Albums like Slough Feg’s creative “Digital Resistance”, the melodic bliss of “The Awakening” by Dark Forest or Nocturnal’s relentless ”Storming Evil” are all among the early highlights of 2014, but come April 25th, and they are all surpassed by Battleroar’s new opus, the magnificent “Blood Of Legends”. A more than good enough reason to hook up with guitarist and original member Kostas Tzortzis for a chat about the new album, the new singer and all the latest happenings within and around the band since “To Death And Beyond” was released.
When “Blood Of Legends” is released at this year’s edition of Keep It True, it’s been exactly six years since the last one was made available, at the very same festival. Is the many member changes and the hunt for a new singer the main reason for this long delay?
– Many members changed, and very important members, I would have to add. Our previous singer Marco (Concoreggi), was composing almost as much as myself, and Manolis (Karazeris), the other guitarist, was also a creative guy. Both of them left the band, and we had something like an issue. What is it gonna be now? I kept on recording and making stuff like I have always have been doing. It worked well, of course we became more of a pure epic metal band, because that was the way I was always doing it, writing for the band. The guys that left had something like Dexter Ward in mind, more in the vein of US power metal, a bit different from what we do now. It took some time, before I found the right members. Me and the drummer Nick (Papadopoulos), who is also a member of Battleroar since the beginning, faced some difficult situations, but in the end here we are.
Were you concerened that there might not be another album after “To Death And Beyond”?
– We were insisiting to go on with the whole thing, not just me and Nick, but Alex (Papadiamantis, violin) too. We always thought there would be an album, but we didn’t know when. We needed to find the right people who were able to understand our vision, before we were ready. We were looking for people who wanted to contribute to an album, not to bring in their own elements and try to change Battleroar. It was a really long process, because we brought some people in, who we worked with, until we realized they weren’t good enough, or weren’t fitting with us. Now we have the lineup to work in the direction we want.
How do you look back at the split and the stuff that happened when Marco and Manolis left the band to form Dexter Ward?
– I can’t tell lies, I was a bit depressed by it. But you can’t force someone to do something they’re not fully into. Everyone has to follow their own will. Maybe all this happened for good? Since this is a hobby, we’re not professional musicians making money out of it, you can’t expect someone to spend time, money, effort and everything on something he is not 100 percent sure about. To be honest, after I came over the fact that I lost two good friends which I saw often due to playing in the band, I felt like they did the right thing. They left the band to create something they wanted a bit more. No conflicts, no problems, we’re still okay.
Lets talk a little about the new members. On bass you have a guy called Stavros Aivaliotis. I know him from the band Bloodstained that released an album through Cult Metal Records back in 2004. In fact I did an interview with the band for Scream magazine back then and the band even performed at one of the first editions of Keep It True.
– Yeah, I think they were the second band on the first edition of the festival, and at the time they had only released a demo. They later made an album called “Greetings From Hell”. Anyway, Stavros was playing there and we knew him through the scene in Athens. We simply gave him a call and he told us he had wanted to join a regular band that plays live and releases album. So he was in already after my first phone call.
You’ve got a new guitarist as well. His name is Antreas Sotiropoulos…
– He has a long time project with a guy called Spyros who plays drums. The procject is named Everdome. They released an album (“Afterbirth”) last year. We knew Antreas for years also, because we always pop into each other at live shows or when we have a beer in the same metal pub. We asked him if we would like to give it a try. This happened three years ago. Fortunately, he wanted to participate, and to give his best. He contributed a lot to “Blood Of Legends”. He is a really good musician, and also spent time to understand what I want, and what my vision was. He also has better abilities than I do as a lead player.
I think you tested a couple of singers before you got your guy on board. One of them was Gabriele Grilli who sang on the first, self titled album by Doomsword.
– Yeah, The Nightcomer. I think he is one of the best singers I have ever played music with. He is a huge talent, but unfortunately, the way of his life, and his priorities didn’t let him start a serious career neither with Doomsword or with us. I believe that part of that is the fact that he doesn’t speak English very well. Also he doesn’t have enough time to have a band in another country. When he was with us, he was simply disappearing from time to time. I couldn’t find him, and it was a pretty difficult situation. All the time there were unexpected surprises that weren’t good at all. Finally we said: “Let’s stay friends, but we can not go on like this”.
