Riding on the wave of their latest album, Rotting Christ are headed to Sydney to headline Heavy magazine’s Heavyfest alongside a host of local metal bands. They’re legends of the international metal scene – one of the first metal groups to emerge from the Mediterranean region, and who thus defined much of the local sound.
Their new album, Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy (translation: ‘do what thou wilt’) was released in March this year – the 11th full-length album in the band’s 26-year history. The title phrase refers to the law of Thelema: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will.” It’s not an unfamiliar concept in modern music, with mystic and magician Aleister Crowley immortalised by bands obsessed with dark spirituality; Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden among them. It was Crowley who claimed a supernatural being named Aiwass dictated to him The Book of the Law, wherein the principles of Thelema were defined.
But while Rotting Christ draw much from a rich history of mysticism, lead singer Sakis Tolis is quick to distance himself from groups like the Church of Satan. “The album is not about Crowley; we didn’t set out to write about Crowley,” he says. Instead, Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy explores the ancient history upon which Crowley based his philosophy. Elements of various cultures and myths make their way into the lyrics; for instance, on the first track, ‘In Yumen/Xibalba’ – Xibalba is the Mayan underworld or hell, ruled by the gods of death. Spooky.
Despite these mystical trappings, the band is not proselytising for its own brand of dark spirituality. In response to moralistic outrage from Christian politicians in America during the late ’90s, Tolis said in a statement: “We are not a ‘satanic-crusader’ type of band but rather one of the many bands that represent the dark side in nowadays’ metal music.” Rotting Christ’s music and lyrics explore the dark side without necessarily subscribing to the referenced philosophies. As he explains during our interview: “We have believed from the beginning that all religions are rotten. We don’t believe that there is a God but we don’t have any problem with people believing. As a band I can say we are more agnostic.”
Besides, while defining spiritual philosophies is one thing, defining Rotting Christ by genre is another task completely. It’s a common pursuit amongst metalheads – is this or that band brutal death or tech death? Drone or doom? Over the years, Rotting Christ have moved through grindcore to gothic metal and beyond, and as such are fertile subjects for these bitter semantic feuds. Tolis himself is ambivalent. “[We are] metal. You can call it as you want, but metal. We create atmospheric, dark music, black music. You can add any word that you want, but for us it is just metal, because we are metalheads and we love metal music.”
Rotting Christ inspired a generation of Greek metal – their success paved the way for many others such Nightfall and Necromantia. But asked about the current metal scene in Greece, Tolis is reluctant to choose favourites. “I don’t want to mention names because I know I will forget someone important. But actually the Greek metal scene has some very interesting bands. The last five years there has been kind of an explosion, you know – bands are creating very good music and touring constantly.” Perhaps this surge of dark music has something to do with the political situation in Greece, where the environment is currently marred by the rise of neo-fascists.
Tolis is less reluctant to discuss his influences, citing Bathory and Kreator as bands he grew up listening to. “I do follow the scene and there are some great bands out there right now, but again I don’t want to mention any names. Touring is a great experience because the bands that we respect the most have attitude. Because for me it is not only music, it is attitude [that matters]. People claim we are too black metal, and we are, much more than mainstream. But we respect the bands that are keeping the spirit alive, that old school category of bands. And that is what we want to be a part of; we want to be in the category of ‘old school’.”
Rotting Christ have worked with several renowned producers over the years, including Fredrik Nordström and Waldemar Sorychta of Lacuna Coil fame, but Tolis remains the driving force behind most of the writing and production. “The last five albums I produced by myself,” he says. “Like I said, I’m an old-school person; I like old-school ways of working, which is do it yourself, you know? The last album I mixed in Sweden, but I’m the guy who produces everything. I even play most of the instruments, except the drums of course, which are performed by my brother. Maybe I would like to work with a famous producer, but I don’t have money for this so I must do everything myself. But also I want to make the music that I am 100 per cent satisfied with.”
And while Rotting Christ may sing about the corruption of modern religion, Tolis has not completely turned his back on spirituality. “Spirituality is always needed. Humanity needs to search and find new directions in the future. We’ve got to live on this planet and maybe we can live forever. And maybe we won’t see that, maybe we’ll be dead by then, but I think that is the intention of humanity.”
BY JESSE HAYWARD