Meteor Gods – Exclusive interview with Nightfall

Greek metal titans, Nightfall, returned with their first album in seven years in February. For main man, Efthimis Karadimas, the prospect of a reunion was something that could only happen with the right team. Current members of Nile and Rotting Christ and former members of Helloween and Firewind have all passed through the revolving door of musicians in Nightfall over the years, yet Efthimis rediscovered his zest for music with his current project, The Slayerking

Now on the roster of Season of Mist, At Night We Prey is Nightfall’s eleventh album and one that should win them a new generation of fans. It’s the sound of a confident band flexing their muscles and indulging their love of blackened death metal with a touch of the gothic. Yet the new LP is a journey through the vicissitudes of depression, something that hampered the singer as the group started to achieve international acclaim at the turn of the century. The Season of Mist press release is up front about this aspect of the record: “We sing for younger generations to break down old misconceptions about mental disorders,” says Efthimis. “Music in this album is not following a linear pattern, but rather tries to catch the entire spectrum of mood swings one is experiencing, while in this state. It is a blend of fast and slow parts, heavy and heavier passages, in a natural progress from start to end.”

Efthimis sees my pseudonym of Jack von Bismarck and tells Scream Blast Repeat that one of the songs on their latest album is about the final German Emperor of Otto von Bismarck’s chancellorship in the late nineteenth century. “‘Giants of Anger’ was inspired by Wilhelm II, last Kaiser of Germany, whose problematic arm since birth caused him great emotional pain,” he explains. “Through this example I wanted to demonstrate that mental disorders make no discriminations. Can equally affect anyone, no matter race, rank, sex, etc. His story makes a great read. Especially his relationship with his grandma Queen Victoria; the only person he felt really close to,” says the singer.

We had much to discuss with the brains behind one of the most iconic metal bands from the Hellenic Republic. Everybody knows that Nightfall comprise the trinity of Greek metal along with Rotting Christ and Septicflesh. Here is the story of how the band got back together and how original guitarist, Mike Galiatsos, played a pivotal role in their reformation.

Efthimis Karadimas (third from the left) is the only member to have appeared on all eleven of Nightfall’s albums to date.

Let’s start with your current record deal with Season of Mist. You released your last album in 2013 via Metal Blade. Why did you not stay with Brian Slagel and the team at Metal Blade for At Night We Prey?

It was an honor to be with Metal Blade records. Brian is an iconic figure. And Andreas is an awesome guy. However, when talking of a subculture, like heavy metal, interaction plays a very big role. Metal is not about strict business endeavors where parties involved follow a protocol to pursue success. It’s more. Much more, I’d say. French and Greeks go along great. Culturally, we are closer and that helps a lot in day to day activity and correspondence. Nightfall and Season of Mist belong to the same generation; hence we share the same views and have the same background. Both raised in the 90s. 

Many observers place Nightfall in the trinity of Greek metal alongside Septicflesh and Rotting Christ. How much has the success of these two bands had on your decision to return after seven years away from the scene?

The guys are good friends, and we’ve been together since day one. We are lucky they are doing okay because they were promoting the Greek scene when we were idle. That’s very important. I’ve always believed a scene is a group of people who work in different ways towards the same target. To promote the whole. Truth is, Nightfall’s pretty much used to long periods of silence. We come out in seasons; four so far, with different line ups. Like Netflix. 

Hiatuses are not a strange thing in our case. In the 1990s we were with Holy Records, and then in the 2000s with Black Lotus. Before we stopped for a few years to resume in the 2010s with Metal Blade. Same pause again, and now in the 2020s with Season of Mist. I’d say our approach to art is closer to cinematography than to music. We change cast and work on different concepts each time. I like that. It maintains a fresh tone and the element of surprise. You know, no album sounds like its previous one, while each new one carries something extra.

Season of Mist market you as a melodic blackened death metal band as a way of introducing your music to a new generation of metalheads. How comfortable are you with this description of your art?

I am not comfortable at all. Especially, since we have a rich discography in terms of musical elements. The guys at SoM do their best. They know their job. But, hey, when we talk about music, we instantly strip it of the emotions it ignites. Ultimately, it’s the ears that do the job, not any words. 

We hear Slayer, Moonspell, Morbid Angel, Paradise Lost and Triptykon in your latest album. Which artists and albums influenced At Night We Prey?

The three of the five bands, Moonspell, Paradise Lost and Triptykon, are of our generation. I believe we share the same influences with them. Surely, Triptykon’s Tom G. Warrior has his roots where the two Americans you mentioned do, in the 80s. But I count Triptykon as a new band. Slayer and Morbid Angel came before us, and indeed have influenced us all. I am listening to so much music every day. Anything, literally anything, can be registered as my influence. 

Your original guitarist, Mike Galiatsos, returned to the band for your latest album following his departure in 1999. Tell us more about how you persuaded him to re-join the group.

