A Sumerian/Babylonian Goddess as name-giver for a band from Greece? Black metal with all-female vocals, that also influenced other women to start/join metal bands? And you're still not sure who it is? The Greek band ASTARTE around frontwoman Tristessa still seems to be a secret to some of us, that waits to finally be discovered. The band has been around for twelve years, and the music always surprises the unknowing listener with its brutal power, technical raffinesse and Tristessa's unbelievable vocals. ASTARTE do have a loyal fanbase, spread across Europe. With their recently released fifth studio album "Demonized", the time was perfect to NOT ONLY feed hungry fans with words of Tristessa about the new release, talk about the cooperation with guest vocalists like Angela Gossow of ARCH ENEMY, future plans about gigs, but to bring people out there, not knowing of their amazing music, closer to them.
You started this band back in 1995, can you tell us a little about how everything began?
Tristessa: “My desire was to form my own black metal band. Before ASTARTE, I was playing in several other bands from 1992 onwards, but I didn't really find what I was looking for, so in 1995 I formed the band LLOTH. It was accidentally an all female black metal band and we made our thirty minutes demo in 1997. Right after that, we signed a contract with a label and we started on our debut album.”
Why did you change your name from LLOTH to ASTARTE back in the early days?
T: “Lloth was a character taken from the role playing games “Dungeons & Dragons” and was representing the Spider Queen. We wanted to get a more powerful name and I chose ASTARTE. Astarte is a Sumerian, Babylonian goddess of war and fertility. Her abilities and background represent the A and Z of female power and strength. ASTARTE now is a source of inspiration for us and in every album we dedicate a song to her.”
The line up is a bit different once more, please fill us in who's currently part of ASTARTE and introduce the band.
T: “Right now I do the vocals and all song writing/composing, Hybris (lyrics), Derketa (synths), Lycon as session guitarist and Ice as session drummer.”
Were any of you previously in other bands/projects or still actively are involved in other bands?
T: “Our guitarist Lycon plays in my other band LLOTH, which I have re-formed right now and our drummer Ice plays in another band that I have formed, INSECTED.”
ASTARTE has seen a lot of changes in its ranks over the last twelve years, you being the only constant in it. Would you consider this something similar of a personal project, inviting people to join you on the journey?
T: “The only constant that remains in this band physically is myself and besides that, the passion for music. It is not a personal project because behind my music there is a great contribution of skilled musicians and especially for the two last albums. I have wonderful memories with all members. From my personal point of view it can be a journey but I never want to feel alone in it. I feel that I have to give a lot of things to music and the interest of our fans is the motivation to go on.”
Do you think that the people that are within ASTARTE right now, are forming the strongest line-up you had so far, and if so, why?
T: “For this album I can definitely say that we were/are a very strong team. I could not think of a better result. Lycon, who played the guitars, has added a very powerful attitude to ASTARTE and for the first time we put solos in our music. Ice, who played the drums, was strong, raw and technical at the same time.”
ASTARTE are definitely a leading force in female-fronted death-/black metal, how do you feel, being such a big influence in the scene?
T: “I can only say that I have broken the standards and I want to believe that I have opened a way for women to start/join metal and black metal bands. Every start is difficult, I have faced lot of difficulties and I see that things nowadays are not so 'prejudiced', as I have experienced back then. If I have created this chance for women in the scene, than that would be an honour. But I can say with certainty, that I have tried to break the standards.”
Fans were waiting for a new release impatiently, how come it took you almost three years to finish a successor of "Sirens"?
T: “The album was finished in 2006, but due to some external delays it was only released in 2007. Of course, these past two years of making this album we were continuously working, as we have never worked in the past on an album. We brought in new standards concerning the sound and the studio writing process, new equipments and many other things. Before entering the studio we were well prepared and we knew what sound we wanted and how to get there. We worked a lot on pre-recordings and we spend a lot of time to standardize all instrument roles.”
You have an impressive list of guest vocalists appearing on your latest album "Demonized", how was it to work with people like Attila Csihar of MAYHEM and Angela Gossow of ARCH ENEMY and the other musicians that joined you on this project?
T: “I had the honour to have some very important musicians on the new ASTARTE album. Angela Gossow from ARCH ENEMY, Attila from MAYHEM, Henri T.S.K from GOD DETHRONED and Nicolas Sic Maiis from LLOTH. We know each other since a long time and I believe that this album is the most mature of ASTARTE due to their participations. Angela sings in the song “Black At Heart”. She found time during her European touring to join us for recordings with ASTARTE and that was very important. We really appreciate her dedication to music. Attila sings in “Lycon”. It is a song that suits his mentality and furiocity. Henri sings in “Queen Of The Damned”, which is a very melodic song and is perfect for his vocal abilities. Nicolas sings in “God Among Men”. Nicolas Sic Maiis is a guest, who added his pure brutality on this, and on the last two albums of ASTARTE.”
During recordings, were there any specific moments or happenings you still remember with a smile and that you'd be willing to share with us? How was the atmosphere in general during the recordings?
T: “The best moments were the satisfaction of hearing a complete and mastered song and feeling good. Also some unexpected riffing/guitar ideas that came up accidentally were the best. The atmosphere was based on absolute concentration, I was quite strict, as I usually am when I have the anxiety and stress not to make mistakes. The hardest of all was that we made the recordings during summer time at more than forty degrees Celsius. It was too hot!”
