Septicflesh – March to PrimitiveTuesday, 31st May 2022
Continually challenging themselves and their listeners in a cinematic approach to symphonic death metal, Septicflesh aligns with Nuclear Blast in a new record deal for their eleventh studio album Modern Primitive. The layers of natural instrumentation, orchestration, plus choirs and ethnic elements create this sonic swirl that captivates – the contrasts jarring and surprising, transporting people to a time and place they’ve never experienced. We reached out to guitarist vocalist Sotiris Vayenas to bring us up to speed on the all-encompassing contributions to the band’s sound, the decisions made when to include orchestration and when to strip things down, favorite records as well as an underrated one in the Septicflesh catalog, plus thoughts on their rich Greek history/culture and future touring/festival plans.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest studio album for Septicflesh is Modern Primitive. How do you see this record in terms of the evolution of the band’s style, sound, and songwriting – and how it compares to Codex Omega, your last studio release from 2017?
Sotiris Vayenas: It’s the next step after Codex Omega, there are some elements of that. But this album has a character of its own, especially as it was created over a long bit of time. This album is the longest that it has ever taken for us to create, to materialize. When we started the recordings, we knew in our minds that we had to beat Codex Omega, because we felt this was the best thing we have done until then. We started the process, trying to bring new ideas on the table, to continue from the loose ends that we had no chance to explore with Codex Omega. In this band all the members contribute to the music. It’s not dictated by one person; this gives us a lot to be able to find something new.
Then it’s about making things work out, as we have both the metal element and the symphonic element. And those two elements are co-fighters and not opponents. The last album has a lot of ethnic elements, more than our past albums. There are some Greek and Mediterranean moods in some parts, it was not so in front in the past. Also, the songs are more ritualistic you could say. Although they have really complex orchestrations, it’s not overpowering the songs. It’s like a mystical layer, and this creates an atmosphere to the album from the first second until the conclusion of the album, the audience will experience a specific mood.
Dead Rhetoric: Given the additional layers of the Filmharmonic Orchestra of Prague, adult and children’s choirs, plus ethnic instruments – how do you maintain a balance between the normal instrumentation and sound plus these outside nuances without losing the scope and intent song to song? Do you take things on a case-by-case basis when to go more atmospheric or bombastic and when to dial things back and let sections breathe?
Vayenas: Yes, it’s a case-by-case situation. It’s not only one type of song for Septicflesh. We are always in favor of a balance. We leave behind personal elements, because the band is not just the personality of one person, it’s the sum of all the elements. We look at the best result, emotionally speaking, because music is about creating strong emotions first, and then I think all else comes about. We like to create extreme music, it gives us a rush – and it’s a tricky situation because when you have a lot of distortion and elements that are more natural, you have to be smart to make some good contrasts. Make decisions that will benefit both styles. For this case, the most important choices are always the choices that we will make all together. First, we record everything that we have in our minds, and then when we have everything put on the table, we see where there are some problems, because there are always some problems.
We have a very genius producer, and we have a lot of experience from our previous albums. When we find the problems, problems with the frequencies, problems with the balance of the songs, then we don’t stop until we fix the problems. And the solution most of the time is to pull out elements, because we cannot hear everything playing at once. We record, and then we push the delete button for the options.
Dead Rhetoric: Was there a song or two that was more challenging for this new record than others?
Vayenas: Strangely one of the most difficult songs was “Hierophant”. At first, myself I wasn’t expecting this song to be so hard. It has a strong ritualistic element, and it was hard to find the correct balance with the orchestra. The orchestra plays in lower registers, and it’s really huge. Sometimes it was overpowering. Also, we decided to do some parts where we left out the orchestra. On the first version, the orchestra was playing nonstop until the end. We decided for some parts to leave out the orchestra to give a pass from one point to the other. Then there was a matter of the clean vocals. It was difficult to find the most appropriate way of singing, that are normal singing parts. There is a theatrical element, I had to make things a little more emotional with my voice and try until I found something that all of us were happy with. Although the song sounds simple now that you listen to it, it was not simple at all.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the video shoots for “Hierophant” and “Neuromancer”, both directed by Jim Simvonis? And do you believe for a band like Septicflesh, the visual medium is an important promotional tool to get across the imagery, the sound, and the lyrical content coming to life so to speak for your listeners?
