Wintersun kicked off a series of fifteenth-anniversary concerts last night in Finland, celebrating their self-titled album released on September 13th, 2004 via Nuclear Blast. Watch fan-filmed video of the band performing ‘Sadness and Hate’, ‘Starchild’, and ‘Storm’ right now! Continue reading
Long-running progressive metallers Amorphis are closing in on the release of their new album, Queen of Time, due out May 18th from Nuclear Blast Records. In this trailer exclusive to Ghost Cult, watch Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari discuss motorcycles and bike culture in their home country of Finland. Continue reading
HIM took to the internet today to announce that they are breaking up following the completion of a farewell tour later this year. Continue reading
At one time it really did look like Finland’s Sonata Arctica were ready to take their place at the head of the European Power Metal table and remain seated there for quite some time. Three albums of undisputed quality earned them big reviews and an army of long-haired fans with varied and amusingly peculiar accents. Continue reading
Many (other than hard-core Bodom fanboys) lovers of the melodic death scene, justifiably, have a kind of love/hate thing going on with Children of Bodom, but people denying that Something Wild (Spinefarm Records) and Follow the Reaper (Spinefarm/Nuclear Blast) are anything less than classics of the genre are being wilfully contrary, in some sort of weird sceptic denial, or simply being ignorant.
It is fair to say, however, that pretty much everything else after that became either self-plagiarising or pedestrian, replacing Bodom with Boredom as the sound has become ever more focussed on speed and regurgitation of the same old licks, riffs and hooks. The last two releases finally signalled some new directions, and I’m pleased to be able to tell you that Bodom’s latest offering I Worship Chaos (Nuclear Blast) continues that step up, though I don’t think they’ll ever match the straightforward brilliance of Follow the Reaper.
Finally ditching that dated, reedy, bee-in-a-box sound for something more modern and meaty provides instant aural novelty, but it’s not just the guitar sound that’s new here as a lot of growing up is reflected in this work. I think ego has been a huge problem for this band over the last decade – it has turned each release into either a competition speed-fest or a quick ‘n’ dirty excuse to get back out on the road – but this album feels painstaking and heartfelt. All the usual Bodom elements are here of course, but there’s a great deal of new (for Bodom, at least) ground broken.
‘I Hurt’ is a strong opener and a classic Bodom track, but the slower tempo and improved sound allows you deeper into the song and validates your reasons for liking Bodom in the first place. ‘My Bodom’ is a pretty simple, “less is more”, affair that’s all the stronger for it. ‘Morrigan’ is a big surprise, as it wouldn’t sound out of place (vocals aside) on a Blind Guardian album! The titular ‘I Worship Chaos’ is a shout-a-long crowd pleaser. ‘Hold Your Tongue’ is reminiscent of old In Flames and ‘All For Nothing’ could almost be a ballad if it had sing-song vocals. Lovely.
So all in all, I Worship Chaos is well worth an hour or so of your time and some of your hard-earned; a continuation of the return to form for Finland’s heroes.
“Unfortunately Roope and us, we went our separate ways” sighs Children of Bodom master of ceremonies, synths, spells and sonic illusions Janne Wirman as he contemplates the first change in the Finnish symphonic speed metal monsters line-up in over ten years and the departure of axeman Roope Latvala. “I think it matters to the fans too, to not have too many line-up changes” he states, clearly aware of the effect a change of personnel can have on a fan base and their loyalty to certain periods of a bands’ career. “There hasn’t been too many line-up changes ever, and we are a family and need to keep it that way. It was unfortunate what happened with Roope, and one of our strengths had always been that we keep a constant line up.”
Ninth album I Worship Chaos comes riding out of a blizzard on the back of 2013’s Halo Of Blood (both Nuclear Blast), a much vaunted firestorm of a return to form after the disappointments of their previous two releases Blooddrunk and Relentless Reckless Forever (Spinefarm). Darker in places, nonetheless …Chaos covers everything you’d want and expect from a Bodom release. “I think that sums it up. It’s a bit darker, but also catchier and more straightforward” Wirman agrees.
