Entering the Underground #7: Yoth Iria Wields Hellenic Black Metal Might
Few individuals are as important to the history of Greek black metal as Jim Mutilator and The Magus. Jim was on bass and lyrics duty for all Rotting Christ material through Triarchy of the Lost Lovers, and did bass, songwriting, and lyrics for Varathron through His Majesty at the Swamp. The Magus (George Zacharopoulos) has been just as important, and has done bass and vocals for Necromantia since the beginning and has done the same in Thou Art Lord from the start as well.
Though Jim stopped making music for many years after leaving Rotting Christ in 1996, excited rumors in 2019 announced his return to the scene that he dominated in its youth via Yoth Iria — a mLP with both Jim and The Magus soon surfaced, Under His Sway. Moving quickly, the duo put out As the Flame Withers in January—Jim’s first album since 1996 and The Magus’ first one since Principality of Hell’s Sulfur & Bane in 2016. Soaring and triumphant, As the Flame Withers is both Hellenic black metal the ancient way as well as a sleek, modern take on a form of music that both band members have always loved.
Here for this week’s edition of Entering the Underground to talk about the new album and about the band are both Jim Mutilator and The Magus.
First I wanted to say thank you guys for doing this interview with Invisible Oranges. To start let's talk about your debut album that just dropped earlier this year on Pagan Records. What made the late 2010s the right time to start a new black metal band, and Jim, what made this the right time to get back into playing music?
Jim: After my departure from Rotting Christ, there was immediately the need for me to play. I really felt like half a man without playing music. But of course it took me about 24, 23 years to create a new band. Through all these years, I was very strongly connected with the music as I was the owner of a metal store in the center of Athens, so I was always into this kind of music.
But as for playing music or creating music, after some bad choices according to my professional, you know, choice, I felt that it was the time to return back to the music, even in my 50 years age, because for me, it's very important to play music. It's a very important part of my life because for me, this is not just a kind of music, but is a way of life, to play music as well.
George: I never stopped doing it with my other bands. I was always involved in making music somehow. So there was no pause for me. Uh, and Yoth Iria is actually Jim's child. I joined later on during the very recordings of our first EP. So in my opinion, there's no right time to make music. If you feel you have to make music and you want to make music, you do it.
Jim, can you tell me about the recording process and what took the most time for you getting back into it?
Jim: Okay. First of all, for me, it was a really fantastic experience to be again in the studio after so many years. My last time was during the Triarchy of Lost Lovers recordings in 1995 in Dortmund Germany, so I really, really enjoy all this. It was something like a ritual for me. I really can't wait till the next time I will be again in the studio for the next Yoth Iria album.
About the studio recordings, it took more than one year for the recording for both, for EP and As the Flame Withers. It was a great experience and I really, really need to do it again soon, because I have the hunger I had back in the nineties with Rotting Christ and my other bands and Varathron.
How did you guys feel the reception for the album was?
Jim: I think so far the feedback for the album has been very good, especially for a new band. It is more good than I expected. But to be honest, we do what we like to do and of course, any musician or artist that produces something of course wants to be liked but it cannot always be possible. I am very, very happy with the feedback for the album and for the EP. It’s better than I could have imagined before.
George: Actually, we were kind of surprised because though we were confident that we made a really good album, meaning that we liked it (which for us is the most important thing), we were surprised by the great reception that the album has from a lot of people. When we were talking with Jim about it and we said that people will listen to it because it’s us involved, who carry a lot of experience and years with the scene, but if they stay, that means that we have made a good album.
Jim: I want to add something more. Even before I entered the studio, I knew very well that these days it’s very difficult to create something like never before, and of course I know that our there are a lot of better of musicians than me, but I really don’t care for it because I think that I have a big right to this kind of black metal metal music, so I said to myself that I had to do it for myself even for the continuation of this kind of music, just for it. Even if it doesn’t succeed, I don’t care. I wanted to write black metal really because I belong to this kind of music.
Jim, I know that you said that you didn’t have any expectations for the band, but George, did it weigh on you at all knowing that there was going to be a lot of interest just based on who was involved even without hearing any music?
