Septicflesh or the art of outdoing yourself

How do you outdo a gigantic undertaking? The answer to that is Septicflesh’s latest album, Titan. Communion and The Great Mass both fell under the “grandiose” category in terms of work and resources. In August 2012, when we interviewed bassist/vocalist Seth Siro Anton on the subject of his visual art, he confessed he was worried regarding Septicflesh’s musical future. Two years later, the Greeks are back with an even darker album (if that’s even possible), whose orchestral aspect, for which the band is now renowned, has reached a whole new level.

Christos Antoniou, the band’s guitarist and orchestrations overlord, turned out to be extremely confident and proud when we called him to talk about this titanic new work. And although some of his answers might sound a bit presumptuous (like the title of the album, which has its significance), there’s nothing wrong with feeling proud when you’ve given yourself 100% and when the result is that impressive. Let’s talk about all that with him.

« I don’t want to have any limit in my creation. »

Radio Metal : Two years ago Seth told us it was going to be very difficult for you to do something better than The Great Mass, that it was going to be a real challenge. So what was your approach to this new album?

Christos Antoniou (guitar) : We also had this concern with Communion. We’re getting used to it! But of course, when we started creating the album, this concern was even bigger. In our meetings we were saying that we had to do something that would be special, something different than The Great Mass. We don’t want to repeat ourselves; we had to find something new in order to not copy The Great Mass and, at the same time, to surpass it. And, in my opinion, I think that we actually managed to surpass The Great Mass, and Titan stands now as a step forward and our most gigantic work. For us, Titan is our most mature work to date. The Great Mass was more dramatic and had a more complex character whereas Titan is heavier and denser. Our intension was to create a unity between the songs. We also had some more melodic and dramatic parts, but we left them out in order to achieve this feeling of darker atmosphere.

And actually, when you guys were at the very early stages of composing for the new album, Seth told us you wanted to create an even darker album. Was this your focus?

Yes. As I said, our intension was to have more darkness and more aggressiveness in this album. But, you know, through the composition process, we don’t follow any recipe or guide, we let our inspiration flowing. Of course, our intention at the beginning was to create something dark, and I think that we kept this intension until the last moment. The majority of the demos that we made in the preproduction had mainly this dark atmosphere.

What draws you to always push the limits of darkness in music?

Well, again, my opinion is that I just follow my instincts and my inspiration. I don’t want to have any limit in my creation, and I believe it’s the same for the other guys, because Septicflesh is a team work, all of us contribute from his own style. All of us are composers. Of course, some of us compose more than the others, but the main advantage of this band is that we all work together. The common thing about us, is that we all listen to a lot of soundtracks and the same metal bands, like Morbid Angel, Death, Celtic Frost… And the majority of what we listen to is mainly dark music. So this makes it natural for us. It’s natural for us to compose something that has a dark nature.

Is there a direct parallel to be made between the deep darkness that defines your music and the greek tragedy from Ancient Greece? Is this something that inspires you?

Of course. It’s in our blood. We include many elements from our glorious past in our music, especially in lyrics that Sotiris is responsible for. Of course, when we decide to write something dark and aggressive we don’t necessarily think of this, on the moment, as a media for tragedy. But, as I said, this is in our blood and, again, it probably comes out naturally.

Septicflesh albums usually have a lyrical thread. Is it also the case this time?

For Septicflesh, the lyrics and the visual aspect play an important role. Once again, Sotiris created some amazing lyrics containing many symbolic and many meanings. His lyrics really have something to say, they are very qualitative. It’s not a concept album but the lyrics revolve around a variety of things. For example you have the songs “Burn” and “Prometheus” which are connected to each other, because as you know, in the Greek mythology, Prometheus brought the fire to humanity, and “Burn” is about the spiritual flame. And we also have songs like “Order Of Dracul” and “Prototype” which are about the manipulation masses through fear. “Ground Zero” describes a picture of an aftermath of nuclear annihilation. The song “Titan” is bout the largest moon of Saturn which is one of the candidates to become like earth. So, we have a variety of thing around our songs.

« We don’t rely on the orchestra, because if you do that, you will find your songs to be weaker. »

Titan is more impressive than ever when it comes to the orchestral and choral arrangements, even using for the first time a children choir along with the adult choir. Was it the challenge: to push the classical elements forward and reach a whole new level with that aspect of you music?

