"We have two paths in front of us: spiritual evolution or decadency"
The mysterious creative force of Septicflesh talks about the past and the future of the band.
Being one of the biggest bands in the symphonic extreme metal genre, Septicflesh once again try to provoke our mind and senses, with the majestic “Codex Omega”. Going to new places sonically but also looking a little at their past, they take us on a journey to a dark, mesmerizing adventure. The main lyricist and melodic vocalist of the band, Sotiris Vayenas talked to us about their new album, changing drummers, how they approach their artistic presence and many more...
After the exceptional “Titan”, how did you approach the composition of “Codex Omega”? Did you already have some ideas, or did you start writing without any preconceived direction?
Basically I never stop writing music. Many times I have melodies in my mind without any particular effort and if I’m lucky and in a situation where I can write them down or somehow store them temporarily I do it, otherwise they are unfortunately lost. So I always have a reserve of ideas before starting the process for a new album. The main body of work is done when we “officially” start composing and everyone of us focuses on creating some songs, while we also feed of each other’s ideas. So nothing is predefined and the musical direction comes pretty naturally. In the end we promote the ideas that all of us like the most.
Having already 9 albums in your discography, how hard is it for you to have fresh ideas for a new album?
There are some sonic elements and atmospheres which we really like and have become a part of our sound. Despite that, we always try to outdo ourselves and think of something new. I think that people who have been listening to us for so many years must have realized that we like experimenting a lot.
Were you frustrated by the change of drummers as far as composition is concerned? There are lots of phenomenal players, but how easy is it to share the same vision when composing music?
For sure we were frustrated when we changed drummers. This is why we chose a drummer who besides being an exceptional player, he is also a composer. He has released three full length solo albums, where all the compositions are his, while he plays all the instruments. Krimh adapted quickly to our mentality and he showed a lot of excitement and dedication during the composition phase. He also had some riffs for the album. In “Gospels of Fear” I played some guitar ideas which were his creations, while we also collaborated a lot in finding the appropriate riffs to match Christos’ symphonic ideas that built “Enemy Of Truth”.
I think that “Codex Omega” is a more guitar-oriented album, with lots of melodies, riffs but also lots of acoustic guitar. Once again, the presence of the orchestra is very intense as well. How do you manage to combine all these instruments and melodies without making the result sound chaotic?
It is very hard and you need to have a proper structure of the songs as well as making the right choices when everything is recorded. To have a balance you also have do to some sacrifices. For example, when Spyros had brought “Faceless Queen” there were multiple guitar melodies. As some of them were recorded with the orchestral instruments, the end result was somewhat overloaded, especially in the chorus where we also have a vocal melody. Finally we decided in some parts to have the orchestra up front and remove the additional guitars, while there was a guitar part left which plays a different melody, making some kind of an answer to the orchestral melody. So the result sounds more balanced and clear. In some other songs, whenever we decided that it was better the guitar parts took the place of the orchestral ones.
Mixing and production was handled by Jens Bogren and I believe it’s the best you’ve ever had, it sounds massive and balanced at the same time. How did this collaboration came to be?
We wanted a more natural and organic sound and Bogren is a master in that. The timeline we had for the recordings was compatible with his schedule, while he was interested as well in working with us. He was also interested in the challenge of mixing metal with symphonic parts. Our cooperation was flawless, and I think the results speaks for itself.
In many songs there are clean vocals, which is something that will surely satisfy a lot of your fans (myself included). How do you decide where and when to put clean vocals in the songs? After composing the whole thing or is it something that happens in parallel with the composition?
It depends on the situation. For example the vocals of “Our Church” came as I was writing the riff for the song because I also got the particular vocal melody in my mind, while for “Dark Art” I was initially thinking this part as being only played by the guitar. Spyros is the one who suggested to try out some vocals, preferably clean, as he felt it was needed in this part of the song. So in that case the melodic vocals were a last minute thing.
In “Codex Omega” in some parts I felt like the atmosphere was close to some of your older albums, with lower speeds and lots of melody. Do you ever look at your past as a source of inspiration or reorienting the band’s sound?
