INTERVIEW: Greek Heavy Metal Band Agatus
In October Agatus released their third album ‘The Eternalist, their first full length in nearly fourteen years. The interim period saw two limited EP released in 2011 and 2012, with the title track of 2012’s ‘Gilgamesh’ finding its way onto ‘The Eternalist’. While earlier incarnations of the band explored elements of black metal that were reminiscent of some of their other Greek counterparts, over the years Agatus has gravitated towards heavy metal and progressive rock to create a sound that’s epic in scale yet warm and inviting at all the right moments. Traces of black metal remain, but this is a very different effort when compared to the group’s back catalog and it finds them reaching new heights. ‘The Eternalist’ draws you in with bombastic riffing that has traces of early progressive rock and traditional heavy metal wrapped in a black metal esthetic, revealing more nuances with each listen.
Given the lengthy period of time between 2002’s ‘The Weaving Fates’ and ‘The Eternalist’, I wanted to find out some more about what went into the album’s creation as well as learn some more about the working relationship between The Dark and Vorskaath (Zemial) as the two brothers have worked together on musical endeavors for quite some time. The Dark shed some light on these topics and what the future holds for Agatus below. If you have yet to hear this album for yourself, check it out via Hells Headbangers as is a truly engaging mix of prog rock and heavy metal with some of black metal’s abrasiveness and power.
Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg): Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. ‘The Eternalist’ has been out for two months now, and was met with quite a bit of demand, as the vinyl sold out before its official release. Were you surprised by this surge in interest, and how do you feel about the overall reception to the album?
Agatus (The Dark): Before the official release of ‘THE ETERNALIST’ we had released a couple of songs on Bandcamp in order to get listeners ready for what was coming. I keep receiving messages from enthusiastic fans who tell me that they are absolutely overwhelmed by our new album and that it is stuck on repeat for days and weeks on end. All reviews that have come my way speak highly of the music and how the compositions masterfully blend 70’s progressive rock together with 80’s heavy metal sounds, about memorable vocal melodies, catchy guitar harmonies and solos, solid and creative drums, all perfectly executed whilst maintaining the Agatus identity. On some platforms and magazines it has either been voted album of the year or sits in the top 10 albums of 2016 within the heavy metal genre.
With this album we managed to please our old fans as well as gain a new audience. As artists, we are looking forward in putting out more material that will again make a difference and stand out in this music sea of repetition, just like ‘THE ETERNALIST’ did.
I am very pleased with the pleased with our work and overall response and feel quite proud that we managed to make an album that stands out for its compositions and brings a breath of fresh air to the music scene and to those who were looking for the magic of Agatus. We thank them all!
TO: Previous interviews mentioned that a lot of this material was composed in 2008, with some of it dating back to 1996. How much did the compositions change from their earlier days to the final versions that appear on ‘The Eternalist’?
Agatus: On the drumming department, just about everything was changed when compared to the initial recording of the drums in 1996 and 2008. The music that was composed in 1996 (Perils of the Sea Pt II, At Dusk I was Born, Gods of Fire) is about 75% the same, apart from a few new arrangements and ideas that were added later. The rest of the material was reworked and refined to reach its current state.
TO: What struck me the most while listening to ‘The Eternalist’ was how warm and inviting it felt. There are plenty of epic and heavy sections, but so much of the album seemed to be drawing me in to a more mysterious realm. In some ways the production reminded me a bit more of classic prog. Tell us more about what it took to achieve this final sound on the album. Are there any prog albums in particular that you think are great representations of this same type of recording style or that influenced your approach?
Agatus: As you already know, both my brother and I have been progressive rock fans for a long time, irrespective of the fact that we did albums with Agatus and Zemial that were raw in sound that belong to the extreme metal genre, i.e. ‘Necrolatry’, ‘The Weaving Fates’.
We like experimenting with production, recording techniques and try and create sounds that will best represent our music and are fit for purpose. For example, I could not fathom listening to ‘THE ETERNALIST’ with drum triggers, or sounds replacements and with big massive walls of guitars. It just wouldn’t be the same, plus I do not subscribe to that type of sound for a variety of reasons. The recording was done in each of our respective studios and mixed through a nice SSL desk at Matrix Studios in Athens.
We did have some ideas of productions that we thought may work as references for this album, however as the mixing was progressing it became apparent that the music found its own space and character, so we let it go its own way. To capture each and every moment and to emphasise it in the correct way, we paid a lot of attention in ensuring that everything was treated individually and not through a blanket approach.
Many people are commending us on the production and general warm vibes characterising this work. We are very pleased by the end result of this album and we will continue working this way for future releases.
