Never did I imagine that my days of procrastinating at university by learning Greek instead of writing an essay would come in handy until I interviewed Sakis Tolis from Rotting Christ, the unholy masters of black metal from Greece. We discussed their new album, Rituals – released February 12th, based on rituals from around the world – and a possible name change to Rotting Banana (don’t worry, Sakis put a lid on that one quickly). Read on to get what the hell I’m on about!
In fairness, the extent of my Greek is: ‘I love you’, ‘shit’, ‘cheese’, ‘go away’ and ‘you are a sexbomb’. I opened up the interview by practicing my Greek. Basically, I opened by calling Sakis a cheesy sexbomb – a great ice-breaker if ever I heard one.
So, tell me about the Greek influences in your music? Is it just lyrically or musically as well?
Both, especially in the last three albums. Greek does influence my music but it comes more from the ancient Greek music and the idea. I like to put my stamp on the music and make it unique. It is very important for me to write unique music. I play metal but I don’t want to sound exactly like other bands, so I try to be a little bit different always in life.
What is the Greek sound?
It’s very soulful music and I want to believe that we also create soulful music. I can’t explain it any differently.
So [about the] new album Rituals – I’ve seen in previous interviews you’ve said it’s a lot darker?
I think so: it’s not an album with many riffs. It’s very simple, doomy and very dark.
What is so dark about it?
It’s about rituals y’know. Before I start writing a song or an album, because I’m the only composer, first I have a kind of meditation. I have a deep research, searching myself and I come up with it like this. I like to find the dark side of myself and I don’t write music when I’m happy,for instance. When I’m not happy, I have my drug: I create music. So this album, I don’t know if it can touch you, but it’s about rituals from all over the world. You can listen to it in many languages, you can listen to the dead languages. I’ve read a lot before I started writing this album.
Reading is always good!
Yes it is! Especially if you want to create something true, you must read before, in my opinion.
Oh yeah, you have to know what you’re saying for sure, you could just be making it all up.
Yeah, I can do it. For instance, I can grab a guitar and play something – let’s say, ‘hail Satan’. It’s very easy and you can write an album. But it’s not for me – I’m not young anymore. I mean, I have thirteen albums so I’d like to be true to my own spirit.
How did you research for this album? How did you pick what rituals you were going to write about.
I like to read history. Mythology, ancient history: I think there is a treasure of knowledge there and I try to discover some of them. That’s all.
Can you give us an example of one of the rituals on the album?
For instance, there is a Greek orthodox ritual about exorcism – this is an example, this is a ritual. It is very important and something we’re very devoted to lyrically, and the concept of the band.
Do you have any rituals as a band? Musically or before you go on stage?
Yupp, nothing like the classical rituals like we kill animals or kill people y’know. It’s more of a kind of meditation; it’s very important before going on stage. I definitely need half an hour to one hour just talking to myself to know my role, to take my spirit and put it out when I’m on stage. I’m not bothered with drinking many beers, getting stoned or in a state to have fun that way. I want to have fun but it can be even sometimes different. You don’t need to be stupid sometimes to have fun. Some people have paid the money to come and see you and I respect this. I know some friends of mine who just go on the stage very drunk, which is okay for someone, but I don’t want to do something like this when I’m on stage. It’s about how you react to the fans. I’m a fan, and I consider myself a fan. I go to see the bands, I go to festivals, so when I go there and give some money I like to see something that makes sense.
So when you’re performing do you get out-of-body experiences or are you very in the moment?
Out of body experience, yeah. This is the best experience I can have. I sometimes wonder ‘why am I doing that’ still? I’ve been doing it for 25 years: taking planes going to go South America, to Siberia, Australia y’know, what for? Everything, y’know – my words are deleted when the show is over, but when I’m on stage I say ‘that’s why’.
Does it take you a while to come down? Do you feel like, oh skada! ( the Greek word for ‘shit’ – behold my skills)
Yes, you can’t have a good experience every time. It’s kind of an orgasm sometimes, when you’ve had a good time. But it can also be a very big nightmare, easily, like this *snaps fingers*.
As is usual for me, I digressed at this point onto musicians being a pain in the arse at times. We ended up speaking about our musical backgrounds, which led to this:
Did you ever study music?
Do you find that helps?
I always use my ear, ever since I was a child.
A strong ear then!
I think so, yeah.
I was looking up rituals, trying to figure out what ones you might have on the album and I found one about the Amazonian Yanomami tribe: they don’t believe death to be a natural phenomenon. They cremate the person and mix the ashes with fermented banana and all the tribes people eat it so the spirit of the deceased continues to live among them. Have you come across this?
Yes, I know this.
So there are no bananas on the album?
No, no, no.
There’s no rotting bananas? Not going to be a name change from Rotting Christ to Rotting Banana?
(laughs) I don’t think the fans would respect this.
Potassium is pretty metal though.Well, I don’t want to keep you any longer, thank you so much for your time.
You’re welcome, it was a pleasure.
The pleasure was indeed all mine. With ceremonial timing, Rotting Christ’s album Rituals was released on February 12th. If you want to purify yourself ready for the new album, why not listen to these recent taster tracks: