By Laura WiebeWhen Finland's Amorphis released their first death metal demo, Disment of Soul, in 1991, both the band and their genre were young. Only three of those original members (and a few death metal growls) remain, and in 2011 it's hard to hear the Amorphis that was then in the mature and accomplished band that is now. Now two decades later, the band's tenth album demonstrates how far they have come and how well they've mastered their craft – leaving behind pure death metal for a more laid-back fusion of metal, folk, and progressive rock, while making the complicated mix sound easy and natural. Around since that first demo, Amorphis guitarist Tomi Koivusaari answers a few questions about latest record The Beginning of Times, the band's creative and recording process, touring, and near-future plans.
Considering the apocalyptic tone of 21st century life – predictions of the supposedly coming rapture, financial and environmental crises, Hollywood disaster films and the like – "end of times" may seem like a more fitting title for the present moment than The Beginning of Times. How is your latest album about beginnings? And why beginnings now? The album title is not telling anything about our current situation. It just came from theme of this album, as the lyrics are about biggest character in Finnish mythology [iconic hero Väinämöinen]. So these are stories that are about when world was born. Anyway, it's a good opposite for all these end of times things. It just felt like the best title for the album.
How did this The Beginning of Times end up as your longest so far? We just couldn't decide what songs we should drop out! So we decided to put them all onto album. It wasn't too easy to work with song order, to make the album solid and not sounding too long. Afterwards I'm glad we did – it needs a few times more listening before it opens.
You've had writer Pekka Kainulainen penning your lyrics in Finnish for three albums now, and developing English lyrics by translation. How does it work for you, having someone from outside the band write your lyrics? It works fine. No one of us is that interested to write lyrics, and we don't want to "rape" our music with bad lyrics. Pekka knows what we want, and we give him quite free hands. Music comes first to us anyway.
On your website you have the lyrics for the new album, but also a full cycle of poems – can you explain the relationship between the two? And how the words transformed from poetry to song lyrics? When Pekka starts, he is writing a story (or stories) as one big script of poems, in the Finnish language. When we are translating them to English we pick parts for songs. Finally Marco Hietala (vocal producer) and Tomi Joutsen (vocalist) are arranging them a bit to fit to song. It takes few steps but that's how it has worked the last few albums.
You haven't focused on the Kalevala (Finland's national epic) for every album, but for your fans, your music has become profoundly connected with Finnish mythologies, Kalevala included. What does that connection mean for you in terms of understanding Amorphis's identity as a Finnish band? When we first had the idea of using the Kalevala back in '95, the idea for it came because we were listening to some different countries' folk and ethnic music and already took influences from that world to our music, and we wanted lyricse from same dimension. After a few albums we got totally fed up the whole thing, as that started to be only thing in the band that interested the media, especially the Finnish media. We didn't want to be any pilgrimages of Kalevala, so to say. Also there were some misunderstandings about why we were using a "national" book in our texts. When Tomi joined (in 2005) it felt natural to go back to that world, as our subjects never changed that much anyway. Today it feels like our own thing. There have come some bands who are taking inspiration from the same book but we were first.
This is the longest Amorphis has had a stable line up (since 2005). How does that affect the music you make? In our history we always changed more after every album, partly because new members always bring something new to the band musically. Now we have found some more stable situation. Also it is easier when writing songs, as we know about what other guys are going to play for it. Live playing is getting better and better all the time as well.