Oddland – Progressive Dynamics

Sunday, 27th March 2022

Progressive metal/rock has gone through major changes over the decades. The modern scene has incorporated varied elements of sound, style, technicality, and influences to mold versatility and variety like never before. Finnish act Oddland are one of those new generation of acts that aren’t afraid to juxtapose rhythms, tempos, softer parts and louder elements all within the same song – plus melodic and growl voices, acoustic guitars, even saxophone when necessary to get their ideas across. Their latest album Vermilion incorporates an intoxicating fusion of djent, progressive metal, and progressive rock textures – bringing acts from Leprous and Pain of Salvation to Tool, Opeth, Faith No More or even Meshuggah/Gojira-like aspects into the mix.

We reached out to guitarist/vocalist Sakari Ojanen and bassist Joni Palmorth who delved into the making and execution of Vermilion, band chemistry and responsibilities, favorite live shows, memories winning a music contest and launching of the first album, plus future plans.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about your early memories with music in childhood? At what point did you decide you wanted to pick up an instrument, perform, and start gravitating towards heavier and progressive forms of music?

Sakari Ojanen: My very first memories are getting a Christmas gift when I was six years old. It was a big package, and I was really excited. Then I opened it, it was a guitar, and I was so disappointed (laughs). It’s not what I wanted at all. I had said something about wanting to learn to play the guitar, but I had forgotten about this. Let’s say seven years later, I picked up the guitar again. And ever since I have been playing. That’s my first memory.

Joni Palmorth: I think you were fourteen or fifteen. I got my first bass when I was six years old, and I hated it. My neighbor wanted to play the guitar and convinced me that bass is way cooler than a guitar. My brother bought me the bass, and I hated it. I started playing guitar when I was nine, I took acoustic guitar lessons for three years. Because of Sakari, I changed from guitar to bass because we met when we were fourteen, almost immediately we started to play together. We formed some sort of band, and over the summer Sakari got so much better playing the guitar than me, so I switched back to bass because of that. That’s the road I am still on.

When we started we played thrash metal: Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica.

Ojanen: I think we played some Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains as well.

Palmorth: I don’t know when it was (when) we started leaning towards more progressive stuff.

Ojanen: When we got older, we started getting into more progressive music, I guess it came along with that as well. Dream Theater, Opeth, and I don’t know what else. Jussi (Poikonen) is the most studied musician in our band. He studied the guitar quite a bit. I’ve learned some theory along the way, just to be able to talk about some of the stuff that is going on. I wouldn’t say we are theoretical first in our approach, but a hybrid of those two aspects, I think.

Dead Rhetoric: Vermilion is the third album for Oddland. Where did you want to go in terms of songwriting, approach, and performances this time around? How do you view this album compared to the previous two outings?

Ojanen: It started with Ville our drummer who does a lot of composing in our band. He had the first draft of the main piece “Vermilion”. I got really excited and then we started working on it, it was already a twenty-minute piece when we started on it, and almost thirty-minutes when we started adding vocals and playing with the structures. That was the backbone or core of the album. We added on to that.

Palmorth: The second question – compared to the previous albums, this is way more experimental. We did a lot of experimenting with sounds and soundscapes, song structures that we destroyed all the normal things and made it into something that hasn’t been done a lot in this kind of music, modern progressive metal.

Ojanen: We tried to make an album, something that when we were composing it there was a lot of reflection on how well does this part translate into the next one, does the dynamic work here, and what does this part need? When we decided to make the record a bit longer, it was done by the terms of the music and what we needed to flow forward after the main piece. This was a more conscious effort in that way, I’m prouder of this one entity that is the album.

Palmorth: In a way we took a big risk with this (album). It’s not an easy piece to swallow. You need to listen to it multiple times to really get into it. There (are) a lot of things going on. The song structures aren’t conventional or normal. There is a lot of weird stuff, reverse vocals, saxophone in places where you don’t expect it.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the title track come about, executed in five parts? How much of a challenge is it to develop such an epic arrangement, breaking things out into specific sections, and still maintain the interest of the listeners given the varied elements contained throughout?

