Pantheist interview (10/2005)
- First of all Kostas I'd like to congratulate you for "Amartia", it is truly a masterpiece, and for following your own path in the world of funeral doom.
Many thanks for the nice words, and I should also thank you from my side for giving me the opportunity for this interview!
- Would you mind telling us a few words concerning the history of Pantheist for the ones that haven't heard of you yet?
Pantheist's history as a dark music entity started in Belgium in the beginning of the year 2000. Originally we were nothing more than an ambient project, of which I was the main composer and our original guitar player Nicolas made some contributions. But we soon discovered that what we really wanted to do was to play intense, dark and mournful metal related music, so naturally we evolved into a doom metal band. We recorded our only demo '1000 years' in 2001 as a two-piece, and shortly after the release we started recruiting new members, which led to our first live gigs at the end of 2002. Our first bass player Frederic was very active in the scene, and after having played two gigs with Morgion and Mourning Beloveth, he set up a European tour with Skepticism, Pantheist and Until Death Overtakes Me, the first 'funeral doom' tour ever. More gigs followed, which established us as a relatively well-known band in the scene. We had also signed a contract with Firebox records by then, so our debut album ' O solitude' was released during our first tour. However, I moved to England around the same time, so it started to become really difficult regarding rehearsals and gigs. After several line-up changes, I took the decision to move the band to England after our mini tour with While Heaven Wept in April 2004. Only Nicolas our guitar player remained in the band at this stage, so we had come full circle again. With something like an emergency line-up, featuring two -then- members of Esoteric as session musicians, we entered the studio to record 'Amartia' in October 2004. The session members liked the experience so much that they became proper band members. After the release of Amartia, we recruited a second guitar player and a drummer, but after having rehearsed with a full line-up only once, our original guitar player Nicolas announced that he is leaving the band because he is going to move to the USA for family reasons. Before he left however, we recorded with this line-up some more tracks for an upcoming EP release by Serpent's Lair records, which is to be released around the end of this year.
- Pantheist; a rather obscure name for a band, but somehow it tends to harmonize wonderfully with your music. What does the name mean to you and what are your views on pantheism?
Although I wouldn't consider myself a pantheist, the term is nevertheless very important to me; existentially, it means the most natural worldview that is available. Musically, it means a holistic approach; it means open-mindedness, complexity and trust in your own creative forces, rather than commercial ones or the rules of the 'scene in-group'.
- "Amartia" means sin and the overall, musical and lyrical, concept of the album deals with the 7 deadly sins. You present the concept of "Amartia" and the way to repentance ("Metanoia") in the most appropriate way, both in the musical, evoking the ideal atmosphere and feelings through your compositions, and the lyrical sector. How much time did it take you to bring to life this impressive idea?
The idea of doing this album has been there since early 2000 I believe. They were my first musical ideas for Pantheist, so I had the chance to work on them for a long time. We wanted to record Amartia around the time of our '1000 years' demo, but with only two persons in the band at that stage, we thought it would be too ambitious and lengthy an endeavor, so we concentrated on producing a shorter demo. With time, ideas were also added by the other band members (some of which stayed, some others left), so that this has become our most complete and distinctive work thus far.
- From its very first second until its last, "Amartia" flows in a wonderful and inspired way without boring the listener, but making him feel the intensity of your music waiting to reach the final stage of "metanoia" through the presentation of the 7 deadly sins. When I first heard the operatic voices sing "amartia" in the beginning of "apologeia" this devout and at the same time eerie feeling made me shiver and I was wondering how can a band evoke such a vivid atmosphere!
Thanks again for the nice words, you give me the impression that you have a very good understanding of our music and concept! I think what you have noticed is the fact that we allow most of our influences from music outside of the genre, e.g. from sacral, classical or Greek traditional music, yet we transform those ideas into metal structures and sounds, creating a quite distinctive and unique sound. There are too many bands in this genre that try to sound like 2-3 distinguished bands, to the point that it has almost become a tribute genre, but we believe strongly in offering an original point of view to demanding listeners that like to be challenged musically!
- As a band you're moving in funeral doom metal soundscapes, yet, you're not following the good old safe path. You keep a general touch with the whole scene but from that moment and on you're following your very own sound pathways showing that Pantheist has become in such a small period of time one of the most promising and if I may say, important acts, of the scene. For example, in your music despite the slow funeral passages someone can find many outbursts escalating the emotional charge of the songs, more upbeat moments in the guitar riffing or even solos. How difficult it was for Pantheist to form their own way of expression knowing that "everything" in that scene had been settled many years ago?
