Amorphis – The Circle and the SmokeThursday, 30th May 2013
The Joutsen-era of Amorphis has been so consistent and so good, that we might start taking it for granted. It’s a far cry from those hum-drum early 00’s days, when the band was treading creative water, seemingly waiting on then-singer Pasi Koskinen to flee the ship. And once Mr. Pasi bailed, it’s been smooth sailing for the Finns, starting with 2006’s awe-inspiring Eclipse, all the way to this year’s Circle. Indeed Circle collects and laps up all the elements that have made Amorphis the go-to Finnish metal band. Joutsen’s harmonious cleans, gorgeous melodies, and a progressive flair all encompass the band’s 12th release making it all seem like business as usual. Probably because it is.
With so much ado about the new album and Joutsen’s influence on the band, when speaking with founding guitarist/vocalist Tomi Koivusaari, it was important to first take a step back and examine the his stint as the band’s vocalist, along with those lost-in-the-shuffle Far From the Sun days. The polite Finn responded in kind, giving us even more perspective in the moving, ever-changing body that is Amorphis…
Dead Rhetoric: Before we get to the new album, I’m curious about a few things, specifically the fact that you no longer do death metal vocals. How did you react when it was decided on Tuonela that you’d no longer be doing them?
Tomi Koivusaari: I was relieved. I think I was the first one of us who suggested us to have different singer to our band, as I always considered myself as guitar player, not singer. I started as a singer more like by, accidentally
Dead Rhetoric: Was being the “frontman” something you were 100% comfortable with? In the early days, it seemed like the role just fell into your lap.
Koivusaari: Yes, that’s what happened. I didn’t feel too comfortably being frontman, you’re right; I like to be more on background. It was fun at times though, but I’m more satisfied today’s situation.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel some of your best vocal performances are? I’ll vote for “Elegy” (the song), “Drowned Maid” and “Black Winter Day.”
Koivusaari: It’s really hard to say myself, I think overall vocals my vocals are better on Elegy than on Tales… or Karelian. Normally at that time we did all the vocals in one day, even one take, and I started to arrange the lyrics day before, heh. So there wasn’t too much producing involved at those times.
Dead Rhetoric: The stylistic shifts you made over the course of Tuonela, Am Universum, and Far From the Sun… how important were they for the band to be where it is today?
Koivusaari: Very important, I’d say. I think that all the albums we’ve made are affecting to what we are now, we’ve tried so many different kind of things so we have learned by mistakes, and of course successes. Those periods we just had to take, it was important to us to try different things to have challenges and keep this interesting.
Dead Rhetoric: The Far from the Sun album particularly, could be deemed as what is your lone subpar effort. What do you remember most about the recording of that album?
Koivusaari: I remember it was probably coldest winter for ages here in Finland, and we recorded it at a small island near Helsinki. I remember that when we were recording that album, [the] mood wasn’t that good for the first time on our career. Also Pasi was obviously lost his motivation, he rather was drinking beer and stuff than tried to make his vocals tolerable. That of course reflected to whole band. But I don’t want to put the blame only to Pasi, I think whole band was little bit lost at that time, maybe because everyone’s personal lives and everything, it was times of changes, we were about to reach our 30’s, some of us got kids etc… Amorphis has been so big part of our lives since we were teenagers that all personal things are affecting of course. I think there are good moments on that album, but mainly it sounds quite should I say, “lazy.” Anyway, after Far from the Sun we realized that some things have to change if we want to continue, and if we want to keep this fun.
Dead Rhetoric: As for Circle, who broached the idea to work with Peter Tagtgren? He seems like a great fit for you guys considering you’re both from the same era of death metal.
Koivusaari: We have known Peter for decades, first time we’ve got to know him when we toured together and shared tour bus with Hypocrisy back in 94-95. We have seen him once in a while on tours festivals and so on. Many times he also suggested that he could produce/mix our record. This time we needed a change as well, and when we started to think about producer, Peter was one of our first ideas. It was definitely the right choice; it was relaxed to work with him, and result sounds awesome. We are sharing quite same experience from this whole scene, and we can respect him as producer, as I think he respects our ideas and ways to work. We had good fun together. He contributes his knowledge about guitar sounds and heavier sound overall. We were looking for heavier and darker sound for this album, and we’ve got it.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it nice to get out of your Finnish comfort zone to record? Was it fun being in a remote area of Sweden to record?
Koivusaari: Actually we recorded some of the stuff at countryside of Finland and some of the stuff at Helsinki, Finland. We only mixed it at Peter’s studio at Sweden. We went to countryside all of us to record, mainly because we wanted peaceful place, that nobody is hurrying home or anything but staying at same place 24h for week or so. That’s how we did our four very first albums back in the days. Recording all separated felt too clinic way to do it this time. Recording in middle of nowhere at nature was same time very inspiring and let us concentrate to music. I think it created sort of atmosphere to album. But we actually recorded our first three albums in Sweden back in the days, so it would be nice to try that again. Maybe next time we’ll go to Abyss Studio.
Dead Rhetoric: Tomi, once again, turns in a marvelous performance. At this point, is there anything he can do to surprise you?
Koivusaari: Since he joined the band he has shown how much motivation he have and how professionally he is taking everything, recordings, rehearsals, touring… So I’m not that surprised anymore. But on every record we have made with him he still is offering something new everytime. Totally opposite what we had before.
Dead Rhetoric: So far, you’ve resisted the temptation to play one of your albums in its entirety live. Have you thought about doing it for Thousand Lakes or Elegy?
Koivusaari: We actually played Circle album in its entirety on our record releasing show here in Finland couple weeks ago. For the first time it felt kinda album it could actually work. And it did, all the songs are working great as live, in my opinion. I don’t think we will ever play some older album in its entirety, but never say never. We have anyway quite of catalog to choose the setlist.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there plans to get back over to North America? Seems like a lot of people are waiting for you to come back.
Koivusaari: I certainly wish! It has been quite a while since we toured there properly last time. So far what I know this whole year is fully booked to tours in Europe, Russia, Japan, China, Finland, Australia at least, but I wish that could happened early next year/spring. I think what counts most is how our new album is doing over there. So buy the new album and we are closer to tour there!
Dead Rhetoric: You’re definitely elder statesmen (in a good way) of the Finnish metal scene. What does it feel like?
Koivusaari: Well of course it feels good when some newcomer bands are telling us that we have been great inspiration for them. It’s been long way to this point, but at same time, time seems to fly fast. Soon we’ll put the diapers on and keep going! When we started the scene was very poor, and there wasn’t too much bands from Finland which were too original or unique, so if we have shown any kind of tips to younger bands, it’s great.
Dead Rhetoric: Does it just seem like yesterday when you were recording the debut and were hooking up with Relapse?
Koivusaari: Yes it feels like yesterday, I don’t know where all these years disappeared. I think we are still same persons, wiser of course, I hope. And uglier, naturally. But still enjoining for doing this as those times. Relapse did very good job as marketing us there, without that deal we wouldn’t be here where we are either, even it wasn’t too good for us financially. But if someone would told me then that we will still existing after 20 years I wouldn’t believe that. But here we are.
Dead Rhetoric: Finally, what’s on the agenda for the rest of 2013?
Koivusaari: At first we are doing lot of summer-festivals all over Europe, then at fall we’re gonna tour, tour and tour. And next year we’re gonna tour some more. Hopefully can make over there as well!