Amorphis: the duck that lays the golden egg

The universe was supposedly born from a duck egg. A strange idea, that.Crazy stories abound in the folklore, legends, mythologies and literature of each and every country. But the Finnish people probably had one drink too many before they came up with that one. But then again, British writer Terry Pratchett tells the story of a world in the shape of a gigantic pancake, supported by four elephants, themselves carried on the back of a turtle swimming through the cosmos. No limits, right? Just like there seems to be no limits to the quality of Amorphis’ albums. And their latest production, The Begining Of Times, just happens to feature the afore-mentioned egg as its cover art.

Amorphis release their fourth album since the fantastic Tomi Joutsen joined the band as a vocalist. The charismatic singer gave the band one hell of a new lease on life. Even if the Finns’ musical orientations are no longer surprising (you can blame the continuity instituted since Eclipse for that), we have to admit that the band evolves at a high level. As in, very high. We’re still waiting for one single faux pas, one ounce of bad taste, one note that shouldn’t have been there. So far, we’ve been waiting in vain. Amorphis goes forward and the music doesn’t waver – to a point where it could almost become boring.

But enough rambling; let’s see what Amorphis’ founder and solo guitarist Esa Holopainen has to say about the new album, the band’s past and duck eggs.

« Everybody knows what’s wrong today, if you watch the news, or go to the supermarket and see the price of food increase. Everybody knows we live in a fucked-up world. I think music and this other world we’re offering people is a great escape. »

Radio Metal : Your new album, The Beginning Of Times, is your fourth album since Tomi Joutsen joined the band. His arrival coincides with a significant increase in the band’s popularity. How can you explain that?

Esa Holopainen (guitar) : I really don’t know. I think one thing would be that he’s a totally different kind of person compared to Pasi [Koskinen]. Pasi was more laid back on stage, he wasn’t that active. Tomi is the opposite: he’s really energetic on stage and he really takes the audience into account. I think that reflects on the other members as well. He’s totally motivated, and it’s great to do music with him. I think that’s a very important thing: everybody has to be really motivated to come up with a good result.

Last year, Amorphis released an album of re-recorded and sometimes reworked songs, entitled Magic & Mayhem. Did you do this because you think the band is at the top of its game right now?

We did it mainly because we thought we should release a compilation CD. Amorphis only released one compilation back in the days, which Relapse Records put out. We decided we would like to add something special to this compilation. It was much better to re-record songs than just pick them up here and there. It was pretty easy to come up with songs we wanted to re-record. Mostly we had been playing these songs live with Tomi for the last couple of years. That’s basically the idea behind Magic & Mayhem.

Some of the songs on Magic & Mayhem date back to when the band members were in their early twenties. Do you think these songs lack some maturity in their original recordings?

These new recordings are definitely not meant to replace any of the old Amorphis albums; and they really can’t, because they represent a certain period in time. Take Tales From A Thousand Lakes: you can’t really copy that sound, or the atmosphere of that album. That was meant to be: we wanted to update the songs to the sound that we have today. We added a bit more keyboards to the older songs, which didn’t have any keyboards at all. But we tried to keep the original arrangements. We didn’t want to change these songs too much; just add some keyboards here and there, do some guitar things differently.

Amorphis is known for experimenting with various musical styles, producing very different albums in its history. But with the last three albums, it seems the band has settled with a specific style. Do you think you have found the style that suits the band best?

I think so, yes. The last four albums we’ve done had exactly the same line-up. Before Eclipse, before Tomi joined the band, Amorphis’ line-up always changed between albums. That reflects on the music and the lyrics, because every guy who has ever been involved in Amorphis always brought us a particular style. Now we’ve been doing four albums with exactly the same line-up, and as a matter of fact, we also used almost exactly the same production team and studio. So of course, that reflects on the end sound, and it makes our sound more similar.

Do you think the band could go back to a more rock-oriented style one day, like on Far From The Sun?

Perhaps not that far! We’ve been experimenting back in the day; our albums were really different from one another, but I don’t think we will go again as far as we went with Far From The Sun. There are good tracks, but I think they really don’t fit the world we are painting now. What was missing there was a little brutality that Tomi brought into the band. But you never know! Perhaps next album will be a reggae album!

