On the Way Back from Space
IT’S A complete fairy tale that Greek metal would have faced deterioration in line with the decline of the country’s most important metal exponents, Rotting Christ. What’s more, it’s a complete myth that the ‘Christ ever took a fall. Listening to “If It Ends Tomorrow”, a song on par with the best tracks Sakis & co. ever penned, I can see it now. Witnessing them live a couple of times with Theogonia validates the opinion. And yes, recalling throwing many a whinging comment at the band, I do feel abashed. Truth is, many of the warm peninsular sights and sounds of Greek metal are nowhere as clear as in the unyielding musical backbones of those who craft it today. The glow and shining Plotinus was after, it still lies in there. Surprise yourself and find it.
However, this is not the time and place to argument for or against Greek metal of the day, so I should take the Rotting Christ CD out of the player and replace it with On Thorns I Lay’s Angeldust. When you listen to Angeldust, you can be certain to find many of their lifelines to the more vicious edge of metal severed. However, it’s good, not to mention easy, to break the ice by way of going back to days of yore and bring up all those long-lived names: Rotting Christ, Varathron, Necromantia, Nightfall, Septic Flesh… At one point, situated among these names were Paralysis and Phlebotomy, the predecessors of On Thorns I Lay.
“Our band’s first name was Paralysis and it was changed to Phlebotomy after recording our first demo song,” Minas, guitarist of On Thorns I Lay, informs. “Later on we released our first album as On Thorns I Lay [1995’s Sounds of Beautiful Experience]. As far as we can remember these were unforgettable and kind of romantic times, days when we created music blinded by passion. Looking back we would say that we are proud of that particular period of our lives. On the other hand, things haven’t changed dramatically throughout these years up to now; it is only that we are more mature and less impulsive. We carry a bit of experience having played all these years and jammed or co-operated with other Greek bands like Septic Flesh, Nightfall, et cetera. We had great times with the guys and we are still good friends.”
I wonder if this friendship goes hand in hand with what I read in one interview with On Thorns I Lay from 1997, which you concluded with the words, “Fight for death metal, stay underground, stay away from all techno, sleaze, funk, poseurs and other bullshit.” Perhaps not.
“Well… it was six years ago and we were more impulsive then than we are now,” Minas hesitantly responds. “Today, I’d say that we don’t prefer that kind or music but we always keep our ears open because beauty can be found in many places. We listen to death metal but mostly it’s atmospheric metal, post rock and other stuff that we go for, bands like Tool and Massive Attack.”
The early On Thorns I Lay material, up until Crystal Tears, was textured and complex in its nature. It was exotic, avant-garde, very expansive and easily looked upon as academically dry and pedantic by those who didn’t care for it. Seeing as the atmospheric and melancholic Angeldust comes to conquer the listener with rather bare arrangements, streamlined compositions and plain instrumentation which lean very strongly on straightforward rock aesthetics, there must have been a turning point at some dusty corner in the late 90s that made the band think in a fresh way towards their creation. Something must have instilled confidence into them. Viewing Angeldust from a more conservative angle, the new influences may hint of some adherence to the mindsets of such metal groups as Katatonia and Paradise Lost, but more importantly, they also gaze towards a whole new slew of bands such as Slowdive, Dinosaur Jr, even The Posies.
“We hope that change will always come about!” Minas exclaims, replying to my question about how the shift in focus reached On Thorns I Lay. “That shows that we are still alive and evolving. You are well aimed referring to the Katatonia style that has influenced us the most. We decided to let it show on Angeldust even though it showed a lack of originality. We love groups like Katatonia, Lacuna Coil, Tiamat, The Gathering and we really wanted to try their musical aspect in our creations.”
The guitarist speaks in a brave tongue. When I further molest him about the obvious Katatonia influences, more than amply displayed on the tracks “Sick Screams”, “Independence” and “Deep Thoughts”, the man remains light-minded and candid. “We are badly influenced, aren’t we?” he quips. “Maybe we went too far, I don’t know, but we enjoyed it after all. It is what it is, man.”
As with any band abandoning their early style and aspiring to become something a bit more refined, On Thorns I Lay have lost some of the fans who wrote the letter, bought the demo and wore the patch. Some have considered Future Narcotic and Angeldust the equivalents of autistic crap, while some have shrouded their dislike of the band’s newer material with a diplomatic silence. All the same, the albums have met with some strong resistance. Minas’ attitude to receiving flak for the reason of musical evolution is one that showcases level-headed artistic integrity.
“Autistic crap? Ok, that’s a new one! Anyway, we respect the audience but obviously we don’t agree. We never promised to play music in order to satisfy everybody’s autistic needs but we promised ourselves to be frank and straightforward with our decisions. In other words we are not afraid to test new styles (which, finally, are not that far from our musical roots) and expose them to the audience even if that means that we lose popularity. The hell with it! We did something different, it might be bullshit or it might be a success, but at least we tried. It’s embarrassing for me to see my beloved groups playing the same shit for years. They are either in it for the money or they just have nothing to say! Everyone should understand that ‘change’ is one of the most vital components in life; otherwise we’d still be monkeys!”
