overground scene


Triarchy of the lost lovers: 20 years on

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I find it hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the release of Rotting Christ‘s masterpiece Triarchy of the lost lovers (1996). Reminiscing upon the release of this album, my initial engagement with it, and the different ways in which it has been implicated in my life, the vast polysemic position that this album occupies in my biography is revealed. In this post I share some personal stories around what I personally consider one of the most beautiful albums of all time.

26654960_10156136390015407_298416661_oRotting Christ occupy a prolific position in my personal biography as a fan of extreme metal. The very first album that induced me to the more underground facets of metal was a compilation cassette tape by Unisound Records, a Greek metal label. The title of this cassette tape was Into the catacthonium (1994). I distinctly remember my friend Nick bringing the cassette tape to my house. Through this tape I was exposed for the first time to extreme metal, through the song “Primordial” by Mortuary Drape. While both of us thought that the singer’s screams sounded funny, I think it irrevocably infected us with the extreme metal virus. Two were the songs that I remember listening to from that tape; one was “Primordial” and the other “Saturn unlock Avey’s son” by Rotting Christ, off the album Non serviam (1994). Similarly, the initial contact with Rotting Christ was not one of unabridged enthusiasm and unconditional surrender. The music was indeed captivating, but the singer’s voice combined with his accent, especially the way he pronounced ‘volcanic explosion’, were hilarious.

Nevertheless, a big change had definitely taken place. Extreme metal did not go down very well with us, but it had our attention. The fact that Rotting Christ was a Greek band was also part of the excitement. Back then I was totally unaware of other Greek metal bands, so the idea that an extreme band was local, so to speak, was exciting. In hindsight, that was an illusion and an excellent example of how national identity works. The excitement that I would feel back in those days reflected a nationalist sentiment, the fantasy that there is a bond between me and a group of people who I would probably never meet and with whom I had very little in common.

The very little I did end up having in common with Rotting Christ would be taste in music. Of course, metal fandom is itself a whole different “imagined community”. Indeed, over the years I have come to realise that the majority of “metal fans” I have met throughout my life have completely different tastes than me, and relate to music differently than I do. In any case, to return to my previous point, even though “greekness” was in the realm of fantasy, I did share with Rotting Christ love for their music (assuming they were fans of their own music). My friend Mark bought “Triarchy of the lost lovers” in 1996, a few months after it came out. He brought the CD to our English lesson and we used my portable CD player to listen to it. If I remember correctly, he must have instructed me to skip the first couple of songs and listen to “Archon” straight away, the fastest cut from this album. By that time we were already listening to death metal and we were primarily intrigued by speed and intensity. I was instantly hooked and soon afterwards I too bought the CD.

1199Triarchy of the lost lovers is one of those rare albums completely devoid of mediocre moments. Every song is an instant classic. In contrast to most extreme metal, which is loquacious and dense, Triarchy is laconic. It has big openings that give the listener room to breathe and reflect on what they experience. Each musical sentence is a clearly articulated statement and it stands out. I would not use the term “riff” to describe this music; that would be reductionist. Only rarely Sakis (the composer) resorts to the short single-layered patterns that we often identify as riffs in metal music. Although laconic, his musical rhetoric is fascinating; each pattern consists of several layers that involve harmonisations, and a dialogue between primary and secondary melodies. The guitar solos are not ephemeral improvisations either; far from it, they are thought-through compositions in their own right (listen to the solo of “A dynasty from the ice“). Jim’s poems about mythical themes, epic tragedies, and uncanny horror stories, were an essential ingredient in Rotting Christ’s unique style of songwriting.

