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Barren Earth

Barren Earth is er weer in geslaagd om een uitzonderlijk prachtig album te maken! ‘A Complex Of Cages’ ligt eind maart in de winkels. De Finse band met allerlei coryfeeën uit de Finse metalscène biedt ons nu de opvolger van het progressief getinte ’On Lonely Towers’. Dit is het vierde volledige album en het tweede met zanger Jón Aldará. De progressieve koers met weemoedige melodieuze death metal als basis wordt vervolgd in negen nieuwe voortreffelijke epossen. We spraken erover met de sympathieke bassist en hoofdcomponist Olli-Pekka Laine, Uppo voor de vrienden.

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

Congratulations with the new album ‘A Complex Of Cages’. Did you work on it for a long time?
Usually when we finish another album, we already start composing for the next one. You can say that the composing process never stops. When ‘On Lonely Towers’ was out, one of two months later we were already rehearsing for the next album. I think the composing process took around one year, then we start rehearsing and then we went into the studio. And that is another thing: the album was recorded one year ago already, so we are very glad to give it out of our hands now…

Indeed, I looked it up in the news and found out the drums were recorded in April 2017!
It was completely funny. I think it should have been out in November, but I don’t know about the issues. I think it was a little bit too late due to the artwork. That was the reason I guess. We started to work with Alan Burke around September or something and it was already too late, because everything has to be done like three months before the release. Century Media has only a few times a year when they release albums and after November we had to wait. The only option was March. But it is better like that, because now we did not have to hurry. I would say it was a two year process to create the album.

And that is the time you should take, because releasing an album every year is not done anymore…
That’s right. Back in the eighties it was based on the album sales, whether you could tour or not. But it is a different world now and the reason why this band exists is purely musical anyway. We rather do good albums and make sure that we stand behind the music.

I can understand, because most of you have other bands that bring in a certain amount of money, so it seems like a hobby, coming from the heart…
That makes sense and we don’t have any kind of pressure to make any kind of music or put out an album every year. That the pleasure of this band. We can focus only on being creative.

You can be seen as the main composer, but the input from the others was also very important this time. When do they come in sight on this record?
The other guys, I mean Marko, Sami and Janne, all had their songs on the album, but I think it should be increasing. Because now Kaspar is out and he did a major part of the song-writing in the past. He did three songs on the former one and really strong ones, so it is good that the responsibility is not entirely on my shoulders. In future I hope that everyone can participate in the song writing. We have a new keyboard player and he is writing good stuff as well, but unfortunately there was no time to rehearse his compositions now, but next time he will come up with few good songs as well, so it is an open stage for everyone. Everybody is free to write, but then of course the material has to be good.

I admire that you have come from a doom-like style like Insomnium to more progressive areas on the later albums. Did it happen naturally or how did you turn into that direction?
Actually it came rather naturally, but it came mainly because we found that we had to challenge ourselves somehow, because after all we are entertaining ourselves with music, we just wanted to push the boundaries a little bit further. We have done these five minutes basic melodic death metal tracks for a while and now we wanted to try something more. This is the kind of band we do not rely on financially, so we don’t need to please an audience or a record company anyhow, so we can do it. We are in the fortunate position that we can make music just for ourselves. I do not know if it is a risk to do that, but no one of us likes to listen to easy listening music, we are into jazz and progressive rock and so on. It is the music we want to play. It is great to make a mixture of metal and a little bit more ambitious music.

Let us go back to the time when ‘On Lonely Towers’ came out. I saw you live then with Insomnium and Wolfheart. That was a great package to watch in the Biebob!
Indeed, great place, great bands and good guys. It was nearly a sold out tour. Maybe three or four gigs were not sold out. Good times and fortunately we managed to make it, even though we had some stand in musicians. That is something we will have to do in the future as well, you know the reasons… because we all have other bands.

And you are back in Amorphis now. Even more hectic schedules, because they will have a new album out soon…
Yes, that’s true. That’s another issue, because we will start touring around May and keep touring for the next two years with Amorphis. It is going to be a challenge to find the time to make tours for Barren Earth, but I don’t know, we have been talking about it, and maybe we can play with Barren Earth during long weekends or so. Maybe next year. Whenever we have an opportunity to go out on the road, we will do. Let’s see. At least in Finland we will do more shows. It is all open now and it also depends on the offers. It depends on the packages, we want to make sure that all bands represent the same kind of mood. We will not tour with kind of power metal bands, it has to be darker metal to please our fans.

And your singer will be busy as well…
Indeed, his band Hamferð just released an album on Metal Blade, but anyways… we all share a passion for Barren Earth, so we are willing to tour with it. Whenever it is possible, we will definitely go out to support the album.

I think the more progressive direction is also thanks to the singer now, Jon Aldara. He really defines your music quite a lot with his special voice, don’t you think so?
Yes, indeed. His range is different from Mikko’s. Mikko had a little bit exhausted and darker voice and it is a totally different kind of world, comparing to Jon’s. Jon’s voice is kind of dramatic, but still not over dramatic. A bit dark mood too. Jon has really contributed good stuff to the album and I am really happy to have him in the band. Now it starts working. With ‘On Lonely Towers’ it was a bit trying out things and getting familiar with Jon, but now it is like we are glued together better. We live far from each other, so it took a while (chuckles). He has a versatile voice, it fits different kinds of music really well. In Hamferð it is more doom related, in Clouds too, but it goes a lot broader. He is doing that for years and Hamferð is doing really well. It is not just doom metal, but emotional metal, it is hard to say which influence prevails there. It is very original stuff and Barren Earth is very different stuff. More rocking, a bit more complex when it comes to the songs. Jon can vary his voice very well.

What can you say about the lyrics on ‘A Complex Of Cages’? It should deal with social anxiety and things like that… Can you go deeper into that?
Of course Jon would be the one to ask the details, but I think it deals with a kind of concept about causes and consequences of personal isolation. Every song represents an emotional state. For instance depression, arrogance, paranoia, amnesia,… We started with the song ‘Solitude Pith’ which is about solitude and despair. ‘Solitude Pith’ was the first song that we wrote.

That is one of my favourites!
(laughs) Ah, thank you very much! ‘On Lonely Towers’, the title track of the previous album was combined from three different songs. This is a same kind of story. Like songs within the song. I like those different elements in one long track, like Pink Floyd, some King Crimson and Porcupine Tree maybe… all the influences are put in one song.

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You said that ‘Withdrawal’ happens to be an unusual song to end an album, but it is a stunner!
It is totally different from the rest of the album. I think we recorded that song as last one. It is a song from Marko (Tarvonen – drummer – Vera) and that makes it different and special as well. We removed the mics from the drums and just put some microphones in the room and Marko played the drums in the old school fashion. That is the reason for the seventies sound of the drums. We intended it to be a different kind of song, it is good have one like this on the album, more diverse and more interesting. A perfect closer I think. We are going to play it live too, it’ll be great.

Why did keyboard player Kasper leave?
Well, he had some personal issues and other things in life, which reminded him to step off. I think his father was in a bad condition and he actually died a little bit later. He had to take care about him and his heritage, because he was a kind of famous musician in Finland. There was a lot to deal with that. Also I think, Kasper is not a kind of metal guy after all. I think he got everything he needed from Barren Earth. I think he reached the boundaries of what he can do in the band, because we are a metal band after all and he is composing music with piano, more a classical composer. I think it limited him to be in a death metal band (chuckles). If you come from a classical background…

But he also told me that he was guiding people through Finland, because he knew a lot about history…
Yes, he is a guide. He is doing some tours on an island next to Helsinki. Because he is really good in English, he manages to tell stories and tales about history. That’s his thing. It all happened in good terms and we are still good friends. He is absolutely one of my best friends.

