The well-lit corners of SoCal desert serve as a unique refuge for five lords of “assassin dagger cult” hellbent on darkness, destruction, and paying homage to the black metal greats, collectively known as Sicarius. Spilling out of their home state with the recent release of Serenade of Slitting Throats on M-Theory Audio and plans to support the likes of 1349 and Goatwhore, the neotraditional feat has been garnering success after a deliberate journey of hustling tracks and building up membership one by one in a small town otherwise devoid of a cohesive black metal scene. To learn more about the unique set of challenges and rewards that come with operating an old school black metal unit in 2017, I spoke with guitarist and founding member, Argyris, in an interview that speaks for itself.
DIAG: I saw that Sicarius has been around since 2014, so just a couple of years. What does your history look like so far and what’s the story of how you guys got together?
A: I guess we started our first song in January of 2014, and it was literally just me. We had no direction with it. I had just gotten out of the Marines and I was doing a bouncer job in the evenings for extra money. I was just talking with one of the regulars and we found out we both listened to metal. I told him about who I listened to and that I needed a drummer and a bass player and stuff like that. Then, a couple of days later, a dude walks in wearing an Emperor t-shirt, and I have an Emperor tattoo, so I was like oh fuck. In our area of California that shit is very rare. We live in a very rural conservative town. There’s hardly any shows out here. Metal fans are super scarce. So, him and I had a few beers and ended up talking and it turned out he’s a bass player. The next thing you know, we’re in his garage writing this shit. So that’s where it started; it was just us for a while and then three months later the other guitar player, Merihim, started.
We used to peddle our demo around. Now this was ghetto. We’d go to shows and get there early and we’d be waiting in line. I remember we were at a Behemoth show and we were waiting for the doors to open and we started pinpointing people. We’d put our phones up to their ears and be like check this shit out and some people thought it was cool. So those were our demo days and that’s how we started getting people in on it. Then I think a year went by and we still didn’t have a drummer. Like, those songs had no fucking drums on them. We finally got a drummer like a month after we got our vocalist and we recorded the EP that we did in 2015. Since then it’s been pretty much non-stop. We played two shows at the tail end of 2015 and then played about 30 shows in 2016 in different areas of California. At the end of 2016 is when we started finishing the scratch tracks for the debut that we just released Friday.
DIAG: It’s funny that you touched on the Emperor tattoo and how that’s a rarity in California. That’s kind of what caught my attention about Sicarius–besides, of course, your music–in that when I usually think about black metal in California I think about, like, Deafheaven. I don’t think as much about old school stuff.
A: I actually have yet to see anything like that. In our region there’s not much post-black metal. But, in Southern California in general you have to factor in that you’ve got San Diego, which is like 45 minutes south of us, you’ve got Orange County, you’ve got L.A. and stuff like that. L.A. has got a rabid black metal scene. A lot of those bands are good to go. You’ve got Icon of Phobos, Highland, and just tons of very underground, dark old school black metal bands. Orange County is kind of split because you’ve got super lo-fi black metal guys like Coldvoid and then you’ve got ultra-symphonic, like our labelmates Empyrean Throne. But in our particular town, there’s nothing. There’s a huge demand for it for sure, and that’s kind of where we shine in that if you want something genuine–no disrespect to anybody, but I’m not a Deafheaven fan–we make it a goal of ours to keep it in tradition with what we grew up listening to.
DIAG: I think there’s also something to be said for cornering your own market in your town. I’m sure there are a lot of kids looking up to you.
A: You would think that, but the problem with our area is that there’s one venue in the Temecula-Murrieta-Lake Elsinore region. It’s called Boiler Room, I believe. They put on a few shows, but it’s super random and very hidden. There’s also a lot of 18 and up, so we have yet to reach out to that market. All our shit is generally 21 and up, so all of these kids who want to see us can’t see us yet. It’s weird, but it’s hypercompetitive and I’m hypercompetitive.
DIAG: So traditional black metal is, obviously, rooted in nature and so on. Sicarius is surrounded by a very different kind of nature that I think you could argue is equally as intense as Scandinavian winters — you’ve got the blaring sun and droughts and earthquakes and endless highways. Do those factors play into your music at all?
A: Yeah, absolutely. I love that question, actually. I’ve seen it before because my favorite band is Rotting Christ. My family is from Greece, too. I remember in that book Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult (2013) Dayal Patterson asked them that same question. I think it does play into it because it’s hot out here all the goddamned time. People think it’s sunny California, but it’s like fuck you, this is perpetual desert where we’re at. When we recorded the album my impression was that it was very stuffy and very sweltering and I could feel that anger and rage and pissed off attitude. The heat just pisses you off all the time and it’s like fuck, it’s December; can I at least get 40 degrees?
