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  • Interview by Sarah Stubbs

Columbian black metal beasts Thy Antichrist talk European tour, old school influences and new materi

To witness black metal troupe Thy Antichrist rampaging about the stage, you’d be forgiven for thinking the seal on the demonic dimensions had been smashed open and the most hoar-frosted of evil spirits unleashed. In gleeful embrace of the full-on black aesthetic, the band regularly appear plastered in layers upon layers of corpse paint, skilfully executed in elaborate patterns and motifs. Fortunately, the assiduously crafted music more than lives up to the spectacle - Thy Antichrist have both style and substance. As addictive as crack, the relentlessly-paced ambient onslaught of dusky twilight chords, fiendishly fast-paced drums and decadent dark melody reaches its murky epitome in tracks from searing, riff-strewn 2018 album release, ‘Wrath of the Beast’.

Currently enjoying their first European tour in the hallowed company of the mighty Wolfheart and horror aficionados Carach Angren, Thy Antichrist are having a ball blast-beating through several major cities on the continent. After an electrifying set in London, Dark Matter caught up with their founder, Andrés Vargas for an insightful discussion about the journey of the band since their inception and the surprisingly thoughtful philosophy behind their volatile sound.

It took a while to locate our mark amongst the milling metal-heads clustered around the merch stand; the well-mannered, affable Andrés, stage name Antichrist 666, is practically unrecognisable from the petrifying nether-demon contorting around earlier on stage. “Nobody recognises me, it’s a complete transformation,” he laughs when we finally track him down. For Andrés, who is also the lead vocalist of the band, the solemn process of applying the painted mask of his stage persona is a rite of sacred proportions without which he’d find it difficult to perform. “It takes two and a half hours before the show to get ready and prepare all my corpse paint. I do it all by myself. The hair too, everything. For me it’s a personal ritual, an intimate ritual before I perform on stage every night.”

And it’s not all just for show - there are some fascinating creative ideas behind the art. “We’re taking the traditional black metal face paint to another level - turning the corpse paint into body paint. Influences include Japanese Kumadori and the practices of my indigenous ancestors from Columbia, South America who wear body paint for rituals, to get in touch with nature, or sometimes to go to war.” Indeed, Andrés shows a meticulously painstaking amount of care over his appearance on stage that would put Beau Brummell to shame - with an intricately detailed lattice-work of black, studded with shiny silver gems, delicately drawn over chalky, zombie-white skin that is freakishly realistic-looking. “My body is my canvas,” He explains. “The paint that I’m doing is slightly different night by night, with lot of small details.” And it’s not always easy to find the right space to get ready before the show - proving a true level of devotion. “Tonight, because we were running late, I had to do it in the tour bus!”

Andrés’ dedication to his corpse paint is matched only by his many years of commitment to the band - he even uprooted his whole life for it; moving to the US so that he could give the music a better chance of success than in his native Columbia where black metal has not yet reached the same levels of revered notoriety. “I started Thy Antichrist in 1998, but working in Columbia with this kind of underground music was not easy, so I relocated eight years ago to Dallas, Texas. I had to rebuild the whole band from scratch, doing auditions, etc but now we’ve got a good line-up and really good support.” For Andrés, it’s been a true odyssey, encompassing many transitions and a lot of hard work. “Of course, everything has been changing with the times, life is about changes. They key is about how you adapt to those changes, how you make the best of those changes for yourself. Working in a band is part of a continuous process, you’re improving yourself as a musician, you’re improving and making the best of your art, and the art you’re seeing right now is part of the process of changes, of continuing to work really hard.”

The sheer graft has really paid off, with a style that is well beyond the usual mindless Satanism of the genre. In fact, for such catchy, toe-tapping fare, the music has some serious, and rather pessimistic, abstract thought packed in. “The band was inspired by and named for Nietzche’s book The Antichrist. If you read the lyrics of Thy Antichrist you will find ideas about the chaos mankind is in, how everything is collapsing, how the economic system is collapsing, how the religious institutions are collapsing because they are based in ignorance, you will see more of a philosophical point of view about the reality of mankind. So our music reflects the kind of life we have been living nowadays. We’re not based in fiction or in the medieval, satanic and dark kind of influence that is usual in black metal, we are more about a philosophical point of view on reality.”

In terms of technique, their inspiration is arguably more traditional heavy metal than black. “We obviously get influences from ambient black metal of the late 90s; Darkthrone, Mayhem, Immortal and Satyricon, but we’re more influenced by old school heavy metal like Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest. I’m an old school guy! In Thy Antichrist you will find black metal riffs, ambience and atmosphere, but at the same time you can find some thrash riffs, death metal riffs, heavy metal lyrics and solos - all those things that make us metal-heads.” Thy Antichrist’s love of elaborate outfits also comes from this heady era, “the masters of theatrics like Alice Cooper, King Diamond.” But Andrés is keen to stress that the most important thing is developing their own original flavour. “Ultimately we’re trying to make something unique, trying to incorporate all those elements into our performances.” And it is their utterly mesmerising performances, with Andrés screaming into the mic like a thing possessed, that make them stand out. “We aim for a really energetic performance, all the time, with the make-up, the passion on stage. As metal-heads we need to be head-banging the whole time, you know, bringing the metal. Even if the crowd are quiet, we don’t mind, we’re really into our performance.”

With a growing fan-base, a couple of well-received albums and a highly successful US tour last year with Dark Funeral and Septicflesh counted amongst their achievements, Andrés is thrilled to be in the UK for the first time and absolutely stoked for the future of the band. “I’m really happy about all the things happening with the band. Working with this kind of music, this kind of genre is hard, it’s really demanding - with time, with money. I’m really excited at the point that we are at right now, especially touring for the first time in Europe, a long tour, more than a month and a half. I’m really happy with the reaction of the fans, the feedback we’re receiving every night, it’s really motivating and I’m excited for what’s coming next. We make a really good team with the other bands on the tour, we help each other every night, and every band brings their own unique something to make the shows special. Hopefully next time we can come back with more time on stage, at the moment I’m spending two and a half hours doing my paint just for 45 minutes! We’re only able to play five or six songs but we’re trying to make it as intense as possible. It’s only 45 minutes, but it’s 45 minutes you’re going to enjoy.” Andrés hints that the band are working on a new album which they are hoping to release next year, and as for when they are coming back to this side of the pond, he muses, “Time will tell…”

At the end of the day, the support of the fans means everything to Thy Antichrist and is crucial to ensuring they can continue doing what they do best. “I’d like to thank all the fans, all the friends we’re meeting on the road every night, the support means a lot to us as an artist, because we’re not making a living from this. We’re doing it for art. We’re doing it for passion.”

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