Danish metal will always have a special place in my metal heart. And it’s not just because I 20 minutes from Denmark with a ferry but because some of the greatest metal bands have been Danish. ALTAR OF OBLIVION’ Martin Mendelssohn Sparvath answered my questions. Anders Ekdahl ©2012
I gotta ask what it was that made you want to play the kind of doomy metal you play? What was the major contributing factor to your sound?
-When Allan Larsen (drums) and I (guitars/vocals) started rehearsing together back in 2004, I had only been playing the guitar for half a year and Allan had just picked up the drum sticks for the first time. That obviously caused some limitations on the technical level which resulted in some simple and slow tracks, so I guess it was out of “necessity” rather than playing a style we both loved. As time went by, and we developed our technical skills we somehow stuck to that simple doom metal style even though none of us actually listen to doom metal.
Is it a plus to come from Denmark when you play metal? Do people still remember all the great metal that has come from Denmark?
-It’s really hard to say whether it is an advantage to come from Denmark or not in that regard. I have never given it much thought. I have never been that fond of the Danish (metal) scene as to me has always been inferior to the scenes of the great countries surrounding us, namely Norway, Germany, Norway and Sweden. Especially Swedish musicians have always seemed to have an extraordinary ability to craft brilliant music, not merely within the metal genre.
If some people remember great metal bands from Denmark, they must have a very poor recollection or a very bad musical taste, haha. Joke aside; of course, good acts have emerged from the surface of Denmark, but apart from the brilliant Mercyful Fate, I can’t think of any band that really made a difference worth mentioning.
In the 80s if I wanted to see great metal acts I had to go to Copenhagen to do so. That was the closest to Sweden they would come. How much did the gigs with international acts play in forming the sound of the Danish metal scene and how much of it still lives on today?
I guess my answer to this question will be based on mere conjecture and speculation rather than facts. If that many great and influential international acts played in Denmark and “avoided” Sweden, it is a mystery to me why the Swedes ended up with almost all the high-quality bands, haha. If the fact that many international bands visiting Denmark played any role, it, in my humble opinion, must have resulted in watered down copies of the Danish bands’ sources of inspiration. Do you agree with me on this or how do you see the Swedish scene compared to the Danish? Is it a traditional case of the grass being greener on the other side, perhaps?
I’m not gonna get too stuck in the past for much longer but I just wonder what it is like to have such great bands as Mercyful Fate and Evil to look back on? What did they mean to the sound of the Danish metal?
-A walk down metal memory lane is not to be sneezed at, haha. The past can be a wonderful refuge and safe haven at times. I am very proud and honored to have been born in the same country that raised Mercyful Fate which released some ground-breaking and innovative masterpieces before breaking up. They were truly way out of most musicians’ league and I consider it very unlikely that anything that good will emerge from Denmark ever again. Mercyful Fate were very visionary and unique which are qualities lacking in most Danish music today. As for Evil, they never really reached their full potential and their tiny back catalogue speaks for itself. Nowadays, I tend to put on the 1984 “Evil’s Message” EP but it stills falls under the category “B-metal” to me, and “Evil” couldn’t compete with mighty Mercyful Fate in terms of song-writing and originality: not many bands are/were capable of that, haha.
Mercyful Fate still to this day inspire young acts, and they have without a doubt had a huge influence on both national and international bands, even Metallica. As Evil never made it that big, I guess not that many artists claim to be inspired from them.
We live in an age where borders don’t seem to exist but what is it like to be a Danish band on small American label? What are the benefits as opposed to doing it yourself?
-I am very glad we signed with Shadow Kingdom Records as they have proved to be an utmost professional label which doesn’t compromise with the quality of its releases. I have been very satisfied with the cooperation thus far, and I am looking forward to be working with them in the future.
Also, the distribution network of Shadow Kingdom Records is constantly expanding, as they are conquering new territory all the time. They are spending more and more money on promotion and our musical endeavours have reached the attention of a great number of passionate doomsters thanks to this label.
It takes a lot of time to promote your music all by yourself, and it costs a lot of money and I would rather spend my time creating new music, and my money buying new equipment. Without a competent label on our side, we would surely be doomed, haha.
When you want to record an album how hard is it to find people to work with that understands your vision of what you want to achieve?
-Actually, good producers of Epic Doom Metal in general are hard to come by, I think. I am glad we hooked up with Lars Strøm who besides producing our second full-length “Grand Gesture of Defiance” also produced our debut album. He is by far the best musician I have had the pleasure to be working with as he has an all-round understanding of our music. I hope we will be able to record more music with him in the future as I can’t think of any other Danish producer who could pull it off.
That said, our bassist is also a producer and has among other things produced our 2007 demo and our newly released EP “Salvation” and he is getting better all the time. In other words, I would feel very comfortable recording more Altar of Oblivion material with him so we have different possibilities when it comes to recording.
When you are in a metal band does it feel like you are a part of something larger? Is there a global metal community to speak of?
-We are all addicted to music and couldn’t live without it. I think I speak on behalf of all AoO-members when I say that one of the best feelings in life is when we spend time together before, during and after rehearsals plus spending time in the studio plus playing live. What I consider being a great trademark of metal, is that you have this global community and it is always “great fun” to be talking to metal people from countries all around the world. In addition, it is cool to see that Altar of Oblivion are selling records in far away countries such as Japan, India, Colombia, Bangladesh etc.
When you are a smaller band on the way up what kind of live scene is there to be a part of? How well do you choose when to play live or do you just play at any given opportunity?
-Actually, before even having released our demo back in 2007, we were offered to play live and it has never been a problem finding concerts at all. I think our fans have been good at spreading the doomy word of Altar of Oblivion and in general, I think venues have been open to our musical style. As we are one of few bands (if not the only one) playing traditional/epic doom metal in Denmark, we don’t have a doom metal scene, and apart from our gig at the 2012 “Heavy Days in Doomtown” festival in Copenhagen, we have been sharing the stage with bands with a style much different than ours. I am just glad that that many people seem to have embraced our style. I didn’t see that coming a couple of years back. In the beginning, we would play at any given opportunity but nowadays, we are far more selective. We are a five-piece who live in four different cities spread all over Denmark, and it is rather expensive to meet and if we will lose too much money on transportation or we feel that we would be better off spending the time rehearsing new material for forthcoming releases, we have to decline.
That being said, we love playing live and hopefully, the future will bring us far more concerts, both national and international.
How much do you think about the way to present the band? Is it important to present the band in the right kind of environment?
Actually, we haven’t given our presentation much thought as we are just five people who enjoys spending time together and who love playing music. In other words, we just to what comes natural to us. On the other hand, we are well aware that we one way or the other have to look “good” on band pictures and onstage, and that our looks have to reflect our musical style which I hope is the case, haha.
What would you like to see the future hold for Altar Of Oblivion?
-I would like the future to hold much more albums, gigs, adventures and good fortune, in general. I hope our present line up will last till the end of doom as I couldn’t image cooler people to share the stage and daily life with. For the time being, I live in Greenland which has taught me a lot of things, broadened my horizon and helped put things into perspective. Being away from Denmark really make me realize what is important in life and what is not, and what I miss the most is without a shadow of a doubt my musical endeavors back home. Personally, I think Altar of Oblivion contain a lot of unreleased potential and I hope the future will unfold the true treasures of the band. So far, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg and in order for us to make it bigger, we just have to believe in our music, word hard, be lucky and work even harder.
Thank you for the interesting questions: it has been great fun to answer them. I always enjoy talking about Altar of Oblivion and music, in general. I hope my answers have brought the readers at least a little enlightenment.