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Interview: Marko Tervonen (Angel Blake)

Pure metal...interviews

It's been two years since the Swedish Death Metal outfit The Crown decided to call it a day, but some wounds have still not properly healed in the souls of their devoted fans. One of the few people who is capable of speeding up this process is guitarist Marko Tervonen, who continues serving the world of metal under the moniker of Angel Blake. How similar are Angel Blake to The Crown, and what is the friendly Swede's musical intentions? Well, read this interview and you will find the answers you are looking for.

Hi Marko. I am really happy, not only because we are doing this interview here, but also because we will soon be introduced to another release that carries your signature. Happy to be back?

Marko: Hi. Thanx a lot!!! Yeah, it feels nice to be back, and to start from scratch so to say. It feels exciting again-hahaha-.

Angel Blake

It's been almost two years since your previous band, The Crown, decided to call it a day and I'm sure that these were not the "best of times" for you as a musician. Can you now safely say that you have managed to put your past with them behind you?

Marko: Yeah. I'm really proud of what we managed to pull off with The Crown. With all the albums and touring. A lot of sweet memories. But then again, there was a lot of crap that came with it as well. Never on the personal level though, but we were working with a lot of weird people who just kept on ripping us off. I hope to see the warning lights earlier this time.

I was trying to figure out whether there was any specific meaning behind the name that you have chosen for the band, but I didn't manage to reach any logical conclusions - care to explain?

Marko: You're right, it doesn't make any sense. I actually just liked the sound of Angel Blake. I liked that it didn't 'represent' a certain genre or style. I guess a name like 'Satan Forever' tells that you're dealing with a Black Metal band. Angel Blake is pretty neutral, and that allows me to ignore musical boundaries in the future. I'm not saying I'm going to freak out and start playing reggae, but I like the fact that the band name doesn't scream out for a certain style. I'm a big Danzig fan and it's actually from a Danzig song title. I guess that's the most classic way to get a band name, to check the titles of your favourite artists. A lot of bands have pulled it of, Machine Head, Therion, Maze of Torment, World Below to name a few...

Did you begin working on the compositions for the Angel Blake release straight after The Crown's split up, or are these songs the product of an idea that was born after a long thought process?

Marko: Both. Some songs or parts were written during the years in the Crown. But they just didn't fit in. Actually I wrote 'Self-terminate' and 'Retaliate' for the Crown, and we even rehearsed them a couple of times before we called it a day.

But there are also songs I wrote from scratch, with Angel Blake in mind.

Angel Blake's music sounds quite far off in comparison, not only with the music that you played with The Crown, but also with Johan Lindstrand's recent effort with the One Man Army And The Undead Quartet. Now, you have mentioned in your press release about the reasons that brought you to such a decision and I totally understand and respect them. The question, though, is: do you feel that Angel Blake is an album that is capable of attracting the attention of people that have been following your career all these years, or is it simply targeting a totally new audience?

Marko: I think that if you were a hard-core Crown follower, you will recognize my style in these songs. In my mind it's not TOTALLY different. A song like 'Thousand Storms' is actually pretty similar to 'World Below', it's just that it sounds so different when the melodies are done on the vocals instead of the guitars.

I did some 'different' kind of songs in The Crown as well. Like 'Dead Man's Song', 'In Memoriam', 'Death By My Side', 'Bow To None' to name a few. And if those songs would have been sung with normal vocals, they would have turned out pretty close to the Angel Blake song.

I'm also aware that if a Crown-head expects to hear a 'Crown, markII', they would totally hate it. But if they would listen to it with no expectations, I'm sure they would at least NOT hate it. Not that I loose any sleep over it, ´cause I figured it out a long time ago, that the only thing I can do when I write music, is listen to my heart and just create whatever comes out of me.

The more I listened to Angel Blake, the more it felt like you were trying to make a statement, rather than simply releasing a new album. Is there any truth in such a statement? Did you feel that, after sixteen very creative years you had to once again prove yourself as a musician?

Marko: - Well, I like the fact that I'm 100% responsible for every second of audio you hear on the album. It felt cool to kind of set the tone for the debut album. It was a lot of hard work. By doing it all by myself it was of course 5 times the work. But when I listen to the album it feels very rewarding. I'm very proud of it!! I always try not to think about 'fitting' in into a style or whatever. I believe that the best songs are written when they are not thought out, it's better when you just let instinct take over. Lars Ulrich once mentioned this 'theory' in an interview, and when I heard it I immediately felt that 'yeah, that's it, it's true'. I guess I have always worked that way, but not just thought about it-.ehhh..

Well, Angel Blake is indeed a quite varied an interesting album, so we'd better start talking about it. As it is mentioned in the press release, your music mixes together elements from bands as diverse as Danzig, Paradise Lost, Metallica and Sentenced, and even though this sounds like a very weird recipe, the result is indeed quite tasty. Which are the common ingredients that these bands use in their music, which helped them blend so well into the Angel Blake sound?

Marko: Well - Paradise Lost and Sentenced are a bit related in my head. Melancholic, mid tempo, using a lot of minor chords etc. And Danzig is there for the 'darkness' and bluesy type vocal style and the groove. Metallica is a band that is SO in my blood that I will probably always consider them as an influence and inspiration.

