Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Interview with Sami Hynninen (Opium Warlords, ex-Reverend Bizarre and many more)

Metantoine's Magickal Realm: I see you as a grand wizard part of the doom metal council at the top of some white towers, I know you've been kind of inactive in the purest tradition of the genre but what do you think is the state of doom in 2014? I personally think some of the innovations (see Pallbearer) are tacky.

Sami Hynninen: Yes, it is true that I am out of the scene in many ways, also as a follower of actions of other bands. I have heard some of the newer ones, but nothing really mind blowing, I am sad to say. 

Of the ones I have heard, I liked the ultra rough first demo of Doomsower a lot. Finnish band Carnutian also did an enjoyable demo, but then ceased to exist. I like Uncle Acid and the Deadbeat's “Mind Control”. I was bit puzzled with their massive following in Roadburn 2013, and did not quite get the thing, but that album turned out to be good! 

Pilgrim's debut album was delightful too. I think they are, or at least were on that debut – I have not heard the second album! – the only band that has succeeded to continue what we did with Reverend Bizarre, but even they lack, in their fantasy based themes and more coherent sounds, some lunacy and danger that was essential for our work. Good for them though, as the basis for that insanity and violence was in our bad life as a band. And I am not saying that they should sound exactly as we did, of course not –  but they almost did! Except that they can actually play their instruments.

In my ears Pallbearer is bit too soft to really attract or interest me.  I listen to many different kinds of music, but there has to be some element of roughness there. Some dirt. But I do not want to put anybody down as I am not “there” anymore. They have some echoes of Warning's magnificent second album, don't they? But then again for ME that has already been done. And even with Warning I liked the earliest material – “Revelation Looms” and  “Blessed by the Sabbath” – the best, when it comes to DOOM. That second album is something else; one of its own kind. Very emotional masterpiece! 

The state of doom in 2014 is good at least on that level that we are doing the fourth Spiritus Mortis album hah hah hah!

MMR: Taste my Sword of Understanding was pretty different for your solo project Opium Warlords (less experimental) from the first two albums mainly because it was composed while you were still in Reverend Bizarre. What will be the influences for the fourth upcoming album? Are you gonna return to a more droney/avant garde sound?

Sami: Most of the stuff that you have heard from Opium Warlords so far already existed when I was still in Reverend Bizarre, so that is not the explanation for “Sword” being as it is. It is as it is, because it has to be like that, in the larger continuation of Opium Warlords. In the bigger picture; I have not had a period of doom metal or period of black metal or noise, or what ever, when I would do only that one thing. It all comes all the time! Songs can wait, in the most extreme case, for almost twenty years before they come out to the audience. 

I started my career as an experimental musician, and for me Reverend Bizarre was all the time a “side project”. I myself saw that my main thing is this other kind of music, but I did not have time to do it, because of RB, so it was waiting there inside of my mind to finally explode out of me. Now is this time! I have music inside of me for the next ten years.

Of course I have been doing new stuff also, all of these years, so basically Opium Warlords albums consist of old material, and some new spices, but it is impossible for anyone outside of our circle to try to figure out any chronology in these albums. An album that will come out in 2017 may have older material in it than  the album that came out in 2012. 

However, you ask this question in perfect possible time as the next Opium Warlords album actually has all the material written after the times of Reverend Bizarre. And it IS a return to that droney/avantgarde style! I recorded the main bass tracks in 2007, and now in 2014 we will continue this process! 

One correction to a subject that seems to follow me where ever I go: Opium Warlords is NOT a solo project. The fact that one guy plays bit more instruments, does not, at least for me, make an album a solo album. I am the songwriter and the main producer, but I do not work alone! And even with RB and the Puritan I wrote and arranged most of the music and just showed others what I wanted them to do. When saying this I do not want to take away any thunder from the other guys though! Their souls are still there 100%!!!

MMR: What can you tell me about the next Spiritus Mortis' album? It was fun to hear your vocals in a traditional doom metal band again, it's perhaps the only remaining link to your days in RB.

Spiritus Mortis' The God Behind the God
Sami : Musically it will be everything you wish it to be!!! It really kicks some ass! Lyrically I am going to step out of the story telling style of “The God Behind the God”. I am not a big fan of this story telling in the first place – as a writer –  but with that album I wanted to go to the deepest traditions of Heavy Metal. I would not be able to do that kind of lyrics better than I did there, so it makes no sense to stick to that lyrical style either, so now I will write in the way I did with Azrael Rising; free form metal lyrics with some abstract and surreal elements. Thematically I am in the world of two obsessions: necrophilia and black magic. 

I know that many people are waiting to hear “normal” heavy metal vocals from me again, and to be honest, I am for the first time in my life bit anxious about these expectations. It is almost like how I would feel if RB would return! How can I top what I have already done? But I guess when it is about the time to record those vocals I just do as I always do; go inside the lyrical world and deliver what is needed.

