Amberian Dawn – Introducing ABBA-metalThursday, 23rd January 2020
Amberian Dawn has been a productive machine for the symphonic metal genre over the last decade. But what happens when that ambition starts to fade? Some bands try to force their way through, but in the case of Tuomas Seppälä and Amberian Dawn, he decided to follow his passion. That in turn led him to crafting a new sound for the band. One that ventured further into pop-styled offerings than previous material. The end result, Looking for You (available for pre-order at Napalm Records shop HERE), showcases the band’s strongest material to date – full of infectious ‘80s-esque synths, big pop hooks, and nailed down by some heavier metallic elements. We had a chat with Seppälä to talk about the inspirations for ABBA-metal and the new album, ‘more is more,’ and much more.
Dead Rhetoric: Given the direction that Darkness of Eternity moved into, does Looking for You seem like a logical progression for the band?
Tuomas Seppälä: Kind of, if I look back now that we are a few years from that album. After I finished Darkness of Eternity, I had a long period of time where I didn’t have any ideas, like writer’s block. It was somewhere between 6 to 8 months, and I tried to compose new songs but it just didn’t happen. I didn’t get any good material. I felt I needed to change something. After a while I started to make some experiments. I made some synthesizer, disco-like music. Kind of disco-metal songs. I had some thoughts that maybe I needed to start a new band with this material because it was so different.
There were no guitars at all. But then I showed them to the rest of the band, and I was surprised that they liked it. They said that it was no problem, and we could still do this – there were still some Amberian Dawn elements and we could add some guitars, etc. So maybe I just needed to take some time after the last album and reset my mind. I didn’t want to do the symphonic stuff, and I don’t know where this came from, but it just came out.
Dead Rhetoric: In all fairness to you, you did put out like 8 albums in a decade. Do you feel that you were kind of tapped out of symphonic metal ideas?
Seppälä: I can make any kind of music – I have the skills to compose rock music, power metal music, I can do it all. But it’s always what I want to do, that’s something different. I don’t want to make anything that I’m not really happy with. I have to have the right feeling for the music. I don’t go in knowing I’m going to make a power metal song – that doesn’t work for me. I have to feel that I want to make a power metal song. I don’t want to force myself to do anything. After the last album, I just didn’t feel like I wanted to make symphonic metal. We did that one song [“Symphony Nr. 1 Part 3: Awakening”], and that was the exception.
Dead Rhetoric: I’ve seen this all over the press releases, but what does “ABBA-metal” mean to you?
Seppälä: I actually like the term, as I’m a big ABBA fan. I don’t mind calling our music ABBA-metal, I think its fine. It’s kind of ABBA-metal, but there’s a lot of other influences from other material, such as classical of course. Personally I like the term. I know that some metal fans don’t like metal being compared to anything that is pop music. Usually heavy metal guys want to be tough – it’s rough, tough, fast, and heavy. So usually people don’t like that term, or being compared in any way to pop music. But I don’t mind it because I can also say that I like pop music.
Dead Rhetoric: In some ways, I’ve gotten more accepting of that as I’ve gotten older. A lot of times heavy metal can be connected to pop, but with heavier guitars and more extreme drumming.
Seppälä: That’s true. I think a lot of pop music can easily be converted into metal music by adding heavier guitars and drums. But that’s not enough to do it well. You really have to know the song that you are going to transform, and you have to add more to it than just add guitars and drums. You have to be aware of things like making new arrangements for the song as well. The ABBA song we did, it wasn’t just about adding guitars and drums, but I had a good feeling that I could make song work.
Dead Rhetoric: What is your songwriting process like? You already mentioned that you had started working on music that was taking a completely different direction.
Seppälä: There was the period when I was writing music that I had no idea at all and it was a bit of a mess. But after I started to get into this new, disco synthesizer music, it started to happen fast. After I played some songs to my bandmates, they also thought it was some great stuff. So things felt easy after that. Maybe it was easier to process after I accepted that the style was changing again, and even further into pop music. So I accepted it and it felt easier to start working with the material.
Dead Rhetoric: Is there something that you are most proud of when it comes to Looking for You?
