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Interview with Tim McDonald of Oblivion Myth

Using the ‘album of the year’ designation can be presumptuous, particularly in light of how we are barely just starting to make the transition from summer to fall, but if any album exhibits the potential to deserve the label it is the Oblivion Myth sophomore release Inside The Mirror.  Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee and describing itself as ‘unashamedly heavy metal’, Oblivion Myth got its start in 2008 with its debut full length Between Light And Shadow prior to going on hiatus - a period in which it experienced a near complete turnover of its roster - until the summer of 2016 release of Inside The MirrorBetween Light And Shadow was a fine work in its own right (noting the 80% Angelic Warlord review) but Inside the Mirror takes things to the next level when factoring its “compelling songwriting, accomplished lead vocals, proficient musicianship and professional production” (referencing the 95% Angelic Warlord review).  Angelic Warlord had the recent opportunity to interview Oblivion Myth lead vocalist Tim McDonald, who goes into detail about the bands background, details behind Inside The Mirror and future plans of the band as well.

I would like start by talking about the origin to Oblivion Myth.  What led to the bands formation?  And when did the vision for the band develop?
Keith Smith started the band back around 2005.  He was new to Nashville and was looking to put together a thrash/power/prog kind of metal band that would let him fulfill his musical dreams.  I met him briefly in 2006, but I was in a pretty good band at that time and it was hard for me to imagine starting over with a just-forming unit.  Soon enough that band broke up, but Keith had already met the core crew heard on the 1st Oblivion Myth CD, Between Light & Shadow.  So they worked together, played many gigs, and eventually recorded that CD with singer Andy Freeman.  Andy eventually moved to Florida, and Keith started working with a new singer named Sterling, and then finally Ray. I’m the 4th lead vocalist in the band, and around 2012 Keith was working with a singer named Ray LeGrand and they made a decision to bring Christianity into the message.   After Ray left the band and I signed up for my tour of duty, we decided to crank it up a notch further, and start talking about it to the audience, doing bold (and always controversial and polarizing) things like saying the name of Jesus on stage, assigning Bible verses to the songs that help explain the theme, and it’s kind of sparked my imagination writing about Bible stories, themes, verses.

Also, what is the meaning behind the name Oblivion Myth?  How does the band’s name tie into its slogan that "Eternity is real, Oblivion is just a Myth?
That’s really a statement about our Christian faith and belief in an afterlife, a Heaven, and that we go on after dying in this life.  We aren’t just worm food and it all fades to black.  Most people kind of understand this on an instinctive level.  We are born knowing only life.  Even when we sleep, we dream.  The concept of oblivion, that is, a total nothingness, a ceasing-to-exist state, is something the human mind can’t really grasp.  We know there are skeptics who say they require “proof”, but the truth is that a Christian sees proof of God all around us.  Jesus said there would be some who would hear his voice, and some who wouldn’t.  Faith is the acceptance of things unseen. Billy Graham once said, “can you see God?  I’ve never seen the wind.  I’ve seen the effects of the wind, but not the wind itself.  There’s a mystery to it.”  And we feel the same way. We see and feel the effects of God in our lives.  We see that it’s a better way than walking the path of the world.

Oblivion Myth - Between Light & Shadow

How would you describe your music for those that have not heard Oblivion Myth?
Well, we are unashamedly Heavy Metal.  There seems to be a push for bands to describe themselves as “rock” or “hard rock” so that some record company exec doesn’t feel like they are limiting their demographics or target market, but to me (at least) that’s utter nonsense.  Why not call yourselves Operatic Balletic Bubble Gum Pop and grab that share of that market? I hear it’s huge.  I’m joking of course, but you see what I mean.  You can’t just label yourself and magically appeal to millions.  It’s going to be the same music whatever you call it, but in my opinion you can’t call Oblivion Myth’s music anything but Heavy Metal.  Now, metal of course is hilariously Balkanized – I like to joke that Satan once cackled over the invention of “heavy metal” and declared that it would carry his evil message to the youth and would ruin music forever, etc., typical villain monologue, but God looking down just smiled and said, “Oh, I guess you forgot all about that Tower of Babel incident huh?  I think I’ll just splinter Metal into a thousand sub-genres, and fans of those styles will endlessly bicker over what kind of metal it is, make choices, and disregard entire slabs of this thing called “metal” just out of personal preference and wanting to belong to a group.”