You also had the previous singer from Inner Wish in the band for a while.
– Yeah, John Papanikolaou. He is a really, really close friend of mine. He is one of the best guys in the whole metal scene of Greece. John has a great voice, and is a wonderful person too. On the new album you will hear two choirs, in the songs “Valkyries Above Us” and “Exile Eternal”. John is the main singer in these. We are in a really good relationship with the guy, but John wanted to do something different from the rest of us. It’s exactly what I told you about in the beginning, he actually brought too much into the band, so the band started changing. We didn’t sound exactly like Battleroar anymore. So we said: “John, we really appreciate what you do, but we have something we built up and also a fan base we have to respect, so we can’t change our style completely”.
I guess most of you know by now, but since I haven’t mentioned it, the band’s new singer is the one and only Gerrit Mutz, known from Tragedy Divine, Sacred Steel, Angel Of Damnation and Dawn Of Winter to name just a few. I spoke with Gerrit last year, and he seemed very enthusiastic about joining Battleroar then. As far as I understand you initially asked him to help you out for a support slot you were doing for Grand Magus in Athens. Did you think already back then that Gerrit could be a permanent solution?
– I have known Gerrit since 2001, I think. We’re really good friends, and have a lot in common, both when it comes to music, lifestyle and pretty much everything. I paid him a visit at his home back in the summer before the show you mentioned with Grand Magus . I drove all the way from Amsterdam in Holland to reach Donzdorf, where he lives, which is in fact also the base of Nuclear Blast. I have been talking to Gerrit for a long time now about creating a epic doom side project. Gerrit is one of the best guys I know, and he have a great voice, at least in my ears. In the end I said: “Battleroar need a singer. We have this show with Grand Magus, and we really want to do it. Can you help us out?” Since then, I always had in my mind that I wanted him as a permanent solution, but Gerrit didn’t know. I was expecting him to come to Greece and see how things would work, with the liveshow and everything and then talk to him about it. Then he said: “Guys, if you consider recording an album, I really want to do it. If I can do things with you, without problems with my job or my family, I want to do it. I have fun together with you guys, so let’s do it”. So he stayed.
The project that you referred to with you and him, is that scrapped now that he is a permanent member of your main band?
– Well actually…It’s a long story, now you take me back a really long time. Back in 2004, we started forming a project. This is completely confidential my friend (Kostas gave me permission to write this), no one else knows this, at least I never spoke about this. We started a project with Deathmaster from Doomsword, Richard from Solstice, me as a guitar player, John Alexandrakis who is the drummer that is now in Wrathblade, and also the guy I play with in my other band Arpyian Horde. Finally the plan was to have Mike Scalzi from Slough Feg as the bass player! I asked Gerrit if he could sing a couple of songs in there, in whatever we would do. He said: “Me? Everybody is better than me…”. That’s the usual Gerrit. We never moved on with the band, but we spoke about a name, a logo and the tuning of the guitars. Whenever I saw Gerrit, I was continuing: “You know what, we have to do something”. We then played at the epic night of the Hammer Of Doom in Germany two years ago with Manilla Road and Doomsword and a German band I can’t remember the name of…something with Throne.
– Exactly. The day after we played, I was picking up my car to drive to Holland for another show in Tilburg. When I tried to leave my parking place, I checked my mirror and behind me, I saw Gerrit. I hadn’t seen him for a really long time, and I struggled to recognize him, as he was dressed, or should I say covered, in his winter clothes. I stopped, went down and spoke to him. He was very happy to see me, gave me his card and told me to give him a call whenever I was in the area so we could hang out. That was when I begun starting thinking Gerrit. We needed another solution as we saw with Gabriele we couldn’t do what we wanted. And that was a problem. What I am trying to say it’s a matter of fate sometimes.
Gerrit has one of the most distinct voices in metal…
-Yeah, that’s true.
Did you want a singer that would put a strong mark on your album?
