► Five years after Codex Omega and the world has changed dramatically. During this time, how much have Septicflesh changed musically, artistically, and how much have you changed yourself?
Christos Antoniou: Indeed the world has changed dramatically and now we are dealing with the aftermath of covid, we dealt with its effects during the last three trips we made to Europe: Hellfest, Karmøygeggon in Norway and Durbuy in Belgium. We deal with problems that have arisen with covid, with delays, with various stuff. I believe that people still need some time to return to normalcy and see how we proceed after all this. We live in a crazy world.
For us, the bottom line is that Septicflesh are more mature than ever. We worked very hard on new ideas during the pandemic, we had plenty of time to do so and the truth is that we indeed needed more time, as we had really raised the bar with Codex Omega. For me, as a composer - who studies and experiments - the pandemic did not change anything in particular. I always want to improve as a musician. And I had a lot of work to do: I did a score for a bodybuilding documentary, I did a pilot serial and I signed a contract with a company for a videogame. I mean, I was pretty busy at the time anyway and above all, we had the new Septicflesh album coming.
► Before we start with your latest release, I want to make a stop at an earlier one, the Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX, which I consider the greatest moment of the Greek scene. Was it and one-off thing or can we expect some sequel, maybe a show in Greece?
C.A.: We also believe it was our best moment and we are in the process of doing it again. That is, we already have a show in a festival in Mexico where we will play as headliners, the Mexico Metal Festival which will take place in September, and we also have some plans for Europe. I cannot tell you more right now, but we definitely have a lot of plans for orchestral concerts.
"An orchestra is our biggest weapon
and we do not compromise with anything less"
► Modern Primitive is released by Nuclear Blast, the biggest record label in the scene. Did that change anything for Septicflesh? Were you under more pressure to prove yourselves or were you cool with it?
C.A.: Indeed, we are now part of the biggest company for metal music, as you mentioned. We see this as a challenge to make us better because -you know- you also have a lot of competition; the Nuclear Blast roster leaves you in awe. Once we got to a point with Season of Mist not being able to take the next step, we decided to join the Nuclear Blast family. We are very happy with the company and we have already seen big differences. We saw Modern Primitive entering the charts of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, things we had not seen with Season Of Mist. Not that Season of Mist was a bad company, there is just a limit to what one can do. Nuclear Blast can take you off. We know where we are, we were given priority, we saw results from the beginning, and we will definitely do even better in the next albums.
► The title of Modern Primitive combines two opposite meanings. Over the years listening to Septicflesh I have learned that nothing is accidental and there is always more than meets the eye. So, what is the message that the title wants to convey about the album?
C.A.: The message of the album is the powerful dipole of creation and destruction. Although we have reached 2022, we see that within us there is the primitive and self-destructive element, which can make us disappear. We see things that were unthinkable, we live in a crazy world, as I said before, and you no longer know what comes next. We witnessed a pandemic, crazy things, the social media "philosophers" who took the place of doctors, we are witnessing the war in Ukraine - I am not really optimistic. I think we need a reboot to make a better world. Life is a cycle, pandemics will come again, it is up to us how to deal with all these things. And this is the Sotiris’ basic message: that the element of self-destruction is currently prevailing within us.
► One of the things distinguishing Septicflesh is that there are three creative axes: Sotiris lyrics-wise, Spyros for the art and you for the orchestration. Listening to Modern Primitive I could feel that all three axes are aligned, as if the album had been written by one person. This reflexively begs the question: do Septicflesh release a record, what is the process?
C.A.: All three of us are composers in the group. I oversee the orchestration. The basic skeleton of the band has never changed. We are the three people who founded the band. Chemistry exists, has always existed, and will always exist between us. We have a process. I will compose the orchestral pieces. My brother and Sotiris will put the metal parts on my orchestral ideas, or they will send me the metal parts and I will put some ideas with the orchestra. This is the plan we always have when writing. It has served us pretty well until now, we have been together since we were little, we know exactly what we want from each other. We are, as you said, like one person writing.