Changing the dynamic at this stage of the game, with a decade long stability broken against the backdrop of a band back on an upward curve, could have been a setback, but the timing of the change wasn’t one that adversely affected the Scandinavians. “(Roope leaving) was right around the end of the writing process, and fortunately the album had been written with two guitars as per normal.” It’s not unknown for one guitarist to record the majority of the part in other bands – indeed, James Hetfield and Scott Ian are known to record everything bar the solos in their not-insignificant bands – and Bodom had a ready-made replacement in mainman Alexi Laiho.
“It was not a problem – it meant Alexi played all the guitars in the studio, which was really not a problem for him because he can play both parts. It sounds crazy, but it wasn’t that different,” confirms Wirman. Seeing as the remaining four Children have been together since 1997, it’s no surprise that the change of second guitarist hasn’t derailed them in the slightest. And in terms of maintaining that family feel, Roope’s replacement was someone well known to the band. Or, at the very least, to the keyboard player.
“My brother, Antti, stepped in to help us with the live shows, because right after studio, we went on tour straight away.” confirms Wirman. “Luckily he had free time to join us for the summer and he is a great guitar player. I always felt he was one of the best ones in Finland, but he never landed a proper band. I’m so glad we’ve found someone within the family we all knew really well and it’s been a lot of fun. He’ll tour with us until the end of the year and then we are going to announce a new member for the band early next year.”
When we spoke about having to respect that which makes Children of Bodom distinctive, one of those elements is Wirman’s own role in the band. From the outset, the band has utilized keys as a lead instrument, and not just for ambience or to pad out a sound. Keys were treated with suspicion by some of the Guardians of Kvlt in the mid-90’s, but they’ve always been at the forefront of the Bodom sound.
“The keyboards are very crucial part of our trademark sound, especially with the early stuff. Then, the keyboards were really in your face and that helped set us apart and gave us a unique sound. Over the years we’ve experimented with things, sometimes we’ve had complaints that there are not enough keyboards on certain albums. I’m happy where we are at now with the sound; the new album sounds how it should sound keyboard-wise”. Including a sparring match between Wirman and Laiho. “That whole song, ‘All Or Nothing’, is pretty non-CoB-ish! But we decided it’s our ninth album, we can do what the fuck we want, so we put some weird-ass jam in there!”
Yet, playing keys in 2015 is a different beast to Wirman’s early days with the band. “It was very different when we started. We are so fucking old that our first 3 albums were recorded on tape, on DAT, and that was a huge pain in the ass!” he laughs. “You couldn’t do any of the quick fixes. With hard drive recording you can just hit undo if you fuck up something. Back then, you really had to know how to play, you had to practice whole passages and really, really nail them. I’m glad we’re that old we had to use the tape machines, because I would definitely be lesser of a musician if I didn’t have to do it that way.”
“I’m going to be producing a pop singers album”, Wirman continues, divulging that after recording the Bodom album at his own studio he is exploring his opportunities as a producer. “Then I’m recording an album for my brother’s new band. I love to do the studio and I’m hoping to do more work with that.
“But as much as love studio work, and I hope to do more of it when I have free time, for me the live, touring side of Children of Bodom is my main thing. We release albums to go back on tour. When the crowd is going mad, and you’re part of that, that’s the best thing!”
And as Wirman prepares for that rush of touring once again, what will the legacy of I Worship Chaos be? To those outside the band Halo Of Blood is hailed as the comeback album… What of its successor? “Maybe it’s an external feel, as it wasn’t quite like that for us. Though we keep hearing it; a lot of people are saying that Halo…was a comeback and this is a continuation. So, it must be true!” he laughs, with a modest tone in his voice.
“There is always pressure at this point in our career. You want to keep it fresh but not alienating all your fans, and have to keep all the key elements in there too. Judging by the feedback and the reviews, we have succeeded with this new album.”
