interview with Altar of Oblivion

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Have any of you played in other bands?

All members are playing or have played in the following bands/projects (The list is rather vast and extensive and I have only listed the most “significant” ones):

Martin Meyer Sparvath (37): Guitars, backing vocals and additional keyboards: Lords of Triumph (traditional/epic doom), The Vein (death/doom), Cheese Factory (cheesy 80s synth-pop), N.I.G.H.T (80s synth-pop/hard rock) and ex-Victimizer (thrash/speed).

Christian Nørgaard (34): Bass: Lords of Triumph, ex-The Vein, ex-Victimizer, ex-Cerekloth, ex-Church Bizarre (death metal), Forlis (atmospheric doom/ambient), Sick Room 7 (doom/ambient), Vornoff (Ambient/doom) and Bound by Wire (“Buttock” heavy/hard/cheese rock).

Lars Strøm (32): Drums: Actually, he is a multi-instrumentalist with the guitar being his main instrument. He has been playing in various outfits, both as a hired gun and as a solo-artist, playing all the instruments by himself. He has produced, mixed and/or mastered a lot of releases, as well, among other things Altar of Oblivion, The Vein, Lords of Triumph, N.I.G.H.T and Cheese factory. 

Mik Mentor (37): Vocals: Cheese Factory plus a bunch of high school bands when he was younger. 

How is it that you started playing music? When all is said and done, the eternal and greatest motive and incentive to write music derive from my love to music, and it is an enormous relieve for me to be able to express myself musically and artistically. Composing music serves as some sort of “loophole” for all my inner thoughts and personal struggles throughout my life.   

Have you had other previous members? Cheryl Pyle, aka the Flute Mistress, nailed some sparkling flute parts on two tracks off of our 2009 debut album “Sinews of Anguish” plus had a “cameo” on a single track off of our 2016 “Barren Grounds” – EP. We are planning to make use of her unique services in the future, as well.

Did you make music even when you were young?

I am afraid I can’t answer that in short terms. Well, even before I started playing the guitar, my dream was to form a band of my own, and in the regions of 2000 at the age of about 21, I started writing some lyrics to some melodies, I created in my mind. The first song I ever wrote was finished in 2001 and was called “16 Days in Hell, 8 Days in Heaven”, which was heavily influenced by modern “Death SS” and told a story about my former job as steward on a godforsaken cruise liner sailing from Copenhagen to Oslo.  

At that time, I attended the sound engineering line on an adult education college, where I found some musicians to play the track at a concert, but as we didn’t have the time to get the track up and running, we decided to make a cover version of Metallica’s “For whom the Bell Tolls” and Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction” featuring me on vocals. Live footage still exists on a VHS-tape somewhere in my closet, where it will hopefully stay for the next couple of millennia, haha.   

It wasn’t until mid 2003, when I first picked up the guitar and after about three months, I started writing my own material, which was to be included in the first Summoning Sickness rehearsal sessions. I wrote nine tracks of simple doom metal much in the vein of the tracks on the Altar of Oblivion demo, but I chose to leave them behind, as they were marked by incoherence and monotony. Recently, however, I’ve re-recorded, re-arranged and re-named three of those “premature” Summoning Sickness tracks and maybe, they will see the light at some point in one project or another.

Where are you from?

For the time being, our rehearsal room and base is situated in Aalborg in Northern Jutland, Denmark where one out of four band members live. The bassist, singer and I hail from other parts of the country, and we have to plan a full-member rehearsal way in advance to make it work. A couple of years ago, the then five band members were completely scattered and only Allan (former

guitarist) lived in Aalborg at that point, which meant we only rehearsed on very rare occasions. Nowadays, we rehearse once a week with the singer showing up once a month. Within the last year and a half, we have had three different rehearsal rooms and from the 1st of March 2017, we will move to another location in order to reach a middle ground. Let us see, if this will be more or less permanent, haha.  

What year did the band form? The origins of the band can be traced back to 2004, when Allan (then drums) and I (guitars/vocals) formed a duo carrying the name “Summoning Sickness”. Around a year later, this doubtful project later morphed into Altar of Oblivion and we went from playing thrash/speed-metal to Epic Doom Metal. In 2006, I began recruiting members which resulted in bringing “over-the-top” singer Mik Mentor plus bassist/ludomaniac Christian Nørgaard into our fold.

