Hail Spirit Noir
If the modern man is essentially a compromise between the god and the monkey, who do you think we are closer to? Have we ever ceased being monkeys, and will we ever become gods?
Theoharis: That’s a nice question. I think we are just another lifeform, thus closer to monkeys it is. However, mankind is selfish enough to view itself as gods over the other species, over the planet, over everything. This selfishness has allowed us to explore our potential. At the same time, our species is terrified of the unknown. While we seek godhood, we have an innate need for something grander than ourselves to be there so that we won’t ever be held accountable. Personally, I have a hard time understanding how we could ever be gods in a religious way. We will always keep advancing towards something. The beauty of our existence lies in the fact that we have no idea what that something is. Right now, I think our next goal is the journey to the stars and the exploration of space. But that will be just another stepping stone to whatever we are going to aim for afterwards. I can’t really grasp the concept of godhood. What it means to be a god. Is it omnipotence? Is it the eternal life we associate it with? I have no answer to that. I can only think of the god-creator concept as a valid excuse for seeking godhood. Otherwise, simply existing means fuck all. Again, maybe I am bound too much to my corporeal form to fathom such concepts. So yes, monkeys, although really curious ones.
For the uninitiated, what kind of retro-futuristic narrative Eden In Reverse is exactly? Where do the aliens fit into it and how difficult you believe it will be to read from their lips once they finally arrive?
Theoharis: It’s actually presenting the future through the past and vice versa so as to understand the present. The word aliens here does not mean actual extraterrestrial beings per se. It refers to the concept of the unknown. It could be aliens but it might be a new way of understanding the basic structures of life. Of every facet of life. Lips? Why should aliens have lips or any recognizable feature for that matter? I find it quite hard that the universe in all its finite vastness has such a limited number of possible forms that we’d be able to imagine it so easily. I’ll gladly take the Lovecraftian vision as an equal possibility over the idea of aliens looking even remotely like us. There goes body language out the window as far as understanding goes.
Contemplating the endless vastness of the universe, one will inevitably come to the conclusion that the probability of life’s existence exclusively on this planet, which is nothing more but a tiny grain of sand in the grand scheme of things, feels very slim. Do you think that the future will prove that notion right at some point, either by us reaching beyond or by something from beyond reaching to us? If you were to guess, would you say that some kind of extraterrestrial encounter has already happened?
Theoharis: It’s very selfish to think that way. Very counter productive too. Every time we think we’ve reached a new frontier the only thing we’ve actually done, scientifically speaking, is creating the need to push that frontier even further. For example, we are making progress when it comes to Mars as we have just got acquainted with the planet’s surface. And that’s a tiny step in the scale of barely our own galaxy. Any further significant progress probably won’t be in my lifetime but I’d wager we will get even further. Progress never ceases. There must be sentient life forms somewhere out there. But I’ve always had a problem with questions like that because I don’t know if what we call sentience is easily applicable to other forms of existence. I can’t tell if we’ve already been visited by aliens. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find out one day. Hopefully, not the Independence Day way.
All Hail Spirit Noir albums have been fairly cinematic, but Eden In Reverse is without doubt the most visual one yet. How important for you was to add that second dimension to your music, and to make a listener see the songs, if not before his open eyes, then at least in his mind, with his eyes closed?
Theoharis: We always try to summon images when we compose for Hail Spirit Noir. Eden In Reverse is probably our most visual album indeed. The way Haris composed the first demos of the new songs made it obvious that again the end result would be different from the albums that preceded it. That has always been important to us, but this time, and after we discussed the lyrical concept, it became necessary to make it even more so.
If it’s true that Against The Curse, We Dream was partially inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s movie The Clockwork Orange, which movies inspired Eden In Reverse, both musically and lyrically?
Theoharis: The whole record has an ’80s feel to it. It’s as if we jumped a decade forward in terms of drawing inspiration from. The more dystopian films of that decade were an obvious source. John Carpenter and David Kronenberg have more than a few entries. Escape From New York, They Live, Tetsuo, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, etc. But the list isn’t limited to just the ’80s. 2001 A Space Odyssey, another famous Kubrick film, is on that list too, just like Alex Proyas’ Dark City from 1998, a very peculiar and surprisingly bleak movie. It’s also important to note that Carpenter composed the music for his films and most of the themes he wrote have become iconic.
If Satan is indeed time, as you alluded on Oi Magoi, does that fact has anything to do with Eden moving in reverse on this album? With the basic concept of the song Satan Is Time in mind, could you find some underlying context that connects its narrative with the narrative of this album?
