Absinthiana: “if someone goes for progressive music, a one-way approach is out of the question”

When they first appeared with their self-titled EP four years ago, Absinthiana had impressed us with their originality and versatile prog metal optics. Expectations were confirmed with their first full-length album, Structural and we were thrilled (our reviews here). An extensive conversation with them seemed the least necessary and after that they left us with even more expectations for the future.

Questions: Meletis Doulgeroglou, Giannis Voulgaris
Translation: Alexandros Mantas


 

Hello guys and congrats on your killer debut album! Give us a brief history of the band and how Absinthiana came into being.

Hello to you and we thank you very much indeed for giving us the opportunity to present our band through progrocks.gr. Absinthiana began to take form back in 2011 in Ioannina when we were there as students and three of us were in the same Faculty, no less. We had already been friends the four of us and everything started out when George (guitars and vocals) was occupying himself with the composition of assorted musical themes whose main axis was progressive metal. Pretty soon, we got hooked, too. In the beginning, we were banging around with two guitars and drums only, but it was not long before we proposed Chris (we bent his ear actually) to join us and fill the vacant place of the bassist, being pretty much aware of his playing and songwriting abilities. And thus Absinthiana took form!

We would like to know what the meaning of your monicker is and how you decided on it.

Absinthiana are the implements and the rite that accompanies the preparation of serving absinthe so as the drinker gets a full experience. Absinthe is also linked with the figure of the Green Fairy which is a hallucination that appears to the drinker and there numerous visual references to this figure whose main concept is this particular drink. We use this name to describe the situation we find ourselves either as listeners or as musicians. An additional reason is that it is a single-word name and therefore more direct and easy to memorize.

As regards the musical context, I pick up on influences that originate from the extreme atmospheric sound. Off the top of my head, Opeth and Moonspell are some of them. Any others?

Our direction is progressive metal, with all that implies. Each member has a different musical background and as a result the mixture that comes out consists, the way we see it, of a multitude of elements. We draw on anything we deem as good music, even though these influences are not necessarily obvious in the final outcome. Our most discernible influences, aside Opeth whom we revere, probably spring from bands like Porcupine Tree, Isis, Intronaut, Deadsoul Tribe and Mastodon.

Now as regards the vocals, alternating from growls to clean ones is no mean feat in its own right. But you apply this concept also to clean vocals alone. Does this option go hand-in-hand with the style of every song or is there any other reasoning for that?

We were always fond of spotting stark contrasts in a musical piece, namely changes in mood, tempo, style, aggressiveness or calmness. It’s crystal clear that if someone goes for progressive music, a one-way approach is out of the question when it comes to playing or singing. Based on that, George always held the view that the lyrics and the music should be approached as they demanded. When the music gets too aggressive or when the lyrics express something nihilistic, depressive and grotesque, as in the last lines of Τrashbag, where the protagonist concludes that it is a choice for his parent to give him birth and raise him and so is to dispose him, before or after birth, then the desirable variety of sentiments imposes growls and screams. On the contrary, when the lyrics place the protagonist sentimentally exposed (consider Mercy) and he finds himself in need of a specific person who is not with him anymore, clean vocals were deemed as more appropriate. Yet, it is obvious that angry performances were applied to clean vocals, too. In Τrashbag, once again, our protagonist is angry for being christened in the name of a God whom he doesn’t even know, nor is he interested in because he is still an infant. In this very moment the cries of the baby materialize in words, spiced by anger and arguments.

The final outcome is very impressive indeed, but the bass made an extra impression to both of us. What was the reasoning behind this decision to be in the spotlight and what are you influences with regard to this?

The bass is as important an instrument in a band as any other since its role is decisive to define, colour and characterize the rhythm section. Most of the times, it is an unsung hero. The songs of Absinthana have been set up in the studio not merely through the collaboration of four instruments, but of four personalities as well that express themselves through these instruments. When the production is under way, none of these voices/personalities should be drowned out, like “well, it’s OK, it’s in unison with the guitars”. This is not the philosophy of Absinthiana. The instruments interact and they occupy the space required and when the circumstances dictate that one of them should be in the lead, so it is done. For this reason, right from the very start we did our best to head in this direction and we would had never pulled it off without the invaluable help of Achilleas C. in Crown Audio Conspiracies Studios. As regards the influences of the bass-lines, we spot touches from Opeth and Tool to Isis, Atheist and Meshuggah, but also references to other favourite types of music of ours.

Since you talked about the production, are you completely satisfied with the final outcome? Would you change something or maybe you wanted something better than that?

We are 100% satisfied with the production of Achilleas C. He demonstrated amazing production faculties and he showed incredible patience to all of our demands and we are thankful for that. Achilleas was aware of our music since the band was taking its first steps and he offered us his angle how the album should sound like and we tried collectively for the best possible result. After countless hours of listening sessions, I think we did it.

How do you compose your songs? Do you give weight to the long durations and the adequate development of the themes?

