Metal Invader had a small discussion with Sakis Tolis from Rotting Christ about their new album Heretics, risks, getting burnt, inspiration, legends, phobias that spring from the modern way of life, and the dawn of a the new Middle Ages. Read until the end.
– Hello Themistokla! Can you hear me? (the interview was on skype)
– Loud and clear! How you doin’?
– Well, we just came back from a tour, we’ve been on the road lately, we have prepared a new record, we’re 30 years old and busy enough, but I think it’s good.
– Busier than ever I would say.
– Yes! I expected life to be a bit different as you grow up, you know a bit more comfortable, but eventually things go their own way. On the one hand, I realized that things are becoming more and more pressing,buton the other hand I’m happy because you see at least some good results. At one point, you realize that everything you have created all these years, everythingyou have sacrificed your life for and all the risks you have taken pay off in the end. This can be translated that you can at least survive by playing music. And this is very important.
– So, you did something right after all.
– Ah, we all do it right! Most of the times the problem lies on how many risks you get to take in your life. I’m a risk-taker. I take risks, but not hazy risks, calculated risks. When I believe in myself, I do it. And my whole life I think evolves around this philosophy.
– What do you think makes you in life: lots of hard work or talent? What is your take?
– One must have a talent in something…in anything. Okay, this is basic! I think many people are talented, but the point is where. So, the main question is how to find your talent and how to exploit it.
– Oh, you mean that many have not even discovered their talents …
– Of course, of course! In order to do so, each person needs to have a self-sense, to do an internal search, and that is the process which I think leads you to find the best in you.
– Yes, that’s quite true! Let’s change the subject and go to your new album Heretics. Do you know what the fate of most heretics is? To be burnt at the stake!
– Yeah, not always. But, yes, most of them have been burnt, and I think I have already been burned! And that’s the reason why I wrote the album. I’ve been burned, I’ve been excommunicated and all that stuff!
– How was the album created?
– First, I talk to myself. Do I have anything to say to the world? Is it worth it? Who would want to hear again another Rotting Christ album? I believe that with every album I have at least two-three new things to say and that’s why I keep on going and keep writing albums. Inspiration for me is a very difficult thing that you have to confront with your daily routine – I mean your everyday boring life – and it’s something I’ve been struggling for years to find. I think I have managed to make myself quite inspired, thus I wrote this album. An album that I would say has a lot of elements from all of our periods. It has elements from the last period, the middle period, and even from the old one. I do not think we can now “discover the wheel again” as a band. However, we have written 10 new tracks, plus 2 bonuses, 12 in total, each one standing alone and over time I hope people to embrace it.
– So, you are telling me that you’ve found your sound and that’s it.
– Yes! Surely, we have found our sound. This not for discussion, and we have always had it.
– Sure, I was just saying about your last 4 albums.
– Yes, we are adjusting it. In life, as well in nature,what does not evolve has to die. Playing the same things we have been playing in our third or fourth album to the 14th album would be really boring. You would say, ok I do not even want to hear that thing. I try to have a reason in order to make music, and that’s what makes me happy. However, it has its positive and negative aspects. Many people expect to hear what they want, but I think this is not feasible. Pressing yourself to sound supposedly cvlt andtrve is not true, and Rotting Christ is a true band.
– Truth be told, you are true to the bone! Let’s get back to the inspiration thing you said before. Does inspiration suddenly emerge to the surface and then you start writing like crazy, or do you cultivate the inspiration by working systematically?
– You cultivate it, yeah. Many times, I hear musicians say:
“- I’m going to record an album.”
– Do you have inspiration?
– No, but it’s okay. I have to write something to go on tour.”.
That for me is the worst thing a musician can do. Inspiration is a way of life. You have to read, to think, to get into your own mental trip. I do not know, at least this works for me. On the other hand, you can say that I will make an album every year, I will play the same riffs, people love me etc, but I prefer to be honest with myself.
– My impression is that the more mature the band gets, the more mature the “new members” (Giorgos and Vangelis) are becoming. I have the feeling that the new compositions get a little bit of their character too.
– Perhaps yes.
– Is there a veto vote inside the band? Can someone say “we are not playing this riff”?
– Look, I love democracy more than anything! I let the other band members have their own projects, I never interfere with their personal lives, but when it comes to Rotting Christ I intervene. Rotting Christ is the only thing in my life that I intervene. That is, I often put a limit because as good as you might think you are, as much as you would like to help, it’s sometimes difficult to grasp the essence of a band like Rotting Christ. RC aredefinitely not the most technical band in the world, but they have a certain character. And you can only grasp and understand this character over time. It cannot be explained or learned in a school.
– You are right. Experience cannot be taught.
– Only experience matters in life in general. Experience and wisdom. As we grow older, our only weapon is no longer our body, but our wisdom.
– And how do you withstand the tours? You are almost 50 years old now!
– I’m almost there yes! I have dedicated my life to metal! And no matter how strange this may seem to you, I think we are in our best shape. We’ve gone up, we’ve been down over the years but now we’re doing very well.
