Crimfall – It’s a Long RoadMonday, 7th August 2017
It’s often said that good things happen for those who wait. After Crimfall’s second album, The Writ of Sword, the band found themselves label-less. Instead of rushing out and trying to grab the first available option, they instead decided to wait until they found a proper one. Doing all of the recordings for their third album themselves, they took the extra time to ensure that it would be worth the wait. And low and below, the band found themselves signed to Metal Blade Records.
Their third album, Amain, is about to be released at the end of the month. Orchestral, bombastic, and powerful, Amain takes hold with a number of influences, from folk to melodic death to symphonic metal. It’s not an easy classification, particularly when you consider the epic, movie soundtrack-like vibes that also permeate the album. In talking to guitarist/mastermind Jakke Viitala, and vocalists Helena Haaparanta and Mikko Häkkinen, it seems that the band went the extra mile to ensure that Amain would hold up to scrutiny, and one can pick through the details below – everything from discussing individual tracks and the recording process, to live performances and the future.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s been six years since The Writ of Sword was released. Any reason behind the time-span between albums?
Helena Haaparanta: We just talked about that together!
Jakke Viitala: Basically, our previous label had some problems so they had to let go of some bands, so we weren’t part of any record deal. We were also out of financial support. Doing this kind of music with your own money takes ages and ages. We wanted to have the best possible sound and production we could get.
Haaparanta: Yeah, and the material is big. So why not take the time if you have the time. Where’s the rush if there’s no record deal at the moment. Fortunately we got into business with Metal Blade, so now we are back on again.
Mikko Häkkinen: We made a good decision only to approach labels only once we had the complete album in our hands. We pretty much had the promo shoots done, and we had the full album ready and mixed.
Haaparanta: We wanted to have everything ready to fire and launch.
Viitala: We basically did everything else – the mixing and mastering…about 1600 tracks altogether!
Dead Rhetoric: You mention the Metal Blade deal. How did it come about?
Viitala: A friend of mine, who is in Ensiferum – I sent him an email asking to help us out. He sent our album to one of the HRs at the label. They liked what they heard…
Haaparanta: And here we are!
Häkkinen: We had a very short list of labels that we would want to work together with. Metal Blade was one of the first we actually approached, and we are excited to be there.
Haaparanta: So it paid off to finish the record before contacting labels. The record sounded amazing so I’m happy they took us.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that the band has changed in those six years in between albums?
Haaparanta: Well, I took a little time off. I was running other musical errands for a few years and then we decided to get back together with the band and finish the album. I guess we’ve all matured.
Häkkinen: I’m turning gray!
Haaparanta: Mikko has been turning gray for years…I have to admit that I’m coloring my hair as well [laughs].
Viitala: Six years is a long time, but the whole studio process until the album was mastered took two years. We were recording all the tracks for the guitars and other instruments for one year, and the guy who mixed the album, it took him almost half a year to finish it.
Haaparanta: I guess the vocals were done in maybe four months or something. Everyone had day jobs or studies or something. Back then, as we said, we did it on our own time and money…so it took a while. But what’s the rush? It’s good to wait for something great.
Dead Rhetoric: You said you raised all the money yourselves. With everyone doing the whole crowdfunding thing, did that ever cross your minds?
Viitala: I remember thinking about it, but I wasn’t sure that we could reach the goal with our fans. We do have lots of fans but we weren’t sure. If we failed the whole crowdfunding thing, what happens to the album?
Haaparanta: I guess also, it felt secure – the idea of finding a good record label to work with in the end. Even though we prepared everything ourselves.
Häkkinen: I think the crowdfunding might have actually tied our hands pretty badly…
Haaparanta: And then we as a band would be responsible for all the promotion and distribution channeling, and stuff like that. That would have been more work for us.
Häkkinen: Now that everyone has witnessed the Wintersun crowdfunding success, things might have been different now. We might consider it…they pretty much changed the rules for the whole industry. They are a bigger band, so it’s easier for them to get money too.
