Rotting Christ Interview
By: Metalist NY Magazine
With: Sakis Tolis
Few names ring quite as many bells in the Black Metal scene, in Israel in particular, as Rotting Christ. The Greek Metal brothers Sakis and Themis Tolis (alongside a myriad of other members and strong players of the Greek Metal scene) have produced more classic albums than one could care to remember. From Non Serviam and all the way up to their newest release, Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού (no I don't know how to pronounce it either,) Rotting Christ seems to be one of those few golden bands that never relent and much like Mayhem, never fail. Just before the fifth time in Israel, I had the pleasure to speak with non (Serviam, ba dum tshhh) other than the musical architect behind it all, Sakis Tolis.
Benek- Hey Sakis! How are you?
Sakis- I'm fine my friend, we are very busy actually because we're working on several shows worldwide. We are all here in our home town, as we are also in the middle of a world wide tour.
Benek- So, my idea for this interview is to go back to front about Rotting Christ, to start in your history and things related to it, then build up to Kata Ton Aaimona Eaytoy and the show in Israel. So, how did you guys form?
Sakis- We formed back in the late 80's, we were just three people who were really into underground Metal music, especially Black Metal music which was really strong back then. We really wanted to make some music that is to our taste, like Bathory , Venom and Possessed, Celtic Frost. So we, Themis, Jim and I, formed the band. Of course when we started, our goal was not that big, you know you start with one song. But as the year was passing by , we were releasing more and more albums and getting more attention from people. We are now on album #12, which we are very proud of it. Many people consider it our best album ever!
Benek- What has it been like to work with your brother Themis for all these years? After 25 years together as a band, do you feel that the connection is still growing?
Sakis- I don't know if you have a brother, especially with a brother there is tension all the time. But on the other hand, he's the only band member I can always trust, and we did very well as to stick together 25 years. We keep united and keep the band alive, all those years. Musically too we are doing very well, but I can speak the most fluently and be the most open with.
Benek- During your early demos, you actually started as a Grindcore band up to Satanas Tedeum, what made you make the very unobvious jump between that and Black Metal?
Sakis- it was just one demo you know! We were very fascinated by Noise and Grindcore back then, but it was only for one demo and really for one year of the band. We did a few shows, but the change to Black Metal came naturally because we are always seeking new directions in music, and always following the dark path.
Benek- So it also came from an ideological standpoint? (referring to “following the dark path”)
Sakis- Yes, of course, I mean when you have albums like “Welcome to Hell” (Venom) you cannot be stuck in Grindcore! (laughs)
Benek- When you started, obviously you were passionate, but could you dream that in 25 years you would still be doing the same thing?
Sakis- No, of course not. When you start up a band, your only goal, I don't know about the new guys, but our goal back then was to do one show. We didn't want to be famous, we played music that speaks to your soul. Which worked better for us. Our goals will never be big, even now when we have good feedback worldwide and we have fans in many different countries, our goal is the same and it remains to make to speak to our and to the fan's souls. It makes me very sad to see bands who start up and their goal is only to make money.
Benek- I guess though that is the danger with having a strong underground culture, that people will see something that is strong, pure and beautiful and try to exploit it.
Sakis- Rotting Christ, has and always will be an underground band. Even if now we get more attention, and are more popular than when we started, we will always support the underground movement and underground bands.
Benek- No, I know, but it's just sad to see...
Sakis- Yeah, I guess but I don't criticize. I don't know, maybe if I was born now, i'd react like them, we were just lucky enough to be born at a certain point in time. We lived out the romantic era and were a part of it.
Benek- Speaking of which, how do you feel about the major influence your first two albums, Non Serviam and Thy Mighty Contract had on the Greek Metal scene and the Metal scene in general?
Sakis- We are very honored, and we feel honored when someone says those album influences many bands around. For us it's just making music and expressing ourselves. So when this expression touched someone else, it makes us feel enriched in our souls.
Benek- What are some high points of the early career?
Sakis- Definitely the Fuck Christ tour. The first ever Black Metal tour, it took part in 1993, it consisted of bands such as Immortal, Blasphemy, and of course ourselves.
Benek- How did that come about? Of course the bands were very far removed geographically,
Sakis- We got together by letters, no emails and no phone numbers, no mobile bla bla. Only by letters!
Benek- What did it feel like to see the exposure that this type of music would get? To get a taste of what the future held for Black Metal?
