Interview with guitarist and bassist John Tsiakopoulos
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: January 16, 2021
Black Soul Horde is a Greek band that was started in 2012 by John Tsiakopoulos and Jim Kotsis, initially as a side project but eventually turned to a live as well as a recording band.
Their debut album, Tales of the Ancient Ones, released on high-profile metal label No Remorse in October 2013, received very favorable reviews in the media and gained lots of praise amongst metalheads worldwide. All this surely added fuel to the band's engine. Preparations for the follow-up album started and, after a seven year wait, Land of Demise, featuring eight new tracks, was released in November 2020 (a limited CD version was released in December 2020).
We here at The Metal Crypt wanted to find out more about this very promising metal act and one of the two main souls behind the band, John Tsiakopoulos, kindly took some time to fill us in on Black Soul Horde's early steps up to this very day.
Hey John! How's life in Athens these days? I assume it's pretty darn restricted due to the current (sad) times, right?
John: Hey man! Let's just say there is no life these days. We're on lockdown and there is also a 9 p.m. curfew. Unless the place you work at is still open and has permission then you just hang at home, alone, and have to send a text message in order to go for a walk or walk your dog. Weird times.
THE BEGINNING OF BLACK SOUL HORDE
As for far more interesting topics, we are here to talk about one of your many bands, Black Soul Horde. It was started originally as a side project in 2012 by you and Jim Kotsis, from what I understand, to satisfy your desire to play good, old-fashioned heavy metal. Would you kindly enlighten us about those days when Black Soul Horde was born?
John: I have a studio project called Inside It Grows, which works as a label under which I write all my rock and metal music. I listen to a lot of music and always feel the need to explore and try stuff. Initially the album that became Tales... was my attempt at creating a pure heavy metal album in the vein of some of my most beloved bands. And since heavy metal is actually the music closest to my heart, it was a no-brainer. Jim wanted to be a guest in one of my many IIG projects, so I offered him this album to sing on. The end result took us both further than we expected and at the time life was a bit easier, so given also the fact that we both love traditional and classic heavy metal, we decided to turn that into a separate band and Black Soul Horde was born.
Was it an easy task to find like-minded souls to complete the band lineup with Costas (on guitar), Jim (on drums), and Stelios (on bass)?
John: All the guys from the original lineup were friends. Costas and I have been playing together for more than 10 years now and he is one of the best lead guitarists, and musicians in general, I have ever worked with. He also is a heavy metal freak, maybe even more than me, I dare say, so I asked him if he'd like to participate in the recordings.
We had great fun, so he joined as a full-time member. Jim on drums had been rehearsing with his main band Sun of Nothing in my studio for a few years and I knew he was an excellent drummer, so I asked him to help out at first and he ended up staying on for a while. The lineup was complete for the recordings by then since I also play the bass on Black Soul Horde releases but we needed to be a live band, so we needed a bass player. I had never worked with Stelios at that time, but he was a friend of Jim's) who suggested we should give him a shot. Well, needless to say, we were more than happy with him, since Stelios is an awesome bass player and a very fast learner. He stayed on more like a session member of the band and played all the live shows we ever did. He will definitely be the go-to guy if or when we return to the stage.
Your debut album, Tales of the Ancient Ones, was put out one year after the formation of the band in 2013. How satisfied are you with that album and do you think it made the right impression, showing you are in the game, playing sincere and honest heavy metal straight from your hearts?
John: We are still very happy with our debut. It was sincere, from the heart, relatively effortless (in regard to writing the material, I mean) and true to the values we as individuals deem for heavy metal. It was well received by people and the scene and we are extremely grateful for that. We were given a few live opportunities that you wouldn't normally get as a newcomer and we were always humbled by it.
How did you land a record deal with No Remorse for your debut album? Did you also have negotiations going on with other labels?
John: No Remorse is a well-established label in the realm of heavy metal and it is based in Athens, Greece. So, we sent our album to the guys to have a listen and tell us what they thought. They liked it and we went on to sign with them for its release on CD. We did not have many expectations, let alone being on a label, so when we got that offer, we looked no further. It is one of the best underground metal labels out there and we are happy to have been part of that family.
In 2015, you decided to record a split with your country mates, Dexter Ward. What was the reason you opted to do this split instead of concentrating on composing material for your next studio album?
