Going back to the late ’80s, what were the very first musical memories and experiences of Alexandros Antoniou, who was back then just another kid from Rhodes island? How well do you remember those days?
Alexandros Antoniou: Thank you for the opportunity in taking this trip down memory lane with you. I remember getting into rock and metal as early as 1989. Those times were still as pure as pure can get and it was very hard for me as a young individual to get my hands and ears on the actual music, let alone to own it in physical format. This was an obscure era and the fact that I was living on an island so remote didn’t help at all. Money was short and we had no internet, no record stores, no CD players, no nothing. The only tools back then were rock publications, a weekly cult metal program on TV called Metal Mania and the odd tape trading experience with fellow metallers. As the island of Rhodes is geographically next to Turkey, I remember managing to tune in to a Turkish metal radio show that would play metal in the evenings and with absolute care and focus copy the material that would interest me on a small number of blank cassette tapes that were in my possession. Eventually times changed and by the mid ’90s I had access to record stores including the ones in Athens, making it easier to place regular orders. By that time the problem we were facing was that our music tastes have ventured further into the obscure black/death underground, making it very hard to get hold of that stuff. Still, we managed with zines and snail mail to amass a lot of demos and vinyls, and get in touch with numerous underground hordes from that era. I think it is everyone’s destiny to start with rock and heavy metal and gradually move on to thrash, death and black metal. It is just natural. The only problem is that for one reason or another, a lot of people tend to give up everything after reaching that point. I am certainly not going to be one of them.
Unlike most bands that get stuck in the routine of releasing albums and touring on every two or so years, you literally spent a decade writing and recording each of your two albums. Going so blatantly against the grain, with complete disregard for anyone’s expectations but your own is highly commendable and it speaks volumes about the purity of your motivation to make music in the first place.
Alexandros Antoniou: Thank you. I think the answer lies in the fact that Macabre Omen is not most of the bands. Macabre Omen is a vessel to express certain aspects of my life and along with it comes another side of my personality in the form of The One which sound-wise lies at the other end of the spectrum. I tend to alternate between the two like a modern Jekyll and Hyde, hence that necessity of having a decade apart each release. Releasing an album every two years, touring and so forth is simply not what I aim with these projects. I would rather create something every ten years that would eventually be sought after by generations to come, than create snapshot material that suits a current moment in time. This is art and expressionism, not an office job.
It seems that Anamneses, the title of your new compilation, has a twofold meaning. On one hand, it serves as a reference of your past work, demos and tracks you contributed to various split releases, while on the other it deals with certain personal recollections, as the title of the new track suggests. Hope you won’t find this presumption too impertinent, but the track feels like a deeply moving tribute to your late father Antonis and your own way to deal with that loss, like a continuation of emotions explored on From Son To Father, the track from your last album Gods Of War At War. His appearance on both of those songs is something that would have certainly made him proud and honoured, considering that there’s nothing more rewarding for a parent with artistic aspirations than to have his child following in his footsteps. Can you say something about the way he influenced you as an artist and shaped you as a man, how important was his role in your life?
Alexandros Antoniou: This is a very interesting question indeed but I need to rectify two aspects of it. First and foremost Anamneses is not a compilation but an anniversary release to commemorate the 25 years of the band’s existence with primary goal to showcase the brand new epic long track Anamneses from the Past (Sirens Calling). Along with this track I decided to gather all the old mid ’90s material and give it a gentle touch of mastering and where possible mixing in order to give them a new lease of life, present them to newer fans who might not be aware of them and also find them a new home in this release. These songs do not mean much to me any longer so I consider them as a bonus on this mini album. With regards to the new track itself, yes it is melancholic and moving and yes it features the voice of my father for the second time. However the track itself, although it deals with a form of personal loss that I have experienced, it is not that of my father’s. That subject was covered and expressed in all its glory on the track From Son to Father on the sophomore album. Although Antonis was an avid reader of poetry and a poet in his own merit he never really understood my art but always wanted me to come up with some music for his verses. The only sad thing here is that the music only came after his death and not whilst he was alive. I am of the belief that he would be proud nonetheless.