The new album seems even stronger, more intense and way more complex than any of your previous albums. Is this just the product of natural developement and growing more mature, or was there much thought put into it?
T: “My aim for this album was to make a different album compared to the previous ones. To give another dimension of ASTARTE. During the period in which I make all the compositions, I had a more dynamic/death/black atmosphere in mind. When me and the other band members finalized the songs, we had a very brutal chemistry and I believe the new album is a new face of ASTARTE. Very well preparation of every instrument. For first time we put solos in our music. Before we entered the studio, we knew what sound we wanted to have as a result and this was very important for all the recording process. We worked a lot with the guests and I believe that the results were fantastic.”
You have been with Italian Avantgarde Records now since 2004 "Sirens". All the mixing and mastering was done again at TICO TICO Studios in Finland. It seems you are very happy with the arrangements?
T: “Mix and mastering took place in the Finish studios TICO TICO, correct. Like the previous album, we gave all our trust and effort to Ahti and he gave everything a brilliant finish. It is obvious we are very happy working with this studio and with future albums, I would prefer to work with him again.”
What essentials do you need in order to have a stress-free recording period?
T: “As long as I am well prepared, I can handle everything! The stress that I have during the recordings is helping me to achieve the best possible end-result. So, stress on me, is something positively.”
How 'finished' are your songs/lyrics when you enter the studio for recordings? Are there still some unfinished pieces, that are being worked on, or you always have clear vision and everything is set out already.
T: “Nothing can be totally finished. Of course I have to work on the lyrics before the recordings start, but in a few cases we make changes in order to suit the music better. Music and lyrics are not an absolute thing and I am very flexible, changes that will have a positive effect on my music are welcome.”
As far as I am aware, there have only been very few live appearances, can you explain why?
T: “ASTARTE have never made a live appearance. This is due to the reason of never having band members to go touring with outside of Greece. It may sound easy but it is not. I want dedicated people to work with the band, because pulling off a live show is not an easy thing after five studio albums. The problem with members was from the beginning and it still exist. Besides ASTARTE, I have been on stage and will be onstage in future with my other bands. I am currently working on some ideas about live gigs, and we are preparing ourselves for it. I can not say more because we are not ready for any announcements yet.”
At any stage, do you think you would like to go on Europe/USA tour to unleash your music unto the masses and to drive people wild ... ’demonize’ them?
T: “My desire is to go abroad to Europe and USA. And yes, my aim is to demonize them. “Be demonized or be dead”…”
Being a female fronted band in the metal scene, do you think that some people have reservations, even though you have proven over the years that ASTARTE has earned its place among the top of Europe's scene?
T: “A few people have prejudices. I think that those things belong to the past and the proof is that not only ASTARTE, but also a lot of other bands with female members, who really kick asses. Metal must grow and the female appearance has shown very dynamic results when it gets the right role. After years of hard work I try to get a name in Europe and what I get back is support and interest for ASTARTE. This is the strongest weapon for me to continue.”
There has always been a lot of mythology in your music, believes and stories of old matriarchy societies. Since when is Hybris in charge of writing the lyrics, and is she the only one working on them all the time? How much personal feelings and topics do you integrate in the songs?
T: “We're all thinking about the lyrical issues that we want in our album. So, it is a team work, but Hybris is responsible of applying and writing our ideas into lyrics. She puts her personal effort into this. Her mind is fresh yet sad so she creats a mystical atmosphere. The topics of ASTARTE deal with ancient Greece, myths and gods. We deal with nowadays wars, destructions and crime. We need to speak about what happened in our lives because everyday, we face reality and reality lives within our music. It is a part of us and we have to speak about it in order to keep people's minds alert.”
In matters of creativity, who would you say has the most influence on the bands enegery and the process of new ideas, or is it all evenly shared?
T: “I am the major spirit of ASTARTE. I have a specific way of thinking when I create music and I carry this spirit into every album. It is good for us to keep our feeling but beyond this, in the end it is the work of all members that distinguishes the outcome, and this completes me totally.”
Where do you see ASTARTE in five years time?
T: “I can only wish for ASTARTE to hold as long as they have, to give feeling and power. In five years I believe, that we will have done live shows, which is very important for us and our fans.”
To round this all off, is there anything you wanna say to long-time fans and/ or people that have just discovered you?
T: “We are crossing the twelfth year of our musical existence. Every period of ASTARTE represents the true black metal of that period. We have five albums and we are planning on more. We thank our audience for their real and true support. ASTARTE WILL DEMONIZE YOUR SOULS.. Thank you very much Metal Maidens for inviting me into your space.”
ASTARTE official site: www.astarteband.com
Myspace site: www.myspace.com/astartetristessa
LLOTH band site: www.lloth.th
INSECTED site: www.insected.tk
Official discography (incl. demos)
LLOTH: “Dancing In The Dark Lakes Of Evil” (1st demo - '97 indie)
ASTARTE: “Doomed Dark Years” (debut album - '98 Black Lotus Rec)
ASTARTE: “Rise From Within” (2nd album - '00 Black Lotus Rec)
ASTARTE: “Quod Superius Sicut Inferius” (3rd album - '02 Black Lotus Rec)
ASTARTE: “Sirens” (4th album - '04 Avantgarde Music )
ASTARTE: “Demonized” (5th album - '07 Avantgarde Music)