Mar 11, 2010

Interview With Pantheist - aesthetic searches of Kostas Panagiotou

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A pantheist is someone who believes that God and the universe are the same. Or in other words that "All is God", as pantheism literally means "God is All". Pantheist is a highly influential Doom Metal, masters of song-craft that at times is highly unorthodox. Never a band to follow rules, they have roots based in Doom Metal but also blend their music from Progressive Rock and Traditional Music influences. Here is a great interview with Kostas (keyboards and vocals) conducted by our new friend in Doom, Aleks. At the bottom of this interview you will find links to the sites he works on, the sites are in Russian but can be translated. Enjoy this detailed interview.

1. Salut Kostas! I'm glad that we have a chance to talk once again about Pantheist! So how are you? How is Pantheist's crew?

K.P.: Greetings to you Aleks! Things are not too bad here and I assume everyone in the band is ok. I'm not sure though, since everyone is in some other country for holidays at this moment. The joys of playing in a band with multiple nationalities!

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2. By the way are you busy now preparing some new material for next LP or do you still reap your harvest of "Journey Through Lands Unknown"?

K.P.: I'm always looking ahead for at least 2-3 albums so yes, new tracks are being planned. I have two keyboard only demos thus far, and more material will follow in the next months. Once I get in the mood for creating new stuff my working pace becomes frantic, so an album is quickly shaped out of nowhere! However the tracks still need to be honed with the whole band with plenty of rehearsals, working on the existing demos, tweaking of the material etc.

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3. Did you say "thanks" to Greg Chandler who tortured Pantheist in his country-side studio during your record-session? :-) Was he such rigid (and professional of course) as always?

K.P.: I think we all said multiple 'thanks' to him for his hard work and dedication. And of course for the relentless torturing ;) His working pace is terrifying as he can easily do 16 hours work in a day's time. So he continues to tweak and work on stuff long after all of us lay groggy on the sofa, ha ha. In all seriousness, bands like ours who have only very small budgets to record albums are completely dependent on both the quantity and quality of the work of the engineer in question, and we are simply very lucky to have Greg working on our albums.

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4. Okay. It's about songs of "Journey…": man, what's about this train's whistle in the beginning of "Deliverance"? Why did you choose the train's theme to open you album? I was writing down these questions sitting in the train (Arhangelsk - Saint-Petersburg), it was long 26th hours way long road… So this interest becomes quiet professional! Forgive me my curiosity.

K.P.: The sound of an ancient train locomotive is a symbol for the long journey that is about to be undertaken; there are more hints of this journey throughout the album, like e.g. the sound of the wind blazing in the beginning of 'Unknown Land' and the gentle sound of sea waves that introduces 'The Loss of Innocence'. A lot of my favorite bands make albums that have to be listened to as a whole journey, rather than breaking them down in individual tracks. We try to follow on that tradition by offering a musical trip rather than a collection of songs.

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5. Ha! And why didn't You use such samples as sounds of "northern wind" (You know that it's not same as simple "wind"s sample), "howling of hungry wolves" or "raven's cawing"?

K.P.: Well first of all the wolves and the raven don't fit in the whole journey concept, hehe. Also -and this is a very serious comment- this is a very personal album and references to the 'northern' wind or anything that doesn't evoke the 'warmth' of my country of origin as well as my own temperament, would invalidate this personal character. I never understood Greek bands that worship Wotan and Odin, just to give an example; I think that if your music is personal, the references in both the music and lyrics automatically rather reflect elements from your own collective unconscious (providing of course that you are not a Greek of Norwegian origin, or the reincarnation of Euronymous, both quite unlikely scenario's).

6. Hey and what was your longest train journey?

K.P.: Good question! Once I traveled all the way from Thessalonica in Greece to Munich in Germany, and from there I changed three more trains (Munich toKoln, Koln to Brussels, Brussels to Antwerp). Yes, that was on that fateful day that I moved from Greece to Belgium and the early seeds of Pantheist were sown! I think the whole journey lasted 2-3 days.

7. Dare I guess that "Journey…" places Pantheist somewhere between ancient Greek drama and classical works of European philosophers, the way of self-analysis and self-exploration… Though I may do error. Where do you see Pantheist from this point of view?