John: Well, the idea was basically put on the table by No Remorse. It wasn't ours. But Dexter Ward is a kickass band, they are friends and the band has been around a lot longer than us so we were honored and very happy to do a split EP with them. I had already started working on new stuff before that, which ended up on that split. Three out of the four songs on our side were new songs. They were actually the first songs that would be part of the second album. But fate would have it differently.
The band has been getting some nice and favorable exposure in some bigger magazines like Metal Hammer Greece and Japan's Burrn! over the years. Have those articles opened doors for the band as far as gig opportunities are concerned?
John: It was a great thing to see reviews and mentions in well respected and established magazines. I'd definitely say it brought the band closer to more fans around the world, but I wouldn't say that it gave us any gig opportunities.
A NIGHT TO BE REMEMBERED
In March 2015, you shared the stage with Wolf, Night Demon and, at least semi-legendary local heroes, Strikelight. Was that event the kind of night to be remembered for the rest of your life?
John: Most definitely. We love Wolf, they were and still are a great inspiration for me. We bow down to Night Demon. Jarvis is a heavy metal hero. And we have the utmost respect for Strikelight. First time I saw them live I was blown away. Great night, great bands.
FEELING HOMEY BY PLAYING METAL
You have many other bands keeping you busy like Speedblow, Night Resident, and Mahakala. These bands are more or less known for doom metal/stoner approaches, so where does your fixation for this type of music style come from? Do you feel "more homey" with stoner/doom metal, so to speak?
John: I feel at home playing music in general. I like a lot of music genres and I always feel driven to play stuff and try different styles. Heavy metal is the music I grew up with. It is and always will be special to me. Over the years my taste didn't change, it expanded, so I felt the need to add more colors to my palette. I don't know why everybody uses the term stoner on the bands you mentioned. I feel it does not apply. Speedblow started out as heavy rock/doom band. It evolved into a metal/doom metal with a dash of Sweden in it. The inspiration was bands like High on Fire, The Sword, Crowbar and Doomriders. These are not stoner bands. Well, to my ears they're not. Mahakala is Jim's band so he'd be able to clarify their stuff better, but their music was doomy, Sabbath-driven metal which on the second album became doom/modern metal. Unless you want to call Sabbath stoner metal. And finally, Night Resident is a heavy/doom rock band with some dark wave, metal and grunge elements in it. As you can see, I feel homey playing metal.
Playing a faster and more traditional type of heavy metal, like you are doing with Black Soul Horde, must feel inspiring and keeps your inner flame of enjoying being a musician alive. Would you see yourself fully concentrating on this band in the future if it all of sudden caused such a huge stir everywhere in the world that the band was asked to play at some major festivals around Europe in 2021 or even to support Iron Maiden in Greece when these heavy metal giants would come to your home turf next time?
John: Supporting Iron Maiden is as likely to happen as for me to win a lottery, hehe! But yes, writing for Black Soul Horde is inspiring, sometimes more than anything else and I think that is due to the fact that I am able to realize dreams and ideas I have had since I was a kid.
It might be difficult for me to focus on just one band since, as I explained before, I have a need to play various stuff, but that wouldn't change the fact that if the band ever became a viable choice for me to give it everything I had, I would.
TRAILBLAZER RECORDS AND MOTHSTUDIO PRODUCTIONS
Besides all your bands, you are also the founder of Trailblazer Records and Mothstudio Productions. From my background search, it appears you put Trailblazer Records on ice in 2018 to better concentrate on your other projects. How much does Mothstudio, which is your own studio, keep you busy nowadays? Have other bands found it a great place for their recordings and even some bands from abroad as well?
John: Trailblazer Records was my own personal effort to help out the rising Greek underground metal scene. It was an investment I made in money, time and soul. It had a decent run since starting in 2007 but it reached a point where it was no longer viable and I could no longer do things the way I wanted. I did not want it to become something ugly or painful to remember so I put it on ice for the foreseeable future. Mothstudio Productions has been around since 2005. A lot of bands have been through it for rehearsal and recordings over the years and I raise a glass to all of them. At the moment it is only a recording facility and I also do video and photography there now. It's doing OK but things were pretty tough this past year, as they have for most people and businesses on the planet, I guess.
Moving on, you recorded B.S.H.'s follow-up album, Land of Demise, in that aforementioned studio, this time as a foursome. How was this studio experience for you? Do you believe that you got the kind of album recorded that you originally hope for?
