(NCS contributor KevinP somehow convinced Theoharis (above, middle), the guitarist and vocalist of one of my favorite bands, Hail Spirit Noir, to talk to him. Maybe all he had to do was ask? Having read the interview, I’d like to request a round of applause for both of them.)
K: You, Dim, and Haris are all in Transcending Bizarre?, whose last album was in 2010. You formed Hail Spirit Noir in 2010 as well. Is the timing of this a coincidence?
T: Haris actually had the idea for some time before 2010. What happened was that one of TB?’s members and a really good friend of ours, S.A Akis, died right in the middle of the recordings of the third record. We completed the record but the whole thing just took a lot out of us. Once we were done with that, Haris presented to Dim and me demos for what would become Pneuma and the whole thing got started. So, I don’t know if that counts as coincidence.
K: Transcending Bizarre? is not standard black metal, but I wouldn’t call it “off the wall” by any means. Hail Spirit Noir is a much further ‘left turn’ compared to what you were doing. What made you come up with this unique hybrid sound?
T: Haris wanted to pay tribute to all the prog rock he was listening to and the atmosphere of the 70s horror movies. But with a more sinister twist and a sound, that despite its roots, being in that era would sound up to date. In simple terms the original combination was late 60s/70s prog rock+ black metal+ horror movies. But it all ended up with our combined influences a lot weirder.
K: So a vintage yet modern mix? I can safely say you accomplished that goal with flying colors.
T: Thank you. We didn’t want to be lumped with the whole retro thing. I mean there is the obvious touch of that but we are going for something contemporary.
K: Here’s one of those standard interview questions that I have to ask, sorry. Your brand new sophomore effort, Oi Magoi, was just released last month via Code666 Records. Tell us about it?
T: Hahaha, well I hate it and I want to shoot myself for it. There you go, that was a twist , wasn’t it?
In all seriousness, I’m very proud of the record. It’s a step up in every way. I don’t think I’d change anything on Pneuma though, because even the murky sound adds to its character.
But with Oi Magoi the production is better and I think we achieved a near perfect balance of that vintage yet modern sound. The songwriting is more intricate yet still catchy, albeit in a different way than Pneuma, and the atmosphere is more intense.
K: I feel you’ve eclipsed the debut, Pneuma, in basically every facet. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pneuma, but Oi Magoi is a definite “Album of the Year” contender.
T: Thank you very much. You know, when we recorded the debut we really didn’t know what to expect. We knew we had something special but we felt it was a love-it-or-hate-it type of thing. So getting to the point where some people consider it Album of the Year is satisfactory to say the least.
K: Lots of bands have a hard time eclipsing their debut album, while other bands hit their peak at album 2 or 3. Did you find it difficult not to repeat yourself on this one?
T: Once we started working on this record we just let the ideas flow. Haris is the main composer, but the songs really took shape once we get to the rehearsal room, where we experimented a lot. We didn’t try not to repeat ourselves, but there was no effort to sound like the debut either. The pressure we felt had to do with the quality of the material and how pleased we would be with it.
To my ears this record is a bit more textured and not as immediate as the first record. It would have been the easy way out to write more songs like “Haire Pneuma Skoteino”, but good simple songs you can’t really create them, they kind of create themsleves. I don’t think we have reached our peak yet though.
K: I was trying to come up with a description of the new album and Autothrall of www.fromthedustreturned.com said it best: “Not every riff is equally poignant, not every song infallible in sequence, but albums like Oi Magoi simply do not arrive each and every day of my life. It is the effort of cautious sonic experimentation, the principle of risk which exemplify the Greeks’ compositional choices”.
T: Obviously the song writing comes first. You have to have songs that make sense. And by making sense I don’t necessarily mean standard rock song form. So every piece and detail on the record to us serves as a stepping stone to the next part, everything leads to the end where the song makes sense.
I remember reading the review and thinking “well, what was it he found lacking?” Maybe you could tell me? I know it’s a really good review, I’m just curious.
K: Well, I assume his point is much the same as mine: the sum is greater than its parts. Almost like a King Diamond record, you need to listen to the whole thing as an experience as opposed to just listening to 1 song and making a judgment call. I don’t get the impression that anything was actually “lacking”, just that there isn’t a specific song that signals “listen to me over all the other ones”.
T: I’m a huge King Diamond fan, so thank you!
K: As you said earlier, your music is probably a love-it-or-hate-it kinda thing, which I tend to agree with. So on that note, in a perfect world, if you were able to control how the listener approached your record, how would you hope they go about experiencing it?
