Finnish melodic death metal giants Omnium Gatherum’s new album, Origin, has finally arrived (order here) via Century Media Records. We caught up with guitarist Markus Vanhala to discuss the challenges the group has faced from lineup changes, the overall pandemic to overcoming all odds to bring the new record to life.
In a way, Origin is like the yin to The Burning Cold’s yang. It plays in a more uplifting and conquering approach than hearing the constant darkness from the prior album. Now, I was curious if that was intentional, and how would you describe the difference between the two?
Well, that’s weird that you say it like that, considering the dark times. The Burning Cold album was born under the easy and lucky stars without any problems rising. Origin was then, on another hand, born under a bad sign. We had this small, tiny thing called the pandemic with the world and everything canceled and closed. And then we also have all these real weird lineup changes in a row with the band. So nice if you hear that we are having this flame in the soul, trying to beat our old doings because we really feel with this Origin like the original OG guys, like you’ve gotten up, or that they’d been doing together over 50 years. We really wanted to show a punch in the face for all the bad things that have been arising in the world and in this band the last few years.
I guess that’s where I hear conquering and to overcome whatever hits us in life, you can still get through stuff.
I think we really tried to do some glory, conquest stuff. And this time also with the pandemic, there was a lot of time to rehearse and we really composed this album because usually there’s always a lack of time. And so good thing in this modern time, we had the time to go deep into the writing of the songs and that’s about it. We tried to mentally kick our enemies’ ass on this one.I think we managed to do well and I am proud of this album in some different way than I was proud of The Burning Cold. Which is still a cool album, but we kind of found our inner fair, different way for this album. For example, Joonas used to do all the clean singing. When he got his fair share of touring, he just didn’t want to travel anymore and left the band. And I was left like fuck, who is doing the clean vocals for the next album? And I started to do those because I’m a fighter. That’s an example of how I always see life. If there are some bad things happening, then I just go towards them. When the pandemic came I started to train singing, which is weird. And then our new bass player, Mikko, there’s a lot of new fresh weaves on this new album. And I can agree that I may have more new approaches. This is now the real adult oriented death metal in the real way. It’s still being done with the rules of death metal. We tried not to lose all this aggression, but then we always tried to explore.
I was curious because I know that you guys had a bit of a lineup change with this album. How has it affected the creative process?
Yeah, it’s really worse. This was the album that wasn’t even meant to be, because first basically Erkki left the band because he’s playing major production concerts, whatever Christmas souls and all that kind of seek in Finland. He left because of lack of time. And then Joonas left the band because he’s got his share of touring, we were just flying, bags flying around the world every day, flying from Asia through Australia, to Dubai, to whatever Mediterranean. And it’s a really tough tour. So he just said, I don’t want to do this traveling anymore. And I have to leave.
Then in the end, when everything was already back on track, then our drummer, I don’t even know what happened. He just left the band and said nothing. We had rehearsals one week before this happened and he was really into the new album and then somehow he disappeared. So I see this Corona thing has made really different myths. Weird things in the world, it’s also getting to people’s mind and people are getting crazy. Which I understand. I’ve been just locked inside my own bunker here at home doing music and that keeps me sane during these weird times.
There has been a shift in mindsets during this pandemic. It’s a very, very strange time indeed. The pandemic has been overall challenging for everybody, but it really hit you guys hard. Especially you with two bands when you guys had to fly back home, when you just landed into the States to tour with Insomnium. And with all of these obstacles, what led you guys to decide to move forward, to write this album?
Well, the timing was pretty much good because that would have been the last tour with The Burning Cold album. Then the glorious U.S. tour that we did one show in Philadelphia, the nice invoice on top of it, of canceling. So basically we started immediately working with the new material and then somehow just thinking, maybe this is going to go away fast. But like I said, we’ve got a lot of time to work with this album. I think you can really hear back on the album. It’s not rushed this time. And of course these weird times gave some kind of boost to this, because lyrics are always about really uplifting stuff like loving the challenges. You have to go through those and be a winner after all. And again, this album is something like that, like going to the inner of the human’s mind and getting all of these hits and learning to challenge yourself. That’s how we treated this pandemic time, as back to work, and now waiting to someday go back on tour.
Tours are either happening or getting canceled. It’s a strange time. And just to survive a tour without anybody getting COVID is another challenge too.
