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Line up:

Ben Varon - Guitar
Masi Hukari - Guitar
Ari Koivunen - Vocals
Juhana Karlsson - Drums
Pekka Johansson - Bass

So first things first, how did the return of Niko finally happen?
BV: Last year’s Tuska performance (Wound Creations 10th anniversary gig) was the final part in the puzzle. Niko has feated with us previously, but we trained more for that gig and hung out after the show. It was just like “this works”. Niko’s voice is just as crucial to these songs as the riffs. So we started thinking, it’d be cool to have Niko back, both as a singer, but also as an original member, which we don’t really have too many of nowadays. We also noted during the last tour that since Masi (Hukari, 2nd guitar) plays the keyboard instead of guitar in certain parts, that an additional guitar would be needed as backup. Then the ideas of what could be done with three guitars started to pop up, the upcoming album has parts where three guitars are all playing different things with the bass having it’s own thing to do. Plus there’s a song with a three guitarist guitar battle. Sometimes more is more.

If you look at a metal band with a keyboard player, it really fits into some parts, but not at all to Pantera-like riffs etc. But the keyboardist is still on stage, and can either fiddle with his balls or play some fucking stupid-sounding shit on top of the song. So I’ve never wanted a keyboardist for Amoral, but I’ve wanted a part-time keyboard player. So now we are in the situation that when we don’t need a keyboard player we don’t have one, cos he’s playing crushing riffs on his guitar.

Niko, are you going to be playing guitar on all the songs now?
NK: It depends, on some. Like for example, I can first just do growls, then leave the vocals to Ari (Koivunen, lead vocals) and go fetch my guitar, right in the middle of the song. We’ll do what the songs require.

BV: It’s exciting not deciding before-hand, but instead working out what works. But I think after we’ve played about 50 gigs with this lineup, we’ll again have ideas on what will work on the next album. But it’s not just the keyboard, Masi also plays additional percussions and all kinds of stuff that sounds confusing on paper, but will hopefully sound great live. There are bands, like metalcore ones, that have three guitars, I don’t get why they would need that with everyone just playing the same stuff.

NK: Yeah, it sounds stronger, but two is enough.

BV: It’s cool not being tied to having three guitarists, if one is enough then the others can do their own thing. Not following the tradition of a Marshall wall and the guitarists standing in front of their amps, but instead have these different sections. Masi has a section with keyboards and pipes and Niko has his guitars waiting for him, but also at times we can let him off the leash with just a mic.

It’s just annoying training this intensively for just one gig. We should launch a tour after the gig, but with six-months-ahead booking of venues and the album not coming out yet, what can you do. If we’d play gigs in November, then we’d have no chance to play those venues when the album actually comes out.

When is the upcoming album coming out?
BV: Probably January-February, nothing has been decided yet. It’s probably mixed and mastered in July-August, so it’s going to be a long wait again. The worst part is finding all the publishers for different countries and all that, when you’d just want the world to hear the new stuff.

What about vocal arrangements, especially on the songs from albums made without Niko?
BV: We’ve only thought about the setlist for the next gig, we’ve been so busy with the album. But I think, since we have the time before the release, we’ll train a big amount of songs. Of course the focus will be more on old stuff than Ari’s material now that we have the original guy with us. We’ve kinda just played the same few songs from Niko’s era, so it’d be cool to try out other stuff, like Snake Skin Saddle which we haven’t played live since 2007. But the main point will be to play new material, cos it’s always the most exciting to play.

NK: It’s important to have some balance in the set. It’s been cool to train songs from the Ari era on guitar. Will Ari be doing any grolws now that Niko is back?
BV: Niko’ll take Ari’s growled parts so the two-singer dynamic will work properly. Ari will do some background growls, and if the next album needs some high-pitched black metal shrieks then that’s more up Ari’s alley. But I’ve always felt that Niko has one of THE best growls, so if he’s in the band and you need growls, you’ll first go to him. And if I need clean angelic vocals then I’ll go to Ari.

Amoral hasn’t changed like a typical band, starting out with technical death metal and then *something* happened. On Reptile Ride rock is much more present.
BV: Yeah, even in the promotional pictures. You wouldn’t believe the struggle we had with our label when they saw them. They didn’t want to use them, of course they were made with humor but they were still cool pics. “You are a death metal band, these don’t represent you at all”, like who fucking cares? We just didn’t want to be denim-wearing thrashers, just cause we played technical death.

