Obsidian Sea interview
This Bulgarian band celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, and their third album Strangers is a great evidence of Obsidian Sea’s growing professionalism and developed individuality.
They did start with quite traditional, yet interesting doom metal album Between Two Dessert (2012), then the band developed its sound with more intricate Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions (2015) and now Strangers easily surpasses everything Obsidian Sea has done before. We’ve managed to do this interview with Anton Avramov (guitars, vocals) not long before Obsidian Sea’s new Tour.
Hi Anton! How are you? We haven’t speak for about four years, how would you sum up this period in Obsidian Sea?
Hi! I’m doing good, thank you! And the band is still going, which is a success in itself as everyday life always seeks to impose its routine on you, taking out of your creative energy… To sum that period up for the band– we’ve gone through a line-up change, found a new bass player – Delyan, wrote and recorded an album, played live little, grown a bit older… All things considered, I think we’ve become a better band.
I see that your second album Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions, originally self-released, got three reissues on tape, CD and vinyl. Nuclear War Now! has done two of them. Do you feel it as a sort of success?
I do. If nothing else, it means people listened and took notice so maybe we’ve done something right. Success is relative of course, we’ve hardly become world-famous or rich, but artistically speaking, it’s been a step forward and that’s what I care for above all.
What else do you feel as success for Obsidian Sea? All high positions in doom world are occupied with a few bands for years! None can take their place and I wonder what one needs to do to keep people’s interest?
Well, that’s kinda normal, I guess. The classics will always have their place especially in a very traditional-oriented field like that. And there is the fact that there’s this “retro” culture pervading the genre isn’t it. It’s like you have to “quote” the classics in order to validate your legitimacy, but of course you can never outdo the originals at what they more or less invented or perfected. People’s interest is hard to keep, surely. We live in a time where the volume of information is so overwhelming and that also includes the number of bands who are able to publish their music. I don’t have a formula, to be honest – except for total honesty in making inspired music. But in the end it’s not a race to me and I don’t care much for satisfying the popular demand at the expense of identity and inspiration…
The band’s third album Strangers was out on Ripple Music in March, 2019. What didn’t work with Nuclear War?
I wouldn’t say it haven’t worked. The release was good and the general experience – positive. I’d say at the time it was the right thing to do, but we felt we needed a change, maybe try working with a label that’s more in line with what we’re doing and may present our music to the right audience. I think this is what we’re getting from Ripple Music.
Did you search for label, sending demos in different directions and waiting for reply? How are you active consider band’s promoting?
Not really. We have never recorded a demo after the very first one in 2010. We always get the albums fully done and then look for interested parties in releasing them. Promoting is not easy as it’s honestly a bit in odds with our nature – the whole social media thing, marketing. I don’t know how good of a “salesman” I am (or the others for that matter). The best promotion I think is playing live and while we’re still not able to do it with great regularity we are going on this little tour in Europe starting in late October – Italy, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Greece. We’ll be together with the band “BUS the unknown secretary” from Greece – check them out if you haven’t.
There is a four year break between Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions and Strangers.
It was a combination of factors. As I said, we changed the line-up and it always takes a bit of time to get on the same wavelength. But we’ve never been very prolific or fast writers of music. We took our time, rehearsing a lot, getting the right feel for the songs, testing them in a live setting… But it was worth it as we wanted to record the album live, all together and that meant we had to become a really tight unit. The actual recording sessions were very quick and spontaneous and listening to the result, I believe having spent all that time preparing was the right choice as we really knew what we wanted to achieve.
So you did record it from one take? How did this experience differ from regular recording session?
We played together – all the songs, all the way through – a couple of takes each and then we chose the best. The basic tracks were recorder in one day. And then, of course, we overdubbed certain parts, but the backbone was there. That was the plan from the beginning and it came together very nicely, I’d say. It’s quite simply the best recording experience we’ve had so far as we were able to put our collective energy into it and capture it on the recording. And music is a way of communication; you can’t get the same feeling if you play your parts separately to a prerecorded track.
What kind of feedback did you get?
From what I know, the album’s been well-received. I’ve read some good reviews, but also had people whom I know and respect, telling me it’s our best yet. I have to say, I agree. But most importantly, we’ve had the opportunity to play the album in its entirety at live shows in Germany and Austria, outside of the comfort of our local “home” audience, and their reactions and feedback have been great. I mean, we believed from the start that we had a good album on our hands, but you can never be sure how people would react to it. But so far, it’s been very encouraging.
Did you play shows on your own or on festivals? Doom fests turn to be common thing nowadays – Germany, Italy, Netherlands, France, UK… It seems doom related events happen each month.
