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Obscurity's Mark "Agalaz": "The figure of a Viking outlaw is a kind of Antihero who combines honourable values and intentions with the faults of a human being"

Interview with Mark "Agalaz" from Obscurity
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 28 August 2021, 10:12 PM

At times it is more than meets the eye, nothing as it really seems, what is laying there before you isn't really what it should be rather a picture of symbolism. To be a counter to something doesn't mean being an enemy, being the other side, doesn't always mean the evil that be. Similar to the fact that a client is not always right, so does the social structure of our society. That is the reason why there are different opinions. The long running Osbcurity provided their own vision on the endless philosophical conflict of what is right with their new album, "Skogarmaors". Steinmetal had the pleasure of talking with the band's veteran, Mark, also known as Agalaz, about the new prospect and the in depth meaning of the music and record

Hello Mark, it is a pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

Hello Lior, the pleasure is on my side! Thank you for the invitation to this interview. In the name of Obscurity we want to greet all readers, the Metal Temple family and all friends out there!

I’m doing marvellously well, thank you! Me and the guys are happy to present our new album Skogarmaors to the world and we’re having a great time rehearsing old and new stuff together, preparing for the next live shows. At the moment there is hope for the rest of 2021 and 2022 and we’re enjoying every single opportunity to play and having a great time with those awesome people on the concerts and festivals!

One of the many things that I like about Obscurity is that it has been working like clockwork, more or less at least, there is always something to expect from you guys. Nonetheless, we are currently living in a rather unusual time, which I assume will become our permanent reality. Therefore, I ask, how did this pandemic manage to keep you guys motivated in order to come about the next in line release?

First of all, thank you for your kind words! The past time during the pandemic surely was not that easy, but we can speak of luck that our existence as a band and especially our single private existences were not threatened by the pandemic. For those who live full-time from music, organizing concerts, festivals or do sound or any other work in the branch, there were much more negative effects of the pandemic than for us. In this sense we want to wish everyone the best and the required strength to get through this!

Our motivation during the past year was creating the album and to manage the release with TrollZorn Records. So, there was enough to do to not get lazy, haha! Besides the production of Skogarmaors, some video shoots and rehearsals for a few shows, we kept motivated by seeing each other in persona, talking trash and having quality time with the band. That helped us doing all the stuff we love to do, even in such different times. Regarding the release, we had some difficulties postponing the date and to plan, but finally we are happy that everything went well! Special thanks to TrollZorn who worked hard and did their best for the upcoming album, those guys put a lot of love and elbow grease in what they do!

On a personal note, how have you been handling this pandemic, which from it seems a fourth wave is imminent, in some countries already taking place?

It was not the easiest time nor is it yet. The lack of personal contact was the hardest to manage, I think. But little by little, personal contacts came back, that I can say it is an easier handling now. Of course we do our sit-ins in a responsible way.

With time surely being on your side, since the live scene isn’t really there or merely starting to peep its head out from time to time, you guys are set to release “Skogarmaors”. I tried to find a proper translation, yet it was hard to detect the language even with the mighty Google. So, what is this all about? What can you tell about the meaning of the title?

Skogarmaors, by definition, are stigmatized outlaws who have been expelled from society and banished because of their unlawful behaviour. We have tried to get another perspective on this non-socially compliant behaviour and to highlight its possible positive aspects. Murder remains murder and even a dishonest attack on a person certainly does not find any positive aspects, that's totally clear and inexcusable. Such behaviour we do judge and criticize sharply. Our alternative view is aimed at those people who wanted to legally enforce their right to freedom or at those who stand up for their personal rights/concerns. I can imagine that in the distant past, such people often were considered uncomfortable and somehow had to be "eliminated" before their opinion manifested in society. I think this topic will always be a relevant one. Anyone who is not permanently following the mainstream can quickly be perceived as inappropriate and should be ostracized.

The positive character traits I have mentioned are therefore honesty, sincerity, indomitability and the pursuit of freedom. It is precisely these characteristics that stand for Obscurity. We have never let ourselves be bent personally and musically. Against this background the album title ‘Skogarmaors’ is very accurate. And these aspects of the title lead through the lyrics of the album as a red thread.

The band’s craving for Norse mythology is a thing of beauty, however, there is also mentioning that there are things that are bothering you that you are mentioning right into the listener’s face or rather between the lines. With what kind of subjects does “Skogarmaors” deal with that is not mythology oriented?

