Humavoid – Trapped Inside Aluminum RainTuesday, 20th October 2020
Certain bands strike you at the right time. Take the four-piece Humavoid from Finland. Containing elements of progressive metal, aggressive djent accents, as well as jazz, fusion, and symphonic twists – its evident throughout their latest album Lidless that they wish to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable within metal, while also maintaining a semblance of strong grooves and hooks that you can retain. Taking much of their music school training into unheralded directions is also exciting – record to record the expectations will be high that they’ll deliver something special.
We reached out to keytarist/ vocalist Suvimarja Halemtoja and guitarist/vocalist Nico Kalliojärvi on Skype recently and they were happy to share their thoughts on the band. We talk about their backgrounds, their evolution from Dotma into Humavoid, signing with Noble Demon, their outlook on imagery and video work, plus discussion on how they work out their songwriting and a little bit of pandemic/ Meshuggah talk.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell me about your musical memories growing up in childhood – and how you eventually gained an interest in picking up an instrument and moving into heavy metal?
Suvimarja Halmetoja: Of course I was singing kids songs, and when I was six years old I started playing piano in music school, so there was a lot of classical music in my life. When I was a teenager I found metal through my brother, there was Metallica, In Flames, Children of Bodom – those were the three most important bands for me. After high school I went to study music, classical piano. When we started Humavoid, that was the first time I discovered the keytar. Back then I kind of changed from piano. That’s my story.
Nico Kalliojärvi: For me, I remember my older brother. It’s funny, what I remember from my teen years. But when I went through my brother’s collection as a teenager, a lot of that stuff sounded familiar – Pantera , Metallica, he listened to that stuff as a kid and I was just hanging out in his room. Later on, that’s the place where I got the seed planted in my brain. I tried a couple of instruments as a hobby when I was a kid, I started to make music on the computer. There were DOS-based programs on the computer, I started to make music, whatever music I felt like, and I was learning the guitar. So I tried to play the songs I created, and my composer side and instrumental side connected. It took a couple of years to connect that.
And then later on I tripped on heavy death metal stuff, slam stuff. Morbid Angel, Hate Eternal stuff like that- at the same time exploring the experimental bands like Meshuggah, the Chaosphere album, Cryptopsy from Canada, the Dillinger Escape Plan – and that’s how we are here.
Dead Rhetoric: Humavoid began in 2013, and you had previously worked with Niko in the power metal band Dotma. How did you make the shift in styles, and did you know straight away the style of progressive/aggressive metal you wanted to develop with this band?
Nico: That kind of music (in Dotma) was never my forte. I just threw myself into that new ballpark just to see what kind of happens. Getting out of my comfort zone and realize what happens. But then quickly we were looking for a singer, and we found Suvimarja, and then we realized that I still wanted to deliver more stuff than we were able to say in that band.
Suvimarja: I applied for the band because (Nico) asked me to. By that time we were in Dotma, we found our common language when it came to compositions. We were making songs together, and then we realized that we both wanted to do much more heavier stuff, more complicated.
Nico: The first songs that we made were kind of like… wherever we were musically with the old band, we were trying to drag that with the heavier direction, but of course there is only so much you can do with songs that are already halfway done. It ended up being (the album) Faster Forward, that we ended up releasing in 2014. We just wanted to have it out there as an excuse to go out there and play live. And after that we started to focus on what we really wanted to do. The rest is a little heavier from there.
Dead Rhetoric: Lidless is the group’s second full-length, and first for Noble Demon after being independent all these years. Where do you see the major differences in this release compared to your previous efforts like Faster Forward and the Glass EP – and was it a conscious decision for you to go more full force with the extreme vocals versus your clean, melodic voice that you employ at times?
Suvimarja: I changed from the clean to the harsh vocals because when we were playing live, the clean vocals that we did from the Glass EP, but on stage I have this energy that requires more of a heavier sound. Naturally I just started to scream, and I felt like I wanted to use more harsh vocals. There is so much energy in our songs that singing clean vocals in our songs was holding me back. It was a natural movement from cleans to harsh vocals.
Nico: But it was a happy accident. We knew that the album would be heavier than what we had done in the past, but we were initially surprised. It came out even heavier than we expected. In the studio, we first recorded one song and had harsh vocals, but towards the end of recording “What You Hide”, she was doing something by accident, screaming and growling that she experimented with. We thought that sounded cool, but when she started to do the song you hear on the album – we told her to do that again, redoing the whole song. And with the whole album, we went with the sound of the vocals that you hear now.
Suvimarja: And you asked about the record company. We wanted to stay independent artistically, and they have great support for the musicians. They let the bands do whatever they want and let the musicians do what they want. It was very convincing, as they are a smaller label but the individuals working there have a lot of experience from other, bigger companies. It’s a great combination – and we feel like we have from Noble Demon, we have a lot more views of our videos.
