Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shaxul Interview with Olavi Mikkonen of Amon Amarth

Interview with Olavi Mikkonen, guitarist for Amon Amarth (3/16/2011)

Shaxul: You play a gibson Explorer on stage, correct?

Olavi: Yeah, that's the one I mainly use when I'm playing while standing. Live and at our rehearsal space. At home I play a flying V or
a Les Paul. I been using the one I have (Explorer) since last season. I think I got it during 2008. It was custom made. I have viking
ornaments on it. That's my main live guitar. I haven't done a new one yet for this season, I'm gonna do it after the summer. It's like
2 or 3 years old and it's kind of worn out...but it'll work for another half year. My spare one I think is brand new. I got a few new ones
before the recording, so I got them maybe a half year ago.

SHaxul: So, you are a "gibson person."

Olavi: Yes. I used to play Jackson. Maybe like 15 years ago I had one that was similar design as "Kelly." I haven't seen those ones so much anymore.
I don't know what happened to that model, but it looks similar to the Explorer [Marty Freidman used a "Kelly" in Megadeth]. But back then I already
really wanted an Explorer but I couldn't afford it. Now I have almost too many! So it's alright.

SHAXUL: Which one is your "baby?"

OLAVI: It's my first one. I got it I think in '98. That's the one I have recorded with all our albums, except "Surtur Rising" and "Twilight if the
Thunder god." For those I used another Explorer, but for all other albums it's my first one. It's really heavy, it's a really old one so...it has
a very cool sound. It's the most precious one, but it's also kind of worn out...but I don't wanna change anything because I might lose the great tone.

SHAXUL: What kind of pickups you got in that thing?

OLAVI: I only use the originals. I don't use EMgs at all. I used to in the past on one guitar but I didn't really like it. Too much distortion and stuff
like that. I want the guitar to be very clean and then I can use distortion from that.

SHAXUL: Amps?

OLAVI: Now we play with Peavy. I play a 6505.

SHAXUL: On the new song "War of the gods" it sounds like you are trying to expand the dynamic/melodic range of the sound.

OLAVI: Yeah, but that song is kind of like a "traditional" Amon Amarth song. It doesn't really have that much new to it. We released that song first because
you know...it's a kind of "safe" song. It's better to hear the whole album because we actually have alot of new elements that we have added.

SHAXUL: Which song to you is the most different sounding on the new album?

OLAVI: Perhaps the last song, "Doom over a Dead Man." We have alot of orchestral arrangments. I would say that is something different. And also
I would say "For Victory or Death" is very melodic and has also alot of orchestral arrangments. Also we used effects on the guitars which almost
sounds like keyboards...that's also something I've never done in the past.

SHAXUL: So you are doing something maybe more symphonic?

OLAVI: Not really, but...like you said in the beginning...create more dynamics. Of course it's not taking over [the effects/orchestral arrangements]
we are still a guitar based band and will always be. I would rather say, out producer - he likes to create all these dynamics with different instruments and
stuff. I think we in the band, we are afraid to try new things...so it's good to have a producer that really wants to try.

SHAXUL: What did you personally want to do for the new Amon Amarth album?

OLAVI: I wanted to add more brutality and I wanted to do songs that were not in the typical formula that we had so many times in the past. Like "War
of the gods." That's typical Amon Amarth formula. So I would say perhaps 7 of the 10 songs are a little bit different than what we used to do, so I am pretty
happy. But if it's better or worse? I don't know, that is something we have to figure out later on.

SHAXUL: It seems like you have a very strong core sound and you are very good at progressing without losing that core sound.

OLAVI: Yeah, I think that is our goal. Trying to maintain our sound, but still try to add things to make it sound fresh. Even when we write songs...
we are very picky. If something sounds too similar to something else we just throw it away. We have a very high standard. We Throw away alot of ideas
if we think it's not good enough. So I think we really put alot of energy into the songs. And that's always been how we work. We never have any spare songs
or anything like that. If it's not gonna be on the album, we don't work with it. I think in the end, that's how we make a good album I guess.

SHAXUL: How were you hoping to increase the brutality of the music?

OLAVI: I don't really know...the main thing is, we wanted a really brutal approach to the production. For instance we have a song "A Beast am I" on the
new album and that's probably the most brutal song we have ever done. It's kind of difficult to explain but...I guess alot of people would have expected
us to try to get commercial or whatever...because we've had so much success recently. So I wanted to go the opposite road. Do a more brutal album instead.
We really like working together. Since we have such a team effort, that's why I think we can deliver good stuff. And not to forget the producer. He is
very good at making the songs interesting.

SHAXUL: Do you write most of the riffs?

