Omnium Gatherum – Stuck Here On Tour’s WayTuesday, 25th July 2023
It’s mid-April and Markus Vanhala is exhausted. The Omnium Gatherum guitarist is on tour with his other but equally-as-important band, Insomnium, trekking across the States in support of Enslaved after wrapping an OG Stateside tour with Eluveitie. Vanhala admits to rarely knowing what city he is in but having a good handle on “where to find all the good Wal-Marts. They’re great a place to park and sleep.” But this is the chosen path for Vanhala. While Insomnium had a slight leg up on OG when Vanhala joined in 2011, OG is progressing through an unrelenting album and tour workload that has cemented its position as perhaps the most relevant melodic death metal band of its era.
With the dust settled on 2021’s Origin, OG issued the four-song Slasher EP, including a diabolical cover of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac.” It’s another excellent cover in line with the band’s renditions of Rush’s “Subdivisions” and Sepultura’s “We Who Are Not as Others.” And with former Arch Enemy and Arsis guitarist Nick Cordle now a full-fledged member, Vanhala and OG have started to think about their next full-length album. But first things first, Vanhala needs to finish the tour…
Dead Rhetoric: Can you put into perspective what doing these back-to-back tours has been like?
Vanhala: All the people change except the bus and the drivers. I’ve got a lot of cabin fever, but it’s cool. I’m in Minneapolis now and was here a month before when there was snow and now there’s no snow. You get to know all the places, like where is the best toilet. Touring in the USA means knowing all the best Wal-Mart parking lots.
Dead Rhetoric: You’re now a decade into the Insomnium-Gatherum experiment. How’s it working out? Pretty well, right?
Vanhala: It’s been working out but making me really busy. At some point, I want to go home again. [Laughs] It’s been great. Of course, I got this break during 2020 and 2021 from Covid, so it was a good time to recharge my batteries and find new things and approaches. The lockdown wasn’t all bad. Before that, I was doing 200 gigs a year with both bands. I needed the break. Now, it’s all good. Both bands are starting to tour a lot again. Everything is cool. I wrote a lot of music during lockdown and have put out two EPs and full-lengths with Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium. I’ve also been doing a new band, I Am the Night. We will soon be launching a new project that came up before Covid. It will be a really cool thing.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it back to power metal like Manitou?
Vanhala: Not power metal. It’s clean singing but Gothic metal.
Dead Rhetoric: Like Paradise Lost?
Vanhala: Yeah! Paradise Lost, Type O Negative, Sisters of Mercy. We have an interesting lineup, so I could say, yes, it could be a supergroup. We have a really good band.
Dead Rhetoric: How much do you think about scheduling so there are no conflicts between either?
Vanhala: Luckily, both bands have good eggs in them. We operate pretty far ahead, like 15 months. We usually know one year ahead for what’s coming touring-wise. It’s doable. Some guys have other jobs, and some don’t want to tour much. This is my profession. I don’t have any other jobs. I’m just a metal guy. [Laughs] I don’t know how, but if you have the will, there is a way.
Dead Rhetoric: When was the last time you held a day job?
Vanhala: About ten years ago. A little bit less than ten years ago. I was a guitar teacher. That’s what I did for many years — I had students. If you could say that’s a “real job,” but that’s what I did. I was in actual music schools teaching, so it counts as a real job.
Dead Rhetoric: I remember when you came here for the first time in 2013. Can you speak to all of the work OG has put into North America?
Vanhala: We’ve been building slowly. In both bands, we’ve been coming back a lot. With these two tours happening, I can say something is happening. There were some really good gigs. We can see the step up to the next level with better venues and bigger crowds. It seems that the cliched “Hard work gives you some results, finally.” That’s our mentality in both bands. We’re not up for overnight success. We just like to play and come back and do it the honest way. It seems like people are enjoying it, which is nice.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you see that Finland was recently voted the happiest country on Earth?
Vanhala: Yeah. I saw that. I think it was the second or third time in a row. I don’t know who they are asking! They didn’t ask me! [Laughs] I wouldn’t say Finnish people are the happiest on Earth. We have a happy life. Everything is okay in our country. We are all okay, but I wouldn’t call us the happiest. It’s all those people who are living in the Mediterranean or California — they look happier! But if someone is smiling, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Finnish mentality is more about not smiling but smiling inside where everything is okay, but you don’t show it to people. The Finnish mentality is not about bragging and making everything about yourself.
Dead Rhetoric: Maybe it’s more about being happy with what you have, right?
Vanhala: It’s a fucked-up Finnish saying, “Whoever has the luck has to hide it.” That’s it. People are hiding their luck. They are embarrassed if you are doing well at your job. Finnish people are easily embarrassed. We don’t want our neighbors to know we are doing okay. That’s probably different than in the US. In Finland, people are usually hiding their wealth.
Dead Rhetoric: Has any of this happened to you? People think you are wealthy or successful?
Vanhala: I don’t know what people are saying behind my back. I’m happily unaware. [Laughs] I haven’t seen much of it in my little town.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s pretty cool that Nick is now a full-time member of OG. Your first American in the band!
Vanhala: He’s great. He’s an insane player. Nick did two Insomnium tours as a stand-in. Those were really cool. We got Nick for OG for 70,000 Tons of Metal and last year’s OG tour as a fill-in guy. It’s always been so great to play with him. We thought taking an American guitar player didn’t make sense, but we thought not to think about it and brought him into the band. It’s going to be difficult with the distance, but it’s doable. These things are not always the easiest. That’s why we had this discussion and I don’t regret it. I’m a fanboy of this playing. I’ve been learning a lot about his chops—really great times.
Dead Rhetoric: Will you get him involved in songwriting?
Vanhala: Yeah, I think so. We’ve been throwing ideas around. We haven’t started writing the new OG album, but we should begin to after this tour. Nick has a good bunch of ideas. Of course, we’ll try to get him on board for the songwriting. I’ll be happy to have him as a co-pilot for OG. Nick was already doing leads on Slasher. His input is on the EP.
Dead Rhetoric: Have you considered that Spirits and August Light is now 20 years old?
Vanhala: No, I haven’t! A Finnish magazine posted on their Instagram, “Happy 20th anniversary for Spirits and August Light.” I read that post and thought, “What the fuck? Twenty years!” I missed it completely. It doesn’t feel like that. Svart Records did a 20th-anniversary reissue of the Steal the Light EP. It’s been a while, but retrospectively, it doesn’t feel like it. Thinking about the future, 20 years. I’ll be 60. [Laughs]