Death metal needs a life force, and Nile got exactly that when they happened upon Greek-born drummer George Kollias. A multi-instrumentalist of prodigious technical wizardry, by the time he joined the band in 2004, Kollias had already been much talked about for his seemingly superhuman precision and speed in a number of Greek rock and extreme metal bands including Nightfall and Sickening Horror. The first of Nile’s four drummers to play on more than one of the trio’s full-lengths, Kollias has now recorded four albums with the band, including Annihilation Of The Wicked, Ithyphallic, Those Whom The Gods Detest, and the certifiably wicked new At The Gate Of Sethu.
The extent of Kollias’ impact behind a kit is evident in how he got the Nile gig: The rest of the bandmembers were so impressed after they saw a single video he’d played on, they hired him without an audition. “And I was in the band for two months before I started actually playing with them, so that was pretty funny,” Kollias says. “When we played for the first time, it was a very good experience. I knew that was my gig. I said, ’I’m here to stay.’”
Kollias is an accomplished musician who’s also an instructor at Modern Music School, in Athens, a worldwide drum clinician, and the creator of an instructional DVD titled Intense Metal Drumming (2008) (there’s a volume two out imminently). He’s so accomplished, in fact, that his rapid rise in the music business seems a bit like fate. Yet Kollias hadn’t exactly been pushed by his family and friends toward a career as a professional drummer. “There were no musicians, no drummer friends, no nothing,” he laughs. “We had no musicians in the family, except for my brother, who’s a guitar player, and the reason I play guitar as well.”
He’d started with guitar when he was ten years old, and was crazy for drums, too, but he couldn’t afford to buy a “real” drum set. When he finally managed to get his hands on a used kit at age 12, that was it – he was hooked. He has, he says, no logical explanation for it. “I don’t know why that happened to me; I just wanted to play drums. And from the day when I got my first kit, I was a drummer! Every day I feel like a drummer.”
That first drum set, a cheapo, non-brand sort of thing, was fine for a while, but when Kollias had saved up the scratch to get a set of Pearl Exports, things started to get serious. “It was actually my first ’semi-pro’ drum set, my first nice drums,” he says. “And from that day I’ve been a Pearl drummer.”
Though Kollias is mostly self-taught, he did take some early valuable lessons – from a guitar player. “There were no drum teachers in Korinthos, the city I was born in. I started with a guitarist who taught me how to read basic drum notation. Other than that it was mostly ear training and listening to music a lot and trying to understand what the drummers were doing.”
He reckons that there being no YouTube with which to study drummers’ techniques visually when he was coming up, it was a good thing because it forced him to train by ear. “I started to listen, and forming explanations in my head for everything the drummer does – and then tried to play everything he was doing.”
Kollias mentored for a year with Greek jazz drummer Yannis Stavropoulos, which was the beginning of a new musical mind for him, radically expanding his playing style and, crucially, his attitude toward the instrument’s possibilities. But even after a few stints in relatively popular Greek bands, he hadn’t decided whether or not he’d become a professional drummer. In fact, he’d definitely decided against it. “I didn’t want to be a professional musician,” he says with a grin, “mostly because I was feeling people were saying musicians don’t make money.” Even so, from the start he’d been determined to act like a professional musician, an attitude that he’s maintained throughout his career.
When the offer from Nile came, however, Kollias’ feelings about going pro did an abrupt about-face. “The first money I made from music was when I started playing with Nile. And I decided, yes, I’m a professional musician.”
Kollias’ explosive blastbeats in Nile bear traces of his early fascination with drummers in wildly varying genres, from the varying strands of metal-aligned bands like Metallica, Sepultura, and his beloved Kreator, to hard rock crews like Def Leppard and jazzers such as Jack DeJohnette. The point is, he listened to everything, and learned.
“Today I still get so much influence from everybody that’s played,” he says. “I used to listen mostly to my favorite bands’ drummers, but right now I’m just looking for great players. And there are too many to mention – thousands.”
The techniques of the great jazz players that might’ve impacted Kollias maybe aren’t so apparent in his playing with Nile. “You can’t really play death metal with traditional grip,” he says. “Well, it can be done, but you’re going to get so tired. And it’s not going to work trying to impart dynamics that way, because death metal is a flat music, you got to have the same volume all the way through a song.”