Because of some atmospheres and melodies, The Beginning Of Times distances itself a little from the three previous ones. What was your state of mind when you started working on that album?

We started the composing process a bit over a year ago. We were still touring for Skyforger. We talked to one another on the tour, and we realized that a lot of the guys had ideas in their heads. When we had some time, here in Finland, we went to the rehearsing room to rehearse a few tracks, and it basically started from there. Last summer we already had sixteen tracks we had recorded as a rehearsing demo. Then we decided to book the studio and start recording. So it was a one-year project. But we never thought about what we’d done with Skyforger. For us, every album is always a new project when we start to work. It’s pretty amazing how fast we came up with all these songs for this album, but here we are!

This album shows very deep contrasts: it contains even darker parts as well as lighter ones. Is contrast something you’re attached to?

Well, yeah. We are always trying some new things and new elements in our music. Perhaps not changes as radical as we used in the past, but there are the same kind of elements in the air. On this album we wanted to bring female vocals and some classical instruments: flutes, clarinets, we have a saxophone there. So even if the songs might sound similar to those on Skyforger or Silent Waters or Eclipse, there’s still some flavors that we increased on this one.

« Anyone who reads the lyrics can decide where they want the storyline to take them, or what the philosophical ideas behind the lyrics are. That’s the great thing. We want to keep a good taste as well; that’s why you will never see Amorphis wearing stupid Middle Ages clothes or whatever on stage. »

The Beginning Of Times shows a great richness, especially in the arrangements, with the female vocals and the flutes, like you said. Is this why you said in the press release that this album had been the most challenging for the band?

I think the challenge came from the lyrical theme we had on this album. It’s about Väinämöinen, who is the central character in the Kalevala, the most important person in Finnish mythology. The lyrics are based on his story. Composing music based on this person was a big challenge to us. And the other thing was that we had so many songs on the album. We have thirteen songs, which is 58 minutes of music. We’ve never done this before. It is a big challenge to keep the interest from beginning to end, so you can tolerate the album and the songs.

The album is once again based on the Kalevala. The band seems very attached to this epic poem: the last three albums also revolved around it, as well as Tales From The Thousand Lakes. How important is it to you?

The Kalevala has become a big part of Amorphis’ sound and everything this band stands for. The Kalevala is present in every Amorphis album we’ve done. It’s not just a lyrical theme, it also includes the music and everything that surrounds it, like the artwork. It’s a source without which I don’t think Amorphis would do any albums. The Kalevala is always going to be present within our music and our band.

Do you draw a parallel between this poem and the world we live in, or do you see it as a way to escape from reality?

I think that’s the great thing about music in general: the way I see it, music is a great escape from the worries we’re having at the moment. We are not a political band that would talk about what’s wrong today. I think everybody knows what’s wrong today, if you watch the news, or go to the supermarket and see the price of food increase. Everybody knows we live in a fucked-up world. I think music and this other world we’re offering people is a great escape. At least it’s a little relief from today’s world for a while. That’s definitely our message through our music: you can go and see our shows and not think about anything else. You can just enjoy the music and great stories.

Many Finnish bands base their lyrics on traditional folklore and literature. Why are Finnish people so attached to their roots?

(laughs) I don’t really know. Perhaps because it’s something worth talking about. We’re not trying to take the stories straight out of the Kalevala. Pekka Kainulainen, who writes the lyrics, includes multi-dimensional beliefs. Anyone who reads the lyrics can decide where they want the storyline to take them, or what the philosophical ideas behind the lyrics are. That’s the great thing. We want to keep a good taste as well; that’s why you will never see Amorphis wearing stupid Middle Ages clothes or whatever on stage. We’re still a rock band, a metal band, we just have a pretty weird subject!

So you don’t like all those bands who base their lyrics on the Middle Ages, wear swords and talk about dragons?

No, it’s not my cup of tea! I really like some folk metal bands music-wise, like Moonsorrow, for example, or Korpiklaani, Finntroll… These are great bands and great guys, and they have their own thing. But when it’s connected to a role-playing thing or whatever, it’s a bit cheesy. But it’s just my opinion.

