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Paladine's Christ Stergianidis: "As cunning, narcissistic, and selfish as one may be, there will always be something that will bring out the good in him"

Interview with Christ Stergianidis from Paladine
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 17 March 2021, 11:55 PM

It is true that Metal music isn't always about Fantasy related aspects and items, yet there is no doubt that it is probably the only genre of music that can set Fantasy afire, consume it and rebirth it with sparks and flames, double the emotion and experience. When it comes to the classics of Fantasy related stories, the epic proportions rise, and the expectations become rather high, to live the story through the music. The Greek Heavy / Power Metallers, Paladine, prepared themselves well. They have the knowledge of the Dragonlance tales, the musical experience and a sense of purpose, all three carried them to record their sophomore album, "Entering The Abyss", which resulted as quite impressive. Steinmetal talked to the band's veteran, Christ Stergianidis, about the new release, the books, charachters, the musical progress and more…  

Greetings Christ, it is great to have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have been things on your end? Do you feel a sign of hope in the air?

Greetings! Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about the band and some issues concerning the music scene in general. I would like to thank everyone at Metal Temple. First and foremost, I hope that you’re all in good health and strong. I’m definitely optimistic and I always look at the bright side of the events. I believe that the evil that befell us during this period of coronavirus will end soon and everything will return back to normal, especially in the field of arts and in the catering industry. I think that the near future will be full of concerts and thirsty fans headbanging nonstop.

Things haven’t really been easy on anyone out there due to the pandemic, and I believe that its magnitude, even after it is gone, will remain with us for a while. Do you think that slowly people are starting to pick the pieces and build their lives back again, in particular now that the vaccinations are at hand?

Certainly, both past and this year were and they still are a difficult period - I would say a devastating period. Such a calamity always leaves a lasting mark to be felt for several years after its end. There will definitely be changes in our lives. Many people have already changed their daily routines and habits. It’s difficult to hug and greet like it used to be. It’s difficult tο have contacts like it used to be and I believe that all these things will remain as a habit. Clearly, many things in life will change compared to life before the pandemic, but it won’t last for long. In my opinion, vaccination will be an ally, because I believe in scientific developments. I consider all these conspiracy theories surrounding coronavirus to be unacceptable. Science and technology have always been on the side of humanity and have contributed to a better quality of life, otherwise we would still be living in caves.

As a musician, which I am sure that has a crave for the stage, along with being a fan yourself going to shows, this period of time was no less than depressing. How have you been coping with it? How did you counter the isolation effect, being cooped up at home for a long period of time?

I would say that I consider myself more of a fan than a musician. I write music because of my love for music and the heavy metal genre. I miss being on stage very much, very much indeed. Also, I miss the stage very much as a fan, a die-hard fan of heavy metal music, and particularly of the Greek scene, without holding mobile phones during shows - an old-school heavy metal maniac (joking). Nevertheless, due to the fact that music is not my main profession, I haven’t been in quarantine during this period at all. I’m a butcher and while most people haven’t been doing anything, I’ve been working double shifts. So, I haven’t really felt the quarantine effect inside me at all. In fact, the quarantine actually helped us a lot in doing the second album faster than we expected since all people working on the album were in quarantine (joking). As a result of this, the band members, the producer and basically everyone had a lot of time to work on the album.

If there is a spark of light out of all of this, even if you weren’t able to rise up on a stage, you could shine in the studio, and along with your comrades in Paladine, to deliver another epos. Before we dwell on it, I understand that you are a Dragonlance fan, I believe that the last one that I read, which was a long time ago, was “Dragons Of Winter Night”. For how long have you been a fan? What captures you most in this magnificent fantasy universe created by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman?

I’m a huge Dragonlance fan in every sense of the word. I own almost all related novels and also I’ve been a dungeon master for many many years - since my childhood (joking). But what excites me the most is that I’m being interviewed by someone who’s also a big Dragonlance fan and that’s awesome. Mind you, I can talk nonstop for a week about this world (joking). By the way, Ms. Margaret Weis - for the information of those who might not know, she’s the main author of these novels together with Tracy Hickman - said some nice words about all fans of the band, which are written in the CD booklet! I thank her kindly! I started reading the Dragonlance novels about 30 years ago, when I was 15 years old. What fascinated me was the amazing story, the general atmosphere and the stunning Larry Elmore paintings. Besides that, the incredible deep characters of the Majere brothers, especially Raistlin, who is my favorite character and the basis of the entire concept of the album.

Since Metal music has always been the most suitable for Fantasy related stories, you created your own universe, based on these amazing series of books, under Paladine. How do you find this so to speak connection between Metal music and the universe of dragons, warriors etc.?

In my opinion, heavy metal music is the only genre that can be combined with creating a fantasy related story inspired by these books. The reason is that epic elements can be integrated very nicely through various forms. Specifically, power metal is even closer to this concept, because of anthemic, epic choruses, orchestral keys, as well as vocal alternations and the sense of drama. These books have countless stories to tell - stories about war, intrigue, romance, betrayal and many more events and emotions that can be captured through heavy metal music, an endless genre. Αn epic ballad can be used to capture a sad theme or a romance (like “Finding Solace”). A melodic epic theme based on choral keys and guitars can narrate an epic event (like “War of the Lance”). Therefore, I believe that heavy metal music is the best way to support a concept album not only based on fantasy literature, but other kinds of literature as well.