Actually, it was the opposite. After the Cassiopeia album in 2013, I felt I had nothing more to say through Nightfall. I still wanted to play music but felt I needed more space. No deadlines, no schedules. However, as were jamming in the studio with my pal Kostas, we founded The Slayerking. And in 2017 we were about to tour with Avatarium. It was then when Mike gave me a call, telling me it would be great if we played together again. I explained to him, the scene has changed dramatically since the days he was active with us, and that I did not feel I was ready to reload all those responsibilities a band like Nightfall has. Well, unless I have something interesting to say. Yes, I put it like that. If I had an interesting story to share, then we could do it. And by next year, my story with depression made me take the decision to do it. I love the fact we have a real story to tell. I love it because it reminds me of the early days in metal, in the 70s and in the 80s, where albums usually carried a social meaning. They were addressing real problems. 

The level of musicianship is high on At Night We Prey, especially the drum work of Fotis Bernardo. You have a history of changing band members, often due to circumstances beyond your control. How much does this impact on the long periods of inactivity in the band?

It’s amazing that I have had the opportunity to play with so many good musicians thanks to this band. Fotis is great. He is a great musician and friend. I no more spend time in the band or anywhere with people that are not friends. But yes, you are right, line ups have changed quite a few times. But no matter who the new guy is, I always give them space and sort of oblige them to participate as equals among equals. This is the best. Nowadays, it’s crazy how many bands are made of one or two people only and a bunch of session musicians. I don’t get it. The main difference between a band and a solo artist or a duet is clear. There’s nothing better than working as a team. This is what we always do in Nightfall. As I said, it maintains freshness. 

You’re open about your struggles with depression over the years and admit it led to Nightfall retiring as a live band in 2005. It’s admirable that you speak about this period with so much candour. What was the lowest point of your depression where you thought, “I’m not getting out of this abyss”?

It was when I lost my mother and had to support my father, who was fighting with Parkinson’s. I asked for professional help and that was how I got to know about the whole depression thing and how long it affected me. Things I did in the past, I found their real meaning and I became able to decode stuff about me. Things I overlooked or denied. I got angry I did not ask for help earlier. And then I thought, ok I grew up in a society where mental disorder is a bad thing and we were taught to better keep it to ourselves. I learnt my lesson the hard way, and I decided to share that very lesson with people. I know many suffer by depression but very few go see a professional. Many think, “Oh, it’s just a phase” and distract themselves with other things. Regret to say, neither friends nor booze or drugs can help. It’s a disease. You need a real doctor, like with an injured leg. It’s time to open up, speak about it, and stop thinking we are being stigmatised or rejected. Especially young people who don’t have the experiences to cope efficiently with it yet doom themselves in silence. In my 20s or even early 30s, I blamed others for the world’s wrongdoings. But now, people of my age lead the world. We ought to make it better for the generations to follow. 

At Night We Prey is the sound of a band that have rediscovered their zest for extreme metal. You also wear some impressive shoulder spikes in the promo shots from last year. Was there ever a moment in the last twenty years when you lost interest in metal music due to your depression?

I think every time the band stopped it was due to this. Same for the absolute lack of touring. I am still searching about it, but I feel it was due to depression.

The last track on the album, ‘Wolves in Thy Head’, sounds like a metaphor for self-doubt and self-destructive tendencies. What is this song about?

It’s exactly that. It was inspired by the damage the so-called “lone wolves” do to the world and to themselves. I don’t think one gets a gun or a bomb and causes havoc just like that. We are talking about devasted lives. Raped personalities. I use that paradigm as an analogy to the struggle depression brings along. This song ends the story with a big blow. A big mess. At Night We Prey is a concept album. The tracklist reflects the extreme mood swings depression is causing. And if not treated right, it may well lead to a lethal outcome. All my lyrics are metaphorical. I speak that way too. Sometimes people don’t always get it, and it becomes funny. 

Why is it important to you now, at this stage of your career as a musician, to start touring again with Nightfall?

I tested myself with the The Slayerking tour in 2017 and felt good. That, plus the fact things have changed dramatically the last few years. Too many bands and releases. The younger generation have heard of Nightfall but never got into it as they never saw us live. Live experience is a very big thing. And I believe now we have the right team to do it right. 

Looking back, what is the best festival appearance of Nightfall’s career and why?

It was many years ago, in a planet without smartphones and instant messaging. I recall it was the first big metal fest in our hometown of Athens, headlined by the mighty Slayer. It was fantastic. Sonisphere and Wacken were great too. 

Which new metal bands of the last ten years most excite you and why?

Ghost is a band whose studio recordings I fancy a lot. Initially, I was sceptical about them but, damn, what they play, they play it perfectly. How can one ignore that? I know, it’s not a metal band, but it is metal to me. 

Final question: Music has always been an outlet for artists to make sense of their depression. What benefits do you get from talking about your mental health struggles beyond the lyrical content of your songs?

By openly talking about it is relieving in two ways. Firstly, I have quality conversations with people around the world about the true meaning of the album, and that helps a lot. Secondly, it makes me feel like I am on a mission to help other people understand how serious depression is and how much we all ought to change our perspective. And it all needs to be done collectively. As members of our societies, we must think twice before we condemn someone as “toxic” and kick him/her out of our lives because of his/her weird behaviour. Many times, when someone is in a state of emergency, he/she acts in not good ways. There and then, we must stand strong and support that person. It is important we never fail to understand that one sick person potentially leads to a sick society. 

*** Nightfall released At Night We Prey via Season of Mist on 5 March 2021. You can read the original SBR review here.***