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Interview: OAKENSHIELD
Title: On behalf of the Nordic mythology

2004 the main force behind Oakenshield began under the name of Nifelhel, once as a studio project of young but ambitioned and talented Englishman Ben Corkhill.

In the beginning all was very raw and war-like, but with the years Ben got better on his instruments and with the composing. Then someday Oakenshield has been founded, and with additional heroic keyboard epics the Britishman found his artistic way finally.

Awesome Melodic Epic Pagan Viking Metal now offers the new debut album of Oakenshield, „Gylfaginning”. Passionate lovers of well known genre-idols as Falkenbach, Månegarm, Týr or old Forlorn for example will celebrate „Gylfaginning” for sure as their new treasure.

While being filled with finest Folk elements and deep touching grim vocal outputs, this great release contains also fascinating lyrics about ancient Norse mythologies. In this way Ben has a big interest for the first book of the famous prose Edda – „Gylfaginning” simply was the perfect choice for the album’s theme.

And as a lover of grand majestic and epic art as it‘s the case at Oakenshield, I take the mainman to my side for an longer dialogue immediately.

Hey Ben, tell a ´bit about the process of the songwriting for the new album „Gylfaginning”!

„Writing the songs for „Gylfaginning” was at first a daunting task, but once I got into it, ideas were flying at me. Song writing for me usually starts with a certain riff or an atmosphere I want to create. From there I basically go where the music takes me, rather than the other way round. Because I was writing to a concept, I had to imagine the stories in musical form. I would read a passage or chapter from the Edda, and in my head think of a mood or aura the song should produce. Sometimes I could think of nothing, other times ideas would sneak up on me. An example of this is the main melody of „Utgarda-Loki”, which came to me spontaneously while I was relaxing in front of the TV one evening. With this album I tried to match the feeling of the lyrics musically, for example the song „Valhalla„ which uses very majestic melodies and choruses, compared to „Vigrid„ which often changes from one atmosphere to the next to portray what is being told in the story. There are also elements from certain songs introduced into other songs to represent certain themes or events to link the stories together. The way I arranged the lyrics to the songs was first by using relevant poetic passages from the Edda itself and working my own lyrics around these. Sometimes the passages make up most of the song (i.e. The Sons Of Bor) and sometimes they form just a short section (i.e. Yggdrasil).”

Which spiritual ways in life do you still seek with your music?

„Those who know me know that I am not exactly what you would call a „spiritual” person; I very much lead my life in the present physical world, so to speak. However music has the incredible ability to reach a listener’s „spiritual side” and wake emotions and senses they might not have known they had. In that sense I would say I am seeking new and more complex ways to reach listeners and get them interested in the music, not just from what they’re hearing but what the music makes them feel like, and indeed the same thing applies to myself when I listen to Oakenshield.”

How do you practise your relationship to mother nature day by day?

„Unfortunately I do not have as much time as I’d like to spend in more natural areas. I’m lucky to live in the countryside and try to spend a decent amount of time in the natural surroundings i.e. walking in the woods, occasionally visiting the Yorkshire Dales or the North York Moors etc. When I do go walking or camping I like to take in the surroundings and sometimes to just sit alone admiring the environment.”

What is the greatest fact within the fantastic worldwide nature for you?

„The best places in the world to me are places where there is little to no civilisation for miles around, the land is unspoiled and it has all been fashioned and maintained by nature itself. Mountains amaze me, the sheer immensity of them is quite daunting sometimes and makes you realise the power of nature. I’ve reached the summits of the three highest mountains on the British Isles, and they are still only a fragment of the size of other ranges, which sort of puts things in perspective.”

Seems, that´s very hard to get a real drummer there for you; why?

„I am actually a drummer myself, but I don’t have the skill to play some of the tracks from „Gylfaginning”, and besides that a drum machine sounds a lot more crisp on a recording than the live sound I could have gotten using my equipment. I could probably find a good drummer if I advertised, but for now I’d rather the whole thing be done by myself. It’s something I’ll probably look into for future releases though.”

What's your ideal song on „Gylfaginning”?

