It takes a lot to stand out in the world. With more people having more access to more types of entertainment than ever before, getting yourself recognized and remembered as someone or something that rises above whatever crowded field you play in can be a Herculean task. Granted there are more outlets for exposure than at any time in history, but that just brings more rivals out of the woodwork and means you’ve gotta be just that much more of a cut above everything and everyone around you. Within a loaded genre such as power metal, it takes a mighty horde to have staying power and keeping that power in and of itself is a whole other challenge.
Black Soul Horde, founded in Greece in 2012, is one such band of metal marauders that have managed to make a name for themselves in a very busy field of bands. The band has released three full-lengths, starting with 2013’s Tales of the Ancient Ones. Their most recent release, 2021’s Horrors from the Void, showed that the band has not lost a step in their decade-plus career. I recently talked to guitarist/bassist John Tsiakopoulos about what to expect when the Black Soul Horde sets its sights on you.
First off, what is the origin of Black Soul Horde? What made you want to tackle this kind of band and how did you all meet?
John: We’ve been listening to heavy metal for all of our lives. I grew up with this music but for some reason never got to make a heavy metal band. I mean we all played in various metal bands over the years but none of them was a classic/power heavy band. I have a studio project called Inside It Grows which I use as kind of a label to put out records of rock and metal genres. I listen to a big variety of music and I always write stuff of different styles. Obviously I can’t go out and make a new band for each different album or EP I do so this helps a lot. Anyways, I had written the debut album as an IIG release where Jim [Kotsis] was gonna sing as a guest. But after the initial pre-production we thought it was both too good to just be a one-off and also that this was a chance to play some traditional heavy metal which we both loved and still love. So, we made a band out of it. After that I invited Costas [Papaspyrou], with whom we played together in Speedblow before, as a lead guitarist. And there you have it. That’s how BSH came into being.
How did you decide on the name and what does it mean to you? Were there others considered?
John: Sure, there were others. Not many, I must say. [Jim and I] gathered some ideas on paper and by an eliminating process we got down to one. We like dark stuff so in the vein of myths and aesthetics we like we imagined something that would be both dark and epic. Black shapes with bright red eyes doing battle with human kind or monsters kinda hit the spot, so we went with it. And once Vance Kelly sent us the cover and logo of the debut album, that was it. It locked in and all doubt went away. In retrospect, ten years later, we’re still very happy with our choice.
What got you into metal in the first place and who are some of the bands that got you into the genre?
John: I really can’t say for sure. I mean I was just drawn to it. Once I heard my first distorted guitar I was dumbstruck. I think my first rock/metal album was Alice Cooper’s Trash when I was about ten years old. I wasn’t around a lot of music fiends and in my household the music was mainly traditional Greek stuff, which I really don’t like, and ’80s pop stuff. But through tapes I was able to find stuff.
My big “this is it” moment was a couple of years later when I got a tape with Master of Puppets on it. Man, I would listen to the intro of “Battery” and “Damage Inc.” over and over again in awe. After that it was like you see in the movies. Parents were not happy but there was no way I could back out of that stuff. I mean, I discovered Ozzy, Bathory, Helloween (the Keepers albums changed me in my core), Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Priest, Megadeth, Maiden, Manowar, and so much more. I guess you could call me a late bloomer since I was like 13-14 by then. But given my circumstances, it was an oddity I bloomed as a metalhead in the first place.
What’s the writing process like for the music side of things?
John: I do all the music writing. Jim does all the lyrics and vocal lines and Costas all the solos. It’s been like that from the start. I don’t have like a specific process. Although I will watch a lot of movies and series and listen to a lot of music (well, more than usual) for a specific period of time before I pick up the guitar to write new riffs. After that, stuff comes out. I [build] on them and if I feel they are right or that they might be something more, I go with it. I usually finish a song and move to the next, but sometimes while I am playing a riff another pops into mind that is irrelevant with what I am doing at the moment. I record it and keep it aside. After I am done with the song I am working on, I will go back on and revisit that and see if I can build on it. I will go into writing frenzies, if you will. I can’t stop. If I do, like for lunch, I lose my focus and I can’t keep going after. I will start playing in the morning and probably stop in the evening or at night and only because my existential anxiety kicks in and I go like “Oh man, I am wasting time, no one cares about any of this.” But yeah, when I start working on an album I usually know in the back of my mind where I wanna go, although I couldn’t actually describe it to anyone. It can take between two weeks and a month to finish a record. I am talking about composing and arranging the music, finishing the pre-production. Recordings and all other stuff is a different level.