K.P.: I like your point of view, although I have to admit I haven't looked at things this way before! There is indeed a lot of self-analysis and exploration going on in the album; everything has been written from a very personal, first person point of view and the themes explored are left deliberately quite fuzzy and obscure as I didn't just want to represent a rational view, but allowed my subconscious to carry me through certain parts of the album instead. So there you go, I just introduced yet another variable for you, the subconscious; so let us then agree that the work represents the wide chasm between Plato and Freud with some English empiricism and German phenomenology thrown in for good measure!

8. Ok, let it be! How often do You resort to the help of self-analysis? For any personality's growing is impossible without it.

K.P.: It depends on which parts of my life we are talking about; certain aspects of my personality are like 'blind corners' and I have the greatest difficulty to take some distance from them and look at matters with cold rationality. In these cases I need more outside help. I am better at other things, like indeed analyzing my own music (which I also consider as an expression of my personality), which I look at from a very critical and analytical perspective, as I would hate to release something that I don't mean for 100%.

9. I've read interesting mention not so long ago. It's said that really and naturally the Art is combination of 3 components: 1. Science (that brings the light); 2. Religion (that brings warm); 3. Art in itself (as natural need to creative process). What do You think? Is any applicability of this theory suitable for Pantheist?

K.P.: It's an interesting way of looking at things; let's see if we can apply this to the music of Pantheist: our science is the realization that all things are somehow interrelated, therefore every single component can be used to the benefit of the whole, as long as it adds some positive energy to it; ok, let's move to religion. This is the atmosphere of the actual music, very spiritual and pure and at the same time there is something stern and harsh about it, just like the mocking smile of a corrupt priest behind the altar. Art as a need to create: this is where it all comes from, creative energy that becomes the will to create and express yourself. This is what every art is all about, and it couldn't be different with Pantheist.

10. Did the course of your gigs change after "Journey…"? I can't imagine that these songs have been played simply like others… simply like songs. Don't you think to intersperse your shows with some video-slides or maybe special decorations?

K.P.: We have always tried to make our gigs a bit special, but I think we have intensified this process after the release of 'Journey'. We wear special robes and cloaks, use candles etc to create a special atmosphere. We are careful about how we come across visually as the music we play is relatively static, although no one would claim this after seeing us headbanging in synchronicity on stage, as we are one of the most 'physical' doom bands around!

11. Does "dum spiro despero" became your nowadays motto? Or is it just clever charade?

K.P.: It's a way of life, an ideal. If you don't hope for anything, then you are free of your fears. Just compare this to the epigram on Kazantzakis' grave: 'I don't hope for anything; I don't fear anything; I'm free'. If you can turn your despair to positive energy, then you are in control of yourself. Or put otherwise, you can only gain total control by relinquishing it first completely. You may have noticed that the song lyrics involve some ideas of Pure Land Buddhism, which basically states the same thing with different words: you have to trust in the 'other power' before gaining control of your 'self power'.

12. Yes, of course we're free if we have nothing to fear and we have nothing to fear if we have nothing to want, to desire passionately… But then we have to find harmony inside our selves though most of us search it in others. It's well known paradox. Heh, what is Your way to turn despair to positive energy?

K.P.: I think my answer is the subject of this interview: most of the music I create -and that of course includes Pantheist, which is my most personal expression- is surely my attempt to express and explain the suffering, pain and despair that are plenty to behold in the world?

13. Kostas, I would like to ask you after listening "Journey…" once again: who did influence upon you as keys-player and as vocalist? It seems that your chants became both ritualistic and theatrical at same time.

K.P.: Throughout the history of the band, I have been influenced by many different sources: classical music, extreme doom, ethnic music, progressive rock etc. This time, all these influences have come together to haunt every single composition on the record. So what you hear is not a different type of influence, but rather a more intense use of these influences.
I would almost need to discuss each track individually just to give you an idea of the influences on the keyboards and vocals; e.g. in Deliverance the keyboards are reminiscent of progressive rock while the vocals tend to follow traditions within extreme metal (i.e. the so called 'sick' dark metal sound); in Unknown Land both voice and keys are influenced by the Greek rebetica, which was music from the Greek underworld. The vocal intro in particular is a tribute to 19th century dirge music (amanes) from Smyrna. Dum Spiro on the other side has a groovy vibe and vocally I wanted to capture the ritualistic sound of bands like Sleep, Om etc. However the Hammond organ refers more to the rock bands of the 70ties. The Loss of Innocence on the other hand, has been both vocally and arrangement wise influenced by bands like Bathory. Etc, I could go on. The point is that we wanted to allow in the whole palette of influences this time including an experiment here and there. Nobody in the band is really comfortable with the 'funeral doom' tag as it implies 'dead' music played by suicidal misanthropists, and as you understand this description has always been far from the truth when it comes to Pantheist.