John: We are basically three members. Vasilis is a session drummer. It was a great experience. I love studio life and productions, so I took my time in creating the sound I wanted and paying attention to detail. I recorded my guitar and bass parts, Costas came in and did his lead work and then Jim came in and did a wonderful job with the vocals which sealed the album. I believe that it actually turned out better than I hoped for.
Would you shamelessly say that you exceeded the expectations you had in mind before you entered the studio to record this album? Did you have extra pressure on your shoulders to top your debut?
John: Well yeah, it is the truth. We did better than I hoped. I had no pressure in topping the debut on any aspect, no. Tales... is what it is. An entity of its own. Since 2012 we have evolved both musically and as human beings. So, it makes perfect sense that any new material would be somewhat different. However, if you take the first album, then the EP, and finally Land of Demise, you will see that the latter is kind of the bastard child between the former two.
Since your stellar debut, did you perhaps make any changes regarding songwriting responsibilities?
John: Not really. The roles are pretty clear in Black Soul Horde and they shall remain so. If it works and it ain't broken, you should not try to fix it. There is a specific vision for this band, and we want to keep that going as it is.
What feels a bit strange to me, as I understand it, you will release a very limited CD version, 200 copies only, on your own as far as physical copies of it are concerned. Will No Remorse play a role in releasing a vinyl version of it later on, or do you guys some other potential negotiations going on with other labels about the possibility of a vinyl release?
John: We are doing it on our own. The budget comes directly from us and, trust me, it is not big or easy getting it and that is why things are being kept on a small scale. No Remorse has a full roster at the moment so there are no plans for anything. No negotiations in general either, although we are always open to suggestions and good opportunities.
To me, being the old-school metal dinosaur I am, I found elements on your brilliant new album that reminded me of Iron Maiden (the usual suspect), Griffin (US), and Omen, but I guess it's all about the ears of a listener what influences people hear in your songs, right? However, how do you feel compared to those three bands? I am totally clueless, eh?
John: Haha! No, you are not clueless man! Maiden and Omen are definitely in the huge bucket of inspiration where we draw from, but so are so many other bands. From some point on it's just a matter of perception, I believe. Every listener has his own filters and processes music in a unique way. So, within the realm of heavy metal, you will find a lot of influences. Having said that, I can only attest to what I had in mind or what inspired me at the specific time I wrote the songs.
How did you find Vasilis Nanos to fill the drummer's seat on the new album?
John: Vasilis is the drummer of old-school death metallers Blessed by Perversion, whose latest album we did in my studio. After seeing what Vasilis was capable of during the drum recording sessions, I asked him to record the Black Soul Horde album. The dude is 21 and plays like he is possessed. Unbelievable drummer.
The cover artwork for Land of Demise is very eye-catching. Who's the master of this painting and would you say it reflects the content of your album pretty damn well?
John: The album cover was done by Remedy Art Design. Giannis is a well-respected artist with an exceptional talent. He has done artwork for many great bands such as Evergrey, Pyramaze and Oceans of Slumber and yes, I would say the artwork reflects the feel of the album throughout.
Due to all the Corona shit and stuff, predicting the future is very difficult as far as gigging is concerned, if not completely impossible. However, what do you see for the future for B.S.H. with future comings and goings?
John: It is true that live shows now seem so far away. I want to believe that it will all come back sooner rather than later but I doubt it will do so unscathed. The future of the band definitely includes writing and releasing new music and once everything is closer to normal, it might also include some live shows.
BSH IS MADE OF...
One last question and then I will let you go for a cold beer. If Black Soul Horde was a sweet cake at some cafeteria, what ingredients would it contain and why?
John: Wow...! That's an odd one and a first! I don't know man. I like cookies, white chocolate and ice cream, but that sounds more like an indie band. Haha!
Thank you, John, if you made it this far without any extra headaches, coffee breaks, visits to the toilet, etc. I want to wish both you and the band all the best in the future. The last comments are left for you, so just go ahead if you have anything in your mind...
John: Thank YOU for the opportunity to have a chat. I had a great time answering your questions although I will admit I took a break to grab lunch! But I really enjoyed your approach man.
I just want to say a big thanks to everyone who buys our music and supports the band in any way, helping us set the foundations for our next endeavor and giving us strength to keep doing what we love. I wish everything gets better soon and we can all return to some semblance of normality and familiarity. Until then, take care of yourselves and each other and listen to a lot of music.
|Other information about Black Soul Horde on this site|
|Review: Land of Demise|
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