What can bring a Brit, a Swede, a Spaniard and an Algerian together during a pandemic to make metal that is “out of the box?” Greece, of course.
It takes the right combination of factors to convert four ex-pats and one Greek drummer into members of a heavy metal band that keeps them rooted to Greece by their music.
This is the story behind Primal Roots, an up-and-coming metal band forged during the pandemic, showcasing how Athens can be the fertile ground from which creativity can take root.
The band’s founder and PR piece, Rachel Cassar, told me about its unique beginnings. “We ourselves have all come from different parts of our world. We had very different beginnings but our musical path, perhaps even fate and a belief in all things mythical brought us together.”
The band members are diverse not only due to their different ethnicities, but their various ages; they span from the early 20s to mid 40s.
Cassar is a case in point. She has lived and worked in Greece for 18 years and has witnessed how the metal scene has evolved in Greece from the 80s. She is one of the few female heavy metal singers in the nation. She was working in Rhodes at the tourist clubs covering crowd favourites until she got bored and decided to move to Athens three years ago . She had even performed for the Voice of Greece competition at one point. The time was ripe for her to begin a more creative endeavour.
That is when she came across an ad on the Facebook page of the largest company of ex-pats in Athens called Teleperformance. It was a call to find a singer for a newly formed heavy metal band. Teleperformance is the largest call centre in Europe that services customer service to major multinational corporations. It employs nearly 60% of foreign-speaking ex-pats in Athens.
The ad was posted by Thomas Toivonen, a Swede originally from Finland, who played electric guitar and was steeped deeply in the Scandinavian heavy metal tradition. Shortly after, a second guitarist from Spain, Alejandro Lobato, and Amira Debaieb bass guitarist from Tunisia, all employees of Teleperformance, answered the call. An ex-pat drummer that started with the band was eventually replaced by a Greek Menelaos Laskaridis.
That was before the quarantine.
From their first jam session, they “jelled really well” explains Cassar. Their process was collaborative from the start.
“We write as a team, “Cassar relates. “One person starts with a riff then another one adds something to it, then I add some lyrics and each song grows into itself.”
The jam resulted in their first single, “Black.”
The band started recording sessions at Made in Hell Studios in Athens shortly after the lockdown.
Primal Roots had taken root!
Primal Roots, according to their media page, creates music in a classic heavy metal style with hints of progressive, thrash, doom and nu calling their unique style ‘metal outside the box’.
Rachel Cassar claims, “It blends the classic tropes of metal but does not stick to it instead morphing into its own. It will be as it becomes.”
While not overly political, their lyrics are generated from the current zeitgeist.
“We don’t want to be a band that preaches,” Cassar explains, “Whatever message there is comes through the music itself. We go to enjoy ourselves and if we can send a message through that, so much the better.”
Their first success came with their victory in the Newcomer Band Festival in July of 2019. They appeared in several venues around Athens, and then the pandemic hit followed by the lockdown. Despite these obstacles, they had managed to record their first album which was released in October 2020.
Their second album is currently undergoing mastering in the sound engineer’s hands, destined for release in the fall of 2021. Against the current trend where band’s drop tracks one by one, this album is intended to be played from start to finish.
Even with the challenges that come with living in Greece, the band members, like their name, have put down primal roots in the country. Thomas Tovienen confesses, “Even though it would be easier to leave and live somewhere else, it is the band that keeps me in Greece.”
Cassar who speaks Greek fluently echoes the same sentiments. “I find myself really inspired by things around here,” she explains. “Any place that goes through difficulties will breed creativity and artists. It is the strive, the angst that breeds creation and that’s exactly what has been happening here in Athens for the last ten years.”
It is also the Greek tendency towards outspokenness that keeps them rooted here.
“Athens is an amazing city because it is so outspoken,” Cassar cites. “People say what they think as evidenced with all the protests. This carries over into the music scene as well as it fantastically goes against the odds.”
Cassar notes that Athens has always had a vibrant foreign language music scene especially in rock and metal. While it has not been a mainstream movement, it has kept a steady following. “Athens has always been fertile ground for a thriving thrashing subculture for metal. You just have to know where to look. Clubs such as The Crow, the Remedy, AN Club, Black Box have always played metal. Now we have to see which clubs survive the pandemic.”
Another quality that Carr brings up in the Athens music scene is its intimacy. In other European cities, say in London, you would be miles away from the stage, but in Athens it is possible to see Slipknot, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, and Beth Hart within a few yards of the stage.
“The band is it. It keeps us all in Athens,” Cassar reckons. “We couldn’t do what we do if we lived in other countries. Athens is a great place for someone who is into creation.”
For more info about Primal Roots, check out:
‘BLACK’ ON YOUTUBE