What's your style of genre? Undeniably, our “The Shadow Era” demo and our “Sinews of Anguish” debut album represent the quintessence of epic doom metal. I usually tend to describe our music as 80s heavy metal inspired epic doom metal and we are often compared to Messiah-era Candlemass, which I completely understand. Actually, it is rather strange that we started out as a doom metal outfit as I have never been a huge fan of that subgenre of metal, apart from the godly and godlike works of Ozzy-era Black Sabbath. As a direct consequence of the aforementioned statement, our next full-length (The Seven Spirits) will see the band taking a step towards 80s heavy metal, also featuring elements from extreme metal, with more up-tempo parts leaving more of the doomy aparts behind.    

What inspires you?

I guess my main sources of inspiration must be all kinds of inspiring music, personal struggles, tragedies of war, human stupidity, religion, melancholy, nostalgia, morbid poetry etc. 

Yes, I was born in 1979 and I therefore grew up at close quarters with the amazing and mind-boggling 80s. My father also listened to 80s pop music and various 70s doom metal/rock bands back then (in fact he still does) and introduced me to some great acts, so somehow it seems natural for me to play that kind of music, as I so to speak drank the 80s and the 70s with my mother’s milk.

 What really appeals to me in much 80s inspired pop music are the catchy and yet deep and melancholic melodies which peak in captivating and memorable refrains. Of course, there were heaps of one hit wonders and flashes in the pan which is often the case in popular music but even though several bands only had a few quality contributions they still deserve their place in the history of music.

I also listen a lot to melancholic 80s inspired pop music and classical music. Moreover, ambient, country, soundtracks and blues sometimes find its way to my stereo. In short terms: I like intelligent and in-depth-going music holding a good and high-quality melody. I would also like to point out that I find tons of inspiration in literature and documentaries about the Second World War, personal experiences, atmospheres in movies plus stupidity and inanity of mankind.     

When I attended senior high school, I started showing interest for The Third Reich, and since then, I have been doing a lot of reading, been watching a lot of documentaries, been visiting museums about this particular and unique era in history, and it seemed obvious and even inevitable not to incorporate a WW2 based theme into my lyrics at some point in my career. When I composed the music and lyrics for the demo and debut full-length, I just sat down trying to visualize and imagine how it must have been for a German private to take part in the fighting during WW2, and the ideas quickly started popping up in my mind. I also like to integrate my personal struggles and experiences into the lyrics which means the lyrics are ambiguous and can be interpreted on different levels      

How have you developed since you started with the music?

Both as a band and on a personal level, we/I have developed since the inception and especially within the latest year, we have started taking the music more seriously, spending more time in the rehearsal room arranging our tracks and in general giving our sonic outlet the treatment, it deserves. As mentioned earlier, Altar of Oblivion were founded in 2005 but it wasn’t until early 2010 with the recruitment of our current drummer, we had our first ever rehearsal and the different members had the chance to meet each other. 

Prior to that, we too often just followed the line of least resistance and just meet in the studio and record our different parts, respectively, which in hindsight has meant subpar releases with both lackluster performance, songwriting and practically non-existing arrangements, in my opinion. This lesson in how to act as serious musicians, who believe in our music, has cost us

dearly, but now, we are finally ready to kick the shit out of our upcoming releases. As we are a band always striving to evolve from release to release, we won’t be cutting any corners in the future. 

Are you looking for a booking agency? Thus far in our 10 years of existence, we haven’t had the need for a booking agency, but maybe that will be the case in the future. Until now, we haven’t had problems finding gigs and in about 90 % of the cases, we are contacted by venues who want to hire us and not the other way around, which must be a good sign, haha. With that said, we are slowly beginning to cooperate with a Danish booking agency in order for us to expand our concerts to foreign lands.

What made you decide to make this music?

Our main goal was actually just to play some kind of metal music and when I sat down at home writing new material, I came up with those simple riffs, mostly based on the lower E-string, tuned down to D. In 2005, I had only been playing the guitar for about one and a half years and I couldn’t play anything more complex than that and Allan, our former drummer, had only been playing the drums for a couple of months so simple doom metal seemed one of the only realistic and levelheaded approaches to music at the time.

