Greek blackend Death Metal warriors EMBRACE OF THORNS have been working very hard in the underground since 1999 and already released no less than 4 demos, 4 split releases, 3 albums and a compilation. Their newest full length “Darkness Impenetrable” and another split with Finnish Death Metallers MAVETH will see the light of day later this year, so Alfonso definitely had enough topics to talk about with vocalist Archfiend Devilpig…
EMBRACE OF THORNS is one band that has definitely been growing more and more in the underground. Your work is amazing. I am ashamed to say this, but so far, I’ve only listened to "Praying For Absolution" (which I think is a brilliant album) and the "Abominable Ceremonial Torment" split. I will be looking more into your back catalog for sure. But now, let’s get into the matter at hand. Since your formation in 1999, your line-up hasn’t changed too much. I guess that is something that has helped a lot in keeping your original musical and lyrical foundations. Do you feel that the band has had a logical evolution in its sound and its concept? Who are the actual members and how have they contributed to your present stage?
"Hails and thanks for the chance to further expose EMBRACE OF THORNS through the mighty VOICES FROM THE DARKSIDE.The fact that the band has kept its musical foundations intact could probably be attributed to the fact that I have been the main songwriter in EMBRACE OF THORNS since 2004. Herald Of Demonic Pestilence (guitar) has also been part of it all since 2006 so he has been forged in our fire,so to say. My playing chemistry with Herald has been excellent all those years and I really appreciate the way he complements my ideas without altering or eroding the concepts and the feelings behind them. Yes, the band has evolved, it has become more evil, darker, more dangerous, more articulate, more focused, hungrier, more sinister and probably a whole other array of adjectives that could properly describe our beliefs and deeds of morbid existentialism. Currently the souls suffering in the pit of strife that EMBRACE OF THORNS is, are: Apostle Of Thy Blackest Light – bass (new member), Archfiend Devilpig – vocals (founder and oldest member, also used to play studio guitar up to the “Praying…” era), Fallen Angel Of Fornication – guitar (new member, also in IMPURE WORSHIP), Herald Of Demonic Pestilence – guitar (second oldest member in the band) and Nuctemeron Bestial Ravisher Of The Divine Harmony – drums (member since 2008). The older members have been long enough in the band to play a very important role in how we actually sound.The new members are excellent musicians who were fans of the band in the first place, thus they had absolutely no will to tamper with the sound of the band."
What is the essence of EMBRACE OF THORNS? What drives you into creating such elegant, yet raw and evil music? Do you think your band is the perfect medium to express your visions and feelings?
"The essence of EMBRACE OF THORNS… Well it’s hard for me to say. It’s a multi-faceted beast of a band. Secular and theistic, Gnosis seeking, hatefilled, desperate, yearning, passionate… HOLISTIC. All these, often times contradicting elements drive us to create the music we create. It can range from mere, juvenile like, rage and frustration to more profound subject matters. We are candid persons performing unpretentious music straight from the heart. Yes, the impenetrable atmosphere and the wicked soundscapes we come up with, totally express our visions and feelings. Of course each member of the band is also involved in other musical outlets, we are multi-faceted as I said, but as far as I’m concerned, EMBRACE OF THORNS has been paramount for my existence since 1998-99."
How would you describe your history so far within the Metal scene, as a band and as individuals? How did you get into Metal? And how do you perceive today’s local and international scene compared to 14 years ago when you started the band?
"Our start has been quite common, I guess. Back in ’98 things were more primitive for sure and we were also primitive, we couldn’t figure out how to promote the band, hence the demo ’99 was so poorly spread. We were 3-4 teenagers very into Hardcore / Punk and Black / Death / Thrash Metal. I was more into Metal, the guitarists were basically Punks. We started playing together in ’98, it was in a neighbourhood band called EXTREMELY INAPPROPRIATE (ΑΚΡΩΣ ΑΚΑΤΑΛΛΗΛΟΝ), we were playing covers mostly and perhaps an original number in the vein of PANX ROMANA (greek Punk legends). I was very heavily into stuff like DARKTHRONE, NECROMANTIA, MORBID ANGEL, BLASPHEMY (had bought the “Gods Of War” LP at a second hand store for the equivalent of 8 Euros), AUTOPSY, UNLEASHED, DISMEMBER, MAYHEM, ROTTING CHRIST, VARATHRON plus tons of others and one of the guitarists I was playing with (whose fave bands were DEAD KENNEDYS and KING DIAMOND) was impressed when I told him about the church burnings, the murders and the Vikernes trial that had taken place in Norway. He started digging the darker side of Metal and together with another guitarist we left the Punk band, formng REQUIEM, then EMBRACE OF THORNS. Getting into Metal was a family related issue, at least for me. An older cousin of mine was listening to a lot of classic Hardrock, Heavy Metal and when I would visit him, I would also dub a few tapes. When my ears clashed with the sound of bands like SCORPIONS, IRON MAIDEN, UFO, ACCEPT, BARON ROJO, RAINBOW etc., I was hooked for life. As time went by, things became more extreme.The contemporary local and international scene is much better than they were back in 1998. Of course the late 80s and the early to mid 90s were unparalelled in terms of the Greek and international Black / Death Metal scene. Perfection cannot be perfected. That very scene inspired us to start the band. Anyway nostalgia has its charm… and today’s scene is nothing similar to the old one, be it mentality, musical quality, support by the fans, you name it. But even contemporary the scene has tons of gems to offer. The biggest problem is saturation, there are zillion of bands around. It’s just impossible for a band to stand out… that’s a big difference with the 90s."
