DATE OF INTERVIEW:
25th September 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: This is the first date of your tour, did you have a good journey over to the UK?
TOMI MYKKÄNEN: Yeah, quite a nice flight. We came here yesterday evening and broke the ice with the Finntroll guys. We got quite drunk! [laughs]
(Tomi Mykkänen on describing Battlelore's music)
"...take Bolt Thrower, and take The Gathering, put them in a blender, put some fantasy pepper on it, and stir!"
Tomi outside Rock City's backstage doors, Nottingham, UK, 25th September 2009
Photograph copyright © 2009 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview and Photography by Mark Holmes
Since forming in 1999, Finnish Tolkien aficionados, Battlelore, have been crafting their self-styled epic-sounding fantasy metal over the course of ten years and five albums, from 2001's '...Where the Shadows Lie' to last year's 'The Last Alliance'. With their material exclusively based in the Middle Earth thematic, there is no other band like them, both musically and lyrically (even Summoning strayed from their trademark Tolkien stylings on 1999 album 'Stronghold'). And it is the diverse approach they take in their art that has led journalists worldwide to confusingly, and erroneously, label their music as goth metal, symphonic metal, folk metal, power metal, death metal, and even Tolkien metal whereas, genre labelling aside, they make damn fine music that is undoubtedly metal at its core, whatever subgenre lazy critics try to affiliate it to. On tour in the UK with fellow countrymen Finntroll, I arranged to meet up with Battlelore at their first stop off in Nottingham and, arriving at the venue by my scheduled time, discover they are still soundchecking. After a short wait of only ten minutes, frontman Tomi Mykkänen appears and we climb onto the band's tour bus, settle down at a table, crack open a beer each, and begin discussions...
MD: That kind of answers my second question! I always hear that the Finnish like to drink a lot - will it be a sober tour, or will there be lots of drinking to do with the Finntroll guys?
TM: I’m afraid so! [laughs] It was a nice evening yesterday. We came in quite late here and we didn’t have any beer on the bus because we had to leave London as soon as possible to get away from the traffic, and then we stopped on the motorway but we heard that they can’t sell beer there…
MD: Yeah, it’s crazy…
TM: Yeah, so we came here without any beers, but when we got here we went to the nearest place! And even to the bar; it’s so cheap - £1.25 for a pint so that’s good.
MD: Cheaper than Finland?
TM: A lot!
MD: So you like coming to the UK for the beer?!
TM: Yeah! In Finland, it’s like…if you get cheap beer it’s three or four euros.
MD: I went to Sweden for the first time this July actually and was surprised how expensive the beer is.
TM: Yeah, it’s horrible there, worse than Finland.
MD: ‘The Last Alliance’ received many rave reviews when it was released last year - how satisfied were you with the end product?
TM: Really, really satisfied. It was a struggle from the beginning when we started making the songs. We always do demos for all the songs so we know what’s going to happen, but then we went to the studio and started recording the parts and were thinking then how it was going to turn out, and were afraid it was going to be too poppy! And, in the end, we went back to the studio to add some growls because, for some reason, I started using my clean vocals and I forgot the growling, so we added a few growls. When we got the first mixes from Dan Swanö who was mixing it, we were like, “ohhhh, this sounds great”. He made a decision because we didn’t give him any directions how to mix and he decided to go more synth based, so it’s quite a synth based album. But I still think it’s heavy and we are quite satisfied with that. It’s a good one, yeah.
MD: You mentioned Dan Swanö - he mixed and mastered the album - is he someone you’ll try to use as producer too for future releases?
TM: No, he doesn’t do that. He says that he wants to mix and master.
MD: He does no producing now at all then?
TM: No, I guess only his own stuff. He doesn’t want to record, I guess, that’s…
MD: ...too much hassle...
TM: Yeah! [laughs] Too much pain in the ass! We tried to give him some production credits and give him rights to take away something if he feels it, but he didn’t do anything. He just made up sounds, but it’s excellent.
MD: Have you heard his band Nightingale?
TM: Of course.