I want to note that Dinos and Krimh also helped us with some ideas, but for the most part it’s all on me, my brother, and Sotiris. And this is a great asset and an important starting point for Septicflesh. We are many composers, we are not saturated and the fact that the result comes out as if it were a composition of one person, is an achievement. Each of us has his own character, his own identity and we find the feel that characterizes us as composers.
► I no longer wonder whether a SF album is good or not, I take it for granted. What I recognize for example in Modern Primitive is that it is an album with clear ideas, a very specific vision, flawlessly executed, without error. But when did you know that "this was it"?
C.A.: Every one of ours albums is special for us. I will go back to saying again that we are three composers and I highlight this because it is very important. I said we are not saturated. The work of a single composer can bore the listener and can even exhaust the composer himself. Sooner or later, you will fall into the trap of repeating yourself. When we write an album, we erase the past and say that we will find new paths, a new musical vocabulary. We will experiment a lot, we will work hard and we will blindly follow our inspiration. We will reach the point where, after much experimentation, we will see that we are at the desired result. And when we get there, we just know it, we feel it.
I cannot explain it really. It is a complex of many things. But the bottom line is that, as artists, we always want to progress and move forward. The artist must always try to evolve, otherwise he may fall into the trap of repetition. You need to know when you fall into this trap and find the way to escape somehow. Like when in 2002 we broke up, we realized that we no longer had something to give to our listeners at that point. We said that it was better to break the band than to become missionaries. I believe that as a result of this mentality, every Septicflesh album has a unique character, like a solid entity.
► Now, let’s get to my favorite part: the orchestral one. It always excites me because it is so special. In Modern Primitive there is an ethnic character for the first time. Was there a concept? Was there a reference or did it just come out?
C.A.: The oriental notes are my brother's intervention. My brother listened to Hadjidaki a lot while composing and he told me that he wanted a sound similar to a piece he was listening to. He told me how he wanted it to sound like and I started looking for players who could deliver. Generally, though, when we make an album, I always try to use instruments that we have not used before, such as the mandolin in this case.
► Are there many more left?!
C.A.: Well, okay…(laughs). There are quite a few! We used a tambourine, we put a duduk (s.s. duduk, an ancient Armenian wind instrument) which is one of my favorite instruments. I also used it in Portrait in the Codex Omega. I always try to find new colors for our pieces and use as many instruments as I can. They give a characteristic taste to our creations.
► In Coming Storm, at some point we can hear a certain instrument, in an acoustic part of the track, and my questions is when you have an oriental sound, the choices of musical instruments you can use are innumerable. How do you end up saying that "I will put a mandolin here, I will put a santouri"?
C.A.: There are countless options. A melody can be played by all instruments. Of course, I could not put a bassoon for the melody of Anubis! Well, I could, but it would not give the desired result. I gave it to the violins. In Coming Storm I wanted these two parts, which are different, to be clearly separated. Break the dark first orchestral part. When I hear a melody, I say "this call for the horn, this for the duduk, I would have this for the clarinet, for the oboe". There are countless options, and each composer will choose what pleases his ear.
"The artist must always try to evolve,
otherwise he may fall into the trap of repetition"
► So can we say that you are somehow "forced" to listen to a lot of music and to new sounds and include them, not necessarily in Septicflesh music, but also in your repertoire as an orchestrator?
C.A.: Absolutely. When I was studying music, my teacher used to tell me "Forget everything, listen to as much music as you can". Only that. One must of course study the titans of orchestration, but I always listen to different genres. And I will always find something to process and edit, so that I can incorporate and highlight it in my ideas. I listen to a lot of music. When you have a large repertoire, the ideas never end.
► You said before that when you have an idea for a musical instrument, you must find the right player. Today, though, technology can help you get in the way and ease you with digital media. How come and you always choose the natural sound?
C.A.: I do not think it is even fair to compare midi with a live orchestra. As much as midi has gone to another, incredible level, it can never live up to a live band. The frequencies there, the warmth of the instruments is unsurpassed and we have the privilege to afford recording with an orchestra. It is our biggest weapon and we do not compromise with anything less. We will not make discounts on our biggest strength; we will use it to its maximum. This comparison is pointless.
