Septicflesh’s Christos Antoniou on ‘Titan,’ Composing for the Prague Philharmonic + More
At Septicflesh‘s recent New York City stop on the 2014 ‘Conquerors of the World’ tour, Loudwire headed backstage to speak with guitarist / orchestrator Christos Antoniou. It was a special day for Septicflesh, because it was the official release date for the band’s ninth studio album, ‘Titan.’
During our chat with Christos, the masterful composer spoke about ‘Titan,’ headlining the 2014 ‘Conquerors of the World’ tour, recording with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, using a children’s choir without the kids knowing about the evil album they were contributing to and much more.
Check out our exclusive interview with Septicflesh’s Christos Antoniou!
First of all, I’m loving ‘Titan,’ but I’ve been trying to figure out one thing. Is it a concept record?
No, it’s not a concept album. Some songs have a connection, like ‘Prometheus’ and Burn.’ ‘Prometheus’ brought the fire to the people and ‘Order of Dracul’ and ‘Prototype’ talks about the manipulation of the masses. ‘Ground Zero’ acts as a prologue to the last song on the album, ‘The First Immortal.’ Although there are some connections, some common elements between the songs, there is not a concept or story behind the lyrics.
Another great part of ‘Titan’ is that on the deluxe edition, you can get the raw orchestral parts blended together to create new experiences.
It contains the orchestral recordings from Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. I made for this CD, the orchestral CD, something different from the one I did with ‘The Great Mass.’ I tried to blend some elements, some motifs from the songs. As example, I have ‘Dogma of Prometheus,’ which is the blend between the two main themes of these songs and ‘Order of a Serial Killer’ — this kind of stuff.
This was a totally different approach. When I had everything ready, for me, it was much easier to reconstruct the skeleton of the orchestral solo songs. After some experimentation, some music keys fit together very well. I could easily connect ‘Dogma’ with ‘Prometheus,’ ‘Order [of Dracul]’ with ‘Confessions [of a Serial Killer]’ and this kind of stuff.
There’s so much happening on all of your records. Where does the writing process begin?
I will say that some people, they say Septicflesh is progressive. Some people believe that there are so many things going on, but I’ll say the most progressive element of Septicflesh is the use of the orchestra. Okay, we are not the best performers, except Fotis, who is an amazing drummer, but the band takes the credit from the orchestra in order to create the complexity and progressive character. The use of orchestra is the main important tool for the composition and for the band because the majority of the songs, we’ve built it within the orchestral template. This makes us unique in comparison with other bands because we don’t have to hire an orchestrator or an arranger. We do everything from scratch, always a production from the Septicflesh factory.
With a lot of your works, I feel that although the orchestra can lead certain parts, it’s all swirling around Septicflesh as the foundation and gravitational center.
You are right because all the things that go around is under our identity, under our distinctive character that the band has. We always try to experiment in order to find a new music vocabulary for our next album. We don’t want to be repetitive, but we keep the main character of Septicflesh, which it seems we have created very good albums since our comeback. ‘Communion,’ ‘Great Mass’ and ‘Titan'; each of them have their own unique character and color. This is very important for the band. If we were doing ‘The Great Mass No. 2,’ it would be very bad for the band. ‘Titan’ is a step forward for the band.
Those three records you mentioned all feature the Prague Philharmonic, which is probably the most prolific orchestra to work with metal bands. Phenomenal musicians. I’ve heard a lot from other artists that they’re very expensive and you can only hire them for a very short amount of time.
They record their sessions in only four hours. You have to do everything you have to do in four hours. We separated them because the orchestra is too big to fit in the concert hall, but we start with the strings and woodwinds then we go with the brass and percussion and then finish with the choir. But as you said, they are amazing musicians and they need just four takes. They see the score for the first time and they need only four takes to perform it really well. You have to be really organized and focused, because if you do a mistake there, this will cost you a fortune. I tried to give them as many details as I can in my scores to avoid creating chaos or the session to slow down. You have to act really fast and be really focused on your target.
When you’re there recording with them, is that extremely stressful? You’ve composed all this beautiful music and they only have a short period of time to get everything right.
To tell you the truth, no. I have worked so many times with them, I’ve worked with them three times with Septicflesh, I have worked [with them] once with my other band Chaostar. I have done other projects, classical music they’ve done. I know them really well, they know me. I know how they will react in a problem. It’s a family. When I was a student in the music university, I had dreams to watch an orchestra perform. I try to enjoy the procedure and of course I am in the booth and I check the score if something goes wrong. But at the end of the day, it’s fun to be there. It’s an amazing experience to see so many amazing musicians.
Once again, the Prague Philharmonic have done so much great stuff with metal bands. Are any of the musicians actual metalheads?
We had only one guy that knew Septicflesh in the percussion [section]. The others, they don’t care. As you said, they record every day, they want to give their best and you want from them the best. I really don’t care if they know the band or not, I know that they have to do their job and they don’t care if you’re a metalhead or not. They care only about their task.
‘Titan’ is your first album to feature a children’s choir…
Yes, this was the first time.
It’s so creepy.
We had the solo boy soprano for ‘The Vampire From Nazareth.’ Actually, I said to the guys, why not use the big children’s choir for ‘Titan’? With a choir you have so many unlimited abilities to create different colors. You can be creepy, ghostly, innocent, evil … you have so many areas you can cover with your music. I think we did a really good job, how we added them. They did an amazing interpretation on ‘Prototype’ and ‘Confessions of a Serial Killer.’ They boosted the music.
Did the kids know they were singing on such an evil production? Any weird things happen with their parents?
No, no. Fortunately, they don’t know. And fortunately I was not there in the session, I was back in Greece. They hear only the click and the piano demos. I don’t know if a child can ask the conductor, “What are we singing?” But, they don’t care.
With these ‘Conquerors of the World’ tours, I think a lot of metalheads appreciate that all these bands from different corners of the world are coming together for a concert like this because don’t get to see them very much.
This is the beauty of music. A lot of bands from different countries and can create strong packages. We are now with people from Greece, people from Italy, people from Canada, people from the U.S. and all this creates a strong package. It’s not only to be a strong package with goods bands, its always nice for the people to have good chemistry between them. We have toured many times with Fleshgod Apocalypse and we have many common elements. We are Mediterranean people, and this works really well for us. As I have said, Necronomicon are really great guys, I haven’t seen yet the Black Crown Initiate band. I don’t think they will play today. They had some technical problems with their van. I’m sure they are also very good guys.
Will there ever be a Septicflesh show where you’ll have a full orchestra playing behind you?
Many people ask this but, for me, it’s either you do it well or not at all. Our wall of sound is really big. I will not compromise with something like a musical ensemble. I would like to do something big, but not to impress. We had some offers from Greece, but they were not so serious. We shall see, it is in our future plans to do that but you need a really organized plan. You need to hire an orchestra, to rehearse with the orchestra, to rent a good concert hall. But we shall see. Either we do it really well, or not.
Septicflesh’s ‘Titan’ is insanely awesome and is now available to buy! To grab a copy of the album, click here.