Horizon Ignited – Flames Burning BrightTuesday, 2nd August 2022
Many listeners within the melodic death metal community desire new blood to push the scene forward. For those who love a classic mix of the 1990’s early days with the finesse and energy of the present, you may want to look into Finnish sextet Horizon Ignited. They have quickly moved up the ranks since starting in 2017, signing with Nuclear Blast and releasing their second album Towards the Dying Lands – a strong effort that is chock full of memorable songs, squeezing in focused riffs and hooks that make you headbang from start to finish.
We reached out to guitarist Johannes Mäkinen who brought us up to speed on the quick attention the band got through Spotify on their debut album After the Storm which led to signing with Nuclear Blast, thoughts on songwriting and guitar playing within the band, talk of a future European tour run with Hypocrisy and Septic Flesh, plus a love for ice hockey and In Flames while also giving us insight into writing for the third album.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your earliest memories surrounding music going through childhood? At what point do you remember discovering heavy metal, and from there what spurred you on to pick up an instrument and want to perform your own music?
Johannes Mäkinen: The first things from the heavy metal world, they came from my friend. He played me CDs of Iron Maiden; I was probably like nine years old. That was the stuff we listened to, I played hockey. We had this CD player in a dressing room and the guys played all kinds of stuff from then. There was lots of metal – Iron Maiden and Disturbed. I started to listen to that and got into heavier music.
A few years later the guitar came along, so I would ask my mom if I could have my own guitar. I just got to play a real electric guitar at a music class in school. It was almost Christmas, and I got my Christmas present which was a guitar. I started playing from there. My parents didn’t give me lessons. We had some classes of music at school. We had a band course at school, we had a couple of students that we could play together with and practice being in a band. That’s where I got some set of skills for the guitar, a basic knowledge for music. I’m 90% self-taught as a guitarist.
Dead Rhetoric: You released the debut album After the Storm independently with Horizon Ignited in 2019. What are your memories surrounding the development and recording of this material – and can you discuss the Spotify success you received, garnering 100,000 plus monthly listeners in a short period of time?
Mäkinen: Yeah. Writing the After the Storm album, we had just started this band and pretty quickly we got this idea that we were going to make a full album as soon as we could. That’s the first thing we wanted to do with this band, have an album. And then when we release those songs, then we can play those live. That was our goal. It was a good goal to have, it put us to work. It was still fun, this band was relatively new, everything was new, and it was fun all the time. We hadn’t gotten fed up with anything at that point. The recordings of the album were fun as well.
We had the album ready, but we didn’t have any idea of what we should do with it. We just put it up on Spotify. There is this internal playlist where you can promote your newest single, and we did it. Apparently, they loved what they heard, and we ended up on some big playlists. The rest is history. We didn’t do anything else other than that. We were really surprised what had happened, we couldn’t have expected things to go that well. With the least amount of effort, we got the most amount of plays.
Dead Rhetoric: The band would sign with Nuclear Blast and now have released the second album Towards the Dying Lands. Where do you see this record in terms of songwriting, recording, and growth versus the debut album? Do you feel more comfortable as musicians to know where you want to go based on your abilities and confidence with each other?
Mäkinen: I would say this new album Towards the Dying Lands, we had a lot of talk with the band, and our common opinion about this album is that it’s a 2.0 of After the Storm. We moved forward in every section: songwriting, production, whatever. Everything just got better. It was an all-around improvement to our music.
I’d say that we haven’t had any problems that we would think ourselves that we don’t know what we are doing. We have always had the confidence with our music. We just need to find our audience. When it comes to the songwriting, there have been some improvements. We have found what we are good at and what we want to do and how to improve on the music. This second album, the writing process has taught us and helped us writing this third album. We have done some sort of stuff that we wouldn’t do again, but we’ve been able to put something new into the mix. I think we are doing very good.
Dead Rhetoric: As a six-piece the band incorporates an infectious mixture of influences across the melodic death metal and metalcore platforms. Are there specific elements and qualities that are essential components of a typical Horizon Ignited song at this point in time – and do you draw equally from influences of the past as well as the modern/present scene?
Mäkinen: Well, our songs they do have a distinctive style. All of the songs sound like they are coming from the same band in the same style. And we have bigger influences… for example In Flames. Like you said, there are a lot of different influences, because there are many of us in the band and the outcome of the music that we do is the multiple influences. We are just doing the stuff that we want to do.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the differences in your guitar playing versus Vili Vottonen – are there specific strengths that you each have that benefit the band’s overall sound as a whole?
Mäkinen: Ville is actually a good guitarist (laughs). That’s where we can start. I’ve been really lazy learning how to play, I know the essentials, but Ville is good at playing. He’s the lead guitarist, he does all the solos. I’m the clumsy one so I play the rhythms. That’s not a bad thing for us. I have my own playing style, Ville has his own, and when we mix them together, it’s the core of this band’s sound and the songs. There’s the simple stuff and the more advanced stuff. Where I may be better than Ville, I would say it’s in the songwriting, that’s my strength and a bigger passion for me than guitar playing. I love to write songs.
