As human beings, reminiscing about the past is one of the most common emotions we go through. There are many reasons we do this, perhaps two of the most powerful being that the past provides an escape from our present woes and the allure of familiarity – knowing what has already happened and appreciating aspects of it more intensely. We are all guilty of doing this, particularly in what has become one of the most tumultuous years in recent decades and one that has upended the life of many. The future is undetermined and we must choose what to make of it, whether optimistically or pessimistically.
While the above relates to life in general, music is the same. Past output will always serve as a good template for ideas, but always with the intent of finding ways to bring forth new elements that enhance the overall presentation. In this respect, Macabre Omen has been one of the most successful acts. The brainchild of Alexandros, this Grecian act from the island of Rhodes (although long based in London) has been sporadically releasing output for the past 25 years – including two full lengths, The Ancient Returns and Gods of War – At War. Both are distinct in their own way, the former being an interesting collation between the Hellenic and Norwegian scenes, producing a warm yet murky and foggish atmosphere. Gods of War – At War upped the expectations, venturing into the well of Viking-era Bathory and infusing it with the aforementioned sounds to produce one of the most adventurous and impacting extreme metal albums of the past decade.
With Anamneses, Alexandros’s intention is to create a bridge between the past and the future of Macabre Omen. Although this is a daunting task to do with just one song, Anamneses from the Past (Sirens Calling) does just that. There are many moments throughout the course of the song that recall the grandiose and majestic sound of Gods of War, but amplified further by background elements – more lengthy guitar leads, backing vocals (courtesy of Sakis from Rotting Christ and Greg Chandler) and folkloric instruments like the timpani or tambourine to name a few. These were all present to some extent in Gods of War, but they feel much livelier and well integrated into the overall songwriting than before. We even see the return of a poem read by Alexandro’s late father, Antonis.
Anamneses also includes a new addition to the Macabre Omen catalogue by incorporating female vocals for the first time, courtesy of Linday Fay- Hella of Wardruna fame. Her soothing chant, genuinely recalling those of the sirens Odysseus encountered, serves almost as an interlude that leads to the second act of the song. At this point, it feels the epic elements have truly taken over as we are treated to a frantic yet melodic apex that culminates with Alexandros gently singing the following:
With the hope to see your figure,
hear your voice or stare at your eyes.
Deep inside I know that the departed, from the dead will never rise.
And I thank the Gods that the departed, from the dead can never rise.
There are many reasons Alexandros could have written the above, perhaps as a message to his late father, yet it reinforces the sentiment that the past is the past and cannot return. The only way is to look forward and to make what one can of it. In this respect, Anamneses does just that. It builds upon the foundation of Gods at War but gives it a whole new flair and a bright expectation of what to expect in the future. If Gods at War is the Hellenic Hammerheart, then this song hints at what could the Hellenic Twilight of the Gods.
Of course, we cannot end this review without including a mention of the other songs included in this mini-album, all tracks from Macabre Omen’s early days from 1996-2001. Listening to these tracks after the experience of “Anamneses” is certainly interesting, although not necessarily in a good way. Many of these songs are fairly rudimentary, giving us a glimpse of the path Macabre Omen would eventually take. As with the first full length, many of these songs feel like a potpourri of influences from the early Norwegian and Hellenic scene merged into one. They are not necessarily bad, but feel somewhat hollow with the hindsight of the output we’ve come to expect from this band. The songs serve as a historical curiosity, to show the passion of early youth, but also a cautionary tale that sometimes the past is the past for a reason. Nonetheless, this mini-album is fully worth the purchase just for the inclusion of “Anamneses” alone.
Usually when musicians talk about their music, they are most interested in discussing their recent works. With “Anamneses“ you’re re-visiting a lot of your earliest tracks. How does it feel reflecting on these early efforts and what kind of emotions do they elicit apart from nostalgia?
“Anamneses” is more than a mere compilation and although it might look like one it is actually far from it since too much work and effort has been put towards it. I consider this more of a mini album showcasing a brand new long epic track which is just under 15 minutes long in duration. Along with the new track I decided to include all of the old 90s material bar the first couple of demos, in a remastered form. All this in order to commemorate the 25 years of MACABRE OMEN‘s existence and give the old material a new lease of life since at the moment they are scattered all over the place with a poor sound quality from all the overdubbing and so forth. Although these tracks do not mean much to me now, they truly show the development of the band and the progression that took place over the past couple of decades into what the music stands for at present. Nostalgia is definitely one of the emotions these tracks evoke simply because the scene and the whole underground was very different back in the 90s compared to today. I don’t want to sound like an old timer but the fact is that the scene, the productions, the visions and the ideas the underground black/death metal movement used to evoke in the 90s have nothing to do with what is going on today three decades later, a bit like dining in a restaurant whose owners have changed over time. Apart from that, the tracks are a reminder that time is moving forward and that there is no turning back.