Vayenas: Yes, you said it right. The visual elements are important for us. We always try to make videos that have something to say. We have worked with Jim in the past on certain video clips, for “Portrait of a Headless Man” and “Martyr”, so he was really close to the band. He loves heavy metal and has a really good connection to this style. We had a long talk before even trying to shoot the videos, we always do that. We arranged a meeting, we provided him with the lyrics for the entire album, he has some questions, and we provide ideas. We leave him to do whatever he thinks is the most appropriate. We don’t know the direction that it’s going to take. Then it’s the time of the shooting when we find out the elements, we saw the construction of the village and the props, we had a strong indication of what was going on. We also had our own shooting without the actors, and also we were a bit unlucky. Just when we started the shootings, there were some big fires in Greece, everything really happened at a very fast pace. With a lot of communication, we could not light as many fires as the whole clip was supposed to have a lot of fire. We also used a lot of special effects; we depended a lot on them. We have a long-time friend that works for movies, and he’s created things on series for Netflix, (he’s) very experienced. We knew that the result would be professional.
The second video clip for “Neuromancer” was more of the band, but he had the sources to do two video clips. We took on more of a dramatic role as things were dependent more on our performances. We decided to experiment with makeup, we wanted more of a theatrical element. We used a professional makeup artist; we wanted some primitive indications to look like animals and somewhat like robots – to give this dual perspective on the makeup. The location was also amazing, a huge background with the building, industrial atmosphere.
Dead Rhetoric: What is it like having a musician with an advanced degree in composition and orchestration as Christos? Do you believe this helps you achieve more of what you want record to record with Septicflesh due to his skillset and knowledge?
Vayenas: Yes. And as a matter of fact, we would never attempt to create symphonic music without having someone like Christos in the band to help us do so. We are not the kind of band that gives our music to others to do the job. There is no point in doing so. We have this direction because we have Christos in the band. In the past, we also had many layers to the sound. We didn’t have the experience or ability to record these parts with the actual instruments – so we had to play four guitars with leads and the sound was like that. With Christos, he is a master in symphonic music, he has worked with musicians for a long time with his own projects, making soundtracks for video games. It was a really easy decision for us to utilize his skills. We are open-minded, first we look at the music, something that is extreme. We are always an extreme band, because we like it. We also like the bombastic type of drums. Those two different worlds combine, and that’s how we do things.
Dead Rhetoric: After finishing your latest record contract with Season of Mist, you are now a part of the Nuclear Blast roster. Where do you sense the major differences in terms of promotion and support so far, and do you believe you are at an advantage as a band with a long history to handle these changes better than most artists?
Vayenas: Yes, of course. We don’t start from point zero, we have created a foundation and the fanbase is waiting for the new album. When we released the first single there was a huge leap on all the social platforms. It’s a big change for us to be on a giant label as Nuclear Blast, for the extreme music they are one of the leaders. They have a different kind of power; it allows us to be presented to a lot of people that were not aware of us also. That doesn’t mean our previous label was not good, we felt at some point we reached the limitations of what they could do for the band. Then came Nuclear Blast, we felt it would be for the benefit of the band to change. We found out when we started with them, they are really open-minded and friendly people. There were no problems at all, everything flowed and (there is) a really good communication and understanding between us. They gave us 100% support from day one. We are really happy from our cooperation. Already, from the singles we see the band has gained (support).
Dead Rhetoric: When looking at the vast discography for Septicflesh, what do you consider the one or two essential releases where you felt very confident and established yourselves as a premiere act in your style? And if there is a record that maybe is underrated that you think your listeners need to reintroduce themselves to, which record would that be and why?
