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Sunday 3 November 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room/The Spotlight: Live Review And Interview With Asagraum (By Val D'Arcy)

Asagraum, The Macbeth, Hoxton, London


It's the 26th October, a rainy, cold evening as I make the (slightly too long) walk from Old Street Tube Station to The Macbeth of Hoxton. As I briskly navigate the puddles I'm wondering to myself if this place takes the title of most inconveniently located venue (from current holder Nambuca). I arrive to find the band sound checking, I'm informed that their rented amps have failed and they're having to switch to borrowed gear at the last minute. Furthermore, the sound engineer has arrived an hour late so everything is running a bit behind order. I decide to kill the time with a drink from the bar where I'm informed that both draught taps are off and the choice is Red Stripe or Red Stripe. After some consideration, I opt for the Red Stripe, somewhat put out.

The sound checking concludes and people begin to arrive. Dense smoke fills the air, incense burns at the front of the stage and a noose hangs from the mic stand. Cold blue light illuminates the front of the room. As seven thirty draws near, a few more people file in and Mørktår (6) kick off to a crowd of maybe fifty or so. Their stripped back and simple approach to Black Metal is raw and heavy. Performing for the first time as a three-piece since the departure of their guitarist you'd have been none the wiser as they succeed creating a full and accomplished sound. In spite of a minor mishap with the construction of the drumkit they play a great set to an eager crowd, highlights of the set included Blue Light Of Death from their Now Cold And Dead demo.

As Mørktår are wrapping up their set downstairs, I make my way up the many creaky, old flights of steps of this historic venue to the Green Room situated on the top floor. The band are relaxing ahead of their set; it's soon apparent who's in charge as Mortifero points to Obscura and laughs "She will answer all your questions!". A. sits between her and Obscura on the sofa and remained mysteriously true to her persona, silent throughout most of the interaction. V-Kaos practiced some yoga at the other end of the room.


MoM: "You have a new album out which has received a great deal of positive early reviews. How pleased are you with the finished product and the feedback you've had?"
Obscura: "I am very satisfied with the end result and the mix. We have a new drummer on this album (A.) and we have a great collaboration, so everything went according to our wishes."

MoM: "We are here at your album launch party, what do you have planned in terms of tours and shows for the coming year and how soon do you expect to start working on new material?"

Obscura: "Well, we are always slowly working on new material, over many months. I'm always writing riffs, it's not like we work to specific dates, it develops with time. The shows and tours, well we have a lot under negotiation but we have confirmed Cult of Parthenope in Italy next week, Eindhoven Metal Meeting in December, and Inferno Festival in Norway next year." Mortifero checks the band's tour schedule on her phone and confirms the dates.

MoM: "Inferno is a first for Asagraum, are you looking forward to playing there?"

Obscura: "Yes absolutely!"

MoM: "There have been some changes to the bands lineup over the last few years, how well does Asagraum work currently as a band both live and in the studio?"

Obscura: "Well, we are really satisfied with the current lineup. Mortifero and V-Kaos are live members and I play guitar, bass and do vocals in the studio and she does drums" Obscura nods at A. who nods back, "we want to keep it that way, it's going very well."

MoM: "With so many black metal bands now including elements of post black and other non traditional metal additions in an attempt to stand out, have you ever felt the need to do something distinctly different to everyone else?"

Obscura: "Not really, I just write the music that I want and like, some things are a bit more original than others but I don't specifically try to make something original. It either comes out like that or not."
MoM: "In the past you've described your song writing process as being natural and without any particular structure or intention, was this true for Dawn of Infinite Fire?"

Obscura: "Yes!"

MoM: "What would say are the greatest musical and conceptual influences on you individually and the band?"

Obscura: "Ideology wise, it is the left hand path, satanism. While we have our own vision on that and I'm sure everyone in the band has their own vision on that as well, but widely speaking its a matter of not following, going on your own path with the universal power of Satan standing behind you, and you use that power for every purpose in your life. There is no judgement, there's no rules. That's what I like about satanism, you create your own reality according to your will. That's what our lyrical concepts are about. It's also routed in the old traditions of witchery, our ancestors have been going on this path for ages, in different ways with different traditions. Going against the flock and the obedient people, following their own path of darkness and mystery, and we want to honour the traditions of the Witches."

MoM: "How important to you is it that you all share the same ideology?"

Obscura: "For me it's important that they share the basis of the ideology. The details, well the good thing about this belief is that you're walking your own path, you don't have a leader who tells you what to do. They can think however they want. Obviously if they start to follow some big religion, well, that wouldn't fit."

MoM: "What are the greatest challenges you face today as a relatively new band looking to expand your international reach and fan base?"