Absolutely, on one side most of the time our lyrics are written in pictures of Norse mythology or historical events and incidences. Often, and we do this on Skogarmaors as well, we use those mythologic themes as metaphors for general topics which occupy or bother people still today. Most mentionable issues are unity, the importance of a social together which also includes that everyone has their rights and should know who they are, honesty, which is a pre-condition for unity and social life and also questions which cannot be answered easily like the sense of wars in the human history. We try to show our own critical view on those topics through images of former times.

On the other side, especially with some songs on Skogarmaors we speak more directly and question conditions like oppression, greed, power and stigmatization. In songs like ‘Niedertracht’ (despicableness) you can find such topics on the album. On other tracks we also like to use our ‘Norsemen’- or ‘Viking’-metaphors to illustrate serious topics in another way.

I have always tried to find the messages hidden within the songs. The fact that this is one of my listening sessions that aren’t in English, only the music does the talking. Nonetheless, in your opinion, what does “Skogarmaors” illustrate that is more than meets the ear?

For us it is a mixture of an encouragement to a social together which more and more seems to disappear in our world and criticism of injustice, social asymmetry made by human beings and stigmatization. With our music and our through our lyrics we want to emphasize what it is worth living for and what are attributes that do not fit in a world we all want to live in. Those messages we kind of romanticize with our Skogarmaors metaphor.

Certainly if there is one thing that people need at times, in particular in these crazy times, is that ability to let go and escape reality for a bit. Do you believe in such escapism or rather put reality in front of people even in a different, yet relevant, view?

I think both is very important. On the one hand, you need to escape from reality and have a break from everyday life. Sometimes there is nothing better than sit down, relax and dive into a world of great music (if it is metal or not) and to let yourself fall by listening to bands or artists you like.  On the other hand, I see the necessity of music dealing with real topics or presenting reality in a special kind of way or point of view is there. Not even to show to the people what is going wrong, but maybe to deliver some kind of strength or something you can hold on to.

For us it is important to do what we like to do and to speak of what is important for us. And I think that is what music is about. If then there are people who like your music and can take messages from it, there is nothing better.

Other than being another Obscurity album, continuing our philosophical debate here, what does “Skogarmaors” mean to you personally?

For me, Skogarmaors in our interpretation is the personification of values and virtues that never lose their validity. The figure of a Viking outlaw is a kind of Antihero who combines honourable values and intentions with the faults of a human being. I mean, there still is a reason why an exile is an exile, haha. But in a romantic way, a Skogarmoar is the fusion of good and pure values and human fallibility, what makes the figure so interesting. The point is, that everyone can identify with that kind of image.

My previous engagement with Obscurity was with “Streitmacht”, however, after digesting “Skogarmaors” I noticed that the early efforts were preserved, yet there is a new uplifting spirit, paving the road for several directions. Between melodies, groovy heaviness, atmosphere and robust straightforward energies, the new record is all there. How do you feel that you guys developed musically while this album was in the making?

One more time thank you for your nice words! There is some change with new album. It is the first album with our new brothers Isarn (drums) and Askar (guitar). Both brought new influences and they of course formed the sound and the songwriting with their ideas and abilities. We all think that Skogarmaors is the combination of the typical Obscurity sound and new influences and a bit of experimentation. There is some more hardness and speed within the album, but it still is 100 % Obscurity. We are more than satisfied with the result and I think it is the most varied Obscurity album we created so far.

I mentioned that just now, but I have to focus on that. The melodic flavor throughout the entire record was mostly noted by a powerful, usually fast paced, riff that simply captured the most attention. Of course that there were different parts, yet once that riff sunk in, each of the songs became smoother. What is your take on that? I guess that a good melodic riff that sticks means that you succeeded?

I think that Askar did great work finding the riffs and melodies for the album! Our claim to us is to create hard and powerful music with its catchiness in it. The development from the first albums to now confirms that we did find our sound and a good balance between melodic riffs/parts and relentlessly hard rattling, haha!

With the vibe of the record that I caught, between being straightforward and atmosphere, how do you make the connection yourself? How do those two sit together, let’s say in a song?

Each song is a different piece of work for us and has its own energy or feeling. We always come up with ideas that are more straightforward and the more atmospheric parts appear when we sit together and overthink the song. Mostly we have a nearly finished song, we hear it and want to establish a new part. Most of the time those parts are the best ones. We do not sit together and intentionally say ‘let's be atmospheric or hard’ or something else. I think it happens and the music develops its own flow. Once you have a riff or another idea the music finds its way.

With you being an experienced songwriter, that has seen the band gradually taking steps, how did the experience of writing “Skogarmaors” make a difference to your approach towards songwriting?