And so it is.  There’s Heavy metal, power metal, speed metal, black metal, death metal, doom metal, Nu metal, it goes on and on.  And fans of one genre generally don’t like the others, this thing we call “metal” is extremely fluid and mercurial.  What is Oblivion Myth?  I would brand us “power/prog metal” with definite European influences.  I generally do not like American-style metal with the cookie monster vocals. I vastly prefer the European bands with more operatic singers – all my favorites are from Europe.  How can a Christian band be heavy metal?  Easy.  In our stories, the good guys win!  If you think about it, the entire metal genre is very much accepting of the reality of heaven & hell, God & Satan, it’s probably the most religious kind of music other than Gospel and obviously religious music.   What did the original bands call themselves?  Black Sabbath.  Judas Priest.  They understood that link.  And let’s be honest.  What is more epic than the war between Heaven and Hell?  Lots of great stuff to write songs about, that’s for sure!  I would say the lyrical content in Oblivion Myth is probably equally balanced between the more fantastical themes and the inner struggle themes, though.

Eight years passed between the release of the Oblivion Myth debut Between Light & Shadow and Inside The Mirror.  What was the band doing during this period and what challenges did it face?
Lineup changes and budget and funding are what plague most bands, and this one is no exception.  The band went through different singers, bass players, drummer, and Keith made numerous attempts at getting a 2nd album written and recorded, and started several times, but the projects always fell apart at some point and I don’t believe there is much at all from those sessions other than some demo type stuff.  During those years, the band did play a lot of gigs with those musicians, but the recording of a 2nd album never quite happened.  So what was different this time, why did we succeed?  I think it was just the hand of cards we held this time.  Curtis and Andy were very instrumental in making this a good-sounding CD.  I would like to think that I made some contribution too, I wrote 2 of the songs and co-wrote 2 more with Keith. I’m blessed to have some disposable income to throw at the project, so funding wasn’t a problem this time.  The guys all seemed to raise their game and commit and pull the trigger and ‘just do it’ so to speak.  I suppose it was simply time!

Oblivion Myth banner

Why don’t you go ahead and tell us a bit more about Inside The Mirror, specifically the writing and recording process.
We went in very prepared.  I pretty much drove the dog sled team with a whip all that summer, making demos in the band room in Garage Band.  I don’t think in past years the band had really been able to use all the technology that we have at our fingertips today, and simple DAW programs like Garage Band and many others have really changed things.  You can make pretty decent-sounding demos with very little effort.   Live recordings, digital stuff, loops, you’re only limited by your skills and imagination.  So I believe the creation of the demos prepared everyone for getting into a studio mood, a recording mood, and gave us things we could rehearse to on our own, apart from the band.  Those demos were really very important, they let us all see what we really had, and when it was time to go in the studio, we didn’t do any writing at all – we just tracked.  We already knew what to do, it was just time to record it well.  I got a tremendous amount of respect for the process and what a team effort it was to make Inside The Mirror – truly - it took a half-dozen people a great deal of time to make a finished product.  We spent just over 80 hours recording with Curtis Erdek at his AudioTopiA studio in La Vergne, TN, just south of Nashville, and then we shipped off all the project files to Andy Freeman (the original Oblivion Myth singer, now trying his hand at producing), in Ocala, FL, who spent around 200 hours mixing and mastering and producing the music. 