Dead Rhetoric: And what was it like to have Markus Vanhala of Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium do a guest solo on the title track?
Mäkinen: That was really cool. I like it. It’s fun that we got back up by him. He gave us his seal of approval that our music is good. That really feels good. It’s good to have him on board, and he did a killer solo. I’m glad we asked and glad he said yes.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Horizon Ignited when it comes to your live performances versus what the listeners hear on record? What do you try to convey to the audience, and what have been some of the more memorable performances to date for the group?
Mäkinen: Well, we haven’t performed too much to a live audience. We have done some small gigs here in Finland, but then the pandemic hit and shut everything down. I’m eagerly waiting for our European tour that’s coming up this fall to finally get to play on a proper tour. We will double the gigs under our belt with this tour. I’m waiting for that. Our performance, we want to showcase ourselves – punching people in the face with our music, straightforward back-to-back.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges that Horizon Ignited currently faces to establish yourselves even more when climbing up the ranks to develop more of a foothold against the thousands of other bands fighting for attention and staying power in the scene?
Mäkinen: I think we are doing good with the music. That’s the main product of this band, and every band I would say. You have to have your own music, and it has to be good. Where the difficulties lie, we need to get to the stages, we need the tours, we need the festivals, we have to get to play to the people. So that we are just not another band on the internet. We’ve got a good team backing this band up at this moment. We have management, a booking agency, and a record label – that stuff should sort itself out.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think the video work you’ve done to date also helps gain more traction in the scene?
Mäkinen: Yes, we’ve done two really good videos for the album. Our buddies here in Finland, they have been doing a lot of music videos, and the end result is professional. It’s up to par, and exactly what we are looking for. Music videos of course are expensive, so hopefully we get a bigger budget for the next record to make four good music videos instead of two. They will catch your eyes when you see these videos on YouTube.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is it to assemble the right team of people beyond the band members into management, booking agents, and behind the scenes people in order to promote the brand of the band into the right areas for success?
Mäkinen: It’s essential. One of the things you have to do. You can do a lot of stuff on your own, nowadays. You don’t necessarily need a record label, but then you are just facing a lot more work if you are doing a lot alone. You can’t be the best at everything at the same time. You need people to be able to help you. We’ve been struggling to book our own gigs, forever. Now we have someone to do it, look what happens – we have a tour.
Dead Rhetoric: What does it feel like to be able to tour in the fall across Europe with Hypocrisy, Septic Flesh, and The Agonist – as I’d imagine it’s a dream tour package where you’ll make a good impression with the right cross section of metal audiences worldwide?
Mäkinen: It is a really good first tour for us. None of us could have even imagined something this big. We were expecting something a little more with smaller bands – but we are going to start in the deep end. We have a good set up, a good lineup for this tour, and I’m really looking forward to this happening.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some hobbies and interests that you have away from music when you have the free time and energy to pursue them?
Mäkinen: I personally like hockey. As I mentioned earlier, I played ice hockey for six or seven years when I was younger and quit at the age of fourteen. That’s one of the sports that I love. Every winter I am waiting for the outside ice rinks, to play a little bit. Try a few slapshots, skating a little bit. That’s a nice thing to do. I visited the US back earlier this year, in January. I was in Florida and was about to go to one of the NHL games but then we backed out at the last moment because COVID-19 was getting worse. Wait for a better moment. Maybe we’ll be able to see an NHL game when we go on our first US tour.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest worries and concerns that you have regarding the world that we live in today?
Mäkinen: That’s a tough question. I’m worried about certain stuff. People aren’t getting along with each other, as they should. People aren’t being too polite to each other. You should get along with everyone in some sort of way, at least. You don’t need to love everyone, but you still need to get along.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned earlier in our talk the band’s appreciation for In Flames. Is there a particular era that the members of Horizon Ignited favor most?
Mäkinen: I’d say I love the whole catalog, solid stuff. I personally love the stuff from 1998-2010. Those are my favorites. That’s where most of my influences have come from. The new stuff, it’s good – but I don’t think it’s as good as the stuff ten years ago, or the earlier records. There is this twelve-year window when I thought they were at their best. I saw them live a couple of times, the first time was in 2011 and the next time was 2012. That was only one year separation, but they are a solid live band. Good gigs, but not the most revolutionary live show to me. I enjoyed every second of the shows.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year or two looking for Horizon Ignited as far as activities now that the album is out? Have you already begun work behind the scenes for the third record – and if so, how do you see these initial ideas shaping up?
Mäkinen: Yeah, it is shaping up really well. For the next couple of years, we hope to be touring, at least a couple of tours. Kind of establish this band as a live performing band. Then we will finish up the next record, and I hope the release happens in two years. We can’t really tell, it’s a work in progress. Maybe we will come up with new and better ideas. I think we will do an even better record for the third time. That’s what we are aiming for, always.