Athens Rocks 2023 – Ghost, Rotting Christ, Candlemass, Typhus 25/6/2023, ΟΑΚΑ, Αθήνα


“You do realize we’re watching history in the making, right? A top band at the best time of their career.” Something like this is what my friend and another editor of our webzine, Sakis Nikas, said to me, at the moment when Ghost left us with our mouths hanging open. And of course I couldn’t disagree. A much anticipated concert in a beautifully appointed venue and with a cloudy sky that was just what we needed to keep the sun from beating down on our heads.

Right on time (like all the other bands) the Greeks Typhus hit the stage. I had seen them once before, when they were still called Nuclear Terror. A solid performance from the speed/thrashers, very good technique from all members with my only objection being the “squeaky” vocals which I never liked. They easily managed to warm up the crowd that had gathered early in front of the stage. In the end, they even chanted their name rhythmically as a great reward for their performance.

Followed by a legendary band that was a magnet for many of their fans. The doomsters Candlemass started off very strong with two classics, “Mirror Mirror” and “Bewitched”, that even I who never had any exposure to their music found myself humming as many lyrics as I could remember. A very strong performance by the way, they have a huge amount of experience in this aspect anyway, but at one point I just waited for it to end. I’ve seen them once before in 2005 with Messiah Marcolin on vocals, so I can’t objectively judge them. But their fans certainly had a great time and it showed in their reactions. They closed with the historic “Solitude” and left the stage to a standing ovation.

I have said and written so much about Rotting Christ that followed and I don’t think I have anything new to add. The most important and successful Greek band was once again flawless and professional. Sakis probably has more passion and punch than when he started, great energy and performance from the young Kostas Heliotis on bass and Kostis Foukarakis on guitar (who contributed with backing vocals) and Themis as always solid behind his drum kit. The setlist had no surprises and was focused on their last four releases with the exception of the legendary “Non Serviam” and of course the cover of “Societas Satanas” by Thou Art Lord, which I believe Sakis has regretted not putting it on a Rotting Christ album. They have not reached this point here by chance and this was evident from the way they have managed to win over people who generally don’t listen to extreme music. I hope to see them again soon at a headline show of their own.

Setlist: 666, Kata Ton Daimona Eaftou, Fire God And Fear, Dub-Sag-Ta-Ke, Daimonon Vrosis, Societas Satanas (Thou Art Lord), Non Serviam, In Yumen-Xibalba, Grandis Spiritus Diavolos, The Raven, Noctis Era

What followed is not easy to describe. With a Catholic church-style backdrop, Ghost with Papa Emeritus IV (aka Tobias Forge), prominently featured, gave a seminar performance. It’s no coincidence either for them to reach such high slots in the biggest festivals. When you can afford to play the anthem “Cirice” (easily in their top five songs) in the first half hour and not put on a below par show afterwards, it accurately indicates the great quality that exists in the material and of course in the band itself. Ghost did everything perfectly. Crystal clear sound (as in the other bands), Tobias with his frequent costume changes was in great spirits and excellent in his vocal duties and of course the rest of the members, seven in total, contributed a lot to this evening.

Their fans created a great atmosphere with their loud voices (although the place got a bit sparce after Rotting Christ) and their love for the band was shown in the fact that many people painted their faces like one of Tobias’ personas. Highlights included the AOR-ish “Spillways”, the awesome “Rats”, the party anthem “Dance Macabre”, the creepiness in “Cirice” with its very fitting red lighting, the unthinkable performance of “Year Zero” with the fires, the instrumental “Miasma” during which two roadies brought a “dead” ex-Pope on stage and after he came back to life he played a little saxophone before he left again standing up on his bed and the closing with the huge “Square Hammer” which I really didn’t expect to hear. I should note that Tobias thanked all the bands that preceded him by name as well as everyone who worked to put this particular gig together. Excellent.

Setlist: Kaisarion, Rats, Faith, Spillways, Cirice, Hunter’s Moon, Ritual, Watcher In The Sky, Year Zero, Miasma, Mary On A Cross, Mummy Dust, Respite On The Spitalfields, Kiss The Go-Goat, Dance Macabre, Square Hammer

So did we see history in the making? Oh yeah! Ghost was fantastic in every way and we would have easily listened to them no matter how much longer they played. I honestly don’t think anyone left unhappy after a performance like that. Here of course I have to give a lot of credit to the organisation for a very specific reason. The closing time. In a country where big (and not only) concerts follow a bouzouki logic and end long after midnight, Athens Rocks ended at 23:00 with a five minute walk from the electric train station and people were able to get home in time without needing transportation or a taxi. Well done and I hope others will follow suit, although I wouldn’t keep my hopes up on this one…

George Terzakis

Photos: Cristina Alossi