Greek brothers Sakis and Themis Tolis initially founded Rotting Christ as Black Church in 1985. It was around that very time that the Second Wave of black metal was beginning to miraculously emerge over 2,000 miles north in Scandinavia, making the duo a most unlikely and unexpected musical force. Rotting Christ might be from warmer climates, but they have a rightful stake for their influence in evolving black metal sounds and have gained equal – if not more – notoriety than most black metal acts for their band title over the years, with certain Government authorities forcing them to cancel performances and other angered fundamentalists turning up to protest their shows. But all of that hasn’t and still isn’t getting them down. More than 25 years on from their formation, they have completed and released album number 11, with the stunning ‘Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy’. Just hours before its European release, I talked with frontman, guitarist and main composer Sakis Tolis about the new direction of the album, the financial turmoil in Greece and the controversy that has followed them across the globe.
How would you say new album ‘Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy’ compares to previous record ‘Aealo’?
Sakis Tolis: It sounds a little bit different. I’m the only composer of the band so I am trying to evolve and evolve myself. This album is more dark. The concept of the album is more multicultural; it’s not an album that was more Hellenic or Greek. There are resources from the civilisations of Incas and Mayas to Slavic myth. The language can be heard here and there. It’s this multicultural part that characterises this album. It has 10 different songs. OK, every album has different songs, but in this album, each song is totally different from the other one. The whole album is very sad. I like to write music when I’m sad. Before I write a song, I have a very deep meditation.
You got in Jens Bogren (Opeth, Katatonia, Devin Townsend) to mix and master for the new album. How was that?
ST: Yes, I did the production by myself, like I usually have done for the last three or four albums. But this time I chose Jens to mix and master because I really like his work. I like how he mixes the music; he helped me a lot in getting the final result. He has a talent that I cannot explain! He makes your recording very wide; it’s full of sounds and very epochal. He exceeded my expectations.
Historically, black metal has been a voice for individuality and a force of opposition towards apathy and the mainstream. In some ways you could apply Rotting Christ to these aesthetics. Do you see Rotting Christ as a black metal band?
ST: Really, I cannot name Rotting Christ as a true black metal band. There are people and bands in Scandinavia that are doing this better than I do. On the other hand, I can see how Rotting Christ could be named in a wave of black metal. There’s a lot of Scandinavian black metal bands to listen to obviously, but there is a lot of black, dark music that is coming from the south. We were going in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s when the second generation of black metal was beginning.
Do you consider Rotting Christ a thorn in the side of Christianity or a band for free speech?
ST: I cannot consider our band a Satanic band; it’s a band for free speech. We have a vision here and we would like to expand our maxim, even if we receive a lot of protests and a lot of problems because of our name, even if we have bomb threats, even if our albums are censored. I don’t care. This is metal. Metal should expand from any conservative ideas. We are open-minded. We are proud of this name because we think religions worldwide are rotting.
You’ve conjured a bit of notoriety in your years because of your band name. You’ve had to cancel shows many times and it is still happening now, most recently in Malaysia…
ST: We were meant to play in Malaysia; the show was booked. I was told that the Government had to bring it up in Parliament, which meant that they didn’t want the band there. This obviously causes a lot of problems. But this is the Government! We are frontline and we consider ourselves as warriors, always on the frontline for 25 years. We’re ready to fight for that, any time.
Metal seems to have permeated all corners of the globe. There’s a strong identity and vast universality about metal that keeps it alive. What have you found out about metal on your travels?
ST: The metal heads all around the world have the same dress code so you don’t see so much difference between countries. On the other hand, you can see some differences when you play some very poor countries. All people, despite of the colour of their skin or their location on this earth and the problems they may have, they are all human. The people have something different [in metal] and they all have something to share with each other, despite the political systems which try to make them hate each other. After so much travelling, I consider everyone equal and it’s not just one ideology essentially, it’s something I believe and it’s very important.
You must have seen a wide array of differing lifestyles and a lot of that is inevitably down to the varying systems that control these places. Looking at your country’s own situation in Greece, how do you view what’s happening with the financial turmoil there?
ST: I have faith in my philosophy in life, materialism and my dreams. It’s bad that my country should suffer, but I’m pretty sure that something good could happen after this. It is just the beginning of the failure of the system. We will find something else. It just so happened to start in Greece. But on the other hand, we don’t deserve something like that. The failure of the system will be imminent and sooner or later, everyone will see that it has come to this. It’s up to us to change the whole situation.
Your upcoming tour across the world looks to be quite a spectacle! You’re doing an extensive tour of Brazil, calling at Columbia, Peru and then jetting across back to Turkey and Greece before an appearance at Hellfest 2013! Do you still enjoy touring so intensively like this?
ST: We love it. We consider ourselves as travellers. I am a Greek but I consider myself a citizen of this world. I have been travelling for 25 years, playing my songs all around the world, everywhere where they have metal fans. I like this kind of life; I like the style of life, even if sometimes it is tiring. Still, we have goals and goals should be accomplished. I recently celebrated my 1000th show. But I have to question ‘what is life?’ What would happen if I stayed at home and started a proper job – doing the same shit every day. Maybe you can have stability and control your social life easily, but I would get bored. Despite the fact that I’m not too excited that I leave my home for such long periods of time, I think that I have a mission to accomplish. It may be my warrior digging in, saying ‘wake up!’ I really look forward to start touring all over the world again. My philosophy about life, one would say that sometimes what I am doing is vanity. ‘Why do you play your music so much? Are you a poser? Why do you want to see your face so much?’ Yes, I’m trying to find why I am doing this. But I have found something. I consider myself a warrior of metal and it is the reason that I am doing this. Keep the spirit alive!
‘Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy’ is out now on Season Of Mist.
Interview initially published at SoundShock.com: