Rhodian Pride, Lindian Might [2015-04-15]
After recently discovering Macabre Omen and delving into their newest opus Gods of War – At War, I was blown away by the rich and evocative songwriting, the triumphant leads, the anguished cries. The album was both a strident call to war and an ode to Greece’s ancient history. In the weeks since the album’s release is hasn’t left my CD player. Each new listen reveals more of the staggering precision and effort put into such a monumental release. I recently had the honor to converse with Alexandros, the man behind Macabre Omen, to further my understanding of this masterpiece.
m[m]:Hello, Alexandros, thanks for agreeing to do an interview with me. It’s a great honor. For our readers who are unaware of Macabre Omen’s past, could you give us a brief history of the band?
Alexandros :Hails to you, the honor is mine. I am not one for interviews but the release of this new album requires me to open up and reach out to the audience the same way I did when reaching out for the "Gods" during recording. In a nutshell the band was formed in 1994 with the second album "Gods of War - At War" released only a month ago after 21 whole years. The debut album "The Ancient Returns" was released a decade earlier and prior to that one can see that we were more active with releases in the form of split 7" and demos. I don`t think that any of this will change in the years to come. I would rather have one good honest album over a decade than one every year to please my ego or the masses.
m[m]:I understand that you’ve recently done interviews with both Towards the Inevitable and Metal Invader, so I’ll do my best to refrain from asking the same questions, as I’m sure that can get tiring. So, Alexandros, Gods of War has been out for over a month now. Taking nearly a decade to complete, I imagine you went over every note, every vocal line, and every drum strike a dozen times to make sure everything was in place. You yourself said that you would give the album a perfect score, and it seems to be getting universal praise from fans and critics. Was this reception what you expected? And how to you feel about The Ancient Returns now that you’ve had a decade to reflect?
Alexandros :Very thoughtful of you to approach this interview from a different angle! Personally, I always knew that the album would get the praise that it deserves but was not sure if that praise would come from this generation / wave or the next. In any case, this album is timeless so if people would not identify with it in the present or even find out about it in a timely fashion, I am sure that "Gods of War - At War" would definitely gain the praise it deserves later down the line. For bad or for worse, the album gained praise almost immediately. I would not call it universal yet but I know for a fact that it has "touched" countries such as Hellas, Great Britain and Germany. I see no reason why this would not be the case for other Lands as the language is the same, it is universal. It is black metal from the heart with a very heroic warlike feeling that is not forced but natural. There are no plans to force feed the music to people but I hope that word of mouth will work its magic. There is no better feeling of discovering something new by yourself, it simply stays in your heart forever. The way I felt when discovering albums such as "Thy Mighty Contract", "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" or even "Twilight of the Gods" is indescribable and I hope that this album will do the same to the people that "know". With regards to the debut "The Ancient Returns" I think this is another hidden gem waiting for people to discover. It has a timeless sounds, you can`t pinpoint the production which is great. I think where bands fail in times is that necessity in getting a specific production from a specific studio. Sometimes it works but sometimes it fails dramatically making the release stagnant and stereotypical in years to come.
m[m]:Speaking of The Ancient Returns, are there any plans for a repress?
Alexandros : "The Ancient Returns" is indeed due for a repress and VAN will do the honours of re-releasing both the cd and lp versions in a noble form like they always do sometime in the next few month possibly after the summer. VAN will also press some new shirt designs and merchandise, something that the band never really had in the past and all in due course.
m[m]:Is there a reason why you’ve never really done merchandise before Gods of War?
Alexandros :There was a limited 50 copy run of "The Ancient Returns" shirt and a 50 ltd patch press a good decade ago. My interest in merchandise is very low and I am sure that this will change now that the band is on VAN. I know of at least one new shirt design and more patches to be unleashed some time soon so keep your eyes open!
m[m]:How is a Macabre Omen song written? Where does it all begin?
Alexandros : Feeling is very important. It just comes out naturally be it hate, pain, death or something that strikes me such as the irony of life. Somehow, the riffs and the ideas always seem to meet each other and merge naturally in time. Time is a very important factor in getting things right with this band and I wish to keep it this way. I enjoy tweaking that same riff again and again not only by adding or removing elements from it but get the velocities and (guitar) picking right. That only allows for expression to stand out in the form of dynamics.
m[m]:You’ve mentioned that Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is a favorite album, and Varg’s compositions are notable for being deceptively repetitive, but are actually full of subtle changes and nuances that take many listens to reveal and fully digest. This really does give much of his work a timeless quality, as you said, and it seems like you take this approach to your work. When you say that the riffs and ideas always somehow manage to meet up, it almost seems like it was the product of fate. As a subject explored in depth through Greek mythology, I’m interested to hear your perspective on the topic. Do you feel that you were destined, so to speak, to create Gods of War?