TO: Greece has such a wealth of history and mythology, and quite a bit of it is channeled throughout heavy metal. Being from the country, what are some of the tales and legends that have appealed to you the most? Did any of these make their way into ‘The Eternalist’?
Agatus: Indeed, Greece has a very rich history that often lends itself as lyrical material to many artists.
On the album I have referenced Homer’s Odyssey since I consider it quite an extraordinary piece of work that is applicable and meaningful even to this modern age. A large bit of inspiration has also come through the writings of Greek philosophers and has been combined with my own interpretations and concepts.
Similar to other cultures, Greek history, mythology and literature had been and will continue to be an endless source of inspiration to many artists, irrespective of genre and industry. I am sure I will revisit myths and legends for future works.
TO: You brought in a few guests, with two additional singers and a violinist appearing during key moments. Tell us more about these collaborations and where their parts fit into the overall album.
Agatus: On ‘THE ETERNALIST’ there is only one additional singer (Dimittris Kartaloglou) who sung on The Oath (of Magic and Fire). He was chosen for that song as there it has a section with an early Judas Priest feel to it and we felt that his vocal timbre and singing style as arranged for that section were quite suited to the part. All other vocal parts were handled by myself.
The violin was a collaboration I felt was needed on Gilgamesh, so I could not resist offering the part to the much talented and best friend Nathan Millhouse.
There are no other guests appearing on the album.
TO: The two of you are brothers. Does writing music with your sibling change the dynamic of writing or recording in comparison to the other projects you are involved with?
Agatus: That’s right.
In terms of writing music, the only difference really is that with Agatus I have the final say of what stays or goes. Similar to what happened with Zemial during the years I was involved where my brother had the final say on the music and direction.
We both know each other’s compositional style and we try to enhance each composition as best as possible. Each time we work together, familiarity immediately kicks in enabling us to effectively work on parts by continuously bouncing ideas backwards and forwards until we get it right. There is great chemistry between us and personally I always look forward to working with my brother on all kinds of music and projects as I always get that buzz and the feeling that we are onto something great!
TO: Listeners who want to check out ‘The Eternalist’ have plenty of options, as it came out digitally as well as on CD, vinyl, and cassette. I’ve always found vinyl to be a preferred format for metal, but where do you see CD and cassette fitting into the picture these days?
Agatus: In my opinion vinyl is the one of the best formats irrespective of the genre. What is important to know is that these days vinyl in itself does not make all the difference. For example, if an album is to be mastered, then it is very important that it is done in a way suited to a vinyl press, following the necessary process that is known to all experienced engineers.
If we put the mastering process aside, vinyl in itself will not make music sound any better. A bad production will sound bad whether on vinyl, CD, Cassette or in its raw uncompressed format.
I am not a big fan of cassette, however I do appreciate that it has made a ‘come back’ and that is fine.
TO: For those who are discovering Agatus for the first time and want to work their way backwards, is there any interest on your end in reissuing some of your older material? It looks like ‘Dawn of Martyrdom’ was reissued a few years back but I don’t believe ‘The Weaving Fates’ has been reissued since its 2002 release.
Agatus: There are plans for a re-issue of older releases such as ‘The Weaving Fates’, ‘A Night of the Dark Ages’ demo , the ‘Rite of Metamorphosis’ EP and possibly other unreleased material.
TO: I saw a Facebook post near the end of October mentioning the first rehearsal for Agatus live performances had been completed. In previous interviews you mentioned it was a possibility, and for people to send you offers. Since you’ve been rehearsing, have you gotten some proposals and is there a high chance that you’ll be on-stage in 2017?
Agatus: As I currently live abroad (UK), it was deemed that it wasn’t feasible to get the band together for shows, so regrettably I will say that we are not planning any Agatus appearances for 2017.
TO: Zemial’s North American tour last year had its fair share of challenges. I was at the Maryland show that almost didn’t happen at all, but thankfully was able to see the set. Given the challenges of that tour, is there any chance we might see Agatus or any of the other bands you two are involved in on these shores, or are the logistics just too difficult at this point?
Agatus: The logistics of getting the band together are a large task and due to other commitments I cannot foresee the band travelling abroad at present. If circumstances change, then the possibility for any Agatus live appearances will be quite high.
TO: I saw mention of some new material already in the works. With both of you living in Greece again, will this shorten the gap between releases?
Agatus: I am currently based in the UK and I have been working on new material on my own. Already I have composed material for a new album however I am not sure when I will have a new album; however I am confident that I will be in a position to announce another release, hopefully not so far away from our latest release.
TO: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ‘The Eternalist’ or Agatus?
If you are an open minded music fan looking for something that does not conform to the industry trends, want to head bang and taken away on a dark and mysterious dream journey, check out ‘THE ETERNALIST’ and expect the unexpected!
Thank you for this great interview and all the best!