OLAVI: It's mostly me and the other guitarist. And the drummer also has a few ideas. But when we go to reheasal everybody takes the riffs. And I think
this way everybody feels like they are a part of the creation (creating the stuff).

SHAXUL: There's almost a simplicity to the sound, which may not be simple at all, but I think the songs are put together so well that it comes off sounding
more simple than being "overly flashy."

OLAVI: No, that's never been our thing. We're not that technical...some of the hooks or the riffs sound very simple and they might be simple, but the trick
is to come up with the riffs. To come up with those riffs is probably not so simple as it sounds, you know what I mean?

SHAXUL: On the previous album, I really liked the riff in "Tattered Flags and Bloodied Banners." Who wrote that riff?

OLAVI: That's probably me. [laughs] It was me! I think that was something I was just jamming...the previous season while waiting for soundcheck or
something like that. I don't know where I really got it from. I guess I wanted to make something you know, the rhythm was kinda like a march. But still
have a very catchy melody to it. I think that was one of the first riffs I wrote for that album. At least with "Twilight" I wrote most of my parts during
tours. I brought one of these "travel guitars" I dunno if you've seen those? Really small. So I bought one of those and I had it for like 3 tours.

SHAXUL: That's too bad. I thought maybe you go on some mountain somewhere holding the riffs up to the gods for approval!

OLAVI: [laughs] Yeah, that would be awesome!

SHAXUL: I read you had bobbleheads for one album. Do you have anything like that coming out for the new album? Any little toys or anything like that?

OLAVI: Yeah I think we have this one edition - I think it's called the "deluxe version" where you can have Surture the action figure. The character that
we have on the album cover.

SHAXUL: So it's going to be as big as a house right?

OLAVI: Yes, it will be very difficult to get by mailorder [wink wink] No it's going to be a normal action figure.

SHAXUL: I noticed there are many bonus features of the new CD. 4 Live sets of 4 different albums?

OLAVI: I think in the US that's going to be included with the normal edition. US the normal one is the CD and the DVD. You know, since we CAN add a DVD
we like to do that. Maybe it's gonna cost $2 more. But instead or releasing a DVD later with the same content, we think it's kinda fair to give our fans
as much as possible while they buy our album. There's no need now to release a DVD later...The Kiss and Accept covers are only going to be available with
the deluxe version, with the action figure. And the other cover of System of the Down will be on the digital i-tunes edition.

SHAXUL: SO you guys are fans of System of the Down?

OLAVI: I wouldn't say "fans" but we like the "Aerial" song. We went to Japan before we went into the studio. And in Japan they have the Karioki bars. And
you know, they had that song and we were singing it and then we decided we were going to do a cover of it. We had a private party and everyone can just drink
beer and sing along. So we thought it would be fun to make a cover of that song...it is not so obvious as people would expect from us. Some people complain
that our music is always so consistent, so this is a way to show that we can do something different.

SHAXUL: I understand there are some big fans of 80s Bay Area Metal in your band?

OLAVI: Yes! We are all old enough I think...we can appreciate that. I mean we all grew up with those kinda bands. And also traditional Heavy Metal from the
80s like Maiden, Accept, and Priest. Of course when we write riffs we are influenced by those bands.

SHAXUL: How about Heavy Load?

OLAVI: Heavy Load the Swedish band? Yes of course, they were kinda heroes back then!

SHAXUL: Were they the first Viking band?

OLAVI: Um...at least what I know. But I'm not sure. No, they should have been the first. Because Bathory started later. The Viking thing.

Shaxul: What about Helvetes Port, have you heard them?

OLAVI: ...YES. I haven't really listened to the whole album but they made a very cool video I saw on youtube.

SHAXUL: They wear funny clothes and they sound like Heavy Load!

OLAVI: Yes, definately. I think they are very cool and they have a great sense of humor as well.

SHAXUL: Does it get complicated getting good beer on the road? Do you have someone who is in charge of getting the good beer?

OLAVI: We always get it from the venue so we don't have to worry about that. If we have a problem, we always have too much. I'm probably the one that doesn't
really care that much, but I think the other guys are kinda picky. But nobody in the band really likes Budweiser or Coors or Miller Light or ANY "Light"
at all. Samuel Adams is pretty good. And also in America you have many good beers in Microbrews. Like Fat Tire and some other good beers.

SHAXUL: SO what is the common beer you all like?

OLAVI: There's a beer in the East Coast. I think it's around North Carolina. Usually we get a beer called Ying Ling? Sound kinda like Japanese? But that's
actually pretty good. I think everybody in the band likes that. And also Samuel Adams. Everybody likes that. But we don't like Heineken, or Bud Light, or
Budweiser.

