Macabre Omen: The Perfect Sound of Gods at War
For more than two decades, Macabre Omen have carved out their own noble path through the annals of underground, solidifying themselves firmly in the Black Metal pantheon. Speaking with Alexandros Antoniou, "The One" behind Macabre Omen, Temple of Flesh dig deep into the ancient past to see what eternal wisdom can be unearthed…
As a testament to their artistic integrity and stringent dedication to quality over quantity, Macabre Omen's discography consists of merely two albums and a series of EPs. Exalting tradition and transcendence in equal measure, Macabre Omen stand in proud opposition to a culture perpetually in pursuit of the next quick fix.
Macabre Omen's most recent album, Gods of War – At War is a truly moving experience, an explosive musical monument of ambition rarely ever realised. Masterfully melding the mysticism of the early 90s Greek Black Metal movement with the cataclysmic cadences of mid-era Bathory, the album is a winding, immersive journey of self-discovery and overcoming; a musical tour-de-force where melancholy and mourning meld with warlike ferocity and apocalyptic triumph. With Gods of War – At War, Macabre Omen have constructed a musical monument that will doubtless stand proud throughout the ages to come like the temples left by their ancient Hellenic forefathers.
Over a decade passed between the release of Macabre Omen’s debut album The Ancient Returns and your second album, Gods of War – At War. What was the reason for the delay?
I would never go as far as saying that Gods of War – At War was delayed; a decade to my eyes is the norm when it comes to releasing a good album. There is simply too much music being spawned every day and there is no need for all of that. If every band would focus on just releasing something good that would be able to withstand the fall of time instead of facilitating a specific part of it, I think this would be a healthier and more genuine movement all together. Releases would be stronger, honest and more selective a bit like in the early 90s if someone recalls.
There is currently a plethora of Black Metal and not necessarily in a good way, which is also overshadowed by certain current trends that wish to portray the music in a certain fashion. Black Metal is not about trends and fashion, it is pure inner war and the less people involved in it the better. Based on my 25 years in the underground, the good news is that trends will fade away quietly and along with them anything that does not belong to this genre. Only the strong will survive.
Since your debut album, The Ancient (One) Returns, Macabre Omen has always seemingly placed an almost egocentric focus on individual empowerment. At the same time, the influence of Ancient Greece is obvious in the band’s content. How do you reconcile the past you have inherited with the future you have chosen?
There is indeed a certain amount of egocentrism in the music and philosophy of my art and I encourage anyone listening to Macabre Omen or my alter ego The One to apply that type of behavior to the experience, the same way I do as a composer or even as a listener for that matter. If one does not praise himself and has a certain belief in the powers that lie within them, who will, may I ask?
I chose to combine lyrics and themes with ideas and philosophies from the ancient Hellenic past not only because of sheer fascination towards this subject but also because of the fact that I was conceived and spawned in the Island of the Sun and therefore cannot ignore this natural inheritance given to me and the least I could do is to apply it in my life. I grew up reading stories and myths from that era, way before I was forcefully introduced to Christian fables at school. I even remember the first day I got presented the Old Testament and those first sentences still echo in my mind. As a seven-year-old I had to do a double take and ask my parents about it, it made so much less sense than the words of the ancients.
There is a lot to be learned from the values formed in ancient Hellas and there is a lot that can be avoided from that era too. By reminding myself to look into the past and any past for that matter I am able to resolve my present and future commitments.
Culture can loosely be defined as a set of innate values, rituals and traditions. These in turn consist of shared practices, language, beliefs, and perhaps all components that make up an entire world-view established over generations. What does culture mean to you?
Culture is a form of identity and what separates one nation from another. It is a way to track the past and look into the future and is somehow although in a distant way, indirectly part of our DNA structure. In the large scale of things and from a cosmological perspective, culture is nothing more than a humanitarian necessity. I am fascinated by astronomy and the answers that can be obtained from studying it so I always try to see things from a bigger perspective wherever and whenever applicable.
Due to the fact that we are placed on this Earth with a handful of decades of life in our disposal; one cannot ignore aspects such as their cultural inheritance. I am proud of my inheritance and the neo-Hellenic culture does have its highs and lows like with any other nation. I take what I want from it, what already exists and apply it to my own persona accordingly and vice versa, nothing more, nothing less. What is of no interest to me will not be an obstacle in what I want to achieve as an individual.