14. I guess that it was right answer :-) I did not want to ask You about "musical influences" for it's boring questions (though not in that case). I rather would like to ask You about really historical personality who expressed You most. Do You have anyone which virtues You would like to achieve?

K.P.: I would like to achieve the inner calmness of the historical Buddha, or the wisdom of someone like Carl Gustav Jung. Sometimes I'm also jealous of the observational skills of writers/poets like Dostojevski, Kavafis and Kazantzakis.

15. Avant-garde, intellectual, dramatic but wait! Kostas such songs' titles as "Oblivion" or "Eternal Sorrow" are too famous, too pathetic for everyone who listened 3 or 4 doomy albums, don't you think so?

K.P.: Sometimes I believe simplicity works best; I could have called 'Oblivion' something like 'The Land of Forgotten Dreams' and 'Eternal Sorrow' maybe something like 'Black-clad I faced Minos'. But would that have really brought across the point of the tracks much better? If you are thinking about cliches too much, then your frantic attempts to avoid them becomes a cliche in itself. I always believed in clarity of ..perhaps one couldn't tell by listening to my weird music, haha) and sometimes a 'forgotten land' evokes just that simple word: oblivion, while the torments of never ending sadness are nicely summed up in the words 'Eternal Sorrow'.

16. But do You really believe in some possibility state of eternal soul's sorrow? Hypothetically… Human being in itself must be eternal to get any eternal emotions but isn't it simple degradation, a dead-end? All things are ever-changing… Though, sorry, I take it too close to my heart.

K.P.: I don't think the eternal sorrow I talk of should be taken too literally; the way I see it, it is a state which although it can't be eternal, it can definitely 'feel' eternal. The moment your noble feelings of love and devotion have been rejected by the object of your affection, might in purely temporal terms only last a few seconds, but surely the pain, humiliation and sorrow must feel as if they are eternal.

17. You told about "ancient gods' judgment" upon a soul of main song's character in "Eternal Sorrow", but how do you really imagine such interesting moment by yourself? For not so long ago I read "Bardo Thjodol" (also known as "Tibetan book of the dead") and there was mentioned judgment of "good" and "evil" gods upon human soul, but these gods are nothing but images or results of man's good and bad deeds, they are only karmic visions so the man see them just as he imagined them during his earthly life. Though you know this theory ad I think.

K.P.: Phew…this definitely gives me some stuff for thought. I totally agree with the Buddhist view of psychological suffering caused by our inability to see things as they are. At the same time, I do not believe at all in any form of divine (or non-divine) judgment when it comes to ethical choices. A human being is merely judged by the consequences of his/her actions I think, so in a sense your deeds judge themselves as eventually the truth comes floating on the surface, even if it takes centuries for it to find the water's edge. The track in question uses imagery from the Greek mythology to set up a fictitious court in which an unresponsive loved one is brought to trial for their indifference. The topic of unrequited love is for some reason a very common one in my lyrics, and it has appeared in some form or other in each album we have made in the past!

18. How do you think why is theme of Oblivion such popular in the underground bands' lyrics? For oblivion just looks as passive, action-less eternity instead of active eternity which are most suitable for ever searching human minds.

K.P.: I think it's precisely so popular for the fact that it is the ever-searching mind's worse nightmare: nobody wants to be forgotten and for some people, getting lost in oblivion is the ultimate agony that can befall them in their lives. Underground bands like to deal with 'negative' topics, so surely such extreme negativity could not go on without being commented upon?

19. Next one is about "Loss of Innocence": can we suppose that song is about loss of spiritual innocence of course… So can you recognize when and how a human loses his clearness? For without it we can see things only in our ego-ways, twisting reality and as it seems there is no way back to return this state.

