The Dark Element – Sweet MysteriesFriday, 17th November 2017
From the very start, some bands have all eyes staring at them, watching every move they make. With the combined talents of established guitarist Jani Liimatainen (Cain’s Offering, ex-Sonata Arctica) and ex-Nightwish frontwoman Anette Olzon, it’s easy to see why many were abuzz with what the two would concoct with this new project. Liimatainen has become a very in-demand guitarist in the more melodic and power metal circles, and The Dark Element marks the return to a more metallic sound for Olzon, now five years removed from her firing from Nightwish.
The Dark Element may soak in some more straight-forward songwriting, but it’s undeniably catchy and still holds up after many repeated listens. Olzon’s vocals soar, as expected, and provide a soft touch when required. Liimatainen’s riffing and songwriting no doubt plays a role in the long-term enjoyment of the album, masterfully boiling down this style of music to its essence, and without stripping it of it’s potential darkness. Liimatainen chatted with DR over Skype just prior to the album’s release to talk shop about the future of the project, what went into it, as well as what lies ahead for Cain’s Offering.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did the idea for The Dark Element come from?
Jani Liimatainen: That actually came from Frontiers Records. Last spring they contacted me about doing some songwriting for another project. I was kind of busy but I told them that I would get back to them in about two weeks. I wrote one song and sent it to them. They liked it, and a week later the head of Frontiers Records contacted me and asked if I would be interested in writing an album. So I said sure. They asked who I wanted to work with, and I said that I wasn’t sure. I have been lucky enough to work with a lot of great male vocalists like Timo Kotipelto and Tony Kakko, so I told them that I would like to work with a female singer for a change. They said ok, and they would get back to me. It took maybe three days and asked me if I wanted to work with Anette Olzon. I said, “Hell yeah!”
Dead Rhetoric: So the main thing was to try something with a female vocalist instead of a male one then?
Liimatainen: Yeah; when I was given the chance where I got to pick, I never worked with a female singer. It was a nice change of pace. There’s a lot of great female singers in metal nowadays and I never had the chance to work with any of them. I figured this was my chance – let’s see if [Frontiers] could work something out, and I think it worked out wonderfully.
Dead Rhetoric: So what do you feel Anette [Olzon] brings to the table on her end?
Liimatainen: She has a lot of soul, and an awesome voice. It’s a very clear, pop voice almost. It fits really well with metal music I think. Of course, she is amazingly talented as well. When I sent her demos of the songs with my vocals, and then she sang her version – I was blown away. Like, “Holy shit! I didn’t even think it could be done like that!”
Dead Rhetoric: How confident are you at this point, as there’s been a number of songs that have been released already, in terms of what potential fans are looking at?
Liimatainen: Yeah, I’m pretty confident. As you said, four songs have come out and people seem to like them. They represent the whole album, so if you like those, you will like the whole album. There’s nothing too extreme, like rap or classical music – if you like what’s out, you’ll enjoy the album too.
Dead Rhetoric: One thing I happened to notice is that there seems to be a number of vocal and guitar covers already out on YouTube for the songs that have been released.
Liimatainen: I haven’t really been looking – I try to shy away from that feedback anyway. I should go on and see those, since they can be really good sometimes. I’ve seen some really good ones in the past from my earlier work, but now I have been busy and I haven’t browsed the Internet much.
Dead Rhetoric: When you look at the album, what were your goals in writing songs? What was your vision for The Dark Element once you had the idea of the band figured out?
Liimatainen: It was actually really simple once I got the whole thing together – once I knew that Anette was going to be singing. I just wanted to make really coherent, and simple is a bad word to use, but a straight-forward album. Nothing too complex, or 8-minute tracks that have a lot of parts. I just wanted to make catchy, melodic songs that are very much to the point. They are easy to get into – you don’t have to listen to it hundreds of times to appreciate all the nuances. Simple, catchy songs.
Dead Rhetoric: Some of the songs, like “Someone You Used to Know” and “Heaven of Your Heart” are very melodic and ballad-esque. Is there a different approach to writing songs like that and making sure it seems genuine?
Liimatainen: Not really when you write the music, but in a ballad, the lyrics are a really slippery slope. It can easily become ridiculous or banal. Or just way too cheesy and over-the-top. You always have to balance on the edge of the ridiculous.
Dead Rhetoric: With the way you described the band earlier, are you viewing The Dark Element as more of a project or a full-fledged band?
Liimatainen: That’s a tricky question – of course when this whole thing started, it was a project. I was commissioned to do an album. As we progressed with it, it felt really good. For instance, Jacob Hansen, who mixed the album, he sent me an email after it was all done and said, “This sounds really good. It doesn’t sound like a project; it sounds like a band.” That was a nice compliment, and now we’ve been talking about it and we have already had offers for doing tours and shows, which we never planned to do. Now we are trying to figure it out – if we can do some shows and see where it leads. Of course, the album comes out next week so then we will really see where we are at.
Dead Rhetoric: One thing that I really liked about the album was that it does have that straight-forward, catchy side, but the lyrics can be pretty dark. Where did the inspiration come from?
Liimatainen: I don’t really know. I guess from the fact that I’m Finnish and a dark person. It’s easier for me to make it darker. I’ve never really written really happy songs. I’ve written some that are more hopeful though. It’s more of a metal thing. Even music that is more poppy metal, like this one is, I still tend to write a bit darker. It can also be therapeutic – if you don’t talk about shit, you can write it down. It can make a beautiful contrast, if you have a beautiful catchy song, but the lyrics are darker than the song is.
Dead Rhetoric: I noticed that a lot with “Dead to Me.”