Do you have any other interests besides the band? I guess all of you have your regular day jobs or do you make a living out of music and your band?
"The working vs unemployed ratio of the band is currently 2 vs 3. I work as a tutor (foreign languages) and Nuctemeron is working at an accountant’s office. Herald has been running his own recording studio (www.facebook.com/pages/eleventh-tower/201995446605420) for a year now. He did the last ACHERONTAS album, some stuff for SERPENT NOIR and the upcoming EMBRACE OF THORNS album among others, but it’s still far from paying his bills. Apostle is 19 years old and recently started studying something related to Roentgen appliances. Fallen Angel has been unemployed for a couple of months. As you might know, there is absolutely no way for a band like us to make a living out of music and to be honest I’m sceptical if a possible commercial success would do any good to a band like us. You know, here comes the imminent debate regarding whether commercial success softens bands or not. I say yes… Hungry and piss poor bands tend to make much more fierce music than corporate super groups… I guess everyone in the band loves music, Metal in particular. Nuctemeron can’t get enough as he plays in a zillion of bands (everything from Heavy to Death Metal with some Hardcore / Crust thrown in for the good measure, some of his other bands are: SACRAL RAGE, NECROVOROUS, RESURGENCY plus tons more), Fallen Angel also plays in IMPURE WORSHIP, Apostle plays the guitar all the time and hangs out with his friends, I guess. Herald runs his studio and also plays in WAR POSSESSION and SERPENT NOIR. Last one is me. I work, play in another 2 bands (NECROVOROUS, SERPENT NOIR), run Kill Yourself Productions (a distro / label), listen to music, watch movies, I just love B-movies unconditionally (http://latenightmoviecrypt.wordpress.com is my baby). Last but not least, I am married and have a baby daughter."
Even though your country, Greece, has spawned some classic names in the underground, it seems you have managed to get away from that easily recognizable style. How can you explain this fact? Which bands do you consider as your main influences, both lyrical and music wise?
"Well, there’s no real explanation about this matter. We thought that sounding exactly like ROTTING CHRIST f.e would not be really fair towards ourselves. We have been heavily influenced by the early 90s Greek Black Metal scene, but on the other hand we were also overwhemed by the entire underground movement throughout the globe. We have the occasional Greek sounding riff here and there, but seeing bands trying to recreate the “storm studios” sound seems rather pathetic in my eyes. We have always tried to surpass our influences. What I mean is not denying ones influences, but to try forge an own identity. As for influences, well all I can say is that we have countless of bands we like and we’ve been subliminally influenced by: MASTER’S HAMMER, BLASPHEMY, IMPALED NAZARENE, BLACK CRUCIFIXION, BEHERIT, ORDER FROM CHAOS, PROFANATICA, NECROMANTIA, BATHORY, HELLHAMMER, CELTIC FROST, DESTRUCTION, POSSESSED, VON, ABSU, VOIVOD, HOLOCROSS, ABHORRER, LIBATION, NECROVORE, MORTEM(Nor), MAYHEM, DARKTHRONE, VARATHRON, NECROMANTIA, ROTTING CHRIST, THOU ART LORD, MYSTIFIER, SARCOFAGO, MORTUARY DRAPE, IMMOLATION, INCANTATION, AUTOPSY and the list can go on forever. Pretty much everything you could find in old zines, era ’91 – ’95."
Do you enjoy recent or new bands? Or do you always go back to the classics for inspiration and illumination?
"Of course I enjoy new or recent material but as far as inspiration is concerned there is nothing comparable to leaning back and enjoy a classic record. Old material I feel at home with in particular."