Yeah. Keeping yourself mentally sane. And then after all keeping yourself alive, those are the key points. The first point for this album writing cycle was mainly this canceled U.S. tour. So I can really tell that those times sucked when we started to work with this album because we were really in deep, deep trouble with the tour and we had to do these livestreams to get the bills paid. And it’s not exactly cheap to fly to the USA, get all the work permits and visas and flights, rent a bus, rent a backline, have your own crew, then play once and go back to Finland. We were really in some dark place when this happened. Then even the drummer left the band which led even into deeper trouble. So this was basically like ice axe cathedrals to be built. Really hard times to build this album. Maybe all these things are reasons why I’m really, really proud of this album because this was kind of the thing that shouldn’t be. There were so many obstacles in the road on doing this album and still we made it and I can proudly say it’s our best one so far. You always say best for the newest album, but now I really feel it because we really won all these challenges and ourselves and just have our middle finger up to the world.
I saw this all in the first video for “Paragon,” how you have all of these cars and you’re coming back bigger than ever with OG flags, and even cheerleaders cheering you on. Showing that nothing will stop you guys. What was the experience like bringing this video together?
Exactly. That’s what you said. Week three we made it. World is a dark enough place at the moment so we wanted to get an uplifting video and do all these cool things that we actually love like cars and good times and it was summer time in Finland. And cheerleader girls are cool, there’s not enough of them on videos nowadays. And we were having this challenge in ourselves, having this rally between the band. All the guys are racing together. It’s a cool idea. And it just had been a crummy day and shows who we are now. We are five people at the moment, not six, like we used to be. So that was basically the idea that you do an uplifting video because there’s enough misery and sadness and anxiety in the world at the moment.
And also my personal mission was, we’d been doing many, many Insomnium videos at the moment too. And there’s always some old guy who is in misery and really silly problems and bitter and darkness. And I’ve had my fair share of those videos for this year. So we tried to do something different because we are something different. It’s always a more uplifting atmosphere, and circle. So that’s basically why. And I’m a huge car nerd myself. So there was my Corvette in the video and I drove it myself. I’m into U.S. cars, just bought a new one today, by the way.
I was thinking you guys rented the car, but that was actually your car.
Yeah. The green Corvette is mine. Somebody caught on, I was praising myself. Other cars were French cars. Not the band guys. I did my own stunts. And by the way another Finnish U.S. car lover called Alexi Laiho, who just passed away, I just bought his old car, which is cool. Sharing the legacy of Finnish heavy metalist U.S. car lovers.
In a way his spirit carries on in his old car.
Yeah. Keeping the flame alive.
Can you talk more about the songs “Friction” “Solemn?”
Yeah. Friction, to be honest, I’m not so sure what happens lyrically because the whole album is dealing with the same kind of themes where you say it’s like going to walk to fate and beyond and diving to the inside. This album is about going inside to the people in yourself. And so that’s Jukkas’ stories. I’m just a guitar player. It’s not always exactly sure what’s going inside Jukka’s head but he likes to crawl in to meet people’s minds and how people attract each other and all these diverse things like death and hate of the human mind. But musically I can speak about those songs.
Solemn was maybe the first, second song I wrote for the album. And I want to again do the longer ending song for the album Like we used to have on older albums like Beyond and New World Shadows. And I really wanted to go back to these two albums, especially Beyond because I still think it’s the best OG album. So I wanted to dive back to those days and do a longer epic song and play with those feelings 10 years ago when I did make those two albums. So “Solemn” is basically about that good old epic ending song.
“Friction.” The chorus is like a German drinking song. I’m really looking forward to playing that song at some big German metal festival because that’s such a sing-along chorus. And that’s uplifting, people uniting and like All Around the Watchtower kind of singing. The song is really a bit different from Omnium Gatherum songs. Maybe we made it together with the new bass player, Mikko, that’s the only song he’s the co-writer with me. And there’s a nice amount of a good old Nevermore. Nevermore is one of my favorite bands from the USA. That’s really cool, we got to do some Warrel Dane tributes musically on that song and then change it to an Omnium Gatherum direction in the middle song.
I noticed “Friction” sounded a bit different. A nice tribute to Nevermore.
Yeah. Nevermore is definitely one of my all-time favorite bands. That song has something to do with Nevermore tributes. Nevermore mix growing vocals and German drinking songs in the chorus. Actually that song was composed really fast because usually I’m working in my dark secret lair alone in the dark. Like all the metal guys are always doing in Finland, right? We made it together with Jukka and Mikko drinking a little beer and doing demos for the album and then this song just came alive on its own terms. Drinking more beers and just recording. Those riffs came from nothingness and immediately put a song in a few minutes.
Some songs take years to even get ready. This song took something like less than an hour. There’s some black magic in there sometimes because you never know how to do a song. I’ve even made hundreds of songs. I still don’t know how that happens too, because it’s always something different. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s possible. Sometimes it makes you insane. Sometimes it makes you feel like a genius. I wouldn’t suggest being a songwriter for anyone because songwriting makes you insane and mad.
So you’re like a mad scientist.