Liimatainen: That’s one of the heavier songs on the album, especially lyric-wise. I’ve done a few interviews now and some people have asked about this. I never really analyzed it before, but yeah, it’s kind of dark and a bit of a proverbial middle finger to some people, like “You fucked me over, this is what I think of you.”
Dead Rhetoric: As long as we are on the subject of that song, I know Niilo [Sevänen] on “Dead to Me” – was that a byproduct of touring with Insomnium?
Liimatainen: Yeah, kind of. I’ve done at least four tours when them now. I’ve gotten to know the guys really well. Also Niilo is a good friend of mine. He lives near me – about 300 meters away or so. When I was working on the song, I thought growls would work really well so I started thinking about who I could get. It was immediate – Niilo, of course…who else? Besides, he has some phenomenal growling voice. Of course, he said, “Sure, I’ll pop in the studio later and let’s do it.”
Dead Rhetoric: How does The Dark Element differ from your work with Cain’s Offering?
Liimatainen: That was actually the tricky part, when I started writing. I wanted it to be a bit different. There’s no reason for me to make another Cain’s Offering album, but just with Anette on vocals. What’s the point of that? That’s exactly why I wanted to take it in a more simplistic direction. Cain’s Offering has some songs that have many parts and go through lots of moments and last for six minutes. Here I tried to keep it more simple – intro, verse, bridge, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, middle part – maybe a solo, chorus, and end. Whereas in Cain’s Offering it can have like 10 different parts.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you talk about the cover for The Dark Element?
Liimatainen: That was also a byproduct from Frontiers. We started looking for artists, and they suggested this one guy, I believe his name was Nick Greenwood. He’s from the US. We were in contact with him, and I talked with him via email and exchanged some ideas. I think I sent him some lyrics and rough sketches of what I had at the time. He worked off of that, and sent us 3-5 different ideas, and out of those, Anette and I picked that one out and fine-tuned it. I think he did a great job. It doesn’t look like a traditional album cover for this time of music. It has this horror-y thing going on.
Dead Rhetoric: I would agree – the eye in the center is the coolest part.
Liimatainen: Yeah, I think that’s the selling point. The detail in the eye, if you look at it closely, you can see the reflections on it and that looks really cool.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel between the electronic elements, hooks, and Anette’s vocals, you have a good crossover with AOR and rock fans as well as metal ones?
Liimatainen: I can’t tell before the album comes out, but let’s see how the AOR and pop fans feel about it. Of course, they might be turned off by the fact that it’s really heavy and we will be labeled as a metal band anyway. But I’m hoping that people can open up their minds enough to understand it – there’s definitely a cross-over potential there, I agree.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any updates on Cain’s Offering at this point?
Liimatainen: We have been talking, and last year when we went to the Loud Park Festival in Tokyo, we met with our label there. He was asking me then – he thought that 2017 would be a great year to release a new Cain’s Offering album. I had to tell them that I was working on another album, that wasn’t going to be finished until February . Obviously, it took longer than that – I don’t have any songs written for Cain’s Offering, so there’s no way in hell that we can release an album this year. Cain’s Offering writing is a bit different from this – I want to really take my time with it and put a big effort into those songs, as they are more complex than The Dark Element.
We are hoping to get our third album done when this promotion cycle ends. I already have some shows booked with different projects, but when that is done, I can start trying to start writing for Cain’s Offering, which would maybe lead to an album coming out in 2019. But it’s all too early to say, since I’m in the middle of all this Dark Element stuff now. Of course, there’s Stratovarius time tables too. That’s always been an issue, since people are so busy.
Dead Rhetoric: I know you were running your own blog [Jani hates you all] for a while? Was there just not enough time to maintain it?
Liimatainen: Yeah, it was kind of hard to maintain a steady writing rhythm and have enough material to write. There also started to be some nasty side effects. People started to harass my friends and family over it. I’m fine with people talking shit about me – I don’t care. That comes with the territory. People are always going to talk shit about you; you can’t fix that. But when it extends to your friends and family, that’s not okay. I don’t want to drag them into this shit.
Dead Rhetoric: That sucks; that’s the problem with the Internet world of today.
Liimatainen: Yeah, I was running out of time anyway, so I thought it was easier to just leave it be. I never made a conscious effort to stop it, it just happened. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get back to it. I wouldn’t hold my breath though [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: On a more positive note, what excites you about writing in heavy metal?
Liimatainen: I think it’s kind of open nowadays when you write in heavy metal. People aren’t as close-minded as they were in the past. For Cain’s Offering and now The Dark Element, I have the chance to explore some areas that were not the direct area I usually work on. With Cain’s Offering, I can do some dark, progressive shit. With The Dark Element, I went really poppy but really heavy with the guitars, plus I had Niilo growling. You can stretch things out in different directions – usually metal people are open—minded enough that they don’t immediately dis it. They might not like it, but at least they will give it a chance before they say, “This is shit!”
Dead Rhetoric: What are your plans moving forward, with The Dark Element, and anything else you are working on?
Liimatainen: The Dark Element is now, for at least the next few weeks, the priority since the promotion cycle has begun. I’m going to be talking to people and promoting the album. I’m also going to Italy next week with Timo Kotipelto since we do acoustic stuff whenever we have the time. So we are flying to Italy to do three shows, so that’s kind of interesting. We’ve done it once before, but it was two years ago. It’s always nice to take this acoustic thing abroad since we’ve only played in Finland. After that, then I’m going to do one week of Europe with Insomnium. Then it’s Christmas. After that, maybe I’ll try to take some time off and maybe start writing for Cain’s Offering. During the spring, we are probably gong to South America again with Kotipelto. There’s so much stuff going on, it’s kind of hard to keep track of without my calendar. But it’s better to be overworked than unemployed!