Kuolemanlaakso interview (02/2014)
|With:||Markus "Max Power" Laakso|
|Conducted by:||Apothecary (e-mail)|
After reviewing Finnish death doom band Kuolemanlaakso's upcoming album Tulijoutsen, I was warmly invited by Svart Records to do an interview with the band. I had the pleasure of having a very interesting conversation with Markus Laakso, the guitarist and keyboardist, and mastermind behind the group. We discussed the origins of Kuolemanlaakso, as well as some of the thematic inspiration behind the project.
Che: Hello and thank you for taking out some time for this interview, Markus. Let's start with the basics. I'm curious as to where the idea for Kuolemanlaakso initially came from. It was originally your own one man project, correct?
Markus: Indeed. I first got the idea to start making stripped down and ultra heavy tunes when we were recording the second Chaosweaver album Enter the Realm of the Doppelgänger in the spring of 2010. While the other guys were taking a break, I closed the studio door, and started recording some new riffs with a drop C tuning; a tuning which I hadn't even tried out before.
I was very impressed with Triptykon's Eparistera Daimones at that time, and I wanted to compose something as dark and relentless. I think I wrote and recorded the basic riffs of "Minä Elän" and "Uljas Uusi Maailma" on the very same day, and basically that's how Kuolemanlaakso got started. It was my one man project until Kouta (guitar) heard one of my demos, and insisted that I'd make it a full-time band. The rest is history.
Che: Was there any reason for choosing Mikko Kotamäki (of Swallow The Sun) as the band's vocalist, rather than doing vocals yourself as you had for Chaosweaver?
Markus: I'm actually not the main vocalist in Chaosweaver, Cypher Commander is. I just sing a few parts here and there. I actually was planning to do the vocals for Kuolemanlaakso, but as it grew into a real band, I wanted to get the best possible singer out there, and focus on guitar and keys myself. Our wish list was very short, as it only contained one name: Mikko Kotamäki. I'm still thrilled to be working with such a diverse vocalist and a great guy.
Che: I'm sure, he's definitely got some great pipes! So being as it is that it was your idea to start with, would you say that you're in charge of Kuolemanlaakso's creative process, or is it more of a joint effort?
Markus: In the beginning I was almost completely in charge of everything, but nowadays it's more of a joint effort. However, I still write most of the music and all the lyrics, and am in charge of the whole visual palette (album covers, booklets, t-shirt designs etc.), communicating with our label, doing most of the press and so forth.
Che: Cool, always good to have a bit of a mix like that I suppose. Now, with the latest album, Tulijoutsen, did you guys go into it with any set intention of making it different from the debut, or was it more or less the same formula?
Markus: We wanted to go for a more melodic and melancholic approach as opposed to the super heavy and evil spirit of the debut. Tulijoutsen is also gloomy to the max, but it is also a very diverse album with a lot of hooks, twists and turns. I think it is necessary for us to have a lot of surprises in our songs, and not go from where the fence is lowest.
I believe we captured the essence of Kuolemanlaakso with this album. We can pretty much have anything on the next album, whenever it may come out, because there are so many different elements and influences on our two full-lengths and one EP already, but yet still sound like ourselves. Having said that, there won't be any happy tunes, though.
Che: I noticed that, I think the album really had a higher variety of emotion than before, which is part of why I enjoyed it so much. It seems apparent as well, from the music and from info I've read about the project, that with Kuolemanlaakso you really seem to be concerned with capturing a sort of ancestral Finnish spirit. Is this why the lyrics weren't done in English?
Markus: Yeah, that's one of the main reasons. Another one was that I wanted to challenge myself, because I hadn't written serious lyrics in Finnish before. It was basically the same thing with the drop tuning: what started out as a test turned out working immensely well.
Che: Tulijoutsen struck a pretty fine balance between extreme and melodic. Would you say that either side was more of a concern, or was the goal to go for a pretty 50/50 balance?
Markus: Well, I know it's such a cliché to say this, but the songs came out as they did very naturally and without forcing anything. I've noticed that my writing (same with my taste in music) advances in cycles. There are periods, when I want to (or have to) write certain kinds of music, like for example this melodic and harmonic, but also extreme types of metal, which you can hear on Tulijoutsen.
