interview by Michael Klioumis
Greek Symphonic Death Metal band Septicflesh, today is a vastly respected name in the metal music community. Twenty five years of existence, tours all over the world, nine studio albums, rave reviews and a unique combination of extreme metal with neo-classical music and huge orchestras gives us a glimpse into the dark and spooky universe of the ‘flesh.
“The legend says that a mythical creature named phoenix could reborn from its ashes. It is also said that those who carry the spirit of “burning phoenix” are unstoppable, even by the flames of an “infernal sun”, as they possess the “ophidian will” to carry on, beyond all obstacles”.
MK: Hello Christo ! The new year finds you on the road with Septicflesh, where are you now?
CA: Too cold Michael! We started from Berlin, then Hamburg, Leipzig and today we play in Aarhus Denmark.
MK: How’s the tour so far?
CA: Super, really great, we play sold out venues so far and it seems pretty promising.
MK: Is this tour gonna be one of your best and most successful ones so far?
CA: Yeah, I think it’s gonna be the best so far. I mean judging from Germany where the audience is tough, I think this tour will be great. We haven’t seen venues so full for a while.
MK: Glad to hear so !
So, you started at a very difficult era for Metal in Greece back in 1990. Greek music, meaning the famous bouzoukia was everything back then in terms of music and entertainment in Greece. How did you manage to survive as a band and how difficult was it?
We had personality in our sound and that helped us a lot to differentiate from the other bands.
CA: As you said bouzoukia was everything back then. Actually that’s when the decline of the Greek culture started and we ended up where we are today. We were young and so thirsty for playing music. We had personality in our sound and that helped us a lot to differentiate from the other bands and make the step outside our country. To become internationally known. Things were not that easy back then, no good recording studios, no clubs to perform, many difficulties but we wanted to make music and we did it, nothing stopped us.
MK: How tough was that when this kind of music, Metal, was unknown in Greece and out of our culture?
CA: It’s still difficult Michael, nothing changed dramatically. Personally I don’t care about the Greek system. We (metal musicians) were always considered to be minority, same thing now. Greece never helped us. For instance, Sweden provides studios to their artists and bands for free to rehearse and record. We don’t have that in Greece.
MK: Yeah and it’s pretty disappointing that people in Greece don’t know Septicflesh. You compose your own music, you are responsible for your image, you design your artwork and you tour so many years all over the world with success. And at the same time if a Greek pop artist goes outside the country to perform, for the Greeks who live in Germany for instance, it’s all over the news.
CA: I know, that’s a lie of the media who try to convince us that Anna Vissi or Sakis Rouvas are successful outside Greece. If Rouvas goes to play in Paris only Greeks will show up at the gig. No French people. Or if he goes to New York the audience will only be the community of Greeks.
MK: That’s the difference with Septicflesh, you have fans all over the world, not only Greeks but fans from the so many countries that you have toured to.
CA: Of course, we have our fans in Greece but we make international tours, we go from Japan to South Africa and then America. Everywhere.
MK: Christo what would you say about the crisis we’re facing in the last six years in our country?
CA: I detest politics and I’m really sad and angry. It seems that we are going to suffer even more. It’s time for hard work, we have to work at last. I think it will turn around, if you ask me. I think that with patience and persistence and with someone to stand up for the country we’ll see better days. Of course Greek people are also responsible since they vote for each government at every election. The politicians were “hiring” them and the civilians were voting for them. No politician gets to govern without the people having voted for him.
MK: So we have the government that we deserve..
CA: Exactly right, I hope that this will change, you know it’s not only the other countries of the eurozone to blame, we have our share of responsibility.
MK: Do you ever think to leave the country especially in times like that?
CA: I was living in England for nine years and I have been all over the world, but Greece is my country and the most beautiful of all and it’s my home. I wouldn’t change Greece for any other country.
MK: Do you believe that there is music education in Greece?
I think that with patience and persistence and with someone to stand up for the country we’ll see better days.
CA: No, no way. I studied music in England and as soon as I ended my studies and my master’s degree there I came back to Greece and gave directly exams for my diploma in fugue, harmony and counterpoint. I never studied at a Greek music school. We have so many music schools and there’s no proper education, there’s something wrong here. What’s the reason to have so many music schools but not academies that can teach you composition? We are the country of the absurd.
MK: So, no music education means audience with no music education as well, right?
CA: That’s a big problem, on the other hand of course there’s all this brainwash from the Greek media. I mean seriously now, is there any serious tv channel out there? Answer me that. Unfortunately in this country everything seems to be rotten and dysfunctional. And we all see the results of that. The education for example should be the first priority for every government which had ruled this country.
MK: That’s where everything starts off.
CA: Yes, this mentality was built in the 80’s, people were like “I’ll get myself a job in the public sector, I’ll get myself a cabrio and I will be fine”. Look at us now.. I mean, you as an artist, did you get any help from this country? What’s the situation in cinema?
