Hello over there! First of all, thank you very much for taking your time to answer this interview. It is indeed great to have the chance to talk to one of the most innovative bands lately. Please, I ask you to introduce yourself to our readers.
Laakso: Thank you very much for your interest, support and nice words. I’m Laakso, the founder, main songwriter and guitarist-keyboardist of Kuolemanlaakso, and a relatively nice guy from Finland.
Let’s talk about Tulijoutsen, your latest album, released now in 2014. In my humble opinion, this is Kuolemanlaakso best album so far and one of the best releases of the current year. Please, tell us how the recording process was, how satisfied you are with this release and how was the response so far?
Laakso: The recording process was the most relaxed one that we’ve had thus far. We isolated ourselves in a cabin in the middle of the woods next to epic lake scenery for three weeks with our producer V. Santura, the guitarist of Triptykon and Dark Fortress. We didn’t experience any technical difficulties, and just had a really good time working on the album and hanging out. Whenever we weren’t recording, we’d go fishing on the lake, picking berries or bathing in the sauna.
We knew that we had a strong set of songs, but the album came out more superior than we had even dreamed of. The worst review score that I’ve personally seen has been 3/5, and I’ve seen about a hundred Tulijoutsen reviews. Can’t complain about that.
Tulijoutsen is very well produced and has an epic feeling, yet melancholic, it’s hard to not sound like an ass-kisser, but really, the album is amazing (I always listen to the albums of the bands I’m interviewing while working on the questions). Let us know about the main influences on this album itself when it comes to the lyrics.
Laakso: I don’t listen to music, while I’m in the writing mode. On this album, I’m was mostly influenced by the poetry of Aarni Kouta (1884-1924), ancient Finnish chant poems, the grandeur of the Finnish woods and the mesmerizing world of Twin Peaks. The latter is always an influence of mine. Anyhow, I’d be lying if I claimed that bands like Triptykon/Celtic Frost, My Dying Bride, Angelo Badalamenti and Amorphis didn’t have any effect on this album.
I’ve read on an “older” interview with the band that, at the time, it was considered hard to write the songs in Finnish, as it was stated that the language is harsh. The band concluded that it’s was a tough task to make the words sound good on top of the music, and at the same time avoid sounding corny with stuff you’re actually singing about. Has this changed a bit with this new release? I personally enjoy the sound of the Finnish language a lot, but unfortunately I don’t have the guts to try to learn it, hehe.
Laakso: I actually decided to use Finnish at the very moment I started writing the first song for this band, which was Minä elän by the way. Writing in Finnish is still very difficult. I’m used to writing lyrics in English, which is far more musical language than Finnish is. However, being the lyricist of the band, I enjoy the challenge.
Our music is also very Finnish as far as the melancholy and melodies are concerned, so it wouldn’t have made sense to sing in any other language. Also, our lyrics are somewhat poetic, which brings another level to the whole concept of the band. In my mind, it’s a perfect match. If you’re interested in founding out what we are singing about, the English translations of the lyrics can be found in the booklet of the CD and the centerfold of the LP. To be completely honest: the lyrics of this album came out much better than on the first one, but the translations aren’t as good as on Uljas uusi maailma. I translated them, so I’m the one to blame.
I got to know throughout a German website that you’re already working on new material. Are you guys workaholic? Seriously, that is impressive, but when you’re doing something you have a passion for it, everything turns less difficult. Could you share with us what is the direction that the band is taking? I think you want to work on darker nightmares, right?
Laakso: We’ve released two full-lenghts and an EP in a period of 1,5 years (plus an album with Chaosweaver, featuring Kuolemanlaakso’s guitarist Kouta and yours truly), so I guess one could say that we are somewhat industrious. I’ve been trying to take some time off from composing, but I haven’t been able to beat my addiction yet, heh… I honestly hardly ever play guitar at home, but when I do, something usable always comes out of it.
Usva (bass) has been working on new material, too. It’s impossible to say, how the next album will turn out at this point, but we’ve already decided on the lyrical, productional and atmospheric concept of it. We’re exploring new territories of darkness, and going a bit more black metal, but not forgetting our brand of crushing heaviness. I personally dig the new stuff a lot. It’s definitely the right way for us to expand our musical horizon. I’m convinced that it will be a colder album than the previous ones – a winter album after two autumn ones.
Kuolemanlaakso is band which features members of other respected Finnish bands. How does it influence on the band’s music? Do you try not to “bring” the works/ influences of your other bands, at least consciously, in order to make Kuolemanlaakso’s sound unique as it is?
Laakso: I don’t think our other bands influence us at all consciously. In fact, we try to avoid it. I still write most of the material, and Chaosweaver’s music is very different from Kuolemanlaakso’s. Chaosweaver orchestrated and over the top to the max, whereas Kuolemanlaakso’s stuff is very down to earth, rootsy and quite simple.
Usva’s other bands play very complex death metal, and he tends to write more techinically challenging stuff than me. Sometimes we have to strip some of his riffs down, but as of late, he has nailed the Kuolemanlaakso approach perfectly.
Kouta (guitar), who has also written some of our music, is a fan of straight-forward stuff, so I’m pretty much the guy in the middle, who’s pulling the strings towards the right direction. Having said that, I’m sure that we’ll develop our music in new directions in the future. Swallow the Sun, our singer’s other band, is probably the closest from all our other bands and projects, but their stuff is much more mellow and melodic than ours.