During the first couple of rehearsals, we actually tried to write new tracks by jamming but we soon realized it was much easier and faster if I wrote the music at home in order to introduce new songs to the drummer while rehearsing. 

What are your songs about?

As stated earlier, I am very fascinated by the Second World War, especially what took place in the European Theatre, and I recall spending many hours reading about this horrible tragedy unleashed on mankind. When I started composing music, I kept this WW2 theme turning over in my head, and I figured it would be a natural thing to integrate this theme into the lyrical contents of my music.

Since the completion of our debut album, I have extended my vocabulary plus broadened my lyrical horizon, and thus, I have started writing about other themes such as the bigotry, close-mindedness and stupidity spread through

religious (groups) and outdated doctrines, which lately has taken up a great deal of my time.    

The lyrics of “The Shadow Era” are ambiguous as they first of all, as stated in a below answer, are telling a horrifying story about the Stalingrad battle seen through the eyes of the soldiers and civilians who participated in that grand struggle. On the other hand, below the surface, the lyrics are very much personal inspired dealing with my own battles, struggles, personal defeats/victories, experiences etc. throughout my life. You will also be able to locate social criticism in the lyrics and our debut album contains an underlying message encouraging people to make their own decisions, to stand up for themselves, to fight for their beliefs and not to believe in everything they hear and see. 

Since the completion of our debut album in 2009, I have extended my vocabulary plus broadened my lyrical horizon, and thus, I have started writing about other themes such as the bigotry, close-mindedness and stupidity spread through religious (groups) and outdated doctrines, which since then has taken up a great deal of my time.

Our sophomore album ”Grand Gesture of Defiance” (2012) is a conceptual album about an imaginary, totalitarian religious group called “The Vultures” that through cryptocratic gatherings and decision-making processes is trying to attain world domination. A “nice” little conspiracy theory depicting the leaders of the world as figureheads, serving merely as puppets for an influential secretive elite, and who despite holding significant titles wields little to no influence at all.    

Our forthcoming release will be a seven-track semi-concept album entitled “The Seven Spirits” with each track representing a “distinct spiritual being”. “The Seven Sprits” is a Biblical expression and appears four times in the “Book of Revelation” (New Testament), in which Jesus dictates seven letters to the Apostle John, who is instructed to send them to the Seven Churches.

Throughout time, these biblical passages, (along with the rest of the Bible, obviously) have been interpreted in many ways, and a lot of confusion and disagreement exist as to what they actually mean. The lyrical content of this album offers my own personal, alternate and “counterfactual” take on the definition of these particular passages and subjects, among other things the lake of fire, absence of life, end-time prophecies, spirit creatures, false prophets, deathbed conversions, impurity etc.

In school, I was really terrible at interpreting different kinds of texts, books, novels, poems etc, as I would always base my analysis and interpretation on my somewhat strange perception of

the world. I thought it was plain boring, unfruitful, non-artistic and non-creative just to follow the simple patterns, rules and conformities that were often served on a silver plate. Needless to say, my grades were dreadful in those subjects but on the other hand, I was good at other things, such as skipping school.

Despite the fact, that “The Seven Spirits” shall be our most thought-through, most thoroughly prepared and most consistent release to date, and even though that all lyrics are interconnected, it is not a full-blown concept album, since the two final tracks are off-topic. 

Who does the composing and writes the lyrics? Till now, I have been in charge of composing around 90 percent of all the music plus all the lyrics for the band which has seemed to be the easiest, fastest and most productive way to do it. I use to record the material consisting of cue tracks of rhythm/lead guitar, keyboards and vocals into a music program on my PC after which I send the tunes to the other members of the band in order for them to hear how I would like the tracks to be like. So when we meet at rehearsals, everybody pretty much knows what to do. Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done such as arrangements, making the music flow etc.  

Do you start with the music or the lyrics? 

That depends which band/project, I am composing for: 

Out of approximately 300 Altar of Oblivion songs, I have written the lyrics or at least some of the lyrics for about five of them prior to creating the music. Usually when composing Altar of Oblivion – material, I come up with a guitar-lick or riff, mostly what ends up being the main-riff of the song, after which all the other parts are built up around it.

In Cheesy Factory, for instance, I mostly come up with some vocal catchphrase, after which I try to find the proper and right chords on my keyboard and then take it from there.

