2016 has been until now a very good year for music. Many good albums have been released so far, but some of them stand out as being exceptional. That is the case with “Sathanas Trismegistos“, the second album of the Swedish group Head of the Demon. In order to find out more about how it was conceived, why it took a long time to be released and what happens behind the curtain in the Head of the Demon camp, I had the chance to talk to Konstantin Papavassiliou, the band’s main guitarist, composer and mastermind. He was very kind to provide me very interesting answers and I really do hope you’ll like this interview. Enjoy!
Hello Konstantin. First of all, thank you for accepting to be a part of the Scrolls of Darmoth interview series, which consists mainly of bands that I really like and I find have something very interesting to say these days, no matter the musical style they are a part of.
Congratulations for the superb work of art that “Sathanas Trismegistos” is. Listening to this album is a bliss and I am really happy to do this interview with you, so please be so kind and reveal to us some of the mysteriis that enshroud your band, Head Of The Demon.
1. Why did you choose the name Head Of The Demon and not any other name, hand of the demon, for exemple? Was this a choice that came naturally?
– I remember that I wanted to have a moniker that was not of this world, so to speak. Something pertaining to the space, stars and vast darkness and it’s phenomenon that surrounds us. Since the current that inspired and ignited this manifestation is extraordinary. Initially I used the term Alghoul as a working name. But the more I was contemplating it the more it became evident for me that it was a very “black metal”-name. So I skipped it and went for the literal translation of ra ‘s al-ghoul, namely “head of the demon”. This is the Arabic name for it. But it also has Greek, Latin, Chinese and other names. All being ominous though. So despite different cultures they seem to have interpreted it the same. And whence settling for the literal translation my gut feeling told me I was right.
2. Four years have passed since the release of the first album, the self titled “Head of the Demon”. What happened in these 4 years, did you get to play any live shows? Do you think you’ll release the next chapter in another 4 years?
– I think we played two shows between the releases. So that wasn’t the main reason for the long period between the two albums. It has foremost to do with not having enough material, i.e. satisfactory material, to work with. That takes time, especially if you wish not to repeat yourself. Plus that we have chosen to take our time with this. I rather wait another year and work on the music instead of hastening into the studio as soon as there is 45min of material. Plus that we follow a vision. And until that one is as clear as we want it to be we bide our time.
3. “Sathanas Trismegistos” picks it up where the S/T album left off, but at same time it’s a bit different than the previous album. The new members (Johannes Kvarnbrink on vocals and guitars and Jose Lopez on bass) have brought something new and the band seems stronger than ever. Have these new songs been written before or after Johannes and Jose joined the band?
– All the songs on the album were written prior to Jose and Johannes started rehearsing them. They were already in the band but me and the drummer are the ones that outline the material and the songs. Of course alterations and such take place and form the songs when the others start learning and rehearsing them as well. But I think that the full line-up and band chemistry is what comes across foremost.
4. Your musical background is quite diverse: You played death metal with Kaamos, A Mind Confused and Dead Congregation (as a guest live guitarist), stoner/doom metal with Saturnalia Temple and even wrote some lyrics for Invidious and Tribulation. Has all this experience shaped your musical career, defining who you have become now? Can Head Of The Demon be a quintessence of your musical past?
– Hm, haven’t thought about it in the way that you put it. But sure, I can see that in one perspective. What I can say is the biggest difference is that all of these bands that you mentioned are genre specific, not only by their style but also due to its members. Head of the Demon has no boundaries in that regard. So in one regard I guess you are right about that. But for Dead Congregation I did session bass and not guitar.
5. Please tell me more about the way “Sathanas Trismegistos” was composed. The songs are quite long and pretty linear (but not in bad way), except for the guitars and vocals parts, which are amazing. Why did the writing process take 4 years?
– Well, I had more or less outlined the six songs at home just as with the prior album. Me and the drummer started rehearsing and arranging them so that there is something to show for the others. It took us about a year to do that. And then when the others also started rehearsing the songs it took about another year to learn them. Do some adjustments and sometimes re-arrange them. All the while I in the background was writing and outlining lyrics to them. Since we were so well rehearsed as well prior to entering the studio we decided to record it live. So the entire album, except the vocals are recorded live. The process took us around 4 years. But mind you, that is all in all, like having it written and recorded and eventually released, which takes its fair amount of time too. And also, we don’t see any reason to hasten anything. If it takes us 1, 4 or 6 years it doesn’t matter. As long as we are satisfied with the material it can take as long as it takes. Quality over quantity.
6. Sathanas Trismegistos – Thrice-Greatest Satan – where did that name come from? What was your source of inspiration and what are Satan’s triple forms of manifestation in this case?
– The first time I used the term “Sathanas Trismegistos” was already in a lyric to the song “Scales of Leviathan” on the Kaamos MCD/MLP. I thought someone would have pointed it out by now but no. Anyhow, it is my own invention or terminology that encompasses the entities of Satan, Lucifer and the Devil in one guise. Almost like a meta-Satan, both known and unknown, light and darkness conjoined.
7. The covers of both albums are abolutely fantastic. If the S/T uses the painting “La Chimere de Mr Desprez”, by Louis-Jean Desprez and some drawings from Timo Ketola, the second LP depicts a magnificent, medieval-like drawing of a devil (Satan, maybe). I think it goes very well with the music, illustrating the audio part. Where did you find it and what does it represent?