Closing the gap of four years since your raving debut album, you guys at Paladine came forward with your sophomore “Entering the Abyss”, continuing your fascination with mythical worlds and images far beyond the imagination. With this new album being an inspired Dragonlance storyteller, what can you tell about the outline? Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? What is their angle?

In my opinion, a four-year gap between two album releases is a reasonable period of time. We’ve worked on this album methodically, because I wanted the result to be like reading a novel. That is to say, obviously all tracks had to be based on the concept and have a continuous narrative structure on the album - just like a novel. In order to achieve that, we focused on the details and the theatricality of the concept.

The main story is about Raistlin, the greatest mage to ever live on the Dragonlance world of Krynn and about a specific period of his life. During this period, he is a high-skilled mage wearing black robes (those familiar with the story understand what I’m talking about) and aims to enter the Abyss, kill the evil goddess Takhisis and become a god in her place. It’s an incredible story, possibly one of my favorite stories in the entire novel series related to this world.

The protagonist is definitely the Master of present and past, Raistlin Majere - eccentric, constantly looking for the power of knowledge, wise but also greedy, not caring for anyone other than himself. All he cared about was becoming a god and as strong as he could be.

Who is the antagonist? His own self. While he could have had anything, and he actually did during a specific period in the story, he gave it all up instead, turned everything upside down and saved the world, which never gave a dime for. The story has many messages relating to the reality of everyday life. As cunning, narcissistic, and selfish as one may be, there will always be something that will bring out the good in him. And in this case, it was magic itself that forced the protagonist to do a 180-degree turn about his beliefs.

Many artists, in particular in Metal music, sail on the wings of imagination, which in my view to find their inner selves, fulfilling themselves, yet also to tell something, at times connected to reality, in their own special way, painting a Grey picture for all to witness. In your view, is there a connection to our world within the lines of “Entering the Abyss”?

Good question indeed. Although based on a fantasy novel, “Entering the Abyss” has definitely a connection to today's world and life in general. Anyone can step into the protagonist’s shoes and allegorically relate his life to their lives as a metaphor. Like I said, Raisltin could be anybody in our world willing to sacrifice themselves for the only thing they love the most other than themselves. In short, the album concept is inspired by a fantasy world, BUT isn’t there fantasy in our world as well?

Striving upon the ancient British Metal gods of NWOBHM, along with fragments of American Power Metal, the manifold of Paladine’s music delivers quite an interesting plethora of classics meets a few shards of modernized elements. How do you believe that you brought your music steps forward while working on “Entering the Abyss”?

Contrary to the previous album “Finding Solace”, the songwriting for this album was done by Nick Protonotarios (vocals) and Sotiris Paraskevas (guitar). Also, despite doing all the songwriting for the first album, I just wrote the lyrics and gave guidelines about what feeling the songs should have in this album. The reasoning is that Nick and Sotiris have greater musicianship skills than myself. Even the vocal melody was written by Nick Protonotarios. They’ve got more modernized music influences and a different approach since I consider myself as an old-school songwriter. I wanted a different kind of element to exist in the sound of Paladine, but not entirely different - a style which is a little bit more modern and musical than the style of the first album.

I’m not selfish and I’m really glad that both of these guys did the songwriting. It gives me great joy. What I really like about this record is that there are a lot of different elements of metal music, which came out almost spontaneously. There are definitely those songs that identify the typical characteristic of the band. There are many epic, power, neoclassical and even thrash metal elements on the album. Generally we haven’t got any taboos about what we are going to play. My goal was to play whatever comes out naturally, while being faithful to the mood of each part of the story as told by each song. I believe that we’ve accomplished that. I thank all the other band members for doing the songwriting based on my personal vision, ideas and lyrics.

“Entering the Abyss”’s arrival was after a sort of a renewal of the Paladine lineup, with the replacement of your two guitarists and drummer a few years back. How do you find the contribution of the new folks to the band’s musical approach, sounds and of course, the material on “Entering the Abyss”?

The remaining members left from the lineup of the first album are myself and Nick who’s focusing on vocal duties now. The new guys are very good musicians with passion for this band and music. They’re nice, easy-going, cooperative persons and the best thing that happened to the band in all aspects. In my opinion, all these characteristics are required when working with other people on a project within a band. The contribution of the new members to the creative process of the album was huge. I’m very happy and grateful that I’ve met these guys and so, Paladine is as strong as ever now. They’ve identified themselves immediately with the band, its philosophy and its goals. So, I think that the sky’s the limit with Sotiris Paraskevas and John Kats on guitars, Mpampis Tsolakis on drums, Nick Protonotarios on vocals and myself on bass.

What I liked in particular on “Entering the Abyss” is the productions of the vocals, other than Nick Protonotarios’s great voice, the backing channels along with the main line, as a whole, are out of this world. The emphasis on each of the chorus made the experience of listening to a semi form of opera. What can you tell of this production process?

