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Interview

Necromantia Bassist/Vocalist George "The Magus" Zaharopoulos Discusses New Album, "To The Depths We Descend," Losing Co-Founder Baron Blood And The End Of The Band

They say that all good things must come to an end and sadly, 2021 marks the end of one of Greece's most revered extreme metal bands. Necromantia was formed in 1989 and soon became known as one of the pioneering forces of Greek black metal. Their debut album, "Crossing The Fiery Path" is regarded by many to be a must have for any self-respecting fan of the genre and led by bassists Magus Wampyr Daoloth and Baron Blood, they forged a legacy of extreme music which few can match.

Tragically, in 2019, Baron Blood suddenly passed away after suffering a heart attack. Magus confirmed to fans that while Necromantia couldn't continue without him, he would nonetheless release a new EP in memory of his fallen brother. Due to the pandemic however, Magus was gifted more time and the EP has transformed into a final full length album, "To The Depths We Descend." To find out more about this album, the process behind it, the legacy of Necromantia and Greek black metal's differences to the Scandinavian style, we caught up with The Magus, who now fronts Yoth Iria. You can watch the interview in full below.

Diamond Oz: Necromantia has always been held up as one of the premier bands of Greek black metal, which itself is highly regarded. Obviously with the passing of Baron Blood, it's an appropriate time to end the band. Why was it important to finish with one last album?

Magus Wampyr Daoloth: When Baron Blood departed two years ago, it was kind of a shock. Not because I lost a band member, I lost a friend. I knew him since high school. We were thinking about making another Necromantia album but we didn't have time to do it due to everyday obligations like family. So I felt obligated to do a final recording dedicated to him, it's like we continued where we left off. In the beginning it was going to be an EP with just a couple of songs; One for Baron Blood and maybe another one or some re-recordings, but due to the pandemic and the lockdown, I had more time on my hands. So it gave me the opportunity to concentrate more on that, because when we record a Necromantia album, we have to always be concentrating on it, otherwise it doesn't work.

The second most important thing is that I found a good team: George Emmanuel from Lucifer's Child on guitars and Yiannis Votsis on drums. So I had a good team, I had the time and I had the inspiration after all this time of, let's say inactivity, musically, to make an album and I think we kind of owed it to the people who have supported us over the years. A farewell album before the band stops forever.

Oz: As a fan I'm happy that you have because it's been fourteen years since the last album. So it's good to see Necromantia bow out in style.

Magus: Yeah, we kind of wanted to go out in style in a way for our supporters and people that followed us all these years. This is where the journey ends but before we go, we'll give you something that will be another part of our history so that you can remember us.

Oz: Well, as you mentioned, you've recruited George and Yiannis. What was it about those two musicians that you felt could really channel the spirit of Necromantia?

Magus: With Yiannis, it's like he's my personal drummer. You can see that all the bands I've been involved in lately, he's been with me in some way. The good thing with Yiannis, aside from being a very good drummer, is that he understands the feeling of the band, the feeling of a song and this is important for a drummer. There are times when I don't say anything to him and he plays, and he plays how it should be played. It's a very good chemistry, which is a rare thing.

George Emmanuel. George Emmanuel, I collaborated with during the Yoth Iria recordings. I had a similar feeling like I did with Yiannis. George is a very highly skilled musician and composer. He's a guy that has studied music practically and theoretically, he's not just a guitar player. During the Yoth Iria recordings we clicked as musical minds. When we write and compose with George, there's no need to talk a lot. We almost understand each other immediately in terms of where we want to go, the feeling that we want to have in a song or a certain part of the music, so it's a very good chemistry. This is highly important: Very good chemistry and highly skilled musicians.

Oz: Absolutely. That definitely shines through on "Inferno," which of course is the first taste fans have had of the album. It's a fantastic song and so in tune with previous Necromantia albums, so clearly they understand the band.

Magus: Yes and I want to say something here. All the new material on this album is truly loyal to what Necromantia have been doing all these years. Sometimes, because we now use guitars and finally have a proper sound, it may sound strange to fans, because they're used to a lesser quality sound. That happened because of budget and because our knowledge of music and recording was less than it is today and that's why this album, because it has a good budget, a lot of time in the studio, I'm now in my fifties so I know what I want and the other musicians feel the same, but for me, this is the best sound that we've ever had.

I'm really disappointed that Baron Blood is not here to join this team because he would connect with these two guys. So it's kind of ironic that our production, after all these years, is so good for our farewell album. It may sound strange to people who are used to lesser production, but that sound wasn't on purpose. We did our best in those times with the knowledge we had and we do exactly the same today.

Oz: I think that adds another dimension to it. It almost brings out how Necromantia was always supposed to sound.

Magus: Exactly! This is a quality that we would have if Baron Blood was here.

Oz: As for the recording itself, how strange was it to record a Necromantia album and not have Baron with you?

Magus: It was strange, because we always did everything in Necromantia together. It was strange because I had another guy to work with in front of me. That's why the song which is about him ("As The Shadows Wept,") was very emotional for me during the recording and during the writing process. Even now, when I listen to the song, after months, it still brings a tear to my eye. It's like my personal tribute to him, so if you listen to this song, you can hear how vacant I was left after he was gone.

He was a constant in Necromantia and that's why no one could replace Baron. I wouldn't hire any new members to even play the eight string bass. I could use the eight string bass to record the parts myself but I decided not to do it because it was so unique and so much of him, so I prefered that it stayed with him. That's why after thirty two years almost, we used guitars again. It was a strange feeling and something I wouldn't like to experience again and that's why I stopped the band. Necromantia was two people, mostly and now with one, it's not the same.

