Back Into the Abyss Once More
CoC chats with Sakis of Rotting Christ
by: Jackie Smit
"Hey bro, what's up?"

It's great being able to speak to one of metal's most affable and friendly front men once again, following our first meeting in February earlier this year. Sakis -- guitarist, vocalist and songwriter extraordinaire for Greece's Rotting Christ -- is almost disarmingly down to earth, particularly when you consider that his band's star has been on the ascent for over a decade and a half and still shows no sign of slowing down. Their new album, _Sanctus Diavolos_, is easily their most powerful effort to date; and then there's the small matter of a tribute album being put together in Brazil. Sakis explains:

Sakis: We had absolutely no say in anything that went on to the tribute album. Basically, the label just called me and asked for my okay for them to go ahead and make the album, and I said "Of course". It's something that I'm really proud of, because it indicates that we have really die-hard fans in South America. I have always liked the people that come from there, because they are really true in their feelings toward this kind of music. We are really glad and proud that they have paid us this respect and as soon as we're there we'll pay the respect back.

CoC: The last time you and I spoke, we were talking about the plans that you had for the new album, and you mentioned that you had been working on the album for nearly nine months. Tell me more about how this record was actually written.

S: The writing process took quite a while, because I was looking after the recording, the production -- everything, really. So it took a lot of time. To write a song for me also isn't just about picking up a guitar and suddenly having a new song. I will spend a few days running over it in my mind, thinking about how it will come out and about all the different ways in which I can do it. Then I'll pick up a guitar and see whether or not I can express my expectations for the song, and if it doesn't work, then I'll go back to the beginning again. I normally run through the process very slowly. With this album, I had actually been working on different ideas for over a year before I got the final ten songs together for the record and went to the studio in Greece. There were also a few songs that I threw out because I didn't think they fit into the atmosphere of the album.

CoC: Is this the first time that you've taken charge to such a great extent of everything that Rotting Christ does -- the writing, recording, etc.?

S: Well, this was the first time that I had recorded in Greece and it was really calm for me. It was really secure for me to be able to record in my hometown, because I didn't have the pressure of having to go and record for eight hours a day. I could just go to the studio and take my time and take things really slowly. I think being able to record at home also influenced how the album turned out, because I could, for instance, go to the studio on a bicycle and that way I could relax and have a few drinks before I started working. I think that from now on, this will definitely be the way that I will do things. But to get back to your question: because this album was recorded at home, I did take more control of things and that was a first for me.

CoC: You've said in earlier interviews that you weren't happy with the production job you did on _Khronos_ back in 2000. What made you decide to take a similar risk this time round?

S: Because this time round, I felt that I knew the job, you know? It's our ninth album, and at this stage I have worked with so many different producers, and I have also learned from my own mistakes. I just prefer to work with myself, because that's the only person I trust professionally. Outside of work, there are many people, but when it comes to the band, I just think that no one would really know the band like I do. That's my opinion. So when I decided to do the production for this record, I took some lessons, I worked really hard, read a lot of things and just basically did whatever I could to make a proper album. And in the end, I think that it has worked -- it's definitely okay.

CoC: One of the things that really surprised me about _Sanctus Diavolos_ is the amount of synths that you used on this record, especially after a lot of sources were hinting at this album being rawer and more old-school.

S: Yes, I know a lot of people were expecting old-school stuff, and of course, we are still inspired by our roots and by the early days. But we're also logical, you know, and we believe that we live in zeros and we should create something that makes sense for people to listen to. When it happens one day that Rotting Christ start to repeat themselves, then we will split up. So, because our old keyboardist [George] had left the band, this time I spent more time working on the synths myself. I also recorded with a choir, to add a more realistic element to the music. I think George's leaving also inspired me, and because I was doing the producing myself and I know how to play the keyboard, I just decided to take the risk. I do believe that I know what's best for how Rotting Christ should sound.

CoC: There's a definite theme that runs through _Sanctus Diavolos_, and considering how long you worked on it and how involved you were in how it turned out, it's obviously a very personal album. What inspired you from a creative point of view?

S: Well, I think for me this album was almost like a visit to a psychologist, because I got to express my darkest thoughts and my darkest energy through it -- to just give life to all the bad things I had in my mind. To look at what inspired it specifically... This album definitely comes from a different side of me. If I had to point my finger at any one thing in particular, I'd say maybe conservative society, because this album, for me, is a revolutionary cry against religion and against society in general. Nothing on the album ever happened on purpose -- I never woke up and said "I'm going to record a dark or a Satanic album". It just happened, you know. When I write music, I never write happy songs. And that's just how I am -- that's just my DNA. Whatever you find in our music comes from deep inside of me. Like I said to you, Rotting Christ for me is like visiting a psychologist, because all the bad energy I have inside of me, I can get out through making this music.

CoC: It wasn't only George that left since you brought out _Genesis_ though: you also lost Kostas [guitars] a few months ago. What was the story behind the two of them leaving the band?

S: Well, when you're thirty years old, it's not the safest thing to play in a band. And when you play for a band like Rotting Christ, you often have to be away from your home for three or four months. So both the guys just chose a more normal life, and a more safe existence. We broke up in a really amicable way, because we understand and respect where they were coming from in their decision to do something different with their lives. But the core of this band remains -- my brother, Andreas and myself -- and we are also currently working with a new guitar player.

CoC: Want to give us an exclusive on who the guitar player is?