What’s the writing process like for the lyrics side of things? What do you try to do with the words to a Black Soul Horde song and is there anything that you turn to in particular for inspiration?
John: Jim writes all the lyrics. As far as I know, for inspiration he usually dives into a lot of dark literature and picks a specific subject or universe in which he will create his stories in. He will sometimes just write fantastic stories based on myth and sometimes he will address real life issues and struggles, but usually by using metaphors and through a prism of fantasy, dark aesthetics, and mythology.
What is it about the fantasy genre that appeals to you guys? As a genre, it’s pretty perfect for heavy metal.
John: I’ve been a fantasy freak since I first saw Conan the Barbarian back in the ’80s. I like the exploration of other worlds, I like monsters, I like mystery and magic, sorcerers and witches, demons and dragons, swords, knights and castles. It is a great escape. An escape from reality, mediocrity, insecurity, injustice, etc. You can get lost in countless worlds and become or relate to anyone or anything you like. There is no judgment there. And nothing is finite like in our actual lives. We also love Norse and Greek mythology. All these combined allows me to explore worlds that become the base for the actual stories that Jim will come up with in his lyrics. It is a perfect genre because it is almost endless. Plus, you can express everything you feel through metaphors which make for a much more interesting listen or read.
What was the process like to record the debut record LP? Were there any challenges with that first record and what did you learn from the process that you’ll use on records afterwards? It’s a killer album and I imagine that you guys have to be pretty happy with the final product.
John: Well that album was done like 10 years ago. We were all different people back then. Simpler lives maybe, more time and stuff like that. I had finished the pre-production, which I then sent to Jim, who used it to write vocal lines. I also sent it to our drummer at the time so that he could learn the drums. After a while we got together in my studio “Mothstudio Productions” where we started recording. We did the drums in a weekend while we stayed at my place watching movies and debating stuff at night and then going in the studio in the morning. After we did the drums, I did guitars and bass, Jim did his vocals, and Costas came in to do guitar solos. Some great guitar work right there, by the way. After that, I mixed it on an analogue desk I had back then and sent it off to a friend for mastering. There were no particular challenges except the usual where I do everything by myself and I sometimes get frustrated. But that’s how I like it. I am weird like that. We were pretty happy with how it came out, yes. We wanted it to be raw and I guess it kinda was. Last year we did a remix and re-master of the album for the vinyl and cassette release of the album, which was this year. Sounds better now I believe!
There was a pretty long break between that debut and the follow-up. What led to such a long hiatus and was it hard to get back into the swing of recording with Black Soul Horde again?
John: We did do a split EP a couple of years after the debut, which included three new songs and we were active doing some live shows here and there, so the hiatus actually came after our last show in 2017. After that, life just got in the way. We were really busy with our other bands, because you see back then BSH was a side project for us. We drifted apart for a few years. I had, however, already composed and finished all pre-production for what later became Land Of Demise, which remained in a hard drive for about four years. Life changed once again, there was time and will, so I contacted Jim, we got back in touch, and we went in the studio. We used a session drummer this time, Vasilis Nanos, with whom we still work together both in the studio and in live shows. It was not hard, no. Since I work as a producer and studio sound engineer I am always doing recording work. So I might say it was even easier this time around since I had more experience in the field and of course we had all also evolved as musicians over these past years.
What was the recording process like for the most recent record, Horrors From the Void? How much easier is it now that you’ve got a few records under your belt? Or is it harder to not repeat yourself?