There wasn't really much a difference in the songwriting-process between Skogarmaors and the other albums. Within Obscurity everyone is allowed and should contribute/bring his own (musical) ideas. Around that first idea, it can be a guitar-riff or maybe some drum-elements, the whole song-construct develops and the song takes its shape. My job is to ensure that Obscurity remains Obscurity and from time to time I have to catch my bandmates when they bring their „wild and crazy“ ideas into the music, haha. But that's what Obscurity is all about, five brothers sitting together and developing song by song and we are very glad, and can we have a bottle of beer during that hard work, haha.

Of course, I have an idea in advance in which direction it should go lyrically, but first the musical framework is in place and then the song gets its lyrical framework in a targeted manner. There will never be one mastermind or worse a record label who determines the songwriting process of Obscurity, that is not the way of the Bergische Löwen.

We talked about that earlier, yet I would like to know more details. Making such a record as “Skogarmaors”, whether songwriting or recording, is bound to be a challenging phase in these times. What can you tell about what stopped, or threatened to stop you? How did you overcome the obstacles?

We had some problems to deal with because of the circumstances of Covid. We were glad having done all the instrumental recording work before we had the first lockdown here in Germany. So, only the vocals were missing. Our mixing and mastering engineer Tim Schuldt as 4CN-Studios made it happen to record vocals in the studio. The difference was that we were alone at the studio during the sessions for the vocals but he organized web meetings and sound live-streams so that the other guys could listen to the recordings and give feedback all the time. That was a strange feeling and not the usual studio feeling but it was a good emergency solution.

Then there was the postponement situation which was really unfortunate but it was a completely new situation for all of us and we did arrange with it. Personally, and due the corona pandemic, I can say that I look back at the production with a crying and a laughing eye.

As you already mentioned, “Skogarmaors” officially presented two new members of the band, a guitarist and a drummer. What can you tell about how the band’s musical approach changed with the arrival of the two gents, they are also filling quite big shoes I believe?

They combined old strengths that former band members had established as well with new influences like their styles of finding melodies and beats or song structure. Also, the musical understanding of all of us fits together perfectly, so the songwriting process was productive and much fun! I think, now we have one of the strongest formations ever. I am very happy about the current line-up and hope that we will fight many more battles together.

By its astounding catchiness, yet unrelenting pace, “Glod en Isa” couldn’t be ignored. It was simply mesmerizing the amounts of energies poured in such a melodic, yet punishing effort. What it is your appreciation towards it?

Glod en Isa is a song that stands for the contrasts in our lives. In my opinion these opposites or contrasts forever will take place in our lives until we make our way to the sacred halls. It is as you said that song has its own opposites, you´ll find blast beats as well as catchy melodies and against that background the music forms the perfect foundation for the lyric-topic. In addition, the song presents all the strengths of Obscurity on the one hand wild frenzy, but on the other hand also melancholic and carrying melodies. This is the metamorphosis between music and the lyrics I've been talking about a few questions before regarding the songwriting-process. I am pleased that we are able to manage, for example with songs like Glod en Isa, to give the listeners an understanding of our music, but also the feelings that we want to convey within our music.

Taking a different turn, probably the reason why it was chosen to be a bonus as first presentation, is “Valkyria”. It is a kind of a contemporary attempt on your own style, ending up being a powerful tune. Can I assume that this is a direction that would dictate the next material of Obscurity?

Valkyria is our most experimental part of the album regarding the sound and the style of songwriting in Obscurity. Askar came up with a nearly finished song we all liked from the first moment. After discussing about it and its role on the album we decided to put it as a bonus track on it. We all had fun writing and recording it and we are curious about the reactions on it. I wouldn’t determine it to be the new Obscurity go-to sound or formula. But perhaps there will be more stray bullets like Valkyria in the future. To do albums full of Valkyria-like songs we do love hammering and blasting too much, haha!

How does this year look for you when it comes to live shows? Is there a chance for 2021 to still be a factor or rather 2022 is currently being planned?

Until now 2021 still is an emptier season but in autumn a few shows are planned. On 1st of October we will play on the Mead & Greed Festival in Oberhausen and on 4th of December we will have the honor to accompany Black Messiah during their 30-year anniversary in Oberhausen, as well. So far for 2021, maybe there will be some more.
For 2022 we already are confirmed for Rockharz Festival, Darktroll Festival, Frostfeuernächte and a little UK tour is under discussion, so far.

Mark, many thanks for your time for this interview. Thank you also for delivering such a strong record, I didn’t expect less to be honest. Cheers sir.

Thank you for the interview, for your flowers in words and your nice questions! I enjoyed answering them and want to send best greetings from Germany to you, all the readers, fans and friends out there! Thank you all! Stay strong, stay healthy, stay wild! It was an inner flower picking for me, haha.


 



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