If you were to fol­low a com­pass north by north­west, mov­ing past Scot­land, over the Orkney and Shet­land Is­lands, and a fur­ther 260 miles still from the Faroe Is­lands, you even­tu­ally find a land­mass be­fore hit­ting the Arc­tic Cir­cle: Ice­land. On its sur­face it boasts stun­ning scenery of frost­bit­ten moun­tains, glaciers and wa­ter­falls, yet be­neath it strad­dles the Mid-at­lantic Ridge, a volatile gap be­tween the North Amer­i­can and Eurasian tec­tonic plates that gives rise to ex­plo­sive gey­sers and oc­ca­sional vol­canic erup­tions. It is a land of ice and fire.yet it is on this un­pre­dictable blob in the At­lantic that Mark Hol­ley wrote much of Black Foxxes’ sec­ond al­bum, Reiði, and found a mir­ror for his own na­ture.

“I in­stantly felt an affin­ity with this place, be­cause it felt like what I was liv­ing in my head was hap­pen­ing right here,” says the 29-year-old front­man, sit­ting in a kitchen in Reyk­javik as snow damp­ens the mur­mur of the streets out­side.“it sounds stupid, but the weather, the cli­mate, the tenac­ity, the rage, the calm, ev­ery­thing was com­pletely par­al­lel to what I was go­ing though in my mind. I left a lot of my past self here.”

Mark’s strug­gles with anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and Crohn’s dis­ease have been well doc­u­mented, not least in the lyri­cal hon­esty of Black Foxxes’ 2016 de­but I’m Not Well and a BBC doc­u­men­tary on Crohn’s that he pre­sented last year.yet be­fore he first ven­tured to Ice­land four years ago, Mark found him­self shut off from the wider world.“the rea­son I came was be­cause I had spent six years of my life with this anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, but I didn’t know that’s what it was,” he says.“i couldn’t re­ally do any­thing.”

He even­tu­ally sought help through hyp­nother­apy and coun­selling, part of his treat­ment be­ing to book a trip and con­front the paralysing anx­i­ety head-on. Ice­land pre­sented a prac­ti­cal op­tion: only a few hours away, yet the po­lar op­po­site of his com­fort zone. Be­fore he even stepped on a plane, though, Mark be­gan push­ing him­self to ex­tremes.

“My big­gest fear at the time was be­ing 40,000 feet in the air and hav­ing a panic at­tack. So I built up to it. I deliberately got my­self into traf­fic jams,” he says, meet­ing Kerrang!’s look of dis­be­lief dead-on.“i would have a panic at­tack in rush hour to let my­self know I wouldn’t die.”

He would still ex­pe­ri­ence panic at­tacks on the flight, yet Mark de­scribes feel­ing an in­stant calm as soon as he landed in Reyk­javik.“i’ve been to a lot of places in the world and I’ve never felt any­thing like I have in this coun­try. I over­came so much and I ac­com­plished it in this space, which was re­flect­ing what I was feel­ing. It was a re­set­ting process liv­ing out here, and as soon as I left, I felt wrong to leave.”

The vol­canic is­land lin­gered in Mark’s imag­i­na­tion for a long time af­ter. So much so that in De­cem­ber

2016, af­ter a year spent tour­ing and re­leas­ing I’m Not Well, he re­turned to Ice­land with his then-girl­friend, this time push­ing out fur­ther and se­clud­ing him­self for a fortnight in a re­mote cabin within view­ing dis­tance of Eld­borg crater.

“Ev­ery morn­ing would be spon­ta­neous,” he re­mem­bers fondly.“we would look at a map and say, ‘We’ll go there to­day.’ The whole point we went to the mid­dle of nowhere was to feel a new ex­treme.”

It wasn’t all sun­shine and Sigur Rós, though.with ex­plo­ration con­fined to the mere four hours of day­light Ice­land al­lows in win­ter­time, Mark found him­self spend­ing a lot of time sit­ting in the cabin and star­ing out into the cold, some­times lu­mi­nous night. From there, songs poured out.“this was the first time that I took a note­book,” he ex­plains.“i had never writ­ten lyrics like that be­fore, with­out mu­sic, and I just could not stop writ­ing. [I wrote] prob­a­bly seven tracks from the al­bum [in that burst] and they were done.”

But as Mark re­veals, it was not the colours of the aurora bo­re­alis that sparked this flood of in­spi­ra­tion, so much as their ab­sence.

“The north­ern lights were easy to write about for a few lines, but there’s so much go­ing on that your mind gets clouded. But when there is just in­tense still­ness, your mind can’t fo­cus on any­thing other than what

you need to write about. I think the rea­son I wrote the most songs out there is be­cause I hadn’t re­ally felt… calm,” he says, af­ter a long pause.“i hadn’t felt noth­ing­ness for a long time.” Its hardly sur­pris­ing. While Mark can trace this rest­less­ness well past the on­set of anx­i­ety or his di­ag­no­sis with Crohn’s in his early 20s, the sleep­less pe­riod record­ing I’m Not Well par­tic­u­larly pushed the Ex­eter na­tive to his lim­its.

