A heavyweight Finnish Death Metal band of the early 90s, AMORPHIS were soon experimenting with melody and progressive elements while at the same time incorporating Finnish folk stories into their music. This lead to two groundbreaking albums ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ and ‘Elegy’. 2011 sees the release of their 10th studio album (available from JB Hi-fi stores in NZ). NZRock spoke exclusively with guitarist and founding member Esa Holopainen about the new album and the journey that has brought them to where they are now.
You’ve released a couple of singles in the lead-up to this album. The first one is ‘You I Need’. How does the rest of the album sound compared to that track?
Not that similar. ‘You I Need’ is I guess one of the most straightforward and most catchiest songs on the album and that’s one of the reasons we decided to take it as a single song. But I think the whole album, all the songs really variate between each other so there are a lot of more emotional songs and more fragile songs as well as more aggressive and more progressive songs so its really a musically wide compilation of songs sounding like what we’ve done during our career.
What is the theme behind this album, can you tell us a bit about it?
It tells the story of the old Finnish Mythological guards, what people used to believe here in the ancient days and we have a book called Kalevala which includes old poems about the stories of God, it’s like the old Bible of Finland. So this album basically tells the story from the central character from this book. That’s the lyrical theme yeah.
On the ‘Forging The Land Of 1000 Lakes’ DVD you mentioned that after you did ‘Elegy’ you’d become tired of using the Kalevala theme, what was it that drew you back to it again in the last few album?
You know we really got bored after ‘Elegy’ because especially here in Finland, nobody could talk about anything else, just the Kalevala. Everybody was asking about the Kalevala thing and we felt that nobody was interested in the music that we were doing and that we just had to talk about the Kalevala thing. I think at that point we really got a bit bored about the whole thing and even though the albums afterwards ‘Tuonela’ and ‘Am Universum’ they are based on Kalevala but Pasi did the lyrics in his own way so it was not that straightforward stories. Slightly before Tomi joined the band we got an offer from one film producing company who asked if we would be interested to do a soundtrack for a TV film which was about the stories from Kalevala and we started to compose some of the songs for that but unfortunately it never happened, the producer never got finance for his film and the idea faded away. But you know, we still like the idea and when Tomi joined the band and we started to think about the lyrics and the lyrical theme we decided to go back to the Kalevala stories and that’s how it continued again with us.
AMORPHIS released an album trailer in the lead up to ‘The Beginning Of Times’ and in it you mentioned that you recorded about 15 or songs for this album. What happened to the songs that didn’t make it?
We still have some instrumental versions from them but Tomi didn’t do any vocals for these songs. I think we got time but he thought that we had enough material and I think these songs that we have on the album now they really make the big picture of the whole thing and the other songs would have just been add-on songs on somewhere. So I think that’s basically the story.
This recording is the longs AMORPHIS recording you guys have done, what songs are you the most proud of and why?
On this album I really like the title track ‘The Beginning Of Time’. I always like the last songs of the albums because it really gathers everything around what we’ve done on the album and leaves the picture that you might want to listen to the album again. So yeah, The Beginning OF Times’ that’s probably my favourite song. I do like ‘My Enemy’ as well which is a bit more heavier and aggressive and ‘The Reformation’ which is a more emotional and very traumatic song. So yeah, I think those are probably my favourite songs on the album.
So did you do any experimenting with your guitars on this album?
We tried some different amplifiers. Guitar-wise we didn’t add anything that special. We recorded quite a lot of acoustic 6 strings and 12 strings. I think we tried to keep the sound sort of simple and I added a lot of these delayed guitars which we’ve used on a lot of albums as well.
AMORPHIS has done a lot of touring these last few years but you’ve also managed to consistently release something on CD or DVD every year for the last few years as well. How’d you find the time to do all that?
Every time we finish a tour or something we continue with another project. The DVD was nice because on one of the last shows we did for Skyforger we filmed one very nice gig here in Finland and we were luck to have this venue booked for a couple of days so we really had time to focus on the lights and how the setup was going to look like so it was really good. Then the record company came up with an idea that we should do a compilation album and we decided to so something slightly different, we wanted to add a little more for fans so we decided to do a re-recording from the old tracks we’d already played so that’s how ‘Magic And Mayhem’ came out. And pretty soon after Magic And Mayhem we started to work with the new material so you know, we’ve been keeping ourselves really productive.
When Tomi joined the band I didn’t know what to expect with a new singer but he has been amazing. Would you say he has been one of the best things to happened to AMORPHIS in the last 10 years?
Yes definitely! I think he was sort of a hidden treasure that we found haha! You know always if you change the vocals in a band it’s a major change because the vocalist always keeps the face for the band. At some point it was really frustrating when we started to search for a new singer. There were a lot of singers we went through but just didn’t match to us and at one point we thought that if we can’t find a singer then we’ll do an instrumental album. But luckily we found Tomi and we realised immediately when we rehearsed a couple of songs with him that you know, this is the guy… and that’s what happened. He has really improved himself since when he joined the band and he’s an amazing guy because he always rehearses his voice and on every album I think he is better than on previous ones.