– You’ve heard the album, right? What I hear from people who did, and what I can hear with my own of ears, is that Gerrit on this record is not the same singer that’s in Sacred Steel or even in Dawn Of Winter. Actually Gerrit worked a lot on this, and presented something we hadn’t heard from him before. He is melodic, really epic and powerful, but not in the way he was or is in Sacred Steel. I think he has more to show than before. He is a really clever man, and knows perfectly well how to work with his voice. I really wanted a guy who is really serious about what he does, professional about his attitude and shares the same vision as us. And Gerrit wants to play epic metal now, do something different from the doom he does in Dawn Of Winter or the heavy metal he does in Sacred Steel. I think, if it’s different he will do it, if it’s the same thing, he won’t, as that is just repeating himself.
I think he sounds very melodic, especially during some of the choruses, but you can still hear it’s Gerrit.
– Yeah, of course, he is the same guy and the voice is the same, even if his approach is different.
People seem to have a love/hate relationship to his voice. Does this represent a risk?
– For every member you change, there is some sort of risk involved. Especially when you change your singer. In the end of the day, you think “what the hell”. I am not gonna make any money out of this, so at least I can do what I like, and since I like Gerrit’s singing…It was a reasonable risk, but remember, he is not a newbie or something. He has 10-15 albums behind him with different bands. In fact, I prefer bands that when they change their singer, go for a singer that has his own personality. Iron Maiden for instance, tried to replace Dickinson with Blaze Bailey, a guy that was close to Dickinson, but at the same time not him. I didn’t like it!
So with Gerrit and the other new members on board, the future for Battleroar doesn’t look too bad right now?
– I think we will continue doing what we just did with this album. At least Nick and I will want to do it, Gerrit really likes to do it as well. And the new members, I am not talking about the violin player because he has played on three albums now, but the other guys really like what we do too. You never know of course, because we are not 20 years old anymore, and can’t invest all our time and energy in a band. Everyone has a house and a family to take care of too.
Gerrit has said recording the album was a new experience for him, and that people are usually easier satisfied with what he does than you were. Are you a perfectionist?
– Well, you will not say that if you talk to guys making progressive music or technical death metal. Haha! Those guys are real perfectionist. The thing is, we wanted to make an album that is professional in all aspects. For instance, we wouldn’t leave vocals that were out of tune on the album, so we were squeezing the best out of Gerrit. We took him to the studio with Thimios Krikos, who is the main man from Inner Wish. He is a really close friend of ours. We said to Gerrit: “Take your time, do this or do that, but listen to our opinions”. He is a really experienced singer, and on the album you can even hear backing vocals from Gerrit. That’s not something usual, you can’t hear it in Sacred Steel or Dawn Of Winter. He embraced everything and we worked perfectly together. Gerrit knows exactly what he can do. He doesn’t try to make things he can’t. We now have a guy who knows his limits, and it works well. We told him our ideas and explained things to him, but he came here really well prepared too.
There are quite a lot of cello and violins on the new album. The violinist, Alex Papadiamantis, is he a permanent member of the band now?
– Yeah, we decided it should be that way now. Alex has been working with the band since 2004, and recorded with the band on “The Age Of Chaos” and then again on “To Death And Beyond” in 2008, but we didn’t want to include him as a permanent member back then, because he couldn’t really do a lot of liveshows. But after the departure of Marco and Manolis, Nick and me decided that since Alex stood with us through all the hard moments, we wished to ask him if he wanted to be a permanent member.
Will you add violin to some of the old songs as well when you perform live?
– We’ve already tried that, but people seem to be split in two groups. Some people really appreciated it, while some other said that it was more like listening to a cover of the original song. Of course we don’t want to disturb people who like the original stuff, so I am not sure if we will do it again. Maybe we’ll add some notes here and there, but I don’t think we will do a completely different arrangement of the songs.
In fact I find the instrument quite refreshing in this type of music…
– I respect your opinion, but I want to keep the balance, and not add to much violin on the old songs.
I was mainly thinking about how the instrument sounds on the new album. What was the idea behind including more violin this time?
– Alex and I were working on music for another project we have where we play covers from famous movie classics. We like to do this thing, we have a cello player, keyboard player, violin and guitar. Some of our stuff came out very good, so there is more violin, simply because Alex and I were playing together more than we used to in the past.
This album feels quite visual to me..
-Cool, that’s the whole idea.
Are you inspired by film music?
– Most of the lyrics are done by me and by Gerrit of course. Of course I was inspired by things like “Medea” from Euripides. Also, the song “Immortal Chariot” speaks about something that always inspired me, Homer and “The Illiad”. This song is about the chariot of Achilles drawn by two immortal horses according to mythology. When you read about the soldiers of Achilles preparing the chariot for him to go back into the battle, the horses are really in frenzy and mad about destroying everything and finally going back to war. These scenes are really inspiring to my mind. We are dealing in more general things too, like self-critisism. We believe in a lot of things, but do they really exist? Nobody knows. Do we believe these things for nothing, or what? We try to talk about what I call epic topics, something you could sing about now, and then somebody else could’ve sung about it two hundred years ago, and in two hundred years, these themes will still have the same meaning. So we’re not talking about political things, or smaller things that disappear in the course of ten years. I am trying to speak about issues that will stand the test of time.
How would you say that these topics are still relevant today?
– Well, when we talk about the chariot of Achilles and the two immortal horses, there are no immortal horses, but we’re talking about a guy, who actually if we combined the mythology with history, we’ll find someone who the rest of the armies, would consider immortal. He was probably such a fierce warrior, that everybody was thinking of him as immortal, and his horses were considered immortal too. I see it like this: It’s important to be powerful and noble and really good at what you do.
I don’t think were talking about a concept album…
..but when I listen to it, I feel some kind of connection between the songs, a red thread or something. It certainly feels like listening to an album, not only a connection of songs.
– Well, I believe this mostly has to do with the ones who make the album. Because of the whole emotional situation through these years, we were actually composing songs more or less in the same mood. Actually we’re trying to speak about a couple of things in a symbolic way. For instance the song “The Swords Are Drawn” simply means that Battleroar is back. Because we have worked on the songs for a long, long time, and put some hard work into each part, we wanted to express what we felt all these years, like somebody was holding us back. Now it’s time to get back to what we were doing and share our music.The swords are drawn!
I guess this tune just had to be the opener of the album then?
– Well, it fits well to be the opener. It’s a fast and powerful song and it means something. It fits well after the introduction song, which actually represent a bit our emotional situation about the whole thing. It’s melodic, pretty sad and epic.
I also think the use of violins an cellos help underline the feeling of listening to an album, not only a collection of songs.
– I agree. I believe that when you use classical instruments, then you are doing something closer to what you trying to represent. When you work with cellos and violins you also avoid working with too much keyboards. Because keyboards are a different story, they can give some essence to the songs, but at the same time they can destroy the whole thing, because it’s a completely unnatural instrument. We try to reduce the amount of keyboards we use, of course we use some, because it’s not only a bad thing. But this time, even the voices, the choirs, we did it naturally. When you have classical instruments and work with them, the whole thing comes out better. We have some experienced singers on the album, in fact almost half the Greek metal scene are singing for us. You have people who feel something about the song they’re singing, it’s not just a cold instrument.
“Blood Of Legends” is the title of one of the songs of course, but why did you choose it as the title of the album as well?
– Well I had a couple of ideas in my mind, and I had to ask the other guys, and also had another conversation with Gerrit.The song was already named “Blood Of Legends”. This song, not in the form you can hear it on the album, but in a different version, exists since Marco was still in the band. So we’re talking about 2009 here. We changed it a bit when we got a new guitarist and also added some violin parts. As you understand, the title existed since then. We kept it and thought that it fits well with the whole album, as every song speaks about different kinds of legends. I spoke with my friend, Jon Roumpoulias, who made the cover artwork on this new album as well as the previous one. We decided to have something like the artwork you see, a guy who sings about legends. And so the blood of legends is also about this guy. And this guy speaks about the legends of the album.
Did you have to do a lot of research to be able to write the lyrics for the album, or do you know these themes very well?
– No, I didn’t do any special research, because I am very much into history, all kind of history, mythology, and everything that travel through time.
Does the album contain songs from the whole six year period since the “To Death And Beyond…”, or are the songs of newer date?
– Actually, I think the very last song we prepared for the album, was “The Curse Of Medea”, and this happened two months before we started recording the album. And also the acoustic stuff was all in my mind, so I could present the ideas to the other guys. We put them together on a preproduction, before we did the actual recording. We thought the acoustic stuff sounded great, and decided to include the pieces.
I guess some people will use the words symphonic and epic about this album. Usually when those words are used together, they refer to some crappy Italian Rhapsody-clone or something like that.
– You are right!
Hopefully you won’t be drowned into this shit.
– Symphonic epic metal is usually something like Rhapsody, but I don’t think we have anything to do with this. Are we symphonic? No, I don’t think so. I ask you. Tell me!
I wouldn’t call the music symphonic either, but with the inclusion of violins and cellos, some people might…
– What I consider a symphonic thing, is something that has so many arrangements, so much keyboards and at the same time acts as a show off of high technique. It’s no longer about feeling. On this record, you’ll find some simple ideas played in a nice way and arranged in a way we think fits very well. Maybe I am wrong, but when I hear the word symphonic, I think about something with a lot of keyboards and a symphonic orchestra performing. In a symphonic orchestra for 120 people or more, anything can happen. Everyone can play different things. What we do in a song like “Valkyries Above Us” is really simple. It’s still metal and epic to my ears. We want to play epic metal, and that’s what we do, I think.
So what is epic metal to you then?
– I expected that question. Haha! Now you may laugh at me, but in my mind but epic metal is definitely “Into Glory Ride” by Manowar or Manilla Road’s “Open The Gates”. At the same time, epic metal for me is the sound from “Conan The Barbarian”. At least it has the essence, it’s not like it’s metal with distorted guitars, drums and everything, but the feeling coming out of it, is definitely epic, and it certainly has a sense of metal to it as well. It’s powerful and bombastic. Actually, I can not tell you with one example what epic metal is, I can find things here and there. Manowar and Manilla Road, I have already mentioned. Bathory too is one of my main influences of all time. So I need to mention the album “Hammerheart” when you bring up the question. Or “Twilight Of The Gods”. Even a powerful power metal album, like “Death Or Glory” from Running Wild is really epic in my ears. My ears hear epic metal here and there, in many bands. I can find it even in the Motörhead songs “Deaf Forever” or “Sacrifice” or stuff like that. Epic metal is a genre, but you can do single songs that give you the same feeling of majesty. What can I say about for example Manowar and the songs “Thor (The Powerhead)” or “Mountains” from “Sign Of The Hammer”. That’s epic metal!
Funny that you should mention Running Wild’s “Death Or Glory”, I was recently raving about this album after listening to it again some weekends ago. Ever since it was released, it’s been one of my favorite albums, maybe my favorite album.
– When you hear “Blazon Stone”, you will maybe hear a better production, or something else, but “Death Or Glory” has something special. Not to mention that crazy guy, the English drummer…
– Yes, he plays some amazing things. And the riffing on this album. What can I say? How can you compose songs like “Evilution”, “Marooned”, “Riding The Storm” or “Running Blood”? I really love this album, I listened a lot to it as a teenager, and it affected me in everything I do. If you hear a song like the “Ocean Of Pain” from the previous album, it’s completely based on the riffing of Rolf Kasparek. Well, I can talk about “Death Or Glory” for hours.
A song like “Valkyries Above Us”, an incredible track by the way, must be quite hard to do live? Is it possible to recreate it as we hear it in all its glory on “Blood Of Legends”?
– We will surely have problems with the choir parts. We played it live already, in the soundcheck of a small liveshow we did, not this December, but the previous one, in a small town here in Greece. The song itself will come out good, I know that, but the choir parts, no! I am not sure if we want to do the pre-recorded parts of the songs. We have to see how it works. If you are a bigger band and playing bigger venues, it can work well, but if you have to play small clubs, I am not sure, maybe it will sound completely silly.