Ojanen: The best person to give an answer to that would be Ville, as he had the first draft of “Vermilion” done. I feel it was a good place to start. We had to work on it a little bit, the first version was more hectic, there were more changes, they were too fast. If it was an eighteen-minute song it would have been too much to take in. I don’t know, it was fun, natural to work on. It was easy, it was such a strong composition that it was easy to build on. In that way, it came naturally to find its form.

Palmorth: I remember when I first heard the whole piece, I was thinking how can we do this, how can we play this? There are so many bizarre parts, how can we make it good? Like Sakari said, it all flowed pretty naturally part to part, to arrange them and put together.

Ojanen: At first there were no vocals, so a big part was working on the vocal melodies, building the lyrics. That was the major part in making the song flow. There was a lot of tension and work into making the vocals and the lyrics.

Dead Rhetoric: Which is more difficult to tackle – the guitar work and composition duties, or your vocal melodies and placement? It seems like that has to be a balancing act for you, especially when it comes to the dual duties performing live?

Ojanen: Yes (laughs). When we are composing, I am not thinking at all how I can do this live. Sometimes it’s easier, sometimes there are parts that I am learning to execute to do vocals and play guitar. I can’t just learn it and be able to technically perform it, I have to perform the vocals with precision and feeling. The last two records are the same, there can be challenging guitar parts. With time, it becomes automatic, and I don’t have to think about what I’m playing, I can just do the vocals and guitars. That’s the aim, but it takes some work.

Palmorth: That’s your superpower. That is something you are very good at, playing and singing at the same time. There are a lot of harmonies that myself and Jussi will need to do live. I’m not a good player and singer at the same time, it’s very hard when you are playing syncopated riffs and where other things need to go.

Dead Rhetoric: Are there specific characteristics that have to be present to make for an ideal Oddland composition? And how have you seen the band grow in terms of your progressive rock/metal style from the start until today?

Ojanen: Specific elements. One thing we do quite often is play with dynamics in the songs. To make softer parts, harder parts, I guess that is one element that repeats throughout our discography. It kind of just happens, we don’t do it consciously.

Palmorth: A lot of our songs are based on one rhythm and there are a lot of variations on that one rhythm. That’s the way in almost all of our songs. You take “Unity”. It’s based on one rhythm, and it (varies) a lot, it’s not that obvious always.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you come across as far as the lyrical content? Does that change album to album, or do you go for similar themes?

Ojanen: I guess all the lyrics on all the albums are quite introspective. It has to do with me being a psychologist and psychotherapist. It’s the kind of things that I tend to go to in my thoughts, the human mind. For this album, there was like Ville in addition to the composition he had themes that he had thought of for each part. What we did is he described the themes and I tried to form the themes into song lyrics, short themes. That was fun, and a creative way to approach this.

Palmorth: I think Ville had already named the five parts.

Dead Rhetoric: And how do you place the growls around the clean vocals – are you very specific in where those parts go?

Ojanen: I actually don’t do the growls, that’s Ville who does them, and live it’s been Joni. We feel it out where it might fit and might be needed. Sometimes as a stylistic thing. I feel it depends on the music. It has the most power when it’s done a bit less, more like a monster when it comes to sing or tell you something. I find it fun to use like that.

Dead Rhetoric: Take us back to winning the Suomi Metal Star competition in 2011 held at the Finnish Metal Expo. Did it surprise you that this would launch your career and aid the studio expenses for your debut album The Treachery of Senses released the following year on Century Media?

Ojanen: It surprised the hell out of us. We were conscious about that we are a bit of a marginal (band). We were very ecstatic to be chosen. I think it’s still helping us, because people like yourself are still referencing this right now. It makes people interested, these guys have won a contest so I will listen to the music they play. Sometimes in a bad way, but at least they listen.

