.:.PRIDE & HONOR.:.
An Interview with Alexandros Antoniou of Macabre Omen
As the mastermind behind Macabre Omen, Alexandros Antoniou recently sat down with his Greek countryman in our own Christos Doukakis in order to share some unique views on various aspects of life: the process of music creation, the roots of Macabre Omen, the Greek economic crisis and, unavoidably, some words about last year’s immaculate Gods of War—At War, among other topics. For the courageous readers who are intent on exploring and thinking beyond Antoniou’s words, this interview should be a top read.
Heathen Harvest: Thank you for accepting this interview, Alex. After nearly ten years of silence following your debut, ‘The Ancient Returns’, you returned last year with the mind-blowing ‘Gods of War—At War’. Why was there such a lengthy absence during that time?
Alexandros Antoniou: Thank you, Chris, for this opportunity to express this ‘achievement’ further through this interview. The decade-long gap between each album is not a time-frame set in stone, but it is definitely a minimum requirement for me to complete something of this scale that meets my complete satisfaction. Something pure and honest where every note derives from a genuine feeling and is neither ‘designed’ to please a certain ‘market’ nor to achieve anything else than my pure and sheer personal pleasure. The album was actually more or less finished by 2011, but a certain loss within the family required me to take a step back and reflect on certain things. That reflection can be heard on the fifth track of the album, entitled ‘From Son to Father’, but also throughout the album as a whole. Gods of War—At War would probably not have sounded the same without that loss.
HH: Do you believe that art should be an expression of pain? In other words, is it easier to create through a difficult period of time, than a happy, easygoing period? Which albums would you point out as the most important, having been created from negative feelings, and especially ‘loss’?
AA: Humans are intricate beings with a lot of emotions, and art is a good tool to express those emotions at any given time. Pain is not the only emotion that can be expressed through art, but there are emotions and states of mind that would not necessarily make sense if expressed through a genre like black metal. Personally, I enjoy art through negative states of mind for a lot of reasons. Positive vibes through music are for the weak. I want to believe that the early black metal albums had some form of honesty and purity within them and that those negative sounds are genuine. There are numerous examples and I think that the simplistic ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’ is a prime example for that. I don’t think that black / death metal bands with an album released every year or two have their art genuinely expressed for reasons other than the obvious ‘one$’.
HH: Gods of War—At War was more or less critically acclaimed, having been received incredibly well by a number of magazines, among them being our own. This led the album to make some end-of-year lists for 2015. Did you expect this sort of reaction? Will this boost your energy for what will hopefully be your forthcoming third full-length album?
AA: The answer to whether I expected this to get this sort of reaction can be heard in the beginning and ending of the album. I knew it would get some form of reaction, but like I said before, there was no aim to please a certain market other than myself. Personally, I do not care if it gets a response or not and firmly believe that more artists and bands should adopt this approach. There should be a zero-tolerance approach towards trends, I cannot remember a time where the underground scene has suffered so much from this problem until the past three or four years. As for a third full-length, I am of the belief that as long as I breathe, there would always be a new album. Saying that, there would be no rushing into things and no jeopardizing of quality and essence.
HH: What would you say the fundamental values of Macabre Omen are? What lies at the project’s core?
AA: Macabre Omen, for me, is simply a side of my being—a philosophy of how I perceive things and values such as honor, respect, and so forth. Feelings such as melancholy, pride, and hate are also expressed through this project, and I cannot think of a better way to get these emotions out there than Macabre Omen’s music. Likewise, with another entity of mine simply called The One, I cover other areas of my personality through art—in this case, black metal. When one listens to Macabre Omen, the values that they would come across are ones of pride, honesty, respect, and honor, and in a way, this is what one would say if meeting me in person. At least, this is what I believe they would say.
HH: Ván is one of the most prolific German extreme metal labels operating today, and it is certainly one of the most celebrated from the current generation. How did your signing with them happen? Are you satisfied with the cooperation so far?
AA: Ván is a great label run by great individuals, and I think it is the perfect label for Macabre Omen. The deal came across with the help of a very good friend of mine, C.C.O.T.N. of Grave Miasma, who recommended the album to Ván. I was not looking for a label, but when Ván came along, it was the right thing to do. Apart from Gods of War—At War, Ván will also be responsible for the re-release of the debut album, The Ancient Returns (remastered and repackaged), and other selective merchandise. I am very satisfied with the overall response this album has received and with the promotion the label has offered. If there will ever be third strike, I am of the opinion that Ván should be part of it.
HH: Which other metal and non-metal labels do you admire most?
AA: Several can be named for that matter. I appreciate rosters from Cold Meat Industry, Misanthropy, Total Holocaust, Necroterror, Todestrieb, and generally labels that make an effort to put forth something genuine even if it is against current trends—or risky, for that matter.
HH: Many music journalists describe your sound as ‘epic black metal’, or even ‘viking black metal’. Would you accept this description, and if not, how would you prefer to be described by the metal press?
