What is the path to Hell really paved with? Good intentions don’t make a ton of sense if you think about it in either a literal or a theological sense. So what would that path toward the gates of Tartarus actually look like? What kind of monstrous road are you trudging along after your final breath and just how treacherous is the way? Answering any of these questions is way beyond the paygrade of a D.I.Y. fanzine but we can recommend Ontborg as a stalwart travelling companion down Hell’s highway should you find yourself there.
Since forming in 2017, Italy’s Ontborg has released two killer albums, starting with their 2019 debut, Within the Depths of Oblivion. This year’s Following the Steps of Damnation is both a worthy successor to that first outing and great traveling music in case you find yourself headed south to the Devil’s den. In an already strong year for death metal, Ontborg’s latest stands worthy as more than deserving of your attention. I recently caught up with the band to talk about their latest record.
First off, how did Ontborg get started? What made you want to start a death metal?
Ontborg: Three members from Ontborg were playing in another band that split up. We didn’t want to stop playing together and, as we all were fans of the old school Swedish death metal from the ’90s, we decided to start this project. We grew up with this style, which is the reason why it has a special meaning for us. New songs came really fast and a little bit more than a year later our first CD, Within The Depth Of Oblivion, came out.
What got you into death metal in the first place and who are some of the bigger influences for this particular band?
Ontborg: Like many of our generation, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Metallica were the first points of contact with rock and metal. The step to heavier bands was not a big one, each of us discovered other exciting bands like Death, Deicide, Old Man’s Child, and finally ended up in the Scandinavian metal scene. The biggest influences for the band are certainly Dismember, Benediction, Necrophobic, and Dissection.
What makes you guys all work so well together as a band and how do you keep a healthy band dynamic?
Ontborg: We share a love of music and metal. After rehearsals we like to sit together, discuss music, and drink a beer. Besides, we have been friends partly since childhood. So we know each other very well, and even though Lukas [Flarer] is our main songwriter and mastermind, we are a very democratic band where every opinion is respected. We have been in the business for a long time, we are motivated, professional, and realistic.
What’s your process like for writing the music side of things? Has that changed at all over the years?
Lukas: No, the process is always the same. All starts with an idea, a riff, or a rhythm you have in mind. So you collect them and as you have enough pieces you set them together to see if they fit well. Some songs go easy, some take some time. Once the song is finished, we rehearse him together and work out all the details and changes.
How do you write the lyrics for the band? What do you turn to for inspiration for the songs?
Christoph Flarer: Our lyrics are written as soon as the music is ready. Through the music you get certain associations or convey a feeling, and we try to reinforce this message through the lyrics.
For the text writers, their own song lyrics may have more importance, but in the context of the music we understand the voice as a complement to the music, the text is not the focus, but should complete and support the atmosphere.
The debut, Within the Depths of Oblivion, is a killer first record! How did getting to record that one come about and what did you learn from the process that you used on future recordings?
Lukas: Our first CD was a totally natural process. Songs almost wrote [themselves] alone and there appeared no difficulties, as we all had the same mood and opinion on what to change and whatnot. So was the recording process, too. We did it all the old school way, real drums, real amps, and it took us one or two days for each instrument to record. We focused on the important things and left it unpolished to achieve a raw sound. As we all came from other bands, we already had experience in how to work in the studio, so it was not really something new for us.
The follow-up, Following the Steps of Damnation, is another killer record. What was the recording/writing process like for this one? Was it an easier record than the debut? How happy were you guys with the final product?
Lukas: The writing and recording process did not differ that much from the first one, aside from the fact that Christoph, our drummer, wrote five lyrics this time, which came out really great. After the recording, we had some different opinions, soundwise, this time, so the mixing process took longer than usual, but we’re all happy with the final result and looking at the reviews and the feedback, people seem to like it too.
I wanted to ask about a few songs on that album to get the musical/lyrical origin of them. What’s the story behind “Steps of Damnation?” Was that always planned to be the opener?
Lukas: “Steps of Damnation” was one of the first three or four songs we did for this album. As it was finished, we immediately knew that this song had something special and would probably be the first single. As we made progress and had more songs finished, we decided to make it the title track. The lyrical theme describes what you can also see on the cover artwork: the path you have to pass after your death to travel from this world to the next, your destination whatever. Seen from a dark perspective, it is a never-ending path of damnation across a rotten dead landscape as in the cover. Just imagine how cool that would be!
How about the origin of the “To the North?”
Christoph F.: For me, the song conveys extreme melancholy and longing. I was several times in Scandinavia, even in the depths of winter, and I wanted to convey the feeling of cold, but also of beauty, in the lyrics, in keeping with the song. The lyrics can be interpreted on two levels. The story tells of a man walking north in the snow, walking on and on. Nature becomes more and more harsh, barren, and at the same time calming. At the same time, the story also tells of a man who simply wants to leave, to leave everything behind until he is finally alone with himself and his thoughts. There is nothing around him any more and he feels redeemed.
What about the story behind “I Am the Night?”
Lukas: The idea came from the beginning of all things. Was light always present? If not, light has stolen a part from darkness. So darkness (“the night”) will start hunting the light to eliminate it, so the night can reign all over again.
How about the story behind that closer, “The Tower?”
Christoph F.: In this text, everything revolves around a disoriented person who follows different voices in the thicket of the forest, is drawn to the darkness as if in a trance, until he finally stands in front of a high tower. He climbs the steep steps until he reaches the top and opens the door of a chamber in which he finally sees his own reflection.
What’s your local scene like where you’re at in Italy? Is there a pretty active scene and do you feel it has had an effect on the band in any way?
Christoph G.: Our local metal scene is not that big and it is divided in many different metal genres. Because of that, we play more often in Germany or Austria than in our region. In the future, we hope to reach more local metalheads and maybe bring the scene a bit more together.
Lastly, what’s next for Ontborg? What are your goals for the future of the band?
Christoph G.: Now that our second album is finally released, we prepare to play some gigs. We still have video material, so we will release some more videos [in] the following months.
Photo at top: Following the Steps of Damnation album cover.