The excellent artwork by Travis Smith is an interpretation of the mythological birth of the world from a goldeneye’s egg. Can you explain what this is, and the link with the concept of the album?

We had the egg theme in mind before we actually started to talk with Travis about the concept. In Finnish mythology, the belief behind that egg is that the universe was born from a duck’s egg. It really represents the birth of the world and of the universe, the beginning of time. That’s the egg story. But the whole album is filled with Travis’ art, the artwork for the booklet is really amazing as well. The vinyl version is going to have a different cover art. We wanted to do a little extra thing for the vinyl.

(About Tomi Joutsen) « I think it was the best thing that ever happened to this band. When something old dies, something good can happen; I believe in that. »

The vocals for this album were recorded under the guidance of Marco Hietala. Does the fact that he plays an instrument and is a composer make him a better vocal coach, by being not centered exclusively on vocals?

Well, yeah. Marco and Tomi have been working together since Eclipse. Eclipse was the first album with Tomi, and it was the first time he was working as a real singer in the studio. It was pretty obvious we needed a proper coach for him. We’d known Marco for years, and we thought he might be the perfect guide, because he’s a master when it comes to pronunciation and vocal harmonies. That’s how it happened. They work really well together, they have an excellent chemistry. Usually they check the final vocal arrangements together; Marco helps a lot with the vocal harmonies, he usually leads the choir with backing vocals. They’re a great team, they work really well together.

After three albums, does Tomi still need a vocal coach?

I think so! He could manage and do them by himself, but because he’s been used to having Marco for four albums, he feels safer and more secure with a producer watching over him. He might do great vocals with our help or the help of the sound engineer, but we’ll have the best result if there’s someone checking his vocals.

Tomi, your other guitar player, did some singing on Magic & Mayhem, for the first time since 1997. Has this experience not encouraged him to do a bit more singing on The Beginning Of Time as well?

No, not really! We did a little Magic & Mayhem tour here in Finland in the past year, and he did a few lines there. But he didn’t sing on The Beginning Of Time. People have to try pretty hard to convince him to do that!

Tomi Joutsen is an incredibly talented singer, with a broad vocal range. Would you say that, in the end, Pasi’s departure was a stroke of luck for the band?

I think it was the best thing that ever happened to this band. When something old dies, something good can happen; I believe in that. We were very lucky to get a guy like Tomi in the band. The motivation and the feelings within the band, it’s totally different. It’s like day and night if you compare it to the band that did Far From The Sun. There’s a totally different atmosphere within the band.

Regarding Far From The Sun, you said earlier that you wouldn’t go back to that musical style again. Why’s that?

I think it just doesn’t fit in the formula we’re using today. Tomi wouldn’t like to do this kind of music, for example. I think we’ve found the formula we enjoy doing. Far From The Sun was really… There are great songs on that one, but everything reflects the time when we recorded the album. Pasi was very unmotivated at the time, and musically, we weren’t even sure of what we were doing. Everything that was happening at the time reflected on this album and the recording process. Even on our record company of the time, Virgin. It was pure chaos, and I associate that to bad feelings. I’d rather not compare that album to anything else we’ve done after that! So that’s probably one of the reasons. When they listen to the album, people don’t think about these things, but we did that album under very bad circumstances.

On April 26th, you perform on the Finnish version of Idol Gives Back. How did you end up taking part in this TV program?

They asked us. In Finland, we have a pretty nice fanbase, and metal music is extremely popular here. I don’t know why us. The other bands they are pop idols, we’re the only metal band. We’ve never done any charity things before. Besides the fact that it’s a great promotion for the album, we can also do some charity by playing this song.

Are metal bands often playing in this kind of popular TV shows in Finland? It’s completely unconceivable in France!

Yeah, once in a while. A good example is that there’s always TV stations broadcasting metal shows during festivals. It’s not that rare to a see a metal band on TV. I don’t know why, it’s weird!

Phone interview conducted the 14th of april
Transcription : Saff
Site Internet Amorphis : amorphis.net

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