K.P.: I think we should re-evaluate the way we look at consciousness. Most scientists, philosophers etc will tell you that a person becomes conscious at a young age, when they become self-aware and can place themselves and their lives in perspective. For me, consciousness comes much later with that painful awareness that I describe in 'The Loss of Innocence': you only become fully conscious on the day that you start regretting things you have done in your life. Guilt about what you have done, who you are, what you have become etc makes you fully aware of your position in the universe as an almost failed cosmic experiment. I said almost, because there is still some chance that one can overcome regret and take control of their lives again, but this requires a lot of mindfulness, acceptance of error and ultimately a lot of courage.

20. The simple one, You and Stijn van Cauter recorded Wijlen Wij LP 2 years ago. Was it just one-album project? Or maybe we have some chances to hear once again a march of this triumphant funeral procession under yours accompaniment?

K.P.: I am afraid it was a one trick pony; personally I have no desire to continue with this project at this stage; what was to be said, has been said.

21. By the way, what does Wijlen Wij mean?

K.P.: It was a very clever wordplay in Dutch that Lawrence came up with, it means something like 'late we'. A better translation would be 'we who used to be', or 'we the dead'

22. How does a progress of Ilya and Indesinence go? Are they on the way to Chandler's den? Or do they still polish their ideas during rehearsal?

K.P.: Hmmm…for that I think you will need to ask Ilia. All I know is that they are writing new tracks, but their first album took them 4-5 years to release, so don't hold your breath.

23. It was quiet unusual album anyway, we have nothing even to compare with - especially onto doom-scene and even with your previous works, though it's Pantheist still of course… Do you care about your listeners expectations? Don't you fear to be misunderstood?

K.P.: As an artist you have two choices: you either give the audience exactly what they want to hear, or you do your own thing and hope that they appreciate it, it's that simple really. After 'O Solitude' I have thrown in the bin ideas that could have easily made 'O Solitude part 2' simply because I don't believe in repeating myself; I would rather challenge the listener with something more 'difficult' that gives them food for thought and something that you need to take the time to understand and appreciate. Yes, we are misunderstood the whole time. E.g. take a track like '....Unknown.. ..Land....': as I said earlier, it features 19th century chants in the tradition of the dirge songs of Smyrna. Well in Greece, the birthplace of that sort of music, we have been told by the metal press that the track is just some failed, incoherent avant garde experiment with weird vocals. Only a very small minority understood that the track is based on Greek traditional music! So much for metal bands honoring their Greek heritage.
There is a lot of hypocrisy in the extreme metal genre. So-called extreme bands are churning out year after year the same predictable music that the fans gullibility and greedily consume over and over again. What is so 'extreme' about feeding the needs of a fan-base? Extreme music should constantly push its boundaries and challenge its listeners, even if it means making some of them unhappy. Instead people are more preoccupied with how many BPM the music is (the slower, the better if you play doom), how low the guitars are being tuned, whether a band is using keyboards and clean vocals etc. Recently I heard that the guy from Worship is asking for a round table discussion with funeral doom fanatics to discuss whether some ideas he has about his next album are 'acceptable' for funeral doom standards. Where is the world going to? We have lost every standard, as if there are no creative individuals any more, only fan-boys feeding and sustaining mediocrity.

24. As it has been said "This year, Pantheist's "Journey Through Lands Unknown" is nominated in "Best Extreme Doom Metal" category". How did it end for you? Are you the best ones still?

K.P.: We are regularly nominated in such categories but seldom win; our music is not strictly 'extreme doom metal' as it has many other influences and such contests are usually won by the bands that stay more faithful to the genre's characteristics, not the hybrids like ourselves. So to answer to your question yes, we are still the best, but only in our heads.

25. It was my last question for this time! Thank you, Kostas, for your patience and answers. Give the guys my best regards! Would you like something to add?

K.P.: Thank you Aleks, this was the most interesting interview I've done in years. I will pass on your regards to the band, do the same to your Russian readers. I will not be able to read your translated text, but hope that one day we will be able to come to Russia for a few gigs to meet our fans there. We were playing in Poland at the end of October, so we are already heading in the right direction.
Interview by Aleks Evdokimov

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