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Far Beyond The Ivory Tower: An Exclusive Interview With ILLUSORY

By Jay Roberts, Massachusetts Contributor
Wednesday, April 28, 2021 @ 12:22 AM

"GEOFF TATE was really friendly, warm and truly humane despite the fact he is a huge artist. He was a total professional. I just wish I can be as passionate about music as he is when I reach his age!"

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"You can't teach an old dog new tricks". When you are a cranky old man like me, that turn of phrase never seems more apt then when you find yourself listening to new music.

Whenever I'm presented with the chance to listen to a band I've never heard before, I have lately found myself loathe to be putting forth the effort. But just when I think there can't possibly be anything new to strike my fancy, I get a surprising kick in the butt and come across a band that reinvigorates my sense of musical discovery.

And so it was with the band ILLUSORY and their absolute monster of a masterpiece new album Crimson Wreath. The band's third album is mix of traditional, progressive and thrash metal styles that had my jaw dropping to the floor like a Looney Tunes cartoon character! I reviewed the album for KNAC.COM (Check that review out HERE) and gave it the strongest recommendation I could. Seriously, do not sleep on this band!

With the release of Crimson Wreath scheduled for May 21st, 2021 (via Rockshots Records), I was offered the chance to interview the band. What follows below is each member of the band helping to give insight into ILLUSORY as a band and the creative process that went into making the Crimson Wreath album.

KNAC.COM: The release of Crimson Wreath, ILLUSORY's 3rd album, is coming up on May 21st, 2021. Can you give me a brief overview of the album?

GEORGE PAPANTONIS (guitar): Crimson Wreath is a different album in comparison to its predecessors. It is not as "old school" as The Ivory Tower, yet not as "Progressive" as Polysyllabic. In a nutshell, I would describe it as a mature ILLUSORY album.

We believe that Crimson Wreath is the album, where you can understand the maturity in our songwriting and performing. Our influences are different, and each member added some of those in the creation of this album. You will listen to sentimental melodies and lyrics, you will listen to galloping guitars and a powerful rhythm section, yet you will also listen to some acoustic and piano-based parts in songs.

We always find it interesting to experiment while rehearsing on new material, and -even more- during the procedure of pre-production! We hope that everybody will enjoy listening to the album as we enjoyed creating it!

KNAC.COM: After 2013's The Ivory Tower and 2016's Polysyllabic, how much pressure did you put on yourselves to grow and expand your songwriting in the sessions for Crimson Wreath?

COSTAS KOULIS (drums): Pound for pound, I would say no pressure at all. The way things evolved music-wise and lyric-wise around Crimson Wreath was actually a blessing. We always share ideas, we always exchange musical themes and librettos and then proceed with setting and arranging as well as orchestrating and then recording.

We did not pressure ourselves, we just let them go! I believe our songwriting is growing alongside our ability to comprehend and put certain aspects and feelings in notes and expressing our inner selves to a point we can be heard via our songs.

KNAC.COM: How long did it take the band to record the album? Did you record it together or individually?

DEE THEODOROU (vocals): We recorded the album individually. We have our own studio, the "iCave", where we do rehearse for every single song, because we need to set up all the musical arrangements and catch up with the live feeling before we get to the recording sessions.

We had a plan of releasing Crimson Wreath two years after Polysyllabic; after all, we almost had all the songs in pre-production status. Some things really slowed down the procedure for us. First of all, we had to face some really sad family matters from the side of our guitarist George, who unfortunately lost both his parents.

After that, we had to search for a new keyboardist because George Konstantakelos quit the band due to some serious personal issues. Keyboardists in metal are really hard to find! Not only are there only a few, most of them are also playing with a number of bands at the same time. We really need to have someone fully focus in our band and that took us more than a year.

On top of all that, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world and that was the final blow to our engines. You know, we had the album half mixed and then we had to wait for over a year to complete it. And there was nothing we could do. Imagine that we practically took the decision to complete the mix and mastering via the Internet and that was a brave decision we had to take. It was our big bet and I'd say it came down to it truly fantastic!

KNAC.COM: While Crimson Wreath isn't a full-on concept album, there is certainly a sense of the dramatic tying the material together. Was this planned from the start or did the material simply come together that way naturally?

PAPANTONIS: The album is not a concept one. There is a similarity of lyrical themes but this was never planned. It just occurred during the songwriting. For example, we have songs about the awfulness of war, songs about the pain of human loss, about loneliness, about Greek mythology and about racism and child molestation.

KNAC.COM: The song "Ashes To Dust" features actor/director Grigoris Valtinos performing the track's narrative portion. For those of us unfamiliar with his work, can you tell me a bit about him and how you came to have him on the album?

