Christos Antoniou: “Although thousands of years of evolution have passed since the appearance of the human species, we are still carrying deep inside a very strong primitive and destructive element that cannot be tamed and probably will be our downfall”
Als één van de voorlopers van Hellenistische extreme metal verdient het Griekse Septicflesh veel respect. Bovendien hebben zij een muzikale evolutie doorstaan waarvoor je enkel ontzag kunt opbrengen. Van duistere black/death metal naar gothic metal naar symfonische metal en hoe! Aan Christos Antoniou – samen met Seth en Sotiris de oprichter van de band – hebben we te danken dat men zich ontwikkelde van extreme metal band naar orkestrale grandeur, want hij haalde een master degree in klassieke muziek en begon deze primitieve muziek enige beschaving bij te brengen in de gedaante van orkestrale arrangementen. Met hem praatten we dan ook over het nieuwe album ‘Modern Primitive’, eveneens een titel met een schijnbare onverenigbaarheid. En toch lukt het hen, evenals in muzikaal opzicht. Je moet moeite doen om het te begrijpen – net als de uitleg van de man – maar het is de moeite waard en het loont uiteindelijk.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 24 mei 2022
Hello Christos, it has been a while. We had ‘Codex Omega’ in 2017 and then it seemed as if you ended a chapter, with live album, compilations, changing of label… Did you feel it that way? Was it the closing of a chapter?
Yes, you can say something like that, because after so many years at Season Of Mist, we reached the point that we had to change chapter and move on. We went to Nuclear Blast. We released a live DVD with live orchestra in Mexico, then came this pandemic. Many things happened during all these years.
Indeed, the pandemic was horror for bands and now the war brings uncertainty…
It is good that we still have the music. It doesn’t go very well at the moment with humanity.
Was ‘Modern Primitive’ a difficult album to make for you?
Well, you know, each album is a challenge for us, always. For an artist, the creation is the most important task and we had to find some ways to improve ourselves, to refresh ourselves. It is always difficult, you know. For an artist the worst nightmare is to be static and don’t evolve, but I am glad that we have many people in the band who compose and this helps. The main composers in the band are me, my brother and Sotiris. This helps, because if there was only one, that could be an issue. But many ideas came on the table and we had a lot of time to focus on this album.
Indeed, the lack of concerts gave you more time to create something in the studio…
Yes, although it was not our choice, this time, time was in favour for us. We had all the time to create something that has a new identity for us.
You used more ethnic instruments…
It is not the first time that we use ethnic instruments, but for the first time we used mandolin, lute, we used again an Armenian woodwind which is called duduk, we used santur, it is an Iranian instrument. It is a nice instrument that can create a new colour in our music.
With real instruments, the sound is more attractive…
Yes, because, although those alternatives are improved during the years, nothing can compete with the real instruments. They are warm; the live sequence that can be created is unique.
One of the features is also more choirs, is my impression…
Yes, we have an adult choir that we used so many years now, but now we had the opportunity to also use a children’s choir. Both choirs are really professional. The choir can give this ethereal colour effect in the music. We also had a children’s choir on ‘Titan’ and a boy’s soprano on ‘Vampire Of Nazareth’ from ‘The Great Mass’. It is nice to have so many weapons at our disposal. We can use them whenever we want, when we need something unique.
Let us go deeper into the title ‘Modern Primitive’. My first connection was a link with painters, but I guess you use it in a different meaning?
The title is the core of the dominant concept of the album, it is the realization that, although thousands of years of evolution have passed since the appearance of the human species, we are still carrying deep inside a very strong primitive and destructive element that cannot be tamed and probably will be our downfall. You can see that during crisis, now with the war, you can see that human beings can have many abilities, so many strengths, but can also be very self-destructive. This is the main message of the album and the title of the album.
As usual the cover artwork was done by your brother Seth and you can interpret it in different ways I guess?
Yes, also the artwork shows a brain which tends to developments but can be in conflict with instincts. There are self destructive elements to discover, which evokes to the main message of the album which is the self-destructive nature in a way.
Don’t you think that the evolution of techniques and modernisation, even upcoming AI, damages the true nature of our brain which is sensitive?
I think this would be a minor problem, because at the moment the AI is not the part of the problem. Politicians that can control the people and create a mess are the current problem. We have seen that in the pandemic, with the war. With the iPhones and technological stuff, we are different than before, but I don’t think that would be a problem. I think the idiots that rule the world are the main problem. I am in favour of technology and science, but I am not such a huge fan of social media. A lot of clowns have an opinion, so much fake news. I think we are in a really big crisis at the moment and hopefully soon we will overpass this. I hope so, because I don’t know.
