Hellas Triumphant
CoC interrogates Greg Varsamis of Eat Metal Records
by: Alvin Wee
The North American fascination with death and black metal has shifted attention away from what is perhaps the most fundamental sub-genre of all: classic heavy metal. Outside of Germany -- and perhaps Italy -- good ol' hard rock and trad-metal has taken a backseat with the torrent of extreme metal pouring out across the world. Mention Greece, and names like Rotting Christ, Necromantia and Varathron spring to mind instantly. The Hellenic scene today is changing rapidly, and the land once famous for its distinctive style of black metal is being overrun by hordes of leather-clad warriors bearing the torch of true heavy metal.

A recent visit to Athens revealed a surprising number of labels dedicated to classic metal. The Unisound era is over, it seems, and a wave of old-school believers have risen to take the throne. The slew of trad-metal albums that has been released on Greek labels in the past year cannot fail to instill faith in the most cynical of heavy metal doubters. Eat Metal Records is one such label and record store run by a pair of fanatic metalheads. Sitting in the store was like a dream come true: posters of Brocas Helm and Manilla Road adorned the walls, while the screams of Eric Adams resounded in the background. Shouting over the din, wolfing down enormous souvlakis and beer, Greg Varsamis and I chatted about the new era of Greek heavy metal.

Greg Varsamis: The label was born two years ago, when my colleague Jim [Vagianis, Greg's soft-spoken partner] had the idea of releasing a Dream Weaver single. I suggested that we start Eat Metal Records, which was something I had in mind for years, more as a fun project than a normal record label. We decided to establish the label to release singles of bands that we really like. Dream Weaver was our first release, then came five 7” singles, three LPs and three [now four] CDs so far.

CoC: How have the sales been?

GV: Sales have been OK; we need more time as far as CDs are concerned, because you need distributors, etc., which takes time, money and a lot of effort. But it's going OK for us so far and we try to invest our income -- if any -- to feed the label. There's already some countries like Germany, Italy, the US and of course Greece where you can find our stuff. There's also our webpage www.eatmetalrecords.com where you can order our stuff. There are special prices for countries in which we don't have distribution, so that fans don't have to pay extra for postage.

CoC: Have you tried going with bigger distributors to spread your stuff?

GV: The problem nowadays is that big companies aren't concerned with small labels and their efforts. They prefer to stay more secure and not waste their time with the smaller labels. I'm pissed off with them, but we'll continue doing this because we just believe in it, so we'll keep on trying!

CoC: How do you survive with cost of pressing vinyls and so on?

GV: I don't know if we'll survive... we're just starting our label and investing money, so we'll see. The thing is, we really believe in this, and we've made some really good connections and friends throughout the years, in Greece and abroad, that help us greatly. So we believe in the underground, and the underground will support us. It has, so far.

CoC: You seem to focus on Greek bands, I gather?

GV: We are supporters of Greek heavy metal. And this isn't just because we're from Greece; it's because there were too many great bands from Greece that didn't have the opportunity in the past to be signed to record labels. There were simply no labels in Greece dealing with traditional metal. So now we help all these bands, and only those which we really like.

CoC: Would you sign a foreign band then?

GV: We are more into Greek bands, but of course that doesn't exclude bands outside our country.

CoC: Indeed, I just remembered that Wotan is from Italy. But tell us more about the releases on your roster now.

GV: The Marauder CD (their third album) has recently been released, which is classic heavy/power metal. We also released a mini-CD from new-comers Valor, their first work.

CoC: You mentioned an album coming soon... tomorrow, in fact?

GV: Yes, Strikelight is actually out tomorrow, 23rd December 2004. Strikelight is a very young Greek band that is totally into '80s heavy metal. So whoever likes bands from Iron Maiden to Angelwitch should check them out.

[At this point, Greg throws on the pre-release Strikelight CD. Searing twin guitar leads blast forth instantly: a testament to the band's classic '80s pedigree.]

CoC: The preview you just gave me sounds awesome, lots of Iron Maiden style guitarwork and even some Running Wild influences... just too many things to name! I'm pretty sure this'll go down well with the fans.

GV: This is something we like very much, and I'm very curious to see how this will go down in the scene and how people will react.

CoC: This is their first album, I presume, and they already sound very accomplished!

GV: Yeah, this is the band's first album; they just played many live gigs for the past four or five years and put out a demo tape. They sound like they came straight out of the '80s, and I really mean that, it's for everybody who used to love the NWOBHM movement.

CoC: I couldn't agree more. Any other new stuff we can look forward to?

GV: I think we'll release more stuff like Litany, which is a new epic doom metal band from Greece [featuring Greg's brother Nick on vocals]. Also Dark Nightmare, from a small city in Greece, who play excellent heavy/power metal.

CoC: All these bands remain firmly rooted in the old-school. What's your opinion about the need for progression in music?

