Constantine – Humility in the AftermathSunday, 30th June 2019
After the brigade of 80’s guitarists who elevated metal technique to insane levels of technicality and proficiency – names like Yngwie Malmsteen, Marty Friedman, Vinnie Moore, Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe, and Jason Becker among them – it seemed like for a few decades, instrumental albums didn’t gain the same level of appreciation and admiration. As of late though, there’s been a resurgent interest in that marketplace – Greek guitarist Constantine putting his own take on that with his first solo album Shredcore.
In his twenties Constantine gained the opportunity to record and tour with acts like Nightrage, Mystic Prophecy, and Primal Fear among others – now entering his thirties, he delivered his second solo album in Aftermath that differs from his debut as it’s mostly a vocal-driven affair. Reaching out to singers from Soilwork, Primal Fear, and Destruction, as well as ex-Firewind’s Apollo Papathanasio and Mutiny Within’s Chris Clancy, the record showcases a melodic metal platform with some heavier and alternative sides that reference his love for various styles and natural background he’s developed as a player. It’s not merely shred for shred’s sake – these are well-rounded songs with hooks and melody throughout.
Reaching out to Constantine on Skype, he was very thoughtful about his musical history, ideas on what he’s working on as a guitar player, the freedom he gave the singers when it comes to the work on Aftermath – as well as solid discussion on the Greek economic collapse that impacted his livelihood and what the future holds.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music growing up? And what caused you to pick up an instrument and then want to perform/write material to eventually gravitate towards the metal genre?
Constantine: The very first touch with music, was when I was about nine or ten years old. I was introduced by a good friend of mine at the time to Iron Maiden. I got this VHS tape of the last show with Bruce Dickinson, Raising Hell. I got introduced to metal music via Iron Maiden, it was so special to me. I saw this show 30-50 times, and then I got my first CD which was The Number of the Beast.
After that I was really into Iron Maiden, and wanting to be like Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, Janick Gers – they were the heroes of mine. At the age of eleven or twelve, I got my first electric guitar, and it was a very cheap one. It was a very simple model, and I had my first lessons at the music conservatory at the local music school. It was okay at first, what they teach you when they take you to the local music schools you have a classical guitar teacher. They do not reflect on your demands as you would want them to, I had to quit very fast, I stayed for one year there. I developed my musical instincts and push to the instrument by myself by listening to other bands like Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Megadeth – and trying to get familiar with the instrument by myself.
After that I got a teacher who was really good at teaching, and an expert in the rock and metal genres. After two or three years I started gravitating towards professionalism regarding both the performance and songwriting as well. At the age of nineteen I started playing with a band called Nightrage, and then that was when it all began regarding my musical career.
Dead Rhetoric: Aftermath is your latest solo album – and first since 2010’s Shredcore which was an all-instrumental affair. Outside of being a vocal-driven effort, where do you see the major differences in terms of the songwriting and recording this time?
Constantine: As you stated very correctly, it’s totally different because the first (solo album) was all instrumental, whereas Aftermath is an album that features all vocals and only one instrumental track. The songwriting approach was not so different from the Shredcore album – it’s mostly the same thing, I believe anyone that hears Aftermath can recognize my playing, those that are familiar with my playing. The only thing is I had to arrange the songs properly so there is consistency between them. I had the different arrangements for each track, because there was a different singer on each one, so that was the challenge about it. Consistency was achieved and it’s a great result.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you go about securing the various singers for this set of material? Did you write with specific singers in mind, as you definitely have a wide array of vocalists from Ralf of Primal Fear, Speed of Soilwork to ex-Firewind singer Apollo, Destruction’s Schmier and Chris Clancy on this record?
Constantine: Actually, no. The first thing I did was have the demos ready, and then visualize who would be the most proper singer to perform on each track. After deciding who is most suitable for each track, we either co-wrote the lyrics together or co-wrote the vocal lines. There was not a standard pattern regarding the songwriting process. For instance, on some tracks for the first time I wrote the lyrics, which I don’t usually do. And I wrote vocal lines for a few songs. It was a very fun process, it took some time to be completed. I would do this again, definitely.