If there’s one thing that struck a chord with me about Angeldust in the beginning, it was the simplicity that seemed so natural and unforced. The album really doesn’t try to be anything bigger than it is, and this is where it seems to owe quite a bit to the theme any 24/7 beery and beardy metal head would gladly give away to his 7-11 fashion buff counterpart. That theme, friends, is pop-sensibility.
Minas is a bit wary of the word, too. “We didn’t try to make something popular in order to gain more publicity,” he states. “It is simply because we wanted to interpose simplicity in metal music as a point of view. Sometimes complexity in music gives us the feeling of an advanced musical skill when straightforwardness reminds us of store-bought products, but this is not necessary. I recall attending live performances of well-known virtuoso artists and running away from the place 30 minutes after, feeling tired and exhausted by their fury for musical acrobacy. Then I remember having such a nice time in other gigs being able to sing along with the singer, dancing, jumping and what have you just because the artists didn’t show up as exhibitionists but as simple fans. I don’t consider myself a great musician and I’ll never be a virtuoso because I don’t have the skills to become one but I am sure that I can pick out the genuine artist from a bunch of show-offs. So, I could say that I’m calling upon everyone who plays music to be more loose and simple and I think that Angeldust expresses this invitation.”
“Every season we fight like hell” – On Thorns I Lay, “Angeldust”
MUSICALLY, Angeldust is rather uniform in shape, colour and style, which isn’t perhaps such a surprise when you consider that everything on it was composed by one man, Chris Dragmestianos. Minas tells prevailing dictatorially over the song-writing process was pretty much the only thing for Chris to do when the album was recorded in Bucharest, Romania. He likes to point out, however, that the next album Egocentric, which was recorded in Greece, gave the band a new batch of opportunities for teamwork. For one, this time they could all participate in the recordings. Astonishing, huh? Even though the members of On Thorns I Lay live within the borders of Greece, their chances for jamming together are slim. “We hope that we could meet more often,” Minas confesses in all modesty. Fair enough.
“We truly love playing, recording and creating music,” the guitarist continues. “We couldn’t stand alive and healthy without the anxiety of a live performance and we have found a unique way to express our emotions loudly. We don’t have much spare time but we always manage to steal some for the band.
“Chris and Stefanos got their degrees in medicine, so did I in chemistry, and Fotis runs his own firm in the fire distinguishing business! Now, Chris lives in Kalamata (200 kilometres from Athens), Minas in Ioannina (450 kilometres from Athens), Stefanos will leave Athens in a month or so and Fotis stays in Athens. Fuck it! But we’ll manage. It’s not just the band’s name or some money we are lucky enough to gain from our sales that is important, it’s our genuine passion that hasn’t left us from the early days up to date. This passion has not only to do with music but with the way of living and how we organize it.”
There’s an interesting sentence in the booklet of Angeldust, which has Stefanos claiming that in the year 2001 the band was ‘lost in space’. Let’s expound on that. How was the year 2001 for you, as a band and as individuals? How about the years following it?
“Stefanos is still lost in space!” Minas makes the point of telling me. “During 2001 we did a lot of drugs and a lot of drinking, that’s all. In fact we have a song on our new album dedicated to that period of our lives and it is called “Psychic Days”. It starts with the phrase ‘All there is now is bars, drugs and parties…’ which is taken from an advertising poster of the movie Human Traffic. To be frank, the inspiration came exclusively from that particular poster. On the contrary, 2002 was the year of reconstruction and creativity. We started rehearsing systematically, writing songs, and making plans for our lives and the band. We cooled down, got off the hook and got ready for 2003, which is going to be tough and gruelling because of the live performances, travelling and all the things that will have to be done in order to promote our new work.”
On Thorns I Lay’s music revolves to a fairly high degree round the strong emotional content it has, and this is something the libretto never fail to take part in. The listening experience is a wholesome reality, which has a tendency to draw strength from rather disheartening elements.
“Our whole creation is based on strong emotions,” Minas asserts. “Unlike other Greek groups we are more interested in social issues, daily and, for some, prosaic matters like people communication, depressive thoughts and so forth. We believe that our day-to-day life is all there is and even though God and the Devil might be more interesting or exotic we prefer to stay ordinary and within the real world, seeking and sometimes finding.”
With Minas, we also dab on the hype there was about On Thorns I Lay a couple of years ago when they were on Holy Records. First this hype subsided and then it seemed to die out altogether. Why so?
“It’s because Holy distributes in your country while BLR doesn’t.” In fact, this is not the reason. Black Lotus is distributed in Finland by Firebox Records. “Anyway, we couldn’t make interesting agreements anymore with Holy and we had some communication and understanding problems… Finally, we decided that it would be better to work with a smaller company from our hometown. Up to now things are going pretty well and we are satisfied with the work that is being done. However, we are planning on hiring a promoter outside the firm for better advertising, circulation, gigs, et cetera.”
The interview ends halfway through, but that is where all the best things end.