George: Yes. I mean, I knew that we are doing this for so many years. Personally, I do this from the late, late ‘80s. Jim the same, maybe a bit more. So I was sure that there would be interest in listening to it, especially with Jim’s return after this all time. But if you want to keep the fans and not just have them give it a listen and go oh, okay, this is an okay album that’s not bad, you have to make something really good. I think we managed to make something really good because we did it for us. We did it because we wanted to do it, and we wanted to make music that we would play in our car and our house and love it. This is the compass of our songwriting. We want to make music that we love.
Jim: To be honest, I was really lucky to have on my side two special persons for like George Emmanual, to me one of the most talented guitarists and producers in the entire world, and from the other side, The Magus, one of the most genuine musicians all over the world. It’s clear to understand this if you hear The Magus’ works with Necromantia, Thou Art Lord, and his other bands.
The other luckiest thing is that both guys- George Emmanuel and The Magus- are great producers, so altogether it works extremely lucky for me. I think I couldn’t have found better partners for my new beginning.
George: Actually, adding John, that is Giannis, who played the drums, I think we are really experienced musicians who made a good thing and we have really good chemistry between us, and you can hear it listening to the album.
So how did you guys get in touch with George and John in the first place?
Jim: To be honest it was Sakis of Rotting Christ that suggested to me George Emannuel as the producer and guitarist. Concerning John the Maelstrom, it was The Magus that brought him in the band.
George: Yes, actually I know George from before but we hadn’t cooperarted, and it was Jim that was already working with him in Yoth Iria. I have to admit that George is an extremely talented guitarist and musician in general, and a great guy. I knew Giannis, the drummer, Maelstrom, from my other works with Principality of Hell. I was impressed with him not because he was the fastest, best drummer in the world but because he was a guy that could understand the feeling of the band, and that’s the reason I chose to work with George Emmanuel and with Giannis on the last Necromantia album that will be released sometime this year.
You guys have mentioned getting recommendations from Sakis from Rotting Christ, and I know that George still plays with him in Thou Art Lord. Conversely, have any of your comrades from the early scene dropped off the planet, or does everyone still play black metal and stay in touch?
George: I think there are a few people that have disappeared. I don’t remember actual names now, but many people have stopped playing. Some of them stayed with the music as fans, and some of them completely changed. Jim was running a metal store so he was more in contact, and he can tell you more maybe.
Jim: We started playing in 1987 with Rotting Christ, and there are so many people I have met over the years and there are so many people that have disappeared. Some died. For example, there was Spiros, the first drummer and of course creator of Varathron. He is still into this kind of music but he has not played music since 1989. There was Nick from Sadistic Noise, who died many years ago. There are the guys from Flames that still play. There are so many, many people I’ve met over the years and I always want to know what happened with all these people, and I always ask people “what about him? What about him? What about him?” It’s really interesting to see so many people I knew so many years ago and see if they’re still in the scene or not. Many people remain just as listeners to this kind of music.
Why did you decide to have George do the engineering for the album as well as play on it?
Jim: George is a really experienced engineer. Don’t forget that he was the engineer and producer for three Rotting Christ albums. So, already I know about his abilities and to be honest, the guy is really a genius. Not only as a musician, but even as a producer. Just one word from me was enough for him to understand what exactly I wanted to do and not only this, but he could add something more and do it even better. I’m really happy to cooperate with him and for sure if he’s available I hope I will work with him for our next Yoth Iria album.
George: It’s actually what I said before. George, like Giannis also, they know how to capture the feeling of the song, the atmosphere of the song.
George: We don’t have to tell anything to one of them a lot. We understand each other. Yes, the production is top notch.
How did you guys get in touch with the guy who did the album art?
Jim: It was a friend from Facebook that one day sent me a cover and told me just to check it out, and asked me if I liked it. Oh, it was fantastic! So, I did the mistake and called the label for the EP and told him to see if he liked this cover. The guy behind Repulsive Echo, the label that released the Under His Sway EP, got in touch with Harshanand, the Indian artist who did the cover, and bought the cover. Of course we worked again with him on the As the Flame Withers cover and for sure we will work with him for the cover of our next album because we are very satisfied with his work and he is a great guy.
