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Markus Vanhala (Omnium Gatherum)

Pure metal...interviews

It is really quite an embarrassing moment when, during an interview, you realise that the information that you have for a band is partly incorrect. I was not willing to allow that to spoil my chance to ask guitarist Markus Vanhala, of the Finish Metal band Omnium Gatherum, as many questions as I possibly could regarding the band's latest studio release "Years in Waste". It is not every day that a band from Finland manages to make their neighbouring Swedes dead envious of their music.

I would like to start this Interview by asking you to give us a short bio of the band.

Markus: Hello! OMNIUM GATHERUM is a new wave death metal combo from the wastes of Finland, from the city of Kotka. We produce complex but accessible death metal that incorporates elements of thrash and traditional metal, words used also to describe our music have been 'melodic' and 'progressive'.

OG was formed in 1996, because of the influences by Death, At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames. We recorded 4 demos between 1997 and 2001, and made lots of gigs which produced lots of positive buzz upon our name on the underground metal scene. The 4th OG demo called 'Wastrel' was in fact the first demo we ever sent to any labels and it lead to the deal with English Rage Of Achilles label. RoA released our debut mCD 'Steal the Light' and 'Spirits and August Light' album and those releases got lots of words of praise and even some 'Album of the month' titles even in big metal magazines. For example Metal Hammer, Kerrang and Rock Hard etc. wrote that OG is something like a new wave of death metal... When it was time to record the second album 'Years In Waste', our label Rage Of Achilles told us that they are not able to release our new album because they were out of money and quit their business when we were already in the studio. So, we sent a few promos of this new album to some companies and gladly we got few great offers. Nuclear Blasts offer sounded the best one and we signed to them and 'Years In Waste' and also re-release of 'Spirits and August Light/Steal the Light' came out through NB in November ´04.

Why did you choose to give this specific name to the band? Do you know that there is an Australian Death Metal band out there that is using the exact same name?

Markus: Yeah, we know about the Aussies but in fact we have had this name before them and we are older band than they are. I think there's still room for two OG´s in one world as they are on the opposite side of the globe than us, hehe! We picked up this name from the medical dictionary of our former keyboardist's doctor father; at the time we read that dictionary book often to check out what Carcass Necroticism lyrics were all about. OG means something like peculiar mixture, miscellaneous collection, freak circus or something. I think those phrases describe very well our band and our music and things going on... Even though I hated this name in the beginning, it was then the worst and the non-cool band name I had heard, but I have learnt to like it now and it's very different from the basic cliché metal names. Even I have to admit that Latin metal band name is also a big cliché in some ways of course...hehe!

The members of Omnium Gatherum are involved in quite a few projects that represent many different styles of music, from Progressive Heavy Metal to Grind, yet you chose to "fight" under the Swedish Melodic Death Metal "banner". What made this the obvious choice?

Markus: It has never been an obvious choice to do this kind of stuff- things just happen the way they do. In the beginning we listened to a lot of this Swedish thing, so I guess that this justifies some of our roots. But I think, or at least I hope, that you cannot anymore call our stuff basic Scandinavian death metal as there's lot more in this new 'Years In Waste' album. There are also some band projects in the OG camp like traditional heavy metal in Manitou, Brutal death in Total Devastation and others but I think that OG is the main band now. There's yet some time to do other things also and its great therapy to make different kinds of stuff and it also helps OG, I think. This way you cannot get bored so easily.

I would like you to describe the band's sound and music, and also to tell me which are the elements that we can find in Omnium Gatherum that are also present in your side projects.

Markus: If I quote my first answer of the interview here a little bit to describe our music... "So, it's complex but accessible death metal that incorporates elements of thrash and traditional metal also". We have also this melodic and progressive edge on our music. There are two main elements combined on our music; brutal aggressive side and emotional melodic side and these two things must be in balance and Antti´s growling upon them and there comes the OG sound. The same elements can also be found in our side projects, hmmm.... Metal? Haha!

Which are the bands that have influenced and inspired you to create your personal sound? I can mention a few Swedish bands like In Flames and At The Gates, but also more atmospheric outfits like Opeth and Katatonia. If you had to choose between being an Atmospheric or an aggressive band, which "side" would you chose to follow?

Markus: Maybe the decision would then go to the aggressive side as the main point in our stuff is that death metal thing, but we chose to blend and combine those two sides in our music. When OG was formed we listened to a lot of that Swedish 90´s metal thing, I mean At The Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, Edge Of Sanity, Entombed, Dismember, Dissection and also those more atmospheric Swedish bands like Opeth and Katatonia. From the Finnish bands our influences were in the beginning the old Sentenced and the old Amorphis. Bands like Death, Annihilator, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Morbid Angel, the projects of Devin Townsend, Ozzy, Meshuggah, Dream Theater, Emperor for example have influenced me a lot. Nowadays this variety in our stuff comes there that all the dudes in the band are listening to so much different music from Metal to The Who to Johnny Cash to The Doors to Massive Attack to Jazz music etc... I guess we are getting old indeed as we don't listen only to brutal growling metal 24/7 anymore... hehe!

