Amorphis – Red Clouds ApproachingWednesday, 9th September 2015
The story of Amorphis is one that has plenty of twists and turns. Going all the way back to The Karelian Isthmus, you’ll find a far different band that you hear today. In fact, you can even move forward through the celebrated Tales from the Thousand Lakes and Elegy, and then swing into the band’s more progressive rock era albums of Am Universum and Tuonela. But since Eclipse brought in new vocalist Tomi Joutsen, Amorphis has set themselves forward in a clear path.
Their latest album, Under the Red Cloud continues the band’s near-magical touch when it comes to new releases. Each one surpassing the high marks set before it, and combining melodic death metal, progressive, folk, and more into a mixture that the band can truly call their own. We were able to grab a brief Skype session with guitarist and founding member Esa Holopainen to catch us up to speed on Amorphis’ latest. We talk band consistency, artwork, US touring, and of course, plenty about Under the Red Cloud.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve had a remarkably consistent line-up since Eclipse. How much do you feel that contributes to the band’s progression and songwriting?
Esa Holopainen: It affects it quite a bit. The sound is more stable now than it used to be for Amorphis. One reason that we had so many radical musical changes earlier on was that the band members came and went. That always reflected on the albums, at least a little bit. But now, it’s developing our own sound and music, so it’s great.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that you are all on the same page in terms of where you want the band to go at this point?
Holopainen: I surely hope so [laughs]. It would be quite frustrating to be in a band in which you don’t necessarily like or can’t stand the music. But so far, everyone is enjoying the new album and we like it a lot. There’s a good chemistry in the band.
Dead Rhetoric: Under the Red Cloud admittedly sounds a bit heavier than Circles. How much of this do you credit to Jens Bogren?
Holopainen: Quite a lot actually. We had all of the music written before we started to work with Jens. We sent some rough demos to him and asked his opinion of them. When we started to do pre-production, he said he wanted to take the album into the direction and sound of the Amorphis albums he really liked. He wanted to create the sound that he liked about us. He wanted the heaviness and the growled vocals. Little things – nothing too traumatic, but some things we didn’t figure out before. We lifted up the tempos a little bit too. As heavy as this is for an Amorphis album, it’s mostly due to Jens. If we could have recorded this by ourselves, I think it would have sounded a bit different.
Dead Rhetoric: Listening to the new album and looking at the artwork, is there a bit of an oriental influence to Under the Red Cloud?
Holopainen: A little bit. We have always had those, we call them kebab influences. We’ve had a little oriental influences in our songs, and this time as well. Those influences weren’t that upfront, but Jens is a big fan of kebab and sitar things. If you listen to “Death of a King” it has a really strong, oriental vibe there. He wanted me to play all the guitar lines with electric sitar to change the perspective and the view of the song into a different direction. In terms of the cover art, it definitely has a little psychedelic vibe there. I like the color because it doesn’t represent the typical metal album cover. It you look at it, it could be any other band as well.
Dead Rhetoric: I think with a number of your past albums, you have always veered off from the more typical death metal artwork.
Holopainen: We like symbolic art and sort of symmetrical elements in the artwork. Artwork has always played a big role in our products. I always consider that you have to have a good alliance between the artwork and the lyrics. That makes a great album – the whole package. If you do lame lyrics about drinking, fucking, and killing corpses or release an album cover with a knight and a sword like we did with our first album, I think that’s a little bit lame.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned “Death of a King.” How did the guest spots come about?
Holopainen: We have known Martin Lopez since we toured with Opeth back when he was in the band. We asked if he was available as we were recording the tracks in Stockholm, and he was. Chrigel Glanzmann came through Jens Bogren. Jens has worked with Chrigel before and he had a pretty clear picture of what he wanted with the flute sounds, and he wanted a real flute. So he asked Chrigel and he was available. Same thing with Aleah Stanbridge, the female vocalist. She lives nearby so it was pretty easy to ask her to come to the studio and record some lines.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s been said that Under the Red Cloud is more about the world we are living in now. Do you feel that the band has finally exhausted the Kalevala as source material?
Holopainen: Sort of. The lyrics are still based on and influenced by the old beliefs. Even though the main topic might be about today, it still includes some of the old beliefs. The lyrics have lines where the man is seeking answers and hope from old shamans and old gods. There’s still the connection there. But it is a pretty universal theme at the moment, what we have here. No one is really aware of what is going to happen in the future. Are we living in apocalyptic times or whatever is going to happen? So yeah, we have become a political band now [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel has given Amorphis such lasting power over the years?
Holopainen: I think it’s simply the passion for music and the joy of playing together. We always enjoyed it – our career has been a rollercoaster and in the past we’ve had our ups and downs. Even at the weakest points, we thought ‘fuck it – if it doesn’t work it anymore doesn’t work but we still like to play together and make music together. Before Tomi [Joutsen] joined the band, we were playing as an instrumental band for a little bit. We thought that if we didn’t find a singer, we were going to release instrumental albums. So just the passion of making music and creating music – that has kept us going on, and good relationships with each other.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you like to see Amorphis accomplish as you continue forward?
Holopainen: I don’t know. I don’t have any high hopes about our career. The whole music business is in a weird situation at the moment. No one is really selling albums anymore. People are just streaming and listening on Youtube or Spotify. The times when bands sold millions and millions of albums are something that people can’t achieve anymore. You can have millions of Spotify listeners but the amount of money you get from that is that you can buy a cup of coffee. It’s really ridiculous. I guess for most bands today, at least the semi-big bands, it’s about playing shows and surviving. But still, I don’t complain. I enjoy playing live and playing shows. You have to do more shows to get your bills paid, but it’s good.
Dead Rhetoric: You ventured over to the US to play Maryland Death Fest this year. It’s been a long time since Amorphis spent time in North America. What are the odds of Amorphis being able to come over for a full tour?
Holopainen: It would be amazing. We always talk about that. The thing now is that we are changing agencies. I really hope that will help to get us organized to get a tour in North America. Doing one show in Maryland was great; we got a great response from that show. It reminded us how much fun it is to tour over there. In the past, we have spent a lot of time over there, so it’s been stupid and a shame that we haven’t toured lately but things are what they are. I really hope with the new album that we could do a proper tour.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next for Amorphis?
Holopainen: We are heading to Moscow tomorrow for our last festival show. We are also working on promotion for the new album. We are playing a few shows in Finland and we are doing a European tour with Nightwish and Arch Enemy, which will take us to the end of the year. Now we are booking for 2016 and I really hope we can do a tour in North America as well.