John: It was almost identical to the previous one. Everyone got the pre-production and worked on their parts, and then we went in and recorded everything. It was definitely easier as a process since it had already been done before. It also helped that we had a specific thing in mind. That album came relatively easy in existence. I hadn’t worked on ΒSH music for many years, since the LOD album was composed in 2015-16 as I mentioned before, so all the input I had gathered musically and aesthetically all these past years was there for exploration. I also knew the direction I wanted to take so I think it was done relatively quick and easy.
Now that I am working on the fourth album, things are a bit trickier. You are bound to repeat yourself at some point, I know that, and it is OK in my book, since you want to have a specific style and character as a band. The tricky part is to enrich your work, especially the parts that might sound familiar and also offer something new and fresh. That was eating me up a lot, especially after Horrors did so good as an album. I was like, shit, how the fuck do I follow that now? Although harder, however, it was still fun. A lot came out and it was good to push myself further in both writing and playing.
I wanted to ask about the inspiration behind a few of the tracks on that record. Could you tell me how “Beneath the Mountains of Madness” came about and what led to it being the opener? It’s a kickass song that, to me, starts the record on a really strong foot!
John: I can tell you that the lyrics are heavily inspired by Lovecraft and that Jim’s vocal lines gave the song the eerie feeling that it carries. It also has one of the best choruses on the album as far as I am concerned. In the debut album we had an intro, in the second one there was an easy built up track. I wanted a powerful no bullshit opener riff for Horrors. This song was that. It was strong and it captured the general feeling of the album so we went with it.
How about the inspiration behind “Malediction of the Dead?”
John: That’s one of my favorites on the album. That song kinda willed itself into being. I was doing bass on another track whilst in pre-production mode and after I was done, those first bass lines came up while I was strumming here and there with no particular thing in mind. Then it took me all the way by itself. The only follow-up to that intro would be a galloping riff of sorts. And then the “too long” barrier was lifted in my head and went on to add things. It was like a story in my head. You had a prologue, main story with its ups and downs, side notes, and an epilogue. I am really proud of that song. I wanted to add a lot of classic influences. I don’t know if I actually did since I often find that things in my head sound different than in reality. All in all I wanted a long, epic closer to the classics than my more power/epic influences.
Lastly, how did “The Betrayal of the King” come about? That’s a great one to end on!
John: Started out with the clean part at the beginning and I built on that. It was supposed to be a power ballad of sorts. Then I thought, maybe a mid-tempo easygoing song, but then the power metal self came into play and more parts were added. What made the song pop though, were the vocals. Man, Jim took the song to the next level.
What’s the scene like for you guys in Greece and how has that affected the growth and development of the band?
John: There is an active metal scene. It is not very big and of course it is considered underground since there are only a handful of bands that are known to mainstream audiences. There are not a lot of opportunities in Greece, man. For music in general, but especially for metal. Many people here still think of it as an extreme and immature way of expression. The traditional aspect of Greek music and mentality definitely don’t help in accepting such a genre. So I don’t think heavy metal will ever be as popular or accepted here as in other countries. People hear the words “heavy metal” and think of all the extremities and the pentagrams. They also think it is a phase you outgrow when you get older. So not having a lot of opportunities here makes you turn to the outside of Greece and other countries in the world. But when you don’t have the support of a good label or a disposable budget, it is not easy to pursue this. Because you need to work for a living, thus you probably won’t be able to go on tour or keep making records regularly out of pocket. And because of all that, a bigger or better label will not consider you. Don’t get me wrong, there are the exceptions of bands that have made a breakthrough and show that if you work hard enough, something might happen. But these are the exceptions to the rule. It is all a matter of dedication and priority, but it is hard to prioritize your band when you need to pay for electricity and food. You’ll probably end up pushing it aside as a hobby. A getaway for a couple of hours a week. So, yeah, living in Greece affects the development of the band.
Lastly, what’s next for Black Soul Horde? What are your goals for the future of the band?
John: We recently released a Live in the Studio EP, both as a video and as an audio release. We are trying to put together some live shows and maybe book a few festivals during the summer of 2023. Finally, I have completed composing the songs for the next album. Pre-production is ready and we are planning on starting the recordings for it by the end of February 2023.
Photo at top: Horrors from the Void album cover.