– The drummer found it on the net and showed it to me. I knew then already that it would end up as the front cover. We hunted it down with the aid of Ketola and it turns out to be an etching for a Divina Comeda edition by Dante. And you can see that on plenty places there are references to Virgil and Dantes journey. The concentric circles represent the circles of hell and Satan residing in the midst of the earth, consuming the worst sinners. That artist is Cornelis Galle I (1576–1650).
8. Johannes is well known for his outstanding contributions in Ofermod and Mortuus, two bands I appreciate a lot. His involvement in Head Of The Demon is quite different than in the above mentioned acts. How did he manage to sing like this on “Sathanas Trismegistos”? Was this planned from the beginning or it just came out during the recordings?
– Well, already on the debut where Saibot took care of the vocals I had some preferences that he followed. I wanted it to be old school black metal inspired. From the likes of Venom, Root and Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. Harsh but clear! Johannes was given the same instructions as I gave Saibot and he pulled it off great. Saibot and Johannes also share the vocal work on “Sathanas Trismegistos” almost 50/50.
9. I know that you have studied magic for a very long time. In what way has this study shaped/changed your life, both personally and musically?
– In pretty much every possible and conceivable way. It is like if you are an athlete, it dictates your sleep, eating, priorities etc… And generally it is hard for me to figure out how it would have been otherwise, since by now it is such an integral part of my life, after almost two decades working with the Art.
10. I don’t want to and cannot categorize Head Of The Demon’s music. The only thing that comes to my mind when listening to your albums is the sinister, horrific atmosphere that you have managed to create on those recordings. I think it can be the perfect soundtrack for any 60’s/70’s satanic horror movies. How was it possible to write such an impressive music?
– We aim for something other and are governed by some kind of force, spirit or current that somehow decides and dictates. We are just creative under these circumstances and what comes out is what the albums and the songs eventually sound like. It is not a rational or thought trough process. We just do what we feel is right. Often times we also write the music in long pieces so that is also something that aids with the soundtrack vibe. Taken together that we write the songs instrumentally foremost.
11. If the 1st album contained several Lovecraft influences, so to speak, on “Sathanas Trismegistos” you used a lot of religious influences, from Jewish, Persian and Christian mythology. We have the anti messiah, the last evil king riding again (“Armilus Rides…Again!”), the god of time in ancient Iranian religion and Zoroastrianism (“Zurvan’s Ordeal”) and the traditional adversary that (almost) everyone is still afraid of (“Sathanas Trismegistos” and “L.L.L”). Is this the result of your magical learnings you have acquired through all the years of study and that you have put into music?
– In one regard yes. But nothing close to emptying my knowledge about the subject. What I can say is that the lyrics are dealing with my personal take and interpretation of the LHP as practiced within an initiatory Draconian frame. But highly personal to say the least.
12. On both albums, many of the songs do not have lyrics, but just some chanted words that transform themselves into invocations. I name here “They Lie in Wait”, “Phantasmagoria”, “Nox, Est, Lux”, “Zurvan’s Ordeal”, “L.L.L.” This helps creating that creepy atmosphere that emanates from the music and haunts the listener (as it happened to me). In any case, the result is impressive, that I can guarantee you. Was this a natural choice when writing the songs?
– Yes, in a way it is. Since I from the start wanted the vocals to be not just mere vocals, but to be considered as an instrument. Then a few words or phrases does the trick if you arrange it in a good manner. And as mentioned earlier we write the music to be instrumental. And then, if vocals add to the song I write some. If it doesn’t then we just skip it. But “Zurvans’s Ordeal” has proper lyrics compared to the others you mentioned.
13. As I said in my review (here), I like each and every song from “Sathanas Trismegistos”, but “Maleficium” is by far the most scarriest and terrifying track I’ve ever listetend to. From the guitar riffs to Johannes’s threatening voice, this sounds like a curse (hence the name “Maleficium”). Have you actually used a real curse and transposed it into music?
– Yes we have. The lyrics were written to curse a mutual enemy and it was Johannes who pitched the idea. But it is Saibot that does most of the singing on that song.
14. Each of Head Of The Demon’s albums contain 6 (long) songs. Will the next release contain 6 tracks as well, to close the circle and fulfill the unholy trinity?
– He he he, haven’t thought about it that way. I don’t know until we have recorded and released the 3rd album. But in all fairness we recorded seven songs for each album. For the debut the extra song “Wraith from the Unknown” was included on the CD-version by Ajna Records. And on the second album the extra song is to be featured on a compilation eventually. The song is called “The Emperor” for those who are interested. That song however was written specifically for the comp where “Wraith from the Unknown” was just the seventh song so to say.
15. Your first album was released by the band on vinyl and by The Ajna Offensive on cd format. For “Sathanas Trismegistos” you made a deal with Invictus Productions, for the European release and with the same Ajna for the US. Has Head Of The Demon finally made the right choice, are you happy with these labels?
– Very much so and we are very happy like this. Two of the most elitist labels when it comes to quality of their releases. Plus that I have known both label bosses for many years now. We come from the same era, somewhat, and that helps immensely. Even if it isn’t overly evident I believe the smoothness of our co-operation partly can be explained by that.
Thank you again, Konstantin, for your time, patience and insight. This really means a lot to Scrolls of Darmoth.
All the pictures are property of Head of the Demon. Used by permission.
Head of the Demon:
The Ajna Offensive: http://www.theajnaoffensive.com/
Invictus Productions: http://www.invictusproductions.net/shop/