The first time I listened to Rotting Christ was back in 2008, as I was preparing myself for my very first European metal festival, Graspop Open Air. Since I was eager to exploit the experience to the maximum (and not being much of a drinker) I started listening to as many bands from the line-up as possible, choosing which ones I’d go and see. That’s how I discovered Rotting Christ and their great album “Theogonia”. It only took about a minute of “The Sign of Prime Creation to leave me hooked. And although I didn’t get to see them in Graspop (they were placed on the bill on the 3rd day waaaay too early for the exhausted old me to show up) I became a fan for life.
I met with Sakis Tolis, the singer, guitar player and founder of this legendary death metal band in the small city of Leeuwarden, where they were performing (with a brand new line-up) as part of the Creatures of the Black Abyss Tour. We discussed their upcoming (and just finished!) album, some of the annoyances associated with their name and, of course, what’s behind the music of this amazing group.
Check the transcript below (edited for grammar) and/or watch the video at the bottom of the page!
“This is why we came here: To say that all religions are rotten.”
Metal Blast: You just kicked off this tour with Cradle of Filth and God Seed, two band that, although very good, come from a completely different background in terms of style and sound; how did this come to be?
Sakis: We had an offer to join this tour, and it’s a very good period for us because it’s just a couple of months before the release of the new album. We thought that it would be a good idea to make a big tour like this, just to wake up from the lethargy of the last one and a half year, where there were no tours for us. We’ve had some positive feedback on this.
MB: Throughout the history of the band, you’ve always said that Rotting Christ always sticks to its “roots”…
S: I hope so! I don’t know…
MB: At the same time, there have been changes in sound…
S: Always! Rotting Christ always shows a different face in every album.
MB: Right! For instance, in “Thy Mighty Contract” you had a more black metal sound, while in “Sleep of Angels”, “Theogonia” and, definitely, “Aealo” it was more melodic.
S: Yes, it’s different. Album by album we try to evolve; we keep our well-established sound, but always try to show a new face in every album.
I think that we also did it in our new album, that is going to be released in 3 months! I have the disk here in my pocket; I just got back from Sweden where I mixed it, and I think that you’ll listen to something new from Rotting Christ. I try to refresh our sound, this is the way.
MB: Well, since you talk about refreshing your sound, and you mention that you stick to your roots…
S: Yes, we are sticking to our roots.
MB: What would you say are those roots? What is the defining element in Rotting Christ?
S: We play metal, atmospheric metal. When you listen to an album by Rotting Christ , there is a certain atmosphere, that is our root.
We keep these roots also in our daily life, we are old school; we don’t have management, we don’t follow the mainstream, we try to be ourselves. We are metalheads, we are fans… I can’t think of anything else.
We are not what we used to be 20 years ago, but who is the same? Things change, everyone changes; we try to adapt to our new lives, but keep to our feelings and our roots.
MB: In terms of lyrical content, something that is very interesting about Rotting Christ is that despite the controversies that you get from time to time, you are not actually very focused on religion…
S: No, not that much. We never say “fuck Christ!” or something like that, even when we participate in a tour like this!
MB: So how important is the name Rotting Christ, this in-your-face attack on religion?
S: Well, we had some thoughts years ago, because we had some problems with our name (we still do!) but fuck off, this is metal. Metal should be a punch, metal should be against anything. In my opinion, metal is something revolutionary.
We think that all religions are rotten; sure, in our lyrics we don’t mention that all the time (we try to create some atmospheric things too, since we want you to trip with our lyrics) but we keep the name because this our destiny. This is why we came here: To say that all religions are rotten.
MB: Were you ever pressured by labels or managers to change the name?
S: Not managers, because I manage the band. I do everything, I don’t like to have managers and stuff like that, because sometimes they act very stupidly, they destroy the name of the band and they ask for too many things.
Yes, we’ve had some pressure to change it; we’ve even had some thoughts to do it, to change our name, back in the 90’s. But we said no.
MB: So there were people who told you “listen, if you wanna reach more people just change it”?
S: We would definitely reach more people if we changed it, but we don’t care anymore.