There is something very unnerving about the way those sirens are calling, halfway through the eponymous new song. Their singing isn’t pleasant, but drenched in melancholy, almost spooky. While you were writing that song and contemplating that particular part, did you envision yourself or the listeners at the receiving end of that call, figuratively speaking? Considering that, according to Greek mythology, luring people to death is what sirens are primarily known for, was their singing in that song a vessel for you to express your own longing for death?
Alexandros Antoniou: I was not just considering it I was actually there at all times physically and mentally. The Sirens represent that which one cannot have or have as long as one can control and overcome it. Let’s say that although I envisioned their sounds in such a fashion the end result was tenfold and I only have Lindy-Fay Hella to thank for vision and execution on this. The result is otherworldly to say the least like everything she does in her career.
How does it feel to listen to the Olympus demo material these days, what kind of memories it brings back? Are you looking fondly on that version of your younger self or does it make you cringe ever so slightly?
Alexandros Antoniou: The funny thing is that although this was recorded 25 years ago I can still remember every aspect of that recording from the preparation, to the obscure methods of finding a producer and what we went through in order to get this performance on tape. Some of those experiences are noted down in the booklet of Anamneses along with other recollections from those years. That version of my younger self with a young band is what I am thankful for and what led the band become today and also in the future. If you refer to the pre-Olympus years the word cringe is more suited.
Listening to those two demo songs, that were probably your first serious attempt at writing some meaningful music, and putting them side by side to Gods Of War material, or the new song for example, one can clearly tell that the sensibility of your music stayed the same throughout the years, it is only execution that naturally evolved and became better, together with songwriting of course. Do you have a hard time recognizing that underlying something that binds all your recordings together and could you put into words what that something is?
Alexandros Antoniou: Since all music and lyrics are composed and curated by myself I can definitely identify what makes that something standout and bind the recordings, without an issue or hesitation. The only difference like you mention is the evolution one can find throughout the years. There is always something new to add on top of what already is there and make it part of a new journey so to speak. I cannot forget the past, there will always be an element of it in anything I make now or in the future.
Would you disapprove the notion that your last studio album Gods Of War At War was basically an exercise in finding a compromise between the intensity of proto black metal and the epic and anthemic sensibility of the early ’90s Bathory?
Alexandros Antoniou: That description covers a lot of the elements of what that album was about. It essentially started as a continuation of the debut, but it turned to be much larger in everything. Bigger sound, more layers, more epic and anthemic than the previous one. It was also darker in parts, but every layer worked together just fine. A huge effort that was worth the wait, both for me and for the people that were eager to listen to it, if any.
What were some of the artists that you had been listening to most frequently while writing that album? Do you generally spend much time listening to music of others while writing your own?
Alexandros Antoniou: I have to say that I try to avoid listening to material to get inspired, it is not how I compose albums. It needs to flow naturally and to do that, I avoid listening to metal at times so that the riffs come out pure and not affected by fellow acts. However, some of my all time favorite albums such as Twilight Of The Gods, Thy Mighty Contract and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss probably always influence me to a certain extent, but these are just the foundations. What you get as a result is Macabre Omen.
The lyrics on The Ancient Returns were very concise and to the point. On Gods Of War At War things were quite a bit different as each track was nothing short of a proper poem.
Alexandros Antoniou: The debut was definitely more concise lyrically as I wanted to allow the mind to travel without bias, hence my choice not to reveal all the lyrics in the booklet. Things came out differently on Gods Of War At War and I felt that by not publishing the lyrics a huge part of the album’s experience would be hidden away. The lyrics and the music were composed over a period of ten years, with some of them going back as far as 1997. I am not composing or writing much, so I always tend to revisit old material that might not have seemed right for that period in my life. What I find amusing is how all these riffs and lyrics end up becoming actual compositions and I have to admit that in times I cannot recollect how that happened, the material just flows. Similarly with the lyrics, there were verses that just came out only to make sense ten years later in conjunction with some newer lines.
Did you use some of that previously written material for Anamneses From The Past (Sirens Calling) or did you start writing that one with a clean slate?
