Mencea | Interview with Stamos Koliousis

Operating in similar realms as Meshuggah and Gojira, Mencea is a new collective from Greece, whose debut work “Dark Matter, Energy Noir”, a 40-minutes worth of technically engaging-Death/Thrash Metal released by independent Norwegian label Indie Recordings is one of 2008’s most surprising and challenging releases.
Guitarist and music producer Stamos Koliousis have shared with us some of his views on their first release and their working ethics. Read on…


It might seem peculiar to see a Greek Metal group signed to a Norwegian independent label like Indie Recordings, whose catalogue consists entirely of Norwegian artists like Enslaved, Keep of Kalessin, Audrey Horne, Red Harvest, Vreid and so on, but then again Mencea aren’t exactly what we can call a conventional act. The idiosyncratic nature of their debut full-length record “Dark Matter, Energy Noir” absolutely complies with the push-the-envelope mentality of Indie Recordings, which is rapidly becoming a record label synonymous with irreverence.
Not that it matters now, but if I’m not mistaken it’s an unprecedented union that only threatened to occur once, when a few years back a certain Øystein Aarseth, better known as Euronymous declared his intentions to sign the Greek Black-Metal act Rotting Christ.
So, tells us how did Mencea end up signing a record deal with the Norwegian company?

“The guys behind Indie Recordings, had a copy of our promo album in their hands, very early on. Its something that happened completely by chance and they stated their interest right away. They offered us a fantastic deal for a debut band, and it was a no-brainer for us to go with them. Scandinavian countries have all been supporters of the metal scene, with a huge number of bands coming out of there, compared to the total population. They have the know-how of braking bands to the masses, and they have had experience in doing that for many years now. They tend to be more open-minded than German labels per say, and less hands on than most others. That is why a lot of the "authentic" new, groundbreaking bands, have been steadily coming out of Scandinavian countries. They support their bands, and are closer to the way labels used to work in the past, in the less infected music industry, than the state of things as of now. It’s an honour for a Greek band like us, to emerge through a Norwegian label, and given that Indie Recordings has only signed Norwegian acts so far besides us, it means a lot.”

Not many people are aware, but both Mencea’s guitarists Stamos Koliousis and Vangleis Labrakis are slowly building a career as music producers and engineers. Graduated from the SAE Institute of London, one of the most respected colleges for Audio Engineering in the world, the two Greek musicians have put together a studio in Berlin called 210 Studios and already produced a vast array of Metal acts like Funeral, Stonegard, Vreid, Scar of the Sun between others. So where does this interest for music production and engineering come from? Was it something that evolved naturally as you were becoming more seasoned and experienced musicians?

“No not really. I mean, we both were into studying music, since we were kids. Going the whole way, like attending music school every day, but also learning how to play various other instruments in our own time, parallel to that. Of course our infatuation with metal music was present at a rather young age, but the basis was set prior to that. At one point during our high school years, and as the digital recording - home studio setups were in their beginnings, we found it very intriguing to be able to do demos, and preproduction at home. On a comparative scale, studios were a lot more expensive especially for kids back then, so that was another bonus. Home studios, and generally the whole scene of "home-made music" was not so popular back then, however things progressed, and we chose to take some proper education on engineering and production in the late 90's. We are now based in Berlin most of the time, but also travelling to do freelance production or engineering work.”

Would you agree that the work of a producer doesn’t merely resume to a technical knowledge of the equipment, and most of the times have to stimulate and push the capacities of musicians to the fullest and still maintain a positive and focused atmosphere in the studio? Like for example someone like Rick Rubin, who’s mostly regarded as psychological mentor rather than a music producer/engineer per se?

“I guess the technical knowledge is the starting point. If it’s not present then nothing else can get you close to good results. Having the ability to "psychologically engineer" a musician is a big bonus. For example if someone like Rick Rubin didn’t have a team of insanely good engineers working on his albums, things might be different. It’s a great thing to be able to stimulate a musician's mind, but it can also lead to unwanted tension in the studio, as most artists have a pretty strong vision of what they want to achieve. Personally speaking, I try and focus on establishing an elastic mind frame when working in that style. It’s all about making small compromises, and slowly building up, as there are always more than one ways of reaching a goal. One should never get lost keeping a balance between what makes the artist happy, and what would make the label happy. Instead one should always step outside these constraints, and give life to someone else’s art and efforts, in the most appropriate way possible. Producers tend to be the studio divas sometimes, whereas in reality they are there to work for the band, regardless how big that band might or might not be.”

The pair of guitarists have engineered and produced “Dark Matter, Energy Noir” in their own 210 Studios as well, swiftly managing to recruit the renowned Daniel Bergstrand, whose credits include In Flames, Strapping Young Lad and Meshuggah to mix the record at his Dug Out Studios, in Uppsala, Sweden.
What made you decide on the Swedish producer to handle the mixing of your debut work and do you envision a new collaboration with Bergstrand in the future?