KOULIS: Mr. Grigoris Valtinos is a huge actor and director and most probably one of the best artists ever! He is globally known, he is a true cultural pillar and he is the first actor who performed at the Colosseum, when the latter reopened its gates after a fifteen centuries silence. We have been admiring his work in theater, cinema and television for years.

When the narration part in "Ashes To Dust" became a discussion subject, we started brainstorming about the narrator. It's all in ancient Greek, directly from Homer's prototype and the whole procedure needed very careful thinking and planning. At least, that is what we considered as a benchmark back then. Because we simply mentioned his name after a minute or two and then we just stopped! We got in touch with him via his public relations staff and he replied the same day! Asked for the narration part and the song itself and the very next day he reverted with the best catchphrase ever: "So, we are meeting up tomorrow, to record the session?" He did an amazing job, he loved every bit of it and he really likes what we do. It's such a bliss to have him onboard.

KNAC.COM: For "All Blood Red", the song takes a stand against any kind of racism. How difficult was it to get out what you wanted to say in the song's lyrics?

PAPANTONIS: We are openly against every form of violence. We had some racist events during the past years which took place in Greece, mainly by the far-right organization "Golden Dawn", which we detest in its entirety. We also read and hear every day about domestic violence, child molestation, violence due to sexual orientation or even due to age. Even bullying was a thing that inspired those lyrics that you can listen to in "All Blood Red". Therefore, as you can understand, it wasn't difficult to write down those lyrics.

A small trivia for this song is that its the first song that has two different choruses lyrically. That came to my mind, in order to speak about all the above mentioned forms of racism/sexism/bullying, etc.

KNAC.COM: I really enjoyed the way you built up the themes both musically and vocally on the song "S.T. Forsaken", can you tell me more about the creation of that song?

THEODOROU: I am very happy you enjoyed it! This song is one of my favorites and definitely the most demanding song from the album for me to sing. "S.T. Forsaken" refers to Steven Towers, the main character off our debut album entitled The Ivory Tower. We had a plan right from the start, to continue his story through our albums and this specific belongs to him. Musically, it's a very complex and cerebral song with varying melodies and tempo changes that gives you the impact of an adventurous musical journey. There is also a pun involving the lyrics of the last chorus, where I actually sing "Saint Forsaken..."

KNAC.COM: In my review of the album, I said that "Fortress of Sadness" played out like a suspense film thriller. Was that your goal with that song?

THEODOROU: That was our goal exactly! You see, I had the entire scenario in my head for so many years. A while back, I even recorded some kids playing by a pool just to use it for the middle part of the song. Basically, this song consists of many different pieces of music written by the band which I matched them together and did the arrangement based on the plot I had in my head. The only latest addition was the Latin Choir and that really blew us out!

KOULIS: "Fortress of Sadness" deals with a very emotional, delicate and darkened story, that of a pedophile. When Dee came to the studio with the lyrics, we discussed a variety of issues. At some point we were talking about the song finale and we came to that conclusion; to transform the song into a thriller of cinematic proportions. Worked on the epilogue by combining ideas and a series of respective thoughts and the outcome was truly fulfilling. We just wanted to show that such criminals should be punished and that at the end of the day, human lives do matter. Especially when we are referring to children; the very tomorrow of our world.

KNAC.COM: "An Opus of Loss And Sorrow" reminded me, in terms of scope, of the FATES WARNING epic "The Ivory Gate of Dreams". What themes were you were exploring with this song?

PAPANTONIS: Firstly, I would like to tell you it is not one song. We had three songs that were inspired by human loss, which we had suffered in previous years. The first one, "Past Forever Lost", is the ballad of the album, written by our singer Dee for the loss of his grandparents some years ago.

The second one, "The Island Of Shadows", was inspired by the loss of my mother back in December 2016. During the procedure of the recordings of Crimson Wreath, I also suffered the loss of my father, therefore this song (and the album in its entirety) is dedicated to my late parents.

Finally, the third song, "Agony's Last", was co-written by our former keyboard player, Giorgos Konstantakelos, about a tragedy that happened to him some years ago.

KNAC.COM: With the world still at a relative standstill because of the pandemic, are you hoping to play any live shows in support of Crimson Wreath or is that impossible to plan for right now?

GREG BAKOS (guitar): Naturally we would love to play live! Moreover, we have a brand new album coming out and we'd like the people to listen to it and listen to it live. Truth is we were aiming for a live presentation, however due to the pandemic, we cannot schedule such an event yet. We need to be patient. After all, after returning to normality, there are many live gigs to come!

MAKIS VANDOROS (keyboards): Well, it is very hard to say whether live shows will be scheduled or not. Of course we are hoping to play someplace in order to support our new album, and our hope is that our music will be heard not only by our supporters but by new friends, in large venues.

We have to be ready to do so whenever we will be asked to even if it is impossible for now. We frequently rehearse and we already have new ideas for the next album. I presume we have not been at all stand still during this pandemic.