Dead Rhetoric: What was the thought process behind the cover art – as I enjoy the abstract symbols and guitars along with the swirling colors to create something visually engaging?
Constantine: When I got in contact with my long-time partner regarding the artwork, Gustavo from Brazil, I told him that I needed something very elemental, something very symbolic. Something minimal, but very intense as well and very artistic at the same time. We got the concept about the libra sign, it’s the symbol of an Omega- the Libra sign is my Zodiac sign of course. We tried to depict on the cover, if you take a look at the left side on the cover, you can see that the left side is fluid and not so specific, but then the style and artwork becomes more symmetric and clearer. It matches the title Aftermath, it depicts something that’s like my progress as a musician. The left side depicts let’s say my past, which was not so sure or certain – you look at the right side, it’s more stable.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve worked over the years with artists like Nightrage, Mystic Prophecy, and on the live front with Primal Fear – what do you think you’ve learned coming up the ranks and performing / recording with these acts that you’ve been able to apply to your own outlook and vision as an artist?
Constantine: All these years of playing either as a permanent member of a band or as a session member in these bands that you refer to, cause an evolution in me as a person and cause me to be more mature, more flexible in different genres. Playing with all these bands helped me gain more musical knowledge, and musical training in general. After all these experiences and the knowledge that I gained through these eight years, all these influences are on today’s playing.
The bands that I played in are totally different from each other, and I incorporate all of these styles into my playing. When you listen to my music I think it has a little bit of everything that I have done so far- and that makes it really interesting I believe.
Dead Rhetoric: What matters the most to you when it comes to guitar playing – feel or technique? What areas do you feel like you are consistently learning or desiring to improve upon when it comes to the instrument?
Constantine: That’s a very good question. I try to focus nowadays more on feel. If you listen to the record, there are many times that I play the notes very melodic and not so technical. Normally I try to combine both to get the best out of both worlds. When I practice or I’m learning new stuff, I try to learn something so I can use it. I don’t just practice scales for two hours on arpeggios per day, that doesn’t evolve me as a musician. It’s great to do for twenty or thirty minutes to get your chops warmed up. I try to use my time effectively, and try to learn things that I can incorporate and use in my songs.
Dead Rhetoric: You are now in your early 30’s – has your outlook on the music business and how you position/ brand yourself changed since your 20’s?
Constantine: The only thing that has changed apart from the passion for the music which has never changed is the way I view things. When I was twenty years old, it was the only thing that I wanted to do and have it as a profession, and occupation. Now that’s definitely my hobby, I love to do this, there’s no one forcing me to do this and I don’t have to pay the bills with music. That’s a huge relief for me. Honestly I would do it professionally after so many years, but times have changed- especially with the economic crisis in my country, it’s very severe. The aftermath from the economic crisis hasn’t allowed us to do what we love and allow us to survive. Music now is not the main thing that I do, but it is definitely a part of myself that I never let go, and it’s still a passion of mine.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider your definition of success today?
Constantine: I would say success is doing what you love, doing your passion. Having a job that is not a pain for you, that you can do it in a painless way. Having a family is super important, good friends, and health of course. That’s what I consider success in life.
Dead Rhetoric: How is the economic situation in Greece currently – as we know that there was a collapse in the financial system over a decade ago, have things improved and stabilized and did this affect you in any way personally?
Constantine: I believe it has affected at least everyone that I know of, except the very rich people who have Swiss bank accounts or bank accounts in Germany and London for instance, Malta or Cyprus. Things seem to be stabilizing here in Greece, but this is not over yet. We have signed three official memorandums of understanding regarding austerity measures and refinancing the whole Greek economy. There is another memorandum that we signed last year which lasts for 99 years – so the crisis is not over yet. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but there will be more measures coming in the next one or two years, I believe there will be more of my fellow Greeks leaving the country for a better future.
Dead Rhetoric: Was this something that you expected growing up, or did it take place as a total shock and surprise?
