Melodic death metal band Nekrogoblikon has made a name for itself with quirky videos and concept albums that showcase the story of goblins and how they interact with the human world. For some, the goblin concept could be misconstrued as a hokey misstep and cause them to get lost in the shuffle, labeled as a gimmick. But Nekrogoblikon make it work to their advantage, going so far as to employ the goblin (John Goblikon) on stage during their live shows. The band writes blistering, hollow-pointed metal with strong theatrical ties that bring to mind Iron Maiden, Slayer-like thrash and Queen’s glam-rock. Their newest album Welcome to Bonkers continues this assault with tight-knit riffs built into a solid songwriting structure. Lead vocalist and chief songwriter, Nicky Calonne, spoke with mxdwn to discuss the new record, goblin lifestyle and answer the question…”Why goblins?”
mxdwn: Nekrogoblikon is a huge proponent of goblins and even have one on stage when you play live. How does that drive the aesthetic of the band — and why goblins?
Nicky Calonne: It all kind of started and was never supposed to get as big as it has. It was really just a summer side project between me and one other dude back in 2006. He had some leftover riffs from his old band and he said, “Let’s make an album called Goblin Island.” Just as a joke. So, we did it. Let’s write some songs about goblins. We were really into the band Finntroll back then. And then it just kept going — that was 11 years ago or something but I never expected this. Then someone made a music video for one of our songs in 2012, this guy Branden Dermer, for “No One Survives.” After that we had one show featuring the “No One Survives” goblin at the Whiskey a Go-Go, it went over so well that we figured we would just do it forever.
mxdwn: Your live shows are just amazing with John Goblikon out on stage. Does he have backstory? Have you ever thought of making a graphic novel?
NC: That’d be sweet to do, but we haven’t met the right person to do it. It seems like a great idea though. That sounds like a cool, fun thing. The story of The Goblin kind of evolves over time with the videos. Originally, he crash-landed. He’s from space as all goblins are in our lore. He crash landed on earth and he is a goblin, so no one would really accept him. But fortunately, we just happened to be this goblin-themed band. So, it worked out for him in that he decides to join us and follow us around because he is a goblin who’s really excited to meet a goblin-themed band. What are the chances, you know? He’s just your average working goblin.
mxdwn: Welcome to Bonkers is such a blistering record. But there are some songs on the record that are almost regal in a way, like how Queen would approach songwriting. How did the band approach writing the album and what is your songwriting process like?
NC: This one was a little different than the prior stuff. I wrote this one just by myself. I was living out in the desert for a couple of years with my wife, you know kind of in isolation out there. For this album, it was basically that we were on tour in late 2016 and I was like, “Fuck, I don’t want to tour anymore.” And then somehow it was like, “Oh! Well let’s do like an EP or something and I wrote the song “Mold.” Then on the tour of course it ends up being really fun and it was like, “Shit, should we just do a whole album?” We got home in November and said, “Let’s do this Jason Suecof thing.” We’re really excited to work with a producer this intensive. Basically, we had from November through March to write an album. I think in that phase I was drinking like a bottle of wine, working on songs, then taking the next day off because I was hungover. Then the next day after that, another bottle of wine, working on songs. That continued for two or three months. It was really brutal. Definitely a lot of wine involved with Welcome to Bonkers, wine and isolation and that’s how you get that.
mxdwn: Nekrogoblikon are very talented musicians, is it pretty much you writing the song from start to finish? How did you write a song like “Mold”?
NC: I write a lot of stuff on sequencers. I’m a keyboardist first and so for something like “Mold,” I basically do it in a step sequencer, looking at little grids and I find that method of writing really comfortable, especially for the kind of song like “Mold.” I want to put some weird chromatic stuff right in the middle because of the riff, because we haven’t done that before and let’s see what I can get away with musically. Then it turned out to be a catchy riff. I think when you first hear the riff, it was like, this is really weird, that chromatic part. Once you get it in your head it won’t go away.
mxdwn: There are two songs on the record that have a certain air of pageantry: “The Magic Spider” is one and the other is “The Many Faces Doctor Hubert Malbec.” Who is Dr. Hubert Malbec?
NC: That is a great question. We were on tour with Alestorm and a band called Aether Realm. I was hanging out with one of the guys from Aether Realm ’cause I get bored on tour and I just fuck with people. So, I asked them… “Have you ever seen ‘The Many Faces of Doctor Hubert Malbec?’ It’s great.” He says, “No, I haven’t seen that man.” And so I wrote it down in my little phone list of ideas and then we wrote that song. I was inspired by the title — I guess it’s about this guy who’s crazy and if I’m thinking about Dr. Hubert Malbec I sort of think of like an iconoclastic sort of outcast who lives in a lighthouse, “You know, he has to come to town every once in a while to get supplies or whatever, but he’s just going nuts inside his own head, but no one really knows.” There’s definitely more story to come about him; I didn’t realize he was going to be so popular.
mxdwn: Your previous record, Heavy Meta, was billed as a concept record about the plight of the goblin race. Can you talk a little about the writing of that record and how it differs from Welcome to Bonkers?
NC: Heavy Meta was a huge undertaking. At that time, our guitarist, who had done the original little side project with me, he quit the band right before that record and I decided I decided it’d be the band [to write the songs on Heavy Meta, collaboratively]. After much debating, we finally got a collection of songs. I spent days listening to every combination of possible orders. The idea was that they started at the beginning of the universe, goblins were always there and were young, didn’t look the same as they do now and got Gollum-ified over the years. Eventually all goblins wanted was death, all they craved was death, because they’re immortal. They’d done everything and were sick of it. Or the idea that if time is infinite then you’re never going to get around to doing anything because you could do it at any time. So they thought, “Let’s just sit around and we can do that whenever, you know, there’s no pressing urgency to actually do anything.” They get depressed and they find out through an ancient book, called the Nekrogoblikon, which tells the secret of how to end their immortality. It turns out that they can create a black hole in the center of the universe by reciting this incantation. And if they can successfully do that, then the universe will end, ending them with it. But, another little tidbit is, it actually turns out that once the universe collapses into a giant hole, another big bang happens. They just have to repeat the cycle eternally. So, there is never an end. That’s why it starts with the song, “The End of Infinity.” That’s actually the ending point of the story.
mxdwn: How do you come up with the stories behind your videos?
NC: The first video, “No One Survives” was written by the guy who directed, Brandon Dermer. That was his vision of what saw when he listened to our album STENCH on repeat from a flight back from Chicago. Just listening to it on repeat and letting the idea come to him. At first, we were really skeptical but then it turned out to be great. The video for “Dressed As Goblins” was made by Brendon Small, who did the cartoon series Metalocalypse. He’s really into writing stories and trying to push his career into more music videos and stuff like that. And it was cool to work with him on that. He wrote the story for that video. If we can find someone who is interested and excited about the project, who wants to write a story, then we pretty much give them creative free reign, but it has to be sort of approved by Dermer and the guys who made the original video because it’s his baby in a way.
mxdwn: What’s next for Nekrogoblikon?
NC: We are on the Warped Tour. It’s pretty cool. Yeah. We’ve never done it before. And it seemed like a good time to do it cause it was the last one. We’ll probably go back to Jason for any new music. He did a great job on Welcome to Bonkers, so I’m guessing we’ll probably go back to him on the next one. I’m guessing it’ll probably come out in like 2020-2021.