NEW YORK – When greedy landlords drive young artists out of Manhattan, places like Astoria reap the benefits – like the CD release show of Porphyra, the local heavy metal rock group with a Hellenic edge.
Gus Pappas spotted Astoria’s need for music venue. He hired Ozzie Mortanis in 2012 to build the stage in the back of his Gussy’s Bar & Grille, where he is thrilled to present young Greek-Americans like Billy Chrissochos, Porphyra’s founder and guitarist.
Lead Singer Chandler Mogel, who sings for the Greek band Outloud, welcomed the guests, then politely asked his colleagues “Shall we do this?”
The drummer then struck a driving rhythm and soon guitars were flashing and performers were jumping about the slashes of music from bass, guitars and larynxes.
“The Legend of Alexander” was the first of nine songs that night, all of which Chrissochos wrote, some with collaborators.
Despite the fact that Iron Maiden – the group Billy’s brother introduced him to – had a hit called Alexander the Great, questions arose about the connection between heavy metal and Hellenism.
The answer is, why not? The Greeks didn’t spend all their time chasing art and philosophy. E.R. Dodd’s classic book “The Greeks and the Irrational” revealed the other side of the Greek soul, and there were always invaders on the rampage, so electric bass and guitar players and drummers have their muse too.
The CD, titled “Porphyra – Faith, Struggle, Victory,” touches Ancient and Byzantine history. “988 AD – In the Time of Basil II, Emperor of Byzantium,” also evokes the war in Ukraine, but Anna Dok sang the song – titled “Porphyra” – that could claim the label “Byzantine Rock.”
Mike Savvas played bass, Aaditya Pandit was the second guitarist, Frank Pace was on drums and Christos Alexandrou handled Greek lyrics and moments of Byzantine chant. On the CD and in bigger shows they use a bouzouki and more percussion, and the group’s recent video “Shine” features aerialist DJ Angela Pandelis.
Billy – Vassilios – was born in New York, but his parents took him and his older brother and sister to Greece at nine months old. They returned when he was ten and his family’s abundant musical genes took him first to alto sax, and then guitar.
In 1998 Phoenix Reigns was born, and when it broke up it was reborn as Porphyra in 2012 with an emphasis on Hellenic themes.
Chrissochos also created the spectacular images from Greek history and mythology on the CD notes.
(L-R) Aaditya Pandit, Mike Savvas, Anna Dok, Chandler Mogel, Frank Pace, Christos Alexandrou and Billy Chrissochos perform at the Porphyra CD release show at Gussy’s on July 16.