Always thinking those things and when you try to find sleep, those things are in your mind. And in the still of the night, you see staring from where I’m thinking about the songs. It’s always about leaving the whole song and leaving the album. When you’re writing, I’m really deep in when writing an album. That’s something that I’ve been thinking many times when some generalist or whatever album, I’m not speaking about my own albums, all albums. Album is always for the guy who makes it, composes it and does the lyrics. It’s like one year of work and diving to the deep water for the album. And then some people just say, well, I don’t like this. That’s always really tough as a composer, the greed for your own feelings or some other people’s feelings, because always the composer has such a deep relationship with the stuff on the album. At least I think so. And what I know about people. So I’m always respecting all the music. That’s why, because I know how weird and insane the process is.
It’s always a risk, too. You work so hard and then as you say, even a fan will be like, oh, this music sucks. What happened? Why isn’t it like the first album?
Yeah. Then as an artist, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to draw, I wanted to do whatever. And that’s all, this isn’t the deal. It would be easier to work at a grocery store for sure than be an artist and compose music.
Exactly. People change as they age as well. No one is the same as they were in the very beginning.
Yeah. Yeah, of course. I have always had the same feelings for the bands I love. For example, when I heard the new Iron Maiden, I thought this is not like they used to be, but of course it’s natural. They are 60 year old guys. They used to be 20 when they were doing these classic albums. So how would they do it again? And why should they? People change and people grow up.
Exactly. I like the new Iron Maiden album, but I knew not to expect another “Aces High” or something like that, but that’s just how it happens. What was it like for you this summer to finally return to the stage after such an extended absence?
Well, of course it was godly feeding. Really great and it was amazing. We were lucky enough to play four festivals maybe. Something like four and beginning something too so I had plenty of good amount of festivals comparing it to the many, many bands that haven’t played for three years. So we even played in Austria and Belgium and Switzerland this summer, which is really cool. Traveling was really weird compared to the old times, but it’s worth it, of course. When you’ve been back on stage, almost every guy is crying because it’s so cool. That’s what we’re living for. Because it’s all, it’s three parts of making the album. It’s a lot of composing and that’s my part. I love then being in the studio and seeing your compositions start to feel alive and start to live their own life. And then the tour stage is like going on stage, playing those songs live for the people. So I really need all these three elements in being in the band. And if this live field is missing, it sucks. It takes all the fun away from doing this thing.
It’s definitely been a tough time and bands have been awesome about making livestreams happen and just doing anything to keep live music somehow still relevant when nobody could leave their homes at some point. So it’s kind of like we’re all working together in a way.
That’s something like necessary evil to keep things in motion. Live is like the word says, live kind of living people, living audience, living band, interaction with all of these people and the band and then livestream interaction with the human man, or a feeling or floor. So something is definitely missing.
Yeah. Strange times, but hopefully live music will continue to happen. I know that you guys have a tour later this fall.
Yeah. Hopefully. That’s the word of this decade. Hopefully. There’s been a lot of tours in the calendar and a lot of stuff in the calendar but somehow it gets postponed. We are having a European tour still in the calendar, but it really doesn’t look too good at the moment because it’s a tour and all the countries are having different rules. So going by bus from country to country at this point, but I really hope it’s going to happen. We have a lot of U.S. plans for next year but the U.S. is still having a travel ban so it makes our European life even more difficult to do. I’ve been spending a lot of time with this bureaucracy this week and last week because we are trying to get the business done, but we are still trying.
Well, thank you for trying. I know that you guys almost had a tour. I think it was last fall here with Eluveitie and that got pushed, I think it was either Omnium Gatherum or Insomnium, I forget which or maybe both of you but it’s just the fact that you guys keep trying. It’s admirable.
That’s what we do, because that’s what we love. No explanation, but we love to play. So I started playing guitar and I formed a death metal band. And suddenly now I have to speak with some U.S. embassies and consulates about the rules and regulations. Death metal is really different nowadays than it used to be in the ’90s when it was started. Bureaucratic death metal.
Is there anything else that you want to say to your listeners about the new album?
Well, I first really have to thank all the people that helped us through the last tour, the USA one-day tour and checked out livestreams and bought our canceled tour t-shirts and got us back on our feet financially. And so that was step one, number one to go to this album. So that’s why we’re still here. This album came out and we didn’t go bankrupt because at some point it did seem that bankruptcy was going to happen. But the pandemic comes and everything’s canceled. So I’m really happy that we got this album done. Because I still wasn’t sure even one year ago. And I promise to think that you can really hear it on the album, that a lot of love for what we are doing. We gave all our effort for this album and I’m proud of it.
Awesome. As usual it’s another great album. You are one talented musician. I hear this in Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium. You’re a strong musician.
Thank you. I haven’t changed my profession yet.
Please don’t, the metal world needs you.