“We don’t necessarily want to take extreme steps and go from one side to the other but then again we are artists and don’t want to put limits on what we do.”
As a journalist of metal I’m exposed to extreme music on a regular basis. I’m constantly getting albums via digital download or through the mail. I’d like to think that this constant exposure to heavy music makes me an expert on knowing what’s out there that’s actually good.
SepticFlesh is fucking good. So good in fact that I actually tracked down a copy of their 2008 release Communion online and bought it for my personal collection. I can’t even tell you the last time I went out and paid full price for a CD but I was so impressed with the band I could hardly resist.
Upon researching the group I learned that Communion is not their first album. SepticFlesh has actually been around since 1990 and has a discography that includes eight studio albums and 2 EPs. The band originally called it quits back in 2003 then reformed in 2007 with revitalized sound, recently coined Symphonic Death Metal.
Now, SepticFlesh is back touring North America on their follow up album to Communion (2008), The Great Mass (2011).
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with SepticFlesh’s energetic drummer, Fotis Benardo to ask about this current tour and playing Symphonic Death Metal.
Here are some excerpts of that 10/18/12 interview:
David Halbe: The current touring package (Krisiun, Melechesh, Ex-Deo, Inquisition) is comprised of bands from multiple countries with different ethnicities. Have these cultural differences made this more than an ordinary tour?
Fotis Bernardo: Yes, I’ve really enjoyed this tour because each band has a different culture and different things to say musically; like Krisiun our Brazilian brothers, they are amazing guys, or Ex-Deo, the Romans, Malechesh the guys from Jerusalem and also Inquisition, they are from the States and partially Columbia, I think. So, it is really a multi-cultural tour. I’ve never been on a tour with so many bands from other countries but we really enjoy it because the guys are so down to earth, we help each other.
The bands are great, their performance is great, there isn’t a band with us that doesn’t deserve to be in this package and we really appreciate their support of SepticFlesh and we know this package is stronger with all these great names.
Dave: The critically acclaimed album, The Great Mass, is only the second release by the band after your reformation. Has working within this reformed lineup been as positive as it seems to be?
Fotis: Yes. We believe people really met SepticFlesh through these last two albums even though the band has been on the scene for so many years; they were not known except by those in the underground. The last two albums made us stronger, they were more experimental and they gave us a chance to work with an orchestra like we wanted to.
On those two albums Communion and The Great Mass, we had the chance to have a big orchestra, on the last record we had 150 people, there are lots of musicians participating on this album and we believe people really like the fact that we did not do an ordinary death metal album, it was experimental and didn’t adhere to an A-B structure in the songs, it was an a-typical formula. Maybe sometimes this is not good because it is not always popular to do this but if you write from the heart people will understand it, that’s what I believe.
Dave: There are some interesting themes explored lyrically on the new album such as the building of the pyramids or the Pythagoras star, where do those themes come from?
Fotis: These things come from our culture, Greece and the other cultures that we support. We like exploring ancient themes, dark themes and we like to play with words that have multiple meanings, you can say the word Communion and think of multiple meanings.
We also like to create images. When I read the lyrics, I create images in my head, so do you, but sometimes we make different images through our interpretation. With some lyrics we tell stories like the song “Anubis”, which is direct interpretation. Others are historic like the song “The Undead Keep Dreaming” for example that was written by Socrates for himself. He fell into this lucid dreaming and he didn’t know if he was awake or dead so he expressed this feeling and wrote this stuff down and that was the song.
So I believe when it comes to lyrics Septicflesh are really at another level because we don’t put limits on what we write.
Dave: I’ve read that you’ve taken a reverse song writing approach on this current album, completing the classic foundation before the death metal elements were applied. Was taking that approach difficult? Are you pleased with the result?
Fotis: When we started writing Communion we had some songs made like that for example “Babel’s Gate” was a song that Christos (Antoniou) wrote, he put it down and he sent me the orchestral parts and I was like, wow, now what do I have to put on top of it, the death metal element so I had this challenge of thinking of something to do.
Dave: So, the orchestral parts are all pre-conceived?