You mentioned Repulsive Echo Records, who did the first EP. How did you get in touch with them, and end up having them do Under His Sway? Why did you move to Pagan Records for the album?
Jim: Actually, it was a friend of mine and Repulsive Echo that made the deal between us. To be honest, Repulsive Echo was interested in Yoth Iria even before he heard a note of the band. He offered me a deal before we started recording. He said that he respects my name and wanted to make a production with me- a demo, a 7”, or something more. We agreed to make three tracks for the beginning of Yoth Iria. It was in my mind something like a demo, like hello, I’m Jim Mutilator, and The Magus, here is our new band.
George: As for why we changed labels, Repulsive Echo might be okay for an EP, but for an album, we needed much more. So after our contract expired we moved on to a different label. Pagan Records was introduced to us from Nergal from Behemoth. We were talking with him and he suggested working with them, and so far we are completely satisfied by Pagan Records on all levels.
Jim: Additionally, of course I am really extremely satisfied with Thomas and Pagan Records. In the beginning we had an offer from Season of Mist for the debut album, but finally the guy behind Season of Mist changed his mind, so we were with no label but George The Magus made a great deal with Pagan Records. I am really satisfied with them. So far they have done more than they have promised for us.
George: After the release of the EP there was a lot of interest from various labels actually. We got in contact from a lot of labels, even bigger ones, but we decided to go to Pagan Records because I knew Thomas from the demo days and we had a very good reference from Nergal of Behemoth, and sometimes it’s better to be on a label that doesn’t have much big names and will pay more attention to you. And most important of all, Thomas loved the album, and if your company man loves the music, he can do whatever he can to help you.
I’m glad that it’s gone so well for you guys. Moving back to Under His Sway, right from the beginning you guys decided to have the backing band from the recordings as session members rather than as part of the band. Why did you decide to take that route?
Jim: Yoth Iria is just me and The Magus. Of course for the needs of the bands in the future we will need additional musicians, but the core of the band and the soul of the band is from the beginning clear. It is me, and then The Magus. That’s all.
You guys ended up doing a Rotting Christ cover from back in the day on Under His Sway. How did it feel to revisit something that you originally recorded decades ago with your new band?
Jim: You mean “Visions of the Dead Lovers.”
Jim: Look, I think that it was an underrated track and one of the best we ever did with Rotting Christ. It never got the attention it deserved from the audience, so we really think it was a good idea to remake this track with a new production because it could show this track in all his majesty. To be honest now, I have regretted it. I think it would have been better to have another new Yoth Iria track than a cover, but it happened, and I think it’s a great cover.
How did the split with Kawir come about?
Jim: It was me and Panos just drinking beers, before of course the Covid days. Panos, the main man of Kawir, asked me if we were interested to make a split 7” between Kawir and Yoth Iria. It was an idea he got I think after Rotting Christ released a split 7” with Varathron. He told me that Rotting Christ released a split 7” with Varathron, do you want to do the same with Kawir and Yoth Iria. I asked The Magus and he told me let’s do it, so we called Hellfire Records and everything you know, happened in just half an hour.
What’s next for the band after the pandemic ends?
Jim: Firstly, with the pandemic it’s really strange the ages we live. I think it will more sense to me a third world war than this pandemic. Anyway, after the pandemic is over, I look forward for any possible live shows and when we start creating the upcoming Yoth Iria album, as there are a lot of ideas ready. Some tracks are more completely so. We are a new band, so I want to release a new album in the next two years.
George: Yes, I think in the next two years we will return with the new album because when you make a good album there is a legacy. You have to make a good one again and we don’t want to be in a hurry and make an album every year. We want to make an album when we are able to create music.
That makes sense. Do you have anything left that you guys want to talk about or promote?
Jim: I want to thank you for the interview and for the interest and support in us. Thank you very much.
George: Thank you from me too, and to all the people that are reading this interview. Support the great music when and where you find it!
As The Flame Withers released January 25th, 2021 via Pagan Records.