Interview: The Iron Backstage Magazine had some questions for Obscurus Rex
Panos Karabelas of Obscurus Rex was interviewed by the German Iron Backstage Magazine about the band, its debut EP “Stand Up and Be Counted”, the dynamics of the band, hidden meanings, future plans and all sorts of interesting things.
So, here we go:
Question: Hello! Can you tell us more about the origins of Obscurus Rex and how the band came together?
Panos Karabelas (bass): Obscurus Rex is the band I always wanted to form but various circumstances were holding me back. So, when the timing was finally right, I started looking for people dedicated and on the same state of mind as me to bring the dream to life. It wasn’t easy and not wanting to waste any more time I began the pre-production of an EP, that later evolved into “Stand Up and Be Counted”. It’s strange, because as soon as the project lifted off, the people I was looking for but couldn’t find until then, somehow showed up one after the other. It was 2021 when the basic core of the band was ready.
Q: Your sound has been described as unique and not easily categorized within a specific subgenre of metal. How did you go about developing this distinctive sound, and what were some of the key influences that contributed to it?
P.K.: Our influences, the raw materials of this alloy if you like, are relatively easy to make out in our songs. What is interesting is that our songs, the final product of our smelting furnace, don’t sound specifically like something. Yes, of course it’s heavy metal, but although you can hear Maiden in them, well…they are not Maiden-like songs. You can hear the early-Sabbath era or even Soundgarden influence in “Red”, but it’s not either a Sabbath or a Soundgarden song. And they all fit together with one another somehow. It’s our sound. Whenever I play a new song to Manos (Xanthakis, vocals) he almost always says “once again, it doesn’t remind me of anything specific”. It’s not as if we put any effort to it, it just happens. And, of course, we like it an awful lot! And we have a good laugh when we play new songs to our friends and then ask them, what do they remind them of, and then watch them as they all come up with totally different bands but each of them is certain about their opinion!
Q: How did line-up changes impact the band’s dynamics and creative process, particularly with the addition of Constantinos Mavroyannis on guitars?
P.K.: Every time there is a line-up change you have to readjust to the new facts. Influences, playing style etc. The key is to see the positive side of it and make the most out of it, diving into the new potential the new member can bring. Costantinos came onboard after the recording sessions for the EP were completed. His eye for detail, his progressive influences and gear “magic” he brought along with him has opened new doors for us.
Q: Can you share the creative process behind the songs on the “Stand Up and Be Counted”? What themes or experiences influenced the lyrics and music?
P.K.: The songs are drawn from life itself. When something happens to you or someone close to you, writing about it can have a cleansing effect. They all have a story to tell. Some songs were initially melodies without lyrics, like “4Justice”, and others like “Red” started their life as lyrics looking for the right melodies to complete them. To a great degree, the creative process is somewhat spontaneous, with little thinking but always with a lot of attention to detail.
Q: The EP was recorded during a period of global turmoil and personal challenges for the band members. How did these challenges affect the recording process, and do you think they influenced the overall tone of the music?
P.K.: Apart from losing some time due to the lockdown, the global turmoil did not affect the recording process. It was the backdrop, or better the cherry on top of a lot of not very good things that happened to almost all the people involved with the band. Some had a happy ending, some others not really… It was mainly the turmoil in our personal lives that made the process difficult. But it only made us more determined. We simply refused to let anything stop us and all this worked like a high-octane fuel for us.
Q: The recurring theme of “Inner Fire” is mentioned in relation to the EP. Can you elaborate on this concept and how it is reflected in your music?
P.K.: It’s not a concept EP but there is a loose connection between the songs, which is the fire that burns our lives and burns in our hearts. Inspiration, passion, revenge, desperation, the feelings behind the tracks respectively, can consume us if not tempered or be a driving force if harnessed.
Q: What was the experience like working at Dimon Studios, and how did the studio environment contribute to the final sound of “Stand Up and Be Counted”?
P.K.: Dimitris Sakkas (producer, drums) is a very patient man. He will listen and absorb what you have in your head and he has a way of bringing it out in the open as you wanted and -even better- in its best version. The fact that he was the first person that got involved in the project as the drummer, gave him a unique perspective of the songs. I must admit that I gave him a hard time with my “obsessive compulsive”-like attention to detail but he…endured and the final result is so surprisingly fitting to our music and we are very proud of it.
Q: Can you share some specific challenges you faced during your musical journey and how you overcame them to reach this point?
P.K.: Apart from finding the right people to bring into the band, another challenge is letting go of what you perceive a song you have written should sound like and leaving room for the artistic expression of your band mates. Tricky but doable…
Q: As a band hailing from Greece, do you think your location and cultural background have influenced your music in any specific way? Are there elements of Greek culture or history that inspire your lyrics or musical compositions?
P.K.: There is no intentional reference to the wider Greek culture. In the new material we are working on there are elements that are influenced by our cultural background but I wouldn’t say that these influences play a key role in our sound.
Q: What message or emotions do you hope listeners take away from your music, especially from “Stand Up and Be Counted”?
P.K.: If there is one message for anyone out there, is that we should all take hold of our lives and despite of any difficulties move forward and make sure are voice is heard so that we will leave something behind, our own mark. Our inspiration, our passion, even our desperation can be utilized and turn to something meaningful.
Q: The band’s name, Obscurus Rex, has a mysterious and powerful aura. Is there a story or meaning behind the name that you would like to share with your fans?
P.K.: Obscurus Rex is Latin for the obscure, dark, hidden king. One could be quick to say “so, it’s the Devil”. Not necessarily. What is obscure and hidden from us isn’t always bad or negative. A guardian angel is also not visible to us just as the Devil isn’t. And there are forces we cannot comprehend that govern our lives, like a king does. Whether they are dark or not is unclear, they are obscure. I tend to believe it’s both, the two sides of a coin and it is up for us to find out and choose which side we will embrace.
Q: How do you approach the visual aspect of your band, including album artwork and stage presence, to complement your music and message?
P.K.: Sevi Spanou is behind the artwork. We had a few long conversations about the EP and we think that every image included encapsulates the spirit of “Stand Up and Be Counted”. Regarding our stage presence we keep it simple. You see, if the music doesn’t make your blood boil, no fireworks display will. So, we focus on our music.
Q: What lessons have you learned that you believe are crucial for newcomers in the metal music scene?
P.K.: You need to have a vision. What do you want to do? What do you want to see happening? Plan your each step in relative detail. You need a schedule that will be realistic but bold. Then try to stick to it and don’t let anything stop you. Expect problems, but don’t give up. Don’t slow down. Adapt and improvise!
Q: Looking ahead, what are your plans for the future of Obscurus Rex?
P.K.: We are in the early stages of the pre-production process for our first full album and we are focusing on this. Most of the songs are ready and we keep working on them. Hopefully we will start recording sometime in the beginning of 2024. Good things are on the way!