Interview by Ann Marigo
When we hear about worship of the Old Gods in black metal, often what comes to mind is Odin or Thor taking revenge on the Christian Yahweh. But what about outside of Scandinavia, where the likes of Dimmu Borgir and Immortal have considerable commercial success and popularity?
My mind at this point turns towards the hellfire of the Greek scene, better known for Rotting Christ and the death metal-based Septicflesh, but mostly it’s their peers who come to mind – Varathron, Slaughter Priest… and Kawir, who openly subscribe to Hellenic neo-paganism (or polytheism, as bassist and co-founder Therthonax insists below).
Having released new album ‘Father Sun Mother Moon’ earlier this year, now seemed as good a time as any to learn more about what makes them tick both lyrically and musically, as well as find out a bit more on the Greek scene. But not until they came home from tour…
So how was Canada?
Very good, but the flight was exhausting! Thirty hours return journey because of an eight hour delay in Istanbul!
We have to sleep for two days to be normal again! Though I didn’t expect the Canadian crowds to be so warm – it felt like we were playing in Greece!
Canada does have a sizeable Greek population…
Yes, but there were only three of them! The rest were from everywhere else in the world. Everyone were amazing!
For you, what would an ideal Kawir show look like (if neither expenses nor travel were an issue)?
Oof – if a good organiser can make a pagan metal festival at Mount Olympus and bring three or four bands from all over Europe, like Skyforger, Kampfar, Negura Bunget or Primordial to play with us, that would be a dream!
How often does Kawir actually tour, though?
Well, we have problems getting time off from work so it’s hard to do.
Makes sense, since Sotiris (Septicflesh) has also said that he’s unable to do the same when it comes to travelling with the band.
They don’t have normal jobs, anyway – with their studios and artwork being made by (frontman) Spiros. They can do whatever they want!
Sotiris, he only plays live in Athens. It’s not so easy when you’re working in Greece, unlike every other European country – and now with the economic crisis it’s even worse!
I remember thinking “why doesn’t Kawir come to the UK”, until recently when I heard that there were also economic problems over here. A UK festival in October recently suffered because of the current exchange rate.
You know, we have played the new album in North America but not yet in Europe! We have played even in Chile and Brazil as well as Canada.
Really? How were Brazil and Chile?
I can tell you that Chile had by far the most extreme audience – the best crowd we’ve ever played! Brazil was also very successful, but the people who came were older, so there wasn’t as much energy though they enjoyed the show.
I have to say it’s amazing even though Kawir is a more underground name than either Rotting Christ or Septicflesh, there is still an outreach towards South America. Especially when your lyrics are all in Greek!
Actually, 90 per cent of the lyrics are in Ancient Greek, with 10 per cent in modern Greek. But our second album ‘…’ was all in English!
However, the South American audiences still impressed us because they knew the lyrics in Greek! I didn’t think that this was possible. Even in Greece they don’t know Ancient Greek; this is used mainly by the academics.
Does the neo-pagan movement also uses it?
Not really. For instance, one of my books has a translation in modern Greek for anything in the ancient language. Some words are the same, but the grammar is different. Some letters and so on don’t even exist anymore!
How did this impact writing for the new album, ‘Father Sun Mother Moon’?
It was hard, but it was doable to translate some of the words. From ’93 onwards we have been playing mostly hymns to our gods… they are Orphic and Homeric hymns as well as works from unknown writers. This is what forms our lyrics, which we then adjust to fit on the track.
I notice that there’s also a song on the new record for the hero Herakles (Hercules), as well as another for Dionysus.
Yes, I’ll explain: Herakles had a solar cult because he had several followers back in ancient times. It was very common to dedicate a temple to him.
Really? Outside of Greece we just see him as a mythological superhero! There’s even a Disney movie loosely based on him!
He’s mostly known for the myths, but back then he was a part of the ancient religion. As I said, this was part of the solar side to religion as there were two parts – solar (male) and lunar (female). Sensitive stuff for the women, and heroic stuff for the men!
So even Dionysus has a connection to the Sun?
Of course! He wasn’t just the Wine God either, he was also the Warrior.
Kawir has another song dedicated to Dionysus with ‘Hail Bacchae’…
Yes, that’s his Roman name, while ‘Dionysus’ is the exact Greek name. By the way, it literally means ‘mind of Zeus’.
Just how well are Greek myths taught at school in your country?
They present them like we’re another country; the history books are being re-written by the Orthodox Church who don’t want the kids to know about their heritage. You have to find all this out when you go to university!
Obviously there are some books on mythology out there for children, but if you are curious and want to go further, you won’t get the flame to discover more from school!
Knowing that Kawir subscribes to Hellenic neo-paganism, I understand that this is a heavily discriminated religious group in a country which is 90 per cent Orthodox Christian.
Let’s say ‘Hellenic polytheism’.
One thousand years now, we are the real enemy! The Orthodox Church is the mafia, and has always been destroying ancient temples even ’til today for their own places of worship.
One would assume that the ancient temples would actually be protected?
Okay, not the well-known ones like the Parthenon, but there are many others all over Greece. Most people aren’t aware about them, so if the Church wants to claim the site for themselves, they can go ahead. No one’s calling the archaeologists, so the Church can buy one field, excavate it and then destroy whatever temples they may find.
They don’t want to have a connection with the ancient times, which is why polytheism (rather than say, Islam) is seen as the real enemy.
I remember from the early 90’s when we tried to become an official religion, we had to get approval from the Orthodox Church – which was impossible!