George is usually the guy who comes up with the initial ideas, riffs and chord progressions. The rest of the band works on them to be utilized in the best possible way. This procedure takes place in the studio by improvising and jamming while following some rules of jazz harmony and being constantly aware if the outcome sounds nice as a whole. This was the case when we composed the songs of the album. It goes by itself that there was limitless freedom to all the band members when it came to expression and experimentation. One thing we surely love to do is picking a musical theme as the headline of the song and using it as a springboard to develop its direction and generate variations. I guess this is the reason why most of our songs end up being quite lengthy. After all, progressive music disregards limits and obvious formulas and this, at times, necessitates the longer song durations.

One personal question, because the title-track got to me very much: Was it the first you did or when everything was said and done you decided to make things more concrete by adding an instrumental piece?

Structural came into being during the first months of our existence, but its structure was very different and had a different name, although there are many riffs and rhythmic parts that remained unaltered. At the time we had decided not to include it in the EP that we released. When we started composing the songs of the LP we revisited it and reshaped it, adding many dashes and some clean parts until it was up to par with the rest of the tunes.

The last few years, progressive metal seems to be stalled. If you see eye to eye with this, why do you think it is so and which bands do you think they stand out?

Progressive has been through many stages and assorted musical genres. The last few years the so-called djent is flourishing which is a branch of progressive. Many groups sprouted up within a limited amount of time and the music industry was promoting them ad nauseam. When the first djent bands made their appearance, we were enthused with what they were doing, but soon enough our interest waned because, in our view, they ended up sounding repetitive with very few exceptions, like Tesseract, Textures and of course Animals as Leaders for whom the term “djent” understates their music. At the same time, traditional bands of the genre whose career spans over twenty years seem to run out of inspiration, which makes sense. Yet things are not as bad as they seem to be. Interesting albums from Soen, Haken, The Pineapple Thief and Intronaut came out, while Fates Warning and Pain of Salvation did hell of come backs and Steven Wilson’s catalogue is amazing.

How can somebody acquire your material? Is it available both in digital and physical form?

Structural is available both in physical and digital form. Anyone who wants to get hold of the CD can contact us via our Facebook page or our bigcartel platform. As regards the digital form, you may visit our bandcamp page and download the songs in .wav format as well as the booklet of the CD.

What band do you think is the ideal one to share the stage with? Any scheduled live shows for the near future?

The ideal would be to play with bands that play good music, regardless if they are household names or not. Honestly, we are chuffed to be part of a gig where music, regardless of the genre, is of high standards and the audience is open to appreciate it. For the time being, we are at a stage that due to professional obligations the band members are dotted all over Greece; therefore, it is unlikely to give shows, at least in this given moment.

What do you think about the contemporary progressive rock and metal scene in Greece? What bands do you think they make the cut (excluding Aenaon of course)?

It is obvious that the Greek scene has taken large steps forward and now it is a source of inspiration. If somebody digs in it, there are precious gems to be found. Need, Tardive Dyskinesia, Poem, Universe 217, Borderline Syndrome, Gravitysays_i, Mother Turtle are but a few bands that, in our opinion, have raised the bar.

Every artist has a wide spectrum of influences. What are you listening to these days?

Undoubtedly, anyone who is part of the progressive rock and metal scene is a fan of various genres and this is because they want to have a plethora of musical stimuli. The truth is if we get started reeling off the influences of each member, we will produce four different lists of bands, artists and musical genres. Nowadays we listen to bands that leaped to fame like ΒΤΒΑΜ and Ιntronaut, but also Leprous who are much endeared to us and their last album was a killer. Finally, the jazz aesthetic of Cinematic Orchestra and the psychedelic paths of Ozric Tentacles are always within us.

Without giving it much thought, name five favourite albums of yours, regardless of the style.

We cheated on that since we gave it much thought because it is one of the toughest questions. Well, here they are:

Opeth – Blackwater Park

Tool – Lateralus

Camel – Μirage

Hacride – Lazarus

The Cinematic Orchestra – Every Day

Our view is that the obvious fondness of Opeth for the 1970s in the way that it is expressed now is no more groundbreaking. What is your take of things?

Undoubtedly Opeth is one of our favourite bands and it is obvious in the music we play, but our views on this matter differ. Perhaps the most objective approach is that an artist is an artist because what they do is what expresses themselves, they are in need to take it out of themselves. It will not appeal to a wide audience necessarily. Therefore, the options of every artist with regard to the style and expressive methods should be respectable, whether we like them or not. Perhaps we should give it some thought what is this that we like as listeners; do we want to see the artists evolve which means that every time they will come up with something different or do we want to see them repeating themselves, producing pathetic replicas of their former albums?

Given that you introduced yourselves in a spectacular fashion, where do you envision the band to be in a few years and what are your aspirations?

Structural was a labour of birth, we put into it a lot of time when we were students. What we want to succeed in the near future is to overcome any obstacles and base ourselves at a common place so that we will be able to play live and, above all, compose new music. We mentioned before that the current circumstances have forced us to live at different places. The only certainty is that there is a lot of inspiration for the new material and we wait for the right time to give shape to these ideas.

Thank you very much for your time and we wish you heartily good luck because the outcome was truly remarkable. We hope to attend a show of yours pretty soon.

We thank you too for your attention and the plug you gave us to promote our album.

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