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From left to right: Sakis, Jim, and Themis circa 1996

Back in the mid-1990s one of the best metal record stores in Athens was Metal Era, a shop owned by Jim “Mutilator” Patsouris, original bassist of Rotting Christ. Anyone into metal that grew up in Athens in the mid 1990s knew who the owner of Metal Era was. Over the years I saw many metalheads swarm around him, usually kids who saw him as a rock star. Back then me and my friends often wondered whether some of those fanboys were actually working in the shop for free. In any case, I was not far from being a fanboy myself, because in all honesty I did look up to Jim; he was part of an important chapter of extreme metal history. I too often used to hang out in the shop pestering him to play new releases. Some of the fresh releases or promo versions of albums I listened there over the years include Hypocrisy‘s Final chapter (1997) and Hypocrisy (1999), Hate Eternal‘s Conquering the throne (1999), Broken Hope‘s Loathing (1997), and Dismember‘s Hate campaign (2000). At some point in the late 1990s, after he had quit the band, we ended up talking about Rotting Christ and I told him that Triarchy was my favourite album by them and one of my all-time favourite albums overall. I remember that he was surprised, in a very humble way, and told me that it was his favourite Rotting Christ album too.

But the significance of this album goes beyond simple fascination with the songs. This album is the primary material of many fond memories over the years, one including my younger brother. For a brief period around ’96-97 my brother became interested in the music that his older brother (me) was listening to. One of the songs he used to love was “Snowing still” off Triarchy. Near the end of that song there is an atmospheric passage during which the singer narrates in Greek. This part of the lyrics was omitted from the lyrics in the booklet, and the even more annoying thing was that neither me nor my friends could make out what was being said. My brother wanted to know the lyrics, as it was one of his favourite songs, so I asked Jim to jot down the lyrics on a piece of paper and write a dedication to my brother. Jim was very gracious and indeed wrote down the lyrics in a piece of paper that I’ve kept inside the booklet since.

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“Black swans bring tears over his dead body – by dawn they’ll be lying dead together” – Dedicated to our friend Anthony (Jim Mutilator)

Triarchy is undisputedly an extreme metal album, yet it is very difficult to classify it. I personally think that it singularly occupies its own category. Over the summer holidays of 1997, I decided that this album stands out as one of the very few albums where each single second is characterised by sheer perfection. I used to think back then that any band would kill to have even one of the “riffs” on that album. Its melodic dimension anchors it to traditional metal, which was my great love, but also to other styles, such as popular and folk Greek music, that resonated with my habitus. Twenty years have passed since I first listened to it, and today I simply confirm what I had already thought 10 or 15 years ago: Triarchy of the lost lovers is a timeless masterpiece whose significance will only increase with time. Every day that goes by is and will be a reminder that what this band achieved in terms of aesthetic expression and inventiveness cannot be repeated, so this unique example will be admired and treasured.



A brief history of growing up with vinyl in the 1990s

Back in the mid-1990s two cultural/economic trends were dying away: the vinyl and the death metal genre. This concurrence brought happiness to a small group of friends from Nikaia, a suburb of Piraeus in Greece, who were just starting to discover extreme metal.

By that time, death metal had undergone a period of explosion, saturation and relative stalemate, and was considered a thing of the past in mainstream metal circles (the same goes for traditional metal and thrash). Melodic and highly canonised black metal, on the other hand, was spreading its wings. At the same time, the CD had been widely accepted as the orthodoxy in music dissemination. The vinyl was deemed an inefficient format for music storage; it takes up too much space, it is vulnerable, it cannot carry more than 50 minutes of music among its delicate grooves without compromising the sound quality and, finally, its sound is inferior to the polished digital sound of the CD, which is also small and more easily storable, can hold up to 80 minutes of music and, or so it was claimed, it could live forever. Nevertheless, these two trends – the cultural and economic depreciation of vinyl and (death) metal – resulted in another brilliant trend that made us oh-so-merry: the mid-1990s was a heaven of ridiculously cheap second-hand vinyl records of metal bands.

At the time, me and my friends were in secondary school. Before metal, our cultural consumption was limited to sports shoes (I am not kidding), fast food and, in the case of some people, video games. Then metal came and became an all-encompassing leisurely activity. For some of us there was nothing beyond metal music, although some still placed loyalty in football or video games, albeit to a lesser extent. Back then, every single album obtained, in any type of format (cassette tape, CD or vinyl), was a treasured artifact. Every single album was laboriously listened and appreciated. Listening to music, sometimes an individualistic and other times a social experience, was done with passion.

