October 29, 2020

AirdriftSignals EXCLUSIVE: Barcelona-based alternative heavy metal group Obsidian Kingdom discuss their new LP, MEAT MACHINE

Obsidian Kingdom Interview

Our AirdriftSignals Artist Spotlight Interview series covers this time, Barcelona-based alternative heavy metal act, Obsidian Kingdom, who are promoting their brand new album, MEAT MACHINE!

Obsidian Kingdom AirdriftSignals Interview

AirdriftSignals: This third LP, MEAT MACHINE, is the first to feature primary female vocals in your songs, performed by one of your guitarists Irene, and the split vocal duties you bring is a welcome transition between the equally pleasing aggressive and tender moments of the album. Can you speak a little about how you came about deciding your latest lineup change and the addition of this contrast to your new songs?

Obsidian Kingdom: Irene came into the band as a guitar player for the “A Year With No Summer” tour. She was under a lot of pressure at that moment because she had played little electric guitar before that, and she had to learn how to perform rather tricky guitar parts in a very short time. In the end, she managed and the tour went very well, but she suffered from a lot of stress due to that pressure – especially because of how poorly I handled my guidance, in my role as eldest band member and coordinator. I think that struggle is latent in most of the songs from the album. When the tour was over, we took to writing what would eventually become MEAT MACHINE. Irene participated a lot in the creative process and, as a consequence of that, she was writing plenty of lyrics and vocal lines, which she sang to us while showing us her ideas. We soon discovered that she had a wonderful voice, so we decided to try. The results were amazing, and we decided that we would split vocal duties - when we were done writing, she was singing five songs and I was singing the other five.

However, when it came to the recording, the shadow of that past strain resurfaced, and even though she performed all of her parts beautifully, she suffered too much from doing it. So by the end of her tracking, she decided it wasn’t worth her while, and she called it quits, much to our dismay. So we were left with a difficult decision: either we kept the songs as they had been recorded, knowing that we would never be able to play them live, or we re-recorded her vocals, although we were already way out of studio time. We went for the latter, which was a real struggle - not only because we had to adapt her lines to my range, but also because some lyrics were too personal and needed to be written over.

That would explain why you think Irene’s parts are “soft” in contrast with mine. The truth is that it was never meant that way, as Irene growled in many of the songs she used to sing. As a matter of fact, many of the growls you can still hear on the record are actually hers. By the end of that process, we found out that her voice was just irreplaceable in two songs, FLESH WORLD and A FOE, so we decided to leave them. We can only hope that she’ll come on stage with us someday to bring them to life.

We drifted for a while without a fifth member and even played a gig with a hired gun. But shortly after that, Victor noticed the vacant spot and jumped in. We’re whole again!

In a sense, this dynamic of heavy and softer quality could be found as early as your first LP, Mantiis, and also in your song Black Swan from A Year With No Summer. Not only this but Obsidian’s interest in electronic experimentation evident from the Torn and Burnt electronic remix EP shows you are absolutely willing to go down any sonic road that makes a great song. Does this speak to a musically diverse set of influences from each of your members?

Yes, definitely. We are five very different individuals who are also very culturally curious and we’re always bringing new things to the table. I know it’s kind of cliché, but we really will listen to ANYTHING as long as it makes us feel something. OK, maybe we’re not too fond of polka or traditional Hindu music, but you catch our drift: rock, pop, classical, electronic, jazz, noise, ambient, drone, folk, hip-hop, punk, trap, hardcore, anything goes. Even metal! Since we are so different, it’s hard to come across a band or album that we all like at the same time, but such a thing has happened with acts like Ulver, Death Grips, Daughters, Deftones, Scott Walker, and others.

But that’s not the only reason why our music is so diverse. When we set out to write a song, we discuss the content first, in terms of emotions and ideas. Once we got that down, we think of the sound resources that will suit those better, and we’d rather choose from a broad palette. We’ve always found that metal is somewhat limited when it comes to emotional range, and maybe not the best genre when you want to express something delicate, intimate, or fragile, for example. So why limit ourselves to a single set of rules? That’s not how we roll.

Obsidian Kingdom Dark Room

I don't mean to take attention away from your absolutely heavy and magnificent tracks, such as MR PAN and MEAT STAR, but overall the balance works very cohesively in this new record. What is your process in how you arrive at different musical junctions in songs such as THE EDGE and VOGUE that have notable stylistic changes?