Thanks again for the nice words. To tell you the truth, it wasn't at all difficult, since we have always considered making music as a form of personal expression, rather than a way of trying to fit in a genre and be liked by certain fans. We trust our instinct and do what we feel is what we should do, without caring much about scenes and opinions. With that I don't mean that we don't value feedback on our music, but we only use it to reflect upon what we create and try to improve ourselves, rather than taking it as a guideline of what we should do. We have enough inspiration and creativity to follow our own musical path, without meaning that we are ever going to avoid any musical ideas because they are too 'common'. Once again, we trust our judgment about what works and what doesn't.
- What is truly remarkable in your compositions are the classical music passages that make your sound more affected and enrich the overall devout and at the same time mourning atmosphere. From your first demo, "1000 Years", was in a way obvious the fact that you would have such references in your compositions in the forth-coming future. What does classical music mean to you and how does it pace, in your opinion, with doom, generally speaking?
What I like about classical music apart from its complexity is the fact that it sounds timeless. Therefore, I don't think you can go wrong with a healthy dose of classical influences in any musical genre; just look at how many classical pieces are being ripped-off by pop and hip-hop artists. It is also one of the few musical genres where I feel you can always learn from as a musician and composer. When it comes to doom, I think that a few artists have already successfully integrated classical elements in their music, but we are one of the few bands where the orchestral elements are as important as the metal elements.
- Except for the classical music references, the keyboard and church organ pieces are always present, evoking a serene and at the same time distressing feeling in the heavy air, pacing with the overall aesthetic of the album, and the FX that float in the air at times make the overall feeling more intense. How important are the keyboard melodies in your music?
I think that they are very important; I'm the main composer of the band and I'm primarily a keyboard player, so naturally this reflects on the music we are making. Too many bands in the metal scene use keyboards as a device to 'fill in the gaps' rather that do something creative and constructive with them. We use the synthesizer as an instrument equal to the guitar and vocals. In my opinion, the use of both guitars and keyboards makes it possible for the creation of more complex and interesting song arrangements, rather than the use of a dry guitar sound or a neoclassical/ambient sound solely.
- Concerning your vocals, your deep grunting accent is utterly expressive and you're giving a special meaning to every single word you utter, whether you recite, whisper or grunt. You're letting an intense sense of doom flow in the air, a sense that becomes strengthened by the operatic vocals whenever they are needed to give an alternative meaning to words like "doom", "sorrow", "pain" etc.
I'm glad to hear that from you! Contrary to common belief, grunting can be a very flexible mode of expression, allowing the vocalist to express very different (negative) emotions, ranging from anger to grief, despair and hate. Of course, this album has made things easier for the different vocal expressions we use, since the several cardinal sins demand different vocal approaches, so that you can hear anger and hate in 'Envy' or 'Wrath', while the underlying emotions in 'Pride' or 'Sloth' are despair and pain!
- During the recording sessions of "Amartia" two members of an important band for the 90s doom metal scene, Andy and Mark of Esoteric, participated and helped you into opening the way of "Amartia" to the audience. How did it feel working with these two personalities?
I think it's a privilege to work with such great musicians -personalities as you say. We currently have a very strong line-up, but we are still lacking a second guitar player since Nicolas has left. It is my wish and hope to be able to work with these musicians for a long time, creating quality albums that will raise the bar for dark, intense music!
- You are the founding spirit of Pantheist, along with Nicolas that completed the Pantheist standard duality. How does it feel when you look back at the first years of the band when you had dreams and how was it when you started surpassing the obstacles appearing your way and expressing yourself, offering such beauteous and esoteric music to the world?
It all went so fast…I still remember the time that we were recording with Nicolas our demo in the home studio of our friend and fellow musician Stijn from Until Death Overtakes Me as if it was yesterday! At the time, we were just aiming to become a respected project and release a few good demo's! A year later, we found ourselves playing our first gig at the Dutch Doom Day in Rotterdam with a full line-up, and another year later we were signed, had already recorded our debut album, played gigs with Morgion and toured with Skepticism! Nowadays, and especially since I moved to England, I have the opposite feeling: things go much slower due to the fact that we don't have a full line-up yet, which is quite frustrating for a band that sometimes seems like a premature baby. However, the dreams are still there and we are as ambitious as ever, and as long as there are dreams, there will be passion, quality and creativity!