S: <laughs> Well, he played with Septic Flesh for a few years, but I wouldn't like to give away who it is just yet. It was really hard to find someone who was close to our age, and who didn't want to be tied down to a job -- someone who wanted to be punk like us! It's very easy to work with someone who's younger, but it's very hard to find something in common -- especially on a professional level -- with someone who is fourteen years old. But we're happy to have found this new guy and we'll announce who he is through our website very soon.

CoC: I take it that he's going to be a permanent member of the band.

S: Yup: permanent. There's no other way.

CoC: Just talking about your brother -- it's not really something that's very publicized about your band, but I was wondering how the dynamic changes for you when you're working with someone you're related to, as opposed to someone you merely have a professional working relationship with.

S: A lot of fights. Do you have a brother? <laughs>

CoC: I have a sister.

S: And do you two ever have any fights?

CoC: All the time.

S: So there you go, and when you incorporate something professional into that, then I think it ends up causing even more fights. But on the other hand, I think it makes one feel really secure to know that there's a member in your band who you share the same blood with. If you're ever in a difficult position, you know that person will always be there to help you out. So, even with all its drawbacks, it's really good to have my brother with me in the band.

CoC: Now from a creative point of view at least, the focus of this band is almost squarely on you right now, but how do you think the departure of Kostas and George will end up influencing this band?

S: Technically, I don't that it will affect Rotting Christ. Maybe in the eyes of people the impression might be created that there's trouble in the band, or that some of the members are fed up with the music. But the truth is that this will not affect us at all and the answer is in the new album, because George was not there doing this thing and many people think it's our best album, which means that Rotting Christ could work as a trio.

CoC: Coming back to the way that songs are written in this band: is Rotting Christ a creative dictatorship?

S: <laughs> No, maybe it would seem that way from the outside, but things are really different on the inside. I think that there is no band that allows more freedom than Rotting Christ. There have never been any set rules in this band. I may be in control of the music, but that is because they have other jobs and they don't have the time to be involved in music all the time -- especially my brother, who has a family now. So, I end up doing most of the things in the band, but that has nothing to do with any set rules or hierarchy in the band; not at all.

CoC: When you look at the Rotting Christ discography retrospectively, what do you think separates _Sanctus Diavolos_ from the albums that you have made before?

S: It's more massive. It has elements from all of our albums. It's also a really organic record: there's no triggers, no studio effects; even some of the keyboards I replaced with choirs to make it feel more alive and more real. Same goes for the production on this album: it's more lively and more organic than anything we've ever done before.

CoC: So where next to for this band?

S: We'll hit the road as soon as the new album comes out and we'll try to go to places like London and all over Europe. After that we'll also try and maybe go to the States, but we'll see what happens. It's really difficult with the cost of living: when you're on tour, the bills don't stop and I get really fed-up having to contend with that when we're on tour. But like I said, we'll see what happens.

Sakis on Sanctus:

"Visions of a Blind Order": This song really takes me back to the era of _Thy Mighty Contract_ -- just really fast with a very dark vibe, but still melodic. Lyrically, this song is about how religion has created visions of an eternal calm and peace, which they use to mislead the masses.

"Thy Wings, Thy Horns, Thy Sin": For this one, I wanted to use really fast, downtuned melodies in combination with a real chorus that would make the song stand out. The song talks about the variety of good, bad and false interpretations the human race has developed for the word "sin" -- many of which often have nothing to do with "the horns", if you know what I mean!

"Athanatoi Eisthe": This is just a classic mid-tempo Rotting Christ song with some well established melodies and the use of Greek lyrics. The basic idea in the chant in the song basically translates to: "You are immortal. You that follow the left hand path are immortal. You that follow your sinful will that sometimes is on the other side of what society taught are immortals. Your freedom-addicted soul will be delivered to immortality."

"Tyrannical": A very heavy down-tuned song that turned out to be really different to anything that has written by this band before. I think it's definitely one of the heaviest things that we have ever recorded. It talks about two schools of thought -- good and bad -- that converge and how each one's will to be superior over the other is tyrannical.

"You My Cross": Another faster song that was written with a really avantgarde feel, and also more use of downtuned melodies and stand-out chorus. It examines some of the symbolism and history behind the cross as one of the greatest cheats in contemporary human history. Too much has happened and too many promises have been broken for the cross to have any sort of true meaning anymore.

"Sanctimonius": This was meant to be an atmospheric break in the album, using samples and reverse melodies. I do think it has a very subtle, diabolical feel to it.

"Serve in Heaven": This was inspired by aggressive, old school German thrash, but with the addition of Rotting Christ-style melodies. The title pretty much tells the tale of this song: choose to serve in heaven or rule in hell!

"Shade of Evil": Another fast, evil and melodic song. I love the chorus in the middle. The song examines how God desired to reign with the flame of human fear. But humans on the other side have started to wake up to the idea and are beginning to slowly extinguish that flame. Evil is the freedom and not the ticket to hell.

"Doctrine": This song was created to be simultaneously powerful and orchestral, whilst maintaining a very classic Rotting Christ feel. It is another statement about the need to continue searching and not accept blindly any religious stereotypes.

"Sanctus Diavolos": The right song to say good-bye to the listener at the end of the record. The lyrics talk about the possibility of so-called devil's work being the conduit of freedom, if we only were to rise up and strike out against our fears. This is one of the songs where we used a real choir and I think that gives it a really nightmarish atmosphere -- perfect for anyone to sing themselves to sleep to. <laughs>

(article submitted 19/10/2004)

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