EPICUS HELLENICUS METALLICUS
In my country there's a proverb, which roughly translates into "Tell me who you're with and I'll tell you who you are." So, when I met those cool dudes of Heathendom, I reckoned that the best way to learn more about them is to learn about their roots and the environment which conditioned their Metal upbringing. What emerged is a picture of a well-oiled engine firing on all cylinders and a determined plan to hijack our CD-players and drag us along the righteous path of Metal. In front of me for a friendly chat were guitarists Lefteris Vourliotis and Michail Vlavianos, bass player Yiannis Moraitis and George Tsinanis, the band's drummer.
Chris: Heathendom's eponymously-titled first Demo was released 7 years after the band's formation. What took you so long?
Lefteris: It was difficult to find good musicians and stick together. After having started to write our first songs, we kept having a problem in finding a good singer. Admittedly, the sound we had in mind was a challenging one for which it wasn't easy to sing. We wanted something dramatic with a wide vocal range - from low baritone voice to high-pitched falsettos.
C.: How do you think Heathendom's music has changed from the band's inception until today?
L.: When we started out we were playing a Doomier style of Metal. Now we've taken it to another level and our music is more theatrical with a wider range of Metal elements - from U.S.A. Power Metal to Thrash Metal. I think our music now contains a quite rich mix of Metal elements.
C.: One characteristic of today's Metal scene is that it is very fragmented, in the sense that we have a wide variety of genre overlaps, such as Progressive Doom, Folk Thrash and others. Do you see this as a positive thing?
Michail: I think it's a good thing. I never believed in labelling, personally I see the music as a whole. As long as it has the right elements and the compositions are valid, then I don't care if it's Black, Folk or whatever. As long as the scene keeps pumping hard with lots of 'bounce' and with young guys loving Metal music, I think it's a good thing to try and mix different genres together and come up with a personal take on Metal based on the old Classic styles.
C.: We mentioned how Heathendom has changed over the years but now I'd like to widen that line of inquiry and ask how the scene of Greece - your homeland - has changed over the years...
George: The Metal scene of Greece has made giant steps ahead in the last 12 years. The overall quality of the bands is much better than before and many are trying to develop their own style and not just copying other bands. That's why I think the Greek scene has a very particular personality.
L.: In the 1980s, most Metal bands from Greece played Black Metal...
Yiannis: That's right, it's a well-known fact that traditionally Greek bands played Black Metal - with bands such as Rotting Christ, Nightfall, Necromantia, Order Of The Ebon Hand, Varathron and so many others. In the last few years, however, other bands have been trying to play traditional Heavy Metal, Power Metal...
C.: ...hold on a moment, so what you're actually telling me is that traditional Power Metal - which by definition has old-school characteristics - is only now becoming very popular in Greece?
Y.: Yes, but I was referring to the quantity of bands playing that type of music not the [Greek] people listening to it. Actually this is also true for beyond Greece - these days more and more bands are playing Metal with distinctively traditional qualities.
C.: In my opinion, whatever the Metal genre they are playing, Greek bands tend to have an element of 'epicness' or 'drama' in their music. Do you think that the Metal bands of Greece are somehow influenced by their ancient heritage, even if subconsciously?
Y.: There are many examples of Greek bands influenced by their history...
G.: It's our heritage, we cannot avoid it. Maybe we're actually born with an 'epic' style, who knows!
C.: Another thing that strikes me about the Greek scene is that one could easily divide it into two. On one side you'd have the 'darker' bands - such as Septic Flesh, Nightfall, Rotting Christ and others. Then on the other side you have Heathendom, Reflection, Spitfire... basically the old-school-Classic-Metal-sounding bands. In reality, is this division real or is there a sense of fraternity between all bands?
M.: I don't think there is a division between the dark bands [of Greece] and the more Power/Classic Heavy Metal-influenced bands. In fact we often play together with the bands you refer to in festivals. I have to tell you that the older bands, such as Rotting Christ which you mentioned, who play a totally different music style to ours, do try to support newer bands even if these play a totally different style of Metal to theirs. I think it's good for bands like them to earn international success because that way our country can be noted for its potential to produce quality Metal. Bands like Rotting Christ were one of the first bands from Greece to sign with big foreign labels and we [as a Greek band] can have an opportunity to benefit from that.
G.: Even Rotting Christ have evolved and changed their music style since their beginning. They began playing a Grindcore style and now they're playing a much more traditional-sounding Metal with epic and Greek folkloristic elements in their latest album.
C.: Now let's focus more on Heathendom. The release of your debut album - "Nescience" - was met with widespread critical acclaim. Now, 2 years after its release, do you listen to that album and wish you had done things differently?
L.: No, I don't think we would change anything in that album. As far as we were concerned we were pleased at how it took shape but we weren't expecting such an overwhelming response from the fans and press.
[After a brief interruption, the interview resumes...]
C.: Could you give me a synopsis of the lyrical content of "Nescience" and explain the meaning of the album's title?
L.: Actually 'nescience' is a word for 'ignorance' and refers to people's lack of knowledge...
M.: ...and their need to be educated.