Yes, it is always a challenge for me to compose and orchestrate for an amazing orchestra such as the one we’re using, The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Because, I’m responsible of the orchestral work in Septicflesh. I can say that, since Communion, there is a line that goes always forward and forward. For example, on communion we had more primitive orchestrations, in a good way, whereas on The Great Mass, we had more dramatic orchestrations. And now, I wanted to achieve something that assembled all the elements from the orchestra: the primitive ones as well as the more dramatic ones. Plus adding an aggressiveness that wasn’t so evident in Communion and The Great Mass. The children choir also adds a lot of color in our music, because you can create so many atmospheres with a children choir. For example, at one point, you can be very ethereal and very eerie or you can at the same time be evil and innocent, and you can also create many spooky moments. That was my idea for using a children choir.

Can you explain your approach when it comes to mixing classical music and instrumentation with a metal context?

Yes, this is the difficult part of our composition process. Because we have learned our lessons since Communion, you know. Mixing metal parts with orchestral music is very technical. Due to some frequencies, we have to be very aware of what we compose and let in our music, in order for the orchestra to breathe or to have the metal parts not overcome the orchestra. We have to find a balance there and it’s very difficult. Our advantage here, is that we don’t have to hire any orchestrator or arranger, because I know how to use the orchestra and we all know what we want from the orchestra and what we want from the metal parts. Then it’s the work of the producer to mix and blend all of this together. But we’re very careful of what we’re doing in the arrangement of the songs, because each part can easily be hidden by other parts.

Apparently, for The Great Mass the band began with the classical music and built the songs around it. Did you keep the same approach this time?

Yes, we followed the same process with Titan. But we also did a mix: I did the orchestral parts and the other guys added the metal parts on top of that and we also did the opposite where they brought the music and I orchestrated it. It works like that for us. But the majority of the songs are actually based on the orchestral template.

We’ve seen some bands, these past years, relying a lot on orchestrations and sometimes forgetting a little bit about the songs. Is this something you always keep in mind: not to let yourself get overwhelmed by the orchestral work and really concentrate objectively on the music as a whole?

Yes. For us, for Septicflesh, the songs with the orchestra and the metal parts have to be well-balanced. We don’t rely on the orchestra, because if you do that, you will find your songs to be weaker. We try to create something unique and powerful right from the beginning. Each part from the orchestra and the metal elements work together in a way. And, I said before, we don’t need any orchestrator, we know exactly how the use of the orchestra and the metal elements will sound like, and this plays a vast role. That makes us different from the other bands, especially with the use of the orchestra.

Often, in metal, the orchestral work is made by keyboard players. But does being a guitarist make any difference? Would you say that because of that you have a better vision of how the classical music and metal intertwine?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a guitarist or a keyboard player. In our case, I have studies classical music, I have studied composition and orchestration, and this helps me in creating orchestral templates, in order to achieve the results that I want to achieve. It doesn’t matter if you’re a guitarist or a keyboard player: the result for us would be the same. I play some keyboards, but this isn’t so important. The most important thing is that I have studies classical orchestration, and I know how the orchestra works.

What would be you inspirations when it comes to classical music?

I would say masters like Beethoven, Mozart, Bach… I’m a big fan of Igor Strasvinsky, who’s a composer that changed the music in the twentieth century. Also some more experimental composers like Xenakis or Paderewski.

« I think that the song “Prometheus” had something like 300 tracks for the orchestra, which was a shock for [Logan Mader who produced the album]. »

Would you consider your Chaostar project as a playground in terms of experimenting with classical instruments and that Septicflesh actually takes the benefits of these experimentations?

Of course. But Chaostar is not anymore a project; it’s a band that has a stable line-up and we’re now able to perform shows, which we couldn’t do in the past. Now, about your question, of course, I would say that Chaostar has more freedom to experiment and create more extreme ideas. Eventually, Septicflesh benefits from this. But, at the end of the day, with Septiclfesh, we play metal. We have to be very careful to not overdo it, otherwise it will end up sounding like Chaostar and it’s not the idea behind the composition process in Septicflesh.

You worked for the third time with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Is it the vast work of this orchestra in the movie industry and its know-how in cinematic music that makes it the perfect orchestra for Septicflesh?