Continuing on a similar train of thought: which are the elements that can be found in the sound of the album that can be credited as typical Angel Blake? Do you believe that this album is capable of providing something fresh to the already overflowing metal market?

Marko: I believe so. I think a blend of the melancholic metal music with GOOD clean vocals is hard to find. There are a lot of Death Metal bands that have evolved into this area, but they've kept the singer, and he has kind of made the transition from Death Metal style to clean vocals. Very few of those singers have pulled it of in my opinion. `Cause when you enter the world of rock vocalists, the level is immediately set EXTREMELY high. There are the Eddie Vedders and James Hetfields who have perfected their style for decades.

I think that 'Lycanthrope', 'The Forsaken' have the 'typical' Angel Blake sound. It's heavy, catchy but at the same time it sounds a bit-well, sad.

Angel Blake is an album, which I believe possesses a very welcoming nature, and whose very catchy and rhythmical refrains I found impossible to avoid singing along to. Now, there is a very thin line between making something so catchy but soulful, and something that is memorable simply due to commercial reasons, and I am happy to see that you have opted for the former rather than the latter. Do you think people who expected faster and heavier riffs from your new effort will manage to realise this?

Marko: I'm sure I'll get my share of accusations of 'sell out' and sh*t like that. But seriously, don't you think it would have been smarter and easier from me to continue riding on the Crown´s success and attempt to make a Crown markII? In my opinion THAT would have been to sell out. Instead I chose an uncertain path-

I'm actually doing what I've always done, just letting all the music come out of me very naturally and just following my heart. I´m a sucker for catchy singalong choruses, and I tried in a death metal way do those as well in The Crown. Some said that they always ended up humming my melodies-that's cool.

I got really fired up when I started writing the vocal lines, I just went with it. I had sh*tloads of ideas piled up in my head for this moment, to be able to write vocal lines for a singer. To work with Tony in the studio was cool, he knew what I wanted and he added some ideas here and there. It was really rewarding teamwork.

One thing that many people are probably not aware of is that you are not only the sole composer in the band, but also that you have recorded all the instruments by yourself. Was that a conscious decision? Which is the one instrument that you found to be the most difficult to work with in the studio?

Marko: The drums, for obvious reasons. Recording the rest of the instruments is easy, ´cause I can sit by the console in the control room and just playing. But the drums were more about running back and forth playing, listening, playing, listening. But before I started tracking the drums I had prepared by making good clicktracks with guitars, so I had music in my headphones playing, instead of just listening to the tick-tock metronome-

Then I also had some help from 2 drumming friends (Janne, who is now the drummer in Angel Blake. And Micke from a band called Lord Belial). They pounded the drums so I could soundcheck ´em properly.

But there were moments I was screaming to my self 'WHYYY?? WHY ARE YOU SO STUBBORN THAT YOU DECIDED ON RECORDING ALL THE INSTRUMENTS BY YOUR SELF!!!' But then on a good day it felt extremely rewarding sitting back listening to a good take.

Tell me a few things about the only other person who was involved in these recordings, Tony Jelencovich. He may not be the most well known singer in this world, but his contribution to songs like "Lycanthrope", "Self-Terminate" and "Thousand Storms" is beyond criticism. How did he become part of the picture? Is he also going to participate in any of the band's future recordings?

Marko: Tony is the singer of Angel Blake. In the studio and live.

I felt I needed someone between James Hetfield's & Nick Holmes' vocal range, `cause that was the vocal range/style I was aiming for. Tony's 'bluesy' approach to some melodies was just a bonus. I´m a huge Danzig fan so I was totally into it. I wanted someone who could carry a confident and honest feel in his voice. It just hit me one night when I was thinking about potential singers. I remembered hearing Tony on his Danzig cover band album Glanzig. And then I started listening to some Transport League material. When I heard the chorus to 'Wrapped dead inside' and 'Jesus came down' I knew that he was the man!!!!!!!!

Luckily I also knew Tony from before, we had played together with Transport and Tony also arranged some gigs to Crown as well, so I wasn't a total unknown dude who called him asking 'Do you wanna be my singer' ya know-hahaha

I am sure that when you are making such a varied album, you expect to see that different songs will appeal to different people. Are there any songs on this album, which you believe are going to attract the attention of the media? Do you ever consider the reaction of the press when you compose your songs?

Marko: I have figured out that I write the best songs when I let everything just happen naturally. But that doesn't mean that it's always that easy. Sometimes I can think that 'I need an uptempo song now', but then it comes out totally different. I really try to not think about who would like it or what kind of people would appreciate a certain song.

Most Metal Blade releases are quite "generous" seeing as they include either a few bonus tracks or a video - is "Angel Blake" going to be such a release? Do you guys plan on making a video for the new album?

Marko: I´m right now discussing the possibilities of making a video with a video company. I should know within the next couple of days. The plan is to make a video for the 'The Forsaken' song. I think it represents the album pretty good. And it's pretty catchy as well from what I've heard-.

