About Me

Interview with Pantheist

"Closer to God" (2021) is the last album by Pantheist, a multi-nationalist band (Belgium, United States, England…) that offered us some of the best work within Funeral Doom and Progressive Doom, with an emphasis on the long duration of 2018, Seeking Infinity.
We spoke with Kostas Panagiotou, the band's vocalist and keyboard, its founder and architect of the avant-garde sound the group has offered to a musical genre that has been marginalized within extreme metal.
Kostas is very sober, rational and, despite the band's name (see below for the meaning), he is a person much more connected to science than he might seem at first.
In a very coherent interview, we learned, among other things, that it was a Portuguese band that took him to metal. Let’s go?

M.I. - Hey! How are you? Thanks for taking this interview.

Thank you for interviewing me! I’m good thanks. This is the fun part of releasing and promoting your own album: all the hard and ‘boring’ work (making arrangements for the album pressing, promotion, advertisements, release strategy etc...) are now behind us, and I am enjoying talking about the artistic part of my work, and reading people’s comments and reviews! 

M.I. - First of all, congrats for the last album. It`s one of the best of its kind, along with Seeking Infinity, in recent years!

I’m delighted to hear that you loved the album. Just like the previous album, it has a special place in my heart as it has been only since these two albums that I took over the whole album promotion and production, which has taken a lot of my time and effort, but I believe it was worth it! I certainly poured myself emotionally into these works.

M.I. - What is the unifying theme of this album? One of the main ingredients is, without a doubt, the lockdown(s) to which we have been subjected...

Yes, most of the lyrics were written while we were in full lockdown so they definitely reflect my lockdown frustration. But behind this unifying theme, there are some deeper themes that are explored individually: the idea that we live in a crazy, ever changing world which we can’t always identify with; the desire to flee far away from the madness of our daily routines, into some imaginary wilderness where there are no limitations and boundaries; the human insignificance in the big scheme of things, which is strangely comforting (as everyone feels the same ‘cosmic loneliness’) etc. 

M.I. - “Strange Times” is almost 24 minutes. What are the main difficulties of creating such a long song and what is the secret to keeping someone hooked for so long?

Well, actually the original idea of the album, was to release one long track as an EP, just like Skepticism’s ‘Aes’. This was the chosen track. Eventually, more ideas started to emerge and before we knew it, we were working on a full-length album. As for the length of this track, it came about quite naturally and I think it shows. It’s long but it doesn’t feel repetitive and (always in my opinion) it remains engaging for the listener throughout. The only limitation we had set ourselves, was to keep it under 24 minutes in order to fit on a vinyl side, and we just about succeeded! We approached this record as an old-school band this time, with a vinyl release in mind, just like in the good old times when bands had to make concise albums and cut all of the fluff, to make them fit on a vinyl record.    

M.I. - Apart from Kostas, all elements are new and this is their first work as part of Pantheist. How did that influence the band's dynamics and songwriting?

It was great to be honest. Everyone came into the band in a spirit of cooperation and creativity, bringing their fresh ears and ideas to the record. They all contributed significantly to how it sounds, especially the guitarist Jeremy who not only mixed the whole album, but also added some amazing progressive guitar leads and changed the character of some of the compositions!

M.I. - The change of the entire lineup (with the exception of Kostas) had already happened at Seeking Infinity. Why so many changes?

Every album we have released so far has had a different line-up. Generally, this is for different reasons. One of the main reasons has been the fact that a lot of the former band members (including myself) have moved countries. I moved from Belgium (where I started the band) to England then Wales. I had former members moving to the United States (twice), Finland, Norway, Spain, even the north of England...
The previous album was recorded with the same people who were in the band for at least 4-8 years, so all in all it was a stable line-up. However, by the end of that year when the album was released (2018) I had moved to Wales, the drummer moved to Romania and the whole line-up fell apart. I had to relaunch the band from scratch, but as the lockdown was making physical contact difficult or impossible (at some point we weren’t even allowed to be physically in the same room with our neighbours) I didn’t worry too much about the location of the new musicians. I just started working with people I was already in touch with, who could record their parts at home and I knew I could rely on.    

M.I. - You have several nationalities here and each member of the group lives in a different part of the globe. I read elsewhere that, even because of the pandemic issue, that each element wrote and recorded their parts in their respective home. What is it like to put together an album like this? From a distance?

It was easier than I thought. I think the most important elements of working together in any project (including making music) are mindset and communication. As long as everyone collaborates in a spirit of open-mindedness and willingness to put the end result above their ego, and as long as there is good and regular communication between the band members, you can get a great result regardless of the distance between the band members. 