AA: Well, these are just tags to describe a sixty-minute album in a nutshell, which make things easier to place into a category. I have always described Macabre Omen as ‘epic black metal war’, mainly to remind me of what the final sound should actually sound like. I always gather certain words in order to achieve certain sounds. The word ‘Viking’ does not seem to apply with what Macabre Omen is about, but I understand the comparison deriving from Viking-era Bathory, which I am very fond of. Like I said before, this music is written by myself, to myself. People can interpret it any way they wish; I have no problem with that.
HH: Among the most outstanding tracks on your new album is ‘Hellenes Do Not Fight Like Heroes, Heroes Fight Like Hellenes’. Beyond the obvious, what was the inspiration behind this track specifically?
AA: This is a strange song, and hence it was placed in the middle of the album. It consists of newer riffs and structures but also a bunch of riffs from 1997 that I could never place in a certain song. The title itself derives, of course, from one of Churchill’s famous quotes. Hellenes used to fight like heroes, I believe there is a Hellene within us all.
HH: There is a clear sense of national pride in your music, but you seem to steer clear of blatant politics. Is this purposeful? Outside of Macabre Omen, do you have an interest in politics, especially as they pertain to the future of the Greek nation?
AA: There is a lot of speculation that, because the music covers areas such as pride and honor, it is also artistically leaning to one political direction. That’s a very narrow-minded perception—a typical, one-dimensional perception that only a human could come up with. There are more directions in life than left and right, up or down. Personally, I have no interest in politics. I find the whole thing too humane. My ideas are beyond that, and my values that come across my art have nothing to do with a political direction or any humanitarian ideas, for that matter. I think that Hellas has a lot of good values and it will always be in my heart, but as a ‘customer’, I am very disappointed with where it has come to. Hence, I would take my business somewhere else.
HH: After ‘The Ancient Returns’, you found yourself in a couple of splits that were dedicated to the memory of Quorthon. Can you take a moment to tell us about how meaningful Bathory and Quorthon were to you, especially in terms of your development as a musician?
AA: Bathory and Quorthon’s works in general are a prime example of an artist doing what he likes best without the influence of any trends and the perception of what sells and what doesn’t. I have to say that his loss meant a lot to me, and for that reason, only I wanted to release a split 7″ each year covering a track from Twilight of the Gods. I wanted to honor the man behind that ‘masterpiece’, but deep inside, I also wanted to understand how that album in particular got created, what was going in his mind at the time and see if I could ever come up with something as personal. So far, we only managed to release two splits with Order of the Ebon Hand and Thesyre, but there is another one on the way with Nachtfalke, which was recorded five or six years ago. I think that this simple exercise has helped me reach my target, and I hope that Gods of War—At War will do to others what Twilight of the Gods did to me when I was young.
HH: I cannot resist asking about the cathartic ‘From Son to Father’. Could you share some words about this immaculate piece of music? What can you tell us about the Greek poem near the end of the track? What is the ‘betrayal’ spoken of?
AA: Cathartic, indeed. That song was pure closure for me, and without it the album would not make sense. Unlike the rest of the album, this was the final piece that connects everything together, and it took a mere three days to compose both musically and lyrically. I wish all of my art would flow like this song did, but it takes genuine feelings to express something as honest as this. Like I said before, the sudden loss of my father in 2011 spawned this very track by simply observing a very close person to me going to the netherworld, leaving the ones he cared for behind. I was very proud to get a guest appearance on the album in the form of a poem narrated by him in 2005 when his father died. My father used to be a poet, and I think that this particular one says it all. With regards to the betrayal, it simply has to do with the fact that, as a man, I was not where I should have been at the time. Instead, I chose to be on a particular tour at another place and time, ‘betraying’ my own family and getting betrayed by others down the line. I welcome all these pathetic backstabbing moves with open arms as I still stand proud and powerful. Phoenix rising…
HH: For almost the past two decades, you have been living in London. Could you tell us a few things about your everyday life over there? Have you been missing your homeland, Greece?
AA: Life in London is very unique and very different than the rest of Europe. It feels like a country by itself and has not much to do with the English countryside. That said, I like the fact that everyone minds their own business, and there is a constant movement going on. I hate staying still and stagnant. Hellas is to be missed; I spent half my life there, and what I miss you can hear in Macabre Omen. There are also elements I do not miss which, again, one can hear in Macabre Omen.
HH: Do you find yourself discouraged by the current state of affairs in Greece even though you no longer live there? How has the desperate economic situation affected your family back home? Is there a chance for a return for you?
AA: It is definitely not the Hellas I remember, and yes, it has affected me and my family one way or another. Saying that, I have no interest in current affairs. I have lived in London since 1997, and the current situation would require more than two decades to clear up.
HH: What are your future plans regarding Macabre Omen and in your personal life?
AA: For me, the future is here and it is Gods of War—At War. There are always ideas for new material, be it for Macabre Omen or even The One, but there is no specific date for something to be released. When the time is right, there will be no hesitation in doing so. I am also involved in Necromaniac if one is interested in pure old-school eighties-inspired mayhem. Other than that, I have learned to not plan too many things at once; they always tend to end up differently anyway.
HH: Thank you for your answers. This last space belongs to you.
AA: Thank you for the continuous support, which you and Heathen Harvest have shown since the release of this album. Keep the underground flame alive!