Omnium Gatherum

What is the reaction of the people who listen to your music when they realise that the band's origin is not from Gothenburg, but from the neighbouring country Finland?

Markus: I don't know...though we are not such a Gothenburg-like band in my opinion at least not anymore. It's true that many people have said that we don't sound like a basic Finnish metal band and I think that's cool indeed. There are enough of these Finnish-like bands in Finland.

You have quite recently released your second studio album "Years In Waste" through Nuclear Blast records. When did you first start composing material for it, and what was your original intention?

Markus: We started to compose this album somewhere after our previous 'Spirits and August Light' album recording sessions in the fall 2002 and the last song (Black Sea´s Cry) was finished about a week before we went to studio to record it. The original intention was to get together enough songs to do a new album and this new album should be better and a more versatile album than the previous one. I think we managed to do it well, as this 'Years...' album beats our former releases big time!

How many composers do you have in the band, and what is the process that you use to bring together all the different ideas into one song?

Markus: Me and Harri composed this new album 50/50 in the first place and of course everybody throws own ideas and arrangements to the soup and then Antti makes lyrics and vocal lines on top of the song. My working style is nowadays something like that I record new riffs all the time at home and I have dozens of md´s full of material, then some parts find themselves and after some arranging and composing, the song is ready to take to the rehearsal place. Or sometimes we do the songs through jamming in the rehearsals or sometimes it takes 15 minutes to do the whole song from the beginning to the finished song at home. 'Auguries Gone', the last song of the album, I composed in about 15 minutes at home jamming with my recorder. Then sometimes some jokes come alive in rehearsals, for example the main riffs of the song 'Misanthropic (Let the Crown Fall)' were jokes at first but then it bred the song. So, sometimes its easy, sometimes veeery hard.

When I wrote my review of the album I mentioned that I felt a constant battle between the keyboards and the guitar. Not having listened to any of your previous efforts I would like to ask you whether a) you agree with my impression and b) whether this is the same approach that you followed in your previous releases.

Markus: I disagree with that 'battle' between keys and guitars, as we have always used keyboards with low volume under other instruments only to spice the music up a bit and create atmospheres behind the lines. Keys must not dominate the music as then it goes to some dark metal shit and that's not our thing then.

Name one thing that makes the sound of Omnium Gatherum stand out from the rest of the bands that play a similar style of music.

Markus: This is better stuff and we have our own individual sound! =) ...errr, we have new kind of ‘soup’ containing different metal styles melted together and unusual metal lyrics on top of the bill. Throw into same boiling pot an At The Gates album, an Iron Maiden cassette, a Death CD, a Katatonia album, Awake/Images&Words times Dream Theater songs, a cultural anthropology student, Finnish rage, Finlandia Vodka, traditional HK´s blue sausage, finally spit on top of it and then the OG soup is ready.

Is there some sort of a "hidden" message behind the title of the album? Are you by any chance referring to the band's early years?

Markus: I really don't know much about that, but it's really not about OG`s early years as then it would be 'years in the boiler-room'. That's kind of a theme to Antti´s lyrics or something...teenage years in scheisse, that's the theme so far as I guess I know! ...and I bet that I don't know it.

Which are the subjects that you like to address with your lyrics? Is Antti (Filppu: vocals) the one who contributes the most in this respect? How important are lyrics in general for Omnium Gatherum?

Markus: Antti writes all the lyrics and the rest of us don't know much about them. This new album is something like a theme album and it's like a journey to the depressive days of wasted youth. For Antti the lyrics are very important and he uses a lot of time and brains to write them. The lyrics are important also that way that they also in someway create some spirit around the music and create some sophisticated image for the band.

How does the artwork that you chose for the cover of "Years In Waste" relate to the music and the lyrics of the band? It is indeed a very sad and pessimistic picture! Who is the artist that created it?

Markus: Olli Lappalainen has made this album cover and he is also responsible for every single artwork that we used since the first cassette demo from ´97. Olli was also the original singer of OG back in the nineties-years, so it's great to have him on board still on the art side. We just told to him the title of the album 'Years In Waste' and he made this cover based on lyrics and the title and this was his view of what years in waste look like. I bet that man on the cover has had his own wasted years...

The recordings of the album took place in Finnvox Studios in Helsinki/Finland. How come you decided to record your album there, and not in a place like the Fredman Studios, a place that would have been the obvious choice?