It's always difficult to include good bonus stuff for a debut album. Since we haven't done any shows there's no live audio or video available I guess the album has to rely on the strength of these 10 songs.

I would like you to tell me a few things about two of the songs that I found completely irresistible, starting with "Self-Terminate". What was the idea behind this song?

Marko: I actually wrote this one for The Crown. I changed some minor things when I implemented it into Angel Blake. But it's a cool song. Mid tempo, groovy and it has some Morbid Angel guitar bends-I like it. The verse riffs are a bit similar to Kiss´ 'warmachine'-but what the hell. And the solo turned out cool as well. That was the first solo I did since a while back-.and it gave me confidence to continue soloing.

It may sound really strange to you, but the one composition that moved me more than any of the other songs that you have prepared for Angel Blake was "Autumnal". Those out of tune piano melodies filled my soul with both nostalgia and sorrow...I felt like a child again, sitting in front of my window on a rainy September day! What's your story?

Marko: That's pretty wicked that you explain it that way, ´cause that's the exact same image I see in my head when I listen to the song. Cool!! That's why I named it 'autumnal'.

The story to the songs is actually pretty funny. The Crown was in Studio Bohus working on the Crowned Unholy album. And during that session, the first serious talks started to surface about ending the band. And at that time I used to carry a Dictaphone (you know this little recorder you can carry around that many journalists have) with me, to be able to hum in some ideas that would pop in my head. And pretty much when we decided to end the band, I went to this piano that was located in one of the recording rooms, and the song wrote by it self in 20 minutes. And I liked it right away, so I pressed Rec on my tiny, fuc*ed-up Dictaphone and recorded it.

Just so that I could listen to it later to decide what I should do with it. And after a week I listened through the whole tape and there it was, the piano piece. I liked what I heard. The plan was first to record it 'for real' when I started working on the album. But I figured out that the original sound on the Dictaphone tape was really cool. The tape rolls in irregular speed, so everything sounds out of tune and then there's a lot of noise on it and recorded in mono. All that stuff just made it sound even more melancholic.

It sounds almost like it is played on a 50 year old vinyl player. But it's all totally not messed with, it's the original sound from this tiny tape.

I hope you don't mind me being so bluntly honest with you, but I really cannot understand the reasons which made you add this indifferent cover of The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" on the album. It is only my opinion, of course, but I would rather have another of those good songs that you have created.

Marko: You got to leave your listeners wanting more, right? Hehe- Nah, I really wanted to do 'Paint It Black' because I love the song. And the lyrics are killer. I thought it fitted right in with the album. I think that Tony's vocals fit perfectly to the song.

I am aware that this song has been covered 10000 times. But seriously, have you heard any GOOD versions?? At least the ones I've heard with Judas Priest, Wasp and a few more have been terrible. I intentionally wanted to stay true to the original since it's so damn good. I think a lot of bands do the mistake of trying to fix something that was never broken on the original versions.

I had an idea as well to cover an old Paradise Lost song. You know when they still had death metal vocals. I was interested in writing vocal lines to one of their songs, of course using the original lyrics. But I never figured it out if it would have been legal to do so-.

I think it would have turned out cool. The matter needs further investigation-.. I haven't completely dropped it yet.

17. OK, at the moment Angel Blake is more like a project, but you have mentioned your desire to make this a proper band. Have you already found any musicians whose skills fit well with the job description? Which are the qualities that a musician must have in order to become a member of Angel Blake?

Marko: Yes, the line-up is done. Tony Jelencovich - Vocals Marko Tervonen – Guitars Janne Saarenpää – Drums Örjan Wressel – Contrabass Christian Älvestam - Guitars

Mostly people I've known for years. All good musicians and even more important, excellent people. They come from known or unknown bands. I guess you know Janne, my homie from The Crown. Christian plays in Scar Symmetry and Unmoored as well. And Örjan is a new guy in the metal scene. I really think that this is a good line-up. It's going to be cool to deliver the music live with this line-up.

Now that you found the right people, will you take them on tour to promote the album? It will be a real shame if these songs are not performed in front of a live audience!

Marko: Yes, I wanna play live. I hope a cool tour offer comes up. But first I would like to do some festival shows in the summer. That would be perfect to get the name out, and then a tour in the autumn. But right now it's very difficult to predict. Maybe this album won't sell at all, then the booking agencies wouldn't care at all-. But I've read a few pre-reviews and they were really excellent. So let's see-

It is probably quite early to ask you such a question, but are you satisfied with this debut release? Do you plan on using a similar formula for your future releases?

Marko: I must say I´m really proud of it. I think it's a good debut album and hopefully people can listen to this without expectations. With that I mean of course that they don't assume that it's a Crown markII. I think the music turned out really good. And in the end, there are only two sorts of music, right? Good or bad music-

Marko, I would like to wish you every success for the "Angel Blake" and for the future of the band, but above all, thank you for doing this interview. Your message to our readers?

Marko: Thanx a lot for the bunch of well thought out questions. The pleasure was all mine. I guess people who like bands somewhere around the influential bands mentioned before, should definitely check this out. This could be your new fix ;-)

All the best and take care!!!!!

Interview © 2006 John Stefanis

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