Alexandros :"Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" is a prime example of how less is more and despite not being a direct influence in my music the work of early BURZUM has definitely inspired me in the way I compose. Time is definitely an important tool for me to create an album with a desired effect. Riffs come to me on a daily basis but how I felt in that moment does not necessarily mean that it was the right feeling. Time allows me to reflect on those thoughts and shapeshift them to what they were supposed to sound. I would compare it with an oracle`s prediction, one needs to revisit the text and find out what the true context is not superficial but deep within it. In times I have the feeling that I am that oracle whose music and lyrics I need to take, study, understand and shape to what I think would sound fitting. In times there are even lyrics that make sense to me later down the line. I do not think that I was "destined" to create this album. "Gods of War - At War" was the album I always wanted to create, even if it meant that it would take 20 years to reach to this point. I welcome anyone who wants to join me into this journey of an album, the returns are limitless.
m[m]:You mentioned in a previous interview that you found a recording of one of your father’s poems and included it towards the end of “From Son to Father”. If it’s not too personal a question, would you mind providing a translation for those of us who don’t read Greek? : Alexandros :Yes that is true, the poem was narrated by my father and he had written it for his father when he left this world a decade ago. The poem sums up how I in turn felt with my father`s passing in 2011. I do not have an English translation of this in hand but I have found one on the internet made by someone who appreciated this release.
What's wrong with the sky tonight?
Why did the stars hide the light?
Why aren't the nightbirds singing?
And the dogs? Why aren't they barking?
The message was brought to us by the bell
It lacerates like a mourning mother
The toll spears the wind
And everybody thought of father
We 've been waiting for it
but now that it happened
it feels strange
Each and every one of us
is busy with something
And I, being timorous, got left behind
I don't dare to say goodbye
Tormented, trying to forget
all that I have lost
and all that I'm about to lose
All that have been done for me
the time you were alive
and now that you 're gone
And until you hand over your soul
Don't forget to give greetings
to the ones you'll meet
Farewell our beloved old man
farewell our tormented old man
m[m]:You moved from Rhodes to London in 1998 to complete your education, so you’ve lived there for almost 20 years now. It’s clear from the pervading sense of melancholy on Gods of War that you miss your homeland, but do you feel at all connected to England? And on a similar topic, does your interest in history extend beyond ancient Greece?
Alexandros : I miss what once was which is also one of the subjects that echoes throughout the music and the album. That essence of melancholy is exactly that feeling you are talking about but in a way, that sound for me gives hope and adds to the heroism of the music. The track "From Son to Father" has a very melancholic feel to it for obvious reasons but in a way it gives hope and makes you feel proud. The music and lyrics have a very ancient Hellenic feel to it but not in a purely nationalistic way like people might think they do. The music is very cinematic and I would encourage anyone that identifies with it to apply their own visions to it beit personal or heritage. I have visited Japan in the past on numerous occasions and quite a number of those riffs have been inspired by the nature and rich past of those Lands. My interest in world history is very vast, one can only understand the future by looking into the past.
m[m]:Do you have a favorite tale or myth?
Alexandros : Hard to say but the Odyssey and Iliad were always a great read when I was younger, later in school and during the course of my life. There are a lot of elements in there that apply to anything and everything in life... tactics, hate, vengeance, melancholy.
m[m]:I can understand how the epics were inspirational for you. A lot of music, black metal in particular, often seeks to represent a single emotion or two. But Gods of War runs the whole spectrum of emotion, ranging to pride and lust for battle on tracks like “Man of 300 Voices”, “Hellenes do not Fight like Heroes, Heroes Fight like Hellenes” and “Rhodian Pride, Lindian Might”, to melancholy and anguish on tracks like “From Son to Father”. This gives the album more dimension and authenticity, and makes the album much more than just music – it’s a story, with all the triumphs and struggles a hero like Odysseus faced. Was this inclusion of various emotions and themes a conscious choice from the beginning, or something that evolved throughout the album’s creation?
Alexandros : To an extend it was indeed a conscious choice, the choice of creating something big with a large array of feelings and emotions, something grande that will withstand the fall of time. The album sounds indeed like a story as if Homer himself was narrating it to us. It is not a good idea to listen to tracks individually, it all makes sense from beginning to the end, a similar approach that can be found in all of my releases in a way. The result is always achieved by taking words that represent the album and making sure that those words are translated to the right music. Words such as pride, heroism, war, melancholy, mythical and epic were always playing through my head whilst composing. The album is purely sounding the way it does because of circumstances in my life over that last decade or so. Different circumstances might have had a different result to the final sound.
m[m]:Although Macabre Omen is your project, first and foremost, you’ve never taken on the role of drummer. On Gods of War, drums were performed by Thomas Vallely of Lychgate. How did you come in contact with him?