My weekly allowance at the time was 1000 drachmas (approximately two British pounds) and 1500 drachmas a bit later on. From time to time, my grandparents would also give me an one-thousand drachmas note on top of that standard allowance. Today it may sound crazy, but at that time this weekly allowance was enough to buy one cheese pasty and a soda per day from the school canteen. That’s how my parents intended me to spend my money.  When I started listening to metal I started saving this allowance to buy cassette tapes in order to copy my friends’ albums, as well as CDs and vinyl. The first metal album I made a cassette copy of was Iron Maiden‘s Number of the beast, owned by a friend living in the same building as I did. The first CD I ever bought was Iron Maiden’s Live after death. The first metal vinyl was (surprise, surprise) Iron Maiden’s Fear of the dark.

As I have explained in an earlier post, there were several factors that eventually made vinyl our format of choice. One factor was a specific “record collectors” discourse – which is currently stronger than ever – according to which vinyl is both an investment and a subcultural artifact which gives its possessor prestige and legitimacy (among one’s peers).  Another factor was financial; vinyl used to be slightly cheaper than CDs (the opposite of what happens today). Nevertheless, the aforementioned first few metal albums were bought from local record stores (D.J. records and 5000 V) and were quite expensive (3000-3500 drachmas each). The decision to buy vinyl was not fully determined until we discovered second-hand record stores, where we would find a much bigger volume of albums in much lower prices.

Not before long, me and my friends discovered the numerous second-hand record stores at the centre of Athens. The record stores in Monastiraki, Athens, were the ones I early on bought records on ridiculously low prices. Morbid Angel‘s Altars of madness for 1500 drachmas from Tsampas, Xentrix‘s Shattered existence from 7 plus 7 for 1750 drachmas, Massacre‘s From beyond for 1500 drachmas from Shiva records, are some of the great bargains I can remember. Of course the other music retailers (that were selling both new and second-had albums) in Athens were also great. Who can forget the awesome Happening that also had great offers, the two Rock City stores, and Jim’s Metal Era. For at least two years these stores were our temples of metal appreciation.

Then a great revelation happened in early June 1997. It was after the summer physics exam when me and my friend Dimitris decided to go to Athens on a record hunt. When we got off the bus at Koumoundourou square we saw another friend, Nikos, who was just returning from his record hunt and he told us about this awesome record store he had found, that had the best prices ever. Its name was Art Nouveau, at Solomou street, Exarcheia. However, we did not visit it on that day. Instead, I bought the newly released Dismember Misanthropic e.p. from Metal Era and returned home ecstatic.

Art Nouveau proved to be one of the best record stores ever. It was founded by Nikos, an avid fan of rock music, in 1983. (The store apparently operated also as the “headquarters” of Nikos’ independent music productions company which released the Αδιέξοδο (Dead End) – Γενιά του Χάους (Chaos Generation) split tape in 1983.) The metal section consisted of three stalls on the right hand side of the entrance to the back room. Each stall contained 50-70 records. All the records had been removed and stored, so the customers browsed through the record jackets. On the top right corner of each album there was a tiny hand-written price-tag. The price was also written in pencil on the inner sleeve. As I write this post I am listening to Morgoth‘s Cursed, which I bought from there for 1800 drachmas (3,5 pounds). Other notable records I bought from there include Paradise Lost‘s Gothic for 2000 drachmas, Pungent Stench‘s first album for 1800 drachmas, and Cannibal Corpse‘s Butchered at birth and Cadaver‘s Hallucinating anxiety for equally ridiculous prices. Art Nouveau can nowadays be found at 42 Arachovis street, Exarcheia, still preaching the old rock gospel and stubbornly resisting music fads and the pressures of big music retailers, music digitisation and the internet.

