Recently, I decided I was going to close out 2017 with a very special interview, so I decided to reach out to one of my idols of the last 10-15 years. It started out as a need for a behind-the-scenes look at one of my favorite melodic death bands, but it ended up being an incredible story of resilience and straight backbone. Marios Iliopoulos and I talked about the usual stuff, but with the number of obstacles that have stood in his way over the years, it’s a wonder Nightrage is still pumping out new music. It all comes down to a burning desire to keep on going, even when it seems like the entire world is crumbling around you.
Let’s dive in.
Mike Marlinski: Nightrage hails from Greece, but it’s said you relocated to Gothenburg, Sweden, the undisputed home of melodic death metal. What prompted the move and what was the transition like?
Marios Iliopoulos: Yeah, the band was formed here in Thessaloniki, Greece in 2000 and then I needed to move, due to the fact that I was looking for the right people to join the band. It was pretty hard for me to adapt to the new way of life, but my passion and determination to fulfill my musical dreams was the key to overcome all the hardships.
MM: That’s impressive.
Sweet Vengeance featured Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates) on vocals. How was your experience working with “the legend”? You also worked with Per from The Haunted on drums. What’s your current relationship like with the ATG guys or the guys from The Haunted?
Marios Iliopoulos: Yeah, that was totally unexpected. I mean, I knew Tomas from the Exhumation recordings, and then I met him just by luck on the street when I had moved permanently and proposed the idea for him to listen to the new songs that I had written. It was an awesome experience for sure to have Tomas in the band. He loved the songs and the lyrics and wanted to be a part of this. Per on the other hand, is a total pro who nailed all the songs in no time in the studio. Yeah, we are still friends with the guys and we still play together on some occasions.
MM: How would you describe the current state of the melodic death scene in Europe? I’ve found that the genre can be a pretty hard sell here in the states, but depending on where you go over here, the demand for it is strong.
Marios Iliopoulos: Yeah, there is still a demand and love for this kind of music, even though a lot of bands got tired of it and changed their style to something more radio friendly, I would say. We are still doing this with all our heart, without caring too much about the money and the fame. We are playing from our hearts and we want to be very honest with every album that we are doing. Definitely with that style of music, it;s really hard to play and to try to keep a band together, but if you love to the bone what you are doing, then you have to do it just for the love.
MM: Great point. That’s one of my main reasons I still listen to you guys on an almost daily basis. Not many European melodic death bands from that era still carry something close to, if not the exact same sound, so I’ve been thrilled with every NR release.
When Descent into Chaos came out in 2005, Nightrage saw a handful of lineup changes. In addition to replacing your drummer, Tomas and Gus both had so much else going on musically, that they had to step away. Fotis also left for Septic Flesh. Was it a smooth transition getting the new lineup together, or were there some rough patches? What was band morale like during this time?
Marios Iliopoulos: Yeah, we’ve always been in hard situations like that and I’m the last person in the world that wanted something like that to be happen. But it was my crocodile tenacity to not give up and move on and keep playing that music that I love. I remember that even though at that time we lost also our deal with Century Media, I found the strength to find new members and also land a new deal with Lifeforce Records to release new music.
MM: Right. Your general life attitude has always been very admirable. I remember there were quite a few times when I wasn’t sure if NR was going to bounce back, but you guys always did. I’m sure moving to Sweden opened a lot of doors, but at the same time, there was so much going on there at that time, it’s no wonder there were so many musical road blocks.
Next, came A New Disease is Born. To this day, this is my favorite album of yours. It’s the album that first turned me on to Nightrage and it’s been one of my top melodic death albums ever since. After the release, 3 more lineup changes occurred, but you kept right on going. It’s a true testament to your resilience. What was that transition like after Henric, Jimmie and Alex left?
Marios Iliopoulos: Yeah, it was pretty rough I would say. I mean, I lost all the members in one night, and they wanted to play pop metal all of a sudden. It was all about the money for them, but not for me. I didn’t want to follow that path. I just followed my instinct, and kept writing new stuff. I remember I had to run to Denmark at that time to find musicians to help me with the touring we had, and also had to deal with people wondering what the hell its going on. But like I said, the show must go on and I didn’t want to let myself down because of people changing their minds about the music that we are playing.
MM: Wow. You’re a legend, man. I must say. I’ll make sure people know it in my tiny corner of the world.
