Interview: Akis Pastras (Dexter Ward)

As you probably already know, all of us are fervent fans of Greek/Italian epic heavy metal band Dexter Ward that this year crafted a true masterpiece called III. That’s why it’s a great pleasure for us to publish our second interview with a member of this outfit: Akis Pastras plays guitar on all Dexter Ward releases since their first demo in 2010. Besides, he was producer of Battleroar’s amazing self-titled debut LP (2003) – where he was also responsible for the mixing – and guitar player of On Thorns I Lay (2017-2020). Furthermore, he works as stage manager at Up The Hammers Festival, founded by his bandmate Manolis Karazeris with whom I talked a few days earlier. Enjoy reading! (Featured image by Florian Hille)

Akis, many thanks for your time. How are you doing?

Hi André. Thank you for supporting our effort as a band. It’s really nice to see that some people enjoy our music. This is what makes us continue as a band and write music, straight from our heart. Right now, I’m waiting (as everyone else on this planet) to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I hope that all this madness enters the last chapter.

Yeah, enough is enough…

I really hope we will see the closing credits soon. Meanwhile, I’m working every day (day job) and I’m trying to fit some parallel activities on my schedule because family/job comes first. I’m studying »History Of Greek Civilization«, I’m working on a personal music project that is darker and heavier than our Dexter Ward stuff and I’m working on some audio engineering and video editing projects, too.  

Well, I think you have to talk with my colleague Aidan (Divine Victim) about your study, by the way. He’s currently studying »History« and »Ancient Culture/Classical Philology«. Could be a nice interview, too. But, back to topic: 2020 was a complete disaster, no doubt about it. Fortunately, there were some great releases. Which records would you like to point out as highlights?

Yes, indeed… 2020 was a disaster but it shines through the music that was released during this period. I had the honor of being part of two great releases during 2020. The Dexter Ward III album, as well as the On Thorns I Lay – Threnos album (I’m not part of the band anymore).

So, 2020 was a busy musical year for me. So there is not so much time for me to listen to a lot of  music, as long as my activities are so stressful. But I’d like to point out some albums that really made it for me, and they are part of my list during my walk to my day job. 

  • Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void. I think this is the album of the year, for sure. This is one of the greatest come-back albums of all time. It’s a masterpiece.
  • Next is Paradise Lost Obsidian. I think it’s an awesome sequence of great albums for the British act and I’m really happy for them. 
  • Hail Spirit Noir – Eden In Reverse is my last addition to my music list. Really great album for my compatriots from Salonica.
  • As for the »traditional« sound I have to mention High Spirits Hard To Stop (majestic heavy metal craftsmanship), Hittman Destroy All Humans (awesome U.S. Metal pureness – Dirk is a huge singer) and Wytch Hazel III: Pentecost (the British Lion is back again). 
Akis Pastras: »I think this is the album of the year, for sure.«

Great pick, Akis! What do you think of the current Greek metal scene? Are there any young bands that you would like to recommend?

I think that the current Greek metal scene is the greatest metal scene that our country ever had. Plenty of  bands, plenty of styles and, most important, great crafted albums, they can keep up with any other band in the world. Don’t misunderstand my words: I’ve been saying that since many years: the Greek sound was the Achilles’ heel. There were some really great albums back then, but the sound was the biggest problem where the Greek bands suffered in competition with all these great sounding records of their time. Now everything is on a high-end level and the youngest musicians are really good educated. Meanwhile, the older bands are at the highest level worldwide when we are talking about professionalism. I have to admit that I’m really happy that the extreme Greek bands (Varathron, Rotting Christ, Septic Flesh, Dead Congregation, Nightfall, On Thorns I Lay etc) are still making some really great records and our metallers Innerwish, Suicidal Angels, Firewind, Battleroar etc are at the highest level, too. There are some really great new Greek bands out there that you have to check out, as Sacral RageSacred Outcry (even if their album was on the closet for 20 years), EndomainBlack Soul Horde, Achelous, Calyces, just to name some…

I think that the current Greek metal scene is the greatest metal scene that our country ever had. Plenty of  bands, plenty of styles and, most important, great crafted albums, they can keep up with any other band in the world.

Metal from Hellas!

You’re a founding member of Dexter Ward, one of my favourite traditional metal bands. I would like to talk with you about your three full-length records. But, at first, a very important question: How are Dexter Ward songs generally created? 

I’m really glad that you like our band so much!!! It means a lot for us. So the Dexter Ward laboratory of music is simple: We are a 4/5 Greek band and a 1/5 Italian band. So this is our biggest problem. We have to create music from the distance. We are collecting riffs and demos and at the end we are making the pre-production of our new album. The biggest part of our songs is basically the result of Marco’s ideas. We noticed that he can work out his vocal lines better, if he has the freedom of choice. During all these years, Marco worked on some songs that we gave him but this is not the Dexter Ward way. Marco sets the sequence of riffs he wants to sing on, he is making a demo of them and then the Greek part of our band is working on the pre-production. We have three full-length albums that we created as band in a similar way. But anyone can hear the progress of our sound during all these years. Neon Lights was a »hurry up« album. Manolis and Marco had some songs already at a demo version, when they left Battleroar. So when me and the other guys joined the band, we had some time to find our way in this new situation. I was not busy with traditional heavy metal music back in 2009. My style was really out of this genre for so many years. So I had to find a way to communicate again with all this »heavy metal guitar work« that I left behind for a decade and more. Neon Lights is the first touch on the traditional sound since I engineered Battleroar’s debut album back in 2003.