“I fuck­ing hated it,” he says de­ject­edly, shak­ing his head.“the more you’re singing about real things that are af­fect­ing you at the time, the more you’re just telling your­self you’re fucked-up.that’s how it works.”

And you never con­sid­ered writ­ing about top­ics that are eas­ier to cope with?

“No, be­cause the mu­sic fuck­ing means some­thing to us.there are so many bands you can hear when they’re singing that they don’t mean it!” he spits, throw­ing up his hands in ag­i­ta­tion. “ev­ery­thing meant so fuck­ing much to me.and I would go home at night and think, ‘Man, you’re fucked.’”

De­spite the un­wa­ver­ing sup­port and un­der­stand­ing of his band­mates – bassist Tris­tan Jane and drum­mer Ant Thornton – tour­ing only com­pounded mat­ters for Mark, where in­som­nia and alope­cia took its toll: “I’d text the tour man­ager and say,‘i’m go­ing home. I haven’t slept for six fuck­ing days.’ At the time I had ma­jor hair loss, so I would lit­er­ally have a shower and heaps of hair would come out. It was hor­ri­ble.” So what made it worth it? “You play the show and it’s this fuck­ing eu­pho­ria. I just go to this other place and re­lease ev­ery­thing. I wanted to get past that phase, be­cause I did feel it was a phase, and now we’re here,” he says, light­ness en­ter­ing his voice.“this record is com­pletely the po­lar op­po­site.there’s a lot of rage, but when I lis­ten to the tracks there’s this calm. It’s like,‘he’s at ease.’”

We plot a course through Ice­land’s Golden Cir­cle the next day, a well-fre­quented hub of gey­sers and wa­ter­falls.ant de­scribes their pre­vi­ous trip dur­ing a wet Jan­uary as “like an ex­treme ver­sion of Corn­wall”. By com­par­i­son, to­day re­sem­bles an episode of Ice Road Truck­ers. Craggy black moun­tains and nee­dle-like trees punc­tu­ate the snowy ex­panses lin­ing the start to un­der­stand why Ice­landic bands like Sól­stafir place such em­pha­sis on dra­matic back­drops in their mu­sic, and less on words. This in­tox­i­cat­ing ef­fect per­me­ates Reiði.

“The scenery ab­so­lutely re­flects ev­ery­thing son­i­cally,” ex­plains Mark, his eyes light­ing up.“you think of Sigur Rós, then you drive around Ice­land and it’s like you can hear it.that was ab­so­lutely what was go­ing on in the writ­ing, it was bounc­ing off of ev­ery­thing.”

That sense of awe is mir­rored in the glacial calm of The Big Wild, while the pres­ence of strings carve out strik­ing new emo­tional peaks on Oh, It Had To Be You. But like the shift­ing cli­mate, where freak bliz­zards can erase the land­scape into TV static, this calm can rapidly give way to a trans­for­ma­tive chaos.this is best heard on bold mid­way point Joy, which dis­solves into a clam­our­ing mi­asma of trum­pet.

“I was al­ready do­ing these feed­back swirls dur­ing the fade out, and the trum­pet guy was com­ing in for an­other track,” Mark re­calls, with a sly grin.“so I said to Ade [Bushby, pro­ducer],‘let’s put the trum­pet guy through some ped­als in­stead.’ I had to beg him, but the mo­ment the first note hit Ade was like,‘that sounds great!’” He laughs,“it’s my favourite track!”

Yet amongst the sense of ad­ven­ture on Saela or the em­pow­er­ing dec­la­ra­tions of rage (see panel), there is an­other el­e­ment that rears its head. It is a strug­gle be­tween pur­pose and pow­er­less­ness, most ex­plic­itly ar­tic­u­lated in Am I Los­ing It:‘am I use­less yet? / I feel so numb / Am I wast­ing my life / On all that I’ve done?’

“When I’d fin­ish tour I’d get so sick I didn’t feel like a real per­son. Early on, I was so self­ish I thought,‘if I get too sick, then fuck the band. I don’t care.’” Mark con­fesses.“the guys have seen me at my worst, and I didn’t re­alise how much I cared about the band un­til I got healthy.then, I re­alised it’s ev­ery­thing to me.”

Fear and rage still fea­ture in Mark’s life. But these days he’s us­ing that fire pos­i­tively rather than let­ting it con­sume him.

“Now, I’ve got a new fear of not achiev­ing ev­ery­thing I need to, be­cause I spent so many years not liv­ing,” he says with re­newed con­fi­dence. “when I’m 40, I want to look back and go,‘i lit­er­ally bled and gave ev­ery­thing.’”

Bold words.and com­ing from a man who pushed him­self al­most to the ends of the Earth for his art, they carry a weight of con­vic­tion. It is a weight that Reiði, an al­bum as stark and beau­ti­ful as the land that formed it also car­ries, and is about to mark Black Foxxes out as one of Bri­tish rock’s most in­trepid ad­ven­tur­ers.



For Foxx sake, hurry up and take the pic, it’s freez­ing!

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