Nico: These days a band can of course release stuff independently, and we were considering that as well. We felt like Lidless is the first complete statement about what we are about. We wanted to have a proper release that would reach as many people as possible. Give the fans the whole package, with the help of the label we had this pre-order package, we focused on a good physical product, and good packaging with good graphics. With the help of a label, they could do their best job with the distribution and promotion and we can focus on the content the best way possible. They are doing a great job, it feels cool to have some talks back and forth.
Dead Rhetoric: What qualities or traits does Humavoid go for when it comes to the songwriting? How do you balance out the musicianship and intricacy/technicality while also injecting the right amount of hooks and melodies song to song?
Suvimarja: Thank you if you think the (songwriting) is well balanced. That’s what we really want to do – not to be too technical but lose the groove from this. But how do we do this?
Nico: We are focusing on combining the energy and experimental side. We want to have total freedom with the expression, but not doing it at the expense of the energy. We want to have the high energy because we are a metal band, we love progressive and fusion music too. There is an itch that we want to scratch, and there’s the heavy side. We want to think that those two elements don’t cancel each other out, they can co-exist.
Suvimarja: It’s hard to say how we do that! (laughs) When we are composing I think you feel the energy or don’t, then you ditch that part away.
Nico: Pretty early on we can hear if the song is going to be a more atmospheric one, or straight, in your face super heavy song. Although, one could argue that there is not much difference between those two styles on the album. We know which parts we want to emphasize and bring out more. There is a little bit of everything in each song, the song determines which elements are the main ingredient for a particular song.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it a conscious decision to include the two short interludes to act as a sonic breather on the record?
Suvimarja: Yes. I don’t remember why we started to record them. We were improvising, Nico gave me some ideas of what to play, and then I started to play. I didn’t know that he was recording my playing. It’s cool to have them there, and afterwards we decided which parts to use.
Nico: We knew that we wanted to have a couple of breathers to give some time to digest all that pummeling. In the end, we were thinking about the track list, and everything clicked. The first piano interlude, that was supposed to be the intro for “Matter”, but we decided to have it an individual track. Somehow the other one felt like a perfect intro for “The Breathing Method”, and in the end, people are talking that we have three sections of the album. And they may be divided by those intros, but that’s purely coincidental. Early on, we wanted to have these (interludes) but we didn’t know where we would put them. It’s pretty cool with the three acts, and we can spread the rumor that it was all thought out (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the development of your videos for the title track and “Aluminum Rain” – as I understand that as musicians you also have a big hand in the set designs and treatments of the video work? Do you believe it’s important to develop that proper cohesion and how you want to portray the band through this visual medium?
Suvimarja: Yes I think it’s important because, I have produced all our videos and my brother filmed one of our videos. It’s important to us that there’s some sort of concept, and a bit more to give.
Nico: Our vision is not just on the music side – we want to portray all the senses. There are no scratch and sniff speakers though (laughs). I think it’s important to convey the message you want to give to the listeners or the fans – the more channels that you have for it, the better you are going to get the point across. I think on some levels we have succeeded because in some interviews we were talking about the artwork, and the interview discussed that we are like an expressionist band. I said sure – whatever we do, let’s make it that way.
Suvimarja: In the videos there are no clear storylines. They are more like experiences, like modern art can be. They are not stories, you watch it from the start to the end and you have experienced something. But you may not be sure what it was. It raises some kind of feelings.
Nico: The basic ideas of the videos are related to the songs, but we also want to push the imagery. I think it would be easy for us to settle on the basic metal ingredients – playing in an industrial hall, have a couple of skulls, blood, and spikes, and that’s it. We want to see what else can you do – what kind of things that you can make look cool and act as a vehicle for the message. Push the limits, push the boundaries, but still making it look like it would appeal to a metal fan. Trying to speak with the language of the audience but trying to come up with our own words.
Dead Rhetoric: You studied music in college including some jazz/classical training – how do you believe this education shaped you as a person and as a player today, as I’d imagine it gives you more to work with in the context of the band?
Nico: I have a history of being in bands and touring before being in this band, before going to the music school I was self-taught. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew what I wanted. It’s more like a guesswork type of thing. When I went to music school, it gave me the words and names for the things I’m trying to achieve. I did things backwards, which I like because of the style and preferences of heavy music. I gravitated to pretty extreme music, then when I went to music school it made it more possible to mold whatever I had in my hands, develop these ideas instead of just using them as they come.