Haaparanta: Yeah, that’s true…but I think it’s a positive change. People want to pay directly to the bands instead of something else. It’s interesting to see how things will develop.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s a lot of varied influences coming in and out of Crimfall’s sound. How do you describe yourselves?
Haaparanta: Metal! [Laughter]
Viitala: We have been discussing with the record label what to put on [the album]. I don’t know how to describe it – there’s movie soundtrack influences. Pompous, ritual, orchestral….so far we haven’t been able to come up with a name to properly describe it.
Haaparanta: Let’s just go with metal.
Häkkinen: So if you have any ideas…please!
Dead Rhetoric: I’m of the opinion that you can just go with metal. Everyone nowadays just seems to want that classification. They want to that grouping that says, “If I like this, then I can easily find something else like it…
Häkkinen: That’s the right way to do it…not too many categorizations, just metal is nice.
Haaparanta: Something to like for everybody but also something to dislike for everybody.
Dead Rhetoric: What advantages does having two vocalists offer Crimfall?
Haaparanta: Well, someone is taller than on stage, that’s the first one [laughs].
Viitala: I think all of us are….
Haaparanta: That is correct [laughs].
Viitala: I think the music is full of really extreme contrasts. So I think that’s what we want to reflect with the singers as well. We can create a beautiful atmosphere and take it to the extreme of almost black metal the next minute. It gives us a nice variety of tools to use.
Haaparanta: However, it’s not the very traditional ‘beauty and the beast’ because I also use my voice kind of brutally – it’s not always flowers and fairies. And maybe one day I’ll get Mikko to do some fairy whispering…
Häkkinen: Never going to happen… [laughter]
Haaparanta: But we are all instruments in the end. Jakka is the guy who tells what he wants and will try to execute that. We might offer something and he says, “Yes or maybe” [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: What made you decide to break up “Ten Winters Apart” into four distinct tracks? Did you think it would make it more digestible than if you just laid it out there as one, much longer song?
Haaparanta: I think the parts are so different that they stand on their own pretty well. We also thought about the fans in a way, and that if they fall in love with one part, they can find it.
Viitala: We can take parts when we are playing live and don’t have enough time to do the whole song. It came naturally, straight into four parts.
Dead Rhetoric: What inspired the cover of “It’s a Long Road” from the Rambo soundtrack?
Häkkinen: Personally, I’m a big fan of the whole series and the song. It has the same theme that Crimfall has. This antihero that gets beaten a lot…
Viitala: It’s a fucking long road!
Haaparanta: We just reached our ten year goal last Valentine’s [Day] I think.
Häkkinen: It felt really natural to have it on our album.
Haaparanta: And what an epic song, seriously!
Dead Rhetoric: As you said, it’s been ten years. Do you consider it to be at least a small success knowing that you are ten years in and just signed with Metal Blade?
Viitala: Definitely, and I also think that we are extremely proud of the album we have created. There’s not many things that people wanted to do differently [with it]. It’s a culmination point for our careers as well.
Häkkinen: I might actually even listen to it! [Laughter]
Haaparanta: Metal Blade is the biggest company we’ve ever worked with…it kind of crowns the ten year anniversary.
Häkkinen: And the most professional label we have worked with. A totally different vibe and the next level of helping us out.
Dead Rhetoric: How important are the orchestrations in contrast to the rest of the band?
Viitala: A few times when we have played live, the mixing dude has forgotten to put the orchestrations on, and it sounds like punk-rock. We need the whole orchestration – we use it to tell stories and create mood. It emphasizes any tiny little beat…
Haaparanta: It’s hard to come up with any percentage numbers, or anything like that…but it does carry us. It’s a huge part of our music. It’s there from the very beginning. The songs aren’t being composed first, with a rock band, and then orchestration added. [Viitala] writes everything all together, and afterwards I might come up with some melodies and phrasing, and Mikko doing his parts of course. Everything is weaved together.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you like best about doing the orchestrations and mixing it with a heavy metal band?
