. I was making this record just for myself and I didn't expect it to get the attention it eventually got. It was just something rather personal, you know?

kekht arakh
'Night & Love' (2019)

For 'Pale Swordsman', it was a little bit different. Even though this one got even more attention, I still didn't feel myself as some bigger artist. I felt I still had a very small audience when producing it, so I felt free in some ways. Right now, I'm feeling some kind of responsibility for what I do produce. This is probably the major change since I started writing music. Signing with Sacred Bones was a big change for me and that comes with responsibility of course. I have more to say, more opportunities that come along with signing to such an important label for me. I think that's pretty good and I'm still honest when I'm working on music, but I now feel this responsibility not to disappoint people, yet I still do what I want. It's a weird balance.


Speaking of that responsibility, how does that inform your songwriting and creative development process moving forward? You mention 'Night & Love' being a very personal and emotional record, and now that you have an audience, the intention may shift. Your music has now grown new wings.


Këkht Aräkh: Yes, in a way. I would say that I'm now making my music and my concepts so that everyone could relate to it, if they please. When I was working on 'Night & Love', I was learning something from my own world, something that only I can understand. 'Pale Swordsman' was meant to be accessible to everyone. I'm now trying to develop further in this direction, to make my music be a unique language that everyone could understand and relate to.

black metal
'Pale Swordsman' (2021)

I have this newfound feeling to reach more people, to be useful. I just don't know how to do this properly, but I do know that I want my music to help people. I want my music to be a good friend to the listeners. At first, I didn't think about things like that. I was just doing what I want and right now, I'm just trying to combine those two things, doing what I want but still trying to do something that would be good for others.


It'll be interesting to see how the material develops moving forward. You establish a fine balance musically, too. The sharp distinction between goth tinged, melodic driven passages and the aggression black metal is quite exquisite, and it extends to the imagery as well. 'Pale Swordsman' portrays you sitting on the chair with the sword and the rose: two contrasting elements symbolic of the sound. What role do you feel that your visual persona plays in the extension of the music?


Këkht Aräkh: When I was developing the photos for 'Pale Swordsman', I wanted to highlight the aggression of the black metal genre through symbols, like the sword and bleak color palette. I wanted it to be a straightforward black metal picture but with a light that counteracts the aggression. I wanted to retain the black metal feel, but slightly take away from the aggressive aspects through the rose, through the posture, and facial expressions, again establishing a balance.

Dmitry in the Photo Studio For 'Pale Swordsman' (2021)

As for a purpose or concept, I would prefer if people could think of it for themselves. I want them to see it the way they want, which is part of the intention.


That's a great intention, especially with art being subjective. You give viewers a piece of the puzzle and encourage them complete the experience through their own unique lens. Touching back on the re-release for the records, in what state of mind does it now find you in now as you've been able to see your music through a new light? The stage is now set for new music as well.


Këkht Aräkh: I definitely see it in a different way. At the beginning. it felt personal, like it was truly my work. It was something that I had done. Now, it seems as if it was something that was done by someone else. Those albums are just living their own lives now, separated from me. I'm detached from them in some way, but I'm looking forward to continue moving in this new direction.

Photograph by Vasily Maydibor

Continuing down that line, it's great to see the records exist so interestingly among the black metal community. Some prefer for the genre to abide by predetermined and often geographical formulas, the like Norwegian and Swedish styles. Others welcome a distinct take that incorporates external elements. You did things your own way and forged your own path, pleasing your creative ambitions instead of trying to meet the needs of others.


Këkht Aräkh: There's no need to pretend. I know that someone might hate my music, which is fine, just as I dislike some music as well, but I know that there's someone who does like my music, so I can't pretend and do something that doesn't come from my heart. It wouldn't be honest, it wouldn't be good. Nowadays, we have a big diversity of music on the internet. Basically, everything can find its appreciation, so I wasn't worried about that, about fitting in any scene or any community. I didn't even know about communities existing within genres because I was kind of always on my own, just with my friends. I never partake in music forums or Facebook groups, so all of this stuff was brought up after I recorded my music. Before then, I had no idea.


You can't please everyone, that's for sure, but I think more people love it than they do hate it. Reflecting on what you've released so far and how you've been able to expand the genre's conventions, has doing so opened doors to things you perhaps would like to try or haven't tried, and would like to explore further?


Këkht Aräkh: Yes, definitely, but I still want to be careful with that because it goes back to the thought of pleasing some community. From what I've seen, my audience doesn't just come from solely a black metal background, I want to do something that I personally want to do, but not something that people won't enjoy, which is hard to tell sometimes. I have pretty wide music taste and I can basically start doing something completely different, but I do want to keep things coherent. It can always come away as incorrect in the ears of the listener. Personally, I really don't like when some artists that I follow drastically change their stuff to experiment. I welcome slight change, but just not that much.


I want to do something new and I have a lot of new ideas that I want to use in my upcoming work, but I still want to somehow link it to the previous two works. For now, there's a connection between 'Pale Swordsman' and the third LP. I don't know if this will remain throughout the process, which I already started, but for now, I have this in my mind,

Photograph by 'Pale Swordsman' (2021) Rehearsal, Provided by Dmitry Marchenko

One day you feel a particular way about a certain part and another day you'll switch it altogether, so it's a constantly changing beast. There's a vulnerability and fragile element to your music, as evident in the more melancholic passages, which exists alongside harrowing aggression. Two ends of the emotional and musical spectrum are explored in your work, which can be quite taxing I'm sure. How do you find the fine balance between the two because you pour yourself physically and emotionally into both of those sides of things?


Këkht Aräkh: I don't really have any particular way, but I can say that this was the initial purpose of the project. If we go back to the 'Through The Branches To Eternity' (2018) EP, you can clearly see that first track is rather aggressive and the second track is calmer. Early on, this is what I wanted, to try to combine these two things like we've talked about. After I did this EP, I thought, "What if I can try to combine it a bit more, in a much more complicated way?" It all evolved from there. To be honest, I can't really tell exactly how it comes this way. It's something that comes out naturally because it's a reflection of the person that I am. I like soft music and at the same time, I like heavy and depressing music.

Photograph by Vasily Maydibor

Këkht Aräkh is the embodiment of both. There's a cathartic feeling with finally releasing music that has so much emotional investment within it. Many argue that it's like a healing mechanism of sorts. In closing, what has Këkht Aräkh helped you realize for yourself as a person and as a musician?


Këkht Aräkh: I can call this musical project my diary because when I was making 'Night & Love', I felt one particular way. For 'Pale Swordsman', I felt another way. This third album is going to be reflective of me feeling a third way and it's going to contain thoughts, feelings, and emotions experienced throughout all my life somehow, It allows me to separate my own personality from myself as a musician and I'm letting my music speak for me. I let my music say things I wouldn't say out loud myself, so basically it's a conduit. It's a messenger, a personal messenger, As I've said, I'm doing my best to make it understandable to everyone so that everyone could take Këkht Aräkh and make it their own through my music, my lyrics, and my own experiences.

 

The Pale Swordsman and Night & Love reissues arrive November 18th (Order/Stream).