THE EDGE and VOGUE are both songs about extreme mental states, about characters at the brink of madness. They are very emotionally unstable and they try to convey a sense of volatility, danger, and impending breakdown. We wanted to reflect that lack of balance and serenity, so we chose weird song structures, quirky sound effects, and jumpy riffs. This anxiety and unpredictability runs throughout the whole of MEAT MACHINE, but maybe especially so in those two songs.

When listening to the new record, there is obviously a focus and metaphor for the physical plane that we live in, but not always (more on that in the next question). Personally, it gives me the feeling of social economics and humans as livestock (or living stock) in this system we all live in, which you could actually call a machine. How did you arrive at the concept of MEAT MACHINE as an album and MEAT STAR as a music video?

It all comes down to a simple question, one we asked ourselves at the very beginning of the creative process: who are we now? And why are we doing this? We soon found out that the answer was eluding us. We tried to narrow down our identity and found that many of the things that we were focusing on had to do with our flesh and our physicality. We found that behind the thin façade of our personalities, our meat was always demanding as if it had a will of its own. The traits that we chose to define ourselves by had to do with things like our sexuality and our emotions, which ultimately are a set of chemical responses meant to help us survive. We also found out that many of those things didn’t depend on our will, but rather were a kind of automatism that we had to deal with. The body is a meat machine. And the way we relate to each other, the way we choose to use and abuse our power over other individuals, to give them pleasure or to make them suffer, makes the world another meat machine as well. We thought that it was a poetic concept that condensed our current fears and worries, and one into which the audience would easily project theirs.
Of course, there is something resembling social commentary, but the real goal of the album is to portray the struggle of the quest for identity in a mechanized and apparently insensitive universe. That is exactly where spirituality comes in, at the very doorway of nihilism. Themes like faith, transcendence, and true callings are tapped into in songs like MEAT STAR or MR PAN. There is also a strong underlying theme that binds together most of the songs in the album, and that is how our subconscious energies shape the material world we inhabit. So it’s not all meat in the end… But we wouldn’t want to get too intellectual about it. We wanted to write an album that you could feel, not one that you had to think about in order to understand it.

Yes. MR PAN, which is a track inspired by the legend of the god Pan, as well as the symbolism used in the MEAT STAR music video point to an influence in ancient folklore as well as the concept of magick as proposed by the mystic and magician Aleister Crowley. How has this mythology and philosophy (Thelema) influenced your group’s work?

I myself am very keen on the work of Frater Perdurabo and Thelema. As you very observantly have pointed out, this influence is especially patent in the MEAT STAR video, which is vaguely based on the Ritual of Abramelin and the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel - the idea that one must undergo a demanding process of withdrawal and self-resignation in order to unveil one’s true purpose in life. A rite of death and rebirth. Furthermore, many other characters and scenes in the narrative were drawn after the archetypes of the Major Arcana from the Thoth Tarot. And to top it off, the cinematography is reminiscent of that of Kenneth Anger, whose fondness of Crowley is well documented. MR PAN is also a song about reaching transcendence and a purer knowledge of the universe, but this time through altered mind states, hedonism, and self-immolation; it’s a much more Dionysian song. This of course relates to The Great Beast as well, but to be honest we had in mind other modern shamanistic icons when we wrote it, such as Carlos Castaneda or Jim Morrison.

Based on your origins in Barcelona, Spain, you have toured throughout many different regions of the world over the years. How have you felt your music has been received in relation to your contemporary touring bands that have gone on tour with you? How have you found other regions and fans taking to your music and how are their responses?

It’s hard to say… We tend to tour with bands that also dwell in the fringes of Rock and Metal, or who are innovative in some way, so our audience tends to be very open-minded in terms of music, which we, of course, appreciate very much, but at the same time, we always seem to be the oddball on the bill. So far we’ve found great acceptance in places like the UK or The Netherlands, probably because they have a bigger tradition in experimental and progressive music. The audience in Germany tends to be a little bit more conservative in their taste in Metal, which doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate what we do. Performing as Obsidian Kingdom, we’ve never played anywhere outside of Europe, but we’re dying to find out what they think of it in other places in the world. The music video of MEAT STAR recently won the “best music video” award at a cinema festival in Chile, and we’re getting great feedback from the United States as well, so we’re guessing there are a lot of people out there who probably love our art as well. It will happen.

Your past albums have displayed a strong aptitude for switching up styles, as this album does no less. A couple of the genres for example in past albums I have found intriguing and very satisfying were your dive into drone metal with April 10th as well as your heavy black metal beginnings. Do you ever see these stylistic choices coming about in your future work?