M.I. - How was the whole process of writing and recording the album?

Very relaxed and inspiring. I highly recommend it! I had created the original demos, some of them had a lot of detail while others were rather vague in terms of arrangement. I sent them to the band members who filled in the gaps with their parts, sent them back and then we discussed them as the songs were built. Jeremy and I put everything together and took the important editing decisions (every band needs leaders and important decision makers, I don’t believe in complete democracy as that soon descends into anarchy). We did make a lot of different mixes, I remember at some point Jeremy sending me a version called ‘Strange Times_mix25’ or so! But it was all worth it in the end, as the album sounds clear and natural.

M.I. - Since the last album, you started to release your work through your own label. Fed up working with others? Need to have full control over your work? On the other hand, do you think that this way you will lose a little when it comes to contacts, promotion, marketing?...

Yes, it’s mostly about control. I am much happier knowing exactly how many albums we shift, how much money comes in, and how much I need to save so that I can keep going. No matter how well they are meaning, I found working with labels often lacks transparency. Music income is a strange phenomenon nowadays; it’s split into various parts such as royalties, physical album sales, digital sales, streaming, performance rights etc etc. It’s hard to keep up with all of it, and labels often exaggerate their numbers or deliberately leave out information depending on what thet want these numbers to show (I don’t blame them, I used to own a small business myself and know exactly how hard it is to survive in an arena with strong competition...).
Yes, we lose a bit in the area of PR or marketing, but on the other side there is a strong connection with our fans as we interact much more with them, and the relationship is more intense. A fan will also often pay more or buy extra merch to support their favourite artist if they know that the money goes straight in the artist’s pocket, so this compensates.  

M.I. - You have always been a band that preferred to play for small audiences. Do you think playing in big concerts/festivals loses the ambience and atmosphere that characterizes your – and even doom, in general – sound?

I haven’t played in many big festivals with this band so find it hard to compare. I think it’s possible to create an atmospheric set in a bigger festival, this depends more on the band itself. The problem however is the quick changeover between bands, which makes it difficult to bring special props to a festival as they take time to set up. Also our sound is a bit ‘special’ as keyboards are right upfront and important in the mix, and most sound engineers don’t know what to do with them because they hate keyboards. On the other side, I much prefer playing on bigger stages where I have more freedom of movement and the sound in smaller venues is often awful, so there are pros and cons...   

M.I. - Still within the same theme... You were never a band to give many concerts either. In 2019, did you only give one concert? It is true?! Is there any “disgust” there for performing live or even for being full-time musicians?

Yes, in 2019 we only played once and it was our last gig so far! No, I wouldn’t say there is a disgust for playing live, I really enjoy it. The problem is often practical, and as we discussed before, we had many line-up changes which make it difficult to rehearse regularly and build up a good solid live sound. At the moment I have two band members living in a different continent, so playing live with this line-up is probably impossible.   

M.I. - Do you have other professions/jobs besides music?

I certainly do. Music kind of pays for itself at the moment, but doesn’t bring any food on the table. I work as an advocate for a victims of crime service and I am also a life coach, helping therapists, artists and small business owners to achieve their goals and find freedom and clarity in their lives.

M.I. - Kostas... You continue with some side projects like Towards Atlantis Lights or even in your own name. In both cases, you released albums this year. How did these projects come about? Is it some escape to do what you can't with Pantheist?

They all fulfil a different purpose. Towards Atlantis Lights was the project of Ivan Zara (Void of Silence). I came in to do the vocals, keyboards and I am responsible for the lyrics and the band’s concepts. It’s a very different role from Pantheist which I enjoy, as it means less responsibility for composing the music (this is Ivan’s domain) and more focus on the band’s lyrical themes. My solo music is again quite different. It also took off during the pandemic, where I finally had the time to record two piano albums with music I had composed throughout the years. I am currently working on another solo album for next year. Again it’s different from Pantheist in the sense that it’s mostly instrumental so I let the music do the talking and express my feelings.

M.I. - Pantheist released 2 albums that, in my opinion, are some of the best of the genre - O Solitude and Seeking Infinity. But there is still a lot of lack of recognition. What does the band lack to be among the big names in doom?

Well, you do show some recognition with your comments, and I appreciate that!
But I do agree that the band could be better known. Not sure what has been to blame so far; probably the constant moving around and changing of band members we discussed before, it makes it difficult to find stability. And people don’t know how to describe us anymore. Are we a band from Greece, Belgium, London, England, Wales...? Neither of these, but there are elements of all of these countries in the band, and more! Add to that the fact our sound changes from album to album, and the fact that we have progressive and strong melodic elements in our sound, which is quite unusual in ‘funeral’ doom...I think all that makes us a bit of an oddity within an already marginalized genre. Personally, I would rather have that we are an ‘overrated’ rather then ‘underrated’ band, which I keep hearing. I work hard every day for this band to create a unique proposition within the genre and delight the hearts of fans of atmospheric metal and it’s nice to get recognition for this from time to time. 