Seven of the songs were legacy Oblivion Myth songs that Keith had been trying to get recorded for years, and we got them done.  The band was really tight on those songs, because they’d been playing them for years.  And then we also added some new things that kind of gave a new flavor over the album and a bit of “this is the new group and new lineup” kind of affirmation.  We record on weekends chiefly, so it took months, from end of August 2015 to end of November 2015 to finish all our recording.  80 hours or so, much of it done in 3 hour sessions.   Andy got his final product before Christmas, and was basically done by April 2016.  Getting distribution, web site, and everything finalized and ready for a world-wide launch, plus new merchandise, the whole thing, ended up meaning that the album was officially released and available for purchase July 8, 2016.

We had quite a few songs to record potentially and I recall one session where we attempted to cut some from the roster and it wasn’t a happy meeting.  Keith made that all-important leadership decision (that I strongly supported) to simply record them all.  That way there’d be no conflict about what songs got cut.  That’s why Inside The Mirror is such an epic, over 65 minutes long.  We just couldn’t handle cutting out any of the songs.  This is a great side to not having to answer to a record company.  You can do it your way and there is no 3rd party there to boss you around.

There is one other story that might as well be told, we actually lost our bass player Patrick White over this CD and the song lineup and also the special guest lineup.  It’s a peculiar thing, but the long and the short of it is that Patrick wanted to go in a heavier, gruffer, more American kind of direction, but once I joined the band and started to write with Keith it became clear that we were going to be more of a European kind of band with a lot more melody.  I think this came to a head with the songs “Battle Angels” and “Everlasting Fire”.   I am a big fan of Euro metal and “Battle Angels” is a familiar song to people over there as far as its melodies and how it rocks.  It follows in the footsteps of bands like Helloween that I listened to in the 90s and early 2000s, a very Sweden/Finland/German kind of melodic, swing-your-mug-of-mead Viking polka metal kinda stuff.   You know it when you hear it, and I love that kind of thing, but I guess Patrick didn’t.  He wanted something with a great deal more testosterone, bulging veins, and aggression. (laughing).

Oblivion Myth live pic

I was a big fan of how the European metal bands frequently have special guests and collaborations.  Super groups like Avantasia, Ayreon, etc.  Nashville is full of talent.  So I wanted to have guests on Inside The Mirror.  I recruited Eric Smith from a local band called Doc Sinister. He’s got a terrific scratchy rock tenor voice, a great performer, for “Between Light & Shadow”.  I recruited Cat Fritchman from a local band called Level77 to sing with me on “Everlasting Fire” and “Battle Angels”.  I saw her sing in a club a couple years ago and it blew me away. Just a powerhouse vocalist, who can sing with a scratchy rock voice, or an operatic soprano, she’s got that background and training.  I kept her in mind and so glad she accepted my offer to be on our CD when it finally came together.  I took the song “Everlasting Fire” and completely re-wrote it.  It had once been a power metal song, I wrote my own lyrics and vocals and turned it into a metal duet, an opera-metal love song kind of thing.   Oblivion Myth had never had a love song, and I felt inspired.  And I think it turned out really well.  I listen to the song all the time.  Andy Freeman added some extra backup vocals and this really insane, eclectic, Phantom-of-the-Opera keyboard solo too, which always amuses me, it’s so madcap.  Andy is really talented.

But for Patrick, this was the final straw.  I think the song is awesome, but Patrick declared his unhappiness with a female singing on an Oblivion Myth song, and not long after finishing his bass takes on the CD he dropped out. It was friendly enough – we were sad to see him go – it was especially hard for us to understand why he’d bail out on something we thought was shaping up to be pretty awesome – but that’s how it goes.  Finding Kevin Butler to replace him is a pretty good consolation prize, Kevin is a really good bass player and known all over Nashville as one of the gunslingers of the 4-string.  So we did add some extra chops I think, he’s a big Geddy Lee and Steve Harris fan.  Always a good sign in a bass player!