Nick’s voice is one of the strongest points of the band. Although it hasn’t got the typical high-pitched tone featured mainly in power metal bands, it’s very dramatic. This is what sets Paladine apart. Nick is a very talented, versatile singer (and guitarist) and he’s capable of creating vocal melodies, which was the foundation of the songwriting process. The vocals were recorded in Nick’s studio in London, where he’s been residing for the last couple of years. The production was a back-and-forth process. which involved the exchange of recordings, ideas and suggestions. It was hard work, but the final outcome was very good. I was pleasantly surprised in particular by the doubled and tripled vocals, which were very inspiring, rich, fitting and no fillers. Nick knew exactly what he was doing during the pre-production process. I had complete confidence in him.

One of the album’s chief mixed kinds of tunes is “Between Gods and Men”, delivering that touch of old school flavor, yet entangling with a contemporary sound and passages that made it quite an interesting listener. What can you tell about this varied tune and its creation?

This is one of my top 3 favorite tunes. It has a little bit of everything: energy, aggression, speed, slow and heavy passages, fast and slow solos, aggressive verses and anthemic choruses. Lyric-wise, I think that it’s very immersive and places the listener inside this world. When I told Nick what the story is about, he said to me: ”I know exactly what you want - something aggressive, fast, and sounding traditional and modern at the same time!”. In fact, this was exactly what I wanted! Later, during the pre-production process, Sotiris said that something is missing and came up with the idea of adding a breakdown between the solo and the last chorus. Then, I added the narration of the story to this specific part. Generally speaking, I like these kinds of narrations in the context of concept albums. After that, Nick worked on my lyrics and the track was born. I love it and I hope people will enjoy it as well.

“Darkness And Light” is a quest back to the 80s, a slowly developing song that reaches its main peak right after the final several minutes with great melodic twin guitar lines and blistering soloing. What is your appreciation of this particular tune?

Initially, this song was supposed to sound different - without any orchestral parts in the intro, etc. With regard to the story, it’s about questions and answers. Raistlin and Crysania are the protagonists, while the gods are speaking in the choruses. It’s a very dramatic tune. Having said that, at first, I had different thoughts about this song. Specifically, I wanted a female guest singer to feature and do the vocals as Crysania, but it never happened. I don’t really know why, I just liked the song the way it was and did nothing (joking). Besides that, I thought about adding an outro solo since I’m an avid fan of these types of solos. So, I said to Sotiris “You have three minutes to finish the song with a solo”, and he went crazy because this guy is able to play solos until the power is out (joking). In short, it’s an anthemic song featuring a lot of alternations.

Two of the album’s finest tracks, at least in my bill, are actually the two final songs, “Sacrifice Of A Hero” and the outrunning champion, “The Return”. I couldn’t help myself with the Iced Earth driven rhythm guitars and the iconic singing. In light of these two, what is the way to go forward for Paladine?

Both songs feature epic elements and sorrowful vocals - the typical sound, which defines the identity of the band. The music was written by Sotiris, the vocal lines were written by Nick and the lyrics were written by myself. Like I said, each song tells a part of the story and supports the concept of the album, hence they are the two final songs. I understand that it’s common practice to place a couple of “good” or so-called “hit” songs at the beginning of the album, but I’m not interested in doing that. Yes, the opening songs can tell a lot about an album, but this is not the case, because we’re talking about a concept album inspired by a specific story. I wanted the songs to stay true to the story. After releasing and promoting this album, Paladine will definitely go forward in the vein of these two final songs and staying true to epic metal.

Since it is not possible to perform live at the moment, as mentioned previously, how do you intend to promote the release? Mainly entrusting your hands on press or rather perform live in stream?

We will definitely promote the album through the press, webzines, fanzines, social media and wherever possible. Personally, I don’t like performing live in stream, because it’s not really the same as playing a normal live show in front of an audience - it’s just not the same feeling. Obviously, many bands do it, but Paladine is not in favor of this trend.

What are your expectations, even though it is tough I know, from this coming year? Or would you rather think already of 2022?

You're right. There are no expectations from this year, at least in terms of playing live shows. First and foremost, my main focus is on getting feedback about the new album and I hope that the fans will enjoy it. If the album is well received, then we will take a lot of courage as we’re going forward into the future. It will be released on CD, digitally as well as on vinyl. Album sales is the only source of income for a band during this period. I am optimistic and I hope that things will change for the better in 2022. Then we will be able to promote “Entering the Abyss” on stage wherever we can. But until then, we will keep on practicing and rehearsing in order to be ready for the stage.

Christ, many thanks for this interview and for your time well served for it. I enjoyed your new epos, you made something that to be honest, I wouldn't expect any less when it comes to quality. Cheers sir.

Thank you very much for having me on the Metal Temple pages, thank you for your kind words and I’m really glad that you enjoyed our album. It took a lot of passion, hard work, inspiration, sacrifices, many beers and all-nighters to be able to finish the album, but it’s been an enjoyable ride and it was all worth it. I’m sorry for talking too much, but I lose track of the time when it comes to Paladine and Dragonlance (joking). Thank you so much for everything and keep the flame burning…



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