„Tough question… I like every song for its individual qualities; each represents its own part of the tale and has different characteristics. But I’d probably say „Vigrid„ is my favourite as it sums up the whole thing really, it binds the rest of the tracks together. Also, of all the tracks, it’s the one that most represents the themes behind the album.”


Please give examples of ideas you've had or implemented for your music!

„Because „Gylfaginning” is a concept album, there are certain ideas in the music that are repeated throughout. For example at the end of „Utgarda-Loki” there is a musical section that represents the anger of Thor, which is repeated in the track „Hymir”, in which Thor is the main character. I think using this technique connects the characters, events and themes throughout the album so that the listener knows they are being taken through a concept – rather than 11 tracks which are totally unrelated.”

Tell about your proudest achievement on „Gylfaginning”.

„The album as a whole is basically my proudest achievement; I would never have expected to be releasing an official album this time last year. I am proud of the production though. Due to the fact that I was using my own (and somewhat limited) equipment and recording the whole thing in my house, I was worried that the production quality would let the album down, but I am happy with it and the label are also, which I’m pleased about.”

Who are your favourite bands and why?

„In terms of Metal music, I have a long list of bands I love, but there are of course a few that stand out to me above the rest. Bathory is one of these because, as everybody knows, there was no Viking Metal previous. People often give „Blood Fire Death” as the defining point of turn in Bathory’s music, but to me the change definitely came with „Hammerheart”. In my eyes there has never been such an important figure in Metal than Quorthon, especially for this genre. Listening to Bathory totally changed my perspective on Metal music. Another favourite of mine is Falkenbach, who of course are a big influence on Oakenshield’s music. To me Falkenbach gives the perfect Viking Metal formula, great melodies, epic choral parts and timeless songs that make up a unique yet diverse sound. In my opinion Týr are the most talented Metal band in the world at the moment. Heri Joensen to me is the most innovative and intelligent composer (not to mention the best vocalist) in Metal today. The way the traditional songs are incorporated into Metal is very well done and their original compositions are so unique to the band, they have a very defined sound. And of course the band that started it all for me, Metallica. Although in recent years the music has slipped below par, they still remain one of the most influential bands in Metal and some of their old songs are some of the greatest of all time. They were the first proper Metal band I got into and I still enjoy their music as much as I did back then. There are also some non-Metal bands I regard as favourites in The Smiths and The Dubliners. I have a very eclectic music taste.”

And who are your heroes among them?

„I wouldn’t say I have ‘heroes’ but more people I look up to and admire. Quorthon is a man that I admire a lot, as his music had a great effect on me as well as countless others. I met the guys from Týr back when they supported Amon Amarth. At this point they were relatively unknown in England and so they were hanging round the bars after the gig, so I ended up talking to them for the rest of the night, they were really down to earth nice blokes, and it’s good that they came down to spend time with the fans.”

Why do you make this kind of music at all?

„The simple answer to that is because I love it. The reason I started making Viking Metal is because at the time I began recording my own songs I was listening to a lot of Amon Amarth, Bathory, Enslaved etc. and was influenced by them. This was also the same time I started reading into Norse mythology, so that provided the lyrical inspiration. Creating this style of music allows me to take elements from my influences, mix it all up and mould it into my own style. Also, I’ve never really been good at writing “normal” lyrics, and Viking Metal allows me to tell existing stories in my own way.”

What are you looking for in terms of development of musical style?

„I just want to carry on developing the music so that it sounds different to what is on „Gylfaginning”. When I listen back to my old material (the Nifelhel recordings) it amazes me that I made such big changes in musical style without really realising it, it was just a natural progression. I want to always give the listener something to look forward to, not just “another Oakenshield album”.”

How big do you ultimately want to become in music-biz?

„I’m not overly bothered about people recognising me in the street and that, but I want to get the music across to as many fans as possible. I want to do well for the label and for Oakenshield to gain a good name in the genre. I think in the future I’d rather have a base of fans that were really listening to and enjoying my music than have thousands of people that had only heard a few tracks.”

How would you describe your working style for your music?