MK: It’s tough, the budget that is given for films is limited and gets absorbed by the same production companies over and over again. The rest of us have to find new ways guerilla style and make a film independently.
CA: So there’s the example of Lanthimos who left and that was a good move for him.
MK: Yes, that’s a good example. On a different note, can you remember what you were listening to back in 1990 and what do you listen to now?
We are the country of the absurd.
CA: So many things changed since then, I was discovering metal and classical music. I was always trying to listen to different kinds of music and I was learning from each kind. I started with Mozart, then Stravinsky and later Xenakis. It’s like what my professor used to tell me, you have to listen to a lot of music, it prepares you for your future endeavors. I always listen to something new that will feed in my inspiration. Whether I’m composing something for Septicflesh, Chaostar (Chris’s other band) or write classical music..
MK: Would you say that it was a second apocalypse for you the discovery of classical music after the discovery of metal?
CA: Absolutely, both changed my life. The moment I started playing electric guitar and the moment that I heard Mozart’s Requiem for the first time in my life. That’s when I started to think what it would be like to compose for orchestras. And then I heard The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. That was a real game changer for me. I said I want to compose like him. It changed everything for me.
MK: How did you take the decision to write orchestral music for your three last albums?
It’s like what my professor used to tell me, you have to listen to a lot of music.
CA: It surely has to do with my studies in classical music and of course the budget. We signed with a very serious label, Season of Mist which could give us the appropriate budget to record with an orchestra. We started with a small orchestra in “Communion” (2008), then the orchestra got bigger in “The Great Mass” (2011) and for “Titan” (2014) we used 60 string instrument players, 30 wind instrument players and a children choir. Huge orchestra.
MK: Septicflesh have grown more successful through time and their reputation keeps growing. With excellent reviews and tours all over the world they have managed to keep the Septicflesh trademark sound alive. How hard was that especially for a Greek band and in such a difficult industry?
CA: It’s really tough but we believed in our vision and we continue to believe. We have the same drive because our goal is to maintain the quality in our discography and our shows. We give attention to the smallest detail, we don’t follow trends, we do what’s best for us.
MK: Would you say that Metal music is going downwards since great albums don’t hit the shelves as often as in the past?
CA: That makes sense because everything has been saturated. We’ll never see bands like Metallica again, there were different times then with fewer bands and that’s one of the reasons why these bands became titans. Nowadays things have changed a lot with the internet and the music industry. The strongest will prevail, the really good ones with something new to offer. Metal will never die out though.
MK: What do you think of the Greek metal scene today?
The moment that I heard Mozart’s Requiem for the first time in my life. That’s when I started to think what it would be like to compose for orchestras.
CA: There are many good efforts but it takes hard work and long time to make a breakthrough. It’s harder today, new bands have to create a distinctive sound. Only two bands have lasted long in Greece, Septicflesh and Rotting Christ. And Gus G is another example of success concerning Greek metal musicians who managed to get the guitar position for Ozzy Osbourne.
MK: What’s also impressive about Septicflesh is the fact that you make almost everything in your own. Music, image, lyrics, artwork.
CA: Yes, we’re like a factory that produces everything. Other bands assign their artwork or even orchestration elsewhere but we do everything from inside the factory of the ‘flesh. We are three individuals who work together with great chemistry for 25 years and we’ll move on like that.
MK: That sounds like a full time job, I guess it’s better to have total control over your work right?
CA: No doubt about it, having total control in art is extremely important.
MK: What were your career changing moments as a band?
CA: The first one was after our hiatus. The second period of Septicflesh. We reunited and the band started to form. Before we were more known in the underground scene which was smaller. We didn’t have a label to promote us and signing up with Season of Mist was catalytic for our career. That’s how we started to make bigger tours and in bigger markets such as America where we now have a fan base. So today we have fans all over the world and offers from many countries to perform to.
MK: Favorite artists?
CA: Paradise Lost, Metallica, Celtic Frost is a very important band for me and the first one to introduce symphonic metal, Morbid Angel, Death, Dead Can Dance and composers such as Igor Stravinsky , Iannis Xenakis, Penderecki, Danny Elfman, Eliott Goldenthal.
MK: Has it ever crossed your mind to give up on music and do something else for living?
CA: When I came back from England after having finished my studies I had a rough year. Everything was bleak and it felt like depression since there were no perspectives. For a moment I thought to get a job outside music but luckily, that was only a temporary thought and I quickly managed to get over it and continue with music. It was during our disbandment but I found my way. It takes patience, persistence and vision Michael and then everything else comes.
MK: What are your future plans?
CA: We have a lot more to give and we will experiment with new elements so to refresh our sound. We are still highly motivated and now we have bigger responsibilities with the albums we have created.
MK: Christo thank you for this interview, I hope you’ll have a great tour.
CA: Thank you Michael.