Palmorth: It was a very big surprise that we won because in the finals there was a metalcore band, a thrash band, a full metal band. All those would have fit on Century Media, and I felt like we were the underdog. Surprisingly, we won.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the differences between Vermilion on record and on stage? What do you want the listeners and audience members to get out of these performances, and what have been your most memorable shows to date for the band?

Ojanen: Performing live, we try to execute the music so that its pretty close to what you hear on the album. Not that it’s exactly perfect, but pretty close. Sometimes when I go to a concert, if it’s too different for this kind of music it leaves you disappointed, at least in this genre. I want to live up to the sound of the album. Also live, there is quite a lot with the vocals. It’s so satisfying to express yourself with singing, and you know people are hearing it, it’s an important part of the performance. Try to convey the feeling in the music, feed off the audience. That’s the best part for me, maybe.

Palmorth: And I would say the best gigs we’ve had, were in the Netherlands. ProgPower in 2013, and Headway the same year. Those are the most memorable. Tuska was memorable too. Those two Netherlands gigs, the atmosphere was so good on those.

Ojanen: Those probably stand out.

Palmorth: And also, our first album release party in our hometown. That was a big gig.

Ojanen: The last tour we had some good shows. The audience is biggest on the festivals, but on tour live we were the best we have ever been. I remember playing in Paris on that boat, that I had a good feeling, it was a special thing towards the end of the tour. We had come into our groove, it was easy, effortless, and the audience felt this as well. It’s fun to see when you are playing as a support band, people don’t really know you, and they are sitting there and see them tenacious when the show begins and when the show ends, they are impressed. That’s why we do those shows and tours, to leave a mark on the listeners.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the band chemistry and relationships within Oddland? Do you share in the outside responsibilities that it takes to get things done for band activities and business dealings beyond the music?

Ojanen: That’s a good question – it shows that you have been around for a while. Those things matter. We all take care of different stuff. The responsibilities go around pretty evenly. Ville does a big job making the videos, and we share the business side of things, writing emails, getting things done. We’ve been the same lineup since 2009.

Palmorth: Jussi came in during 2009, and Ville, Sakari, and myself have been together since 2001. Over twenty years.

Ojanen: We get along. Of course, we have some fights. This is the kind of band where I think it would be hard to replace somebody. There are some bands when they get further into their career, people have different interests and then they replace the player and it works, the founding members continue. I feel this band is these four people.

Palmorth: The chemistry is very important. This is an equal band; we are all the main guys. That’s why it’s important for us to all come together. I would say we are best friends.

Dead Rhetoric: Where would you like to see Oddland develop over the next two to three years? Is the band realistic in terms of making a career versus having to make a living through other day job/side job means?

Ojanen: We are realistic about not pursuing this to make a career for any one of us. In terms of where we see ourselves in two to three years. I’m willing to do the work to get another album out in two to three years. We have a common goal to see this band grow and get to the next stage. To be able to do a headlining show someday, a tour. Maybe be able to sustain the activity and records, the business side, so that we could continue to do this without having to invest so much money in our hobby. We are semi-professional, it’s not a hobby but not a full profession either.

Palmorth: There are no restrictions as far as how far we can go. We want to go as far as possible. We don’t mind getting that big that we would be able to make money. We have to be realistic about this.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Oddland or other musical endeavors for the members that we can expect over the coming year or so?

Ojanen: The next year, we have a tour kind of lined up. Because of the situation in the world, we haven’t been able to make the final confirmation. We have a couple of festival shows coming up. We will start to write the next album and do the same all over again. We’ve paid our dues and we kind of know what we have to do. Now we know how we want to proceed.

Palmorth: We want to do the next album as soon as possible, within two years. I think we’ve been happy with Uprising! Records. They are doing a lot of promoting for the record, and they are always available when we ask questions. I think our relationship is very good.

Ojanen: I don’t want to go label shopping; it can slow things down again. I hope the record sells enough to continue with us.

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