KNAC.COM: What about some kind of live streaming event?

NIKI DANOS (bass): The band is watching all news and most recent developments concerning the pandemic. We are waiting for the time to come, to be able to present our material live on stage. Following our new album's release, we will consider all potential procedures to play live. We really want to get in touch with a live audience, however, the most important thing right now is to stay safe and healthy, all of us!

KNAC.COM: In the past, you've opened for bands like BLUE OYSTER CULT and GEOFF TATE'S OPERATION MINDCRIME. Did you take anything away from those experiences to incorporate into your own performances?

KOULIS: I would say that you just mentioned two of the greatest nights we remember as a band and even beyond that! It was June 2008 when we opened for BLUE OYSTER CULT and come to think of it, it's like it happened yesterday!

The location was amazing, there were about five thousand people there. We knew they did not attend the concert for us, but we were determined to show everybody that we deserved the supporting slot. We wanted to show everybody that we were that good to be chosen to open for the legendary band. There are many stories about that night, however, this one is a story I do like to share. It was after our set and during the first seconds of BLUE OYSTER CULT on stage. I was sitting with some friends. When they kicked off and I heard their sound off the P.A., I was overwhelmed. I turned to my friends, "You guys, did we sound anything like that, at all?" They said, "No..." I was like, "Well..." and then they continued, "It was EXACTLY like that!" and one of the girls sitting next to us added, "Only louder!" You can imagine my expression.

As for GEOFF TATE, it was a dream come true. I'm a passionate and diehard QUEENSRYCHE fan and the fact the I got to open for one of my idols...What we have taken from those phenomenal experiences was that we should always aim high and that the sky is the limit! There is no room for setbacks in that area.

DANOS: Unfortunately, I was not in the band when they opened for BLUE OYSTER CULT. Supporting GEOFF TATE though, it was a lifetime experience. It was an amazing live show with an amazing crowd and Tate was simply unique. We received positive reviews about our performance and the fans seemed to love it. GEOFF TATE was really friendly, warm and truly humane despite the fact he is a huge artist. He was a total professional. I just wish I can be as passionate about music as he is when I reach his age!

KNAC.COM: The press material for the Crimson Wreath album says the band is for fans of IRON MAIDEN, QUEENSRYCHE, SAVATAGE and JAG PANZER and that you blend aspects of classic, progressive and thrash metal in your sound. Is that a good summation of the band's influences?

THEODOROU: Well, it's more or less a good summation. Actually, JAG PANZER is not amongs our influences but there are times we hear from a number of peope that we do sound alike. We certainly love all the classics such as IRON MAIDEN, QUEENSRYCHE, JUDAS PRIEST, BLACK SABBATH, METALLICA and more. We play heavy metal, we never wanted to reinvent heavy music or try to play something strange just to sound different. Sure, we like some old school thrash metal and definitely love a lot of progressive bands, so we do blend those things together and we do think that apart from all of our influences, we have our own sound. KNAC.COM: Are there any other groups that have influenced either the band as a whole or the individual members?

MAKIS VANDOROS (keyboards): For me, I will always mention two major bands. First HELLOWEEN, being the ones that established the sound of power metal and convinced me that this is the kind of music I love. Then, I must admit that nowadays NIGHTWISH lead the game. Symphonic metal is a fusion genre, in which a musician can combine metal sounds and well-known classical lines, creating completely new songs, even if you think, "I've heard that before!".

KNAC.COM: Since I've never been to Greece myself, what's the metal community like there? Is there a thriving scene or do you find yourself having to work even harder because there is less of a support community?

BAKOS: There has always been a great metal audience in Greece. If there is a chance to see a big band's live appearances in Greece (i.e. IRON MAIDEN, METALLICA, etc.), you'll find out that all the venues are jam packed. Regarding Greek heavy metal bands, I would say that the Greek audience has been supportive since 2000. To be honest with you, a huge number of new Greek bands started making music and playing live from 2010 and onwards. There are so many local gigs that one might find it difficult to choose which to attend. Yet, the Greek audience is always supportive, following bands even from their very beginning.

KNAC.COM: Any final thoughts from the band as the album is set to be released to the world?

THEODOROU: This is the time that we mostly think about health issues that has to do with the pandemic. We really wish the whole world will overcome this crisis very soon.

The band is very proud of the new album and we are ready to go out touring and promoting Crimson Wreath, we just wait for the final call! Thank you so much for the conversation and also for the magnificent review you did on our album. Shine On!

For more on ILLUSORY, check out the band's website at http://www.illusoryband.com. You can also follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/IllusoryBand

And don't forget, you can get your copy of the simply stellar Crimson Wreath album starting May 21st, 2021 from Rockshots Records!

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