DATE OF INTERVIEW:
5th October 2017
JAKKE VIITALA; MIKKO HÄKKINEN
Six years on from their last album, Finnish cinemascopic metallers Crimfall returned to the scene in August with their third full-length work, 'Amain'. A musically ambitious, epic beast of a record, it's been widely lauded as their best work, so the lengthy wait for new material from these talented Finns was more than worthwhile. With 'Amain' marking their recording debut for Metal Blade, it's now three albums and three different labels for Crimfall. Metal Discovery quizzed guitarist/songwriter Jakke Viitala and vocalist Mikko Häkkinen about the new album; the band's label hopping tendencies; their perfectly fused blend of band/orchestra elements; touring plans and bizarre anagrams...
METAL DISCOVERY: There was just a two year gap between 2009’s ‘As the Path Unfolds…’ and 2011’s ‘The Writ of Sword’, so what led to the longer gap before completing work on ‘Amain’?
MIKKO: We were young, fast and eager. Well, not entirely. Things just didn’t go as planned. First of all, we lost the support of our record label as they ran into financial troubles. Then some children happened and suddenly everything was a bit more complicated and slower than before. We had to compensate with time the lack of resources and the album itself is the most ambitious piece of work we have ever done. To be honest, we were nearly breaking up with the band at one point; Helena had to take a vacation from it all and, for a time, focused on very different music. In the end, we found some last energy to push it through and couldn’t be happier with the final result. Let’s just hope the next album will be easier.
(Jakke Viitala on the band/orchestra synthesis in Crimfall's music)
"I write the orchestration together with the band instruments. For Crimfall, that is the optimal way to create the songs... Each element in our music is supporting each other. There cannot be one without the other."
Crimfall - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © [unspecified year] - uncredited
Crimfall Official Website:
Thanks to Andy Turner for arranging the interview
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MD: The album seems to have picked up widespread positive press… I awarded it a solid 9/10 myself. Have you been satisfied by reactions you’ve received thus far?
JAKKE: Thanks for your review. Really appreciate it! The reactions have been mostly positive and ‘Amain’ has been nominated as the best Crimfall album in almost every review. So, in that sense, we couldn’t be any happier. But, on the other hand, we would have wanted it to go more viral and receive even more new listeners and fans. But I can tell that this will change as soon as we hit the road and start promoting the album by touring.
MD: Considering you’d spent so long working on the album, were you nervous in any way ahead of the release, in terms of how it would be received?
JAKKE: Of course we were nervous, not because we would have wanted change anything, BUT because if we ever want to make a new Crimfall album with the same production quality, we really need to grow our fanbase... and the only way to do it, is by releasing great album.
MD: Is there an overarching narrative binding all the songs together?
MIKKO: Nothing too elaborate. The album is about inner growth against impossible odds, what happens to you when all beliefs and truths are burned from you, when there are no tenets to retreat on and the only way is into the storm. Each song is about challenging particular presumptions and dogmas, each step further into the purgatory until the rain falls.
MD: You have the four part ‘Ten Winters Apart’ suite on the album… was this something you’ve always had in mind to do; to link together several related pieces, segued from/to each other?
JAKKE: Actually, our previous album, ‘Writ of Sword’ is a one piece winter-themed song/album… and that was something I really enjoyed doing. But what comes to ‘Ten Winters Apart’, it kind of wrote itself... the song kept going on and on, so I gave it a change to grow as long as possible.
MD: ‘Mother of Unbelievers’ sounds like a very Middle Eastern influenced composition in parts, in terms of the scales used… it brought to mind Orphaned Land and Myrath during certain passages. What can you say about this track?
JAKKE: As a huge fan of Middle-East sounding movie scores, I already did one Middle-East inspired song-combo on our first album and that specific track (‘Sun Orphaned’/’Ascension Pyre’) is something we still like a lot and keep playing live. It kind of felt natural to use the similar soundscapes again. Not by recycling any of the old ideas but by doing things a bit differently this time. In year 2011 or so, I heard Myrath’s ‘Tales of Sand’ for the first time and really REALLY liked what I heard. I can hear some similar elements on this track for sure, but I don’t think anyone would actually mix us together.
MD: Certain other bands have claimed their style is “cinematic metal” when, in reality, it’s simply metal with a strong symphonic layer. However, I believe ‘Amain’ is genuinely worthy of that tag as, lyrics aside, it feels like tales are unfolding through the music itself in one big emotional narrative journey. What makes ‘Amain’ cinematic from your viewpoint, and do you compose music with filmic imagery in mind?
JAKKE: I believe one major thing behind this cinematic feel is the fact that I compose orchestration and “band instruments” together and NOT by making the band version first and then someone else is doing the orchestration on top of that. By doing this I can keep focus on the mood of the song and emphasize that with the orchestration. I do visualize the songs in my head with images and stories and try to create the right kind of scenery with notes and instrumentation. For me, the music is not only about great melodies or guitar riffs; it’s more about the mood and atmosphere I create by choosing carefully the elements used in the songs. But, on the other hand, every little detail is as important as the whole picture itself.