Constantine: Nobody believed that this was going to happen, ever. Because we were used to living with comforts, loans from the EU all the time – and no one ever talked of a collapse. Four years before the crisis, we had the Olympic games and we were experiencing huge prosperity. No one was expecting this, when it hit in 2008. When everybody heard about what happened in the US, I believe everybody knew what was going to happen. Iceland came first, then we knew it would be us. We couldn’t think about how severe that economic collapse would be. And then there were so many mistakes made by from us and the EU stabilizing system. Everything was going to hell, unfortunately.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your favorite records personally that inspire you, and what have been some of your favorite concert memories of artists you’ve witnessed personally just from a fan perspective?
Constantine: Regarding the records, I would definitely say Iron Maiden- The Number of the Beast, Brave New World was a great record too. Metallica- Master of Puppets, even Re-Load, I love that album. Mostly the classics – Iced Earth inspired me as well in my early days. Something Wicked This Way Comes. Joe Satriani – Surfing with the Alien.
Regarding concert memories, the first Iron Maiden concert I attended was in 1999, October with the first reunion of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith. That was a night to remember. Also when I watched Iced Earth performing on the Horror Show tour, here in Athens. That was an amazing experience. There are so many memories- Steve Vai’s show here in 2005, I recall that was epic at least.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the Greek metal scene now, and do you believe a guitar player like Gus G elevated the hopes and beliefs for other metal musicians in your country to deliver on an international scale?
Constantine: We have a very great scene. I can name a few bands- Rotting Christ, Septic Flesh, Firewind as you mentioned with Gus G, 1000Mods, which is a more stoner rock band but we are all in the same family. Lucifer’s Child, Suicidal Angels, these are great bands. I agree with you regarding Gus G, he has paved the way for everybody. He is a role model to look up to, he was the first from Greece to have this amount of success, and it has inspired me personally. I’ve played in at least two of the bands that he has also played in, one can figure out that he was an influence.
In general I believe we have many talented musicians – not just guitar players. Unfortunately, we are a little bit dislocated as we are not in the center as a country for Europe. If we were closer to Germany things would be different. Also regarding the culture – I believe that there are some things that keep us behind regarding professionalism at some levels. And I don’t mean the playing – the level of playing is astonishing regarding the Greek musicians, it’s a thing regarding manners and attitude, that keeps us behind.
Dead Rhetoric: Do people seek you out for specific advice relating to guitar playing or the music business in general – and if so, what sorts of topics come up and words of wisdom that you speak to people about?
Constantine: Yes, sometimes I’ve been asked advice regarding how it is playing abroad – playing with foreign bands, is it worth it. How can I achieve what you have achieved? Other questions, technique, theory, songwriting approach. Not just the Greek people, other foreigners ask me these questions too. I feel very humbled that I’ve been asked these questions because I understand that people look up to me in a way. I’m really happy to give them a piece of my mind.
When somebody asks me from Greece if they want to go to England or Germany to have a career in the metal scene like I have, how can they do this? I don’t want to let anybody down, I’m just being brutally honest. There are many difficulties that come up, when a kid is twenty years old if he can go to Germany to play as a session member in a big band, or try to find other bands to play there – he has to go there and he’s going to have higher costs of living, housing, means of transportation – you need at least a car to go in and out of the rehearsal rooms, and going to play the clubs for the band’s shows. When you do this, you have to have a job simultaneously. If it’s not music, it must be something else. I’ve never done this before because I was a session member traveling all the time- my base was Athens, Greece. When it comes to moving to a foreign country, there are many things you have to keep in mind before you do that.
When it comes to guitar playing, regarding techniques or songwriting. The answer I give is I suggest that one has to keep the main focus on what’s important and not lose time by playing the same stuff over and over again when you have areas you have to improve. If somebody lacks in legato or sweep picking, he should not focus on alternate picking as he has the other two aspects of playing that he lacks some skills. I have been a guitar teacher for many years, and that’s the advice I would give.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Constantine over the next year? Will you be playing out to support this release, and what other projects, bands, recordings can we look for on the horizon?
Constantine: I’m thinking about doing some shows in Greece after the summer. That would be around October or November, all the big cities. And some shows in the country. Regarding new releases, I have already new material ready that I would like to release, not as a full album but as an EP, a five-song EP before the Easter of 2020. I would like to follow-up this release with a new one as soon as possible. It’s a little bit different, I’m trying to work as soon as possible on this one.