Fast forward to 2009, Wearing a Martyr’s Crown is coming out and Antony (vocals), Anders (bass) and Johan (drums) have all been in the band for about 2 years. By this time, things seemed to be rolling smoothly in the Nightrage camp. How were
you feeling about the songwriting during this time and by this point?
Marios Iliopoulos: Yeah, we had really good times with the guys and they helped me push the Nightrage music to new, more exciting levels. We wrote some very good stuff and I wish all the past members the best and to be happy with what they are doing.
MM: Can you talk about your most memorable shows/tours from that time or in general?
Marios Iliopoulos: I think we did some great touring in the USA and also played festivals in Europe, plus 2 headlining Greek tours.
MM: In 2011, Insidious came out and in part, featured the original lineup of the band. What was it like getting everyone in the same room again and churning out songs together? After that, came the world tour for the album. Talk about some
of your greatest memories from that time.
Marios Iliopoulos: It was great for sure to have some of the original members in the band doing some guest work and it was cool to an extent, and I think we overdid things a bit, but it was a successful experiment in the end. The tour and the shows were great and we also did an USA tour with the new album, that was pretty good.
MM: 2013 brought about more lineup changes, but you were still full steam ahead. Ronnie (vocals), Magnus (guitars), and Lawrence (drums) all stepped in. How does this lineup compare to previous ones in terms of creativity? How are things feeling and vibing now and how would you describe everyone’s personal touch to the music?
Marios Iliopoulos: Now, I think we have the best line up ever, or it’s me excited as always. Who knows? Only time wïll tell. But Ronnie, he is a brother and we are getting along in every way, and we understand each other, even when we have to disagree, I still feel the love from him. Magnus, he is a great addition to the Nightrage camp and he is a great buddy, guitarist and songwriter. We wrote the last album, The Venomous together and we are going to write the new one as well. I’m happy with Lawrence, our new drummer. He is a monster on drums and he is perfect for our style. So you see, we are back and hungrier.
MM: Indeed. That must be a great feeling, having never lost that hunger after all this time.
When it comes to the lyrics, did you write them in the beginning and others took over later, or have you been writing them all along? Maybe it’s kind of a mixed bag?
Marios Iliopoulos: I think it’s music first and then lyrics for us. Now, we are sharing this with Ronnie and he is great at what he does. We have a really cool way working together. I write the ideas first, and then he takes them and rewrites them, but without changing the subject.
MM: Cool! That sounds like a fun dynamic.
Ever since I first heard Nightrage, I can honestly say that you’ve written some of the catchiest riffs I’ve ever heard in the genre of melodic death. Can you think of some bands that you pull ideas from when it comes to your classic catchy distorted riffs and supremely tranquil/dark clean sections?
Marios Iliopoulos: I don’t know where all this is coming from- maybe from the love that I have for the ’80s metal sound and bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica. I still want to write music that is heavy, but with a great melody, and clean acoustic passages that are sweet and dark at the same time.
MM: You definitely nail it with every record, so whatever your method is, NEVER CHANGE!
What tuning do you typically play in? Also, when it comes to gear, which are your preferred guitars/pedals/amps?
Marios Iliopoulos: I’m endorsed by Elixir strings, so I’m using a single strings gauge that is 11 16 24 wound 36 46 and 68. We are playing in C standard tuning, 2 whole steps down from normal tuning for a more dark sound. Also, I’m endorsed by ESP Guitars, Seymour Duncan pickups, Orange Amps, Providence cables, John Dunlop picks, Diago pedalboards, Maxon pedals, Toontrack drums and Presonus Studio One Version 2.
MM: Sick! Okay, man. One more thing.
Over the past few years, you’ve put out both The Puritan and The Venomous. They’re both stellar records and I can’t wait to hear more. What are your plans for the future in terms of writing and touring? Can we expect any US dates in the near future?
Marios Iliopoulos: Yeah, as we speak we have already started working on new ideas for the next album, and we are also planning to tour more in Europe and the USA for the next year. Hopefully the new album will be released in the beginning of 2019
MM: That’s great news, man! I’m in Buffalo, NY, but I hope to catch you somewhere when that tour arrives.
Marios Iliopoulos: Thanks for the interview, man. I hope we will meet on the tour. It will be great, man.