When we compose we don’t have a particular album or song as a prototype in our mind. Whatever comes out, comes out naturally. If you think about all our albums, we have written so far more than 100 songs, so it is natural to have some ideas that sound familiar to the listener. Also, the general sound of each album depends also on what songs will be approved by all of us. We always write many more songs than the ones that end up on the album, some are more melodic, some are heavier.
There is also a lot of twelve-string guitar on this album, which was a pleasant surprise for me, since it sounds a little medieval and puts a new element in your sound. How did you decide to incorporate this instrument? Do you write with the acoustic guitar as a basis, or by writing riffs on the electric guitar?
The use of the twelve-string guitar indeed gives a medieval element and it is something I wanted to do for quite a while now, but I didn’t get the chance to do. This time I was determined from the beginning to make a song that utilizes this instrument, and so we got “Trinity”. As we really liked the result, we incorporated this guitar in other songs where it seemed like a good fit. As for the way I’m usually composing, it starts with the electric guitar as it helps in exploring different riffs, even though sometimes I get some polyphonic ideas so in these cases it helps documenting them by playing keyboards and then transforming them to guitar parts.
Lyrically, the album seems to draw inspiration from religion, in a philosophical but also pragmatic point of view, recalling events that have occurred in the name of some religion. Do you see these concepts as a part of Septicflesh? Which are the main sources of your inspiration?
There are lots of sources of inspiration, from the past looking in history and mythology, from the present and the various events that are happening and the situation that exists in mankind, but also from the future having imagination as the vehicle. I generally write about things that give me either positive or negative feelings, but in any case intense ones. I also like to view reality as a whole and reality includes stuff that is visible and familiar, as well as mysterious and invisible. Religions are primitive ways to answer things like the cosmic creation, death, while they also promote certain models of behavior, establishing a hierarchy of people who “express the will” of the divine element. The fact is more things are said than done in reality. Billions of people in the world follow a religion that claims to aim for peace, love, truth, etc. So we should see this all around us and everything being ok. But we see the exact opposite. The apocalypse that is given through the 3rd and last testament which is in our new album, is that the human mind is behind the writing of any bible and so gods and demons are the image of humans, not the other way around. I think it is time for humanity to take responsibility for its actions without any divine or demonic alibi. In my opinion we have two paths in front of us, spiritual evolution or decadency. Unfortunately decadency is followed by destruction and maybe even extinction of the species.
A few years ago there were some re-issues of your older albums with new artwork by Seth, and some bonus material. What was the motive behind this move?
Our first era was left behind as the rights belonged to Holy Recs which has had a very low presence in the recent years. Season Of Mist decided to acquire the rights and now the whole of our discography is available for anyone interested in getting it. Re-issues was a chance to get our newer fans in touch with our past. I’m glad because it was a shame that people were focusing only on our second period.
Truth is that the sound of the first albums is very old-school, but it somehow gives a sense of the era and has something romantic to it. Did you ever think about re-recording your older albums, having all the experience now that you’ve made so many albums?
We haven’t thought about that. It would be something interesting as we could record keyboard parts with an orchestra, while definitely sonically the production would be improved so much. Of course, the magic of the moment is kept in the original recordings, and it is something that cannot be reproduced so in any case the initial albums despite having poor sound, have a special sentimental value.
Do you think there’s a danger for the band to be “trapped” in the sound you have created? After “Revolution DNA” there was a shift in your sound, and many people say that after “Communion” there has been less of a change, despite the undeniable quality of the albums that followed. I would like to hear your perspective on that.
The only thing that hasn’t happened since “Communion” is us being static. We have experimented a lot and tried different things with each album. We work very hard for many months before deciding to enter the studio, while we never rush to put out an album. There is just a new dominating element that marks the change in our sound, and that is the use of a proper orchestra. Natural sound has marked the after-“Communion” era. But I understand what you mean. Some people once they hear the instruments in a new song, they rush to say “more of the same” even though there are lots of progressive and unorthodox composition choices. I believe that anyone who focuses only on the fact that we use an orchestra and doesn’t notice the whole, the essence of the songs, looks for the tree and misses the forest. As Septicflesh we are from our nature restless spirits and we don’t like staying still. We have to give lots more to our audience in the future.