Alexandros : I knew Tom from way before LYCHGATE and before him joining MACABRE OMEN. I knew Tom via V who is behind the LYCHGATE "insanity" and is also doing the drums on my other bands THE ONE. When I first heard Tom play I knew that he was the right man for the job, not only because of his talent and enthusiasm but also because he has the ability to add texture to the riffs and make them speak for themselves. The riffs on this album had to be performed with a rich drumming such as Tom`s and he did just that. I have the knowledge of drum patterns and what goes where but am by no means a drummer. The album would not sound the same without Mr. Vallely`s warrior-like drum performance. Hail!
m[m]:The drum performance on Gods of War is indeed exceptional, powerful stuff, without overpowering the riffs. Warlike is the only way to describe it. The crashing cymbals bring to mind the clash of sword on sword and epic battle. Did you give a rough mix of the album minus the drums to Thomas and say “Do what you think is best”, or did you provide more guidance and direction?
Alexandros : I appreciate your observations about the drum performance, it is indeed exceptional to say the least. Thomas is a professional drummer and we only had a handful of rehearsals on this album in order to keep the performance unbiased and pure. Tom only had some rough guitar tracks and my guidance on what I would like, where and for how long. When all this was established I gave Tom my blessing and requested him to top up all my observations with his expertise and emotion. I think the result speaks for itself! Having no rehearsals for such an album is probably the unconventional way of doing things but spontaneity always adds to the end result in my opinion.
m[m]:It’s clear that Macabre Omen takes a lot of influence from Bathory. As a younger man first starting Macabre Omen, was it Quorthon’s musical stylings or interest in ancient history and mythology that was more inspiring? And did you ever have the chance to meet or speak with him?
Alexandros : Quorthon I have never met... but we do have regular conversations when I am in the zone hah! It would have been a great experience to speak to the man himself, his attitude and approach to music is an example that should be taken by more musicians. I have to admit that my interest in BATHORY only started about 5 years after I formed the band which can also be heard from the late 90s recordings onwards.
m[m]:While it’s been available on CD and digitally for a month, Gods of War just came out on vinyl. Do you feel like a particular format best suits the music on the album?
Alexandros :I am an avid collector and every format suits me. I listen to music in all its format and my collection usually includes all versions of an album. There are definitely certain albums that sound better on vinyl than others. Some on the other hand sound better on cd format and others on tape. I think it is a matter of taste, sometimes a matter of nostalgia. When visiting Hellas and my hometown I make sure to listen to the classic stuff I grew up with on tape or on vinyl, just the way I discovered them. It adds to the experience, it touches a switch in the brain and instantly takes you to where it all begun.
m[m]:Although it took ten years to record the first album, and another ten to finish the second, this time was not marked by inactivity. You’ve done a number of splits, though none since 2007 if the Metal Archives are to be believed. Are splits or perhaps EPs something you would consider again, or would you prefer to focus on writing full-length albums?
Alexandros : There are no plans for anything new at present. My main aim is to balance MACABRE OMEN with THE ONE so the most natural approach would be to work on a follow up to THE ONE`s - "I, Master". There are ideas and direction for the 3rd album but again time is of the essence here to get things right. As for a 3rd album with MACABRE OMEN I simply do not know if it would be out in 1, 2 or 10 years. Bottom line is that it will be released when the time is right. Even I don`t know when that time comes, it is just a gut feeling I have each time, a voice telling me that it is time to let go...
m[m]:Thank you for your time, Alexandros. It's been an honor to speak with you. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Alexandros : The honour is mine. If you wish to listen to something different and pure this album is as pure as gold can be. Hail to the Ones!
If you’ve yet to give what is likely the greatest album of the year a listen, you are doing yourself a grave disservice. Gods of War – At War combines the best of all of its influences into something purely unique and so powerful, it needs to be heard to truly understand. Containing the epic, sweeping nature of Bathory, the fierce pride of the ancient world’s most advanced civilization, and the urgent melodicism of the early Greek black metal scene, Gods of War is a masterwork. Each new listening session brings new appreciation and understanding. The album is available from Ván Records both as a CD and vinyl in either black or gold. Gods of War is simply phenomenal, and I will be awaiting Macabre Omen’s next album, whether that takes 1,2, or 10 years. I’m confident it will be worth the wait.Tyler L.