Obscura: "For me personally, the biggest challenge is I'm getting a lot of messages from people who want all sorts of things and I'm not a very 'social networking' type of person, naturally, I really don't like it. It makes me stressed, I just want to write music, leave me alone!" she laughs nervously, "that's the biggest challenge for me personally. But as a band, I have to say things haven't been that difficult, right?" Obscura looks to the other members for approval, Mortifero shrugs and nods in agreement. "Everything has been going pretty well."

MoM: "What is your opinion of the Black Metal scene here in the UK and how does it compare to other countries you've played for?"

Obscura: "Unfortunately, I really don't know much about it. I'm always too busy with playing music than checking out other bands so I'm not an expert."

MoM: "Where has been your favourite place to play?"

Obscura: "Latin America was a great tour, we played Columbia and Mexico. That was really great, the audience there is very passionate, much more passionate than in Europe!" she laughs, "and we loved it. Also in Finland its completely different, there we are very popular. We played at Steel Fest, in this big hall completely full of people, we really appreciated that as a new band, it was a really pleasant surprise."

MoM: "You mention Steel Fest, a festival that's known for putting on some great Black Metal acts, in particular lot of bands that don't get to play at more mainstream European festivals. What was your experience of Steel Fest?"

Obscura: "Really good! I've been there three times, I've seen some great (Finnish) bands there, I love that festival!"

MoM: "Final thought, what would you like to say to people out there who may be hearing your music for the first time?"

Obscura: "Well, the music speaks on its own. I think the music and the lyrics give a stronger message than I can say in this boring interview!" she says bursting out laughing, "I would say listen carefully, close your eyes and let yourself be hypnotised, feel the power of darkness."

We conclude the interview and I stay with the girls for another ten minutes or so, we joke about our mutual dislike of a certain metal publication who's name for reasons of professionalism I wont mention, they're good enough to all sign my copy their latest LP and I make my way back downstairs. 

After a short break Formicarius (9) take their places on the stage in a now fuller venue. The seemingly familiar crowd, now suitably warmed up both by the support and presumably a lot of Red Stripe receive them well and the atmosphere is one of energetic anticipation. Seeing them play live for the first time I've little in the way expectation but its very soon apparent that Formicarius are a formidable force on stage. There's an overtly infectious chemistry between the whole band that draws you in, coupled with their capacious and catchy form of melodic black metal they're great to watch. Crimson Plague was a personal highlight. After the set the band graciously met with punters at the merch stand and were good enough to sign a copy of their new LP for me.

This was followed by a break for the best part of fifty minutes which, was a bit long. In a small packed venue with nothing but Red Stripe and horrendous facilities it could have done with being half of that. I decided to leave the venue for some fresh air and food. Upon my return I was greeted by what I can only describe as the most pissed up door man I've ever encountered. Fortunately, his sober counterpart (clearly well practiced in doing so) overrode his partner and let me in. I must say for a venue that's had its licence reviewed as much as this place in recent months to behave this way is quite bewildering. Shortly after the venue is graced by a group of thirty or so pub crawlers for their next pit stop, pre-arranged, fortunately making a fairly swift exit once realising what they've walked into. Another moment of head shaking for what's clearly a really badly managed venue.

Nevertheless, Asagraum (8) make it on to the stage to what is now borderline uncomfortably close-quarters crowd (at least near the front). Now fully made up in stage attire and corpse paint, Obscura salutes the crowd with the horns as she takes centre stage and they immediately kick off with They Crawl From The Broken Circle. They're a relatively still band on stage, not that the size of this particular one would have allowed for a great deal of movement, but their presence is certainly felt. It was mildly frustrating that throughout the first few tracks they had to do battle with the sound engineer to get the levels on the monitors right. For a band who's stage show consists in main of atmosphere created by their mystery and presence, technical hitches like this are a real mood killer. Nonetheless, the band remained determined and professional and as they kicked off Abominations Altar everyone (myself included) soon forgot just about everything and was totally taken over by the furious energy of this track. This was an obvious fan (and personal) favourite. The band's new drummer A. put in a great performance that should leave no one questioning her place, and V-Kaos' calm and concentrated performance was entrancing to watch. At around fifty minutes Asagraum wrap their set and leave the stage to what seems to be a thoroughly satisfied crowd.

So as I begin my brisk walk back to Old Street, this time navigating somewhat alien crowds of Halloween themed revellers in short skirts and high heels I'm again reminded that this is a strange choice of location for a Black Metal gig. It's been an evening of two sides, fantastic bands and music on the one and oddly located and abysmally managed venue on the other. I should make note that I don't include the organisation of the show itself here, which was good. Despite technical issues and besides the slightly long wait between sets, it was a fairly smooth run. I'll look forward to seeing all three bands again, hopefully in a more familiar setting.

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