Finnish Prog Rock merchants Superfjord have the kind of name that should cement immediate status as cult legends. Somewhat marvelously, they also sound as if the last forty-five years have never happened. The powerful resonance of the music they produce has, incredibly, seen the band embraced by BBC Music, and second album All Will Be Golden (Svart) could leave the average rocker wondering if this is finally an avenue into awards that have previously excluded our genres. Continue reading
Formed in Helsinki in 2007 by Amorphis bassist Olli-Pekka Laine and Moonsorrow drummer Marko Tarvonen, Finnish act Barren Earth‘s current line-up is completed by guitarist Janne Perttilä, new keyboard player Antti Myllynen, Faroese vocalist Jón Aldará, and the band’s most notable member, Kreator guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö. Continue reading
The mid-to-late 90’s bore witness to a phenomenon in underground metal. If the UK with Napalm Death et al had been the birth place of death metal, a sound that travelled the big blue to the States to be forged into the beast we know today, then the British Isles was once again the location for the conception of one of the most influential albums for a new sub-genre that, while it didn’t infect the American sound, instead traversed east rather than west and took Europe by storm, giving birth to the eponymous “Gothic” Metal.
Paradise Lost’s Gothic (Peaceville) wasn’t just a landmark, it was an album that tolled a massive bell with eager, willing and creative minds and created the landscape for the mid-to-late 90’s in underground metal. Last year saw the twentieth anniversary of Amorphis’ Tales From The Thousand Lakes, an album that was to develop that blueprint and take it in a different direction, the Finns being one of the first to fuse death and doom with folk-inspired melodies, clean vocals and progressive 70’s influenced music. But without Gothic, and it’s ground-breaking innovation, bringing in female vocals, orchestral manoeuvres (most probably in the dark, yes) and haunting melodic leads over doomier death metal, …Thousand Lakes may not have turned out the way it did.
“It was probably one the most influential albums for Amorphis in the early days, yes” agrees Amorphis lifer, Esa Holopainen, the six-stringer responsible for creating the Finns classic early release. “Paradise Lost started the way of combining melody lines into death metal music, with a doom ensemble. That then started to influence a lot of bands.
“It’s funny, because, you see in the longer term bands, there’s a lot of bands, like Moonspell – I just heard their new album – bands start to look back at where they came from and their past”. Even Paradise Lost themselves… “Yes. Everyone is starting to walk the circle around and taking more and more influences from their roots, which is a really good thing.”
When Holopainen was taking inspiration from Gothic and crafting the two albums that really put Amorphis on the map …Thousand Lakes and the follow up, Elegy (both Relapse), it was in the midst of an explosion of creative excellence that flooded through Europe.
“The period of time was when little underground labels started to grow up with their bands, and bands were releasing their classic albums. In the 90’s a lot of classic albums and a lot of albums that became milestones to those bands were made, and that influenced other bands. It’s pretty amazing, but look back at how many great metal albums there were (at that time)!
“There hasn’t been another era after that since then that’s matched it for so many good albums. I don’t know why.
“A lot of bands at that time, when we did those albums, proved to be a platform for the metal scene to be able to explore what we were doing, but much wider. Since then there’s been more and more new bands (influenced by the European metal albums of the 90s); heavy metal became almost trendy over here in Finland when Lordi won the Eurovision and even grandmothers were listening to metal, and those albums of the 90’s were the platform for the next wave of bands.
“You see Nuclear Blast who weren’t so big then are now probably the biggest label out there, selling as much as some major (labels); it’s pretty amazing how it’s all grown.”
While Paradise Lost may have opened Pandora’s Box, Holopainen’s Amorphis were one of the first bands to stick their heads deep into its recesses and really find freedom in the possibilities. Their debut The Karellian Isthmus (also Relapse) had been a decent, Scandinavian death metal album, but they then took the bold step to incorporate doomier riffs, clean vocals, folk music, keyboards and take influence from Deep Purple, Rainbow and other more retrospective elements.
“At that time we were huge fans of 70’s rock bands. In Finland there were a lot of progressive rock bands who were incorporating traditional and folk music, and we were listening to things like Jethro Tull and Hawkwind, lots of hippy music we liked!
“The big thing was, we felt there were no limits when we were writing the music for …Thousand Lakes – there were some really strange arrangements in there! We had a keyboard player, Kasper, who came into the band and he’d never played in a metal band, he was totally into The Doors and playing those types of songs. He was so excited when he realized there was a mini-moog in Sunlight Studios and, naturally, he wanted to use that a lot.
“All that mixture of things, all that soup, became the Amorphis sound.”
Happy to talk about their prestigious history, and their first landmark album, Holopainen continues. “We didn’t have a big plan, we were just doing the album how we wanted, until Tomas the producer asked “Does your record company know what you’re doing?” He was afraid they weren’t going to like it because it was so different! We just thought “OH SHIT!” but carried on.
“Then we started to get praise and good critics for it, and it was a success. It was kind of, but not by accident, but it came by following our instincts and being ambitious with what we wanted to do.”
Did you realize at time how ground-breaking it was? When did it sink in that it was a “classic”?
“It came as surprise how popular that album became. It took many many years before we realized how important an album it actually was. Even just a couple of years ago, we were only just realizing it must have been a really influential album because you read interviews from other bands that they say …Thousand Lakes was influential for them.
“At the time there was no black metal scene, it was just bubbling under, and no folk metal at all; that was many years later with bands like Ensiferum, and they say our albums were very influential for them.
