Growing up in a small city near Rotterdam in The Netherlands, Obscura didn’t find a quick route into rock music. Once the riffs finally came calling, however, she dove straight into the deep end, and hasn’t looked back since.
“As a child, I wasn’t much into music,” admits the Asagraum frontwoman – real name Hanna van den Berg. “Except some classical music and some hard rock that my dad used to play. My first encounter with metal music was at the age of 12, seeing some mainstream metal videos on television.
"I loved the aggression and power in the music, so I dug a bit further on the internet and discovered black metal, which totally took me. So, in fact, my primary interest in heavy music started with black metal!”
Immersing herself in the sounds of the Scandinavian second-wave black metal scene and its various offshoots, Obscura found kinship with extreme metal heavyweights
like Emperor, Gorgoroth, Mayhem and Watain – “for me, the late 90s and early 2000s is when black metal started to sound truly extreme and dark,” she argues.
She formed her first black metal band at the age of 15, though she admits today that “the skills of me and my comrades were not sufficient to make it a success… yet.”
Still, by 19 she was playing as a live guitarist with Dutch black metal mainstays Sammath for a stint in the mid-00s, and, after a few more years of various projects and live gigs, she eventually got to work putting together the band that would see her unleash her own vision: Asagraum.
Recruiting a line-up of international musicians she knew from around the underground, Obscura set about recording Asagraum’s first EP, released in early 2017, with a debut album Potestas Magicum Diaboli following a few months later.
The record’s merging of gnarled, second-wave BM histrionics with flourishes of hypnotic, otherworldly psychedelia saw the band become one of the most hyped bands in the evolving Dutch metal scene, stealing the show at festivals across Europe from Sweden (Stockholm Slaughter) to Estonia (Howls Of Winter) to their homeland (Eindhoven’s Dynamo Festival in December last year).
And while Asagraum are undoubtedly doing great things musically, their – and in particular Obscura’s – ideological leanings have helped them become embraced by fans looking to maintain black metal’s kinship with ol’ Horned Lad.
“Our ideology is Satanism,” says the frontwoman, simply. “I think all living creatures are connected, and the network is a great power: Satan… though I believe He or She doesn’t give a shit what name I use.
"I prefer ‘Satan’ because, despite all the different ideologies around it, this name has always stood for a rebel, an outcast, a power of liberation.
"And the worst thing you can do if you want to create personal freedom, power and happiness is follow the mass, like a sheep, or follow some religion that keeps you dumb and suppresses your natural instincts.
"I love Satan, because He is a liberation: an enemy of mass structures that keep you thinking small.”
In an era where Kardashians wear Slayer shirts and the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s seems like a lifetime ago, such musings may seem passé by modern metal standards, but make no mistake about it: Obscura doesn’t just believe every word she says, she lives it.
And she’s at pains to distance herself from the Lucifer-come-latelys using Satan’s name to score kvlt points in the underground.
“I think when most people hear ‘Satanism’ they think it’s about a dumb junkie sacrificing a rat or cutting himself in his parents’ basement,” she bemoans. “Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, this is true. Satan is a name I love for my own reasons.
"Much to my dismay, others feel drawn to this name for very different ones. People think Satanism is a religion worshipping a personal devil instead of a personal God, including rules that support doing ‘evil’ deeds.
"For me, such a thing is the same as any sheepish religion, like Christianity or Islam. It doesn’t honour the name of Satan.”
Hers is a philosophy that she brings to those aforementioned live shows, with the band always appearing onstage, in her words, “dressed for ritual”, often covered in blood.
“It connects us and the audience visually to the power of Darkness,” she explains. “On stage, we all are in a trance state and that is visible; we bring an audiovisual experience of the power of Lucifer.”
For Obscura, Asagraum’s raison d’être is to provide an antidote to what she sees as a diluting of black metal’s core values – put plainly, if you’re gonna go in, you have to go all the way in.
“Many [modern] bands lack real darkness, brutality and aggression,” she notes of the black metal scene today. “It is technically good but misses the feeling – even the big bands that were great in the past. I think it’s better to split up if you run out of inspiration.
"And, also, there’s the visual aspect; I don’t feel pleased seeing a bunch of hipster students trying to play dark music on stage but ruining it with their appearance.”
Having solidified a line-up she’s proud of and with new album Dawn Of Infinite Fire readying release, Obscura is ready to take Asagraum to the next level and continue spreading their message across metal’s dark underbelly. And you can bet that message won’t stray far from its original purpose.
“Our ambition is being the best we can be,” she concludes, before hastily adding: “to honour Lucifer!”
The new Asagraum album, Dawn Of Infinite Fire will be out on September 13 via ECP. To hear their first single, They Crawl From The Broken Circle, click here.