Viitala: For me, personally, I can express the whole scale of the human mind with orchestration. I can have more parts and this bombastic, huge epic-ness.
Haaparanta: Also, you [Viitala] take a lot of inspiration from nature so there’s your palette. That’s a lot to take from. For me, as a performer on stage, the bombastic stuff is there in the parts that need it and go with it. It creates such a big difference. I’ve played with rock bands as well – I have a few projects of my own, so I know what it’s like to be out there without the orchestra. It does bring the whole band up a great big notch, or more.
Dead Rhetoric: In the very early stages, Crimfall was your own one-man project – what made you decide it would be better to get a full band behind you?
Viitala: Yes, it was a one-man project for the first demo, and then there was a record deal so I had to gather a band to be able to actually play and perform the music and record the album.
Haaparanta: He could still be composing in his cellar!
Viitala: I didn’t actually know her before doing this band…
Haaparanta: Yeah – he contacted me and asked if I wanted to try some things out. I was young and naïve and needed the money, just kidding [laughs]. His wife made us a lovely seven course dinner and we drank a bottle of wine, and that’s how we got the stuff on the first demo. Suddenly, after composing amazing music, it might happen that people get record deals and you end up with a band.
Dead Rhetoric: With the epic scope of the band, and you’ve alluded to this already at least with the orchestrations, but what’s your approach to songwriting?
Viitala: I think it’s a pretty standard way to do it. I make demos – everything from guitars to orchestration. When I have them ready I send them to [Mikko]…
Häkkinen: Then I start writing lyrics, usually the music that Jakka makes is written so well that after hearing the demos I can get some image in mind, or a mood/atmosphere. I’ll send the lyrics back, and…
Haaparanta: Then I sometimes take over – I read them through for phrasing. Solid and natural sounding phrasing is my cup of tea in this band. Usually Mikko writes really, really well, but if its stuff that I have to fit into my singing I might want to add something to it as well. I might cut or change lines a little bit, or changing the order of lines. Whenever we are in the studio with Jakka, Mikko always has his phone ready because I’m calling/texting to ask if something is okay.
Häkkinen: Or asking what does this all mean?
Haaparanta: We always have to have a thesaurus with us because his [Mikko’s] English is beautiful and very poetic, and might have some ancient words that I’ve never heard. For me, when I compose melodies, and especially when I interpret them – it’s very important to know what I’m singing about. It helps with the mood. So usually we create the vocal melodies together with Jakka, or I might offer him something and he has his thumb up or down. Sometime he has stuff ready to go or ideas about how to try something.
Viitala: I think there is a good connection between us…
Haaparanta: When I spent a few years away from the band, I wrote a lot of music myself so I developed as a melody composer quite a bit. So coming back and working together has been brilliant. It’s worked really well.
Dead Rhetoric: Being in the US and never seeing the band live, what can you say about your live show?
Haaparanta: Strong – theatrical elements but not like circus tricks on the stage. We are always fully in our songs and the music. We never come on stage in jeans and a t-shirt, we all have our war gear and mask. Sometimes fake blood, sometimes real [laughs], if there has been a cat fight among these two backstage or something. The music is so strong that I don’t think we have to do anything extra there – but it just kind of captures us. It captures the audience, it captures us – we are all in a pocket within this escapist world of beautiful music.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s planned for Crimfall for the rest of the year?
Haaparanta: I really hope we get touring. I also hope that we will be invited to some amazing summer festivals next year.
Viitala: We are planning some touring stuff – nothing confirmed that we can share but we do have a music video coming…it’s our first one.
Haaparanta: It’s our first actual music video, it will be released before the album comes out. We will also be rehearsing and playing until we know these ridiculously big pieces by heart.