Do you compose in a certain environment?

When it comes to composing music, I pick up my guitar and dive into another world in which I strive at transforming the pictures in my head into regular songs and the end result is a soundtrack to the images and words I see and hear in my mind.

In other words, I guess you can say that I open the gates to my subconscious and most songs and lyrics pretty much write themselves. The only thing required is time as I tend to enter some sort of trance that can last up to 12 hours a day for a week which usually results in music and lyrics for an entire album. 

What language do you sing in? Until now, we have only been releasing material in English, but some songs in both Danish and German have been written, as well. On our fourth full-length album (In the Cesspit of Divine Decay), I have planned to integrate a song in German called “In die Ewigkeit” (Into Eternity) about a German soldier, who loses a friend in battle during WW2 and makes a promise to follow him into eternity. 

What are the least and most people to attend one of your gigs? At a gig in Holland when we warmed up for Below (Swe) and Devil (nor), we played for about 15 people and two days later, approximately 500 people attended our show at the 2013 Hammer of Doom Festival in Germany.

Do you always play the same songs live, or do you vary? Even though we have a default live-set to pick from consisting of Altar of Oblivion (live)classics, we always try to vary the set from gig to gig. The composition also depends on the length of our set, obviously. One thing I have realized is the fact that the bigger the back catalogue the harder it is to sit down and make a set list, that satisfies both us a s artists and the audience. We constantly expand our live set, so we can just pick and choose from gig to gig

Where do you plan to gig the coming year?

Confirmed gigs for 2017 thus far:

Viborg Metal Festival, 11th of March (Viborg, Denmark)

Club W71, 10th of November (Weikersheim, Germany)

Doom over Vienna, 11th of November (Vienna, Austria)

More gigs to be confirmed shortly.

When did you start to sell merchandise, and what do you have for sale? Back in 2007, when our self-financed and self-released demo-CD saw the light of day, I started promoting through MySpace and selling copies. The first one to ever buy a copy was a guy from Singapore, and the second was Phil Swanson, the singer of Lords of Triumph.

Over the years, our assortment has expanded to more CDs, LPs, t-shirts, badges, stickers, patches and posters.

Where can people buy your merchandise?

Through our Website: www.altarofoblivion.dk  E-mail: altar.of.oblivion@hotmail.com  Our US label Shadow kingdom Records: http://www.shadowkingdomrecords.com/  Our German label Journey’s End Records: http://www.journeys-end.de/ 

Of course, the best way to obtain our merchandise is by attending our shows.

What do you think of my work? I have been doing a little research on the internet, and as far as I can tell, you like attending concerts, are very passionate about music, like writing poems and are very active within the metal community, in general. You have conducted many band interviews throughout the years and have your own blog. On your Facebook-page, it says you are playing the acoustic guitar and piano, as well, but I couldn’t find some links to your music anywhere. Have you recorded/releases anything? I think you are doing a great job helping other bands out by promoting them.

How do you think and know that this interview will help you in the music business? Undoubtedly, this interview will reach some readers, who didn’t know Altar of Oblivion beforehand, which can help us expand our fan base, which is much appreciated. This interview won’t help us gain 500 new fans, but I can settle for less, haha. We accept all the help we are offered and hope to be able to pay you back somehow at some point.

Do you have any role models or idols?

Talking music: Up till my early-/mid-twenties, I had several heroes, role models and idols, but I guess one mostly tends to outgrow them. As one grows older, on one hand, it takes more to impress you: on the other hand, you often come to realize that the sonic (semi)gods that you once obeyed are just flawed human beings making the same mistakes as you and looking for the same answers as yourself. I have had many idols whose shallow façade has cracked forcing them to step down from the once so mighty pedestal, on which I put them.

Surely, there are still many artists worthy of my attention and praise but in most cases, I just regard them as more or less “ordinary” people capable of making quality music. I could also mention a handful of artists, whose musical skills I’d prefer over their social skills, big egos and distorted worldviews, haha.

Why do you think that they exist?

I think evolution holds the answer, or at least plays a major role in the art of role modeling: in broad terms, it can be traced back to the origin of almost any species, as the sheer mimicking and

imitation of your parents meant survival. Role models can provide you with inspiration and serve as a guide on how to live your life and help you pursuit happiness and meaning.