Moving to the visual part, besides the artwork that Seth creates, we see that the suits have become a vital part of the band in the recent years. Do you think this somehow completes the artistic expression of the band? Have you ever thought that there’s a danger to be characterized as κitsch by the public?
Definitely some people have negative comments about our image, while others like it. It would be safer to be like the rest. We don’t need to be liked by everyone, musically and visually. I personally believe that since our music is theatrical, our image should also have a more theatrical, alien sense. Our suits are made by Prokopis Vlaseros who is an expert in special effects and has a great talent in creating anything you can imagine, putting an emphasis in Sci-Fi and splatter imagery. Each one of us chooses some basic elements for their costume and so each costume has a different character. Seth being more experienced in the visual arts, guides and supervises Prokopis in order to achieve the result we want.
How do you lyrics and the whole concepts affect Seth’s artwork? Do you mutually agree on what is to be achieved, or is this something handled completely by him?
There is a lot of communication with Seth. We exchange opinions and proposals for the lyrics with an emphasis on the placement of the vocals, as well as the artwork so there is a connection between the image and the meaning of the songs. Of course, I am responsible for the lyrics, and Seth is the person to take care of the artwork.
How do you feel about having lots of pre-recorded parts during your live appearances? Does it make it a little less live?
Of course we would prefer having all the musicians in our live performances. That is something that is impossible from a financial point of view. What makes a live show special either way is the interaction between the band members and the audience that takes part in the experience. Also, the sound part is not replicable identically. Each live is different. For Septicflesh, during the live shows the orchestral parts take a step back so the extreme metal element comes forward. So there is always adrenaline and intensity.
We’ve seen a lot of bands recently performing live with an orchestra, taking for example in Bulgaria (Paradise Lost, Katatonia). Is there any possibility to see something like that with Septicflesh?
As I said before, it’s a matter of finances. We sure want to make it happen at one point.
Staying in the concert part, in the recent years your setlist is based mainly on the after-“Communion” era. Is this due to the popularity of the songs? Lots of older fans say that you have forgotten your past with this decision…
There have been some cases where we played songs from our past and the audience was left wondering. In general it is hard to make a setlist that will satisfy everyone when you have so many albums and people who have started listening to you in a different era. We have two decades of music and if everything goes well it will soon be three. Also, when we put a new album out, it is reasonable that the new songs will be mostly represented in the setlist. On the other hand, there are some pretty popular and concert-friendly songs from our second era like “Anubis”, “Pyramid God”, “Persepolis”, “Communion”, “The Vampire From Nazareth” which are a must for the setlist and if we played something else we would still get some complains.
Do you follow the greek metal scene? Are there any bands in particular that have piqued your interest?
There are lots of interesting bands like for example Dead Congregation, Hail Spirit Noir, W.E.B., Scar Of The Sun, Diviner, Katavasia.
How much do you think that the internet has changed how bands are promoting and spreading their music? Having lived through the era of tape trading, how different do you find the current situation in the music business?
Very different. For someone who wants to spread their music to a worldwide audience, things are infinitely easier. A positive fact is that listeners try to promote music that is interesting to them as well as any band news. The thing is that each day there is so much stuff going on with an emphasis on the more popular bands, that it’s easy for a less known band to go unnoticed and not have the attention they might deserve.
What is your opinion on crowdfunding? Talking for example about a concert with an orchestra, would it be something you could imagine doing, to cover the expenses and bring such an idea to fruition?
We haven’t gone through such an idea. For sure it’s an immediate way to find the necessary resources to materialize a financially demanding project, without any other parties involved.
What are the next steps for Septicflesh after releasing “Codex Omega”? Is there any chance we could see you on stage with the band soon?
There is an extensive tour in Latin America planned with Fleshgod Apocalypse for October-November. For now we don’t have any plans for Greece, but definitely we’ll do some live shows, and I will be present in some of the shows, as in the previous tour.