Theoharis: The analogy was made taking the Christian definition of the devil as the trickster. And we still believe that time is one of the most devilish things ever. When you are young there is time aplenty or so you think so you waste that time. And that’s how time tricks you. It promises you it will always be there. And it’s true, it just won’t be with you. That being said, the devil is a very different concept and is in fact everything but time. It’s an abstract and chaotic form that is in stark contrast with the linear way we measure and perceive time. In keeping with that song’s concept, you’re right, there is an analogy to be made with Eden In Reverse lyrical direction. As we have kept moving forward throughout the centuries, we’ve always thought that we were headed towards a better existence. A lot of people thought we were destined for Eden. Invariably, regardless of how far we’ve come, the societies we’ve built are utopian. We’re bound for a dystopic future. Things improve with time but have proved us all wrong. So yes, Eden in Reverse is Time being the Devil that he is. Or simply the Devil in a form we can comprehend.
Pneuma was about merging the fundamental principles of black metal with the advanced musical thinking of the ’70s prog rock, in pretty much equal measure. As years and albums went by, the ratio between black and prog started shifting heavily towards prog rock, culminating with this album that features hardly any traditional metal sequences. Looking back on how the band’s sound developed over the years, is this new reality something that surprises you, or did you know all along that you will eventually get to this point?
Theoharis: We never had any idea where we were going musically. That shift you mention is evolution, unplanned and unintended, chaotic as it should be. We did not mature because I really hate the term. When it comes to music, it means lazy and uninspired and set in your ways. We are anything but that and all four albums can attest to that. Inspiration and influences vary enormously from time to time but the one constant is the desire to experiment and apply whatever new is going on in our minds. Haris, being the main composer of the band, has a general idea when he starts composing and once Demian and myself start applying our nuances things change, just like we do. The main thing is that it’s not forced. Had it been, it would have been plainly obvious. I don’t think it’s any less metal than our previous records, if anything production-wise, it’s a heavy, almost modern album, to my ears anyway. We are surprised every time since, like I’ve said, we’ve never made an album that sounds exactly the way we heard it in our heads. The same goes for Eden In Reverse. It turned a bit different and the ’80s influence is everywhere. But it did make for what I believe to be our best album to date.
Speaking of that progressive angle, it’s fair to say that together with the overall evolution of the band’s sound, that prog component was parallelly evolving within itself, becoming more synth-oriented, more ’80s sounding altogether. Is this a valid observation? Would you dare to predict where are you going to go with your next album, or even with the one after that? Do you have the final destination in mind, that place you’d like to get eventually?
Theoharis: Ha! I loathe predicting anything. Particularly as there is a special release we’ve been preparing and will be announced very soon that is quite out there. It’s not exactly a new album but it will feature new material on it. The ’80s aspect was not something we planned on. Haris knew he wanted to incorporate more synth sounds like that in the material. Sakis, our keyboard player, is equally enthusiastic about artists like Jarre and had a hand in the various sounds used on Eden. A final destination? No, why should there be one? That would greatly diminish the enjoyment of the creative process. Our music will always reflect us and where we are at during its creation. So, I’d rather never have a final destination as it would probably mean that we won’t be growing anymore as people. I don’t really like that idea.
Regardless of their complex, modern structure, and all the various plug-ins and effects that you use, your songs still manage to sound vintage. Is that vintage quality of your music an aftermath of production choices, a reflection of your writing style, a mixture of both of these things, or neither of them?
Theoharis: A great compliment, thank you. It’s a combination. But you need to understand, we spent a lot of time trying to track down analogue equipment for this album. Besides the moog we used, hardware synths like Prophet and the CS-80 were really useful and lend this album its ’80s appeal. We try to avoid plug-ins as much as possible and that’s why so much time is spent trying to find the actual synths. They sound better, don’t they? It has this vintage aura as you mentioned but I believe it’s a record of its time and maybe of the future. It is influenced by the past, although a different decade this time around, but its focus is on the future, if that makes sense. Production values sure help bring out what we have in our heads but they are the tools we have available, the means to an end. Haris’ writing style is probably what manages to tie all these influences together and create this almost nostalgic feel, even when the music is as alien and cold as in tracks like Automata 1980, the most Hail Spirit Noir track we’ve ever done.
The way you just described your music, Hail Spirit Noir comes across as a band that transcends past, present, and future, while simultaneously belonging to all of them, at the same time. If you were to make such a judgment, would you say that your music is ahead of its time, behind its time, or somewhere in between?