It depends… When we wrote Mantiis we had absolutely no idea what we were doing in terms of style. Just to give you an example, the trumpets in Last of the Light were included at the very end of the recording, like a last-minute arrangement for a part that felt dull at the moment. Or Genteel to Mention, which is a rather folky tune, that started off as a generic post-rock song. However, when we started to work on A Year With No Summer, we had previously decided that we would delve into the territories of drone, dream-pop, shoegaze, and the like since we wanted to give the album an ethereal and ominous vibe, and those styles felt perfect for that. That was our first serious attempt at electronic beats as well, which you can hear on songs like April 10th or The Polyarnik. With MEAT MACHINE, it was both pre-determined and spontaneous. On one side, we knew we wanted a rabid record, with an abrasive production, so we were certain that we would fall into Metal, hardcore, and crazy synths at some points, but on the other hand, we left enough room for the album to be whatever it wanted to be. That’s where weird and wonderful things started to happen.

Obsidian Kingdom Mask

And not to get ahead of the present moment and album, but I just think it’s important to note how impressively Obsidian Kingdom has evolved over the years. You never know when a new electronic remix album might drop, unless of course....?

Putting together Torn & Burnt was great fun back in the day since we got to hear the interpretations of our own songs by some of the electronic music producers that we were crazy about. On the touring cycle, we even played some of the remixes instead of the actual songs live. But since we mostly play rock music for a rock audience, I think that remixes are still perceived as a rarity and a b-side, and more often than not they’re not worth the effort you put into them. Come to think of it, it’d be really hard for me to point out more than five remixes in the history of music that were actually better than the original songs. We’ve also produced remixes for other bands ourselves, for bands like Cult of Luna or God Seed. So you never know… We might do it again!

Speaking of electronic music, in a previous interview with Heavy Metal New York you mention that you guys wanted to make an electronic record this time around. This style is easily heard on FLESH WORLD as an example and also the synth work in the middle of VOGUE and the end of WOMB OF WIRE. As a fan of electronic music, I see synth work as a fantastic addition to any genre. With this in mind, and your tendency to experiment, such as your use of an e-bow in A Year With No Summer, do you and the members have any plans to expand Obsidian Kingdom’s arsenal with even more and possibly unique instruments and instrumentation going forward?

Yes, our first intention was for MEAT MACHINE to be a full-on electronic album that you could dance to. We pre-produced the songs for a whole year and when we showed them to our producer, he found them boring and utterly uninteresting, and invited us to do it all over again - which we did! We kept some of the ideas, and the tempos, but as you can hear now, it certainly doesn’t feel like an electronic record, however much electronica it might have in it. I guess we weren’t there yet - we shall keep on trying. And as for the future, who knows? Most of the time, we come across those little tools by sheer accident. For example, I got myself an e-bow after touring with Sólstafir, who were using it a lot in their album Ótta. I thought it was extremely cool and I shamelessly copied it. But they probably copied it from The Smashing Pumpkins as well, because I know Addi loves them, ha! Also, one of the effects that you can hear throughout MEAT MACHINE is an auto-whammy pedal that I brought only because it is called “Ricochet”, and we had misused that word in an early version of the lyrics for THE EDGE. Accidents are really the salt and pepper of experimenting. 

Obsidian Kingdom - MEAT MACHINE

The world and your fans are very much looking forward to your upcoming world tour next Spring. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can all go out and celebrate and listen to you and others performing live again. Are there any bucket list items that you still want to see Obsidian Kingdom accomplish either while touring, collaborating, or creatively?

We are a very ambitious band, and of course, we always want to play bigger venues, before broader and more engaged audiences, in the best territorial extension possible. In terms of art, we dream of doing great things as well, although, in all honesty, I have to say that we’ve already done a great deal of them! We’ve played in museums (twice!), composed film scores, and commissioned paintings. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to fulfilling three basic needs: creating something that makes others feel (and hopefully appreciate newer meanings to life), having fun in the process, and making enough money to keep on doing it all over again. For as long as that happens, we’re happy. Oh, and I’m not calling it quits till we play in Japan.

Is there any other insight about your latest work you’d like to share with the world?


MEAT MACHINE can be purchased or streamed on all music platforms. Read our full review and stay tuned for more Obsidian Kingdom in the near future! 

Stefan Walczak Obsidian Kingdom MEAT MACHINE Red Vinyl