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.



Greek Extreme Metal Scene

Like any other country in the world in contact with western popular culture, Greece has its share of extreme metal bands. The time lag between the birth of death/black metal in English-speaking countries and the birth of the Greek scene is not big. “Rotting Christ”, one of the most important and successful Greek bands, were formed in 1987, only three years after the first death metal album was released, that is, ‘Morbid Tales’ by “Celtic Frost”.

Some of the older extreme metal bands in Greece, were leaning towards black metal. The most common theme these bands were reproducing was ‘satanism’ or ‘the occult’ in general. I never preoccupied myself with these ideologies/religions, or whatever they are, so I am not the most appropriate person to discuss the lyrical content of these bands’ records. Among the most well known bands of that typology, were “Rotting Christ”, “Necromantia” and “Thou Art Lord”. Another trend the Greek scene went through was the admiration of the ancient Hellenic spirit, by black metal bands like “Kawir”. I refrain from characterising some of the aforementioned bands as fascist, only because I never really listened to them seriously so I cannot be sure about their ideology. However, judging from their appearance and layouts, they appeared to be quite mindless and fanatic to me.

While I always found the Greek black metal scene indifferent (with the exception of Rotting Christ), the death metal scene used to be awesome! Most well-known bands include Septic Flesh, Acid Death, Exhumation and Nightfall. Septic Flesh created and developed their own unique style, Acid Death were more conventional and borrowed elements from both the European and American scene, especially the late Death and Carcass, Exhumation evolved into a melodic death metal in the style of Arch Enemy, with an apparent Gothenburg sound, Nightfall were super-brutal with black metal elements, later they played heavy metal. Overall, Greek death metal during the 90s had its own unique identity, a sound different than everything else in the world. Together with “Rotting Christ”, the two bands I like most from that scene, were “Septic Flesh” and “Acid Death”.

Septic Flesh is a band from Athens. For those who like tags, they play brutal melancholic doom-death metal. Even from their first E.P. (i.e. The Temple of the Lost Race, 1991), it was obvious that this band was different from the rest. Despite the fact that it was pretty raw and had an grim production, the four songs in this E.P. proposed something different than what mainstream death scenes were proposing. That new thing was an honest feeling of melancholy. Their first album (i.e. Mystic Places of Dawn, 1994) is simply monumental and one of the best albums ever released. This release manifests a 100% original band. The music in this album is beyond conception. Orchestrations are clever and sophisticated, but nevertheless, all compositions are extremely brutal. In this album, as well as the following three SF albums, there is no drummer. Instead there is a very competently programmed drum machine (in contrast to most Greek bands), which produces an excellent result. As far as I’m concerned I never complained about them not having a real drummer. Anyway, I always thought that they were a studio band. Their music has obvious influences of classical and pre-classical music. All songs are ornate with the best possible melodies and solos. One of the highlights is the change in the middle of ‘The underwater garden‘, which words cannot describe. ‘Return to Catharge‘ and ‘Behind the Iron Mask’ are tutorials of how melancholy and atmosphere can fit into an extremely brutal and powerful context. ‘The pale beauty of the past’ is the song I think best represents the band, music-wise and lyric-wise, and my personal favorite. Their second album (i.e. ΕΣΟΠΤΡΟΝ, 1995), which I think is their best, shows no change from their previous one. The same claustrophobic, muddy production, once again unearthly inspired melodies, choruses, breaks, changes. The only problem is that, whilst guitars are the Alpha and Omega in Septic Flesh, they are lost behind vocals, drums and keys. The magnificence of this album, however, cannot be described in words. Highlights are the melody in the end of ‘Rain‘ when he says “…the perfume of life”, the main riff and solo in ‘Esoptron’, the chorus of ‘Burning Phoenix’, ‘So clean, so empty’ … With their third album (i.e. Ophidian Wheel, 1997) a couple of new things are introduced. One of them is soprano vocals – probably inspired by Therion – which fit perfectly in their music. The other is that the compositions become slower and less intricate. Nevertheless, inspiration is once again present, thus in spite of being a more accessible album it is still amazing, inspired and innovative. More powerful songs are of course present again, like ‘Razor blades of Guilt’ and ‘Geometry in static’. My personal favorite songs are ‘On the topmost step of the earth’ and ‘Heaven Below‘. The former, has some of the best melodies ever and there is beautiful continuity between them. Their fourth full length (i.e. Revolution DNA, 1999) introduces drastic changes in the band’s sound and writing style. They espouse a modern sound, with keyboards taking the upper hand more often, compositions becoming even simpler and the sound distancing itself from death metal. Also, the band officially has a drummer. Lyric-wise, they deal with the same (e.g. mythology) and some new subjects (e.g. genetics, evolution). Of course, more poetic songs like the exquisite ‘Little music box‘ or ‘Telescope’ are present as well. Even though this album is far from the typical Septic Flesh sound and shares a lot with gothic, industrial and electronic music, it still is a masterpiece.

After that Septic Flesh took a break. They returned in 2003 with their 5th album (i.e. Sumerian Demons). With this album they return to their more brutal past while maintaining some of the more operatic elements of their later career. Their most recent album (i.e. Communion, 2008), is the one that I like less because, I think, it is devoid of the one thing that made Septic Flesh special. And that is originality. I think it is a shame for a band that managed to keep its integrity and identity inside the music industry for quite a few years, to sacrifice it now. Their new album sounds like the latter Septic Flesh mixed with “Behemoth” and “Nile”. Septic Flesh have been more sophisticated and important than Behemoth and other Morbid Angel and Vader wannabes, will ever be!