Theoharis: How can I possibly answer that? I am not so full of myself to think of Hail Spirit Noir as ahead of our time, but what I do know is that we have our own signature sound. No matter how we choose to interpret our influences or whatever new elements we might incorporate it will be unmistakably Hail Spirit Noir. If our music resonates with people in decades to come, it’s a plus. But that feeling you describe is part of what the retro-futuristic vision is all about. You pretty much nailed it.
Who or what is the Spirit Noir that you greet with the band’s name and is the name itself a religious statement or merely an artistic one?
Theoharis: The Spirit Noir is the darkness in human nature. That little shadow in everything we do that makes the world progress and develop. It’s the selfishness of mankind and of each individual that urges us to go on. It’s not a bad thing necessarily. It is the drive required to overcome obstacles and improve, to better ourselves. But it is also the same spirit that will make us detest even loved ones when we don’t see eye to eye. It’s this duality that we praise, the ability to be both the best and the worst version of oneself simultaneously. Man will always act on his desires no matter who he hurts in the process. That said, it’s been an artistic statement more than anything else. The religious aspect of it is far too personal to discuss, if you don’t mind. It’s important to note that we don’t much care for religion and if we were to preach anything it would be individuality. The highest form of self-development.
Speaking of Spirit Noir, Pneuma features the image of the imaginary creature with the same name on the front cover. The cover of Oi Magoi features you having that same image painted on your body. Obviously, you had different ideas for Mayhem In Blue and Eden In Reverse. Will you use that image ever again? Does the direction your music is currently heading into still have a lot in common with the spirit embodied by that creature?
Theoharis: The Spirit is there on Mayhem In Blue, just not on the cover. On Eden it’s true we didn’t use it in the artwork but it’s ever-present in the lyrical themes. What better way for this devil to present the dystopia we are fast approaching as the promised Eden? Plus, we’re quite unpredictable and we will always keep you on your toes. That is what is always going to be in common between all our albums. You’re right that the first two albums were a bit more focused on the essence of that creature and thus it needed to be featured heavily in the artwork. Mayhem In Blue called for a different approach as did Eden. But since it’s become sort of our mascot, there is a great chance it’ll re-emerge further along. You can read the lyrics and connect the dots and you’ll find the Spirit Noir waiting for you at the end.
How important for the formation of the band and your personal development as musicians was Manos Hadjidakis’ album Reflections? What other albums were crucially important to you in your formative years?
Theoharis: I know Haris would probably serve you with a whole thesis on the subject as it was an extremely important album for him. While not to the same extent, it influenced me as well. It is a testament to how you can compose music that is at the same time both sweet and poignant, not an easy feat. It also shows the power of Hadjidakis’ compositional powers as it transcends genres, something not so common back in the late ’60s. The same record was later on re-recorded in Greek but it lacks some of its original power although the quality of the music remains undeniable. Other records that were pivotal for me were the eponymous Thorns debut, Abigor’s Fractal Possession, Nevermore’s Dreaming Neon Black, Vicious Rumors’ Digital Dictator, Danny Elfman’s Nightmare Before Christmas OST, Genesis’ Foxtrot, King Crimson’s Red, Van Der Graaf Generator’s A Plague Of Lighthouse Keeper, Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood, and Popul Vuh’s Hosianna Mantra. All of the above for different reasons shaped the way I perceive music today and most importantly, through their eclecticism introduced to a whole lot of other music that I don’t know how I would’ve got to otherwise. I don’t know how much of their influence can be spotted on our albums but it’s there.
Have you ever had a moment of enlightenment while listening to pop music, and thought that some of its rules and principles might be applied in your own compositions?
Theoharis: Good songwriting is good songwriting no matter where it comes from. The difference is that what we call pop music today has very little in common with the pop music of the ’70 or ’80s. Kraftwerk has been a big influence. They were innovators both in style and sound. Plus they were very good composers. I’ve always found that a very simple song, like Haire Pneuma Skoteino, is extremely hard to write. If it’s not effortless then it really isn’t that simple. And all the quality pop songs we know have that in spades.
Have you ever listened to a pop album with an almost repelling mainstream appeal, that you felt was immensely profound nonetheless? Which albums represent the very pinnacle of pop music in your opinion?
Theoharis: Well. If I had to pick two ridiculously acclaimed pop albums those would be A-Ha’s Scoundrel Days and Depeche Mode’s Music For The Masses. These two are quality music through and through no matter how popular they might be. And I rarely enjoy pop music. To be fair, to me Muse are a pop band and they are incredible musicians and there is always something to enjoy in their albums.