“That is the greatest feedback you can get as a musician that you actually influenced other musicians to make their bands”
The second Amorphis classic was to follow two years later, as the sound evolved and deathly chugs were replaced with a much more progressive and folk-tinged rock bent, power chords replaced with open strings, and the timeless Elegy was created, an album most definitely not better unborn.
2016 sees Paradise Lost bringing Gothic back to life on stage at Roadburn, and following the success of both 2014’s tour and Amorphis’ spot at Maryland Deathfest playing …Thousand Lakes’ shows, could we see a twentieth anniversary celebration for Elegy?
“It’s not an impossible idea. We had a good time doing the Tales… shows, and the good thing about production now is we know how to get these sounds and make these things work. One of the great things of Amorphis is we can do different products – we did an acoustic tour – and we like to challenge ourselves and do something different.
“Elegy, for me, is my favourite album of the earlier Amorphis times and it’s not an impossible idea that we can do an Elegy tour.”
Duende, the Metal Blade début from progressive metallers The Great Discord was released this week. As much as the album is a tight and technical metal album, the music has a spirit that is steeped in the history of prog rock. We asked singer Fia Kempe and drummer Aksel Holmgren what was their singular favorite albums in classic prog history. After hearing the bands’ music their answers make perfect sense:
Fia: “I was thinking about this the other day, because we have gotten this question before and you always… always when you get the question you think “Fuck! What am I going to answer?” (laughs) Because there are too many great progressive records out there. If I had to say one album I would say Selling England By The Pound by Genesis, it’s just an amazing progressive rock album which stuck. That opened a whole new world for me. Actually it opened my entire musical world, I guess. I come from a very musical family. I have grown up with these kind of old prog rock bands like Genesis, and Gentle Giant, King Crimson and Jethro Tull. So Selling England By The Pound is an album that really means a lot to me, and also one album that I have so many emotional connections to and definitely inspired me as to why we make the music we make today. So thanks Genesis for that!”
Aksel: “I think it’s probably going to be King Crimson: In The Court Of The Crimson King. I think that album is the one that opened up my eyes to the playfulness of the genre. I heard it the first time when I wasn’t even 10 years old. My dad had it on vinyl and I was listening to it in the background. And I heard it and I asked him “Dad what’s this weird music? And my father said “Oh this is King Crimson. It’s 70s music, you wouldn’t understand.” (laughs) Something like that basically. I was like “Holy shit, I have to listen back to this!” And especially In the Court of the Crimson King and I Talk to the Wind, they just blew my mind! The melodic passages and the way they construct songs, it becomes much more of a story way more than just a 3 minute song. It always you to go on a musical adventure that is so much more intricate than just radio music. That has always been one of the main catch points for me. If its progressive and that type of progressive music, it’s usually something that catches my attention for such a long period of time. It drags me on a long, almost spiritual journey. That’s something that no other musical genre can do for me; to capture my attention, except for Jazz in some ways. Progressive music, it would have to be King Crimson. I love them! It’s ridiculous! (laughs)”
Over the course of their thirteen year history, UK prog rockers The Tangent have undergone several personnel shifts and taken altered musical paths, including their previous 2013 album Le Sacre du Travail (InsideOut) which took a melancholic turn into more orchestral territory; an effort which was as grandiose as it was difficult to delve into for newcomers.
Now after yet another lineup dissolution, founding and sole original member (and leader) Andy Tillison has brought in a few familiar faces in the shape of Jonas Reingold, Theo Travis, Luke Machin and Morgan Agren; and a new album that sees a return to their classic prog rock roots. To give its full title A Spark In The Aether: The Music That Died Alone – Volume Two (InsideOut) represents a nod to their debut, and the influential artists of prog’s golden era.
Where their previous album was a much more sullen affair than usually expected, A Spark…is strikingly upbeat and colourful. Opening track ‘A Spark In The Aether’ is a particularly joyous number, with its immediate and familiar synth tone and buoyant tempo. What’s also prominent is how immediate the album is, even despite its unwavering excess that classic prog is notorious for. Only one track goes past the 20 minute mark; the glorious ‘The Celluloid Road’ which still captivates throughout.
There are signs of a loose concept about prog rock, and in particular its golden era of the 70’s, notably over ‘Codpieces & Capes’ and the following ‘Clearing The Attic’. The former clearly pays homage to the cartoonlike but endearing characteristics of the likes of Jethro Tull, whilst lyrically it follows the loyal prog fan as he wonders whether one’s prog idols care, making reference to both the past and present. It even throws in a cheeky reference to Neal Morse’s relatively new found Christianity. The latter also references the state of prog, even incorporating intricate, seemingly improvised jazz elements.
All throughout A Spark… proves the perfect blend of classic sounding progressive rock, which has the warmth of the classics but does so with its own sense of identity. All the while making clear, uncryptic references to such music sonically and lyrically; both tongue in cheek and celebratory. A magnificent return for one of contemporary prog’s stalwarts.
Steven Wilson rightfully deserves the title of the dean of the modern progressive rock and metal world. In addition to his own groundbreaking work with his own bands such Porcupine Tree, No Man, Bass Communion, as a producer of albums by giants such as Opeth, and remastering the works of King Crimson, Jethro Tull and Caravan among other projects. Steven is out on the road supporting his third solo album The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) on Kscope Records. Chatting at length with Ghost Cult, Steven talked about the making of the new album, his creative process, production work, lyrical inspirations and his favorite Pink Floyd albums among many other topics. Continue reading