Your cover art is simply stunning. I am aware that the person who designed it was Maahy Abdul Muhsin. Please, tell us a bit about him, how you got to know his works and how is to work with him.
Laakso: I first saw a painting by him on a Facebook group called “Owls”. I immediately wrote him an email asking if he’d be interested in providing artwork for our debut album. I also sent him a list of things that I’d like to have on it and explained, how I’d like the artwork to portray some parts of the lyrics. He answered me in 20 minutes, and sounded really excited about the project. He agreed to do it on the spot.
So, that’s how the very fruitful cooperation began. Maahy is a 19-year-old prodigy from the Maldives. He’s truly a nice and warmhearted guy, a true gentleman. On top of that, he’s one of the most talented new artist of our time. I couldn’t be happier to be working with him.
You credit Eparistera Daimones being one of the reasons for the existence of Kuolemanlaakso. I have to say that I find this album one of the best in the history of metal. And I say this with no fear of this statement to be considered an exaggeration. Do you consider influenced only by Triptykon or do you enjoy the works of Celtic Frost and Hellhammer as well (obviously talking about Thomas Gabriel Fischer bands)? And what did you think about Melana Chasmata?
Laakso: I’m a fan of Tom Gabriel Fischer’s other works, too. Well, perhaps not Cold Lake, but you get the point. However, I concider Eparistera Daimones to be Fischer’s magnum opus, which exceeds even the greatness of Monotheist by Celtic Frost. It is the ultimate extreme metal album in many ways, one of them being the production. That is the reason we wanted to work with V. Santura, who not only plays guitar and wrote music on the album, but also recorded, mixed and co-produced it. It has been such a privilege to be working with him. He understands our music and vision perfectly, and likes our stuff a lot on a personal level, which is, of course, a benefit.
I think Melana Chasmata is another monumental album in Tom’s exeptional discography. It’s not as devastatingly comfortless as its predecessor, and it has more tones to it than just black and shades of gray. It doesn’t top Eparistera Daimones, but it tops at least 99,9 % of other metal out there.
Another “element” that I’ve noticed that we share a passion is the series Twin Peaks. Were you disappointed or relieved when David Lynch told that the revival wouldn’t happen? And have you seen the stunning “Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-ray Box”? Are you thinking about purchasing it?
Laakso: I haven’t seen it as it will be released in July, but I’ve already pre-ordered it. I’m not convinced that Lynch and Frost could pull of another season of Twin Peaks as a big part of the core cast has already passed on, but as Lynch himself has said, “Twin Peaks is still there”. It is far more than just a tv show, it is a state of mind – an atmosphere unlike any other.
I’m hoping that Lynch will “fall in love” with the town once more (in his words, he needs to fall in love with a topic in order to make it into a movie), and deliver something new to the saga. Perhaps a spin-off movie. Lynch hasn’t been making films in a while, but I’m looking forward to the Blu-Ray box very, very much. You should see my house – it’s filled with owls, Twin Peaks memorabilia and Black Lodge patterns…
And now just for the fun, I have some Seinfeld moments that I save for questions. One of my favorites to ask is the following one: In the episode “The Contest” the four friends bet who can go the longest without masturbating and to be called the “Master of Your Domain”, the person that would be able to control the “urges”. If the same happened with Kuolemanlaakso, who do you think would be the “master of your domain” and why?
Laakso: I don’t know, who’d be crowned Master, but based on a bundle of evidence, I’m confident that the first guy to fall would be Kouta.
This is the part where I always leave to ask a few things about the personal lives of the musicians I interview. And I always point out that it’s nothing that would invade your privacy, of course. We, as fans, simply would like to know a few more things about yourself, your passions, besides music, hobbies, if any, favorite activities, your goals when it comes to music, anything that you’d like to share with us.
Laakso: Well, I’m a professional writer, and I’m very much into photography. I suck at drawing and painting, but I’m quite decent in photography. I’ve had a camera ever since I was five, but I’ve never got around to studying the technical aspect of photography thoroughly. I’ve taken some courses on it, sure, but I’m trying to find time to really nail it in the near future.
I’ve been shooting for a few music mags as a hobby for almost a decade, but I’m more into nature photography. Perhaps some of the albums that I make in the future will feature my shots. Speaking of which, I’ve got tons of musical projects in the works that haven’t seen the light of day yet. I’m sure most of them will remain in the dark, but perhaps one or two will pop up eventually. The styles vary from acoustic folk to black metal, from gothic rock to ambient, and pretty much everything in between. I wish I had more time to work on all of them. I have studio equipment at home, but I’m not as techically experienced as needed to produce actual albums. Perhaps I should take some off everything else, hire a friend to engineer and finish some of the works in progress…
Alas we reach the end of this interview. One more time, thank you for your time and I would like to wish you and the band all the best in your present and future plans. Do you have any last words for our readers?
Laakso: Since we’ve been talking about Lynch, here’s a great observation by him: “We think we understand the rules when we become adults, but what we really experience is a narrowing of our imagination”. I couldn’t have said it better myself. It is necessary to mature in order to function it in this world, but never suffocate the child and purity in you. Drink beer, worship nature, and thanks again for the support!
Best regards on behalf of Kuolemanlaakso,
LaaksoMay 30, 2014