If you were to decide what a person should ideally feel while listening to your music, what kind of emotional response would you like people to have on Hail Spirit Noir’s music? Would you prefer them to contemplate about it or simply surrender to it? In other words, would you rather have a listener that feels smarter or happier after the experience?
Theoharis: I’d hate the listeners to feel nothing after playing our music. I hate it when music doesn’t stir anything in me. Negative or positive. Music that leaves you indifferent is pointless. I’d much rather have someone hating Eden than finding it just another record. So far we’ve been a love it or hate it type of band which is perfectly fine with me. It means people pay attention. There are no ideal feelings. We cannot dictate how the audience reacts. I’d love it if we make them think. If they pay attention to what the instruments are doing, great too. But ultimately, it needs to move you.
Speaking of emotions, your music is very evocative, nostalgic, and sentimental, it’s almost sad at times. Do you make music that conveys that kind of feelings intentionally? Do you subscribe to the notion that art must always have at least a layer of melancholy to it, in order to be worthwhile?
Theoharis: I can’t say for sure. Sometimes, I guess it’s true. But melancholy is like a blanket that will more often than not numb the rest of your senses. No music should have anything but poignancy. That’s the most important ingredient. I feel that a lot of times that melancholy is the composer’s comfort zone or simply his way of maintaining his audience. But it’s not challenging his own limits and that does not give exciting results. With Hail Spirit Noir, it’s never intentional, it’s just the way we compose. Maybe all those feelings you mentioned lead to a sort of timelessness that is desired. After we’ve discussed the concept of each record, composing moves towards that direction but never with the expected results.
Why is any attempt to artistically articulate happiness always destined to be a failure? Why is so much easier to communicate something profound and deep with poignant emotions than with joyful ones?
Theoharis: I am not so sure about that. I mean, it all comes down to honesty. An artificially constructed happy song is anything but. And let’s give the listeners credit, they more discerning than we think. That being said a genuinely feel good song is harder to write as it only reflects on the state of mind. People connect way more easily with the more bleak aspects of music because most of us have been through some sort of terrible situation. These kinds of songs have a cathartic element to them. By the end of an excruciatingly sad song you are spent yet free of the burden that you’ve been shouldering for a little while that is. This catharsis though comes with elation, i.e. happiness. So I think when you try to emulate just the one feeling it’s much more difficult to be honest.
The last three Hail Spirit Noir albums were all released on different labels. Why? What didn’t work with Code666 that made you consider moving on to Dark Essence Records, and why did you leave Dark Essence immediately after Mayhem In Blue was released?
Theoharis: As a band we look for the best way to further our vision. Each time we moved to a new label we felt that we were making steps forward. And it’s true. Both Code666 and Dark Essence are really good labels that work for/with their artists and had it not been for them we wouldn’t have had the opportunities we’ve had so far. We are really grateful.
Do you see yourself staying with Agonia for a string of several albums or would you like to keep exploring your options?
Theoharis: I can’t see why we won’t be staying with Agonia. They’ve been great so far with us. We are already planning a new release of sorts that will be announced pretty soon. It’s not going to be a new album exactly but it will have some new material and it’s a bit of an anniversary release. It will be interesting. After that we are going to start working on new material.
What were the last two metal albums that left you speechless, due to how incredibly disappointing one of them was and how otherworldly brilliant was the other?
Theoharis: Well the one that blew me away most recently was one that was released in December 2019, a little bit before the pandemic hit. The debut album by NED. A true masterpiece. I really try to forget the albums I don’t really like. The most recent one is Agent Steel’s new album that was bound to not live up to the crazy expectations we had from it. But still, I was hoping for something more.
Are you one of those people that find it hard to come to terms with the fact that this life is all we have, and do you believe that death represents the complete and utter nothingness, or yet another stage in neverending infinity of perpetual existence?
Theoharis: It’s the end and I’m perfectly fine with that. I can’t promise that I won’t get cold feet when my time comes but I’d like to believe that by then I will have made peace with myself and my achievements, if there are any. The promise of eternal life is as shallow as a politician’s pre-election speech. It’s a crutch that might be useful to others. Those who are honest about that, I can understand. For most people it is a way to absolve themselves of accountability and I find that very sad. At some point we will all find out who was wrong and who was right. And if I am right, well, I guess we won’t then (laughs).
Were you only kidding when you dedicated Oi Magoi to your dogs Karolos, Astarte, Dias, and Aris, or did they actually influence the creative process for that album? How are they doing these days?
Theoharis: No, we were most certainly not kidding! Their companionship is something we treasure. They are still with us and Astarte even has a sister, Aida. Hopefully, next time we talk, they’ll still be here barking and making our world a better place.
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