“Anamneses” also offers us a new 15 minute long track that includes vocals of Lindy Fay Hella from WARDRUNA. This will be notable as it will be the first time MACABRE OMEN incorporates female vocals into the music (correct me if I’m wrong). How did this collaboration surge and do you foresee more in the future?
The initial idea was to release this long epic track as a standalone but eventually I gave in to this idea and included the rest of the material as bonus. Hopefully they mean something to other people since they do not mean much to me now. As per my previous answer this is technically NOT a compilation and whoever is after a compilation per se would need to look elsewhere. A compilation usually just includes existing or “best of” material which although this has been offered to me several times over the years I never really wanted to abide to.
The new track is called “Anamneses from the Past (Sirens Calling)” and is the track that I would solely want to represent through this mini album type of release. A sort of link or bridge between the Past and what is to come in the Future. Anything else that comes along with this new track is just a bonus. I know Lindy for half a decade now and am honored that she participated on this track, she was the one and only choice for it and without her contribution the end result would not have been the same and I am not referring just to the musical aspect of the track. I have also participated in Lindy‘s solo material which is also release through Van Records and should not be overlooked. I am never too optimistic about the future or what it holds but I would definitely look forward to further collaborations in future MACABRE OMEN material.
Beyond female vocals, the new track might be MACABRE OMEN’s longest yet. While some people have joked you only release music once a decade, this is your first new track in five years. How do you feel you have evolved as a musician in this time period and what new things are you bringing to the table that past releases lacked?
I release albums every 10 years but there is no rule about not releasing a one off track, at least not one that I am aware of! This is indeed a brand new track that was originally destined for the next album but eventually decided to release it by itself for a number of personal reasons and in order to not affect the overall tone of the 3rd opus. Working on an individual standalone track has been a challenge because it needs to stand alone and represent every angle of what the band stands for and has stood for over these past few decades. It has all the elements that one would expect from MACABRE OMEN but also a lot of new characteristics that I invite people to discover at their own pace. Once again the material is written by myself for myself and whoever wants to join I consider an advantage.
Previous releases did not necessarily lack something, it is just a matter of when moving forward to also evolve and introduce new elements which is indeed what I am consciously bringing forth with this release and any new release for that matter. One of my biggest pleasures this past decade or so was to experiment and collect with other instruments. The core process of songwriting has not changed much over the years but the ability for me to express a feeling through any instrument possible is a big advantage since I have a collection of over 100 unique mainly string and wind instruments all creating different soundscapes depending on the degree of how unorthodoxly one is willing to go with them. I am slowly introducing those soundscapes through the art itself be it MACABRE OMEN, THE ONE or whatever else comes along.
You have been open about how certain emotional struggles of yours have influenced your songwriting process – the most tragic being the death of your father which led to re-writes of “Gods of War – At War” and the inclusion of “From Son to Father” on the album. In extreme metal, one sometimes gets the impression that showing vulnerability and frailty is a sign of weakness given so many songs deal with themes of valour, triumph and war. Do you feel songwriting in extreme metal would benefit more from people being more open about their struggles instead of pretending we’re all stoic warriors who feel no emotions?
I could not care less about how other people feel and if they prefer to hide their feelings and show something else through their music, it is their choice. For me music is an artform that allows me to express what I feel, put that feeling in a musical context and use an adverse situation to my advantage and come back stronger like a Phoenix rising through ashes. The fact is that as humans we are intricate beings and life is not about one feeling or one experience – it is more than that. Art requires dynamics and character, be it music, film, painting or even food and what better way to portray this through an experience. Hate, pain, death, honour, fear or lack of it, darkness all are elements that we come across in daily life and translating these to music allows me not only to look at these things in the face but also to mark them down and learn and remember. It is a bit like having a photo album with old pictures from the past but instead it is done with music.
You are currently playing in three bands – MACABRE OMEN, THE ONE, and NECROMANIAC. All have distinct and different sounds to one another. How often do you find influences from the latter two bleeding into MACABRE OMEN and do you embrace it or try to avoid it?
The key for me is that from a musical input I only use MACABRE OMEN and THE ONE as my main artistic vessels. NECROMANIAC is an alliance of kindred spirits with my input taking a different role. There are indeed times that some MACABRE OMEN might bleed into THE ONE and vice versa. I wonder if one day these two could become one since they share so much in common. In any case I definitely know what works for each of the bands and the fact that I never really get in that frame of mind simultaneously does help to separate the ideas and also create two entities that do not sound very much alike.