Markus: We recorded and mixed the album in Sonic Pump studios NOT Finnvox studios. The first thing is that the Sonic Pump studio is about 100km´s from our home so it was very much easier to be two months here near home in Finland than in Fredman which is in Sweden. Other thing is that a big number of bands especially in this same genre are using Fredman studios so they all have same sounds on their records. We thought that we want little different soundscape to our record to stand our from those others...

Omnium Gatherum

You have also decided to remain "loyal" to Mika Jussila, and use him once again as the producer for your new album. How important is his contribution to the band's sound? Is there some special relationship between him and Omnium Gatherum?

Markus: Mistake again on infos... Mika Jussila is not the producer - he only mastered the album. He's just the best Finnish metal masterer so it was obvious choice to use him. Teemu Aalto and Nino Laurenne from Sonic Pump produced, engineered and mixed this album and we have a really 'loyal' relationship with Nino as we have made all our three releases there and the chemistry is working big time with him. Teemu was then our friend from the local studio and he knows how this band should sound and his contribution on the album was quite big on the sound political side.

How would you describe the feeling knowing that you were just recording your very first album for a big Metal label such as Nuclear Blast? Did it add any extra tension for the band while the album was being recorded?

Markus: We didn't know at the time that we were recording this album on a big label Nuclear Blast as this album should've been still released through Rage Of Achilles, our previous label... But when we were already recording this album then RoA told us that they don't have enough money to pay our album and that they were quitting the label. So, only tension in the studio was that we started to search a new label to release our album and pay our studio bill. Gladly some offers came soon and NB was the best option to choose.

How did you originally get in contact with your new label, and which are the main differences between them and Rage of Achilles - your previous label?

Markus: NB was interested from us after the 'Spirits and August Light' album and they would have wanted to license the album then when it was released through Rage Of Achilles but RoA declined that. After Rage Of Achilles quitted their business at the time we were recording this album, we sent the new promos to few companies and right after NB heard the new album they liked it and signed us. The main difference between Rage Of Achilles and Nuclear Blast is their size; Roa was UG-label and NB is a major label. So, of course we were RoA´s priority band nr. 1 and we are not nr. 1 band in NB... But when things are big they are also working better.

What do you think about the album now that you can be more objective? Does the final result satisfy you as an artist? Were the reactions that you received from both your fans and the music press the ones that you hoped/expected?

Markus: Feedback's varied, most of the feedback has been very positive but then there are of course always some bad ones. You cannot please everybody and when you get some negative feedback you always remember those more clearly even though there would be only 2 bad reviews and 20 good... But, I think still that this is really the best release I have ever done and that's enough for me. I can even listen to this record at home sometimes and that's new for me! The Media have also hailed this album as really original and individual stuff in its own genre and OG having its own thing going on, and that's important I think.

Give us an idea of what we should expect from the band's live performances. Have you already booked any shows for the promotion of "Years in Waste"?

Markus: OG´s live act includes lots of sweat, energy, tight playing and aggressive behaviour. We have booked lots of shows in Finland, we just completed the 'Dead Achilles' mini tour. There's also a mini tour with Dismember on the way and many dates with Before The Dawn in Finland. There have been also bookings to a few big festivals in central Europe, we'll see. We are also discussing about some support slot to some European tour options, we'll also see about that... Hopefully these and more things will be confirmed soon!

Your country has given birth to many well known Metal bands like Amorphis and Children of Bodom, but what about Finland's underground Metal scene. Are there any new bands that are really worth mentioning here?

Markus: There are lots of them really! The Finnish metal scene has exploded big time, I could even call Finnish metal markets to be overcrowded as every town has dozens of metal bands. Some really great new bands to mention here are Diablo, Amoral, Elenium, Kiuas, Mors Principium Est, Wintersun, Machine Men, Callisto, Before The Dawn and if I can also advertise some OG-related projects, check Manitou and Total Devastion, hehe!

How have you pictured the band's future? Are we to expect a totally different musical proposition from the band's next studio album?

Markus: We don't plan the bands musical future at all, what comes it comes. The next album is going to be Metal - that I can guarantee! As you can also see on our three last releases the style and quality have been refined and have developed quite a lot on every release so that might continue further. Future plans would include a proper international supporting tour coming soon. Hopefully something like this will happen...

What made you become a musician in the first place? Is it really worth being one anyway?

Markus: After I saw the Kiss Animalize live video and old Guns´n´roses videos when I was about 7 years old I was sure that I wanted to become a 'rockstar' and play guitar. I have also been listening a lot to Ozzy, Iron Maiden and Wasp since I was six years old. Then at the age of 15 I formed OG after a few different bands. If you want to earn a lot of money and live a great and a healthy normal life and do every time everything that your girlfriend wants - then it's not wise to become a musician... Most often its worth to be a musician I think but sometimes it sucks big time! =)

A message to the subscribers of Get Ready to Rock and the band's fans.

Markus: Check out OG stuff and get ready to rock! See you sometime somewhere!

Interview © 2005 John Stefanis

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