We took pictures and did some basic video to document the album coming together but I have only recently done much with it.  You can see a 15 minute intimate portrait of the recording studio experience and guest Cat Fritchman recording her vocals for “Everlasting Fire” (below):

What are your feelings about Inside The Mirror?  Are you happy with the way it turned out?
Deliriously happy.  We think it’s a miracle.  Of course, I think we all have a few regrets here and there, but I think that’s normal.  We did the best we could with our budget and I think it turned out amazingly well, honestly, all things considered.  I cringe at a few notes I hit (or missed!) here and there, of course.  I hear stuff that probably could still be fixed or perfected even more, but at a certain point you have to back away from the operating table and call the operation done.  We got a first mix from Andy, and it had some things we wanted to change, and then when we got our 2nd mix, it pretty much knocked our socks off.   Andy did pretty much whatever we asked of him through notes and in some cases audio examples of what we were thinking of and going for.   I created a “Director’s Cut” that had the song order and interludes intact and he used that as his general template, and followed it very closely.  Andy did some great things like echoes in the vocals where a line is answered, and it sounded amazing, he added keyboards, backup vocals, and so forth, he really worked a miracle from my point of view.  I can say with utter confidence, though, that every band member has their own little internal list of cringe-worthy moments on the CD.  But that’s because we work hard at this, try hard, give our best, and it hurts to hear a mistake or flat note!  Overall? I’m really proud of “Inside the Mirror” and amazed by what it is.  I think we will be prouder of it as the years go by, too.   I know Keith and Bob are very pleased with the response and very encouraged by how much people seem to like it.

What are some of your favorite songs off Inside The Mirror and why?
Well, I do fancy “Battle Angels” and “Sea of Tranquility” because those were songs I wrote and brought to the band, but I have to tell you that I have a strong affinity for “Between Light & Shadow” and “Inside The Mirror” and “Everlasting Fire”.  I listen to “Everlasting Fire” almost every day in my car.  It’s gotten a little creepy.  I’m stalking me!  Haha, I am joking of course.  But yes. I really dig that song.

Oblivion Myth - Inside The Mirror

Inside The Mirror might not be a concept album, but it does feature several interlude pieces (which are usually inherent to concept albums).  Would you please provide more detail in regards to the six interludes in question? 
Specifically, what is the meaning behind them? Well, I would dispute the notion that a concept album must necessarily tell a linear story that starts at Song 1 and ends with the last song. A concept album can also be a collection of works about a specific theme or topic, think of William Blake’s famous “Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience”.  Other musicians have created albums on a specific theme without telling a linear story, including interludes and sound effects between the songs, Jethro Tull did a bunch of them actually, like “Songs From the Wood” and “Stormwatch” and “Minstrel in the Gallery”. 

So what’s the theme on Inside The Mirror?  Predominantly, just that – internal vision, struggle, self-analysis, dealing with temptation, life’s slings and arrows coming at you, and fighting through that.  But there is more, too, that explain the first part of the disc.  Keith and myself are big fans of the wonderful “Space Metal” album by Arjen Lucassen’s Star One.  We both had songs that explored this human condition but in a space setting.  “Between Light & Shadow” was inspired by that Apollo 13 quote about the insane temperature swing between frozen and boiling on the surface of the moon, all dependent on being in the light, or being in shadow.  And the content is then putting that in a spiritual context of between heaven and hell, or light and shadow.  A heart frozen and dead, or on fire for the Lord. So it made sense to throw in the Apollo 13 quote, “Houston, we have a problem”.  “Sea of Tranquility” is a bit of sci-fi that I’d written about a galactic bounty hunter, willing to die to save Earth from an Armageddon-style attack from a criminal alien terrorist.  This is an illustration of Jesus saying that “no greater love hath a man that he would lay down his life for his friends.”  Since the final showdown happens on the moon at Tranquility base, it was good to put in that Apollo 11 lunar landing clip to set it up. 

Other things are meant to introduce the song or set the tone – “Blinding the Darkness” starts the album with a thunderclap, because that is how the Lord announces His presence.  “Inside the Mirror” starts with a mirror shattering, because there are a lot of people who feel broken and shattered, and the lyrics urge them to keep fighting, to not give up, to live out this life, to endure all its joys and miseries, take what life gives you, this is all your own highly personal ride you’re on.  Don’t get up and walk out of the movie before it ends.  “Inside the Mirror” is a strong anti-suicide statement.  If your family has felt the impact of this terrible thing, like mine and many others, it’s a very confusing, very slow to process experience.  Someone is there one day, and gone the next, and it’s all because they gave up.  They quit. But you aren’t shattered glass.  All you needed was on the other side of that mirror.  You’re made to get through this life. You’re armed and equipped with exactly what you’ll need to make it.  So again, the interludes are designed to set up and help describe the songs. 