GV: My opinion is that all heavy metal music has been done before. You can do something else, which is not heavy metal any more, or you can try to mix two different styles, which to me is not progression either. Thus, I have never understood what "progression" means. We just release the music we like, and we're satisfied with that. I don't care about progression in the way that people seem to think of it nowadays. I cannot see the "progress" in all these Dream Theatre clones, or bands like Nightwish that mix two different styles -- none of that is progressive in any way.

CoC: Wotan for instance, sounds incredibly like Manowar. Is originality of any importance to you?

GV: Originality is not easy to find in metal today. I love bands like [The Lord Weird] Slough Feg, who are, to me, very original. But I also love Wotan, who may sound very close to Manowar, but I don't have a problem with this. Now, Manowar is releasing very mediocre stuff, whereas for me, Wotan is something very new.

CoC: OK, let's talk for a bit about your other scene activities outside label.

GV: We have a record shop, and we also organize concerts with the same attitudes and values, focusing on underground metal bands. We try to target a certain number of people for each show; mainly those who strongly believe in it and support the underground. We don't care about the masses and we won't change this for anything. If we have to change, we'd rather stop doing anything at all rather than live with something less.

CoC: But realistically, how is the underground holding up in Greece?

GV: Very good compared to other countries, I would say. There are still people into classic metal and into underground stuff, and we have managed to have shows that could never be done in other parts of the world. We're very happy to have this small but loyal fan-base here in Greece, and we hope to see this expand in other countries. I believe there are people everywhere; bringing them together needs a little more organization. There's always gonna be people into classic metal. It's a [style of] music never influenced by trends, so it will remain forever.

CoC: But I do remember the Greek scene being rather shaky at some point in time...

GV: The Greek scene has faced many problems. One of the main issues was the [poor] attitude of band members; something which has been changing for the better recently. Musicians take things more seriously now, and have stopped blaming everyone [but themselves] for everything. So nowadays I think there is a great improvement in the Greek classic metal scene.

CoC: There have been very successful bands though, if not exactly in the classic metal genre.

GV: Of course we have the very famous bands like Rotting Christ, and even though I don't like these bands, they deserve it because they worked very hard for it. But now I think it's time for the Greek metal scene to explode! There have already been good reactions to what has come out. There are some good new bands and record labels as well, so people are beginning to see a great improvement in the Greek classic metal scene. We hope to see it grow even bigger some day, because there are bands that really deserve to be known.

CoC: I'm sure you feel yourselves to be an important part of the scene.

GV: We definitely are a part of it; we have worked with all the other labels and generally everybody who supports heavy metal. It doesn't have to be a release from Eat Metal Records for us to like it. For example, there is the new Airged Lamh album [_The Silver Arm_] on the Black Lotus label, which we promote like it was ours, or even more! We are friends with all the guys, unlike the [fragmented] Greek scene in the old days which resulted in a lot of problems. Nowadays, even the press helps a lot more, where they weren't so eager in the past. Although I must say that musicians still have many things to improve on, and need to change some of their ideas.

CoC: Like what? Attitude?

GV: Their professionalism. For example, the time they have to spend, and the sacrifices they have to make. Granted, you cannot be professional when you are not paid. But you can certainly act like one, and then maybe achieve things in the future that you couldn't imagine now. There are a lot of sacrifices you have to make, and whoever is willing to do this, like Battleroar for example, will go further. Whoever does not will always remain in the Greek underground.

CoC: How difficult is it for the underground labels like yours to distribute their releases widely?

GV: All underground labels have distribution problems. I think distributors don't care much about music and don't wish to spend their time on a release that's not gonna bring in the money. People in the underground should act like small distributors themselves and promote everything. I even blame some people who don't care about finding out about new bands... in 2010 they will still only be expecting the new Iron Maiden or something. This is very sad. Anyway, distributors are all about money. I cannot blame them: it's their job. So we have to push harder, that's all.

CoC: You talk a lot about being underground. How much of the "underground" attitude is actually genuine, and how many people are simply acting that way to look good?

GV: I would say that being underground has become a fashion these days. You can always be underground without advertising the fact; it's all for yourself really, doing something you truly believe in.

CoC: The black metal scene is full of people who try to get street cred simply by claiming to know certain bands or own certain albums. Is it like that in the classic metal scene?

GV: I know many guys who think they are underground just by spending their money buying some rare records, and on the other hand never showing up at an underground concert. I know which guys are truly underground, I don't wish to categorize everybody.

CoC: What does the underground mean to you, then? How is it important?

GV: It's really about the music: not everybody has to be underground. I know I'm always talking about the underground, but for example, in the years of 1990-95, the scene would be dead if not for the underground. It's the underground bands and fans that supported it.

CoC: Still making references to the black metal scene: some bands actually claim they don't care if their music is heard by others or not; they claim to play strictly for themselves.

GV: Staying unknown is not, to most people, being underground. You can be underground and your music can still be heard by many people. You cannot say that you don't want your music to be heard by many people. Then don't record it in the first place! Being underground is not a purpose. Making good music for a wide audience and being underground is not mutually exclusive!

(article submitted 10/1/2005)

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