The idea of MACABRE OMEN and THE ONE blending into one entity at some point is really interesting! While they aim for different sounds the core ideas and approaches are definitely very personal. Speaking of which, there is a new THE ONE album on the horizon. Recordings were planned to start this July, is it coming along according to the original plan? It is another long break since the previous album “I, Master” so I assume the new album will be the end product of a long time spent with those ideas, and a personal release as usual?
The initial process of recording the new THE ONE album has indeed started albeit some unprecedented issues that we encountered required us to take a few steps back and reassess before moving further. It will be ready when the time is right that’s for sure and it will pick up right from where “I, Master” left yet it will be nastier, more powerful, more everything. A bit like when “Gods of War – At War” hit the scene with MACABRE OMEN. It is indeed a product of a decade’s work and personal experiences which for good or for worse also coincide with what the album title is about (not to be divulged until further down the line). A title, I myself came up with during the “I, Master” era a very long time ago.
To get back to MACABRE OMEN, a lot of the music is very evocative, giving the feeling of what your home town Rhodes must be like. You’ve been living in London for over 20 years now, a place that could not be more different than the places your music transports the listener to. When composing, do you need to take a break from the city and rehearse elsewhere?
My rehearsal room is in most occasions in my mind. I usually switch off the lights, lie down in bed with my classical guitar and transport myself to where I want to be. If the outcome sounds like my hometown I don’t know for sure but it definitely sounds like what I would like it to be. With music I transport myself to places I want to be and am glad to see it has the same effect to others since this is not the first time I hear this comment. The truth is that to compose music one needs to own experiences so I am definitely out and about when it comes to life and gathering those experiences since they are key in piecing together a genuine piece of art that would hopefully make a mark in one way or another. Life in London can be difficult and there are definitely a lot of memories from it, enough for me to retire to somewhere that is more remote and reflect on them actually. A thought that has actually been in mind for quite some time now.
Apart from composing music, you’re always present at London shows and run your own distro. While you’re primarily focused on extreme metal, have any new traditional metal acts caught your attention? What are your favourite traditional/epic metal albums in general?
Aye, that seems to be standard practice for me for almost two decades now, I think if I stop turning up to shows people will wonder if I am dead. This activity is simply a biproduct of my old 90s label DEMONION Prod and the most recent incarnation of it MALEFICENTISSIMUS TRIUMPHATUS and the stock that I have amassed over the years by releasing stuff from other bands or even my own music. The honest truth is that although I am involved and active in the scene since at least 1993, I have not been listening to much new material the past five years or so (possibly even longer), not only because new material does not do it for me or because of the constant trends and direction things seem to take but also because I am more interested in other types of music. This is probably also because of the collection of instruments I have amassed over the years, I am more interested in listening to other music and learn something new that I can then introduce consciously or subconsciously within my music. The foundations are there and I enjoy listening to whatever I grew up with but for better or for worse the current scene is not what it used to be and understandably so. Nothing is forever…
Besides the non-album songs featured on “Anamneses”, since 2006 you have participated in three different splits in honour of QUORTHON/BATHORY titled “XX years standing proud in Valhalla“. How do you choose the bands you want to collaborate with in these splits? Will there be a new one in the future?
This project came into fruition almost immediately after Quorthon‘s untimely death and although it started as a tribute to honour the individual whose music I grew up listening to as a kid, it evolved into something more. Somehow, I wanted to get into this person’s mind and especially understand how the “Twilight of the Gods” album came into existence, I still consider this his ultimate masterpiece since there is definitely something special about it with the artist tapping into something very divine and personal in my humble opinion. The plan was to eventually cover the whole album with recordings taking place over a 24 hour period and have a drink in his name and share them in a split 7” format with other bands I admire. Nothing more really, so far three EP’s have been released, there might be more but only time will tell. For now my main focus is to assemble material I have gathered over the years and create the 3rd opus for the band, there are still riffs from the 90s that I have not used and would be good to see them in a good home before they get lost in time, a bit like what I did with “Gods of War – At War”.
Constantly writing music and playing with new ideas and using those riffs slowly over time seems to be a common approach in Greek black metal bands. This gives you time to discover what you ultimately want to do with those riffs, but at the same time, like you said these are different times than 90s for underground metal scene, productions, visions, and ideas. Do the old riffs and musical ideas from 90s also grow and change in time to adapt to the day when you revisit them, or do you use them as is with all that they carry from their own time?
I think the core riff is still there but the way it is played, the end result will always vary accordingly. I can only speak for myself but the final material you hear upon release of the music is composed of a number of riffs that are usually at least 3-4 years old or even more. I will play the riff to death and try to understand how I can extract every element from it and use it to my advantage. Squeeze every drop of potential it has to offer so that it can compliment the rest of the material and the song itself. I seldomly dispose of riffs, I believe they came up for a reason, it is just a matter of tailoring them accordingly.