Suvimarja: I was first studying classical piano, and we were together at the jazz school. I think from classical school I got the technicality and discipline, things like this. After that, at the pop and jazz school I learned to really compose more effortlessly. There I found a language that we can use together, we can understand each other, because before that I was speaking classical music and he was speaking as a metalhead.
Nico: I was speaking chugga-chugga, duh-dah… and she was like ‘in which key?’ (laughs).
Suvimarja: It was a great time. We were stirring the pot.
Nico: It was great to have this in the founding stages of the band, the spark and determination and willpower that there was nothing we couldn’t do because we were bombarded with information about music. We had our own idea of where we wanted to go – they were not able to brainwash us, but we were able to absorb all the information and use it to our advantage.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s evident throughout that the work of Meshuggah is one of the more pronounced influences on the band. What are your fondest memories relating to that band – as far as albums or concerts that maybe had a profound effect on your outlook of the genre?
Suvimarja: I think I found Meshuggah through you, so I think you can answer this.
Nico: I remember when I think way back, in Metal Hammer magazine there was an interview where this weird Swedish band was talked about. After that, my friend and I, we were reading this and he got the first Meshuggah album Contradictions Collapse. He didn’t like it, I borrowed it and I loved it. From then on, I was trying to scour all the local record shops to get all the Meshuggah albums. It took a while, but I think Chaosphere is my favorite. They reached a point where they don’t sound like a band anymore, they are a death machine. We want to have the same kind of approach to music, that we don’t sound like a traditional rock band with the same old beats. This rhythmic force and that is beating you, and bringing harmonic content into that – chord progressions and melodies. At the same time trying to make it accessible on some level.
I saw Meshuggah for the first time live in 2004 and Nothing had just come out. They were touring on the summer festival circuit, and that was super cool. I think I had a couple tears of joy, maybe alcohol as well.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Humavoid when it comes to the live stage versus your studio work? What have been some of the more memorable moments when it comes to Humavoid in a live setting?
Nico: I think we are more brutal live. We like to focus on giving a good performance that the audience can enjoy. There may be some missed notes, but we don’t care. We just want to go and destroy everything.
Suvimarja: Yeah, having the show elements in our performance. The more memorable moments when it comes to live playing are the last gigs we had just before this coronavirus happened here in Finland with Stam1na, just before Christmas.
Niko: We are huge fans of their music. And they are one of the Finnish bands that are pushing the boundaries as well. I feel like they are musical soulmates, they have the guts to do something differently. There is a lot of good music, but it’s pretty traditional shall I say. It was great to finally get to play with them.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges Humavoid has to conquer as you establish more of a presence with your music on the international landscape?
Nico: Once people hear our music and take the time to digest it a little bit, they start to like it even more. If you give it a couple of spins, you realize there are so many different levels, all kinds of cross-references track to track. We are trying to squeeze each drop of some idea out of the permutations. I think a challenge may be a lot of people might here us, but how many people are going to break through this first impression of us just being a metal band? If it was a mystery box, how many people will open that?
Suvimarja: Our biggest challenge is to get people to listen to the songs more than one time. To listen three times and then decide if they like it or not.
Nico: At least my favorite bands, they are not like instant bangers one after another. You have to give a few shots.
Suvimarja: I enjoy music that I can listen to over and over again, and always find something new in it. So we try to do the same.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your hobbies and interests away from music when you have the time and energy to pursue them?
Suvimarja: I don’t have much, but I have guinea pigs that I take care of them, going to the gym. That’s it… because music takes a lot of time. I go to see abandoned buildings with my brothers. Urban exploring, that’s one of my hobbies that I wish I could do more often.
Nico: Having a band can take every minute that you are awake, doing something for it. I like to work out whenever I have the chance. I like a lot of random stuff – snowboarding. And we can do that in Finland.
Dead Rhetoric: What concerns do you have about the world that we live in today? How are you personally handling the pandemic situation?
Suvimarja: This has been exhausting because we have no gigs. Lucky we have had a lot of work to do, even without gigs. I’m hoping very much that this will go away, eventually.
Nico: If it looks like things are going better, we don’t know if it’s going to be the direction we want to do. In Finland, there was a huge downhill we experienced, and a little moment where it looked like things are getting better. But it was fake news. Globally, it’s uncertain. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. It feels like there could be some more disastrous things happening politically. There is one thing to be worried about – will we ever be able to travel across the Atlantic, or is this a little scare or everything will go back to normal?
Dead Rhetoric: What is in store for Humavoid over the next twelve to eighteen months? Will there be more single or EP releases in the interim while the band is waiting for more live shows to open up – or possibly starting work on the third full-length?
Nico: We are in the hopes that we can start touring maybe early next year. Of course, that just remains to be seen. When there is new music, it will be another full-length. My fingers are twitching to go to the guitar and start new ideas already. Nothing has been written yet.