It depends – we played at “Seeds of Doom” festival in Salzburg last summer – a great true doom event. Mostly it’s club shows with one or two other bands. We’re yet to appear at many of the places and events you mentioned but all in due time.
From a first glance Strangers sounds more rocking than Obsidian Sea’s previous works. Did you consciously search for a new sound?
I guess we did, both consciously and not, but I wouldn’t call it “a new sound”. To me, it’s a natural progression, not a wild experiment. Now that I listen to some of our older material, especially around the time of the debut, it’s a lot stiffer sounding. I guess that has its charm and I know people who prefer that sound over our current one… But I think as you move forward as a band you learn different ways of expression, adding more dimensions, new touches, different perspective, if you like. Personally, my goal with the band has always been writing engaging, evocative, moving songs. That hasn’t changed – the album is reaching at that same goal. I guess, what you might call a “more rocking” sound is just the result of us feeling more liberated in our musical expression. But it’s still a reflection of what we love in heavy rock music, the way we feel it.
New songs are more psychedelic. There is a stronger psychedelic presence and composition is more… loose, probably. Did you see what new elements are more effective in order to channel moods you want to express through the songs?
We started to introduce those elements in the previous album, but I think this time they flow much more naturally in to the songs. Anyway, I feel our music lends itself well to such “psychedelic” influences, not in terms of falling into endless drugged-out jams, but rather adding a different presence, adding depth. I’ve seen people using the terms “prog” or even “heavy psych” when describing the album. Personally, I’m not sure and to be honest that’s not very important – each musical approach is in the end an instrument in itself, serving to evoke a state of mind and spirit and not simply of technical ability or knowledge of a style or a scene. So it’s not about saying “let’s get psychedelic”. It’s another color in the palette.
I’ve found Paul Chain references in Strangers, especially in “The Birth Of Fear”. Was he one of your central influences during the composing of the album?
I guess you can say that, yes. His music has been an influence on me for years now. You can say the same for Black Hole for instance. Or Biglietto per l’Inferno. But I see no point in referencing any of them too literally as you always end up with something inferior this way. Let’s say there might be a little nod there to “Voyage to Hell”, but I suspect Paul Chain himself put his own twist on a figure Jimi Hendrix used to use. Just a speculation, of course. Really, like in every craft, you take cues from here and there and incorporate them into your own thing, but personality can’t be recreated and I dare to believe we have enough of that…
“The album deals with the distance between us and what is it that tears us apart and leaves us alone and estranged.”
Anton, I remember your careful approach towards lyrics. What kind of themes did you choose for Strangers?
Thank you! Well, Strangers is not really a concept album, but as the title may suggest, there is a sort of a common theme running through it. Generally, the album deals with the distance between us and what is it that tears us apart and leaves us alone and estranged. And that could be fear or infidelity, loss of faith or of innocence, ambition, pride… Or it could be simply that part in any of us that could never be communicated or shared, the essence of loneliness.
Your approach to music and lyrics and overall image of Obsidian Sea does avoid strict following of genre’s cliches… It’s more than just worshiping this or that band from the past.
It’s natural, I guess. I’ve been a very contemplative kid and ever since then I wanted to be immersed into an experience, even the simplest one and not just “do” and “look” at things. Once you limit your eyesight (or mind’s eye) to just the obvious it gives you so much less. And finding the philosophy of things and the spirit that pervades them is to me, living in essence… It’s quite naive and obvious observation that, but it’s not that easy to hold on to it and remember to do it. And it’s a platform. Same goes for the music – it’s an adventure and real adventures cannot get boring. I don’t judge – I guess it’s perfectly alright to just say – “I love weed, Black Sabbath and loud amps”. I’m more interested in finding a story to tell, reach out to a certain truth, maybe find little revelations along the way.
Does collaboration with Ripple Music help you to spread Obsidian Sea vibe more effectively?
I believe so. We are very pleased with the support we’ve gotten so far from Todd and “Ripple” but also from the other bands who are on the label. The help is there and it’s not always about a direct input in gig organization, but rather in the access to a network of contacts, knowing who to turn to, being more visible, more “in the light” so to speak. That said, we had the opportunity to be a part of the Ripple Fest in Cologne this spring, just a day after the release of Strangers. Our first gig in Germany ever. So that was a good start.
Now when you have three full-length albums in hands, how do you see Obsidian Sea’s status?
Three albums and ten years since we started. You can do worse than that for sure… I really don’t know what our status is, frankly. I guess the band today is better known than ever before but to how many? At the same time, we’re on the verge of our first European tour in late October / early November. I guess that means we’re getting somewhere after all. Really, it depends on how you measure “status”. I know I don’t do it, really. All I can say is that we’re still going at our own pace and when it’s time to look back we’ll see where it had led us.
– Aleksey Evdokimov