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10th October 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: This is the first time you’ve ever played in the UK…
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(Esa Holopainen on the importance of choosing a band name in the beginning)
"We are very happy now that we are not Anal Cunt or something!"
Niclas Etelävuori & Esa Holopainen in their tour bus outside the Underworld, London, UK, 10th October 2009
Photograph copyright © 2009 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview and Photography by Mark Holmes
In existence since 1990, it has taken no less than nineteen years for Amorphis to make it over to these shores for their debut UK live show. From early death beginnings, the Finns have transformed their sound over the years into a more prog-edged melodic metal aesthetic, and remain a much loved and globally popular act within the metal scene in 2009. With the release of ninth studio album, 'Skyforger', earlier this year to rave reviews and wide critical acclaim amongst journalists and fans alike, their popularity is, perhaps, at a career high. Shortly before their eagerly anticipated performance in Camden's Underworld venue, I settle down with bassist Niclas Etelävuori and one of the band's founding members, Esa Holopainen, on their tour bus for discussions about everything Amorphis. A brief pre-interview chat with Esa reveals that he has actually been to the UK previously, to mix 'Elegy' at a studio in Liverpool, where he fell over and sustained an injury to his hand and arm, of which he still bears the scar. I commence our dialogue proper by enquiring as to why it's taken so long for Amorphis to play in the UK...
ESA HOLOPAINEN: Yeah, right.
MD: Why have you never played over here before - a lack of promoters or festivals wanting to book you?
EH: There’s been some plans always, but cancelled. I don’t know why. And every time we’ve been scheduling European tours, I don’t know why the UK hasn’t been there.
NE: Yeah, last time it was but there was something else appeared in the middle and we would have had to wait for one week somewhere.
EH: There was a plan for Bloodstock…
NE: Yeah, it was Paradise Lost.
EH: Yeah, that one and then the Bloodstock I guess as well.
MD: Paradise Lost played Bloodstock in 2003 and you was on tour with them in Europe I think at the time?
EH: Yeah, yeah.
MD: So you had a night off when they played Bloodstock.
EH: Yeah. This year, I think Bloodstock was in mind but our booking agent couldn’t, I think, come together and match it with Bloodstock.
MD: Maybe next year! The first time I nearly saw your band was in 2004 when you were booked to play ProgPower Europe in Holland and you cancelled that appearance. Has there ever been any talks with the organisers to rebook you do you know?
NE: We played ProgPower USA.
MD: I remember speaking to one of the organisers last year and he said they wanted Amorphis to headline the Sunday, but obviously that never happened. I think they wanted Atheist to headline the Saturday, but that never happened either.
EH: You know, there’s a lot of things we hear afterwards. Usually the agencies are talking with each other and we don’t even know about it until it’s confirmed.
MD: Your ex-singer, Pasi, left the band just after you cancelled ProgPower - was that cancellation related in any way?
EH: No, there was a lot of different reasons for that, I think the lack of motivation. We chat together after one tour that it’s probably not a good thing if he continues with the band because everybody’s motivation suffers, and so we departed but with good feelings. It had nothing to do with that ProgPower! [laughs]
MD: I think I read at the time you cancelled because his wife was expecting a baby.
EH: Yeah, there was sort of these things as well.
MD: Talking of prog, do you regard Amorphis as a progressive band in the sense that you seem to progress with your sound on each new album rather than fitting into the genre of prog?
NE: Yeah, maybe it’s more like on the albums themselves, not just the songs. We’re kind of a prog band but not so progressive sounding.
MD: Because you have a band name that means no particular shape or form, did you always envisage you’d progress with your music so it didn’t fit one particular genre or style when you originally came up with the name?
EH: No, it was just a cool name! [laughs] We are very happy now that we are not Anal Cunt or something! [laughs]
MD: They were due to play over here this month actually but the whole tour got cancelled. I think venues and promoters started panicking when they heard about their previous tour where there was fights and all sorts going on!
EH & NE: [laughs]
MD: There seems to be a lot of labels always bandied around to describe the music of Amorphis like folk metal, death metal, melodic metal, goth metal, prog metal…does it frustrate you when journalists tag you with those labels in that it must be a quite limiting way of perceiving your music?
EH: No, not really. I think our old record label, Relapse, they started this because they couldn’t…you know, we started as a death metal band but then as more influences came in our music it changed a lot, and they didn’t know how to promote the band. So at some points we were something like ‘bombastic metal’! [laughs]
MD: So whatever scene was in at the time, they said “hey, Amorphis are this”?!
EH: 'Gothic folk' is probably the worst I’ve heard! [laughs]
NE: It’s totally what album or what song somebody has heard for them to make up a label. There’s one guy who said we’re more like world music! He’s heard something from ‘Tuonela’. You shouldn’t be labelled like this or like that, but I don’t know.
EH: I don’t know, I think we’re still a metal band, sort of! [laughs]
MD: As I’ve always said, there’s two genres of music - there’s music you like and music you don’t, so all genres and labels are just nonsense anyway.
EH: It is, yeah.
MD: ‘Skyforger’…a fantastic new album.
EH: Well, thank you.
MD: Obviously not quite so new now as it came out a few months ago. It sounds a lot heavier in parts than the previous two releases during the more metal sections. Did you consciously try to heavy up the sound a bit for certain songs?
EH: Not really, no. I think ‘Silent Waters’, the overall theme was more dark, so the atmosphere is much darker than, for example, ‘Eclipse’. ‘Eclipse’ is the first album we did with Tomi and, after that, we started to realise how capable his voice is and what he can do. And yeah, there are heavier songs on this album as well as, I guess, more mellow ones. But, I don’t know, when we start to write music that’s different enough, our minds say now we do the heavier one because we have to do.
MD: You used Marco from Nightwish again…is it for the third time on this album…to do backing vocals?
EH: Yeah.
MD: And he co-produced with Nightwish’s producer as well?
EH: Yeah, Tero, but Tero was recording, I think, some vocal parts and Mikko Karmila who mixed Nightwish’s albums mixed the last three albums as well.
MD: Do you regard Marco as kind of an unofficial seventh member of Amorphis as he always seems to be there doing something musically for the band?!
NE: Yeah, it seems to work well with Tomi and him. For the first album, Tomi had no experience so he needed a kind of coach, and it seemed to work very well.
MD: He’s a fantastic vocalist as well.
EH: Yeah, he is, and has a lot of good ideas as well.
MD: There was a mastering problem with the digipak version of the new album…
EH: Unfortunately, yes.
MD: What was the score there, because there were fluctuations in the sound levels or something?
EH: Yeah, there’s one in the song ‘My Sun’ and then in the ‘Skyforger’ track there is a whole section….[laughs]
NE: Yeah, I don’t know, it’s what happens when you rely on technology too much!
EH: It was totally the fault of the mastering engineer and, as Niclas said, he relied too much on his computers, so that’s what happens if you don’t be really careful. It was three different forms he was handling, and for the digital he unfortunately didn’t listen to the thing he sent over. We were in shock when we heard it because…
NE: Yeah, we got it the day before.
EH: The day before the actual release, we got the copies ourselves so we could have reacted much before if we’d got the album versions beforehand but, yeah, what happened, happened, so you can’t really help it at the moment! [laughs]
MD: Shit happens!
EH: Yeah! [laughs]