For those interested in Septic Flesh, a Greek band that copied them but nevertheless released an awesome album, is “On thorns I lay”. Their album ‘Orama‘ (1997) is amazing and a fine example of the Greek extreme metal scene’s identity. The production, vocals, music style resembles a lot the ‘Mystic places…’ – ‘Esoptron’ era.

Acid Death is the second important Greek death metal band with extremely skilled musicians. Throughout the band’s history, its sound remains progressive. Formed in the early 90s, their 7 inch ‘Apathy Murders hope‘ is a sample of the band’s furious first years. The eponymous song is a masterpiece of brutality, technique and inspiration. It has elements from “Sepultura” and early Swedish death metal like “Entombed” and “Dismember”. Their first proper release was a split album with the Spanish brutal death band “Avulsed”. Many years ago, when me and my friend Nikos bought the album we used to laugh our asses off with Avulsed, who besides the fact they played extremely boring death metal (they got better over the years), they had a really funny singer. The phrase “..like aaaaa, vultuuuure…” is up to this day a joke that cracks me up. The Acid Death side is perfect with a slightly worse production, however, than the 7inch. Their second album (i.e. Pieces of Mankind, 1997) has a very different character, influenced by Death’s progressive turn. This points towards more complex arrangements and less conventional compositions. The song “Our Shadows” remains one of the most perfect songs ever to come out of Greece. Most songs are perfect in terms of musicality/execution/orchestration. The production however is miserable. Because of the production I first thought that the drums were played by a drum-machine. When I saw them live supporting “The Haunted” in 1999, however, their drummer proved his greatness. Their final masterpiece (i.e. Random’s Manifest, 2000) is more brutal and shares elements with Carcass (of the Heartwork era). Here is a video I found on Youtube, of a guy playing one of the best songs off this album.

Rotting Christ is the other favorite extreme metal band from Greece. Rotting Christ slowly progressed from being a brutal death/black band in the early Norwegian sense, to a uniquely original atmospheric black metal band, with the Greek identity of nostalgia and melancholy ubiquitous. Indeed their fourth album, Triarchy of the lost lovers (1996) is, together with Septic Flesh’s Esoptron, my favorite Greek album. ‘Triarchy…’ is an album that each single song is Perfect in any sense! The production is the best production possible for the sound of the band, and all lyrics and compositions are immaculate. While I can usually guess what kind of music bands are listening in order to play the way they play, that is obscure with Rotting Christ. In their first records, besides influences from the early Scandinavian black and American death metal scene, they also have elements from English or Scandinavian hardcore. On their album ‘Non Serviam’ one of the riffs of the song ‘The fifth illusion‘ reminds of an “Anti-Cimex” song (I cannot remember which), a Swedish hardcore band. Their sound in ‘Triarchy’ resembles a bit the Swiss band “Samael” (‘Ceremony of opposites’ era) but Rotting Christ are a lot more musical and expressive. Bathory elements (especially from their Twilight… and Hammerheart, era) are also present. The song ‘Snowing Still‘ is one of the best songs ever written. Even though I do not know whether it is fact or fiction, it is heartbreaking. A truly unique example of how music and lyrics blend together to create a monumental song. But the same goes for almost all of this album’s songs. I hear people all the time talking about great riffs that wrote history. Well this album is a goldmine of riffs! Every single song has two or three huge riffs. It would not be a hyperbole to say that this album, has one of the best guitar works ever, regardless of country, genre, etc. Here are some links to songs from this album on youtube: ‘King of a stellar war’, ‘Archon‘, ‘Shadows Follow‘.

I will not refer to their other albums, because I ‘ve lost track after the brilliant ‘Khronos’ in 2000. With their ‘Dead Poem’ album they headed towards a more heavy metal direction, which I personally did not fancy a lot. ‘Khronos’ was indeed brilliant. Again some excellent riffs and atmosphere indicative of the Greek extreme metal identity, combined though with faster rhythms than the ‘Triarchy’ era. The song ‘glory of sadness’ (unfortunately not available on the vinyl format), is like a tribute to “Darkthrone”. On their more recent works I am aware that they have kept the fast rhythms of ‘Khronos’, though keyboards and operatic elements have risen to prominence.

Homo Iratus, from Thessaloniki, was the last original Greek band I listened to. I also saw them in the first gig of Napalm Death in Rodon in 2001 and they were awesome. Their sound was not particularly in line with Greek extreme metal culture, but they played an amazing fusion of death-grind-industrial that was original and impressive. Imagine “Sepultura” of the ‘Chaos AD’ era playing death metal. As far as I know, they only released two albums (‘Human Consumes Human’ and ‘Apocalypse’), both excellent. See here their video for ‘Tomahawk Cruise Messiah‘,

However, the end of the 90s and the beginning of the new millennium introduced new American brutal death metal to Greek fans. The scene I am talking about is – Dying Fetus, Deeds of Flesh, Dehumanised, Nile e.t.c. That time signposts the end of originality for the Greek death metal scene. Thenceforward, the only thing that mattered was how accurate, technical, fast music was. The elements of the old Greek death metal scene faded away.

Today’s Greek death metal bands sound like “Suffocation” clones. I am not again the most appropriate person to speak about them, since they always sounded like old news to me. I have been listening to Suffocation for years. I’ve been listening to Dying Fetus and Deeds of flesh for some time as well, before these bands that copied them appeared. No matter how many years have passed or how many bands came before, though, there has never been or will ever be  a band like Septic Flesh, Rotting Christ or Acid Death. That requires inspiration and identity, elements difficult to find in an alienated, homogenised, globalised world.