WORDS BY STEVE TOVEY
It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and Ghost Cult is enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko Von Hertzen of von Hertzen Brothers. Our discussion takes in musical choices, ditching b-sides, ambition, being on the road and, of course the new record, New Day Rising (Spinefarm)…
New Day Rising also marked a change for the band in terms of recording and production duties. The new album was the first that the band had recorded outside of their native Finland, a decision that Markko explains was entirely purposeful:
Well, look, there’s no one who doesn’t know us in Finland. Everyone has an opinion on us. We felt that as a band we needed someone who was new, who would listen but who would challenge us. So we chose Garth (Richardson, producer of Rage Against the Machine, RHCP, Crue and literally 100s of others). He was cool. He looks at music from a very different perspective from us. We look at music as artists and composers. He is more of a consumer of music.
He knows what works and what doesn’t work from the perspective of the listener and that is very valuable for us. He was good in saying “Hey, that vocal isn’t right, that guitar part is too loud, or not loud enough, that section doesn’t work”. We needed that.
I wondered how that might work in practice with the brothers all being effective songwriters and all having strong opinions about how the record might work. Mikko explains:
Garth brought discipline for sure but he also was good at distilling the songs to what they really were. He stopped everyone pulling the songs apart! He also ensured everyone had time and space to do their parts without interference so he was an effective manager of that too.
New Day Rising is also striking in terms of its brevity-its ten songs come and go in what feels like a heartbeat. Mikko walks me through the editing process:
Doing the record in Vancouver we actually recorded 16 songs, ten of which ended up on the album. To be honest, we felt that some of the songs just were not as good as they could have been, so they got left out. There were times when something didn’t quite click in the recording, or we didn’t feel that the song worked 100% so we decided to have a session – the band, our producer, manager and engineer; 8 people. We and we sat down and decided “Ok, these 10 we will keep.”
We then worked on those songs that were left – I guess you would refer to these as our B-side s- with the record engineering students at the complex where we were laying the album down to give them some first-hand experience of what it’s like to work with a real band.
I suggest to Mikko that listening to the album is a bit like listening to a vinyl album where there are two sides with ‘Dreams’ being the “turn the record over” point. He pauses for a brief moment before agreeing
Exactly! That’s how we think! Whether this way of listening to music is so deeply ingrained in us I don’t know, but that’s what we wanted to do. We knew early in that the record was going to be versatile but the sequencing of the album is deliberate in that it takes you on a trip.
So, for example, the placing of ‘Dreams’ is absolutely purposeful. It’s like “Bang!” – onto the next part of the journey. Equally we ditched the idea that the record needed to sound a particular way. Basically if we think a song is good enough it goes in. We don’t care whether it is in keeping with any “theme”. What I mean is, we don’t consciously look to take a song and feel obliged to make it more metal by adding more heavy guitars or more prog by adding additional musical parts to it. the song just needs to be.
This sense of artistic freedom coupled with a self-belief (but not arrogance) has seen the Von Hertzen Brothers grow their level of support in a very impressive manner but, as Mikko expands, the band remain resolutely ambitious:
Look, in this band there is a lot of talent! he laughs, although you know that there is more than a kernel of truth in this: We knew that if we want to take this band further we have to make a record that is as good as Coldplay or U2 or Foo Fighters. It doesn’t matter what band you choose but, you know, that league. We need to be in that league sonic wise, song-writing wise, the whole thing. All of this has to be as good as the very best.
I’m not sure we are there but we are trying to make that step up. We wanted to do something that would appeal as something fresh, even now at album number six. We have ambition. Not to have wealth or be famous, but musically. We really want to improve and take our listeners by surprise by what we are doing: we want people to say “Wow! This is their best record! each and every time we do something new.
It’s evident that for all their experience to date that this remains a band as hungry today as they were on day one; from arguing over the setlists (“choosing for the festivals is going to be a fucking nightmare” apparently), to worrying about whether anyone will turn up to see them on tour, you’re left with one abiding reflection – if there was one band that you would hope would make it into the big time, you could do a lot worse that hope for these guys.
At the heart of this band is a collective joy at making music, a confidence in what they do but a band who have roots and values and principles.
We are Prog says Mikko as we part our ways. Despite how straightforward this new record is, we are still a prog band. That’s never going away.
Who says nice guys can’t finish first?