“That was prior to recording actually. Our preproduction demos found their way into his studio without us actually knowing that, and as soon as interest was expressed, we set the dates for mixing, which also dictated the recording dates too. Daniel has a certain style to his productions, that we we’re great fans of. He is very open-minded and we knew he was going to add another dimension to the album. Working with him was a huge learning curve for us, something that we’ll always be grateful for. After all, there are not that many debut bands that get the Bergstrand treatment, so that made it special. He is far more eclectic in the projects he takes up, compared to some other Scandinavian studios, he is a veteran in his job, and his way of going about things when mixing, is a school in its own. We take his work ethic as an example and of course the possibility of working with him again in the future is something we will explore. In fact he would be the first on our list. He has now moved on to a bigger studio as well I hear, so that should be very interesting!”

Another curious fact about Mencea is the geographical disposal of their band members currently divided between the UK, Germany and their native Greece, yet “Dark Matter, Energy Noir” sounds incredibly tight and focused, which begs the question of how does it work? How do you manage to function as a band living apart from each other in separate countries?

“It’s not so hard! Lots of bands have some of their members living elsewhere these days. Low cost airlines are the key to the question! And of course being disciplined and practicing without the rest of the band. When we’re in rehearsal mode, we just get together for two or three weeks, and rehearse our asses off every day. That's the only thing that does the job.”

With regards to creating music, do you usually approach the writing of the songs as a team effort or does any member take the lead role?

“It’s more like someone will present some ideas, sometimes more coherent, others not so much, and that’s where the rest of the band comes in. It’s nice to jam and try to write songs in the studio, but it’s hard for five people to be in a good creative space in their heads, simultaneously. We don’t want to take compromises in what we can achieve song writing-wise. Binding the ideas together is a better way of using our time together I think.”

“Dark Matter, Energy Noir” displays a highly potent, technical and groovy Death-Metal assault, whose most obvious reference point would be Meshuggah for its constant rhythmic changes and complex structures. However, Mencea doesn’t delve into overly technical details sacrificing the intent of good Metal song like sometimes it occurs with the Swedes, revealing a song-writing drive more akin to someone like Gojira. Do you think these two bands really hold an influence over the band’s sound?

“They certainly do, and we’re very proud of that, but when there are bands like Meshuggah where it’s pretty much pointless for anyone else to try and follow their path. It’s next to impossible, and it can never be as good... We don’t want to sacrifice the connection that someone might have with a song, or a part, by rushing into a technical overload. That can throw people off. We do take these bands as an example, as something to look up too, but we take a different approach. It’s the easiest thing to come up with a great riff, but put five of them in a row and try and make them work together. That’s the hard part when it comes to song writing as far as we re concerned.”

What tracks of “Dark Matter, Energy Noir” are you particularly fond of and why?

“We tend to have a common liking for the last track, “When Strife and Greed Collide”. It’s a track a lot less complicated than it might initially sound, but it has a certain vibe to it, that we would like to explore further in the future. It talks to different depths musically as far as I m concerned in comparison to the rest of the album. It takes some time to "sit", but once it does, there are things one can discover with every other listen.”

The enigmatic title of the record “Dark Matter, Energy Noir” seems to underlie a certain elaborated lyrical concept. Do you care to explain the thematic behind the album’s lyrics?

“The lyrics vary to some certain extent, as in that there is no strict concept that needed to be followed. Each song has its own life and character, which kind of dictates what direction the lyrics should go. We try and do justice to the feel that each track has, and then follow it lyrically. It’s a perception-based way to go about putting words and meanings on top of your music. The lyrics don’t play around personal demons. They are based on observation and experience of the ways that negativity could be turned around into something creative and cathartic. A sort of cleansing the mind through the art of music. We can’t overlook all the "darkness" that roams around our world in the times we live, but unless we do something about it, something positive, it will completely take over. It’s easy to point the finger and lash out on the anger and darker emotions that are a natural reaction to the state of the world, but we’d rather use our cognitive intellect, and avoid primal instincts. Nothing will come out by passing the blame on to others as we all have an equal share of blame for what goes on in our lives, society and the world in general.”

Mencea is confirmed to play at this year’s Inferno Festival in Norway, so what other activities can we expect from the band in the near future?

“We are on the lookout for a European tour at the moment. We don’t want to delay that too much, as we want to start writing material for our next album soon, and get enough time to do a couple of rounds of preproduction. Other than that, we are booked for the Metal Hammer UK sponsored Hammerfest in April, and also the Inferno Festival Kickoff Party in February, in Oslo. We will be shooting a video for the track “Ardad”, which should emerge around March as well, so a lot of updates and news should be coming soon from our part.”

More info at: