Dark Sarah – Heroes and Villains

Thursday, 19th January 2023

Well versed in the work of Amberian Dawn previously, when vocalist Heidi Parviainen left the group to start her own band Dark Sarah plenty of followers would be intrigued to hear what would take place. Continuing her affinity for symphonic metal with captivating fantasy, modern horror theme stories, the band has released four albums to date – with Attack of Orym the fifth to hit the marketplace. Adventurous with newer digital, modern synth or pop touches at times, it seems that Dark Sarah is moving into the next stage of their musical journey for this record, taking chances to broaden creative horizons. We reached out to Heidi through Zoom to discuss the changes behind the new material, working independently again, securing a new artist for this cover, the state of older versus newer acts in symphonic metal, what she’s learned most from Amberian Dawn that applies now to Dark Sarah for the better, plus hopes for more shows/touring in the pipeline.

Dead Rhetoric: Attack of Orym is the fifth studio album for Dark Sarah – and the second conceptual record for the latest Grim modern horror fantasy theme storyline. How did the recording and songwriting sessions go for this effort – were there any surprises, challenges, or obstacles that came up at any point in this process?

Heidi Parviainen: I started writing material for this album already when the Grim album was released. About a year ago we started the studio sessions and arranging the songs. We also wrote many new songs at that point too. One thing that was quite surprising is that we weren’t going to continue with Napalm Records with this album, we knew it already then. At first, I felt it was quite a bummer, because I was so expecting this help we got from the label. Now I knew I was going to release it on my own again – it’s a lot of work for me to do this as one person again. At that point, I was thinking about quitting, or will I continue? I got this strength from the songs we had written, and we decided to change the production style at that point. Maybe this will be my last album who knows? If I don’t do what I have been planning to do for the future of Dark Sarah now, will I do it ever? That way, we welcomed the new style for Dark Sarah a little bit quicker than we originally thought to do.

When I heard the first arrangements and the production style, I was like ‘yeah – now we are nailing it’. I felt the strength of the music, and it saved my motivation to continue. Of course, our fabulous fans have been supporting us, through the Indiegogo campaign, we got the full funding for the album, and that’s very encouraging in that way.

Dead Rhetoric: How does the process work when it comes to the guest appearances for this record? Is it predetermined ahead of time, or do you take things on a case-by-case basis as the lyrical and musical content unfolds?

Parviainen: Sometimes I already have the guests in my mind when I start writing the music. I don’t write the music totally on my own, I have my producer Mikko P. Mustonen who also writes music, and he arranges everything, so I don’t take the credit for everything. Sometimes I have some people in mind to welcome for the album. I knew I would need JP Leppäluoto again, as the dragon on all of our albums. The additional guests I didn’t have included at that point, but when I knew I would need these additional growls or grunts, that style of vocalizing, I knew that it would be great to invite Mark Jensen from Epica to this. I know him from far away, we met together when we toured together with Amberian Dawn many years ago. It was quite simple to ask personally from him in that way. And Kasperi Heikkinen, who plays the guitar solos on this album, he’s my dear friend who I have known for almost twenty years. I played with him in two bands, in that way we know each other.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the lyrical content, since you are working off an extended concept that picks up off the last album, do you approach the work like a writer extending a novel series – and are you conscious of the different moods, tempo changes, styles of songs that need to be there to tell the story from a dynamic perspective?

Parviainen: Yes, maybe I am not working as a writer in that way because I also work as a writer of music too. That’s more important in my opinion than the lyrical concept, but of course when we start building up the album, we have to think about the storyline. In that way, some songs should be in a different order. Nowadays, people don’t listen to full albums, they listen to certain songs from Spotify, it doesn’t matter that much. For me, it’s really important that they are in the right order for the story sense.

When I start writing the songs, I have a synopsis in mind for what I want to have. Sometimes it doesn’t work like that. If I need a dark song, what if there won’t be any dark songs? (laughs). So, then I have to develop the storyline a bit, because they have to match. It’s something that did happen on this album. My intention was to write the darkest Dark Sarah album ever, and that was the first idea. When I started writing music, we started writing a lot of songs, but only a few of them were dark. You never know.

Dead Rhetoric: Are there particular songs that were more of a challenge from the initial idea to the final competition – or did everything develop smoothly for the record?

Parviainen: I think it’s best when you are working with other people writing music, then it’s not that hard when you hit the wall yourself. I was expecting the darker songs from my pen, but they weren’t happening. It’s nice to have another partner who can write songs. Our producer Mikko has been writing songs, and I asked him to write the darker tunes for this album. My mind wasn’t in that mode.

Dead Rhetoric: One of the standout songs to me was the closer “Hero and a Villain” – it definitely has an uplifting feel to end the record. Is this song special to you also?

Parviainen: Yes, it was. When you compare it to the other songs on the album, it’s really different and that’s why we chose it. It’s like in a movie, when the final credits go there is a song, we thought it would be quite nice to have that kind of song at the end. Almost all of our albums have had this kind of song that is different from the mood or style of the rest of the album. It was a black horse that came to the album at the last minute, and I said we would include this too. It was the conclusion, and that’s something that Dark Sarah would be in the future. It’s very different from the style we started with, but in ten years it’s been quite a long journey. Of course, you need a little bit of room to accept change.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us how the cover art came about with Warm Tail – is this a collaborative effort between the band and artist from initial concept to final output?

Parviainen: We have been working with one artist for all of our albums. When we first started to work with him for this album cover, I thought it’s not going to be what I want. I wanted to have a really different style for this album, maybe in the anime style, there are different styles. I wanted it to have a comic book feeling. But that’s not his style, so I needed to find another artist. I couldn’t find anyone, and then I went to Shutterstock, I found the right person and the right picture. I contacted him personally to get the full rights for this picture for me. We bought the picture, and we got the picture we wanted. I had been searching for many new people to work with us on the album. Of course, it takes a lot of time, and this time it suits the album really well. The new colors, the bright style, the comic book feeling too.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it an easy or difficult process to decide what songs to push as singles/videos album to album? How did the video shoot go for “Warning Sign” for example?

Parviainen: Ah, I know that “Warning Sign” is a video that divides people. Some love it, and some hate it. Of course, it was such fun to do. I had this original idea with the gun, with the flower gun, I presented it to the director Markus Nieminen, who has been also working with us for every music video so far. He was like this is a great idea. We built up the gun from scratch at home with my husband – we bought this air blower, and we tweaked it. It was the original idea for this album, we searched for different bodybuilders in Finland to get the ugliest one, we managed to only get the really handsome one (laughs)! He was such a good match, he does these martial arts, so he knows how to play with the stick, and he was a good actor too. It was a different style for this Dark Sarah category, and so much fun.

Sometimes the singles are tough to decide, especially if you are networking with the label, you need outside opinions. We had to decide them this time on our own. When I first heard “Warning Sign”, this song has everything that this album represents. It’s a mixture of everything, and we felt that was a good first single. It was an easy choice in that way. But other singles, that can be harder to decide.

Dead Rhetoric: Given your time before in Amberian Dawn, what would you say are some of the biggest learning experiences or takeaways you had that you wanted to apply to Dark Sarah either on the musical front or the business side of things?

Parviainen: What a question. I was very young when I joined Amberian Dawn, I was only twenty-something when I started. When you start of course you are not quite familiar with the business. The business was really different back then. Some things that people started arguing about, there were big emotions involved. A lot of arguing within Amberian Dawn and I felt that was one of the reasons why I left the band, it was really hard there. When I started my own band, I understand things a little bit differently now. Why things worked that way, because I am running the business now on my own, I know what it is about.

I arrange things from a different angle again. I wanted to do things differently in my own band, so that nobody would feel that way. I am really open about the business side, and anybody in the band can ask me questions if they want. About how we are, because I am running the business on my own, they can ask about the money side. Nobody thinks I am getting a lot of money from this, because I am not. I am paying for everything in that way. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve grown as a person, I’ve grown as a musician and a singer too. I have learned a new vocal style for this album. A lot of things have changed. Dark Sarah has been around for ten years, before that, six years with Amberian Dawn, and early with my other band. I’ve been in this heavy metal scene for quite a while.

Dead Rhetoric: You work with your husband guitarist Sami Salonen in Dark Sarah as well. Would you say you work hard at maintaining a cohesive musical relationship beyond your personal lives – and how do you handle conflicts if there are any that come up?

Parviainen: I think Sami has always been a good guitar player, so he doesn’t interfere in my business that much. We don’t discuss that, it has always been originally my band and my project, and he respects that. We never argue about Dark Sarah. It’s like a hobby for him, he enjoys this so much. And I have no complaints, and vice versa. He’s very welcoming, and all the band members are welcoming.

Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of the personal highlights to date in the career of Dark Sarah? Be it specific albums, shows, tours, festival appearances where you knew you were making a strong impression with your work?

Parviainen: I feel that maybe highlights have been when we were warming up for Within Temptation here in Finland. It was a big band, and I felt that we were seen. It’s a big place to play with them. When we were signed to Napalm Records, that was also something for me because we’ve always played outside the sandbox. Sometimes it’s really hard, you feel that you are not welcome or that you are not accepted, is something wrong with you? Sometimes that comes to my mind, but when you get these possibilities with the Within Temptation shows, Napalm Records, I feel those are the highlights. We haven’t toured with this band yet, mainly the reason is because we don’t have a European agent. We definitely need to find this before we can go there. We are still waiting for that moment – maybe that will be the third highlight to add this.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the state of symphonic metal currently? What do you enjoy most about the genre, and what changes (if any) would you like to see made for the greater good of all involved?

Parviainen: It is changing. It started changing when Tarja left Nightwish in 2005. Before that all the classical singers were really welcome, and also in that way it was golden times for symphonic metal bands with female-fronted bands and singers. I feel the female singers now are in the minority, nowadays. Many bands are now adding male singers. Some bands they want to include a male singer in the lineup, to have both female and male singing. It’s a bummer I feel. I think that the style of symphonic metal is starting to change. I have heard the difference in some bands. When I listen to the older bands, they are not going to change, continue to make similar stuff. They feel older in style, but we take in more of the digital stuff along, we replace some of the orchestral stuff with synths. I like that, it’s a good combination in my opinion.

Dead Rhetoric: We all know the global pandemic had a major impact on the entertainment industry. How did you handle things in that downtime, and how do you think humanity as a whole will be coming out of this?

Parviainen: It really affected the whole music scene. I know many musicians who earn their living from the music and their work, but in our case, it’s never been that. We’ve always had day jobs in this band, including myself. This COVID situation made my business as a vocal teacher, a choir teacher, I couldn’t do my work. I needed to do something else, but it’s away from the focus. When you are not working with the music all the time, in this flow, it’s really hard to get the flow back. We might be hearing what it has done globally in the music business. Will there be enough music? Some people take over in the space that the other ones have left. If you cannot continue making your living from the music and from touring, many bands cannot tour because the price of gas is so high, nobody gets a profit from the touring. We are still on the verge of getting to know how it has affected the whole system.

Personally, I needed to search new things that I would do while the situation was bad. There are many people who have left the business, also.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your growth as a singer from your younger days to your approach now? And do you feel you have different aspects you are working on with your voice or technique now that you didn’t consider ten or twenty years ago?

Parviainen: Just as you said. I am open to have everything ready in my classical training, before I started to approach something else. When I joined Amberian Dawn, I wanted to become good enough as a classical, opera singer before I search further. Because classical singing is like sports in a competitive way. You must practice a lot, and not do anything that distracts you from that. It took me quite a while to get to that point where I knew it well enough to experiment. On this album, I felt like ‘what the hell, let’s go for it.’(laughs). We are letting loose; we are not holding back anything. Vocally this album is searching towards the pop / rock style vocally. It suited this album better than the completely classical side would have, ever in that way. It was a good thing to do.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Dark Sarah over the next twelve months to support the new release? And what’s left on the bucket list of goals to achieve – either from a musical perspective or personally – at this point in your life?

Parviainen: Yes, that box is open again. I was almost going to lock it and toss away the key. This album saved my motivation to continue. I felt there are lots of different things to search in my vocal style and the musical style. The last song was opening a door to something new. I’m going to let myself rest a while after this album. We hope to get a lot of shows, and touring would be a great thing. Slowly I will get back to the writing table again, and search for what is coming. Hopefully there will be another Dark Sarah album at one point, I don’t know when. We have been releasing albums every two years, it’s quite a schedule for ten years. Maybe at this point we need to do more live shows, hopefully next year that will happen.

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