In Iceland or Latvia, maybe they can do it but not here. I think that the pagan temple (in Iceland) though is a good start.
I imagine that the Orthodox Church wasn’t too happy when they heard about it.
Well, not just in Greece but all of the Balkans – Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia. We can talk hours about this, but not now! Haha!
Going back to Kawir, one thing I’ve often found unique about your music is that while you use black metal as the framework, what comes out is more celebratory. The genre is traditionally nihilist in outlook.
It’s the celebration which brings this frenzy and mania (that you can find in the second wave black metal sound)… like with the Dionysean cult, where if you’re drinking you become more furious.
Don’t forget that we were part of the first wave of black metal! Before Kawir, I was in Zemial in 1992 so I’ve lived through the beginning of the scene. The enemy was of course always the Church, so we were anti-Christian. This is also why we remain black metal, as the enemy still exists!
How old were you when you chose to go towards polytheism?
I was about 15 years old… now I am 43! Haha!
I come from the island of Lemnos and had always been fascinated by the Temple of Kawiros, which was set up by the cult of Hephaestus, who was thrown there by his mother Hera, and where he later made his workshop.
One day I wanted to learn about the temple, so I started to read about it and began to take more interest into it.
I was almost the same age when I also discovered black metal – Bathory, Celtic Frost and the first Dissection albums. Even Black Sabbath! That was the beginning of the music for me anyway!
And you know what came after that: Rotting Christ, Varathron, Necromantia…
I understand that there was also Astarte, founded by Maria “Tristessa”…
Yeah, they came a bit later though. They were the first female black metal band; I was friends with Maria, who used to come to my place for rehearsals back in 1996-1997.
Everyone involved in the Greek scene were all friends and had the same members! The vocals on the Kawir track for our split with (Japanese band) Sigh for instance were done by Stefan from Varathron, with guitars by Chris (Eskarth) from Agatus.
We were all a company of friends and we still remain so today! (For instance when) Maria had leukemia, many of us had gathered together to raise money for her operations. When she passed away, we were shocked; she was only 36 years old and had behind a son with her husband Nikos.
Though there’s a big difference between us and for example, Norway – music wasn’t our number one priority, as we have to work to survive. It was what we did when we had time. Only Rotting Christ and Septicflesh chose to make it their profession rather than take on a day job, but the rest of us had our own problems which led to many bands splitting up over the years.
We have a lot of good bands in Greece, and I hope that this will continue! Maybe the financial crash will help us become more serious – we will see! Hahaha!
You mentioned being fuelled by anger at the Church earlier…
Yes, we still have this rage since the last thirty years if you understand what I mean. For example, Norway during the 90’s used to have the anger but not anymore. We still have it over here!
Norway actually has a commercial acceptance of black metal into mainstream society – like when Satyricon played a fashion show a few years ago! Though it seems the public are more into the media sensationalism of the church burnings and the murders rather than the music itself.
That’s impossible over here!
That’s also different from over here in Greece, as we’ve never had any murders or church burnings – they’re made out of concrete anyway! You’ll need a lot of TNT to do any damage!
For us (the popularity of black metal in the mainstream) looks like something out of science fiction! If you come over here, behind all the amazing food and sun, you’ll find that nothing’s really changed in our society. The Church keeps us all in hypnosis, but in a way this is good because it keeps the fuel behind our defiance in place. More great bands will come from Greece over the years, which will only make us stronger.
We can’t understand things like Satyricon releasing a wine label or plans to put Euronymous on the tail end of a Norwegian airline!
So if you were to walk around with the “typical” heavy metal look, you’d get disdainful stares?
Not in Athens, where there are millions of people, but in the villages yes.
There’s also the largest record shop in Europe in Athens, Bowel of Noise.
But if you are a band from the Greek countryside, you’ll have more problems with your appearance as well as your music. Religion is much stronger over there, especially as everyone attends church every Sunday. If you don’t go, they’ll ask why!
It’s good to have more places getting involved other than Athens though. Case in point, Black Trinity who are from Thessaloniki.
How easy is it to find more musicians in the Greek scene, of late?
Now? It’s become easier in the last three or four years to find a drummer or vocalist, which used to keep us back. Even playing live, I had to reject a number of shows because we lacked the line-up for them. Now that the scene is growing, there are more good musicians joining in.
Of course they’re younger – around 30 – but at least they’re not 18 years old. They have their own lives and are able to travel along on tour.
The scene needs new blood!
I imagine the younger generation may have more access to more commercial names though?
Well, the positive is that kids are listening to everything: Iron Maiden, Rotting Christ, Septicflesh and also Candlemass.
I feel optimistic about this, as it could be much, much worse! Many kids are listening to new Rotting Christ, so maybe soon they will also find Varathron and others.
For most of these kids, it’s not secret that they’re the MP3 generation. If they come to shows, at least they will buy one t-shirt or such if they want to support the bands. I saw this at one of Rotting Christ’s recent shows in Greece, where even though they didn’t know the first album, they were still excited for the last two albums and bought merchandise afterwards.
At this point, I’m going to have to close the interview. However, what words do you have for the people reading this at home?
Yes; I hope that soon we can arrange something in the UK and come meet you. Expect a new album too – it will be one of the most extreme records we’ve ever made!
Kawir is also playing at Ragnard Rock Fest in France next year along with Melechesh – come see us!
For a bit more on Hellenic polytheism, check out this short piece from VICE: