March 26, 2024

By David E. Gehlke

ROTTING CHRIST is the unquestioned most influential and important Greek extreme metal band, which is owed in large part to the work ethic of its co-founding member, vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and now manager, Sakis Tolis. Launched in Athens in 1987, ROTTING CHRIST broke through during the early '90s second wave of black metal. The band's Greek origins were the deciding factor. Running in opposition to their Norwegian brethren's more icy and primitive sound, ROTTING CHRIST played an exotic brand of black metal that gave them a wide enough berth to pursue melodic territory, which they did to tremendous effect (and debate) on 1996's "Triarchy Of The Lost Lovers" and the following year's "A Dead Poem". Both albums proved ROTTING CHRIST could be just as effective in playing mid-tempo material that stripped away the extremity and replaced it with sharp, memorable songwriting. Coincidentally, "Triarchy" and "A Dead Poem" served as a guideline for ROTTING CHRIST's latest foray, "Pro Xristou".

Written and recorded after the dust settled on the pandemic, "Pro Xristou" belatedly starts a new chapter for ROTTING CHRIST — the band's last studio album, "The Heretics", was issued in 2019. But when BLABBERMOUTH.NET caught up with Tolis during the band's run of shows in Latin America, the frontman sounded as confident as ever that ROTTING CHRIST has continued to uphold its end of the bargain as being one of extreme metal's most enduring bands.

Blabbermouth: "The Heretics" album was such an important statement for ROTTING CHRIST. Was the extra time between releases a good thing for the band?

Sakis: "Actually, no, but due to the pandemic, my whole schedule was pushed back. I was about to write the album. Usually, I record and release an album after three years, but this one took me five years due to the pandemic. I didn't have the best of times during the pandemic. I didn't feel like doing anything. I started to compose the album during the pandemic, and I came up with an album after five years, which is something different. It's totally different from 'The Heretics', in my opinion."

Blabbermouth: You went back to your mid-to-late 1990s era, specifically the "A Dead Poem" and "Triarchy Of Lost Lovers" albums for "Pro Xristou". What was the reasoning?

Sakis: "I'm always seeking new ideas. The era for the last two records (2016's 'Rituals' and 'Heretics') is over, so I didn't want to compose an album that sounded like the previous ones. I'd feel a little bit empty. I told myself to come up with a more melodic, mid-tempo and epic album."

Blabbermouth: In the 1990s, it was radical to veer off into records like "A Dead Poem", coming off "Thy Mighty Contract" (1993) and "Non Serviam" (1994).

Sakis: "It's more or less the same; I just decided to go back in our history. When I came out from 'Non Serviam' and 'Thy Mighty Contract', I played more melodic. It's what I'm doing now. It's different from 'Rituals' and 'Heretics', but it's something…I don't know. I guess it's back to our roots. I don't know where it comes from. Physically, I don't know if I ever composed music to satisfy someone. I ask myself and try to be as honest as possible with people. This time, it came out more melodic. I didn't try to prove we're the most satanic band or the most extreme. To be honest, I'm not anymore. I love this kind of music. I've been in the scene since day one. I have tried everything. I wouldn't say I like it when some bands forget where they started. I wouldn't say I like it. I want to be honest with people and ROTTING CHRIST is ROTTING CHRIST. It's an extreme band with an extreme name that plays extreme music. We don't try to prove we're the most satanic or extreme metal band. Everything we do is ourselves. I like to be honest with the fans and people."

Blabbermouth: You could even throw in something like "Sleep Of The Angels", which was a big departure when it came out in 1999. People have warmed up to that album now.

Sakis: "People told me at the time, 'You're going commercial. You want money and to be famous.' That wasn't true back then. Now people tell me 'Sleep' is one of our best albums. I just play music. I'm glad that after 35 years, I still have ideas, I'm alive, I'm safe and mentally and physically able to release new music. It's very important for me. This is a new album that is the most epic and melodic since 'Sleep Of The Angels' and 'A Dead Poem'."

Blabbermouth: The album's concept is about the last days of paganism. Did you draw any parallels to today as it relates to segments of people coming across as less enlightened?

Sakis: "Yes. The ancient Pagan values and knowledge inspired the concept of the album. It's a tribute album to those who resisted the tyranny of Christianity who destroyed all the knowledge and wisdom of the ancient world. It's not a Satanic album like (2013's) 'Katá ton Daímona Eautoú', but it's still an anti-Christianity and anti-religion album because this is what I wanted to get across."

Blabbermouth: "Like Father, Like Son" was released as the first single. The lyrics are intriguing since it's a personal side you often don't show in ROTTING CHRIST.

Sakis: "Those values, those ethics, they are metal values. It's inspired by old Scandinavian metal, like BATHORY's 'Hammerheart' and 'Twilight Of The Gods'. I wanted to write different songs this time. It's a very soulful concept that we always reflect on as a band. In the end, some people think a song like that is weird, but I say, 'I want to try it with metal music. I want to try something different with ROTTING CHRIST. We're not about destroying.' I wanted to write something about values, which, in my opinion, is still metal."

Blabbermouth: You're a father. Is that why the song has special importance to you?

Sakis: "Yes, as a father, kids are, for me, the most important thing in life. This is how we make the bridge and educate them to make this planet better. I give all for my kids. I want to see them making this fucking world better in the future. I try to do my best. If someone is a parent, they know the feeling and how it's important to raise kids and teach them how to make the world a better place."

Blabbermouth: You've been on Season Of Mist longer than Century Media. What keeps the relationship going?

Sakis: "I've had offers to go elsewhere, but I've stayed with Season Of Mist because it's about the relationships I have with them. I know everyone with Season Of Mist. I feel like they are family. Even if I still get better offers, money is not what controls me. Yes, I'm doing well with Season Of Mist. Nowadays, labels don't make a big difference. On the other hand, they're friends. When I'm friends with someone and have a relationship, I don't betray them. I'm still doing a lot of work myself, like the new video we did. I have my own YouTube channel. I book my shows. I do everything by myself, so a label is not a big thing. Back in the day, they were very important. Now, it's like, 'All right. I know the job. I'm working. I'm educated. I'm working 24/7.' I would like to see my album out on a label I'm friends with. I don't care about being on a huge label."

Blabbermouth: How is the self-managed thing going?

Sakis: "I love it. [Laughs] Since I do it myself, I feel a lot better. You know, if I didn't have a label, I'd give everything away for free. I realized during the pandemic that I earn my living by being on the road. I don't care about the charts, sales or merchandising. If I had control, I'd give everything away for free. I try to satisfy everyone because I'm a fan. I'm a humanitarian. I like to share with people. Some people want something back if they share, but I get love from people every night, which is very important. It keeps me going. I've been in Latin America for one month. It's not easy, man, especially at 51. [Laughs] But I do free meet and greets with people. I don't charge anything. I'll take a picture with everyone. I give some love; I get some love. This is life, in my opinion. The more I grow up, the more I don't give a shit about money and the situation worldwide. I try to share feelings with people who, of course, deserve it. That keeps me alive. That keeps me doing it. It's not easy, but I'll keep going."

Blabbermouth: I think it's pretty cool you don't charge for meet-and-greets.

Sakis: "I do it because I like to exchange feelings. This is life. The more I grow up, the more I realized life is about giving and getting. What you give to people, you'll get from the people. I respect everyone. I'm not against anything. I'm quite open-minded. I can't understand everyone, but what keeps me going is the love from the fans. Nothing else."

Blabbermouth: Has your perspective toward Dave Mustaine of MEGADETH kicking you off a bill in Athens in 2005 changed at all?

Sakis: "You know something, I'm the kind of person who is not violent. It takes a lot to offend me. [Mustaine] has the right to do whatever he wants. I didn't like the idea. I don't like censorship, but I have my own ideas on it. I'd never censor someone. I would never do the same myself, especially if he's in the metal scene. We're metalheads. We have chosen our own path. It's against society, the system and everything. If someone from the metal community acts like this, I don't give a shit, but I will not respect them. That's all. I will never say something else about him."

Blabbermouth: I remember when this happened. You had every opportunity to make a big deal out of it, but you didn't.

Sakis: "No. Never. To be honest, I want to be myself. What you see from ROTTING CHRIST is one hundred percent. You know our ideas about religion. You know our way of life. You know everything. I could never act selfishly. That's not what we're about."

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