G.: But they don't try to learn because their society won't let them. So they stay in a permanent state of ignorance, not because they have any other option but because they have to.
C.: So these people have no control over their destiny, right?
G.: Yes, and that's also reflected in the album's artwork.
C.: Last year you released a 20-minute song called "Haunted In Hell". Could you tell me more about that?
L.: It's a song consisting of 2 parts. The first part ['Haunted Within'] was written and recorded in 2004, at the time of releasing our very first Demo. Years later we wrote a second part ['Hell Within'] which ended up in our debut album. Both parts actually form one whole story. We decided to re-record the first part and include both in the vinyl re-release of our Demo.
C.: I believe you have a brand new album ready for imminent release. Could you tell me more about that?
L.: O.K... Our new album is coming out in October and it will be called "The Symbolist". I think we've progressed a great deal in this album. The sound is a little bit darker, more aggressive but still with our theatrical elements.
G.: We kept the good stuff of the first album and evolved it into something with much more riffs and with very fast drumming - including some blast-beats. I think this album will be much more interesting than the first.
C.: I'm assuming "The Symbolist" will be out on the Metal On Metal Records...
C.: Guys, with one foot in the Power Metal genre and another in the Doom genre, I'm guessing that a primary influence on Heathendom was Ronnie James Dio. What do you consider his greatest legacy to be?
M.: Personally speaking he's my favourite singer but I think he really was the greatest Metal singer ever. I think his greatest legacy was his style of singing, not only his powerful and unique voice. In fact his style has influenced even the more aggressive Metal bands.
Besides, you were mentioning the 'epicness' in Metal and what better example can you have of that if not Ronnie James Dio, with songs such as 'Killing The Dragon', 'Magica' and 'Egypt'. Maybe some of that stuff will sound cheesy by today's standards but he was a true pioneer. You can still listen to albums such as "Holy Diver" today and hardly believe it was recorded over 25 years ago. Dio's music still kicks ass.
L.: Let us also not forget that Dio played in what were easily the 3 most influential Metal albums of all time: "Holy Diver" [Dio], "Heaven & Hell" [Black Sabbath] and "Rising" [Rainbow]. Come to think of it he sang in the 3 most influential bands of all time!
C.: The next question is relatively straightforward... I'd like each of you to mention one album you rate very highly and justify your citation.
G.: If you ask me that question in a short while I'll probably give you a different answer. Anyway, right now I'm listening a lot to "Operation Mindcrime" by Queensryche. I think it's the best concept album ever written.
C.: "Operation Mindcrime" was released about 22 years ago. Don't you think Queensryche subsequently released an album as good as that?
G.: No. Never. They never reached the quality of "Operation Mindcrime" again. Incidentally, Geoff Tate [Queensryche vox] is also one of my favourite singers and lyricists.
M.: Myself being more into the 'heavier' side of Metal, I'm quite fond of Thrash. I think "Reign In Blood" - by Slayer - is out of this world. Slayer never quite managed to top that album.
C.: Did you like Slayer's most recent album, "World Painted Blood"?
M.: They went back to their roots and it's a pretty good album. However, I didn't like its production so much.
G.: I think Paul Bostaph is the best drummer Slayer ever had, better than Dave Lombardo. That's a statement I just wanted to make.
C.: What about you, Yiannis? What is one of your all time favourite albums?
Y.: I'm deeply into Doom. One of my favourite albums is "V" by Saint Vitus.
C.: So can we credit the Doom elements of Heathendom's music to you?
Y.: Not entirely because it's not just me in the band who listens to Doom.
L.: I would mention 2 albums not just 1. One is "Into The Mirror Black" by Sanctuary, a U.S. Power Metal band [and an early incarnation of Nevermore]. Itís a very dark and powerful album that cannot possibly be topped. I mean, to this day I get goose bumps every time I hear it.
On the other hand, I love Doom Metal and no-one can top "Nightfall" [by Candlemass].
C.: What do you think of the 2 post-Messiah albums Candlemass did with Robert Lowe on vocals?
L.: I liked the first one ["King Of The Grey Islands"] but not the second ["Death Magic Doom"]. In the first one I really liked his singing but I'm not too sure about that in "Death Magic Doom" - it's as if he didn't sing with so much passion in that album.
C.: In a way that's strange as I believe "King Of The Grey Islands" was already written before Lowe joined Candlemass.
L.: Even though Leif Edling [Candlemass bassist, co-founder and mentor] didn't write the songs in "Death Magic Doom" for Robert Lowe's voice, he [Lowe] expressed himself very well.
G.: Maybe that's exactly why that album was better than its successor - since the vocal lines weren't written for Lowe, he tried to top himself giving the songs an intense emotion in order to be noticed.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to mention another album I rate very highly. This album is "Politics Of Ecstasy" by Nevermore. It's one of the best albums that Heavy Metal has to offer.
C.: Heathendom, thank you for doing this interview. To conclude I'd like to ask if the stages of Europe will be seeing more of you in the near future.
G.: We certainly hope so.
Y.: And thank you for everything, Chris.
Copyright 2010 Chris Galea
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