Fotis: Exactly! For example Seth (Spiros Antoniou) can write down a melody and he’ll say to Christos, I’m imagining this part being played by orchestral violins and Christos will write down the orchestral part then I build it up with a tempo and Sotiris (Vayenas) can add some melodies and we all contribute like that, it’s why SepticFlesh is so strong, our minds are in tune, it’s like a mechanism, one cannot work without the other.
Dave: The Great Mass seems a natural progression for the band after Communion but the classic elements have now become a forefront which has drawn some criticism from Septicflesh purists who want to know, will that progression continue?
Fotis: As I told you before if you go back and check out all the albums of SepticFlesh, you will see that they haven’t repeated themselves on any album. There was no repetition and that’s what we try to avoid. We don’t necessarily want to take extreme steps and go from one side to the other but then again we are artists and don’t want to put limits on what we do.
We want to create and that’s what comes from the heart, you cannot say to yourself I want to make a death metal album so let’s fucking play guitar and nothing else, it’s not like this when you have a melody and you want it played by violins then why shouldn’t you do it? Why should you have limits because of the death metal label or because it doesn’t fit into the death metal style? I don’t think so. People don’t care about this anymore; they really like bands with a message that comes from the heart. I can see this in the fans everywhere we go.
We don’t know what our next step will be maybe more doom, maybe more death or aggression, whatever comes we shall see.
Dave: The Philharmonic Orchestra of Prague was used to do the orchestral parts on The Great Mass, how was that experience?
Fotis: We did this on Communion and we were really pleased with how it worked out with the Philharmonic Orchestra. This time we knew exactly how it would work so it wasn’t as difficult of a task and this time we had the chance to do it via internet so Christos didn’t have to go there this time. He wrote all the scores, sent them there and everything was done.
When we recorded the orchestra stuff we had the chance to listen to it live through a Skype connection and it was really good, if there was a mistake, we could correct it immediately.
Dave: What songs off The Great Mass will you be playing live?
Fotis: From The Great Mass, we will play “The Vampire of Nazareth”, “A Great Mass of Death”, “Oceans of Gray” and “Pyramid God” of course.
Dave:A lot of fans don’t know that the band has been around since 1990 and has a back catalogue of 8 studio albums. This older material is getting harder and harder to find, is there any chance this music might be re-released?
Fotis: Yes. We’ve had a lot of proposals from labels. We will release them again now because we have the rights to do it.
I stopped the interview momentarily to show Fotis some pricing I found on the internet for some of the harder to find SepticFlesh CD’s, he’s surprised to say the least – Here are some of those prices for new CDs taken from Amazon.com (US dollars):
Mystic Places of Dawn (1994) – $200.00
Esoptron (1995) – $120.00
Ophidian Wheel (1997) – $193.67
Dave: Are there songs you cannot or will not perform live due to the orchestral parts?
Fotis: No, we don’t have such an issue. The thing is that some songs, because Sotiris (Vayenas) cannot follow the band on tour, are limited because of his vocals.
Dave: Is metal a fad for younger generations or one of the last true forms of artistic expression?
Fotis: Ok, I believe something, maybe it will sound cliché but I believe that music, I’m not going to say metal, is a way of life, a way of expression, you might not know it but you can be an artist. The biggest bands aren’t necessarily the greatest musicians, they played from the heart and they became legends. So I believe that music has a lot of paths that you can go through and metal is one of the strongest. Rock and metal fans are the ones that support their music. I remember buying vinyl when I was younger, opening it, checking it out, what studio did they use to record this, what bands did they thank, who are they friends with…we grew up like this so that’s why we respect each other now, you look at pop music and you don’t see that kind of respect not like the metal scene. That’s why I like this, it’s like a family and that’s why I’ve been doing this for so many years. I’m not that old but I see older bands that still remain and they love it, in a lot of ways they are still as important as when they started.
Dave: Thank you for your time and good luck tonight.
Fotis: Thank you.
- Christos Antoniou – Guitars
- Fotis Benardo – Drums
- Sotiris Anunnaki V – Guitars
- Seth Siro Anton – Bass, Vocals