MD: You like ‘em?
TM: Yeah, I love Dan.
MD: I saw them at Rockweekend in Sweden this year and Dag Swanö’s an interesting character!
TM: Yeah, he’s a really nice guy.
MD: Onstage he seemed to be like some middle-aged man going through some mid-life crisis, like doing all the clichéd rock star poses, and took off his t-shirt at the end and lobbed it into the crowd, and the bassist was rolling his eyes looking like “not again” kind of thing.
TM: He’s a bus driver. I met Dan and Dag when they were playing in Finland with Nightingale. Excellent guys, excellent guys. Like you said, middle-aged but they are really fun. Funny guys to be with and talk to.
MD: Dag had really funny expressions when he was playing too. He looked like he was constipated the whole time, like straining to have a shit!
TM: [laughs] Yeah, they’re really cool guys, and that was the first time I met Dan and he was really, really fluent, talking all the time, like how he made the ‘Crimson’ album and everything. It was a dream come true! For me, Dan is…well….like….
MD: …well respected within the metal scene with what he’s done.
TM: Yeah, yeah.
MD: You’ve just renewed your contract with Napalm and there’s mention on your website of it being “a fine deal”. What form does the “fine deal” take? I presume there’s more money available now to record the next album and more money for tour support?
TM: Yeah, yeah, everything is a lot better than on the first one, definitely. You have to think that when Jyri took the first deal, he got money for the album and was eighteen or nineteen. He got the money - the label said “here’s the money, make an album”; he was - “woo-hoooo”. He did the first five album deal…you don’t do five album deals! [laughs] So that was a bad call, but we are not making this as our work so we get to tour and we were able to make the albums so, in that way, the deal was okay, and they do the promotion. But the new deal was so good, we had to take it. We tried to get away from there. It was our idea that we were going to change the record label.
MD: Did you have any offers from other labels?
TM: Yes, yes. We got offers; we got good offers, but the Napalm offer was sooo great. You have to think that they have the backup of the last five albums so they can give a lot better deal, because they always know they have the other five albums to sell.
MD: Have you started composing for the next album?
TM: Yes, we have. We have done maybe three or four skeletons of songs, and we have decided that we will do this UK tour, then we have the European tour coming up, and then we have a couple of gigs in Russia in December, and then we will take a break in gigging and we will make the album and record it next Summer. But we have been working on it.
MD: As soon as you finish an album do you start composing for the next one?
TM: It depends. The composing part is done in the band pretty much by the other guitarists or me because I’m a guitar player as well. We make up the song skeleton on guitar and then we go to the rehearsal place and setup the drums and come up with all the parts. Then we record the drums, and then the guitars, and then we start circulating the mp3s, and everybody adds their own parts.
MD: So it becomes very layered at that point.
TM: That’s how we do it and, at the moment, we have like four or five skeletons with drums and guitars but nothing else.
MD: I’ve read Battlelore’s music as belonging to various subgenres on Wikipedia generally in the metal press as battle metal; Tolkien metal; folk metal; symphonic metal and whatever else. How do you personally regard genre labelling like that or do you not really care and just do what you do?
TM: I didn’t care, but the I got into some really flamed discussion on the internet about the folk metal thing because somebody started saying that Battlelore is folk metal, and somebody started talking about there is no such genre as folk metal, it’s just words. And then I started thinking that Battlelore is really hard to describe as we have totally different parts. We have death metal, then we have the pop parts or the mellow parts, but I would not call us folk metal. Like, on ‘Evernight’, there is one song that has some folkish elements…[laughs]…that’s like for my own idea that we don’t have any folk elements. In that way, the label has said we’re fantasy metal. That kind of describes it, but I understand that you have to have labels and genres.
MD: I think the most pretentious label I’ve ever heard is Rhapsody…or Rhapsody of Fire as they’re now called…they call themselves cinematic metal or something like that. It’s like, fair enough, you’ve got Christopher Lee to narrate for you, but what part their music is cinematic? It’s power metal with symphonic elements and some neo-classical parts.