Sakis- It was a big experience for us, but don't expect that there were a lot of people. The BM underground at the time was something the minority of Metal Heads liked, it was something extreme that shook the water and that people weren't ready for. To play in this type of show, this type of small festival , was crazy. Also, many of the people who attended at the time were people we knew from letters. Back in the time, you know, contact wasn't easy. There wasn't facebook, there wasn't youtube, so every touch was a real touch, we made a lot of real friends. Of course this wasn't popular music and wasn't loved by the majority of people but this is the Black Metal spirit. Great bands conserving the idea.
Benek- How did the re-realese by Raven Records of Thy Mighty Contract came about?
Sakis- Yishai has kept the spirit alive for many many years, and we were very glad that he took up listening to Thy Mighty Contract. He considers this a very important album, not only to our career, but to Black Metal in general. So when Yishai came up with the offer to re-release it, of course we accepted!
Benek- There are very famous quotes in Israel wherein, before coming here for the first or second time, you gave an interview that kind of bashes the Greek (such as Dalaras, and what not, not speak about the Metal scene)music scene, yet now you incorporate much of it into your music, what changed your view?
Sakis- I know, from the very first time we were there back in 1994! They put on Greek music in the pubs and bars and what not. We do have some motifs, but not only. In the last album for example, we have influences from many many cultures. But as a band, you play music, and sometimes, you have to update your music. In my opinion, when you have 12 albums and keep the attention of people, you must create something unique. So you know, we're Greeks , and we have a country with strong history, so why not integrate some of it into our music? Of course I don't like Greek pop culture, not at all, but some elements from our history can help in keeping the identity of the bands alive in the double zeros (2000's)
Benek- So, Rotting Christ has always been a band with a strong melodic edge to its Black Metal, what compelled you to the more melodic side of Black Metal, especially considering your Grindcore origins?
Sakis- I'm an anxious person, I always seek a new direction, not only in music but in my life. You can also count the fact that we are a band from the Mediterranean, with a very rich history in music. Therefore, our ideas and music is obviously very different than the Northern European ones. Many of their Black Metal bands created music that was more brutal, more aggressive and permit me to say, it lacked variety. We are always working to make step ups and to see that we have our mentality from the area. We always seek directions, but we keep our Rotting Christ melodic edge.
Benek- How do you feel you have developed as a songwriter over the years? I bet that the changes you had to go through, from being a singer and a guitarist all the way to writing all the instruments except for drums as you do now.
Sakis- I don't know if it's development or not, but at least you can call it steps up. Ok, technically we know how to play better but I don't care, the only thing I care, is that the last albums I take very seriously and work very hard on them. What developed now is a sense of self meditation, first I talk with myself, and then I take up the guitar, and back then I would pick up the guitar and write spontaneously. I first think, and if I feel any vibration that I feel come up, then I go up with any one song. Yet still in my opinion, we create dark and atmospheric music, which we will continue to do in the future.
Benek- What inspires you to write? What types of music and philosophy? One can easily see that Rotting Christ is not a one dimensional band and that it has a lot of influences.
Sakis- I read a lot before I write an album, especially the last. I read a lot into history and into ancient civilizations, I read a lot about dead cultures and languages. I write all of it before I get into the studio, the lyrics are very important and have a big connection with the music.
Benek- Also, it seems that since day one Rotting Christ has been a super hard working band, hwo do you maintain such a heavy touring schedule?
Sakis- You know something, now i'm laying in my bed and having problems with my back. There were so many shows, I started feeling my body collapsing. Also adding the fact I’ve reached 41 years old, I’m not that young anymore, I can't do as many shows. But, with that, I consider myself as a fighter and as a soldier of Metal, so you'll always find me in the front lines fighting for Metal and keeping the spirit alive.
Benek- So, lets talk about Kata Ton Aaimona Eaytoy! Or Demons To Your Own Spirit, How has the reception been?
Sakis- It's the first time that the people react very positively when I announce one song. Usually when you get 9 songs to preform live, people are not that satisfied. But for this album, the reaction has been very strong and we are very satisfied.
Benek- One could say that you have beaten all odds on this album. Andreas Lagios left, Giorgos Bokos left, yet you released an album that kills and kills hard, how did it feel tow ork on the album with the many setbacks?
Sakis- You know something, it's very difficult and very hard to even survive now a days. But you have to be ready to live for your music, and that means a lot of sacrifices. Things are very difficult, especially in Greece so it's very difficult to me to even escape from this world. But for me music is not just, you know, write a riff and drink beer to have fun, it's something much more than that. Something deep rand inner, and I need a lot of discipline and I think even if it's hard, I have a mission to accomplish.
Benek- What is the concept behind the album?
