Still Rotting in the Free World
CoC chats with Sakis of Rotting Christ
by: Jackie Smit
There's always been something special about Rotting Christ -- an enigmatic and mysterious quality that has and continues to instill their many admirers with a fanatical ardor that very few other acts of their ilk can boast. Of course, central to their appeal has been the music. Starting with the primitive black metal of _Passage to Arcturo_ and _Thy Mighty Contract_ in the early '90s, the band continued to grow and explore further recesses of dark music, culminating in the mainstream teasing _Sleep of the Angels_. Now, with their latest opus, _Genesis_, the band have come full circle, combining their penchant for the atmospheric with the misanthropic fire of their early black metal sound. But it's not about to end there, as frontman and chief songwriter Sakis revealed to me during the band's last visit to London -- the black cult is stronger than ever, and 2004 could very well be the year that sees the Greek quartet release their definitive work.

CoC: I've been listening through your back-catalogue recently, and on your past two efforts there has been a definite return to the old, traditional black metal of the first Rotting Christ albums. What was the reason behind your decision to move down this particular creative path?

Sakis: First of all, it's the fact that we are tired of this metal attitude that reminds me of a lot of mainstream music. You know, everyone wants to be famous, everyone wants to play to a thousand people, everyone wants to be a rock star or something, and we are fed up with that stuff. Of course, we started back in 1989 when the music and the scene and the style were more romantic -- everyone was trading demos. We didn't have the idea to be rock stars or anything like that, and now we feel like being teenagers again and returning to our roots. But even though we have returned to our roots, our musical style is still adapted in order to sound contemporary; there are a lot of samples and a lot of atmospheric parts on the last two albums and there will also be more on the next one.

CoC: Well, there's certainly a strong sense of _Thy Mighty Contract_ on your last album [_Genesis_], but at the same time you have given it a modern feel.

S: Exactly.

CoC: So when you listen to Rotting Christ's biggest stylistic departures -- _A Dead Poem_ and _Sleep of the Angels_ -- do you carry any regrets about how those albums ended up sounding?

S: No, not at all. In a career that is more than a decade long, personally I think it wouldn't feel right to play exactly the same thing all the time. It's not fair to the fans, and it's not fair to yourself to just keep playing music to satisfy a small group of people. I just want to express myself in any way I want, and at that point in time, I was really into heavy metal music, so I preferred to play that kind of stuff. Now I feel like a teenager again, and I'm into a lot of black metal stuff, so I like to make this sort of music. What we are doing right now is not commercial. We'd like to bring back the feeling of the underground, where like I said to you before, things were really romantic. We're basically just not satisfied with how the scene is going now.

CoC: You guys are also busy doing a new album that's going to be out in September. Care to let me in on a few secrets?

S: I've been working on the new stuff for seven months...

CoC: Seven months?!

S: Yes, because I write all the music and I write all the lyrics by myself, and I want it to be something special. I don't know whether it will be, but I want to be able to express myself 100%. So I write songs, and change them after a few weeks -- repair things, so to speak. Now we are going to go into the recording studio as soon as we are finished with this tour; we will be there for a month and then the finished product will be out in September. We will record half the album in Greece and the other half in Sweden, and it will be mastered in Fredman Studios.

CoC: Does that mean that Fredrik Nordstrom will be producing as well?

S: No, I am going to do it myself, but Fredrik will be mixing it and mastering it. I did it before on _Khronos_ actually, but I didn't do it so good. Now I am working as a producer in Greece, so I have learned a lot of new things. As I said before, I prefer to work by myself -- I don't want many people to be involved in what I'm doing, because I am the only person who knows what I want.

CoC: Where are the band headed toward lyrically with this new record?

S: Well, you're the first person that I am speaking to about this, actually. <laughs> There will be some anti-religious lyrics -- nothing like 'fuck God' and all that stuff, just expressing in a poetic way the misery of people and bringing the theme of religion into that.

CoC: One thing I have always respected a lot about Rotting Christ is that you approach any subject you write about from a more intellectual point of view than many other bands. How do you feel about bands like Deicide that ply their trade upon very base-level ideas, with songs like for example "Fuck Your God" or "Mad at God" off their new album?