How did you meet the new keyboard man Antti Myllynen?
We actually placed an ad in a magazine “melodic death metal band from Helsinki needs keyboard player”. (laughs) We did not mention any names. He called us and asked to come up and try. He was the first one and actually we thought from the beginning that this was our guy, because he could manage to pull off Kasper’s things and all this seventies prog rock stuff. Still he is a kind of modern metal guy. He is into black metal and stuff and he brings a kind of nice modern flavour in Barren Earth. Something we liked from the beginning I think, using – how to say? - synthetic sounds from eighties. Why wouldn’t we try other sounds as well? He is doing his own keyboard arrangements and he is a young guy. He is excited to be in the band, so he brings a bit energy to us as well.

When I looked at the cover art, it leaps to the eye that it is something special. It looks like houses without a roof where you have insight. When I look at the artwork, I really see isolation of human beings…
Yes, that is true. Personally I interpret it as follows: you have this modern day tendencies with social media. It actually should bring people together, but it is doing the total opposite thing, because people are in their own cages and they do not go out and meet people anymore. It is a problem of the modern world. For me it represents that, for someone else it can represent something completely different. I think it is a good thing in art when you can make your own interpretation. For the music, the lyrics, the cover art, everything… At least for me that’s important. I might take my own ideas out of the lyrics which can be totally different from the meaning of the artist, but that’s the best thing of creating art. To make people find their own meaning. Let us not underline things too much.

Do you like to make video clips?
(excusing tone) We are not into making video clips that much actually. It is not our favourite part of the process haha, but we have a lyric video for ‘Withdrawal’. And the new video came out today and it is already on our Facebook. There is actually a video clip, for ‘The Ruby’. It was made by Vesa Ranta, he is like an old friend, from the good old days. We chose him because we like his previous works so much. I think it came out really good. It was fun to film it anyway, even though it is always a pain in the ass to bring the stuff together and Jon has to fly from Faroe Islands to Helsinki, but it was a nice day. It was worth doing.

You often change from producer when recording the albums. This time it was V. Santura at the Woodshed Studios. What about this experience and why did you change?
With the previous album ‘On Lonely Towers’ there was a sort of problem, because the whole process took about ten months to record and mix the album. The band and the producer, six guys, was like having six cooks at once. Actually seven, because a co-producer was there as well. So we thought that maybe we just need a producer to give an objective perspective for the material and we should let him do everything, so we don’t need to worry about it and we can concentrate on music only. I found out about Viktor from Markus Laakso who is playing in Kuolemanlaakso and he wrote the Amorphis book. He is a good friend of mine. They had recorded with Viktor before and he thought that he is a good guy. I like those Kuolemanlaakso albums, they sound great and in Barren Earth we had kind of mutual respect for him as a producer. Therefore we decided to stick to him and it was a kind of relieving process, because we had to fly there one by one and do our thing. Record our tracks. Staying two or three days there. It was kind of smooth to do it this time. The sound is great, especially with the guitar and drum sound I was astonished. A great guy to work with, good ears and a good taste in music. It was a good choice and I think we will work with him again.

How and when did you re-enter Amorphis?
I think it was a year ago when Esa called me and told me that they might need a bass player, because – I don’t know if you know what the story was – Niclas wanted to move on. It was an easy opportunity and I thought: let’s go for it, but of course it was also a total change of life. In that way it was not an easy thing to do, because I was working full time and we were in the middle of recording the Barren Earth album. But anyway on the other hand, the timing was really good, because the album of Barren Earth was ready and I had time to do the festivals with the guys. Also I had already finished my school – I had been studying for four years information technology – so I had some spare time to do the gigs. After maybe one month playing with the band, we started to think and discuss the future and they thought that they needed a bass player for the album as well. Naturally that meant that I had to play the tours as well. So I asked to step out from my work, my day job, for a few years and it was alright. So now I am back in the band again permanently. I think I am in the band for good now. Actually I did not hesitate to join the band again. It was an easy move for me, I only had to do the click in my head because I have been out of that lifestyle for more than fifteen years. But now it is alright, I am totally happy with it.

Let’s hope that we can see Barren Earth live on stage pretty soon as well…
It will happen someday. We will do our best.

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