NK: I think we’ve never, since the first album, been interested in being just another typical death band. We’ve always looked for different ways to do things in addition to just using blastbeats and growls. There’s enough bands that do things “like they are supposed to”.

BV: We only had growls on the first three records so it put us in this one category, which we tried to stretch with hard rock riffs. But then it went completely in the opposite direction. Now in hindsight I can better understand the backlash on Ari’s first record. We kinda went overboard with the rock on it. I still stand behind many of the songs, but I tried too hard to be Van Halen, not understanding it doesn’t fit this group of musicians. We should’ve concentrated on melodic metal and left the LA 80’s rock out of it. You learn by doing, but back then it felt like the right thing. We’d been playing death metal for ten years and it was amazing having vocal melodies and open chords. But then we came back and realized that 8-minute songs and technicality are kinda cool.

NK: I myself like bands that are unpredictable, you don’t know beforehand what you’re going to get.

But how did the huge anti-Ari and anti-Amoral backlash feel?
BV: It was a lot bigger than I thought.

NK: Shit hit the fan. *laughs*

BV: It sure did. It was hilarious listening to Radio Rock asking for reactions on the first single, and everyone calling in seemed to be a huge old Amoral fan. We weren’t really THAT big of a band and people reacted like Metallica had changed vocalists.

NK: Yeah, like “I really liked Reptile Creations”. I think people just like to jump on the bandwagon, like dissing metalheads cutting their hair and doing the Metallica. It’s fun picking sides. To the outside it might not have been obvious, but being in the band it was always clear that Amoral doesn’t do things like others. So, when I heard in a bar who’s the new singer, I thought that that’s cool and wasn’t a bit surprised.

BV: Yeah, cos you knew us.

NK: Then others were like flipping their shit. But after listening to the previous album (Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows) it should be clear to everyone why Ari was originally chosen. He can growl and all that. He hasn’t limited this band in any way.

BV: Yeah, he can’t really be blamed for anything, if you don’t like the style of the band blame the songwriters. But yeah, I’ll take the responsibility, both in good and bad. Part of it went overboard cos we had such hubris, it was a self-defense mechanism with the waving of middle fingers and all that.

NK: An artist can always say that if people don’t like it, then they just don’t get it.

But did you get a bigger, more mainstream crowd on gigs?
BV: Yeah, the faces were completely different, but the crowd didn’t get any bigger. People thought we did this to increase record-sales, but we knew all along it wouldn’t be that simple. We never thought it’d be all the old fans plus a million new ones. It was kinda like starting from scratch. We had a good rep going with Niko and people in this scene knew us and how good we were live. We knew we’re taking such a new course that none of what had been before really mattered anymore. Some fans left, some new one came, but it was far from a jackpot, “now we have an Idols star, now records will fly off the shelves and we can all drive Ferraris”, nothing like that.

Have you thought about making a live DVD or something else like that?
BV: Nothing official really. But one day just now I got a letter in the mail, with a DVD case in it. It was a recording from Pakkahuone in 2006, that our old manager had found while moving, just ten years late. It’s from our Decrowning tour, and we had just returned from a six week European tour. We played the songs over tempo but pretty tight, it was a bit all over the place but what energy! So we’re thinking of putting that time capsule out there when next year’s the tenth anniversary of Decrowning. Nothing official, but it’d be fun having entire sets from different eras. Like this is how we sounded back then, in both good and bad. I’d like to record something live from this new stuff too, once we get the package tight. I like honest live albums, not often but they have that something.

NK: Pantera’s live album was among the first things I heard from them. With no internet, that album was all we listened to for the summer. When you’ve heard the live intensity on songs like 5 Minutes Alone, and then buy the album the song feels so slow and boring. Although it isn’t, but that was the first impression after the live version.

BV: The point of a live album for me is that you can hear all that stuff that gets lost on the album mix. You can hear the small guitar licks and the slight variations in singing.

NK: Like what is the bare bones of the song.

So, closing question. If you were a playing card, what card would you be?
NK: Probably the Jack of Diamonds. *laughs*

BV: I tried to come up with something witty, but couldn’t think of anything.

NK: That’s our motto! *laughs*

Intervista di  Markus Karppinen

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