Once we finish an album, I immediately want to do something completely different. Right now I've been writing some acoustic non-metal songs for another possible future project, but at the same time, I've already written some riffs for Kuolemanlaakso, which are insanely grim and a bit more technical than our previous stuff. I've been listening to a lot of 1990s black metal classics, and Leonard Cohen lately, heheh..
Che: I suppose every musician can have some unexpected inspiration, right? So going back to Kuolemanlaakso's influences for a second, I've heard something about the band's lyrics being inspired by Eino Leino's poem collection "Helkavirsiä." Would you like to shed some light on that?
Markus: The lyrics of our debut were inspired by "Helkavirsiä" ("Writsongs") by Eino Leino, and Tulijoutsen more or less by "Lusiferin Kannel" by Aarni Kouta. I was mostly inspired by their style and rhythm of writing, and their use of old and forgotten Finnish words, but the topics deal mostly with completely different issues than their poetry. Nature is a common factor, though. And by nature, I mean the great outdoors as well as human nature, with all its flaws.
Che: Nature as it relates to man, that's a very interesting, sort of interconnected way of seeing things. Something that's had me curious, though: I believe Tulijoutsen translates to "The Fire Swan," as evidenced by the album's cover. Are swans simply common in Finland, or is there some type of higher, possibly mythological significance behind that?
Tulijoutsen, the band's upcoming album
Tulijoutsen, the band's upcoming album
Markus: Yes, that is correct. Swans are common here, but there are, of course, symbolic significances behind using one on the artwork and album title as well. I don't want to give too much away, but the album explores the opposites, both musically and lyrically. In the thematical context of the lyrics, each song is strongly connected to either fire or water, one of the opposite elements. The translations of the lyrics can be found in the booklet of the CD and on the gatefold of the LP. So now you have the keys, the ignition is up to you.
Che: I think you might've just made my desire to get a physical copy even greater then! Speaking of physical copies, Kuolemanlaakso are on Svart Records, also home to your contemporaries Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising. There seem to have been a lot of great bands coming out of the Finnish scene lately, where do you see Kuolemanlaakso as sitting within it?
Markus: Frankly, I don't give a donkey's dick, heheh. We just do what we do, and let others do what they feel like doing.
Che: A very admirable way of approaching things. As I'm sure many of your fans must be wondering, are there any plans for Kuolemanlaakso touring in the future, and if so, are there any particular bands you'd like to see playing alongside you?
Markus: We have some club shows confirmed for March in Finland, and we'll be performing at Nummirock Metal Festival in June, with W.A.S.P., Behemoth, Stone, The Black Dahlia Murder, and some others on the bill.
We will most likely do some more shows during Spring, and perhaps more intensive touring in Autumn, at least I hope so. It would be absolutely killer to tour with Triptykon, My Dying Bride, or Electric Wizard, and we sure as fuck wouldn't say no to Black Sabbath either. Some fans might find it strange, but a lot of our band members are also really into HIM, so a set of shows with those guys would be killer too.
Che: Pretty cool, I suppose it's always good to diversify the types of bands you perform with. Going back to Tulijoutsen, if there's one track on Tulijoutsen that you're most proud of, and that you'd really like listeners to take away as what the release is all about, which would it be?
Markus: Usva's (bass guitar) "Verihaaksi" is one of the best Kuolemanlaakso songs ever. It's insanely heavy, and it showcases a lot of our signature stunts. Kotamäki's vocals sound like they're from the depths of hell on that one. That song is our "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner," as it is quite an epic, and it's about a ghost ship named Ourang Medan.
Che: All very intriguing, Markus! Once again, thank you for your time and your sharing of your artistic vision. Are their any last words you'd like to give out to your fans and the Metal Storm audience?
Markus: Thank you all very much for the support, and keeping the underground alive!
"Without music, life would be a mistake." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Best regards on behalf of Kuolemanlaakso!
*Tulijoutsen will be released on February 28th via Svart Records. Get your hands on some quality death doom and praise the Kuolemanlaakso name!
||Posted on 09.02.2014 by Comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable since 2013.|
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