DIAG: Do you think extreme music is dying or do you see yourself as being a part of a larger revival?
A: I feel like it kind of goes both ways. I think a lot of people are really interested in terms of checking out new bands, but it’s substantially harder. Nothing pisses me off more than seeing people post stop fucking sharing your band with me; I don’t want to check it out. Thanks for contributing, asshole. I would never do that. If someone sends me an email or a private message asking me to check out their shit I will literally always give them a shot because you never know when it’s going to blow your mind. I love hearing stuff about how easy it is these days because of the internet and social media for a band to blow up. Fuck no it’s not. It might have been easy in 2006 when Myspace was brand new and that was the hot new way to find bands, but now it’s so been there/done that, oversaturated that nobody cares anymore. Nobody gives a shit.
Out here in California, well, I’m not trying to mass-blanket the scene, but I feel like that because there’s so much metal in Southern California that it’s so oversaturated that people are kind of spoiled. They’ll see you one month and then be like ah, I don’t need to go see them next month because they’ll play the next six. So if it seems like people are losing interest it’s because there’s so much going on that their brains don’t know how to process it. Plus, a lot of the bigger bands are coming out with a lot of stuff that’s just sort of bland.
But, on the other hand, I feel like American black metal is kind of rising up. For instance, if you look at a band like Uada–they’re from Portland, Oregon–those guys are conquering the world right now. They were direct support for Emperor at one of the big European festivals this past summer and then they’re playing another festival next spring and they’re doing direct support for Emperor again, and Satyricon and Obituary. It’s going to be Inferno 2018. They’re not even that old. I mean, a couple of the band members have been in bands before, but Uada only formed a few months after us and they’ve blown the fuck up. So, I feel like there is a new interest in American black metal because a lot of the younger bands are just super hungry. I mean obviously, it’s a mixed bag. You’re going to get one out of six Darkthrone clones. But, a lot of these newer, younger black metal bands out of America want our moment to shine and to represent our country in that kind of way.
DIAG: There’s certainly a lot of interesting stuff coming out of the Northwest these days. So tell me a little about your black metal identity — your name and how you’ve developed it.
A: What name? Sicarius?
DIAG: No, your pseudonym personally.
A: Argyris? Oh, that’s my name. It’s very Greek.
DIAG: This is awkward.
A: No, no. Everyone thinks it’s a pseudonym and I have to pull out my ID. That’s my name. It’s been butchered for 30 years.
DIAG: I’m so sorry. I have a really long Italian last name and I don’t even try to use it anymore, so I understand your frustrations there.
A: No, it happens all the time; trust me. Everyone thinks it’s this super made up black metal name, but it’s just the name my parents gave me.
DIAG: It’s interesting because I was curious to hear the modern take on what it’s like to have your own life and then your black metal identity and if they blend together at all — but I guess they’re sort of one in the same, aren’t they?
A: I’m the same person. Obviously, when the paint goes on and we’re on stage and it’s game time I go into a completely different mindset. But, I feel like I’m approachable enough where anybody can talk to me and if anyone wants a picture I’m like yeah dude, absolutely. But yeah, I feel like it all bleeds together for the most part. I’ve been in the black metal scene for a long time, since I was 15, so it’s always been a part of me. I hate to say it but I’m 31 and the majority of my wardrobe is black metal tshirts. I’m going to school to be a welder so I’m always working with metal I guess. For the most part, especially me and Carnage, the bass player, we just breathe this shit.
DIAG: I feel like since there’s so much grandiosity surrounding black metal that a lot of the technical aspects of the music get a little bit overshadowed. Are there any traditional black metal guitarists who you look up to or emulate, or is there anything that particularly inspires your songwriting?
A: For me personally–and this is always going to bleed into Sicarius’ songwriting being that I write a lot of it–definitely Sakis Tolis from Rotting Christ. I’m a massive fan. I’ve met him a few times and he always gets blown away when I speak Greek to him; he thinks it’s the coolest shit ever. He’s definitely a big inspiration because he writes pretty much all of Rotting Christ’s music, so I look up to that. The bands I’m really inspired by are the bands who really say ‘fuck the rules.’ I feel like Dani Filth from Cradle of Filth really said it best when he said that there’s no fucking rules in black metal, and I wholeheartedly agree. There are no rules.
There are going to be some identifying factors that are directly correlated with black metal; the specific kind of riffs that are involved and the type of vocals. There’s also always going to be the direct tie in with the occult and very dark spiritual forces, mythology — stuff like that. A lot of black metal bands are satanists. But for me personally, I always respected guitar players and songwriters who said ‘I’m going to do black metal my way.’ Another example would be Blasphemer-era Mayhem — Rune Eriksen from Aura Noir. I fucking love that era of Mayhem. A lot of people talk shit about Grand Declaration of War (2000), but he had the balls to do his own fucking thing, and if you listen to it, it’s all so technical. There’s a lot going on in terms of the guitar playing. It’s very tasteful.
