Macabre Omen – Interview with The One
Questions: Ann Sulaiman
Despite its significant downs, 2015 was also a year with a few ups – one of them being the release of the much lauded Greek black metal album ’Gods of War – At War’ by one-man outfit Macabre Omen. Ten years in the making since their last record ‘The Ancient Returns’, the album sees a grand marriage of pre-Christian Greece with epic metal notes without the pompous fare of others that try to do the same for the “Viking” sphere.
As intimate as it is majestically aggressive, ‘Gods of War – At War’ had received immense praise and acclaim especially in the London metal scene, where mastermind “The One” currently resides. So for this exclusive interview, I managed to track him down for a chat one fine afternoon.
Your recent album, ‘Gods of War – At War’ came out (earlier this year), and it took a decade tin the making! Why is this?
The band came out in 1994, and our first album was released in 2005, called ‘The Ancient Returns’ which also took almost ten years to be released. I take my time to release something, as I just want to perfect it. After the first record, I didn’t do anything as I was just working on new material.
To be honest, the current album was ready around 2009 or 2010, but by that time an event occurred in my family; my father had passed away. I had to put everything on hold and re-assess what I was doing, just to become strong again and be ready to prepare something great. This album wouldn’t even be the same without that loss, since there is a track there called ‘From Son To Father’ which is dedicated to him.
In a way, it connects with Bathory’s ‘From Father To Son’!
Bathory was a huge inspiration for me; Quorthon covered black metal, thrash, everything – these kind of musicians don’t come out everyday!
I did grow up with his music, but that doesn’t make my own art a “Bathory rip off”. I never tried to imitate it, but what I have tried to do (with my music) is create an atmosphere based on the major albums which had affected my life, then expand this into the Macabre Omen sound.
Regarding ‘From Son To Father’, musically it’s a tribute to Bathory, but lyrically it’s to my father.
Keeping in mind Macabre Omen’s focus on Greek history and mythos, in a way what Bathory did for the Norse gods, your project does for the Hellenic equivalent.
I was never into any religion or ideology like that, but what I represent is myself. What I do believe is very personal, and I don’t need to follow any religion or politics.
In relation to the music though, it’s more a combination of my heritage (where I grew up) – myths, history and philosophy combined with a metaphorical state of mind to create something very intimate for myself. So to answer your question, I don’t worship any gods, and I don’t think Quorthon did either. It was more of an atmosphere for him!
(The band) Kawir already seem to fill in the “worship old gods” department… though it’s been said that Greek mythology has always been heroic, unlike Nordic myths which are more cold and destructive due to Ragnarok and the concept of Hel [the freezing underworld]…
First of all, Kawir are very good friends of mine! They started back in the early ’90’s and are still going strong with what they do and believe in. That’s Kawir for you!
As for myself, my approach is a bit different because heroism (from the myths) is a big element of the music. I myself come from an island in Greece, in Hellas, and the melodies you hear are rooted from these islands. There’s already a very Mediterranean atmosphere, which is very heroic in itself.
I didn’t do it on purpose, as it came naturally to it. It’s what I feel every day; each day is a battle as we live in a very strange world where you need to be strong and powerful, which reminds me of myself and what I need to go through. This is in turn portrayed through the music.
With regards to the Northern mythology… I think that Hellenic mythology has a more personal touch, as it’s very rich. If you read the stories from even Homer to the epic battles, I doubt that there’s anything similar with Odin or Thor.
There’s nothing in Odinism that’s even remotely close to what Greek stories have to offer! Ours is much richer in scope, and I think that what happened (in Northern Europe) is really an extension of what happened down (in Southern Europe) almost 3,000 years ago.
Basically, everything derives from Greece in a way! The Assyrian Empire, Babylonian mythology, Egypt and Northern Europe. You can compare Odin with Zeus, because again Ancient Greece is about 3,000 years old. The Vikings and all that are a bit more recent!
There’s definitely something unique about the Hellenic spin on black metal, too… where the (mostly) Norwegian strain is cold, the Greek equivalent is very warm. Even hellfire like!
I completely agree with this! Black metal started off with Bathory, Celtic Frost and Hellhammer before reaching Norway, so yes there was a big explosion in these countries [that are the most associated with it]. Yet at the same time, countries like Greece and Italy had bands from 1988 to 1989 – BEFORE Burzum, and before Darkthrone et al.
Sure, the Norwegian sound is cold and it did explode there, but only because of the events which took place there. And rightly so! How can you ignore something like Burzum versus Euronymous or the church burnings? It happened, and so people went and dug that out more.
With regards to Greece however, there was an extreme music scene from from the late 1980’s onwards at least, and the sound was always warm. It’s warmer than the North!
For me, this is because of the temperature and the climate! The Mediterranean climate will inspire you indirectly to make a warmer sound! The way you play will result in a slower and more personal sound with more warmth. As for the Scandinavians, as it’s very cold, you’ll get your inspirations from the woods and the nature. A warm sound with this kind of imagery just wouldn’t work!
In my opinion, that’s the kind of difference you get between South and North. There’s even a song which I’ve written on the first Macabre Omen album, entitled ‘The Perfect Sounds of North versus South’.
For me, it represents a middle path between the best of these two scenes. A bit of a warm, old heavy metal sound, combined with a very cold, desolate Scandinavian feeling.
Now I’m curious… you’ve been living in the UK for a while now. How would you personally compare your experiences of the English metal scene to the Hellenic scene?
I’ve been in London for almost 20 years now, since I’ve left Hellas (Greece). When I first came here, the scene was just the remnants of the late 90’s, so you had your Cradle of Filth and so on. There wasn’t much for quite a long time, but there has been a big explosion of bands in England during the last three or four years. You’ve now got Grave Miasma, you’ve got Cruciamentum, Lucifyre, (one band where I used to play in was) Razor of Occam, Leechgate, Winterfylleth who are dear friends of mine – a big variety of bands that have their own way of expressing black or death metal. That’s the beauty of the scene here – everybody is isolated and does their own thing, so the sound is slightly different from band to band.
But I think if you look into the bands which I’ve just mentioned, you’ll find a very strong album in their career within the last few years.
The Greek scene meanwhile is massive, with a lot of bands from the late 80’s up to now, and many of them are still going strong with new albums coming out. There’s the new Nocternity album for one, which also took ten years to release. And obviously Rotting Christ and Thou Art Lord! Though there are other great bands like Thy Darkened Shade, Ravencult, and so on.
At the same time, I think that the main problem in Greece is that it’s very hard to approach a market, due to there being a greater physical distance between everyone. There’s also the issue of being drafted for the military, as when you’re ready to do an album or go on tour by the age of 22, you have to go work with the army! Sometimes this can be for two years, which means that a lot of bands won’t be able to reach their peak unlike over here in England.
This was also why Septicflesh had to take a break! Though it does bring into question how Greek metalheads feel about being in the military.
I can’t answer that as I personally don’t have any opinions about that; I’m not really a political minded guy, since I only care about myself!
Getting back to the release of ‘Gods of War – At War’… since its release (in Spring 2015), what else do you hope to achieve in future?
The main thing I wanted to achieve was to release this album, and to put out something which isn’t going to be a good record for today, but for a long time to come. That’s why I take ten years to release something – when you put this music on your stereo and listen to it, not only will it sound good, it won’t sound like it comes from any particular era. That’s the way I work, as I’m not an individual who’s interested in having this project as simply a band, as it’s more of a tool to express myself and how I feel about the world.
There won’t be a new album in the near future, but only when the time is right. This isn’t a job, this is art! The reviews have been very strong and positive so far, and I think that it’s worth saying that I would like it to be exposed a bit further beyond those whom it’s already reached.