TM: Yeah, I think it should be a lot easier to label them because it’s like power metal. Of course, we have also been called power metal.
MD: For me, there’s only two genres of music - music you like and music you don’t. At the end of the day, it’s all musicians playing instruments and if you like it, great, if you don’t then go and listen to something else, you know.
TM: Yeah! [laughs] I would like to just call it heavy metal, but still…
MD: I checked out your top friends on Battlelore’s MySpace page and there’s a diverse range of bands in there from Dissection, Opeth, and Agalloch to The Gathering, Anathema and Katatonia…actually, that’s six of my favourite bands, so that’s nice to see! Do those bands reflect the collective influences of Battlelore?
TM: Yeah. I’m the one who’s handling the MySpace and I have actually thought what kind of influences we have, and also the favourite bands of the band members, and that’s basically it. For example, many times I’ve been asked how would you describe our music and, at some point, I said “take Bolt Thrower, and take The Gathering, put them in a blender, put some fantasy pepper on it, and stir”! [laughs] For me, Bolt Thrower by this way, we always try to add that. I’m not sure if people can really see it, but it’s something that we want to have, the death metal part always.
MD: Have you heard The Gathering’s new album?
TM: Yeah, yeah.
MD: What do you think of post-Anneke The Gathering?
MD: I didn’t like Silje in Octavia Sperati. I saw them live, and wasn’t really impressed with her voice, but I actually like what she’s doing in The Gathering.
TM: I think I have listened to the album three or four times…not too much. I think it sounds good, and I think it’s good that they continued, and now Anneke has her own band…
MD: Yeah, Agua de Annique.
TM: Yeah, it’s a good one. Somehow, when I was listening to the album, I thought they have rushed a bit. Some parts of the vocals sound a bit demo-ish, but it’s quite good.
MD: I understand the lyrics on your last two albums are still linked to Tolkien’s writings, but you’ve used some themes and ideas from Middle Earth in a more modern, real life context. Can you give some examples of how that works?
TM: Yeah, the biggest difference is if you take the first album, let’s write about Rohan, and Saruman, and Fangorn, and all these things, then we decided to not be that graphic. Of course, we have now done five albums and, even though there are stories to tell, we want to make it a bit more emotional. If you read them, you can pinpoint - this must be about this, and this must be about that - but then, if some guy doesn’t know his Tolkien, he can also enjoy the lyrics.
MD: Summoning have written a track in Black Speech on their last album, the language of Mordor of course - have you ever contemplated writing anything in the languages of Middle Earth?
TM: We have been talking about it. The problem is that why we haven’t done it, and probably won’t, is that we are not able to! [laughs] We don’t want to just write something. It should be good, and it should be correct. I guess Jyri doesn’t want to write because he doesn’t know how to do it properly. But it’s funny because we have used some Finnish lines for some parts on songs and, of course, Tolkien used Finnish as a base for Elvish. We have been getting lots of comments - “ahhh, you have been using Elvish here” and no, no, it’s Finnish! [laughs]
MD: Apart from Summoning and yourselves, there seems to be more bands out there with Middle Earth themed band names than exclusively basing their lyrics in Tolkien’s writings. Can you name five bands, past or present, that have a Tolkien related name?
TM: Mmmm….Burzum…Gorgoroth…errr, pretty much any Norwegian black metal band! [laughs] Amon Amarth. That’s three…
MD: There’s Ephel Duath as well, the Italian band, and Gandalf too.
TM: Yeah, yeah, of course, and Mordor as well.
MD: Balrog too, another Italian band. Okay, this is a really naff question, but supposing Middle Earth actually existed and you could visit that world for a weekend, how would you spend your time there?
MD: In The Prancing Pony?
TM: Yeah, in The Prancing Pony, smoking some hobbit weed and drinking beer. Maybe go and see…if I could take a plane, I could fly and go to see Mount Doom…[laughs]
MD: Who would be your alter-ego in Middle Earth? What character would you most liken yourself to?
TM: Some human. I would probably say the Riders of Riddermark, or something like this would be cool.