Ignea – A Journey of Dreams

Thursday, 11th May 2023

Ukrainian act Ignea certainly has not had an easy time of it lately. While the world went dormant with COVID as their second album, The Realms of Fire and Death, was released. While the band was able to sign to Napalm Records, the war in the Ukraine began just as the band started to record their third full-length, Dreams of Lands Unseen. But with perseverance and dedication, the band powered through and it has been recently released. An exotic, conceptual album about Ukrainian traveler/documentarian/photographer Sofia Yablonska, it’s a massive undertaking that sees the band shining their brightest to date. We spoke with vocalist Helle Bogdanova to get her thoughts about the impact of the war in the Ukraine with the album, dig deeper into the concept, and even see where she would love to travel to.

Dead Rhetoric: How are things for the band in the Ukraine at the moment?

Helle Bogdanova: I think that at this moment, we are just lucky.  We are in Kiev, which is the capital, and for the past few months it has been more patient. You never know, at any point there could be a massive missile attack. It’s been a year. We are lucky that we are all alive and that no one is hurt. That’s mostly due to our armed forces and luck. In the war, there’s a lot of luck. We are just grateful that the album is still coming out. It’s a big deal for us now, but the war is still going on and it’s not good that people are starting to forget about it – like when you think about the rest of the world. It is understandable, because people have their own problems and it’s quite far away – but it’s not over yet.

Dead Rhetoric: I’ve noticed that over here in the US. It was all over the news when it first started, then it just dropped off. You know it’s still happening, but apparently it has lost its glimmer for being shown on the news over here or something. You have all my thoughts and condolences for everything happening over there.

Bogdanova: Thank you. In any case, the US has been supporting us a lot. I think that if it wasn’t for the US, we would probably be under occupation. They have given us the most support in terms of weapons, which is what we really need to get our territories back.

Dead Rhetoric: Were there any complications with the recording or release due to problems in Ukraine?

Bogdanova: Basically, we completed composing the album before the full-scale war started and managed to record half of it in the studio. The bass parts were recorded on February 23, and then the next day everything started. In the first few months, we couldn’t think of recording anything. We were in Kiev, not the capital but in the suburbs, it was occupied. Everything was about survival. We even had problems getting food and medicine. It was really tough and scary. We couldn’t even listen to music in the first few months because we were afraid of every sound. Spinning any records was not appropriate. But when the region was unoccupied, we had more hope and we started getting used to the situation, as horrible as it was.

We were determined to record this album and bring it to life, because we also felt that this was a way of fighting for Ukraine. We are bringing a sort of legacy, and it’s a part of our culture, so it was tough to finish the recordings in the middle of the air raids and missile/drone attacks, but we did it. We still had to postpone the album because we couldn’t really make band promo photos or film videos. Usually you film videos either in nature or industrial districts, and those were the biggest targets for the missiles, so they were all closed. We postponed the album release. Another challenge for us was to film the videos, since we did that in the winter, and those were the biggest times for blackouts and missile attacks. Sometimes we didn’t have power for days, and when you film a video, even to plan for them, you need a lot of stable electricity and internet connection. Cell phones can’t arrange anything. Sometimes we couldn’t reach out production team. I don’t know how we did it. We had this production task of filming the videos and deadlines, and it kind of helped keep us sane. We filmed three videos in two months and all of the videos were filmed in the Ukraine, with a Ukrainian production team, and I think that for us, these are the best videos that we have made.

We have so much to tell about the past year – we are a young band, but I feel like we could have written a book about it. It was really challenging and we did it and now the album will be out in two days and I can’t believe it.

Dead Rhetoric: I was actually wondering how you were able to get videos recorded under the circumstances – I think it speaks a lot about the band’s commitment and dedication.

Bogdanova: That’s why with the videos we tried to capture the process and we have some behind the scenes vlogs. Some are on Patreon and some on the Napalm Records YouTube channel. We tried to record everything behind the scenes.

Dead Rhetoric: Obviously with the last year, you have gained a lot of experience.  But what do you feel that you have gained from your previous two releases that you have applied here?

Bogdanova: I feel like we are growing with every album. You learn something with every recording and composing of an album. If we take the first record, I was writing the lyrics and I felt that if I did it one time, I didn’t really want to change anything. I felt it was like pure inspiration. Now I have a different approach. I let my inspiration flow, but I really give it some time and some review so I can change some words for the better. I feel like it’s a more grown up approach. With this album, I took it further since it’s a concept album. I took half a year to study the topic and subject for the album. So there was a lot of work on the lyrics.

Usually, our keyboardist Evgeny [Zhytnyuk] is our composer and he writes all the music. But with time we experimented a little. Sometimes he had this writers block and he had certain parts that he gave to me and we called them ‘breaks,’ and he just let me arrange them in the order I wanted. So I contributed more of the music for this album. I also feel that’s why I think it sounds a bit more diverse and maybe darker. I like darker stuff, so maybe that’s an imprint of my taste. I think that even musicwise, our skills are growing more. I like my vocals more on the new record. I think that every vocalist would say that they would be glad to rerecord the previous releases [laughs] because I can feel and hear some things that don’t really sound good. But it’s also the evolution of the band too.

