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Silent Winter's Kiriakos Balanos: "I'm from the old school and either as a fan or as a musician this contact with the audience is what makes you feel as if you were hit by ultrasonic speeds"

Interview with Kiriakos Balanos from Silent Winter
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 14 March 2021, 10:11 PM

The rush and the adrenaline of the live show are elements that have been absent this past year due to the pandemic, which is still there with us, hitting at the centers of where Metal music lives and breathes. It will take time for the scene to recover and get back on its fit, to embrace us with memorable live shows and the ability to watch beloved bands, whether in clubs or out there at the open air festivals. However, the burning mind of the songwriter never rests, always planning, always striving for the best. So did happen with the Greek Silent Winter, making good use of the time given and providing their scene and the world with a shrapnel of strong Heavy Metal in the image of “Empire Of Sins”. Steinmetal had the pleasure to talk to Kiriakos Balanos, founder and main songwriter of the band for a chat about the new release, the band bringing on the tradition of Metal in a modern fashion.

Hello Kiriakos, it is great to have you for this conversation sir, how have you been doing over there in Greece? Are things getting better with this wretched pandemic all around?

Hello and thank you very much for the opportunity to say a few more words about silent winter. The situation here in Greece in general is at the same levels as it is all over Europe mainly, we have now made the mask the main accessory of our lives, the exit is permitted by sending messages and after 9 at night everyone must be at their home but we will all fight it together and I hope it will become a bad memory soon.

What I have liked about Metal music from Greece is that first it is old school driven, well at least most of what comes out from your beautiful country, and second, there is that whole lot of passion. From your perspective, as a veteran of this Metal scene, how do you find in regards to it filling its potential, with Greece as a Metal country, not far from Germany for example, when magnitude is concerned?

It is true that Greece has always shown that it loves the traditional sound of metal more, and we try to keep this sound alive in the new generations that start listening to metal music. In recent years we have taken important steps as a country, in any country, kinds of metal music at all levels or compositions or production, production was something that lagged far behind in Greece because there were no suitable people with knowledge on metal music, which has been eliminated to a very large extent and has now very strong the scene with very good albums and producers standing worthy next to all the other countries.

Gladly, I discovered Silent Winter, and my expectations and hopes were met. Since you guys haven’t been active for many years, only to be back into the spotlight a few years ago, how do you summarize this period of time since your return?

After our split somewhere in 1998 which had to do with different paths that each member had in his life, some went to study others worked in other cities or even abroad, it was impossible to continue working together. Personally, I had done some bands but nothing more ever happened. I have always been watching not only the local scene, and when in some way the wright opportunity appeared the band was re-created with new members.

Since all culture is shut down for the moment, which is quite tragic for artists and everyone involved in the music business, do you see the clubs returning from this crisis or do you believe that it will take a lot of time until the live scene in Greece returns to action?

At the moment we are talking, nothing looks optimistic. The stores are opening for a short time, the cases are increasing and we are constantly on a new lockdown. I believe that with the mass vaccination that has already begun, we can slowly get out of all this and the music industry will start operating again, even if there are preconditions. Logic says that it is still early for concerts with thousands of people, but also in closed spaces and small clubs the live shows will be late and if they start they will have to follow strict rules.

When it comes to Silent Winter, how did it affect the band? Did the pandemic have some kind of effect on the recording phases of the new album?

The most important effect on the band is the interruption of the concerts at a very critical point, the moment we started to have an upward course and we had closed some live dates, everything froze without knowing when there will be an end to it all. In the recordings no we did not have an issue because in the summer the measures were very loose so things were easier.

Thinking about it, nearly every artist that is used to going up on stage, playing live for fans and potential new fans, misses the experience, the adrenaline. And now, all we have is live stream and a sense of hope that everything would return back to normal. Do you believe that it will? What are your thoughts in regards to the live stream phenomenon that has been sweeping the world actually?

Sorry but I do not agree with this method of live streaming. I'm from the old school and either as a fan or as a musician this contact with the audience is what makes you feel as if you were hit by ultrasonic speeds. If you do not feel the bass drums and guitars passing through you, everything else is home movies. I just believe that some companies take advantage of an event for profit but unfortunately not everything is redeemable.

Signing with a new label, in Germany no more and no less, you are set to release your sophomore album, “Empire Of Sins”, which as I see it, other than the Fantasy related themes that are spread between the lines, there is some kind of an incursion with religion, whether pro or con, that is quite subjective. So I ask, what is your empire of sins? Is this a direction that leads to the notion that mankind is dependent, not thinking straight on its own?

Mankind has always been dependent on some source of power. Either that was a deity, a king, even today the people who rule us, creating laws and sins try to lock you in a seeming prison on their own terms. Well what happened to the pandemic that prevails today. In a short period of time, personal freedoms ceased to exist, in something that of course you cannot check or certify if all of them are fabricated or true, so imagine going back to the era of the cover of ''empire of sins'', how the world was influenced by some forms of power without even having the opportunity to seek or believe in something else.

Throughout the album, as mentioned, there are Fantasy driven elements, yet there are also historical and mythical pieces. Nonetheless, on various occasions these themes are actually a shade of the real thing going on, at times personal animosity or a wholesome of criticism that it is better to project through a kind of screen. Would you say that there are aspects of the lyricism that are more than merely storytelling of dragons and warriors but rather symbolism?

In many cases we speak symbolically through our songs. Surely there are simple fantasy stories but songs like '' empire of sins '', '' wings of destiny '', where the river flows '', '' mirror '' have other messages to go through than the obvious ones. In all our albums we always tried to pass both the human side and our thinking in some of the songs.