Sometimes I feel like less is more when it comes to the songwriting process. If you can capture something with a basic riff, then why not? Why try to jumble it up?
DIAG: Sure. I appreciate the Cradle of Filth reference as well.
A: Cradle of Filth gets so much fucking shit. But, they did exactly what they were going to do — play gothic-style music. It’s not like it’s a fucking surprise. That quote from Dani Filth really resonated with me
because black metal has always been about rebelling against those established rules. While Sicarius has tried to keep the identity of the band and the aesthetic of the band and even the music within the black metal genre, I do enjoy writing in the style that we write in because I feel like it’s something a little different.
DIAG: I agree. I also really enjoyed the video for Ferox Impetum. What really stuck out to me is that it includes real war clips. I know you said you were in the military.
A: Some of that is actually from my private collection. I was in Afghanistan in 2012. A couple of those clips were from real operations that I was on. But, a lot of it is from stuff that we found. It was actually the idea of the director, Andrew Knudsen from Empyrean Throne. We were shopping around ideas and he’s always had a very artistic mind — very visual. If you look at Empyrean Throne’s videos they’re very heavy with the visuals. He went to film school. So, we were talking and thinking about how we wanted to do it, the color scheme, and so on, and then the lightbulb clicked and he was like dude, do you have any footage from when you were in [the military]? He was talking about Syrian rebel stuff, stuff from the first operation in Iraq in 2003, and then some of my stuff, so we just peppered all of it in there and I thought it came out pretty rad. We weren’t sure how far we could get away with it. I even asked our label president, Marco. I love working for that guy because he understands what we’re trying to go for. He doesn’t restrict us at all. I asked him how much we could get away with and he was like you’re fucking Sicarius; do what you want. We were iffy at first because there are some executions in there and dead bodies, but he approved it and then two days later YouTube put a fucking restriction on it. But, whatever.
DIAG: I’ve never seen anything like that before in a black metal video. In, like, a System of a Down video, maybe. Usually black metal is chasing more of the fantasy of violence and destruction, but this is more of like the true horror of the world that’s all around us.
A: I do want to be very adamant that there’s no political statement in it. I’m vehemently against politics in metal. I think it’s fucking retarded. That’s just my opinion. There’s no political leaning on it, and the whole point is that from the day that we started this, we just wanted to make uncompromising, murderous black metal that emphasizes heavily on violence and bad shit. “Ferox Impetum” is Latin for ferocious assault. If you look at the lyrical content, it’s pretty much a battle anthem and it just kind of panned out that we picked all of those war clips to put in there. I like how it turned out, but, again, I just have to be very adamant that there’s no political stance there. We don’t believe in anything; we’re just here for the violence.
DIAG: In the great debate space, Facebook, I’ve seen a lot of discourse about the ethics surrounding, say, Nazi-punching and so on, and the ethics surrounding violence more generally. Do you think violence serves a purpose in society?
A: Violence is always a great solution in my opinion, but there has to be some common sense. Is punching Nazis okay? Sure. Our grandfathers did way worse things to them in World War II. But is punching Antifa okay? Abso-fucking-lutely. They’re both the same pieces of shit, and I hope Antifa readers get that. It’s absolutely fine to punch a Nazi, but there’s also no excuse to hide behind communism and trying to say what you’re doing is the right thing. I think both sides are in the wrong. I usually stay pretty firmly in the middle and take a very common sense approach to that kind of stuff. So, to answer your question, yes and yes.
DIAG: I’ll leave you with an open platform to share the next stages of Sicarius.
A: We’ve got some touring in the works — nothing I can really discuss at the moment, but it’s something for people to look at for, and it’s with a pretty established headliner. Our next show is going to be in Las Vegas, which we’re really stoked for because it’s going to be our first show out of California. Of all the times for it to be our first show like that, we’re going to be supporting 1349 and Goatwhore and Tombs, so that’s going to be absolutely killer. I’m a huge Goatwhore fan, and 1349, too. It’s really cool because they’re not even on tour together, they’re just doing a few select dates together, so I think it’s really rad we ended up getting on one of those. So we have that, and then we have a show on December 16, which I want to say is in Los Angeles. From there, we’ll take a break for the holidays and then we’ll be getting ready for tour. Serenade of Slitting Throats — it’s out worldwide. Everybody pick it up.
You can find Jenna listening to black metal and wearing black clothes on instagram.
Tune in next week to Thirsty Thursday for more from Jenna!