Is the past we carry a burden or a blessing? Do the boundaries of our heritage constrain or liberate the individual Will?
Like with everything in life it could be both and it all depends on how much use or abuse you will apply to it. You are placed on this Earth naked—a blank canvas—you use your common sense where necessary and as able as one can be. There is a lot of knowledge to be gained from a lot of different aspects and walks of life and you are designed to evolve if you choose to. Knowledge and an open mind are key. We are complicated and intricate beings and what may work for one might not work for the other. At the end of the day, I am more interested in myself and my well-being and have no interest for others whatsoever unless it is very close and direct family.
Like the ancient Hellenes and Epicureanism for that matter, I seek a form of eternal pleasure yet have no fear in applying pain to that equation, as pain can be good and strengthen potential weaknesses. Heritage can constrain and limit individual Will depending on one’s surroundings but in my eyes it is a good thing otherwise humans would be free to act as they wish which is not always an advantage to have. Only the strong should be able to escape and be able to liberate their individual Will. Power to the weak minded could be a catastrophic combination.
It seems that the world is becoming ever-increasingly homogenised; where global values of growth and expansion are seemingly surpassing all others. London—the city where you reside—is a prime example of where culture and consumerism collide. In this light, how do you see the progressive evolution of human civilisation and how does being a Londoner colour your view?
Indeed London seems to be one of the few places, in Europe at least, where everything and anything goes. Trying to create this homogenised human species that resides in one designated city yet consists of backgrounds from all over the world either seems to me like an accident waiting to happen or a bad sequel to the Blade Runner classic. I do not understand the purpose of this liberal fascination with getting humans from all walks of life together and “equal” whilst they all have different beliefs and values, it doesn’t balance out and it does not make any sense. Values such as respect, honour and dignity cannot flourish under these forms of circumstances. Money is of the essence with these types of schemes with no consideration for values, past history, culture or pride. I guess that as long as this experimental project is concentrated in one area then at least there would be a choice of where one would like to live.
With regards to progressive evolution of human civilisation I can only foresee doom, self-destruction and a sick species both in body and mind that is willing to take everything and everyone down with it. Nature will eventually step in and resolve this matter once and for all.
In a world which is constantly shifting gears, what is the point of preserving traditions which will perhaps eventually become obsolete? Or is there any enduring universal wisdom imparted by Ancients that will never be antiquated?
Modern society is desperately trying to cling on its past identity by applying values that have nothing to do with the past itself. Again, a major hypocritical contradiction—which is to be expected by the cunning mentality of human nature. Traditions and cultures will come and go, either by force or by negligence and there is simply no way out of that. One can fight a lifetime to preserve something significant, only for it to vanish after their demise, just like heroes who fight for something meaningful only to be forgotten in time by the following generation. The world is constantly changing and sometimes faster than one can grasp it. Traditions and heritage are there to remind us of our roots and is a beacon of light to whoever wants to remind themselves of their origins. They are there to protect the identity and borders from the outsider by providing unity and consistency. Failure to keep the flame alive will result in you being succumbed into something alien and possibly unpleasant.
A significant part of our sense of identity is rooted in our cultural heritage and tradition. What role does it play in your own sense of identity and in your means of artistic expression?
It is a starting point and the foundation to kick-start this life. Without it you might not necessarily have an identity or a past. There is a lot to learn from the past, be it knowledge or general errors to be avoided. The ancients and whoever has lived, perished and belongs to the past, will always be more wise than you living in the present. Although gone and forgotten, they will always be a step ahead of us.
Where applicable, they have lived their lives in full but we have just begun. For me it is a source of identity and by reading ancient texts, philosophy, astronomy and history it enables me to find answers in philosophical questions that I need solutions to. Those questions and answers are then placed all over my art as a mean of expressionism whilst the overall sound I manage to portray through Macabre Omen is indirectly influenced by my surroundings.
We have no choice nor control over that which we inherit from our ancestors, how can we feel a genuine sense of ownership—or even pride—towards it?
It is an interesting point you have raised but saying that, if you look into the most third world country with the most barbaric or medieval values, they do seem to portray a lot of pride from the culture they have inherited. Humans are weak and whatever is planted in their brain works just fine for them. I have nothing against the individual’s pride and ancestry as long as it does not cross my path and my values. To each their own but unfortunately this is not always the case. Humanity seems to be eager in spreading their ideas and beliefs like the plague and for no apparent reason whatsoever. That necessity to pass on values and ideas to others seems to lie deep within human nature and it will be a catalyst in humanity’s destruction.
Black Metal is undoubtedly a transgressive art form. However, the genre is arguably perpetually tethered to its own past; perhaps lost in a labyrinth of its own fixations with tradition and what is or is not ‘true’. Has Black Metal become as dogmatic as those it purports to despise? Are tradition and progression antithetical to one another or can they be complimentary?
Real Black Metal for me either belongs to bands that were formed sometime in the 80s and up to the early to mid 90s, or to bands that have the right attitude and discipline to create something unique and pure without the neo-necessity of copying the latest trend or trying to expose their music to the general masses. For me this is the foundation of the genre and one is allowed to take that foundation and shape it to what they feel fit.
Some bands tend to stick to the old values and are refusing to change, which is also a fair point but at the same time not beneficial to anyone’s needs unless it is done tastefully. I personally do not need to listen to another Hellhammer or Venom identical clone. There needs to be something new introduced to justify their existence and there needs to be an element of innovation towards it. Other bands choose to create something unique but most of them fail miserably simply because deep behind the façade there is hardly any substance.
Once the trend dies so will the band and I can say this from experience be it themes of vampirism, goat-fetish, war, aliens, space or what have you; it will all fade away. On the other hand there are some excellent bands out there pushing the limits of boundaries and creating dark arts based on true genuine inner disturbances.
On the other hand, Black Metal is also a genre characterised by much diversity over the past two decades, perhaps equally so ideologically and conceptually as in terms of actual musical content and dynamics. What is Black Metal to you as an artist?
Indeed, Black Metal is and can be a very diverse form of art and if performed properly it could be very inaccessible and unattractive to the average listener, which is exactly what it stands for. It is an art form against human nature and a very powerful tool indeed if conceived in the right manner.
As an artist, Black Metal would be and will be my only weapon of choice as it is a force that summons negativity and uses it in benefit to the artist first and then to anyone else. Once the music and ideology take a turn to please a target audience it should not fit under the Black Metal banner. It is music against human nature and should have the ability to be evoked by your inner demons whilst creating it and spawn those same demons whilst playing it back. Terms such as possession, demonism, necromancy, unorthodoxy, morbidity, hate, pride, honour, melancholy to name but a few, come to mind.
I remember a time when we had to search in the deepest reaches of the underground to discover such jewels either by word of mouth, a flyer or instinct itself and to be compensated with such occult rewards. Unfortunately the “occult” has never been so accessible and available as it is today losing a big element of that reward we are after. Real Black Metal should be hidden away waiting for it to be discovered and not force fed in my opinion, as a great deal of mysticism is then lost.
Although Macabre Omen’s thematic topics lie elsewhere, Anti-Christianity is a common sentiment found throughout Black Metal—perhaps the only fairly consistent one throughout the many permutations of the genre. This begs the question: without Christianity, would Black Metal even have a reason to exist? Is Black Metal merely a reactionary art form in the business of putting itself out of business? Are there other viable ideological and/or spiritual ideals within the genre that lie beyond a simplistic antipathy for religious dogma?
Without Christianity, Black Metal as a genre might have sounded very different. This is because bands like Venom and Bathory used the anti-Christian or Satanic subject in their lyrics which in turn spawned a large number of bands adopting the same ideology.
Like I said before, for me personally, Black Metal is an anti-social, anti-human form of music and is not necessarily limited to the aforementioned subjects. It is very hard for me to praise Satan and write about Hebrew mythology, which has nothing to do with my cultural background. Creating anti-Christian or anti-human music on the other hand is something that I am interested in because I have lived those subjects and it can be used as an inspirational tool for me.
Black Metal is a diverse genre and I still enjoy bands that adopt other themes in their music such as Viking, National pride, Middle Eastern and other mythologies. There are a number of people that firmly suggest that Black Metal should be Satanic, which is a fair point indeed, yet rather contradicting when there is an increasing number of bands nowadays approaching Black Metal from a so-called “Theological” point of view. But since it is just an opinion from someone that I have no interest in, that’s where the subject starts and that’s where it ends.
The title of your latest album, Gods of War – At War, evokes mental images of ancient titans colliding in a fury of jealousy, malice and a vengeful lust for power. Why the choice of such a title? What war is Macabre Omen fighting?
Due to the spontaneity of most of the material that I compose or write about, the title just suddenly appeared to me along with the melody or riff that comes with it. A gift from the Gods, who knows! I do not remember how or why but this is one of those moments of enlightenment when you just know that this is this and in this occasion it was the album title and this was the riff that accompanied it. No need to question its origin, it came to me hence it must mean something. The mental images the title evokes are indeed those of titans colliding and not only. It is a powerful statement, it could even represent a fight between Gods of War from different religions or maybe humanity destroying itself. The lyrics are open for anyone to interpret the way they want to and the music evokes different images for each listener. Macabre Omen is fighting its own personal war against everyday life, about facts of life and a bitter reminder of reality and what once was.
The album opens with “I See, The Sea!”, a grandiose hymn evoking a victorious homecoming of embattled warriors. From the mention of the Telchines in the song, it is safe to assume it refers to your home island of Rhodes. What does “seeing the sea” of Rhodes mean to you as a Hellenic ex-patriot?
The song has a lot of meanings but the way I see it is that one day my body would return to its origin by completing a full circle, the full circle of life. In this infinite Cosmos we live in, all material will eventually end up to where it came from anyway so on a smaller scale, this track represents just that. Rhodes is the place I was born and the day that I would “see the sea” would mean that the time has come to leave this plane and move on to the next one—if any.
It also has a very nostalgic feel to it because I have lived the second half of my life away from the island in a place very different to where I began my journey. Life in general is part of a cycle and one day we will all have to return our borrowed matter back to the Cosmos without exception. Lack of death means lack of life.
Epicurus’ famous quote is referenced in the closing lines of the same song: “Mortal, I do not fear death. It is of no concern to me. For when I exist, death is not and when death is present I do not exist.” What is death to you? Is it at once a return to a home we once knew and a new beginning?
In this bizarre life we live in, death is the biggest question of them all, at least for me as an individual. It is a very fascinating subject but it also raises a lot of questions on how to face experiences whilst living and whether there is a point in anything we do on this planet in the first place. I think of death every day from various points of view and with a different feeling each time and it is a benchmark for my daily activities. Without death this universe would not exist. The bodies we “borrowed” need to be returned back to the cosmos; they are not ours to keep. From a romantic point of view, death is just a new beginning for something different but in reality for the individual, death is simply death.
The cover photo of the album references the final verse of the album’s title track: “My face obscured by the blackness of the night / my sight and visions are clear / I extend my hand to the Greatness of the Gods and become One with Them.” Is this lyric about entering the underworld and emerging reborn with clarified sense of purpose and Will, thus allowing one to achieve unity with the divine?
In a way it is and I want to believe that we are Gods ourselves, we just need to reach that state of mind and become One with Them. Power is not given to you, it is earned.
It is no secret that the Ancient Greeks were a civilisation of rich knowledge and great innovation. It has been said that a civilisation with such a sophisticated knowledge of science, art and philosophy would not have imposed mythical or divine attributes to natural phenomena as is commonly believed. The Gods were not worshipped in a literal sense but in fact were anthropomorphised allegories to the archetypical attributes of Man and the Self. Is it you who is at war with yourself, and not the Gods?
Interesting question and a lot of valid points there. I see Gods and religion in general as a mean to control humans with fear, respect, laws and so forth. No matter what powers Gods have and what religion they derive from they are always humanized in order for the common person to identify with them.
Despite the sophisticated knowledge in sciences and philosophies, I do not believe that every single civilian in ancient Greece was a scientist or a philosopher, hence the abundance of Gods was simply created firstly to control the population and then to explain the unexplained. In the end, religion is nothing more than an evil necessity to assist with control. I am always at war with myself and on a daily basis, peace will only be achieved in the very end… There is no rest for the wicked.
References to “The One” are peppered throughout Macabre Omen’s lyrics, both on the debut and on Gods of War – At War. The One is also the name of your other obscure esoteric Black Metal band. Is The One a paragon or apotheosis for unification with the higher Self? Who—or what—is The One?
From a very young age I struggled to believe in a so-called Christian God, a devil or whatever you want to call it. Astronomy and the stars were of more interest to me and things that I believed and dreamed of as a child, seem to be valid now that I actually study them further. I had visions of parallel universes, microcosms and macrocosms and they only seem to be proven by modern science. If a child can come up with those ideas from a young age with no outside influence only to be proven scientifically then there must be something fundamentally correct in those theories.
I think that One as a number and individualism as a whole is a fundamental aspect of life and can be found everywhere. “The One” as a concept is different for each person and for every individual. What it stands for to me as a person may vary from what it stands for to others. One can simply fill in the blanks with whatever they feel fit, I don’t care.
For me, this moniker and persona is a kind reminder of what I want to achieve on this plane, of my inner powers, of my beliefs and on how to unlock these portals of esotericism in order to achieve the desired outcomes. It is there for me on my highs to keep my feet on this Earth and vigilant at all times but it is also there when I am on my very lows in order to enable me to rise like the Phoenix and destroy whatever obstacle blocks my path.
You paraphrase Winston Churchill in the title of the song “Hellenes do not Fight Like Heroes, Heroes Fight Like Hellenes”. Is this appropriation of Churchill’s original quote a critique on Hellenic culture of today?
One cannot deny that this is a very interesting quote from a very interesting historical character. I am not criticizing today’s culture simply because I am not part of it and have no interest in it. Sometimes playing with words adds towards the dramatic effect on an album and it is something that I have been doing since the mid-90s in order to make the art stand out a bit further.
The words “Athens is on fire!” are especially poignant considering the aftermath of the devastating financial crises that have ravaged Greece the past few years don’t you think?
Again, I am not one for politics but this aftermath is not something I can easily ignore, especially if I am being affected by it. Most of the album was composed and conceived prior to the aftermath but there is a sense of current affairs in it which was completely coincidental. “Athens is on fire!” is simply a reference to what could have happened by failing to read an oracle right and not use the wooden ships as a protective wall. We need to foresee doom instead of waiting for it to fall upon us.
“In a time when heroes would not use words but force…” What is true heroism to you?
When you have a set of beliefs and fight for them to the very end; this is when a hero stands out from the flock of sheep. Now if this set of beliefs is right or wrong that is another matter of discussion and debate. I am always more interested in what benefits me as a person, everything is subjective.
On the surface, Gods of War – At War appears to express notions of strength, warlust and pride. However, it is an emotional rollercoaster of a record. A distinct sadness and even vulnerability come across many of the songs, most notably the soul-wrenching farewell “From Son to Father”. The song is a very personal catharsis dealing with the passing of your father. What made you open up and express your vulnerability in a genre that often shuns weakness?
There is nothing weak in feeling frail and vulnerable, it is just a phase towards ascension and a higher level of being. On the other hand there is nothing to hide, emotions are there to be expressed and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. True weakness is when one remains in that state of mind forever and refuses to stand up, face and fight these so-called troubles. Life is undeniably a constant battle and pathetic beings are weak and bound to suffer to the end.
Even the Gods had emotions, possibly another reason why there were so many Gods and deities in the first place, each with their own character and personality. Some music out there, be it Black Metal or not may be constantly and consistently depressing, possibly because of the artist being in that state of mind. There are a lot of feelings and emotions in Gods of War – At War and each one of them is and expressed genuinely throughout the album.
If I feel something I will ensure it gets expressed, there is no need to conceal it unless there is a reason behind doing so. That particular song for instance was conceived in a mere three days whereas the rest of the album was created over a period of a decade. Both the album and that particular track where very cathartic experiences and only empowered me as an individual. I would not waste my time and create music for anything less than my share of empowerment in return.