By the way, talking about these links, I have one album for Opium Warlords which is like Reverend Bizarre turbo boosted with some serious progressive rock hah hah! It won't be done in the next few years, but when it comes I think some of the more traditional oriented fans, of what I have done, should be rather happy! But I do not see it as my purpose, to try to please these old timers hah hah! I just do what I want to do. And what I have to!

MMR: I thought Orne was particular since it has the whole RB trio (albeit you consider your involvement to be as a session vocalist), how was it to work with Kimi's dark proggy folky compositions?

Orne's debut album The Conjuration by the Fire
Sami : Well, that first album was done when we were still RB, so it was not so different from how things went with us. Except that, as you say, I was a session man, so basically I did what Kimi wanted me to do. I went through very dark times in my private life during that day the vocals were recorded, and I think that it can be heard there too. 

The second album was a different case. At first I was not even about to do the vocals, but then I talked with Kimi about the situation with the vocalists, and it became quite clear that with some other vocalist it would not be exactly what he wanted to have, so I thought about it for a while, and then agreed to do the vocals. In the first place it was a question of helping him out of the situation, but also about the album of course. The material he had for it, did not feel as close to me as the first one, which I liked a lot right from the beginning, but with few modifications we were able to make a good album of that second one too.

MMR: The dissolution of your old band and your will to work on more obscure genres lead me to believe that you could like this question. Do you think the life of a musician is in turmoil nowadays? The way you need to live on the road to truly succeed is as an example of being part of an industry. We see the creations of many solo projects (it's easier nowadays to work on music with all these digital tools.) I think there's many changes to come with the evolution of technology (a curse or a plus?), what do you think about that?

Sami: I feel lucky now that I was there early enough to start with analogical 4-trackers and cassettes, and when I went to the studio it was analogue too! The first RB albums and KLV stuff, were recorded and mixed with completely analogue system. Sometimes in the mixing – which was all in realtime – more than two or four hands were needed, so me and Void joined the engineer there on the board. It was a good school for us! Also for the playing. You did not get endless chances to fix something as the tape started to break down, and what was even more important: you could not edit the tape! You had to play the whole song, and if you fucked up in the end, you had to start again. It really was hard for the nerves.

Digital recording has many benefits but it has also caused me enormous stress. What ever can happen when you work with 0's and 1's.

For artist like me who do NOT do gigs these new times are harder, as it is true that only by being on the road and selling merchandise you can make any money. But I just have to try to go on.

MMR: You've worked as a graphic artist (Jex Thoth, Fall of the Idols...), I really like that work, you seem picky (nothing wrong with that, quite the contrary) with the bands you choose to work with. Is a shared vision important when you accept to design or draw something? Furthermore, what kind of vision or people you prefer?

Jex Thoth's Blood Moon Rise
Sami: With the bands I worked with it was my own vision that I followed. Of course I asked for the title and in the best case I got to hear the music, but only with Furze I strictly followed the vision of the band. In other cases I just maybe got some wishes or details that could be there in the sleeves, and of course I did my best to add them there. It is not like I put down the ideas the bands had, but usually they did not have anything special, and they knew how I worked. 

I am not one to work as a member of the group, but for example with Jex Thoth I have what might be called a spiritual connection. I somehow KNOW what she wants.

I prefer many kind of visions. There have been, and still are, many geniuses among the masses of so called ordinary people. I get mesmerized very often with some great piece of art, or film, or album. Right at the moment I am mesmerized by couple of bands, Iceage from Denmark, and Oxbow, Karp and Pyrrhon from America, as well as At the Gates' first album.

                                   Furze's Psych Minus Space Control

What kind of people I prefer? I try my best not to harass other people. I expect this from the other people too. I prefer those geniuses I just talked about. People with vision, either in mind or heart. Or both. Spiritual, but open minded people. People who do not hurt animals, or rape nature. And people who make it possible for me to continue my work; the audience!

Bonus Question!

MMR: I'm fascinated by the music and culture of Finland (I did a whole series about Jussi Lehtisalo's projects). What are your favorite things about the country as of recently? Food, hockey, movie, anything really!

Sami: Nature. Language. Some art, literature, cinema, music, and archtitecture. But for me this is not any kind of paradise really. The atmosphere is rather heavy. Still, as long as I can't live in somewhere in the aristocratic British country side or luxury regions of London, or under the sun of Florida, I rather live here, as I know the language pretty well. Not that I would use it much in conversations hah hah. So why am I here actually anymore? I like Jussi Lehtisalo! That is one reason. 

MMR: Thanks for accepting to do an interview with me, it's fun for a small blog like mine to have this opportunity. 

Sami: I often rather be in these smaller circles than in the big business, and  their big magazines. This interview verifies why it is so. Thank you! 

Useful links: 

Opium Warlords on Tumblr
Opium Warlords on Metal Archives

Review for Opium Warlords' latest album: Taste my Sword of Understanding
Review for Reverend Bizarre's So Long Suckers

Opium Warlords' debut album Live at Colonia Dignidad

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