S: No, I don't like that. Rotting Christ never do things like that. We like to be more intellectual and we like people to be able to take a trip with us, make up their own minds and have their own ideas. We would never say 'fuck God', because who is God really? We are more agnostic -- we are still trying to find meanings and we are still searching for answers.

CoC: So you'd say that it's a misconception for people to regard Rotting Christ as a Satanic band then?

S: It's not a Satanic band, because Satanism is a religion and we are against any religion. Also, Satanism is involved in certain parts of the world with fascism and we are not fascist at all. We come from Greece, which is against fascism. I find some Satanic philosophies very interesting, but I am not a Satanist. I am an agnostic.

CoC: It's an interesting point you make there, because I have always felt that a lot of bands who use Satanism as a means to rebel against religion end up doing exactly what they claim to despise: they're preaching.

S: Yes, definitely.

CoC: I remember reading an interview with you a few years ago and you were discussing the name Rotting Christ and how you never expected to receive the sort of negative feedback that you did. Is this still a point of contention for the band?

S: We tried to change the name for about four or five years, because we felt like it was too offensive toward many people, and it was reducing our sales because people were saying that because of our name they didn't want to buy our albums or let us play. In the end, we decided to keep it because metal is supposed to be revolutionary -- otherwise there wouldn't be a point to it. We don't want people listening to us that care about things like the band's name; we want people to make up their own minds with us and to come up with their own ideas, not like a band that sings songs like "Fuck Your God". That doesn't make a person think at all.

CoC: What would you like people to think about when they're listening to Rotting Christ?

S: First of all... <pauses> I wouldn't want people to think about anything specifically. I'm not into forcing someone to follow my ideas. I want to give alternatives to people about some of the things that are flouted by conservative society. At the end of the day it's just ideas, and if you want to get it, you will; otherwise, so be it. Some people are very offended by what I speak about sometimes, but these are just small groups. We don't like how people live nowadays and we try to express that in our music and to give solutions.

CoC: Looking back over your career, what would you regard as the definitive Rotting Christ song?

S: Best song? That is very hard to say. It depends on your mood. If you are in the mood for something that is very dark and very black metal, then you can choose "Sign of Evil Existence", or if you want something atmospheric then you can choose "After Dark I Feel". It depends on what you feel.

CoC: There's no song that you feel slightly 'embarrassed' by?

S: Actually I suppose everyone has something like that, but I don't think that it's so good to regret anything you did in the past. We entered into some really bad contracts, because we were not experienced in such things -- in fact, no one in Greece was experienced in such matters.

CoC: Speaking of Greece -- what's the state of the Greek underground scene at the moment?

S: Well, unfortunately Septic Flesh, who was one of the scene's leaders, has broken up now, but I think that there are many good bands still left apart from us. Because we are from the south east part of Europe, it is very hard for one band to go to other parts of the world, but there are very good bands in Greece and there are many bands that play there. The thing that is very different though is the attitude, because if you have not been in the rest of Europe or in America, you do not know how things are done. There are many bands that think that they are rock stars, but we do not concern ourselves with them.

CoC: You mentioned Septic Flesh -- I believe that you are close friends with several of their members?

S: I have a side-project with guys from Necromantia and Septic Flesh called Thou Art Lord. They are good friends of ours.

CoC: You have no idea as to why they broke up?

S: It's a personal problem with them -- they have proper everyday jobs, and if you want to play in a band you have to be on the road. You have to sacrifice many things.

CoC: Have you ever found yourself in a similar position?

S: I used to work in a record store and I used to have a studio in the past, but now I quit so that I can concentrate on Rotting Christ 100%. I don't make a lot of money, but enough to pay the bills. Life in Greece is not as expensive as it is in the rest of the world. But it has taken a long time for us to make money from this band -- we played for five years without making any money.

CoC: What are the plans for Rotting Christ when the new album comes out?

S: Being on the road. We will go on a world tour as soon as the new album comes out -- South America, Colombia, Brazil, Europe; all over the world.

CoC: Any last words, Sakis?

S: Keep the dark cult alive and stay true.

(article submitted 23/3/2004)

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