– Actually you’ll have to go through our music, I guess. You know sometimes it’s really hard for someone who is a musician, let’s say Antreas, to really get into our thing. Remember, he has played guitars for many years and in many bands, but it also has to do with the personality of someone. Does he want to go deep into what we try to do? Or does he want to bring his own stuff and change everything? The latter we simply wouldn’t accept, because we are not a new band. We have three, or now four, albums behind us. Actually Battleroar already have a sound, we wouldn’t like to change that. The new musicians will have to respect that, and respect the whole history of the band and the big effort from the original members of the band. We are already a band for 14 years now, so we’re getting old. Do you want someone to come into you house and say: “Well, you know what, I don’t like your house. You have to change it”. You would probably say: “I’ve lived here for many years, I won’t change it”. If somebody can understand that and say: “I appreciate your house. I don’t like it a hundred percent, but I will try, since you would make it my home too”.
In the past the material was written and arranged by Battleroar. What about this time, have you had to do more on your own?
– Personally the last album is way more “mine” than the other ones, but also in the past, at least half the albums were mine. I am a bit careful to label something as mine, because it’s not nice when you are in a band…We don’t’ like to say that I made this song, or you made that song. It simply doesn’t work like that. It’s more about who brings the idea to the band, because songwriting is pretty much everything you do with it. When I give my drummer a song, when he builds it up with his drums, he does songwriting. He doesn’t bring the original idea, the riffs, but still he helps building the song. So actually everybody writes songs, but I can say that from the ideas we bring to an album, usually 50-60 percent come from me, but for this album I think it’s closer to 90 percent.
You seem like a democratic leader?
– Well, actually we’re democratic, but we always have to limit ourselves in a way. We brought Battleroar here, so we know better than a newcomer how a song should be. In the process we had to change songs, even things I was making, because I thought they would not fit very well. I never brought along something I thought was terrible, but we had to be a bit careful, because I consider “To Death And Beyond…” a really nice album. So it was a big challenge for us to make an album that could be compared to or even be better than this one.
Are there any news on your other band, Arpyian Horde who released a single back ten years ago?
– I’ll send you a couple of new songs, when I have the time. We recently played at Up The Hammers here in Greece. It was our first live performance ever, after ten years. The thing about this band, because it’s a band now, not a project, is that the drummer comes from Wrathblade, the bass player from Marauder, I have Battleroar, the singer has a band called Need, and the other guitarist have Wishdoom and also helps Dark Nightmare out. We all are pretty busy with our bands, and we have to try to make time for Arpyian Horde whenever we can. Slowly, slowly we’re making progress. We have two songs, and guess what, I make the songwriting here too. It’s different, the musicians are different and we play a different style, it’s more aggressive and dark. Something is definitely gonna happen, people ask more and more about the band, and a lot of people really appreciate the single. When we have the time, we will record the two new songs properly.
I know some people are very much into the first Battleroar-album. In my opinion, it’s the weakest one, but that being said I enjoy the three later ones a lot. What’s your opinion on it?
– You know something, I want to finish an album and not have to look back. I am trying to make 110 percent of what I can when I make an album. I make it now and give it my best, right now I am better in many ways, but I can’t go back. That was the best I could give at the time, and I am not gonna regret something I did years ago. Of course if I would do it again, maybe I would do it better, but this is what I could do then, and what I did. I am not gonna whine and cry about it. What I can say, is that the first album was a really important, because it was our debut. Would it go well, or would it go further? It was a really critical album.
Do you have a favourite song from it?
– On that album I made “Swordbrothers”, Moritiru Te Salutant”, “Mourning Sword” and “Berzerker”, I made a lot of songs there. I think my fave track is “Mourning Sword” or “Morituri Te Salutant” One of these two, but I like all of them. Also “Megaloman” because it was the first time we had Kenny Powell helping us out. I don’t know if you know about next years edition of “Up The Hammers”, but you should definitely come over here. We’re gonna play both days, one day with the current lineup and the other one with the old lineup. And Kenny Powell and Mark Shelton are gonna be there. I know it’s a long trip, but you should definitely make it happen.