► You have been voted in the 50 Best Composers of the Metal Scene. Apart from a success, do you consider this as a peak that you have reached, or do you say "I did this too" and life goes on?
C.A.: Oh no, certainly not a peak! Music for me is everything, it is my water, my everything. I have not done anything yet. I am still so hungry for music and I continuously study. When it comes to music, I am restless. I will improve and create something so that I can feel proud and leave a legacy. It is a great fortune and honor that I was ranked among these 50 composers. I was chosen grace to my orchestral abilities. You know, both Loudwire and Berkeley are so important, but I chose not to rest assured.
► Since the time of the reunion, Septicflesh has been running a series of terrific releases. They are different from each other but yet connected. Each record comes and makes the next more complex, increasing the expectations. Does it make the procedures you have for Septicflesh even stricter?
C.A.: It is the fear of not repeating yourself. This pushes you to explore ways to create something new. Always following the aesthetics of Septicflesh, though, within our sound identity. We have found this identity, it is there. It is not easy to produce a good album and this is what we focus on. We embrace this fear. It is the one that makes you restless and keeps you creative. When the shadow of this fear goes away, that is a problem. But we are more than one mind. And we are all people who want to discover new sound colors.
► Say that in 30 years you "retire"…
C.A.: Say less! (laughs)
► How do you want people to remember Septicflesh and how do you want them to think of you?
C.A.: For Flesh, I want them to produce a musical legacy that will last. The most important thing is to leave an echo behind. If we can make our listeners dream, give them the goosebumps or assist them, this will be the ultimate success for us, we do not need anything else. If you can make your listener travel with music, it is supreme. When you thrill your fans, then they relate to the artist. This is the greatest achievement.
► I will repeat a question that I asked you many years ago. We have you, an orchestrator, and your brother, who is an excellent artist. Greece is known as a country of culture. Has any official institution ever approached you to give you a project, to reward you, or just to give you a thumbs up for exporting culture?
C.A.: What can I say about Greece… We are disappointed, I cannot hide this. As I said before, it is a pity that an orchestral show of Greek production/inspiration gets to be presented in Mexico and not in Greece. We have proposals from all over Europe and we have no official proposal from Greece. I will try my best to bring this show to Greece. The system is not made for us. We do not have a strong rock culture, more of trash culture we have. I hope things go better. However, I do not think that rock or metal will ever be on the news in Greece.
► I am asking because in Greece, there are -what?- like two bands making a truly international career…
C.A.: You are right, this is the truth. They "propagandize" us here with "Greek artists making a career abroad" and they go to England or France and below the stage there are only Greeks. This has nothing to do with an international career. Things will get better, but I do not think we will ever get to be like countries such as Sweden, Norway, and Finland, we are light years away. We have no future here. Unfortunately. After Mexico they invited me for an interview on ANT1 (greek TV channel of wide reach), but that was it.
And think about it, it's a big thing for Greece: in one of the biggest theaters in Mexico City, 3,200 people came and saw Greek musicians with an orchestra. This has never been done before by a Greek band. But let’s see… There are people who can change the system, even though it won’t change radically. I cannot say that Septicflesh are so big in Greece. There are other bands currently in Greece that are considered more popular. We are in peace with the Greek reality. A career abroad is what everyone is chasing and what is the most difficult.
Our audience is outside of Greece. If we were in Norway, for example, we would have medals! But you see how far we are from that point! We make extreme sound, no doubt, but what is wrong with the extreme sound? There is so much conservatism…
► What I can tell you FOR SURE is that us, Athenians, are looking forward to the live with Hypocrisy and we are a little jealous of Thessaloniki that will see in concert you sooner than us...
C.A.: Indeed, for the summer we will have only one show at the Street Mode Live Sessions next Saturday, July 2, and we will close the cycle of these gigs curated by the Street Mode Festival at the Garden Theater of Thessaloniki. And then, yes, Thessaloniki again and Athens with Hypocrisy!
► One last message for Depart readers?
C.A.: Thank you very much for all your support. We will always do our best. We will create music that can reach our listeners’ hearts.
Depart warmly thanks Christos Antoniou for his trust and for the honor to have him as a guest in its digital world.
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