The bible quote before “Beyond This Home” describes heaven, and that’s also what the song is about.  The keyboard interlude Andy Freeman composed “Into the Unknown” is a lovely piece of music, and we use it as our stage intro.  But it happens before the darkest song on the album, and we asked him to compose something somewhat funeral, something kind of monster-movie.  Something kinda “thriller”.  Because the song is about that other side of heaven, it’s about a battle in Hell, fighting against demons, the dark side, and the dark place.   The quote from Ecclesiastes prior to “Venom of Vices” asks, basically, why in the world does anyone root for evil? Why root for a losing team?  Satan is going to lose!  His forces are going down in flames.  He will be cast into a pit, etc., so I really wonder sometimes what all these “black metal” guys really thing they are doing.  Why are you allying yourself with a lost cause?  Now, the song is about what could happen if evil does win or take over in your own life or in our society.  That danger is very real.  We see it in the media.  We see it everywhere.  That’s why the sound effects behind the bible verse were a very urban, crime-filled setting with sirens and changing TV/radio channels, with some kind of worldly bad stuff happening on each one.  Things are changing rapidly.  Not all for the better.   It’s getting weirder by the minute.  So everyone has their own responsibility to look inside (Yes, inside their Mirror…) and to ponder how wickedness is folly… and bound to lose… follow that gut feeling that knows right from wrong.  And then, to always do the right thing.

Oblivion Myth banner

What does the future hold for Oblivion Myth?  Are there plans to record an album in follow up to Inside The Mirror?
Writing has already begun, yes, because it takes an incredibly long time to do this. We have five songs already in the pipeline, and made a rough demo for Bob to digest just last night.  It’s going to be a process, and I don’t want to rush into the studio until we’ve played the songs through many, many times to figure out how we should play them.  On the creative side, I’m very much ready to get a new album going, because although it was only just released, the songs on Inside The Mirror now feel a year old to me!  I think it will again be a fresh take on the band, already we have songs that are all different from one another, are different than anything the band has done before, yet they are all still metal.  My goal is to release the next album before 2017 expires.

I would like to close by thanking you for honoring Angelic Warlord with this interview.  Do you have any last words you would like to offer our readers? 
We appreciate it very much.  Especially for the wonderful review!  I’m still kind of amazed to be mentioned in the same space as Harmony and Theater of Redemption.  I’m a huge Daniel Heiman fan, I think he’s otherworldly.  I have everything he’s released on disc!

But anyway, well, I’d be a fool to not ask them to buy the album.

As far as any ending benediction, I can only say these things:  You become what you surround yourself with.  Find positive, encouraging friends and influences.  We all feel in our gut what is right and wrong.  Get in tune with that feeling and start acting on it.  You’ll feel better, you’ll sleep better, and you’ll start doing more.  Stop listening to that accusing voice inside that wants to tell you that you’re a fraud, or that you’re going to fail.   Start realizing that you are a miracle.  You matter to someone – you really do – so realize that you’re here in this marathon, take it one day at a time, realizing that each day is a gift and you get to decide what to do with it every morning.  Fight.  Try.  Get out of bed and do it again.  Keep going.  Don’t quit.  You are a miracle.  Do you really think all of this (waving arms around to represent the Universe) happened by mistake, randomly, and for no reason at all? I find that highly unlikely.  There is so much more than we can see.  Don’t quit, don’t give up.  You’re on your life’s journey.

“There are many forces at work in this world other than the will of evil, Frodo, and that is an encouraging thought.” – Gandalf

“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” – Yoda

That’s where it starts.  The understanding that Eternity is real, and Oblivion is just a myth.   God Bless you all!



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