Dead Rhetoric: You researched for six months, what were you digging into during that time?

Bogdanova: When we picked up the topic of the album, which was Sofia Yablonska, a Ukrainian traveler, documentarian, and photographer, I just started learning more about her. It wasn’t easy, since she isn’t famous, even here in the Ukraine, which I find really sad. But I found that only a few years ago, there were some travelogs published by her so I took my time to read everything that was published, which was like three books. When I was reading them, I was trying to note everything I liked: phrases, words, some situations, or even some thoughts that I had when I was reading them.

Since she was a photographer, I also bought several photo albums she published. I looked through the photos and read some articles about her. I tried to find everything I could. Apparently, she has a granddaughter in France. So there are some more photos and works from her, but they are in the family archives, which is a pity. I hope that someday they will be revealed as well. She is a very interesting person, and the way she tells about her travels was very fun to read. It’s not boring at all! She has a really good way with not only photos but words. I mean I really hope that these books will get published and translated into other languages.

Dead Rhetoric: You touched on some of the ideas, but could you talk a bit more about the concept of the album and the story of Sofia Yablonska?

Bogdanova: For this album, I was just trying to either reflect on stories from her travels. For example, the song “Dunes” is about the Sahara Desert. I was trying to reflect on her life and travels, like in “To No One I Owe” is about being a vagabond and facing misunderstandings from people. Especially in her time, then women didn’t really travel on their own to distant corners. They were mostly at home raising children and managing the household. She was very progressive for her time. She also made a breakthrough in travel photography, because she actually lived with these tribes in exotic lands and documented their lives. So she faced a lot of misunderstanding. She always adapted really well to the locals, and they always asked her to stay with them. But she always packed her luggage and moved on – that’s what the song is about.

“Incurable Disease” is about her passion for the sea and all things marine. But it’s also a personal song to me, because I’m a huge fan of all things marine. I even have a marine sleeve tattoo. So I find a lot of similarities between her and myself, even though we have like 100 years difference between us. But in reading her words, sometimes it was ‘just me.’ So it’s more of a soundtrack to her life, I would say.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel your expansive sound lends itself well to tackling a concept album?

Bogdanova: I feel so, yeah. With this album, we are taking people on a journey to all these lands that she traveled. When I was reading her work, it was like everything was about ups and downs. Some really nice and brutal stuff. Just like our music. Sometimes it was really dangerous for her. But she describes all these amazing places and cultures, and that’s what we have in the music. We have different folk elements – Chinese, because she spent a lot of time in China, some Middle Eastern like in “Dunes,” and also Ukrainian because that’s where she is from. We tried incorporating some traditional Ukrainian stuff, as well as language, in our songs. We really reflected on that it is a soundtrack to what she did. But even if you don’t know the concept, this album has it’s way of getting to the listener because it sounds like Ignea.

Dead Rhetoric: The band line up has stayed pretty stable since forming in 2015 – anything you attribute this to?

Bogdanova: At this point, we didn’t really feel anything that would lead to line-up changes. We are also the kind of band that doesn’t compose together. We have one composer, I write the lyrics, and Evgeny and I do the management stuff. We are the decision-makers. But with all the band members, we have the best time together – playing rehearsals and touring. When you go on tour, it can be hard because you are basically living together. We get along really well. The guys also really respect what Evgeny and I do – they don’t interfere and they let us shape the band into what we want. We have a good balance with each other. We are good as we are and I hope it stays like this. Also, being in a band also influences your life a lot. Since we don’t have children or strong ties to stay in one place, it also helps us to go along with the band. It may sound strange, but these days it really makes a difference, to go out on the road and really make music.

Dead Rhetoric: With so much traveling involved in this story, where would you go if given the opportunity?

Bogdanova: I am a very Nordic person, so i really like going to Scandinavian countries. I had the pleasure of being there a few weeks ago for a metal conference in Norway. It was the best thing for me [laughs]. I was really curious to visit Japan too, as a tourist since i am interested in Japanese culture, but also for touring. Playing shows and touring is a completely different experience compared to Europe. The fans are different, and the way of just show arrangements –  it’s very different, so I hope someday we can reach Japan.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your plans for the rest of 2023?

Bogdanova: At this point, we would really like to get back out on the road. We didn’t have a good chance to tour properly for the last album and now we have a new one. It’s hard for Ukrainians to leave the country. The regulations have been tougher in the last few months. I really hope that we can play the festivals we have been announcing and get the chance to do a proper club tour. At the same time, we will be filming some sort of live session for the new songs. We did it before and people really liked it. Not everyone is able to visit our shows. We will do some playthroughs with different instruments too. I want this album to get the proper time and show it in different perspectives. To be honest, this war has been very hard to get inspiration to write anything new. Really, we have some sort of a void inside of us. That’s why I want to enjoy this release and give it a proper showcase.

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