The Extreme Metal institution known as Rotting Christ needs very little introduction. Coming out of Greece in 1987, the life’s work of one Sakis Tolis has remained a constant and driving force in the world scene, not only giving life to the Hellenic Black Metal style of music, but has gone on to influence a host of artists and bands. With a discography that has morphed to encompass a host of different sounds, it is no surprise that Sakis Tolis has incorporated a deep and cinematic element to their 13th studio album, The Heretics. Recently, the hard-working veteran musician sat down to discuss new music and old influences.
Cryptic Rock – The Heretics marks your 13th studio album since forming back in 1987. You have steered Rotting Christ through every era of Heavy Metal, from every wave of Black Metal past grunge, the thrash revival, all of it, all while steadily gaining popularity. What is it about Rotting Christ and your creative energy that keeps this happening, no matter what trend is popular at the moment?
Sakis Tolis – There is one word that can give you an answer to your questions. This word is passion. I love my precious scene and I have dedicated my life there, so I always give all my best any period of time and I am glad that the band and the idea is still alive for more than 30 years… Non Serviam till the end…
Cryptic Rock – That is certainly the type of dedication that has endeared you to your fans. The Heretics explores themes of enlightenment in the face of dogma and religious authority. How important is the ideological war for reason and understanding vs. ignorance and persecution; is it just as important now as it was when people were being burned alive for heresy?
Sakis Tolis – Mind control that is also represented from any kind of organised religion or dogma is an evergreen issue that finds us since our birth, and also influences me as the only composer of the band. We gave an artistic point of view on what we call Heresy as I personally believe that our chosen path is Heretic.
Cryptic Rock – Doubtless, this is a path that will provide you endless inspiration, especially in a world like ours. You have morphed the music of Rotting Christ through a multitude of eras, from the Greek Black Metal sound you created, to Dark Metal, to more gothic flavorings, and back again to blackened heavy extremity. Yet as the band has evolved, the sound has taken on a very cinematic, theatrical feel. This is again very prevalent on The Heretics. Is this something you add consciously? The choruses and spoken word parts, the chanting; do these ideas come first in the songs, or do they appear after you have made the basic riffs?
Sakis Tolis – Yes I am a quite conscious person and as it happens, being the only composer of the band, this reflects on the music of the band.
The last years I have composed differently than the previous eras. First, I read then search, and I think a lot and then I write something. This made the Rotting Christ sound a bit different nowadays, but it’s still, in my opinion, dark atmospheric.
Cryptic Rock – It is this type of willingness toward honesty and devotion to the craft that has ensured Rotting Christ never stagnates. Who were the main artists and bands that made you fall in love with Heavy Metal? Did growing up in Greece make it more difficult to obtain records when you were a boy?
Sakis Tolis – Yes it was too hard in Greece back in the day, but if you have will and vision you can achieve and change things. Definitely Bathory, Celtic Frost, and Venom drove me to the dark path.
Cryptic Rock – Most certainly the foundation bands of black metal right there. As the music of Rotting Christ becomes more expansive, more soundtrack-like, has it begun to cross your mind to do a live show with a full orchestra, choir, etc.? If so, where do you think the ultimate setting would be? (for example, Devin Townsend did Ocean Machine in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in an ancient ruin)
Sakis Tolis – This is a question I cannot give an answer at the moment as I am currently working on new ideas. I do not know how the new Rotting Christ will sound, but I know Rotting Christ will sound dark and atmospheric like always.
Cryptic Rock – Fans will be excited to know that you are already working on new material. The music and lyrics in The Heretics revolve around a lot of literature and great thinkers throughout history. Is history something you love? If so, what is your favorite era and setting of history?
Sakis Tolis – Yes, of course. History is a living life lesson that some unfortunately do not learn and we repeat the same mistakes… I am impressed more by ancient civilizations…
Cryptic Rock – Living in Greece, it has to be particularly rewarding to live in such proximity to the ancient seat of western civilization. Last question. Beyond music, Cryptic Rock covers movies, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. If you are a fan of these genres, do you have any favorites, and why?
Sakis Tolis – I am a quite old school guy concerning Horror movies and I am sucked in by the old ones that scared me when I was a child… The Exorcist (1973), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), etc. Concerning Sci Fi movies, I love Interstellar (2014), Alien (1979), The Matrix (1999), Star Wars (1977).