MD: The orchestral elements are blended to perfection within the instrumentations, without feeling forced or simply added on as another layer. Just how much work goes into ensuring the blend sounds like a fully natural one?
JAKKE: As I told earlier, I write the orchestration together with the band instruments. For Crimfall, that is the optimal way to create the songs. It takes some time, for sure, and sometimes I get lost in the process and must start from the beginning, but I don’t see any easier way to do it. Each element in our music is supporting each other. There cannot be one without the other.
MD: I can hear some Howard Shore, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams influences in there, so have those composers provided any degree of inspiration?
JAKKE: Hah, good call! ‘It’s a Long Road’ is from the movie ‘First Blood’ (Rambo 1) which was composed by Mr. Goldsmith. That is my tribute to him and other masters of movie music. But yes, 80% of the time when I listen to music, it’s movie score that is playing. The guys you mentioned are on top of my list for sure, but there are also some other great composers such as Alan Silvestri, John Debney, Michael Kamen and many others I enjoy listening to. I could say that I take lots of inspiration from the “older” movie scores with great themes and majestic sound. I’m not that big of a fan of the more modern soundtracks.
MD: Obviously, scoring movies is a whole different ball game to making an album, but are film scores an area of composing you’d want to venture into at some point in the future, during your career?
JAKKE: Sure, why not! But just to be realistic, there is still so much for me to learn of this subject. So, it might still take few years of heavy work before I’m ready for that.
MD: I gather your previous album was mastered at Fascination Street Studios, but this is the first time you’ve recorded there? Was it a positive, plain-sailing experience all the way through?
JAKKE: ‘Amain’ was only mixed at Fascination Street Studios and recorded by ourselves, more or less at home. But the experience with the Fascination Street guys was great. For the first time, a Crimfall album really has the production quality it deserves and those guys are both extremely professional and easy to work with at the same time.
MD: Did you work directly with Jens Bogren, or his engineers?
JAKKE: I worked with Johan Örnborg. He did the mixing by using my notes and instructions and, when the album was almost ready, I flew to Sweden and worked on the small details with him for a few days. Jens re-amped the guitars and Tony Lindgren did the mastering.
MD: The cover art is very effective and striking. What can you say about this piece and the artist?
MIKKO: The artist is a good friend of ours, talented Tuomas Gustafsson, whose style is combining graceful anatomy with rough paint strokes and we think it nicely portrays our music. We wanted strong colours and a feeling of the last of stands. That wavering step between utter defeat and survival.
MD: Crimfall have now been signed to three key metal labels – Napalm, Spinefarm and Metal Blade. Will you continue doing the rounds for future albums?! Nuclear Blast next?!
JAKKE: Hopefully not! We really enjoy working with Metal Blade in every way and would like to build the Crimfall-empire together with them.
MD: It’s been said that “Crimfall is now known for uncompromising visual live shows”… so, what kind of sonic/visual feast can people expect from a Crimfall performance?
MIKKO: Ah, the grandiose wording of press releases. I would say uncompromising in this context means we won’t be doing any gigs in jeans and t-shirts, but always putting some extra effort to make it a good, pompous, rock ’n’ roll show. It is entertainment, after all, and some thought should be given to have the visuals enhance the effect of the music. We also keep iterating the songs themselves to make them better fit the live conditions and build a better arc of drama.
MD: Hypothetically, if you had an unlimited budget, in what ways would you enhance the Crimfall live experience? Would it become more theatrical, with actors; scenery; effects, etc.?
MIKKO: Perhaps a large Stonehenge with dancing dwarves? Probably not actors but it would be interesting to produce more of the symphonic elements with live musicians and a choir. Also, next we are investing more into lights and effects as those can really build the atmosphere in various parts of the songs.
MD: What are your touring plans for the coming months, and are we likely to see Crimfall back on UK shores soon?
MIKKO: Since we have been away quite a long time there has been some building of new partnerships and support for touring. We just started working with The Flaming Arts Booking Agency for Europe and plans are set in motion. We certainly hope to have some news to share on that front really soon.
MD: Finally, some anagrams of “Crimfall Amain” are: “Maniac Rim Fall”; “Claim Final Arm”; “A Calm Rain Film”; “Call in Mr Mafia”; and “I Film Anal Cram”. Any subliminal messages here, do you think, or pure nonsense?!
JAKKE: Hah, you can also simply write is as NAIMA which is Finnish and means something like “fuck-thing”. But, seriously, ‘Amain’ has a deeper meaning, for us. It can be translated as “with full force”, “with full speed” and, for us, it means “giving all we got” … mentally, physically and financially!