T: The ideal thing would be to do so without any expectations. Don’t expect a black metal album nor a prog rock one. I said that it is catchy, but the way this works this time around compared to Pneuma is through repetition and little underlying details that will get stuck in your head and will make you go back and listen to the record after you find yourself humming some melody you can’t really place.
The listener should also expect the unexpected, as conventional song stucture is pretty much non-existant here. I don’t want to use the term “open-minded” because a lot of the stuff it refers to is just plain boring. Plus listeners really need to let themselves get lost in the album’s atmosphere and overall tone to enjoy it fully. Some wine or other spirits (noir ones preferably) and a dimly lit room would help, too, I suppose.
K: A lot of bands are inspired by horror (gore) movies, sing about them, use artwork that showcases this. While musically you nailed it (albeit in a different fashion), you have stayed away from them when it comes to the lyrics and visual images of the band.
T: Well lyrically, there is a bit of that Lovecraftian/Barkeresque thing going on, although it serves to add another layer to the songs. On first glance most of the songs are little horror stories but with a twist in the end.
Yeah, there was no way I could write about stuff like that (blood & guts). Even the song “Blood Guru” is not like that. I don’t think it would be the sound of the band or the general feel of both records, it wouldn’t fit.
Despite the horror story aspect, there’s a more philosophical side to the lyrics on closer inspection. Visually, no way either. It just seems …well, wrong.
K: Tell me if I’m off base with this observation: In some of the songs (“Hunters” comes to mind) the lyrics are almost intended to be slightly “goofy” or “silly” on purpose, but in the context of the album as a whole, that’s part of its brilliance?
T: Tongue in cheek, and I think we’ve succeeded. So yes, you pretty much nailed it.
As I said, in songs like “Hunters” or “Blood Guru” there is a twist in the end, a little hint of irony to the lyrics. Like on the first record, “Into The Gates of Time” was like that.
K: With something so ‘different’, are you able to recreate the sound and feel of the music in a live setting?
T: Fuck, that’s been a thorn in our side since the debut. We couldn’t rehearse when it was released due to various obligations we had, and now we are trying to put a full band together and a show to go with it. We can’t picture playing live and being regular joes in our jeans and t-shirts — there needs to be some sort of spectacle. We are working hard on that so we can finally be ready to tour.
K: The album cover for Oi Magoi, isn’t that you dressed up as the creature from the first album cover?
T: Well yes, but not dressed, painstakingly body-painted.
K: So, why not perform live in that get-up? LOL
T: Don’t give the rest of the guys ideas please. Plus someone mentioned ICP which hadn’t occured to me and well…..no no no no no.
K: Haha, yeah, thats a stretch, but a somewhat funny observation I suppose. And before we wrap this up and discuss your indiegogo project, I had a few super-important world-defining questions for you:
T: Ready as I’ll ever be, your worldview is about to be altered forever.
K: Which do you prefer: Fakes or Fasolada ?
T: FUCKIN HELL, thank his noodliness it’s not musaka. I’ll have to go with Fakes, if Popeye was Greek that’s what he’d eat.
K: Do you eat your gyro WITH or WITHOUT tzatziki ?
T: People eat it without?
K: Are you legally allowed in Greece to eat your Kolokythoanthoi without a dollop of yogurt on the side?
T: Are you 1/16th Greek or something?
K: No, I’m not Greek and I don’t use Windex. Ha.
T: LOL, well you are legally bound to eat them with a nice helping of yogurt on the side.
K: Do you feel a sense of nationalism that Greek yogurt has now become the “rage” over here in the USA the past few years?
T: Come on, you should all be paying us Greeks royalties for pretty much everything, not just yogurt. But really, has it become that popular?
K: Yup, that and the whole democracy thing.
T: But along the way WE forgot what it’s supposed to be. And I find it quite pathetic when Greeks go on and on about how “we created everything” and “how everyone owes us” based on what our ancestors did and not what we do now, which is pretty much nothing. Resting on laurels.
K: Kinda sounds like a portion of what the USA is beginning to go through.
T: Haha. Don’t get me wrong, Greece has contributed to a large part of what civilization is today. But, you know, past tense.
K: Before I let you go, tell me about the indiegogo project?
T: It was the label’s idea to get it up and running. We obviously want both albums on vinyl, and that way we can do more special editions for it. There will be an exclusive t-shirt depending on the amount someone pledges, a limited, different coloured vinyl, and other extras. First up is Pneuma and then it will be Oi Magoi’s turn. Crowdfunding seems to be the new way to go about things.
People can go here to fund and purchase a copy of the debut LP on vinyl:
Like the band on Facebook:
Buy the new CD, Oi Magoi, here.