Throughout life, one will most likely have many role models that also change and are replaced over time to accommodate your “present” worldview, moral standards, wishes etc. Needless to say, it is important to choose the “right” people to act as your ethical lighthouse. A lot can be and has been uttered to this specific topic, and I have merely scratched the surface with the above general statements.

What have been your biggest obstacles?

Finding likewise, dedicated and competent musicians to complete the Altar of Oblivion line-up has without a doubt been the most frustrating thing, which has resulted in us having to look for musicians not only in all far regions of Denmark but abroad, as well. For instance, in 2008, I hired a Greek guy to record the drum parts on our debut album, which ultimately didn’t happen, as we somehow managed to find a Danish guy in the shape of now present drummer Lars Ström. Back then, he was hired to produce, mix and play the drums and keyboards on our debut album, and it wasn’t until early 2016, he was again welcomed into the fold as a (hopefully) permanent member. 

Before entering the music industry, I thought that composing music was the most difficult, demanding and time-consuming thing but as things have turned out it merely seems to be the first tiny step towards the final product.

Do you have any new material?

Ever since I started composing music back in mid 2003, I have been rather productive, which has resulted in the completion of approximately 500 tracks including lyrics for different projects and bands, of which roughly 250 have been written for future Altar of Oblivion releases. For the time being, six complete Altar of Oblivion full-lengths, ranging from doom/heavy/speed metal to melancholic/sinister post punk/pop music to more ambient/classical inspired tracks have been composed. 

As mentioned earlier, our next release will be a full-length called “The Seven Sprits”, which is almost done. The track list is as follows:

1: Created in the Fires of Holiness

2: No one left

3: Solemn Messiah

4: Gathering at the Wake

5: The Seven Spirits

6: Language of the Dead 

7: Grand Gesture of Defiance 

“Language of the Dead” was the last track to be written for this album and was supposed to be an instrumental. However, after having conjured up the main-riff and chorus-riff, some catchy vocal lines popped up in my mind, and I thought it would be a shame to rob it from Mik Mentor’s stentorian outbursts.

The lyrics are inspired by the poem “Red Plague” by Polish poet and freedom fighter Józef Szczepański, who in 1944 alongside the Polish Resistance Army fought against the Germans in occupied Warsaw. The poem describes the failed hopes of the insurgents that the Red Army approaching from the east would save them, and this song pays homage to these brave and sorely tested Poles, who were caught between two fascist regimes. 

The lyrics illustrate what I picture went through Jósef Szczepański’s mind inside the rubble of the destroyed capital. Surrounded by two sworn enemies, caught in a deadly trap, the so-called liberators soon became the invaders, who were to rule Poland with an iron fist for many years to come. 

The album will also contain the originally title-track off of the “Grand Gesture of Defiance”-album: I felt the title-track was too damn good, in-your-face and straight to the point merely to cast into oblivion, and hence, I was determined to use it for this new LP. During the recordings of “Grand gesture of Defiance”, we decided to divide it into two separate albums, since the running-time otherwise would have exceeded the one-hour mark. The latter part of the concept-album has been put on ice, as I simply regard the songwriting to stale, square and a little uninspired. Mostly, it is better to let sleeping dogs of doom lie.

Furthermore, we have already begun rehearsing the tracks for a 5-track EP entitled “Burning Memories”, which will appear after aforementioned full-length. 

How can people reach you? Website: www.altarofoblivion.dk   Facebook: www.facebook.com/altarofoblivion   ReverbNation: www.reverbnation.com/altarofoblivion  Bandcamp: https://shadowkingdomrecords.bandcamp.com/album/barren-grounds : Here, you can stream and/or download all our releases apart from our 2007 Demo “The Shadow Era”.  E-mail: altar.of.oblivion@hotmail.com  

What are your plans for the future? To improve on all levels, play more concerts, gain more experience as composers, arrangers and stage performers plus to release high quality music. For nearly a decade, this band has been lying dormant, but with the new line-up, we have finally woken up to conquer the doomy soundscapes, that are rightfully ours, haha.

Do you have something to add?

I would like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview and for the promotional work in favour of Altar of Oblivion and other great bands. It has been a pleasure and we all appreciate your support. 

On behalf of Altar of Oblivion, I wish you the best of luck with your art and your life, in general.

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