MB: While Rotting Christ creates this “fear” in some that you might be “satanic” or whatever…
S: Maybe we are satanic, you know? I just don’t care about religions, in general.
MB: Right, but we see that, in Sweden, Watain, despite being openly theistically Satanic, they managed to win the Grammis. Do you think that now there is a chance for bands like Rotting Christ to-
S:We’ll never act like this. You’ll never see our band with corpse paint, you’ll never see our band with a special image; we have a different mentality than those people. Of course, I like what they are doing, I don’t complain or attack them, but we’re more like ordinary people, I prefer people to love me for my music. This is the mentality I have.
I try to create good albums, albums that can touch your soul. I don’t care about demons.
We are underground, I feel underground and I always want to be underground, because I am underground in my life. I’m 40 years old, I don’t have money [laughs] because I’ve dedicated my life to metal music. This is how I am! Of course, if more money and success comes, it’d be welcomed, but I’m not looking for it, I don’t sell my soul or my beliefs for it.
MB: Since you’ve had these issues with your name, even with Dave Mustaine, when he decided that he wanted to replace the hookers, drugs and alcohol with Christ-
MB: Do you still get this?
S: Yes, last year when we toured the US we had big problems in some States. People would come with megaphones “Don’t go to this show! blah, blah, blah”. This American thing, you know?
MB: Have you ever talked with these people?
S: I’ve tried, but it’s impossible, they are very fanatic. They are fundamentalists. I’ve stopped talking with fanatic people, I don’t want to change their minds, because they won’t change it. Fanaticism has created so many bad things in this fucking world; everything is because of their fanaticism.
MB: Do they ever tell you what they don’t like? Is it just the name?
S: Just the name, of course. They find it offensive… well, don’t find it offensive!
MB: In your website you mentioned that you were finishing your new album…
S: We did! Two days ago, and this is why you see me with a smile; it’s an album in which I have been working for more than one and a half year.
MB: Was the recording process as tough as it was with Aealo? I remember that in the making-of you mentioned that it had been a pretty difficult process.
S: Yes, it’s always hard. Now it was harder because I recorded everything by myself, all the instruments. except the drums which are done by my brother [Themis Tolis]. I composed the music, I produced it… so it was hell for me, but in the end I like it!
MB: My question was actually aimed in this direction, because in the case of Aealo you did the mastering, the production, everything. Is it going to be the same this time?
S: I did the mixing and the mastering in Sweden, at Fascination Street Studios with Jens Bogren, the guy that has taken care of Opeth, Amon Amarth, Paradise Lost and all of those bands.
MB: Are you very perfectionist? Is that why you like to do everything?
S: Music is the only thing in my life that I want to do perfectly… in the rest of my life, I don’t care. If you see my house, it’s a mess! But in music I’m very strict. It’s a very important thing for me.
MB: Was your writing process affected by what’s happening in Greece right now?
S: I try to avoid this, because if it affects me then I wouldn’t be in a position to say that we have a new album, because it’s really fucked up down there. I mean, the political situation… and not only political, I mean you see it in the streets, things have changed a lot in Athens, it’s not the peaceful town (and the peaceful country) that it used to be. It’s really chaos now.
When I write music and lyrics I say “OK, I have to escape, this night, this day, from what is going on in every day life”. This is the reason why it took me more than a year just to compose this.
MB: Why did you do the recording of all the instruments yourself?
S: Because now we have new members in the band, so I didn’t have the time to show them songs. I know all the instruments, I write for the keyboards, bass, guitar, vocals… I compose everything myself, so why not? I have done it many times.
MB: And what lead to this new line-up?
S: Some personal matters that I don’t want to talk about right now.
MB: What’s in the future right now for Rotting Christ?
S: Touring, being in a good health, being strong, to be always on tour. That’s my goal as a person. We have plenty of tours to do; after this one we have, finally, arranged a South American tour, it’s the first time we’ll play in some of those places, like Bolivia and Chile, territories where we’ve never played before and, after that, some shows in Europe.
But first we wait for the album and then we’re back on the road.
MB: Any final words for your fans?
S: Non Serviam! Be yourselves.