And Greece already had hard times while being in the EU…
We have had tough times during this decade. It was not our fault, we did not create the mess, but also I think Europeans should be more soft to us, because Europe has many different countries, many different philosophies; many different cultures. You cannot expect the Germans to be the same like the Greek and vice versa. Each country has its own specialities. Although, we made so many mistakes, the Greeks, and we ended up with a big debt in the end, but now today I learned that we paid it all back. It is finished. We have to learn from this lesson and be more Europeans.
In the past it was a common thing that you worked with another producer for every album. But now I see a return to a producer, more precisely you have worked for the second time in a row with Jens Bogren. He must be special. What about the studio process with him?
Yes, Jens is an amazing producer. The top producer at the moment and we worked with him on ‘Codex Omega’. That was a very, very difficult task. He managed to create an amazing sound for ‘Codex Omega’ and we were very pleased with the result. We had a tough time, for sure, because we had to mix the orchestral elements and the metal parts. That is very difficult. It is an eternal battle between the orchestra and the metal parts, but he is very experienced and professional. Once again he managed to create an amazing result. We are really pleased and hopefully we can continue to work with him.
But in the past you had another studio as well, do you still have that?
No. I am not part of DevaSound at all. It was me and Fotis, but now I am not part of this studio. We used this studio till ‘Titan’.
I think that Sotiris with his clean vocals has a slightly bigger role in the music or not?
Well, nothing has changed in a way. It is the same as before. He is one of the founders, he composes, he writes all the lyrics, maybe he has a bigger part in the video clips doing clean vocals, but nothing changed in a way.
He is a good master in ceremony, isn’t it?
(chuckles) Yes, he is the ceremonial guy. He is our occult guy.
For every album and tour you change the clothes and the props on stage. Doesn’t it take a lot of time and effort to do that?
Yes, but now we thought – after so many years that we had a big approach in a way – we decided that we need to be more practical. We said it is better to make things simpler, you know. We did hire the same guy that we had for ‘Codex Omega’ and ‘Titan’. We said it is better to keep things simpler, to be able to have a better time on tour. It was not so easy, you know. Although the artist had a lot of work making costumes, the main idea was that it is not so practical. Sometimes you look very stiff.
One positive thing happened in May 2021. From the Berklee college of music in Valencia, you got a message that they had four of your scores added to their music library. Was that something that moved you?
Yes of course, this was really making me proud, because the library from Berklee was sending me an e-mail and said that they would like to have my scores in their library. Because I know how the music libraries work – I was also student of classical music in their university – I was really proud, because every student that wants to study music has to go to the library to listen to scores. I am proud, maybe some people can learn some things from me.
The orchestral additions really fit the music of Septicflesh, it has really become a big part of the music…
Yes, because we don’t have to hire an orchestrator. I know how the orchestra works and it is part of our composition process. Sometimes I give to the guys my orchestral template and they will add their parts or the opposite. They will give me their metal parts and I will have to add my orchestral elements. We work like that. This is our composition process.
With the concept like we see on the DVD ‘Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX’ it must have been a dream come true for you…
Yes it was a really difficult process, but it turned out really well. It was very hectic. I was very anxious about it, because I worked so many months for this project, but at the end of the day everything was really great. We did not have any issues, everything was really running smooth.
I have seen the video clips for ‘Hierophant’ and ‘Neuromancer’. Can you tell something about those songs and about the video clips you have made for them?
Yes. We had again as director Jon Simvonis, the guy that made our two videos for ‘Codex Omega’. The video clips are based upon the lyrics and the music. We saw them at the end of the production and we were really surprised and very happy with the result, because he managed to catch the main idea from both clips. ‘Hierophant’ is about someone who has a Christian position, he was a priest. He was the main character, the hierophant, performing forbidden rituals to a more primitive powerful elemental consciousness. You find a conclusion of the story when the new album will come out in the song ‘Self-Eater’. Those two songs are in a way one story. ‘Neuromancer’ was based upon the main character of the book of William Gibson, where the protagonist is the computer hacker in a dystopian world. He sends nerve system damage and cannot connect to the virtual reality. Basically the song focuses on what we hold in our true selves again. I believe that Jon managed to create two great clips to suggest what we want to say to the world with this art.
Do you still have plans with Chaostar?
Not at the moment. I am so busy with Septicflesh. I am also composing a score for a video game called Mandragora. I am so busy at the moment. No time. I have so many projects going on and it is tough to create something for Chaostar at the moment.