Oz: Of course. I guess to use a mainstream example, it would be like Metallica without James Hetfield.

Magus: In a way, yes. If he or Lars was gone, it would not be Metallica. They would probably make different, maybe good music, but it would not be the same feeling and Necromantia especially is always about the feeling.

Oz: "Inferno" definitely has that feeling and even as a fan, you don't want one without the other when it comes to Necromantia. You want that spirit to remain.

Magus: Exactly and that's why I'm so happy that George was very involved in the writing process and was so in tune with me, because was a fan of Necromantia himself. Initially when I asked him, he was stunned, because he said, "Yes I want to do it but I don't know if I can make it." I said, "No. I know you can make it, so let's work on this."

Oz: Another aspect of the album is the two songs that have been re-recorded. Why was it important to have new recordings of these older songs?

Magus: Because I wanted them to sound a little bit better than they did in the past. If you listen to the songs, they are upgraded. Not musically, there are only very small details that are changed, but the sound and most importantly, the drumming, is unbelievable. The most amazing song from these two, three actually because we did one for the special edition CD from our Promo 1990 called "Faceless Gods," that was originally recorded for this promo normally, which is guitar/bass/drums. We gave a new, fresh breath to these songs and these two songs, "The Warlock" and "Lords Of The Abyss," are from our iconic songs, including also, "Les Litanies des Satan," which is another one of our big songs. I want to have that song re-recorded also, but it was too much to include in an album because there are six new songs.

From the six songs, one is only bass, which is another one made by one of our previous members, Inferno and the other song is an instrumental with a lot of keys and percussion and saxophone, which we always used in Necromantia. That's why in six songs, we have our whole spectrum, all the variety of feelings, emotions and soundscapes & landscapes that Necromantia always tried to produce. It's an album that connects us to the past.

Oz: In a way, it's almost like a "best of" Necromantia, because it spans the whole career and aspects of the music.

Magus: Yes and also the guy who played the sax was Yiannis "The Worshipper Of Pan," who played the sax on our previous albums. He now lives in Switzerland, he's an accomplished jazz musician himself and he made the song because he was a really close friend with Baron Blood as well.

Oz: Well, like you've said, it's not the end of your journey as a musician. You have other projects, particularly Yoth Iria, who released their debut album this year. For those who aren't too familiar with Yoth Iria, how would you describe it when compared to Necromantia?

Magus: Yoth Iria is definitely slightly more mellow and more melodic than Necromantia. There's not many blast beats or aggressiveness like Necromantia has. It's more melodic and in a way more commercial, by which I mean more standard orchestrations. You will not find the more avant-garde elements that Necromantia has. You will find pure metal music, influenced a lot by heavy metal, because this is the music that me and Jim (Mutilator) grew up with. We love black metal and death metal but we grew up with rock and heavy metal when we were kids. We started from rock when we were twelve or thirteen, then hard rock, heavy metal and we progressed to the extremes.

Now, kids who are sixteen years old can go directly into death metal. It deprives them of the knowledge of what happened before. Yes, we love black metal, death metal and thrash, but we never denied rock. We're still listening to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen... Stuff like that. The new generations go immediately into specialised realms, which in my opinion is why a lot of them don't stay longer, because they don't carry that background with them. On the other hand, they can say, "OK, but when you were sixteen, there was no Morbid Angel" for example. OK cool, they weren't and we were always looking for the extremes, but I actually like that I started discovering extreme music through this process; From rock to metal and I still like everything from then to now.

Oz: I'm very much the same. I started with Motorhead, Judas Priest and progressed in heaviness from there.

Magus: Yeah. When I was a kid, Motorhead was extreme. Can you imagine that? Then the Sex Pistols and The Exploited, but then Venom changed everything.

Oz: And like you said, Necromantia never denied that influence or legacy of these older bands. That's kind of a staple of Greek black metal as a whole. It does have that respect for the older guard. It's not like the Norwegian scene for example which is pure extremity, the Greek style is a lot more melodic. Would you say that's a fair assessment?

Magus: In a way, yes. Even on "Inferno," someone said that there are some parts that remind him of King Diamond. I said, "Yes, maybe man, because I'm listening to my favourite albums of all time." The Greek black metal, compared to the Scandinavian, has a more heavy metal approach in a way. They pay more respect to the heavy metal bands, whereas the Scandinavian bands which paid more tribute to Bathory and Celtic Frost, especially Mayhem and the second Darkthrone album.

If you listen to the latest Darkthrone stuff, they also pay a lot of tribute to old heavy metal music because I'm sure that these are bands which they grew up with too. Or Mayhem, I saw that they covered old punk bands like Discharge, GBH and stuff like that. This is a part of our legacy also. In Greece we have more of a tendency towards melody or drama and darkness as an atmosphere. Not only aggression but a cinematic dark feeling.

Oz: Absolutely. I do wonder if that's a natural response that comes from the Greek atmosphere. Obviously, Greece has a very long and storied history and mythology, which could be very violent and sexual but also contain a great beauty too.

Magus: I don't have an explanation myself, but what you carry with you from generations, it gets out in your music. The thing is as well, the three bands that gave birth to the Greek black metal scene, us, Rotting Christ and Varathon, had this path. The more melodic, heavy metal path. So the generations that followed after that were influenced by us. Not directly, musically, but in the concept. Now of course you can find anything in Greece, from the more extreme, Scandinavian type of black metal or atmospheric stuff. But, these three bands were the pioneers, for good or bad. The generation after us were influenced by this concept, not too extreme but extreme in a dark, atmospheric way.

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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