I find your lyrical content mesmerizing. In my humble opinion, it is a perfect fit for the music. But it also has a lot of interesting principles in them. Who comes up with the concepts or ideas behind them and which level of personal enlightening are you reaching out for? Do you adhere to any belief systems based on secular, theistic or spiritual denominations? Or is your approach to music bonded to past experiences and readings?
"I do come up with all the lyrics and the concepts have always been my task too. I try not to be that monosemantic / one dimensional when it comes to lyrics f.e praising theistic Satanism, La Veyan Satanism or Typhonian magic. Let other bands do their thing. I tag my thing as morbid existentialism and it deals with the earthly and spiritual strife of Man. I have gotten influenced by modern Satanism and from other belief systems that could probably surprise you if you’d found out which ones I’m talking about. Morbid existentialism deals with everything that we have to make use of in order to elevate from our frail and incomplete self to something more Holistic alias complete. Of course certain readings have influenced me, but life itself and profound discussions have been far more influential than any book / grimoire will ever be, plus I hate showing off and namedropping. A thing that I despise in the current scene is that there are bands around that are very austere towards the matters of the occult and they stage themselves to the point that they ridicule themselves. I don’t believe in that “militant aspect” of the current scene as you may characterize it. Well, Jon Nodtveidt was a unique case of devotion and I respect him a lot, but his ways definitely influenced lots of bandwagon jumpers. We have got to a point that the “message” seems to be more important than the music itself. Pardon my ranting but I’m sick and tired of being considered as untrue because I occasionally smile and have a few drinks and because I don’t boast about my occult books. With the above I don’t mean that there shouldn’t be any kind of message conveyed by bands like ours, of course there should be, but please don’t make it more important than the actual music."
How do you approach songwriting? Is there a main composer in the band that takes care of everything? Or is it a contribution between all members? Do any particular views influence the songwriting process?
"In the past, songwriting was also very connected to my actual contributions one way or another. Currently, while I keep on bringing the majority of riffs / songstructures to the table there are also very important ideas by other members, Herald predominantly. Without Herald, Fallen Angel, Nuctemeron and Apostle my newer songs would have turned out quite different for sure.There are no views regarding songwriting or any particular songwriting process. The upcoming album poured out from me in a totally unrestrained manner. I was almost shocked by that fact. Of course the way the songs sound can be attributed to our Credo, if you mean it this way…"
Do you feel that after 3 full lengths, the splits and the demos, EMBRACE OF THORNS has achieved its identity yet? Or do you still want to keep evolving as a band?
"We have put 3 albums out and we have the fourth in the making and yes you can say that we are not willing to succumb to the moloch of repetition.The new album will expand the formula even more. Of course we have a starting point and we know that there are certain dos and don’ts when it comes to an EMBRACE OF THORNS record, but yes we have shown to pretty much everyone that we don’t want to become stagnant. We want to keep evolving without dissolving the spiritual-creative core / bond of our formation. I don’t know if we are any sort of original… What do you think?"
You put out 4 demo tapes and a split LP before releasing your debut album. Looking back at them, what is your perspective? Were they all good mediums to spread your music and your message across the underground? Did they help you into getting label attention? And how do you compare your old and most recent material?
"Well, when we did the demos all we wanted was to blaspheme God and his minions. We were so fanatical and in distress regarding the late 90s scene that we had no other choice than playing the music we played / play. We were anachronistic in a way, the bands we loved were either dead (f.e. SARCOFAGO, CORONER, HELLHAMMER, CELTIC FROST, DESTRUCTION before some of them reunited) or in hiatus (BLASPHEMY, BEHERIT). We felt there was a gap in the scene at that time. It’s no secret that other bands felt that very same thing too. Hence the appearance of bands like GOAT MOLESTOR / GRAVE MIASMA, NECROS CHRISTOS, TEITANBLOOD, PROCLAMATION, BESTIAL RAIDS, all of them started around 2003 when we as well re-started after the 2 years hiatus we’d been in. Of course the band found its sound in “Atonement Ritual”, the debut full length was pretty much along the demo lines, but it was better played and recorded. All demos were good one way or another, for the time they were released. Of course those releases led to massive correspondence with people from all over the world but it was our first album that got NWN! Productions attention."
Sodomistic Rituals Productions released your debut album "…For I See Death In Their Eyes…". Did the label contact you first? And why the change from Sodomistic Rituals Productions to Nuclear War Now for your second and third albums?
"Philip from TEMPLE OF ADORATION Zine / Sodomistic Rituals was a very dear friend that offered his support unconditionally. He spread / sent the cassette version of our first album to places unimaginable and got some important people like Gene Palubicki to listen to the album and these people mostly had great things to say. I cannot describe how much he helped us. He even hooked us up with Iron Bonehead for the vinyl edition of the first album, that edition got distributed by Nuclear War Now! And we consequently got signed by Yk. We switched labels because Philip would do only cassettes and 7” EPs, plus Yosuke’s a real fan too and he has done everything possible to support the band."