– Yes, and this is also probably due to the new generation of fans who have supported you in the recent years. They are discovering you now with the new stuff, and then they discover and melt your old albums.
– Yeah. Look, there are the old fans too who only listen to our first period, but they are now too busy with their lives and have no free time…I respect and understand it. They are heading towards 50 like me, they have their own families, I understand it. New guys have also discovered us over the last 10 years, but this is also due to the fact that Rotting Christ is a polymorphic band. RC are around for so many years, they have changed morphs, but they have always kept one thing as a stable variable: the atmosphere.
–For sure. Do you believe that the social networks have helped spread the music of Rotting Christ?
– Certainly! Social media have helped, but they are also responsible for spreading trends and fashions. Everything is done now easy and fast. One good thing social media have offered for sure is that they gave the opportunity to someone who does not have money to buy Rotting Christ music and listen to it for free. I am in favor of this and I have never asked for money from all these internet moneytizations. I’m pretty romantic, old-time type of man who gets more joy when someone smiles when hearing our music rather than when buying our albums. I’m not interested in sales anymore, I’m interested in making the guy who listens to our music happy.
– Change of theme. Do you have any rituals before stepping on the stage?
– Oh, yes, of course. I want one hour of peacealone in a room.
– Gathering your thoughts?
– I would prefer the term meditating. I need it to realize where I am and the reason why I came here. I could easily go and have a couple of beers, lose myself and have fun, but that does not mean that you will also have fun watching me.
– We’ve seen such things happen in the past by other bands.
– Yes, but it is not right.You pay for a ticket with your hard-earned money, you are letting maybe your kids and family at home to come to the live. You know, I must give my best to you.
– How do you feel that big bands are starting to retire? Slayer have announced their farewell tour.
– I’m a little bit sad. And for Manowar goes the same, for Black Sabbath, it’s time.
– Do you know what that means?
– That my time is also coming? Hahaha!
-No! Haha! That there is space now for new bands to fill in that gap.
– I do not think so, I do not think so. As much as we need leaders in this life, we also need legends. It will be almost impossible for a “new” band to acquire the status of a legend. Of course, time will tell. Those who are in the metal scene, dedicated since day one might make it.
– It also needs stability.
– Do not forget that bands have sacrificed many things from their lives to be able to play music and do what they love to do. It’s not an easy life the life of a musician. Do not look now that some of them have made it.
– Back to Heretics. The truth is that I have heard only one song “Fire, God and Fear” so I do not have an overall view on the album.
– I have chosen to release to the world the most easy listening song of the album.
– It sounds really good. It reminds me a bit of Tiamat.
– Yes, I’m glad that you say that. It has a nice atmosphere from the middle era of Rotting Christ. As I told you before, this album touches upon all the eras of Rotting Christ, it is of high quality, with amazing production and dark lyrics. Whether you willlike it or not, I really do not know. What I know is that I have once more given my soul and that will be understood by the world over time.
– The song is of high quality for sure and I believe it will be heard.
-I’m glad you’re saying that. Your opinion counts because you are in the metal scene for years.No one expects from us to discover America again, I think this is something left for the young guys. What we want is to present music that touches the soul and makes peopleheadbang. I receive great pleasure by knowing that you have spent your time listening to our music and that you enjoyed it.
– I also want you to you to tell me the story of the cover of the album, which is pleasantly different from all previous onesand perfectly matches the title. It’s kind of dark, Hellenic and Byzantine somehow.
-Yes, exactly. This time I wanted a medieval, Byzantine painting like you said.
– It’s like an hagiography.
– Yes, and I asked Maximo a very talented artist to do it. He immediately understood my perspective and made it. I really love it too!
– It also helps to highlight the style of the album. In the old times when we used to buy albums from their cover art, Heretics would be a best seller!
– Yes, they were different times back then! But yes, the cover sets the mood for what you are about to hear.
– When will the next live in Athens be?
– Maybe in 2019. Currently, I’m preparing the next shows and it takes months you know. I think the band is in a good shape, we are ready to play everywhere, and we will soon announce the venues.
-Very nice. All right! Let’s sum up…
– The take home message is that every album for me is a mental quest. After a lot of meditation and thinking and reading, I very much realized that I was a heretic. And not only me, but also many people of our time –including the metalheads – who have followed this path … the not normal one, the not “natural” path that our conservative societies demand. All this made me realize that maybe we are all heretics and that inspired me to write this album. I read about Voltaire, I read about Nietzsche, I read everything about Thomas Paine. I read great words from people whom I consider prophets and who were at the end condemned in their time. Metal and the dark music we follow in general is seen as a heresy, and that’s why I wrote the album.
– Do you think that life in Greece is so conservative?
– Not so much, but we are certainly turning backwards. Not only in Greece, but everywhere. When people lose their well-being and their conditions of life deteriorate, then they begin to discover gods and messiahs to fight this phobia. As I travel a lot, I see people from around the world to slowly start to adopt some strange ideas, ideas that spring from the fear and insecurity of this era. I really fear that we are in the threshold of a new Middle Ageand that’s why Rotting Christ are more relevant than never. We are in the first line and we will screamtill the end NON SERVIAM!