Seppälä: I really like the sound. I really like the sound and mix in general. We used our guitarist, Emil Pohjalainen, as our mixing engineer for the first time. He’s a really talented engineer. When he started to work with these new songs, I needed to make a lot of comments because he was starting the more traditional way. The drums are really loud, as are the keyboards. He said that he doesn’t know of another album with drums as loud as they are on this album. But I think the most important thing is the mixing sound, and the feeling that you get when listening to it. I really like the sound – it’s warm because of all of those keyboards. But it still has a lot of punch with the drums. I really like it.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve mentioned this briefly already – can you talk about the third part of your “Symphony” series?
Seppälä: It was quite difficult to start working on this latest part. I really wanted to make a fast and furious kind of part, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t want to force myself, so I made something else. It turned into a more traditional ‘80s song. There’s more piano parts and those kind of things. When I had the basic music written down – the drums, bass, guitars, and vocal melodies – I make all of those things in my home studio first before working with the singers. I knew immediately that this song would be good for two singers. Since we have Capri on vocals, I thought that maybe a man would be a good partner.
When I really listened to the song, I realized that there was only one man in the world who was right for the song, and that was Fabio Lione. But there was maybe one week that I thought it was impossible. I didn’t feel like I could get him on the album. But after a week, I just contacted him and tried. I was surprised – he knew the band already and he liked Amberian Dawn’s music so it was easy to get him on board. He was the perfect choice for this song.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve cited ABBA as one of your musical inspirations – what made this the right time to finally try your hand at covering one of their songs?
Seppälä: Maybe it just happened naturally. I had been thinking about making an ABBA cover for a long time, and when I visited Benny Andersson’s studio in Stockholm I had worked on some parts for the song. At that point, I knew that we were going to do the song at some point. So I recorded keyboard parts for it in the studio then. For this album, I had this Finnish synthesizer guy, Kebu, on board with us. He has this huge arsenal of keyboards he could use. So I worked with him to make those awesome keyboard sounds. I need to thank him for his work, because it wouldn’t have been possible without him. It was hard to choose just one song, but because I had already recorded those keyboard parts I felt that we would go with “Lay All Your Love on Me.”
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to symphonic metal, there’s often an over-the-top feeling to it. Where does the line sit for Amberian Dawn in terms of “more is more?”
Seppälä: It’s true that many bands making symphonic metal are making music where there is as stuff as possible – lots of orchestrations and everything. Many people think that symphonic metal has to have a lot of stuff going on. I have to admit that I also thought that way many years ago, maybe when we were doing the Circus Black album. It was about 6-7 years ago, and I thought I needed to make the stuff where I had to feel everything. I made a lot of guitar, keyboard, and orchestration stuff as I could. I thought it was a good time at the time. I felt symphonic metal needed to be as big as possible.
I don’t think in that same way anymore, because I think I have grown musically. It’s not about getting ‘stuff’ so much as making the right choices and including the necessary parts. It’s not about putting on 1,000 tracks together.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s something that you’ve learned while being a part of Amberian Dawn?
Seppälä: I learned that the ‘more is more’ is not the right way, and that it’s better to make less tracks on a song. It gives room for all of those elements because there’s not as much going on at a time. I think ‘less is more’ is now the more appropriate term. It’s about quality too, if you are making arrangements for keyboards. It’s easy to throw and add things here and there, but it’s more difficult to really think about what the song needs, and what elements are missing. You have to find the necessary parts.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see in heavy metal and its growth as we enter a new decade?
Seppälä: One thing that is clear to me is that black metal, and all of its forms, is getting bigger and bigger. Where I live in Finland, it’s close to Helsinki. We have this annual open air festival and it’s been a really huge success. I think metal in general is getting heavier, along with black metal growing. Those are the trends I’ve noticed, because I don’t listen to too much music anymore.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s planned for Amberian Dawn in 2020 after the album is released?
Seppälä: We are trying to arrange a European tour, in fact, our booking agent is starting the process already. Maybe we will get a tour in May or something. Hopefully we will get some festival shows for the summer. It’s always hard because there are so many bands that want to play on these festivals. So we are hoping that we are getting more chances to play on these fests.