Was it his idea to stick with both death and clean vocals?
Yeah, when he came to the first rehearsals he said that he was a great fan of our old material and that he would really like to do some old stuff with us as well. He has an amazing growling vocal sound and how he switches from growling vocals to clean vocals it’s really amazing. He is the death metal freak of the band haha!
You worked with Marco from NIGHTWISH in the studio when it came to doing this album and you’ve done that for the last few albums. What makes him such a good choice for AMORPHIS?
Yeah that relationship started with ‘Eclipse’. We had known Marco for years and years and he is an old friend of ours. When Tomi joined the band and we started to think about the production for Eclipse we noticed that we needed a coach for Tomi in the studio – somebody who was an outsider, another vocalist who could help him and check the pronouncing, check the arrangement and help with the vocal harmonies and Marco was the right buy because he has an amazing sense of melodies and harmonies. These guys get along well between each other and Tomi relies on Marco a lot and that’s how it started. Now it’s our fourth album with Marco and it’s always been really good.
I saw the April Fools post you did on Facebook where where you said that due to legal issues of having an egg on the cover you had to change the artwork to having two eggs and the Led Zeppelin train between them haha! Do you think many people fell for it?
Haha! I think so, some people, but I think it was great! It was the perfect April fools day joke. I got that picture from our record label two weeks earlier. It was one guy who probably didn’t have that much else to do and he said how does that look? As a joke of course. And two weeks later I realised that this was the perfect joke for April Fools day. Haha!
Also on Facebook, there’s a photo of all the AMORPHIS members past and present taken at a place called Tavastia. What was it like to catch up with everyone and did they have some good memories to share?
Oh that was amazing! It was an amazing feeling. Some of the guys we haven’t played with for ages, I think 15 or 16 years ago or something like that last time and when we started to play together you know I started to wonder where all the time has gone because it felt like we played together last week or yesterday, it was a weird feeling but a lot of fun, especially that show we had a chance to bring every guy who has been in AMORPHIS. With some of the guys we did some shows in another part of Finland as well but that Tavastia show was the only show where we got all the guys in.
One of those guys Kasper Martinson, was in the band for just one year but we wrote the keyboard melodies for Black Winter Day and ‘Thousand Lakes’. Do you think he was a very important member of the band even though he was only in it for a short time?
Yeah Kasper is a great talent. He has got a great sense of melody for the songs and in a way it was a shame that he was only with us for a year. But he did one tour with us and realised that he is not the guy who wants to tour and he had other plans studying-wise he wanted to concentrate at that time and we needed to go on so that’s when Kasper left. But he is a great guy and it’s always nice to see him. He has a band called BARREN EARTH at the moment and he is making a lot of songs with that band as well so it’s good.
So when you look at the music on say ‘Privilege Of Evil’ and compare it with where you’re at musically now. Did you ever think that the band would change so much and cover so many genres by now.
Haha! No not in any way. You know when you start the band and started to do the first things the first dream is of course that it would be nice to do one album one day. It just started as a hobby to play with your mates who shared the same musical tastes and we were all really into the death metal scene and that’s how we met and started to work and play together. And I don’t know, it was 1992 through to 1995 was a huge step for us musically and I think with ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ and with ‘Elegy’ those were the albums which really took us to a totally different level. Since that we’ve been touring and we’ve been really lucky to have a chance to make this as our job so its really amazing. But never would I have believed when we did our first demos that we would end up here.
You mentioned on our DVD that up until changing record labels AMORPHIS had been working really hard but not nearly making the amount of money you should have been for the amount of work you were doing. How did you keep the band together going through that for such a long time.
I think the worst periods were probably the last years we did with Past, with Am Universum and Far From The Sun albums. But you know, the music has always been the priority thing to us. No matter what happens we still play together and make music together that we enjoy listening to and I think that’s the thing that has gathered us since we started. And in money, and income, if it comes it comes but it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is to be creative and come up with songs and music and go on and play them for the audience. So I think that’s the method. We always laughed at some points during our career we see that the albums are selling like hell but we don’t get any money. But all that changed as well when we went to Nuclear Blast and when Tomi joined the band. It’s more organised these days than what it used to be back in the days.
Before Tomi joined the band you had a lot of people audition like you say. Were there any big names who didn’t make the cut?
Not really… we played some shows together with the singer from CHARON [Juha-Pekka Leppäluoto] We did some rehearsals with him and he was about to do one tour with us as well but the tour was cancelled. We had the support tour for TYPE O NEGATIVE in the States but Peter got sick and they cancelled the tour so we cancelled the tour from our side as well. That was about the time that we found Tomi. But there were some names from the scene here but nothing that people know that we tried.
Speaking of touring you guys are touring in Japan not too far away. Have you ever thought about making it to Australia and New Zealand.
We would love to come over, unfortunately we cant do it at the same time now when we do Japan and Taiwan but we’d really really love to. There has been talk many times that we should go over to Australia and New Zealand as well. Personally I would love to come over. I have never been to Australia or New Zealand, that’s definitely something I want to do. But it’s not that close haha!