Old habits die hard, and even at a time when some of the most obscure music can easily be obtained by anyone with internet access, all the people who came together in that group two decades ago still buy vinyl records. For most of us it is no longer a matter of prestige. It is simply that we know no better way to enjoy music. Because, all those who have been part of the social organisation of vinyl-purchasing (the excitement of patiently browsing through thousands of albums for hours on end and eventually finding an album you were looking for, finding a hidden phrase engraved on the vinyl close to where the label is, looking at the pictures of the musicians, reading the “Thanx lists” trying to understand who is friends with whom and to discover new bands, finding out who composed what, reading the lyrics, carefully examining the artwork, and smelling the cardboard odour off the record jacket), know that it constitutes an experience that enhances the experience of music-listening itself.

Me and my friend Nikos, 19 years after our first record-hunt.

Me and my friend Nikos, 19 years after our first record-hunt.

 

 



Dismember – in memoriam

Dismember has been my all time favorite band since the mid 90s. I discovered death metal through the sounds of Dismember and other great Swedish bands such as Unleashed, At the gates and Grave. The  first record I heard was the back then newly released Massive Killing Capacity. The impact of this album is probably much bigger than I can perceive. I remember getting a  guitar on my hands in order to learn to play the opening riff of “Collection by blood”. It further increased my already significant obsession with learning as much trivia as possible about bands. Categories started forming in my head about each individual member’s composing style. Within a few years and when a new album was coming out I could tell with certainty who had writen which song without even looking at the inner sleeve or booklet.

I passionately defended Dismember among my peers when I was hearing criticisms such as that they sounded like Entombed. I hated reviewers in music zines because they would come up with ridiculous reasons to compare them to Entombed. I remember asking the late Nikos Tagalos (of Sadistic Noise ) in the old Rock City (also RIP) whether Pieces was any good:

Tagalos: “what have you heard of them?”

Me: “Like an ever flowing and Massive killing”

Tagalos: “more brutal than both of them”.

One day in the summer of 1997 I spent all day in Metal Era with Jim (ex-Rotting Christ bass player) and his friends while waiting for the very first vinyl copies of Death Metal to arrive. I remember the day I listened to the promo-cd of Hate Campaign and I run home to tell my friends about it. The freezing day I streamed the song “where ironcrosses grow” before the release of the album (it was Sunday and it had snowed).

I got to see Dismember live in the summer of 2005, with a ticket my friend Joan gave me as a present for my birthday. I had the honour of meeting Matti, David and Fred on that day. I was super excited for meeting my heroes, them for seeing a fan with a Dismember tattoo on his arm. The concert was like a dream that came true. They even played Reborn in Blasphemy!

After the departure of Fred, I knew that the future of the band would be uncertain. Fred was the motivator, an important composer and the producer. Of course, one of the things I always liked about and respected Dismember for, was that it was not an one-man band. Every album was a collective effort. And before Fred left, I was equally bummed out about the departures of Robert and Rickard, both of whom are amazing composers.

Then I saw the band again in 2007 in Thessaloniki during a one-day trip.  I ended up spending the night sleeping at the entrance of a building because I spent all my money on records. The show was again amazing and I got to meet Tobias and again Matti and David. I also saw David around 12 o clock at night wandering around the streets of Thessaloniki looking for his hotel. I explained to him that he was going the wrong way and suggested he should get a taxi. He asked me how much it would cost because he was worried that the taxi driver would rip him off, and he had a point…

Dismember seemed to me like a band which had a very laid back work ethic, which is something I respect greatly. It was also a very humble band and having met them I can say that they were not taking themselves very seriously and their primary goal was to have fun and play music they enjoyed. They survived a period very difficult for extreme music (mid- to late-90s) and they did so with dignity. Ok they got a bit more melodic as time went by… but one can see those melodic elements even in their early works. They had always been more into melody than their contemporaries.

In a period of 20 years they offered the world some of the most beautiful music ever created, some phenomenal lyrics and some of the most powerful and extreme executions. They certainly co-defined what swedish death metal means. They consistently released flawless albums, a feat that only a handful of bands have managed to pull off. A week ago they anounced that they will call it quits. This post is an opportunity for me to thank them for being such an inspiring part of my childhood and adult life.