Battleroar – s/t (2003): Production and mixing by Akis Pastras.

I think anyone can listen that Neon Lights is a raw album, plenty of U.S. metal crafting that represents the whole experimentation of this era. Then Rendezvous with Destiny came and the whole thing was cleaner and more sterile. I made the pre-production of the album, was collecting some ideas/songs from Marco’s demos and some ideas from my riff closet, along with Manolis. We ended up with nine songs, we decided to record them in Devasoundz Studios with Fotis Benardo and Thimios Krikos. Thimios mixed and mastered the whole album and I think it was a huge step for the Dexter sound.

Definitely! This album sounds great.

The songs are powerful and the production is what makes this album a nice sounding record. But I think that the III album represents the whole atmosphere of the Dexter Ward camp. This time we found the Dexter sound. Although Rendezvous is a great sounding record, III is our sound. Because we had the time to work on the songs smoothly and due to a hiatus era, Marco came in like a bull in a china shop.

Haha, I see, it couldn’t go wrong!

Yes, he came with some songs that allowed us to mix up some different elements of which our band is made of. So I took the demos and I made the pre-production again. But this time, we decided to make this record as an inside job. I made the production, too, and I mixed the album from start to finish. This was an opportunity for us to capture our live sound. There were some great live reviews about our Rendezvous promotional live gigs during our mini European tour. The comments focussed on the extra heavy and powerful live sound that we didn’t have on our previous albums. So I was trying to capture our live sound for this record.

Well, you’ve managed that.

We had plenty of time to do it, so I think it was the best way to make this record sound like the Dexters. Besides, we received a really full dynamic mastering from Bart Gabriel and the rest is history.   

This time we found the Dexter sound.

Akis Pastras about III.

What’s your opinion on your aforementioned debut lp called Neon Lights, in general? I must confess that I like it, of course, but – in my opinion – the following albums are stronger, especially III.

As I said before, Neon Lights was a »hurry-up« album. It was already done in a demo version from Marco and Manolis. The rest of us just »covered« the demo version, and we made the record just like this. The following albums are stronger because we had plenty of time, and we found each other during our live shows until we entered the studio for Rendezvous. The III album is a result of a decade in which we played Dexter Ward’s music all over Europe during all these years. So it is obvious that the chemistry between us is now like meat and potatoes. But I have to admit that the Neon Lights songs are very pleasant to play at a live gig. You can hear the energy of the songs when they are combined with our newest stuff. Our live setlists are full of Neon Lights songs. Some of them are trademarks and we can’t ignore them when we are making our set. For example »Metal Rites«, »Ghost Rider« or »Back to Saigon«.

»Return of the Longships« is a great one, too, if you ask me… Manolis told me a few days ago that »Stone Age Warrior«, the second number on Rendezvous with Destiny is a bit underrated. Do you agree? And what’s your opinion on »Knights of Jerusalem«, my favourite composition on your second full-length record?

For me, »Stone Age Warrior« is the precursor of what we did on our new album. We mixed the epic style along with the traditional heavy metal elements in this tune. It is a bombastic song, especially when we think of a live gig. It has some of the finest guitar elements that I have ever played in my life, and the whole rhythm section acts, what we call, »purely epic«. As for »Knights of Jerusalem«, I have to admit that it is one of my favorite songs because it came from long ago, when I made some stuff with my previous band Add The River. It was a song that I created back in 2004, and it was too heavy for this band because we were a heavy rock act. So it was like…. »Nice song, dude, but we are not an epic metal band!« So it came up when we were collecting stuff for the Rendezvous album, and Marco said that he wanted to make some vocal lines over it. He came with this huge vocal layers over the chord progressions and the rest is history. This is one of the songs that was not from Marco’s arsenal – as I said before on your »How are Dexter Ward songs generally created?« question. 

As we said many times on this blog, our team loves III. Could you please tell us your favourite composition?

It is like you want me to cut a finger… I love every moment of this record because I spent a huge amount of time to create it (pre-production, recordings, editing, mix, video editing for »Return of the Blades« and »Demonslayer«). Every note on this record is like my child. Although, if I have to choose a song…

You have to choose, indeed, Akis!

Well, I believe I have to pick up »In the Days of Epic Metal«. I’m proud of this song and I think it is the best Dexter Ward song ever. Besides, I believe there are the best guitar layers I have ever recorded as a guitar player, in my opinion. 

I’m proud of this song and I think it is the best Dexter Ward song ever.

Akis Pastras about »In the Days of Epic Metal«.

How did you experience the feedback on your latest output? Do generally often read reviews?