Which artist was responsible for the "Praying For Absolution" cover artwork? Did you have a concept to begin with or did you want him to come up with something totally original? Were your previous covers conceived in the same way of have you shifted in between ideas and images depending on the album?
"Marko Marov did the cover / backcover / inlay art. Yes, he did pretty much everything according to a concept I had described him, of course he added tons of little details here and there. Yes, “Atonement Ritual” was also cenceived the same way. I had some ideas which I shared with Moyen…"
Concerning your live appearances, what can be expected from your shows? Do you concentrate on the atmosphere or do you go for no holds barred aggression and chaos? Any more tour plans in the future? And do you have any anecdote from any of your shows or road trips?
"Since it’s impossible to reproduce the albums’ atmosphere exactly, we opt for more brutal aesthetics and atmosphere. Still some of the oppressive darkness lurking in our albums is delivered in spades while on stage. We have no concete tour plans for the future. Up to date we have done selected one-off dates to Greece, Germany, Denmark, Spain. We really hope there is a promoter out there to set a tour for us up, at least when the new album is out. We’d like to do an underground European / U.S. tour with a fellow band. No anecdotes from the “life on the road”, it’s been mostly a blast travelling abroad and doing those shows, some were better some were worse but San Feliu, Barcelona and Killtown in Copenhagen were larger than life… Great shows."
Greece has an undeniable history in Metal in general. Some of the best and most original bands have spawned there. How do you manage to stay away from the stereotypical views on your country and, specially, your style? Which new Greek bands are worth giving a listen to?
"New bands, that are not so new after all but worthy of your time are: RAVENCULT, NECROVOROUS, SERPENT NOIR, DEAD CONGREGATION, RESURGENCY and SACRAL RAGE. There are also lots more in the early stages that will one way or another get more well-known. Yes,, Greece has a rich history in Metal and has also a big agenda full of stereotypes that we don’t give a fuck about. Honestly the whole praising and worshiping the early Greek sound is not my thing at all, this is just another lame aspect of the modern underground. Sure the early bands were fantastic, but where were almost all these warriors of the hellenic sound 5-6 years ago… Whom are they trying to fool? We can’t create a healthy, new Greek scene just by copying “Thy Mighty Contract”. We are very distanced from the shenanigans of the average scenester and keep on doing our own thing…"
In your opinion, has there been drastic changes in the underground due to the internet? Or is it a method bands need to exploit of and learn how to live and die with?
"Internet is good for what it is, but it has opened the doors to each and every sensationalist keyboard warrior and drama queen to cult this and cult that. Shit like this would be a no-no back in the 90s. Sure we had the Norwegian church burnings, the murders, the death threats etc., but other than that people would check flyers, zines and compilation tapes and they would struggle to obtain a rare recording. Today everything is just a click away. However the correspondence issue has become very easy with emails. This rules, although it takes a bit of the magic away."
What would you say is the main difference between nowadays Black and Death Metal scene compared to the one in the 80s and 90s?
"Scene politics, bands that get mega-hyped. Pay to play strategies. Labels that don’t support their bands other than putting a record out and let it float over a river of shite. Miniscule studio budgets, shitty record sales, less devoted fans, clone bands etc. These are the shitty aspects of the underground Metal scene Anno 2014. On the other hand there is still great music to be found, despite the saturation of the whole thing."
Are you working on new songs for the next release? Will you put out a new album or is it going to be an EP or a split? What can we expect from EMBRACE OF THORNS in the near future? Will you keep the same sound and style of your most recent material or will you have a new approach?
"We are working on our fourth full length entitled “Darkness Impenetrable”, to be released somewhere in 2014 by NWN! And on a split LP / CD with the Finnish destroyers called MAVETH, also to be released in 2014 by Dark Descend Records. It has been a while since “Praying For Absolution” was released, so a lot of music was written in the meanwhile. The sound is sort of different I’d say. We have started from the same starting point as with “Praying…” but the material ended out a tad different than anything we’ve done before. You’ll be the judge. I think it fuckin’ kills of course…"
Well, I guess that was it. I want to thank you again for taking your time and answering this interview. If there is anything else that you would like to add or any other important thing we have missed, the last words are yours. Cheers!
"Man it has been a pleasure. I need to say thanks to you and to Frank for the opportunity. For contact / merch get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org. Morbid blessings…"
Interview: Alfonso Perez