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Interview

Rotting Christ Frontman Sakis Tolis Discusses Latest Album "The Heretics," The Band's "Non Serviam" Book And More.

Photo of Rotting Christ

Band Photo: Rotting Christ (?)

Greece has given the world so much over the years. From philosophy to science, maths to the arts, so much of what we enjoy today can be traced to the beautiful country in the Mediterranean. Greece hasn't shied away from metal music either and black metal historians will be happy to remind you that before the infamous scene in Norway, Greece had their own black metal hive. From that era, which produced some excellent groups, comes one of the country's best known metal bands; Rotting Christ.

Thirty years and thirteen albums into their career and the band are arguably better than ever. Their new album, "The Heretics," earned a perfect review on this very site and they still pack out venues wherever they go. Right now, the Hellenic heavyweights are on tour with Portuguese legends Moonspell and at their recent show in London (see review here,) I had the pleasure of sitting down with frontman Sakis Tolis to discuss the new record, their biography, "Non Serviam," how the state of Greece affects song writing and much more. You can watch it in full below.

Diamond Oz: One thing I was quite surprised at tonight was that your show only featured two songs from "The Heretics." It's quite shocking because it's a fantastic album.

Sakis Tolis: We have almost two hundred songs available. So when it comes to making a setlist it's a nightmare. So we prefer to have only two new songs because... There is no because actually! At least this way people get to hear a little bit of everything, but it's very difficult for a band which has been around for so many years to prepare a setlist that can satisfy everyone.

Oz: As I said, it's an amazing album. It's very cinematic. Obviously the last three Rotting Christ albums have followed a concept, with "Rituals" focusing on just that and "Katá ton Daímona Eautoú" revolved around the underworlds from different mythologies. Is this a niche that's set in stone now?

Sakis: I have no idea. I'm the only composer in the band and it's a bit like a nightmare because I don't know what to do. I have too many ideas in my mind. Even if I sleep I think a lot. I don't know what direction the band will continue in, let's see. So far, we are in the middle of a really long tour, so I'm not in the mood to write something or make decisions. At the moment, we're doing our best every night to satisfy the people who pay for a ticket every night and who support Rotting Christ but when I get back home, I will do my best.

Oz: Plus "The Heretics" is brand new anyway...

Sakis: It's quite new. It's almost one year now. Everything goes so fast nowadays. You have an album that's only one year old and already people ask for the next one, it's not that easy. OK, I could write some riffs right now but it's different when I'm writing riffs for a song.

Oz: Obviously it's kind of a new age for Rotting Christ as you have two new members. They're obviously very very good because tonight was the tightest I've ever heard Rotting Christ. How did you find those guys?

Sakis: Kostas and John, yes. They live in my neighbourhood, or in Athens. We're close so we can have many rehearsals together, speak our own language, make our own jokes. I prefer to work with people who are from Greece, not because I am nationalistic or anything, but because I feel great if I'm working with people with whom I share some experiences and common goals.

Oz: Coming to this concept, which basically revolves around blasphemy...

Sakis: I cannot call it blasphemy. Maybe in the old days we used to be a blaspheming band but nowadays we see things more mature, I would say. Instead of saying, "Fuck your God" or "Fuck Christ" or whatever, we try to find big words, heretic words. I think that our perception is more mature now and the reason is that we're more grown up now and want to express ourselves another way in the lyrics.

Oz: I bumped into you earlier at the book signing for "Non Serviam," a title which has always summed up the band. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Sakis: Yes, I think it's a very honest book. I didn't want to write something like, "We're the most extreme band" or "We wanted to kill everyone." It's things that maybe you experienced as a kid. Everyone was young and we had good, strong feelings so I tried to pull these feelings up.

Oz: Yeah. The first quote on the back is from you saying, "I had to face my demons..."

Sakis: Always. I face my demons every night. It's not that easy to survive in this situation. This is the bus where I'm going to sleep for the next two months. After the show you can go home, have a shower, whatever. I'm sleeping on a bus which has maybe twenty five people, which is OK, but sometimes mentally you don't feel that well, so you have to face your demons.

Oz: Last time we spoke (in 2016,) we discussed some of the conditions in Greece. How much does that kind of turmoil and environment affect your writing as a musician?

Sakis: You know something, if you don't feel something like this then you'll never understand another's problem. So the situation over the last ten years has made us work more, made us struggle because you're almost at the limit of a break down. Things were really bad. We had capital controls so you could get only 500 Euros per month from the banks. You say to yourself, "We work now, we have to make things better, otherwise we're fucked up" so that helped me a lot over the past ten years. You can see the results in the numbers because the last three albums were the most successful, that means that I worked more and the reason is that things in Greece were really bad. When there is decadence, art goes up.

Oz: Something I've been wanting to speak to you about for quite some time is the very early days of Rotting Christ when you were more of a grindcore band. I found the old demos on YouTube the other night and it was really interesting because while it was in the vein of Repulsion and early Napalm Death, you can still hear elements of what's still being played in Rotting Christ today. Do you still look back on those early demos or get the chance to listen to them?

Sakis: I don't have any time to listen to them but on the other hand I'm very proud that I started something in the late eighties and I was a member of let's say the second generation black metal evolution. For me, it's my childhood and I always feel proud of this. We recorded our demos with cassette tapes, we didn't have any PCs or cell phones. What a nice life. We were free.

Oz: Something we spoke about last time as well was of course AEK (Athens, football club) and I asked you how you'd think they'd do in the future and you said "bankrupt."

Sakis: Not bankrupt but nowadays in football, if you have money you can do better. If you don't have money, you cannot get a cup or something. So far, so good, we can survive as a team but you can't expect such big things.

Oz: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me today Sakis. I really do appreciate it.

Sakis: Thank you for keeping the spirit alive, it's always nice to speak to people who support the scene. Thank you very much also to all the people that showed up tonight, I think we had a very good show, all together. This is the spirit man. Just to escape from our everyday problems with our precious music that we call metal. So horns up. Non fucking Serviam.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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