The feedback is great. I think the reviewers are writing down what we, the band, feel regarding this album. That it is our best so far. I believe that the III album is our best album because it has all the elements of a record that can define a band. I mean Neon and Rendezvous have great songs but there’s a lack of homogeneity. ΙΙΙ is a solid album, telling the story that Rendezvous missed at the end of the race. In »Knights of Jerusalem« Marco sings »let us tell you the truth in the story«. I believe truth was told in the lines of III. I generally read reviews because I was part of a Greek metal magazine called Metaleagle back in the mid 00’s. It was the time when I was not in a band so I made some reviews on some albums from this era. It was a great time and it helped me to make some good friends as the result of this activity. I stopped doing this after joining Dexter Ward. So, yes! I often read reviews!!!

On our blog, we mainly focus on epic metal. How would you define this genre? And what are, in your opinion, the five best epic metal records of all time?

Epic metal, in my opinion, has to do with the lyric part. Because I think the musical part can’t define the elements that can represent the heroic activity. The musical parts can be described as doom, heavy, power or speed, but I believe the fact that a band is acting like an epic metal band has to do with the lyrical part. Heroes, wars and internal struggle can describe an epic song, although the sound can represent many styles of music. So if I have to pick the five best epic metal records, I have to say:

  • BathoryHammerheart
  • ManowarHail to England
  • CandlemassNightfall
  • WarlordDeliver Us
  • Solitude AeturnusBeyond the Crimson Horizon
»At the Gallows End« from Nightfall (performed live at Sweden Rock Festival 2008, Robert Lowe on vocals)

Not the »typical epic metal« list…

But a very good one! Let’s focus on your instrument: Which guitarists have influenced you the most?

I picked up the guitar at the age of 12 I think, after I heard Ozzy Osbourne’s Tribute. It was the game changer for me, and I remember that I said »What The F@ck Is This? I Want To Play Guitar!!!« Randy Rhoads was the guy that injected me with the love for electric guitar playing. He is the king of heavy metal guitar playing. He was the reason that rock guitar playing passed to the fields of heavy metal. Eddie Van Halen was the king of hard rock guitar, but Randy was the king of heavy metal. So as you can see, these two Californian guys influenced me the most. Randy and Eddie. But I have to mention my other hero David Gilmour, too. Gilmour’s bluesy approach on his lead layers are the highest quality of guitar composition a man ever reached.

I totally agree with you! David is still my favourite guitar player of all time.

So you may say: What the hell are you doing in a band like Dexter Ward? I think that you can hear a lot of influences from those three guys in my guitar playing on every Dexter Ward album. After all… music is an entire universe… Genres were made for journalists, I think!    

Randy Rhoads was the guy that injected me with the love for electric guitar playing. He is the king of heavy metal guitar playing.

R.I.P., Randy.
The »game changer« for Akis (BB)

Interesting topic for another interview, perhaps… When did you buy your first guitar? And what’s your favourite model today?

My first electric guitar was a red Aria Pro II back in 1989. I was 13 years old, and I couldn’t recreate the heavy sound with an old mini acoustic guitar that a friend of mine gave me. So I told my parents that I wanted an electric guitar. They told me that I have to find a summer job in order to collect an amount of money for that. And I did…. My first high-end guitar was a Fender USA Stratocaster that I bought back in 1999. I still have it and it is my main guitar. I love the Strats, especially Super Strats. I have a Gibson Les Paul Studio, too, and I believe I don’t need any other guitar. Fenders and Gibsons made the sound of heavy music from the 70’s ‘til now. I’ve tried out so many guitars all these years, on studio recordings and live gigs. When you plug a Fender or a Gibson on a Marshall, nothing can go wrong. Actually, this is the heavy rock/metal sound. 

When you plug a Fender or a Gibson on a Marshall, nothing can go wrong. Actually, this is the heavy rock/metal sound. 

Akis Pastras

Last question: What’s your view on social media platforms? Do you think that they are very useful for a band like Dexter Ward?

For sure. This is the way that »music business« acts! Good or bad, if you’re not on Facebook,  YouTube, Spotify or Apple Music, nobody can find you. For bands like Dexter Ward, this is the way to reach listeners. We don’t have the financial background to make tours every year. So we have to make a new fan base through social media. It’s not necessary bad. It’s the digital era and we have to get used to it. This is the future. After all, if there was no Facebook or YouTube, we woudn’t be right here in front of a computer, changing ideas and communicate about our favorite music. So it’s a win-win situation. I’m sure big brands of the music business are losing money from that, so maybe we have to forget about new arena bands in the future. But it’s ok for me. I can live with that.

I prefer club shows anyway, for me that’s not loss.

There is so much technology and know-how out there, that anyone can write, record and publish music for anyone. There are so many garbage-bands out there, too, because of that. But I think great music will find its way to reach the audience that will »understand«.   

I’m quite optimistic about that! Akis, thanks again. Stay healthy – and see you on the road soon!

Stay healthy and strong! I hope we will meet at a gig soon! Thanks for your time and supporting bands like Dexter Ward! Cheers!

Cheers, Akis!

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