Yes. It’s their third time with Septicflesh, but I have also worked with them with Chaostar and some other projects that I had, some other bands for which I orchestrated the music. It is an amazing orchestra; it’s the best one for movies scores and video games in Europe. I know how they work, they know me and I have a very good relation with the conductor of the orchestra. It works really well with us, you know, and when a team wins, you can’t change it. I’m sure we’ll continue using this orchestra in the future. It’s always a pleasure to have at your disposal this amazing orchestra.

Are you directly inspired by movies when making music?

Of course, of course, some of my influences are from soundtracks. I can say that [in Titan] there are some elements of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, which have been a big influence. We’ve also been influenced by Werner Herzog movie Nosferatu. We have some elements of Wojciech Kilar who did the music for Dracula… Many different composers and movies.

Have you thought about going to the next level in terms of cinematic music and associate your work with a movie, or even build music around it?

Yes, it’s one of my plans, of course if I have the chance to do it. It’s not so easy to compose for a movie that has something to say and not an amateur one. You have to break through in their system, it’s difficult but I hope to succeed in the future and be in a position to compose for a movie.

Would performing live with a full orchestra actually be the ultimate dream or goal for Septicflesh?

Of course but, in order to do something like that, you need a budget, to do rehearsals with the orchestra and to set up a very detailed plan. To be honest, I can’t see this happening in the near future, but you never know. We shall see. We definitely can’t do this in Greece with the crisis and these kinds of things. It’ll be more possible to do it in France, for example, than in Greece.

You seemed pretty happy with the work Peter Tägtgren did on The Great Mass, therefore, why did you choose to work with Logan Mader this time to mix the album?

When you have to choose between all these producers, all of them are quite unique. Fredrik Nordström did Communion at studio Fredman and we were very pleased with the result, Peter Tägtgren did The Great Mass and once again we were very pleased, and once again Logan Mader did an amazing job. Although it might sounds a bit risky for a European band to use an American producer, because the American producers are not so used to the use of an orchestra together with a metal band. But Logan Mader managed to rise up to the challenge and create a wall of sound, an amazing sound. We have to thank him for his patience, because we did all of this through emails. Usually doing so, it doesn’t work, you have to be there. But despite doing that through emails, I think that Logan Mader did an amazing and exceptional work.

How did he react when he saw the amount of tracks and layers and…

Yeah [laughs], he was shocked with the number of tracks! I think that the song “Prometheus” had something like 300 tracks for the orchestra, which was a shock for him. But he also had a guy with him called Gerard Marino, who’s a composer for music in video games in the USA (note: he notably worked on God Of War and God Of War II soundtracks), who helped him with the orchestral mix. Because, as you said, the number of tracks is huge and we’re not an easy band for when it comes to the arrangements of the songs, we have some very complex parts. It took him around three months to mix it. But at the end of the day, as I said, he did a great work.

« We were really focused and said that we had to sacrifice ourselves in order to achieve the result for Titan. »

The band was quoted saying that you guys were really exhausted from the work on this record. How much demanding was this album in fact? What kind of efforts did it represent?

We had four mouths in the summer of 2013 to work extensively on Titan. We came back from another tour during that period, which made it a bit difficult. But we were really focused and said that we had to sacrifice ourselves in order to achieve the result for Titan. Although the creation process was only four months, if the team works well and is well organized, it can do things fast. Our team worked really well and really fast, and we managed to enter the studio in September. It was an exhausting work but the result was worth it.

The album is called Titan. That sounds very pompous and definitive. Is this to represent the fact that this album is a lifetime achievement and your strongest so far?

Of course you can say that the title “Titan” represents our confidence towards this album. And as I said in the beginning, Titan stands as our best work so far. But it stands as our best work so far until the next one. I hope that the next one will surpass Titan. But, yes, Titan stands as our most titanic work right now.

A Titan seems to be the strongest being you can ever imagine. So, how will you beat your own Titan?

[Laughs] As usual for us, our focus will be to be very concentrated in our task and to sit down and create something unique. It might take three years to finalize each of our albums but we need some time to create an album like that, that really have something to say. We don’t want to release our albums every two years and go on tour; we need to be very focused and very organized in the making of our albums. I hope that the next one will again have the opportunity to surpass Titan, just like Titan did with The Great Mass and The Great Mass did with Communion.

Interview conducted by phone May, 8th 2014 by Spaceman.
Questions, transcription and introduction : Spaceman.

Septicflesh official website : Septicflesh.com

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