- Would you mind telling us a few words concerning "Liefde Voor Niemand"? It is one of my favorite songs, its overall aesthetic and musical beauty are utterly poetic, but, sadly I don't know Dutch so as to understand its lyrics. Would you mind telling us about the concept behind its lyrics and what does the title mean?
'Liefde voor niemand' is probably the most personal song I've ever written, hence the decision to write it in Dutch rather than in English. The subject matter is a thought that was occupying my mind at the time, the thought that somehow I was unable to love a specific person and only felt a form of all embracing love for everyone. I took this thought to its logical extreme and came to the realization that it is impossible to love at all when you don't love someone specific, since all-embracing love can only be real love when you have learned to love someone first; only then you can extrapolate this specific love to an abstract level of loving everybody. However, there is also another dimension to the song: all-embracing, 'fake' love is used as a means to protect one from being hurt and disappointed by real love…
- Judging from the live pictures at your site where you are in a black mantle, with the ideal light FX on the background and the greatness of your music you must be evoking apocalyptic visions and sounds in the air! What should someone expect from Pantheist on stage?
One should expect dark and intense emotions, a religious, ritualistic atmosphere, a lot of mental torment and some headbanging in between!
- You are about to release a new EP with 2 new Pantheist songs, a cover on Katatonia's "For Funerals To Come" (great choice and song!) and the compositions consisting of your demo "1000 Years". The idea of filling this EP with your first demo was a great one because your fans are searching for it as far as I am concerned. What should someone expect from Pantheist's two new compositions? Why did you choose this specific song of Katatonia and what does this band mean to you?
The three new compositions on this album all represent different sides of the band; 'The pains of sleep' is a slow, mournful song in the vein of our 'O solitude' album. 'Pavor Nocturnus' is the most evil and nightmarish track we have done thus far, while 'For funerals to come' is representative or our mellow, orchestral side. The demo tracks have also been remastered and they sound much heavier and more powerful now.
I wouldn't say that Katatonia is among my favourite bands, although they have released a masterpiece with 'Brave Murder Day'. I always liked 'For funerals to come', but could somehow hear clean vocals on it, while the Katatonia version has an ugly, distorted voice instead. We wanted to emphasize the melancholic, intimate atmosphere of the original track, and I think we pulled this off quite well in our version!
- How do you find nowadays' doom metal scene being a part of it and at the same time a dedicated fan? Which newcomers you'd like to mention that really deserve to be checked and which bands you would mention as your personal favorites and influences?
I don't consider myself a dedicated doom metal fan anymore, as I start losing interest in the scene. I have followed this genre closely for at least 5 years, but nowadays I just don't hear many bands that can impress me with something original any more. The last bands I heard which in my opinion offer something new and interesting, are Until Death Overtakes Me and Nortt.
As for my favourites, I will go for the classics: early Candlemass, Winter, Thergothon, Unholy, Esoteric, Skepticism, Morgion, Tristitia etc.
- Before ending this interview I'd like to ask you what doom means to you. Does expressing yourself through Pantheist lead to an inner cleansing, except for unfolding your artistic concerns?
Yes, I think this is a correct assumption. Doom is about inner cleansing, about the catharsis, the ritual slaughtering of all negative emotions and the shadow of my personality!
- Kostas I'd like to thank you deeply for this interview, it really was an honour. My greatest wishes for the future of Pantheist and I am waiting for the forthcoming EP! End the interview in any way you wish including some special to you lyrics of Pantheist…
Thank you for the very interesting and challenging questions, the pleasure was all mine! I'm sure you wouldn't mind me to end with the lyrics of 'Liefde voor niemand' translated by Nicolas and myself:
'Never again my heart, shall you wither or break in two
for the feeling that made you suffer so much, was love for noone
Impersonal love, aimed at a smile, a playful look, a golden lock of hair,
a soft body's touch -so soft, so painfully soft, that only the memory remains-
seems to have befallen me
This faceless love seemed to be like a magnet
drawing all moments of unity and happiness towards itself
selfish love it was, and everything that was even remotely real
is now scattered all over the floor like broken crystal
I thought it was love for everyone
Love for you, for them, for all
but the agonizing pain that kept persuading me to suffer for all
was in fact a warning: I think I knew deep within myself
that love for everyone is love for noone…'
||Posted on 07.10.2005 by "It is myself I have never met, whose face is pasted on the underside of my mind."|
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