Greek melodic/atmospheric death metallers On Thorns I Lay trace their origins to the early ’90s. Under various guises — first as Paralysis and then as Phlebotomy — a young songwriter named Christos Dragamestianos steered his love of left-of-center death metal into On Thorns I Lay. The budding outfit signed to French indie Holy Records, issuing debut album Sounds of Beautiful Experience in 1995. Curious, adventurous, and pretty far left of center-left, Dragamestianos’ style was playful, sometimes fey, sometimes direct, but always curious. The follow-up album, Orama, two years later showed a darker side to On Thorns I Lay, where murky, aqueous atmospheric death metal replaced the airy qualities of its predecessor. Like the cover, the music and the production felt as muted by some ancient waterborne creature.
After a lengthy break — about 12 years between Egocentric and Eternal Silence — Dragamestianos rekindled the origins of On Thorns I Lay. That is to say, atmospheric death metal had returned to the Greek’s songwriting oeuvre. First, Eternal Silence, hidden from view for over 10 years, was remixed and released (finally) on Greek indie Sleaszy Rider Records. Clearly, those that remember On Thorns I Lay’s wayward Egocentric couldn’t believe it was the same band many years later. The follow-up, Aegean Sorrow, cemented On Thorns I Lay as one of the few contenders of heavy, atmospheric death metal across the Mediterranean. Ever prolific, Dragamestianos continued writing, zeroing in on his vision that would blend the ultimate of ultimates — Paradise Lost, Katatonia, Edge of Sanity — into a dreary yet harmonious Frankenstein.
Fast forward to 2020. Dragamestianos has taken On Thorns I Lay even further into the realms of thoughtful death. New album, Threnos (on Germany’s Lifeforce Records), posits the Greeks right on the doorstep of his Nordic peers in Insomnium, Wolfheart, and In Mourning. In many respects, Threnos, with its smooth Greek legato style, feels as if Rapture, Swallow the Sun, and October Tide had a Hellenic relative, long forgotten but unmistakable. Indeed, Threnos is a gem of an album. Tracks like “Ouranio Deos,” “Cosmic Silence,” “The Song of Sirens,” “Erynies,” and the title track are pivotal, must-hear for the lost, the lonely, and the purveyor of fine melancholic death. Decibel finds out the Grecian secret with Dragamestianos in this rare Q&A.
What, in your view, separates Aegean Sorrow from new album Threnos?
Christos Dragamestianos: I would say aggressiveness, and a more complex song structure. On the other hand, our characteristic sound — Dan Swanö did a very good job again — and our characteristic melodies are basic elements. Our trademarks, I would say.
There was a big break between Egocentric and Eternal Silence. I know it’s been five years since, but what facilitated returning to On Thorns I Lay? Musically, Eternal Silence has perhaps more in common with Orama than Egocentric. That’s a path you’re on today with Threnos.
Christos Dragamestianos: In 2015, after more than 10 years, I decided to restart the band again. We stopped playing in 2005 after Egocentric. When we were finishing the recordings of the Eternal Silence album, we just felt then that we had lost our musical identity. So, in 2015, as I was composing the Aegean Sorrow album, we mixed Eternal Silence again. I think the path we are on now is the sound of our first four albums, with Aegean Sorrow’s huge sound and its more doomy riffing.
On Thorns I Lay were part of the ‘90s avant-garde extreme metal movement. Certainly, you had a bunch of songs that went way beyond the boundaries at the time. Songs like “Voluptuous Simplicity of the Line,” “Rainy Days,” “Taksidi Nostalgias”, and “The Higher Color Of Mind (Wrong Is Right)” really confused a lot of people. What if anything did you take from the old days into the reformation of On Thorns I Lay through to Threnos?
Christos Dragamestianos: Yes, you are right, and to tell you the truth, as I am listening now to all these [songs], I would definitely record them completely differently nowadays. We were just teenagers, trying to explore different musical paths. I was 16 years old when we signed our fist record deal with Holy Records in 1993, so maturity was something unknown to us back then.
What were the songwriting sessions like for Threnos? The singles “The Song of Sirens” and “Erynies” came out strong. Lots of melodies and brutality.
Christos Dragamestianos: Exactly this. On Thorns I Lay of 2020. Our style of melodies combined with aggressive and dark riffing, mixed from the master and pioneer of our musical genre Dan Swanö.
Christos Dragamestianos: On these two tracks I would say that you can hear our typical type of melodies. Old Katatonia is, of course, a crucial influence for us. Rapture is a band that I discovered two years ago now, as Miguel [Navarro] from Alone Records in Spain re-released their albums, and introduced them to me. I like them. They remind me our Angeldust album from 2001.
The violins are a nice touch. Where did the idea come from to incorporate strings? And who’s playing them on Threnos?
Christos Dragamestianos: Of course from the way that My Dying Bride used them for the first time in a way that I just loved when I heard them for the first time. I think that we use [the violins] in a different way. The violins give a different touch [to our music] without having a primary role in our music.
Same with the organs. Kind of an old-school ‘70s touch. I gather someone was in a big Deep Purple mood during the writing of “Erynies”.
Christos Dragamestianos: You probably don’t believe me, but I came up with the idea in the rehearsal room trying to convince others [in the band]. And the truth is that I don’t hear a lot Deep Purple. Of course, their contribution to metal is huge, but from the Crystal Tears album [and onward] we have used the Hammond. We will, for sure, have it in our next album, as I love the vintage air that brings to our songs.
What’s Threnos about? I gather the direct definition of the title works in context of the music, but is there a wider theme at play?
Christos Dragamestianos: Stefanos [Kintzoglou], our vocalist, would be the right person to talk about it. I can say that lyrically Threnos is a concept album. It talks about the journey of the human soul — from birth till death. It describes the dark paths that cross through. We are inspired by the way that our ancestors did art thousands of years before. Greek tragedy, drama, etc.
Tell me about the cover art. Where’d the art direction come from? Kind of reminds me of bridge of woodcuts and Art Nouveau.
Christos Dragamestianos: The art work and album cover was made by Vagelis Petikas. He did a fantastic job. The cover shows Orestis and Erynies. We like it so much. Everything on our new release was carefully planned.
Christos Dragamestianos: We are influenced by his work. Right from his start back in the early ‘90s with Egde of Sanity, Katatonia, Bloodbath, etc. I like his style of work. His huge organic guitar sound he gives you. On the other hand, if you hear his mixes, you can hear differences between the bands [he works with], as it is very important to have a personal sound. Dan gives us this. We will work with him again for sure on the next album, which I’ve almost finished composing.
Now that you’ve had three albums in the atmospheric doom/death style, where do you think you’ll take On Thorns I Lay?
Christos Dragamestianos: I have almost all the tracks for the next one ready. Of course, we will work on them together in the rehearsal room. This will take several months. I already hear some new elements–like melodic death metal together with some blackened riffs. Our typical doomy melancholic melodies will be there. I also want to add blast beat parts in the vein of the Orama album. I would love to have them [as part of our sound] again.
** On Thorns I Lay’s new album, Threnos, is out now on Lifeforce Records. Order the album — CD or digital — HERE. Or, if LP and t-shirt bundles are of your style, go to the Bandcamp site HERE. FFO: Rapture, Slumber, (old) Katatonia, (old) Septic Flesh, and (old) Paradise Lost.