The song “Rhodian Pride, Lindian Might” seems to be a thematic continuation of “I Sea, The Sea!”. You sing about the end of a journey, only for another one to begin. Is this indicative of the cyclic nature of life and time in general? Is it an ode to returning to your homeland from your journey through life, wiser and ready to continue another life? At what point does one know that it is time to end one journey and begin another?
Agreed, in a way “Rhodian Pride, Lindian Might” is a continuation of “I See, the Sea!” and it is a track more specific to Rhodes, The Isle of the Sun; yet it is not a song I was planning to compose or fully dedicate to my birthplace.
I believe that by observing nature on this planet on a relatively small scale, one can understand and appreciate what is going on on a larger scale if we would be able to fast-forward things. Everything is a journey, a cycle with beginnings and ends, a chain reaction. Going back to where it all began is a metaphor for returning what is owed back to where it was borrowed from.
I think deep down inside, we are all able to “know” when the journey is nearing completion, a silent swansong if you would like to call it. My father knew the end was near and made indirect arrangements to relocate to his birthplace in Cyprus, yet never mentioned a thing. A wise, brave man filled with pride.
The “Alexandros” diptych that close the album are a major highlight of the album. At first glance one might say that the songs about your namesake Alexander the Great, but I would offer that there is something more than meets the eye… Is his story in this case an allegory to your own individual struggle for empowerment, as well as representative of the Greek nation’s in the face of state corruption and extra-national domination throughout the ages? Are the two songs about the stripping away of pride and self-reverence after a transcendental moment of loss?
Since a young age I was fascinated by this character and possibly biased because of sharing the same name, not sure. Alexandros is a character of great importance in history and his mark can still be found to this day. The song itself is a personal diptych and not necessarily about Megas Alexandros per se. In fact the music on the whole album, although personal, is open to anyone that is willing to share these emotions with me and the ideas behind the tracks can easily be applied to others. The loss of a father, death, power, pride are all part of our lives whether we want it or not. The only difference is that each individual would take that experience differently.
This whole emotion of loss and disillusionment with one’s self is perhaps captured most succinctly in the album’s closing line “Moments One’s in need are when One ends to be alone”. Again, references to “The One” are found here. Strength is often used to shield vulnerability—but isn’t true strength the willingness to be vulnerable? What good is strength when one has no army to lead?
The closing lines refer to the bittersweet fact that in the end when real help is required you will be let down by the ones close to you, either because they will not be there for you or because they will be unable to help. One can only help themselves, power is within. You can amass an army whilst alive, be it real comrades, at the workplace or whatever but in moments of real need you need to act alone and you need to act fast. We are placed on this earth alone and alone we shall depart. Survival is for those whose awareness in body, mind and soul are heightened at all times.
“The dead have nothing to say to us. It is our own Narcissism that makes us think they even care.” What would they who fought valiantly for a cause have to say to those who have squandered their sacrifice?
The words coming out of their mouths would probably not be for the faint-hearted. We live in an ungrateful society where everything is taken for granted. The only solution, extreme as it sounds is to wipe out the lot of us and start from the beginning something more or less imminent due to the self-destructive approach of human nature. That cunning nature of humanity is irreversible and is poisoned by beliefs and ideas with no substance from the very beginning.
It is at certain profound moments which have a great impact on our lives where we transcend ourselves. Instances where our previously tightly-held preconceptions fail miserably to protect us and fall to the wayside, expanding our vision of possibility for ourselves. How can we strive for self-overcoming in everything we do?
I learn something new every day and I have only myself to blame when things do not go according to plan on matters that are in my hand. One needs to be aware, alert and awake in this world, it is a race for survival, kill or be killed literally. We should learn from errors and refrain from repeating them. One needs to trust their instincts, not everything is what it seems to be…
What does the future hold for Macabre Omen?
The future is already here and it is called Gods of War – At War. It is not just another album to “cater” for the moment, this one is here to stay and I invite anyone to discover it and rediscover it if they dare. Also beware for a repress of the debut album The Ancient Returns in noble digipak form, repackaged and remastered. Join the war!
The last words are yours.
This is how interviews should be conducted. Hails to you and to the Ones that shall never obey.