If there is something that artists long for in these crazy times, out of guessing of course, is to escape reality into their own universe. How do you find your escape from the local troubles through “Empire Of Sins” and where is that threshold that you return back to reality?

I will tell you something that many musicians and composers can understand. The moment a song is born and little by little the whole album, and every time you hear the final result is the moment you forget all the problems and start dreaming, it is a way out of reality and a peace of mind that only there you can find. Of course you go back to real life because even there you have to fight and try to understand how important every day you get up alive and that is the most basic of all. Everything is fixed and everything is solved if you are healthy and alive first of all

Taking a lot from both European and American Power Metal, running through the decades, through the golden age to the late 90s, Silent Winter brings in the melody, yet strikes hard and with a spikey leathery fist, back and forth from past to present. “Empire Of Sins” sounds like it pushed you forward, how do you find the band’s progress through the work done on the album?

I think in our new album we took the next step that had to be done. We acquired an identity and a character of our own, which while retaining all the good elements of the past, also gives a new personal perspective.

Songwriting wise, as you were gathering yourselves for writing, or integrating ideas, riffs, melodies and vocal lines to piece the puzzle together, the challenging arrangement phase of “Empires Of Sins”, did you have an initial vision of how everything would be pieced into place?

I wanted an album that would be like the natural maturation of circles of hell. I had exactly in my mind where exactly and in what order it would go. The melodies remained, the influences remained but now the band has acquired more of its personal character through this album, and it looks improved, and stronger than ever.

How different did you wish it to be from your debut, “The Circles of Hell”, which turned out to be quite the beginning of a great journey or is it rather a continuance?

We consider it a natural continuation of "circles of hell" in a better wrapper, starting from a more mature production and reaching one step further.

Since we mentioned East and West earlier, let’s call it like that, kinds of Power Metal, there is a vast market out there that has been puking releases by the hundreds each month, with a variety of subgenres. With “Empire Of Sins” taken into account, how does this album shine in comparison to others? What kind of elements does it bring to the table as fresh so to speak?

Just like you said. Hundreds of releases are released every day but I believe each one has its own soul deposit from the artists. So we try through this album to testify what we have collected as experiences either as musicians or as fans and to go through them. in the best way through our songs. You will hear both east and west as you said and you will remember good old days in a modern and fresh form, you will travel with melodies and I certainly think that everyone will find something of himself inside on this album.

It is hard for me to deny it, and I know that he has been with you guys also on the debut, but your vocalist, Mike Livas, is one hell of a singer with an excellent voice that has quite a range. How do you find yourself keeping this jewel in the band? Is it ball and chain? How do you believe that Livas fulfilled his talent on “Empire Of Sins”?

Haha! It is true that Mike is involved in several other projects/bands but Silent Winter is a top priority for him, so no need to chain him! We have a very good relationship and we have found the golden section to work together. I believe that Mike gave the best of him in new album unfolding all aspects of his voice.

 “Gates Of Fire” were opened in front of my face, like a storm piercing through my veins. Now that is how you open a Metal album, hard, fast, fierce with riffs that would make you raise your first, clench it so hard until your hand turns red. What is your appreciation of this track? Is this your meaning of release of the soul?

This is exactly what we wanted. When the album opens, you can feel this blow to the chest that will predict what is going follow. It is a favorite track that was intended for our first album but we did not have time to finish mixing it and so it was reworked with more time and entered our new album.

Is it Jeremy Irons’ short narration on “Hunter’s Oath”? It sure sounds like him and I suffocated this song quite a lot of time. After the majestic intro, things began dirty with a pure 80s Heavy Metal bombnation, no more and no less. However, other than the 80s aspects, there are epic proportions. What can you tell about the song’s creation and its impact on the album?

To tell you the truth, I do not know if Jeremy Irons is in the recitation … I think he is not he anyway I had looked for him I remember then because he looked very much like him. Τhe introduction comes from the game Bloodborne, as of course the lyrics refer to it. We are fans of gaming in this style of games and so we dedicate some of our pieces to them. As in the previous album, the song "warriors of the sun" referred to the game dark souls. As for the song now we wanted to give this epic mood, reminiscent of something from an old Manowar and Judas Priest and I believe that the result dominates us.

Belinda Carlisle? I never expected that but I think that you nailed it, a powerful version for Pop / Rock hit that made people turn their heads in the glory days. I have the feeling that it was your idea doing it right? What did you find in this song, other than being a suspected fan, that made you go ahead and cover it?

As you said very well it was my idea haha..I always wanted to make such a cover I was intrigued by the fact to take another genre and literally transform it. The good old pop of the 80's had made a lot of such diamonds that could become a very good cover. In addition to my liking for Belinda (and who didn't have it then) I thought that this song had the background to become a very good melodic power metal. I think that somehow we achieved it as much as possible.

If things would go smooth in the next couple of months, any plans for Silent Winter going ahead in 2021?

We hope like everyone else that all this will end soon and we can all be together again, 2020 was a difficult year, we cancelled many live performances and there was a pause at a point where the band was starting to pick up pace, and all that continues today, and we do not know how much yet, it is disastrous for all the bands out there that are trying to survive. So the plans are of course the promotion of our new album which I wish it could be done live, but anyway we will do our best.

Kiriakos, thank you for your time for this talk, and for the effort putting into. You made a massive record, I never expected less to be honest. All the best sir.

Thank you very much for the interview and for the support, we hope everything goes well to get out of this global impasse quickly and to be able to be together again listening to and playing our favorite music. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay metal.


 



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