Vayenas: Well, the most underrated record is Revolution DNA, I think. It was an experiment in a different direction, with less symphonic elements. More direct and heavy of an album. Essentially, it’s one of the albums I still love, maybe it was a bit ahead of its time when it came out. If this album was released later, it would be more in the spotlight. Other albums that define our sound and also brought a lot of fans to the band, were Esoptron from the early days. It was a very cult release; I meet with people that tell me it’s one of the most important albums for them. It’s also a one-of-a-kind album because it had a very specific mood, more doomy, more ancient. From the second period Communion was really important for us because it was the rebirth of the band. It was the reintroduction for Septicflesh to be 100% a symphonic death metal band, with the symphonic elements displayed with a full orchestra. The last album we did with Season of Mist Codex Omega, was an album that really elevated the band. Of course, it brought us the deal with Nuclear Blast.
Dead Rhetoric: Your Greek heritage and rich culture with the arts, mythology, philosophy, and history factor into Septicflesh’s musical output. What would surprise people to learn about your country and the importance of the arts that shaped you as a person from childhood to today?
Vayenas: Yes, we are born in this country that is rich with history, philosophy, a lot of ideas that became the standard and evolved in Greece. We have this privilege; we have this strong connection. We also have this privilege when we walk around our cities to see these ancient monuments, the direct link to the past. It’s different to read a book and then walk and see the buildings to imagine how things were. We have so many different locations of interest, and also as Greece was a country with a strong commerce from the ancient times, a lot of other civilizations left something. For instance, we are really close with the Egyptians, the two civilizations had a long-term relationship, and exchange of ideas. Also, when the Roman Empire became the biggest force, there was a connection between Greece and the Roman Empire. Greece is a country that although very small, has a lot of elements of importance, that even in our current days people can find really useful to explore.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the last North American tour go for Septicflesh with Ensiferum during 2018-19? And are there specific countries/territories that you have found that gravitate towards the band better than others over the years?
Vayenas: It seems that Septicflesh when we make a trip to North America and South America, the fans, there is a good connection with the American crowd. The other bands we have played with, they bring their audience, and we bring our audience, both bands gain in many locations. We have a lot of Septicflesh fans, the symphonic show in Mexico City, Mexico – that was another great show. Other cities and states in America, what can I say- Florida is always a powerful fortress for death metal, with a long tradition. Our number one fans are in America right now, and then in Europe.
Dead Rhetoric: Working in this band with a set of brothers like Spiros and Christos from the start, what has your relationship been like trying to balance out the musical activities and duties while watching their family bond? Have you always maintained the same vision and outlook for Septicflesh?
Vayenas: Yes, this element of brotherhood is something that defines the band. The brothers started the band together, bringing a specific element to the band. They have a unique character, that is something all brothers have. At the end of the day, we manage to make everything work, that is why we are a veteran band with such a long history. It’s a part of our identity. I may not be a brother by blood, but this has been a part of my life for a long time. We have created a legacy that we will leave behind us.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you like to see Septicflesh accomplish over the next few years? Are there specific goals or bucket list items that you would like to achieve, breaking new ground in certain areas?
Vayenas: Yes, of course. We always have something to advance. If we felt we had nothing left to say, we will stop. We always feel like when we finish a new album, we always have some loose ends to explore further. This is something really good, it means that we have a future. The future is the most important thing, an artist vision. You are an artist first. We want to make the music of Septicflesh more well known. There are many people just now that are learning about Septicflesh and find out what we have done in the past.
Our plan is to keep on creating music. Also, to reach as far as we can to more people, more countries, more places. Music is about sharing. We want to share our creations, and it’s a really good feeling to see we have created a metal family you could say of people that have a strong connection with us. It’s something really great for us, we dedicate more time to the metal family around the world. We have created this new album, and the situation with the (pandemic) seems to become more stable.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the calendar for Septicflesh over the next year to support this release?
Vayenas: Already we have closed the specific dates with Hypocrisy in the autumn around Europe. And we have a lot of dates later, one or two tours in America. There are so many places that we have to go to, people are waiting for us. This summer we have some important festivals locked in – for example the Hellfest festival, a really big festival with huge names. It’s time for us to return on the road.