Alexandros Antoniou: There were a few riffs and ideas that I was playing with for years but the core of the song and the very first notes where only achieved July 2017 onward with the final touches added in sometime in 2019 in the studio. The way I compose with this entity is what one might think as unorthodox. Ideas are floating, material is everywhere and anywhere but for some weird reason it all starts interlocking with itself when the time is right revealing imagery to my conscious that previously was not there. I cannot explain how this is happening but when it happens it is just a matter of time and endless weaving to get the final shape and form of each track right and subsequently the album itself.
That iconic looking warrior on the front cover of Gods Of War At War, is he greeting the gods or is he challenging them?
Alexandros Antoniou: Allow me to let the lyrics of the title track speak for themselves: The Kingdom of the Gods I enter, with my sword in the hand on the left. My face obscured by the blackness of the night, my sight and visions are clear. I extend my hand to the greatness of the Gods and become One with Them.
How did you and Ván Records find each other?
Alexandros Antoniou: This was purely coincidental as I was not actively looking for a label for this release. Yoni from comrades Grave Miasma sent the album to Ván and the rest just happened. I knew of Ván from day one and we did work together in the early days by distributing each other’s material, but I could never foresee this collaboration between the label and the band, so I can only say that I am very fortunate and pleased to be on their roster.
Greek mythology is obviously the subject matter that inspires you greatly. What kind of personal relationship you have with it?
Alexandros Antoniou: We all grew up reading about the myths, poems and even historical facts that took place in ancient Hellas, both from a personal point of view and of course from school. The lessons learned by studying these ancient scripts and stories are also lessons that one may use in life. Segments from the Iliad and the Odyssey, the vast number of deities and the myths surrounding them, or even the decision making behind Alexander’s battles, simply show that 3000 or so years ago are not that long ago and represent each and every one of us in the present.
Do you believe that, hadn’t various ethnic religions of the late antiquity period in Europe extinct, many prominent mythological characters could have easily still been considered legitimate religious figures? Is there anything about Zeus or Odin that makes them intrinsically inferior to Christ?
Alexandros Antoniou: Elements from old mythology and ancient cults can be found in every modern present religion and of course Christianity itself. I think where Zeus and Odin failed is the fact that hundreds of deities were seemingly replaced by one Judaic god. A bit like a locked Pandora’s box, if you ask me. We can already see that cracks forming and it is only a matter of time for it to fade away through space and time.
Was your decision to move to London in 1998 driven by a need to make a change in your personal life or did you do it hoping that your musical career could benefit from it somehow? How much easier is to run a band from one of the world’s biggest cities?
Alexandros Antoniou: The need and desire to seek higher education led me to London, it had nothing to do with the band, if anything it put strain on it for quite a while and specifically between 1999 and 2004. But that very exile allowed me to reflect on things and work on music in isolation at times, which eventually spawned The Ancient Returns. At present I am still a London resident and I think this would remain like this for years to come. It is definitely easier to run things from a city such as London rather than from an island such as Rhodes.
Even though you haven’t lived there for quite some time now, do you feel that Macabre Omen still belongs to Hellenic black metal scene somehow?
Alexandros Antoniou: The Hellenic scene has never failed to deliver in my opinion and for that I am proud to be associated with it. I guess you could say that I am part of that scene due to my background, but at the same time it is not something that I have really thought about. I simply continue to produce and release what represents me without following any circles or scenes.
Do you still keep in touch with some of the Hellenic metal musicians that you were close with back in the ’90s and what are some of the most noteworthy Hellenic metal records from that period in your opinion?
Alexandros Antoniou: To be honest, I decided to cut and minimize contacts with everyone in the late ’90s, something that lasted more or less for almost a decade. It is something that had to be done for a while and I preferred to distance myself from all that. However, I refreshed contact with a lot of the mid ’90s musicians almost a decade later and it is great. We have all matured one way or another and the communication seems greater now than back in 1999. Some very charismatic people there for sure. As for the noteworthy records, Hellas had a glorious output in the ’90s, especially in the black/death metal medium. Thy Mighty Contract by Rotting Christ, Crossing The Fiery Path by Necromantia and In The Garden Of Unearthly Delights by Horrified were all unique and pioneering in their own way that variety of sound the Hellenic scene had to portray back in the early days.
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