It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and Ghost Cult is enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko Von Hertzen of Von Hertzen Brothers. Our discussion takes in musical choices and, of course the new record, New Day Rising (Spinefarm)…
“It’s YOU, isn’t it?” A 30-something woman looks somewhat star struck, gazing at the man stood next to me. “You’re the SINGER aren’t you?” My tall, elegant companion is polite enough to acknowledge that, indeed, he is the singer and it is, after all, him. The singer in question is Mikko Von Hertzen, lead vocalist with Finland’s finest rock band, the Von Hertzen Brothers and this, dear readers, is what being a rock star is all about; meeting and greeting fans and generally being far too cool for school.
Mikko poses for photos, takes hugs that go on ever so slightly too long and then it’s down to the business of meeting the media. Well, in this case, your humble Ghost Cult scribe. It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and we are enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko, right at the start of the band’s UK tour in support of their latest and, perhaps, greatest record to date – the fresh and spiky New Day Rising (Spinefarm).
The seemingly inexorable rise of the Von Hertzen Brothers from hardworking studio grafters following in their father’s footsteps to feted cult progressives and now into internationally acclaimed rock band looks probably more swanlike to the outsider than the actually reality of matters for the band, but Mikko seems relaxed ahead of this leg of their European tour.
It’s 4 weeks to the day since New Day Rising came out. How have you felt about the reaction to it?
I feel good, man. Although it’s been out for only a month, we had the record ready since mid-November last year so, yeah, this is a case of living in your own shit for quite a while before you can get the record out! When you’re doing international releases like this one you need a long lead time for all the teams to be ready, to do the planning of the release – the marketing and so on.
As artists, of course there were moments when we we’re thinking “Is this too far to the mainstream?” or “Is this too rock or too pop?”, but this last month it’s been very encouraging. Our fans love this record and it’s been pleasing because, in addition to that, we have been able to gain a lot of new territories, new audiences. There are people who are looking at us for the first time, taking an interest in what we are doing, wanting to review the album, interview us for the first time so, yeah, it’s been a good few weeks.
Personally, I was hesitant about the album around Christmas time but now I feel very confident about the album being good, and it’s been fun to work the last month with better crowds than we had for the Nine Lives (also Spinefarm) tour.
If truth be known, everything feels like we are riding a bit of a wave…..
How do you deal with the pressure of having all these expectations on you – the production teams, marketing, management and so on demanding new songs? Does that affect you at all?
It doesn’t affect me that much to be honest. When I am writing songs, I am only thinking about the songs and I don’t really think about whether people are going to like it, but I do put a huge pressure on myself to want to pull something out that is good, to find new ways of doing things, to bring out new ideas for songs. Of course, we then have the discussions about what songs should be the arrowhead for the new record, are we going to go with a rock song, a pop song, a prog song…
Because we do all of that…
Indeed they do. New Day Rising is striking for its diversity of styles yet, running through it all has also been a straightforward approach that has perhaps only been hinted at on previous releases. Our conversation moves on to the band’s musical diversity and its effect on their relationship with their dedicated and knowledgeable fan base. In particular, the UK prog scene has been a particular champion of the band’s work. I wondered whether there was a risk that they might alienate their following and, in effect, inadvertently end up biting the hand that fed them. Mikko is reflective:
I think that we might be going through a cycle, he explains. Let’s look back at where this band has come from. The first album was, if you will, a bud that we…. probably…. took too early: it wasn’t a flower in bloom. It was an idea. It wasn’t a fully formed idea but we just went with it, you know? The second and third records were the Prog records where we nailed it but, and I have said this before, I don’t just want to do an another Approach (Dynasty).
We want to find something new, do something different. The reality is we like different types of music. We’re not just prog heads who like just Dream Theater and Pink Floyd. We love Abba. We love Dire Straits.
This love of different things was ingrained in us from a very early age from the stuff that was played in the family home. In some ways, the new stuff is often a reaction to the older stuff so this album especially we have reached the point where we have become the most straightforward as we are likely to.
It’s all about simple structures, simple rock songs or pop songs. It might be that the reaction to that will be an out and out prog record!
His smile is genuine and genuinely mischievous as he says it.