M.I. - A pantheist is someone who believes that God is present in all things in the universe and that the universe itself has divine properties. Where do your beliefs begin and where do they end? Do you believe in the supernatural, in the stories of the bible or are your beliefs closer to what science says?

I don’t believe in the Bible or the supernatural. I have studied psychology and worked as research assistant before, so I am a man of science, but not of materialistic reductionism. I am attracted to the idea of ‘naturalistic pantheism’, a type of spirituality which is drawn from the majesty and beauty of the universe, rather than some supernatural force.

M.I. - This album is called “Closer to God”, but the cover shows an image continuously, within itself, almost as if you wanted to convey the idea of infinity. Does this mean that no matter how much you want to be close to God, he will always be unreachable? There`s somethings we will never know/understand?

The concept of God is unreachable and unknowable, at least when using a rational method of inquiry. The cover, in the context of the album, is holding a mirror to the vanity of the reductive scientific method. There is an infinite majestic universe to be explored in front of us, but instead we are using reductive or derivative tools in our attempt to ‘frame it’, rather than experiencing it directly.  

M.I. - This kind of work with a lot of atmosphere is always difficult to reproduce live. How do you recreate this in concerts? Use lots of recordings or opt for a rawer sound?

We used to pre-record all keys and backing vocals in more recent gigs, but I always found this approach unsatisfactory, as I really do enjoy experiencing the performing aspect of a live gig. As I said earlier, we don’t have a gigging line-up at the moment, however when we start playing live, my intention will be to avoid these pre-recorded parts as much as possible. I think a raw but honest sound works quite well in a live setting, as long as that live setting is suited for atmospheric music.  

M.I. - You've been playing for 20 years... How do you see the evolution of doom? Any project that stands out more? Similar to what you do, I imagine you prefer more progressive bands or at least constantly trying new things, instead of those that keep the same record (which is not to say that it's bad. Sometimes, “in a team that wins , you don't change it.” And if the music works...).

I think the genre has well and truly blossomed, there are a lot of newer doom bands out there and some of them are quite good. I don’t always want to listen to progressive or ever evolving bands, there is a difference between what I enjoy listening to and what I create for my artistic expression. I like both original and out there bands such as Skepticism, Esoteric, Unholy or Bellwitch and more traditional bands such as Candlemass, St Vitus, Reverend Bizarre or a recent favourite, the Spanish Todomal. 

M.I. - What plans for a future tour or concerts do you have?

My big goal for 2022 is to get a live line-up together, and be ready for gigs in the second part of 2022. After this, anything can happen! 

M.I. - You've already played in Portugal. I think the only concert in the country was in 2012. Quite some time now... Do you remember anything? What did you think of the Portuguese crowd?

Yes, I still remember it quite vividly. It was at the SWR Barroselas metalfest, a two day fest full of extreme metal maniacs and we had a great time. We were one of the most melodic bands there and played on a large stage, which I hugely enjoyed. I also remember a journalist from Zero Tolerance magazine, literally one metre away from me, filming us live on stage for their 10 year anniversary edition...which caused my hands to tremble when I was playing a keyboard solo, haha! Some great bands on the bill too: Candlemass, Immortal, Asphyx...it was a very satisfactory weekend. 

M.I. - Do you know any Portuguese bands?

Yes, quite a few. Moonspell got me into extreme metal so I will always have a soft spot for them. The guitarist of Before the Rain used to play in Pantheist. Collapse of Light are great too.  

M.I. - Are there any ideas for the next album? When can we expect it?

I actually have a lot of ideas for the next album, but it’s too early to start working on it. As ever, it’s going to be an ambitious project. Everything going well, it should be out around the second part of 2023 or early 2024. 

M.I. - Ok, almost finishing... The last lines will be for you to say goodbye to our readers. What do you want to tell them?

Hailz to thee, Metal Imperium readers! Stay doomed and always remember: we live in a new dark age, these times are strange!

M.I. - Again, thanks for answering our questions and keep creating instant doom classics!

Stay safe! Thank you for the interesting and challenging questions, definitely the most enjoyable interview I have done in years. Stay safe, and stay doomed!

For Portuguese version, click here

Listen Pantheist on Spotify

Questions by Ivan Santos