„Determined yet open-minded, and overall quite quick. I can write a song in one evening, but for the next three weeks I will be picking at it, taking bits out, putting bits in, changing this that and the other. When recording I can be somewhat impatient but I always make sure I get a decent end result, which sometimes ends up in me staying up until all hours working on a track.”

Please report about a time where you had to deal with conflicts during the development process of the new album!

„The main problem with creating „Gylfaginning“ was the fact that I was here in England, while Olaf of Einheit Produktionen, you, Markus and the layout man Digisteve were over in Germany. This meant that the only communication we had was email, which could sometimes slow things down a bit. Nevertheless, we worked well together and the label were heavily involved in the process, which helped me a lot as I had never done anything like this before. We got there in the end.”

Why should listeners buy your new CD?

„I say, „Gylfaginning” is an album that takes the listener on a journey from the creation of life itself to the eventual destruction of the earth. Throughout the album, there are many different tales being told and the diversity of the stories is represented through the music, so there is never a dull moment for the listener. The album offers an array of structural, musical and instrumental variation. There is always something being represented, an event, a character or a theme which means there is a purpose behind every riff, melody and lyric.”

What can you do for the fans with your newest music that other candidates can't?

„One thing I noticed about the album (and this only occurred to me very recently) is that the songs do not follow traditional structures. Because every song tells a story, the music moves with the events of the story, thus creating a free-flowing piece of music which doesn’t have to fall back on refrains or choruses, but rather sections of the story structured in the direction of the entire work. Oakenshield is very much a narrative force, so to speak. Another thing I think is good about the music is that it takes elements from all influences and creates a unique sound. I don’t believe there is a song on the album that a listener would hear and think “that sounds just like the last track”, there is a wide range of stylistic approach on there.”

When were you most satisfied with your creative forces?

„I was satisfied the moment I knew the album was complete. I listened to the album countless times over, adjusting tiny things here and there until I was fully content with it. I’m very happy to have made an entire album myself and it has boosted my confidence in my own creative abilities, both musically and technologically.”

What's the last book which you read?

„The last book I finished was „The Lord Of The Rings“, and I am currently reading a non-fiction book called „The Vikings“ by Else Roesdahl. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.”

If you were an animal, which one would you want to be nowadays?

„An intriguing question… I would probably say a dog, an Alsatian. I’ve never had a dog but I have always liked them a lot, they really are man’s best friend. It would be interesting to be one.”

Where would you like to be in your career five years from now?

„Hopefully still with Einheit, making more music. Possibly performing live, but we’ll see where that potential avenue goes… I hope by then to be working as a sound engineer or a producer as well, so that I can work with other artists as well as producing Oakenshield albums.”

What do you think about music-industry?

„The main thing that strikes me about today’s industry is that there are so many bands, artists, record labels etc. that it’s hard to get noticed. I was lucky with Oakenshield as I managed to get the deal much sooner than I expected – in all honesty I wouldn’t have foreseen as strong a reaction as I got from Einheit, but that showed me that they really believed in Oakenshield. But because there are so many bands, and the fashions will come and go, it is hard for people to get recognised, even if they have a lot of talent. I’ve been in bands before so I know first hand what it’s like to get yourselves out there – hard work. In the Metal scene, Folk- and Viking Metal is on the rise in Europe, with bands such as Amon Amarth, Wintersun and Turisas leading the way. This is a good thing as it means more people will get to hear quality bands but it has its setbacks; in my opinion there seems to be a lot of Metal fans who see Folk Metal as somewhat of a „novelty” genre and will go to the gigs for the experience, for a laugh, whatever. I suppose this portrayal is mainly down to certain media groups’ perceptions of the genre, but I won’t mention any names… At the moment I do not know a great deal about the industry on a whole as I have only just got into it, but I look forward to learning a lot more.”

Which are your lifelong dreams?

„As it stands my lifelong dream is to continue making music I enjoy making, interest and excite people with it and progress my career as a musician. I want to get into a sound engineering/producing career as this allows me to blend my love of music with my love of music technology. I would like to open my own studio in the future, but that’s something I don’t need to think too much about right now. For the moment, my lifelong dream is to live a long life!”

© Markus Eck, 17.03.2008

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