Coming to life in 1997 originally as Terra Tenebrae, this old-school death metal battalion from Athens, Greece rebranded itself as Soulskinner in 2000 and have barely eased up on the gas since. Their latest and fifth full-length (and tenth release overall), Seven Bowls of Wrath, is set for release on November 10th and is a worthy addition to the band’s canon of throwback thunder and growling ginormity.
However, with a new drummer and vocalist in tow, the new album taps into a broader scope of sound, one that’s looser and warmer in spots and almost astral and progressive in others. That’s not to say guitarist and lone original member, Bill Zobolas hasn’t lost the ability to lop off heads with tasty riffs and rusty swords, it’s just that he’s doing it with a maturing sense of melody and expansive brand of heaviness at his backing.
We caught up with Zobolas recently to discuss absorbing new blood, holding on to the old-school mentality and the methodical steps humanity takes to continues to be its own worst enemy.
Tell us about the departure of your previous vocalist, the acquisition of Marios (Lampouridis) and how that changed things for the band going into the studio with the new album?
Bill Zobolas: “The decision to change singers was something that arose due to the increased professional obligations of (John) Gothmog (Hiotellis). We decided together that for the good of the band we had to find someone to replace him and if things changed with his work, then he would be back in the band. Listening to several singers, we choose Marios who is exactly in the style of the band, has a great range and can sing many different styles. He is also a musician, which means he can help in other areas, but mainly his character matched perfectly with the other members. This change, however, did not affect the way we record. The recordings this time were necessarily very special because they took place in the pandemic and because of the lockdown. We had to improvise on the way of recording.”
I also understand you also have a new drummer in the band. How did he come to be a member and what’s in his background?
“Shortly before we started the recordings, our previous drummer, Costas Savvidis, announced that after the recordings he would also step down due to increased obligations. We thought it would be right to find a new drummer and have him record the drums, so that his character would be on the album. I called some friends to ask if they had in mind someone for us. We were out for coffee with George (Emmanuel) of Lucifer’s Child, and I told him we were looking and he instantly mentioned George Kanavaris, with whom they had worked in the past. George Kanavaris also plays in Incineration and Aceptic Goitre, which are both more brutal bands than Soulskinner, but he instantly clicked with the band. He is an amazing drummer with a strong sense of musicality who has brought a lot of elements, along with Marios, that are fresh and different to our new album.”
Everyone in the band has previous experience with at least three or four other bands. Is it difficult finding members for extreme metal bands in Greece? Is the Greek scene very incestuous or have things developed enough that there are plenty of skilled players in the talent pool?
“We all have previous service in other bands, because first of all we have all been playing since the ‘90s. Greece is a small country and most musicians do not even deal with metal. In the last ten years, of course, many more have become involved, but it’s still not as many as there could be. As for Soulskinner, we have some standards that have nothing to do with the musical level as much as they do character traits. You know, we don’t live professionally from music. We have chosen to play because we like it, we want to create and we want every rehearsal we do to be fun and a good time. Each member must be able to cope musically with what we play, which is not so difficult. He does not need to have special technique, but he must feel it. He must have lived in an era when this music was developing and was the reason we breathed. When we bought new releases in the late ‘80s, all we had in mind was to keep listening and one day become like the ones we listened to. If someone has not experienced this, he cannot enter the climate of our music.”
How far back does the material on Seven Bowls of Wrath go and what point did you start seriously working on writing this new album?
“Basically, shortly after the release of (previous album, 2017’s) Descent to Abaddon, I started writing music in order to create the new album. The song ‘Destroyer of Worlds’ has existed since the time of the previous album, but I had not found the nice part in the middle of the song. All the rest of the songs were written in the period after Descent to Abaddon.”
What does the title of the new album refer to and is there a particular story behind why you chose to go with it over other potential titles?
“The seven bowls are a set of plagues mentioned in Revelation 16. They are recorded as apocalyptic events that were seen in the vision of the Revelation of Christ. Seven angels are given seven bowls of God’s wrath, each consisting of judgments full of the wrath of God. These seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out on the wicked and the followers of the Antichrist after the sounding of the seven trumpets. This is a very powerful and symbolic image which has so much to do with the times we live in. The title of the song was very strong; the image it created for us was also very strong and all this as a thought was captured in the best way on the cover by Juanjo Castellano. The artist represented our idea in the best way and by putting his personal element in details and colours, he created a cover that has left us completely satisfied and fits perfectly with the lyrics, music and the whole concept.
Our lyrics always refer to topics that deal with philosophy, ancient stories or ancient beliefs, touch on religious beliefs and scriptures, but what we like to do is to offer some knowledge that we receive through our songs, without taking any position about what is right or what is wrong. It is essentially like giving food for thought and whoever wants to go deeper or accept something is free to do so.”
Was the selection of Seven Bowls of Wrath as the title done as a reflection of the present way of the world, the coronavirus, the rise of right-wing fascism, climate change and environmental catastrophe, growing attention to racial injustice, etc.? Are biblical prophecies actually coming true?!?!
“All I know is that the human race does what it can to make all the prophecies come true. The decision for the title was made before the coronavirus and the latest developments on the planet. We believe that the world is going from bad to worse. Unfortunately, money still prevails even though if you have money, you can simply die from one moment to the next. Of course, this is always true, but our mind does not work as it should based on the possibilities we have. If someone is open-minded and observant, he will find that every day what nature calls us to do is to respect: to respect nature, to respect those around us, to respect ourselves above all, but the word respect has lost its meaning and essence. If we do not search within ourselves, if we do not give time to ourselves, if we do not drop the rhythms of everyday life, our mind will not clear and will not be able to see clearly what our destination is and see and what quality of life means.
How full is someone when he listens to his favourite album, relaxes, talks about it and fills his soul? And how toxic is it when he runs around all day to get things done to earn a salary that will give him a quality of material goods? Who is happier and calmer? A monk in Tibet or Mount Athos, or a bank manager? Which person conveys calmness and vision? What we write are not just verses, they are thoughts based on such questions and we try to answer ourselves through books, texts and anything we can find and study.”
What would you say were some of the biggest lessons learned from the writing and recording of Descent to Abaddon that were applied to the creation of the new album?
“Every experience we gain helps us to evolve and become better. What we aim to do each time is to release an album which has something to offer on the scene, to express us above all and to be better than the previous one. The path we follow in our composition is more or less the same. We want the riffs and the melodies to give the feeling of the lyrics and to match each other as well as the whole to be rendered with the appropriate sound. As for the technical part, the recording was done with a different approach due to the pandemic. Drums were recorded in the Dope of Sound studio, the rest of the instruments in my own Red 7 Studio, while the vocals recorded in Crete where our vocalist lives because on the dates we were going to record vocals the lockdown was imposed! After I gathered the material, the mixing took place in my personal studio and the mastering was undertaken by Achilleas Kalantzis at Suncord Audiolab.”
Did you get a chance to tour in support of Descent to Abaddon? If not, I’m guessing you at least played live shows in and around your home country? How did the live experience change the band’s approach to the creative process of the new album?
“Let me start by answering the last part of your question and tell you that it has not changed us at all. What we write are songs that give their energy much better in live conditions for sure. Unfortunately, the appearances we make are limited as we haven’t found a way that we can all secure the time to make something like this happen. There have also not been any tour offers that would make us think seriously about doing them. We have appeared many times in our country opening for bands like Sinister, Malevolent Creation, Entombed A.D., Grave, Avulsed, Dead Congregation, Bolzer, Varathron and many more. Like I said, we are a band that does what it likes and has a good time, but we will not even pay the exorbitant amounts that many ask to tour with a big name and play as support doing four to five tracks to a small crowd. Vanity is not in our character and we simply do not give anyone the right to take advantage of our need and love for music. Whoever wants to can invite us to play, but under normal conditions and with respect.”
Was there anything in particular you were deliberately trying to achieve when you set out to write and record Seven Bowls of Wrath?
“No, nothing. There is never any expectancy apart from the satisfaction felt at all stages of creation and recording. Every time a stage progresses, we want to say that the result satisfies us completely. If we are happy, then we have achieved our goal.”
Given that most people have had way more time on their hands throughout 2020, did you take more time during the creative process than you normally would have? Were you able to take a step back and really analyze and look at your own music?
“The time we had was enough to complete each stage whether we are talking about the composition period or the recording period. What we discovered is that due to the change of members, the style of our material changed. You know for sure that it is very difficult for the creator to see his songs from the view of another person. Every song has something to remind its creator and that is the magic of writing music. One could say that there are more melodies and maybe more changes compared to the previous albums. Maybe it’s because of the new members, maybe it’s because of the evolution and progress we have made or maybe because of the specific moment that the album was created. The future will have the answer.”
With the world on lockdown and various degrees of lockdown throughout the year, what have you been occupying your time with and what do you feel you have learned about yourself, both as a musician and a living, breathing human?
“Don’t worry at all. We all work so many hours a day at our jobs that we beg for a lockdown so that we have a little more time to deal with our music (laughs). What I understood from the beginning of the pandemic and the lockdown is that in all the moments of humanity, there will be bastards who will take advantage of everything to make money. Suddenly, people were selling a piece of cloth for a mask for two or three Euros. Companies are selling disinfectant products at expensive prices, people are losing their jobs and arguing over whether or not there is a conspiracy while thousands of people have died. Everything that happens is crazy and requires prudence, seriousness and responsibility from everyone for a simple fucking thing: for their health and the health of the people they love.
As a musician, all this did not change me at all. I am 45 years old and I have settled in my musical views, but as a human being, it saddened me because we cause everything, we never admit anything, we blame everyone but ourselves and in the end the only thing that saves us is the isolation within a small group of friends and people with the same perceptions as us.”
How would you characterize and compare your new album against your previous recordings?
“More pluralistic, more melodic and not so dirty dark, but I think that in the end it leaves you with a sense of hope. It starts and ends in our soul. The basis that is the classic death metal as we knew it from teenagers, does not change. But the way of performance, the embellishment with different melodies and harmonies changes from album to album.”
Was there any interest from labels other than Xtreem Music or was it automatic that you were going to re-sign to the label for another go ‘round?
“Xtreem is like our home. We have a very good collaboration, we are both happy and there was no case to sign with another label if we did not talk with Xtreem first. (Xtreem CEO and Avulsed vocalist Dave (Rotten) is a man who loves what we do, he fully understands what we ask and the most important thing for us is that he is a fan of music, a musician and then the label owner. As I told you about us, first comes the character, then the person and then the rest.”
I’m not sure how the band’s plans for 2020 were altered by the pandemic, and I know it’s virtually impossible to make plans for a future no one can predict, but what are you hoping to be able to accomplish in support of the new album once the world gets back to normal next year?
“Just as you say. We cannot make any plans, but that is not up to us. We rehearse constantly, make a strong set list and when the time comes we will play concerts and have a good time. The only thing we’re planning is a video from our studio, where everyone will have the opportunity to see and hear us from their homes. It’ll be something like a recording of our rehearsal, but with good picture and sound quality.”