Sakis- Not exactly a concept but it's kind of into ancient occultism. It's a trip into ancient civilizations and ancient occultism. I guess if there's an underlying theme it relates to the title of the album- Demons To Your Own Spirit, be true to yourself and stay that way.
Benek- Do you feel that sense of honesty and truth is lacking from Metal Music today?
Sakis- Of course it does
Benek- Also many of the tracks on the album are in many different languages, including Latin, Mayan, and Romanian, how did you write lyrics in so many different languages? Was it difficult to learn how to pronounce things correctly?
Sakis- That's why I choose em! I didn't want to have something very American. I didn't want to just do “fuck you and fuck christ.” I wanted for you to agree, to come on a trip with me and to learn about the history of the world to know what these titles, these lyrics are for. For me, Metal is not something that should be written in English, its' a worldwide phenomenon and every culture has the right to their own type of Metal and to sing this type of music in their own mother tongue. It was very difficult to learn how to pronounce, but after achieving this we have created something unique.
Benek- Speaking of international news, what do you think about the current political situation in Greece?
Sakis- I'm not a political person, or I am, but I don't want any of it to do with my music. But if you want to know my opinion, personally, I think it is a sickness. The first time I feel it is now, people talked about politics and problems around me for a long long time, but now it has become apparent. It's also a much more international problem, it will visit all of you eventually. I mean, I don't wish it on anyone of course. But it seems everyone has lost money and owes money, I don't know where, maybe to aliens (laughs.) At a certain time, this bomb will blow up. It might sound pessimistic but maybe it'll come to a world war eventually. What i'm saying is, politically something has to change, and this has to be treated like a sickness is treated in humans.
Benek- Also, how do you feel about the draw of many Metal Heads to the far right? You can see that in Israel but closer to you for example, in Greece members of Naer Mataron coming out as Golden Dawn supporters and things like that.
Sakis- There is a rise of extreme right in Greece, for other reasons, not for Nazi reasons people think about. You know, the Greeks fought the Nazis, so there are no real, original Nazis here .Rotting Christ has nothing to do with it, and is a band that is apolitical. It's funny to me, because a lot of people think Nazism and Black Metal fits together, but one would kill the other. We have a financial crisis and the world is in a tough place so people are drawn to it. I guess people seek to blame other people, people who had nothing to do with this. They start looking for an enemy, I feel an attitude in the last few years that is not good at all, it could lead to something that we will regret in the future.
Benek- So, two members gone, two new live members, how are they settling in? Why did Lagios and Bokos leave?
Sakis- They are getting along very well, we broke ways with the older ones but we did so in a friendly way. Lagios and Bokos simply couldn't continue, and there was nothing more to tell. We are in very good relations anyway.
Benek- Also, how do you feel the Greek Metal scene has developed over the years? Obviously the 90's was the strong genesis of bands like Rotting Christ, Septicflesh, Varathron, Necromantia and others, but has it grown since? How do you feel about the new wave of Greek bands such as Satan's Wrath and Suicidal Angels?
Sakis- After the big break, in the mid 90's, there was a bit of a slow period but now the Greek scene has resurrected. There are many many bands doing great music and touring in Europe and worldwide. I think that all of you up there have to pay attention to the Greek scene, at the moment the scene is creating good music and very good bands.
Benek- also, you have recently released a new album called The Regal Pulse of Lucifer with Thou Art Lord, how do you feel abou the album?
Sakis- I feel that we have created a very oldschool style album. That's all, and that's the meaning of Thou Art Lord.
Benek- How is different than working with RC?
Sakis- It's very different. You know, Thou Art Lord is a project, but Rotting Christ is the main band that has taken over my life , and can create with it without threshes and deadlines.
Benek- Are there any plans for touring with them?
Sakis- I have some offers but I don't know if I will have time. Unfortunately, Rotting Christ takes up most of my time!
Benek- So! 5th time in Israel, how do you feel about it?
Sakis- Feels great, I feel very anxious to play again in Tel Aviv, because we feel like we come to a great show to Israeli fans. The band has been getting better and better, and we've been doing very well live. We look forward to coming back, to touch your soul and to speak through our music.
Benek- Anything special planned?
Sakis- We will see, no special planned. Four furious guys, giving out battle for one hour, that's all.
Benek- So, looking onwards, what does the future hold for Rotting Christ?
Sakis- I don't know, it depends, first of all we have to be in good health. If we're in good health, we'll keep making music and playing shows in every corner of this planet as Metal is a worldwide phenomenon and we look to spread our word.
Benek- Any last words to the Israeli crowd?
Sakis- Non Serviam! And see you all in two weeks