SHAXUL: So I read that you no longer have drinking horns?

OLAVI: No, the customs in Brasil took them. They have these scans, and they see them. That's kinda crazy because we been around the whole world and nobody
had a problem. But in Brasil I'm not sure why that have that kind of securety.

SHAXUL: Maybe you'll have to rent horns now when you come into town.

OLAVI: Yeah, we can have plastic ones! We haven't gotten any new ones, but I think we will this summer.

SHAXUL: Your music has a very somber feeling most of the time. Are you fans of doom Metal?

OLAVI: Not really. I mean, the other guitarist - he likes My Dying Bride alot. I'm not too much - I get bored quite easily. Maybe I'm not listening to
much of that kinda music but I still like when we do "doomier" stuff. It's kinda fun to play that.

SHAXUL: You had a "best of" album that came out recently.

OLAVI: Yeah, that was for the Japanese market. We never "made it" in Japan. So the label put together a "best of" CD to try to build the band in Japan
because we were going there for a show. That's the only country that really we haven't "made it." I don't know, some people claim that - some peopl in the
music industry they say that Japanese people are afraid of Vikings or something I dunno. Even when we played there the management they wanted us to
not have any Viking backdrops but we totally laughed at them and did the show as we always do. I don't know, some people say that the Viking thing is not
working in Japan. That might be true I don't know.

Debut full length from Orchid

Orchid "Capricorn"
Local Stoner Rock/Doom band's debut full length on Europe's "Church Within" Records. First off, the packaging on this thing is striking and monstrous!
Nice hard-bound fold out CD digi jacket with some cool bull head painting on the front which reminds me a bit of Monstermagnet's "Bull-god." Booklet is like 15 fukking pages! Anyhow, the music is the lo-fi old school NWOBHM sort of production. Very garage like and extremely bluesy. Witchfinder general anyone? But what sets this band apart is the vocals, which thankfully are not an Ozzy, Wino, or Scott Reagers clone. kinda like 70s Alice Cooper meets Blackie Lawless. Nice to hear a local
band doing something more classic rock and roll sounding without all the art-noise crap that is so trendy these days.

New Burzum "Fallen"

Like the previous album, this one is extremely basic yet powerful. If anything, it is slightly better than "Belus." More melodic vocal experimentation,
but only to increase the scary vibe.

I'm not the biggest fan of Varge "the person," but I have to admit he is the real deal and I would call him a real artist in an endless sea of wanna-be Black Metal bands. This music may not blow many people away, but it feels much more real than most Metal I hear. And to me, real = heavier.

I am no expert on modern Black metal recordings, as I find the entire genre has become increasingly boring and self parodying, but this is about as good as it gets. So many bands try so hard to sound like old school 90s Black Metal,
but to me Burzum is proof that you either have it or you don't. Burzum clearly has it, and they seem to spew it out effortlessly. Darkthrone is another band that "has it," but are clearly getting bored and running out of ideas. Perhaps it's because Varge was in jail for so long, but he still has good ideas that sound old but feel fresh.

Nothing amazing here really, but to me the best Back Metal is not amazing. It's just cold and powerful. And those are the 2 words I would use to
describe this.

The lyrics are all in Norwegian so I have no idea what the songs are about, but I am sure it is very deep and way over my head. If you liked "Belus" you'll like this. If you like old school, cold, lo fi Black Metal I don't see how you wouldn't like this.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Relapse album reviews...

Here's some reviews of some Relapse promos I got recently...

Titan "Sweet Dreams" (Relapse)
This is total 70s prog worship, and it's actually much better than most I hear. It does have an interesting modern Metal influence as well, but not
in the lame way I hear most bands doing it. It's very musical and traditional sounding. This band really understands
the dark/raw edge needed for classic prog. One thing I can't stand about bands like Dream Theatre is the "shit don't stink" sparkly clean
production. There's just no edge or darkness to it. But this is closer to ELP, Rainbow, or early genesis in terms of the darkness and range
of emotions. Needless to say it's not really Metal, but the "rocking parts" are obviously more modern and a bit more Metal than something
from the 70s. If Transiberian Orchestra sounded like this, I'd probably actually go to their show. Prog fans - get this. I think it's all
instrumental by the way...from fuakin' Brooklyn mothafuaka!

Circle of Animals "Destroy the Light" (Relapse)
Sounds like Ministry mixed with Bauhaus. Simple, industrial, and riffy. But not as guitar Heavy as Ministry. I'm sure there are other "noise"
influence as well, but I don't listen to alot of that crap so I wouldn't know. I guess I'm hearing a litte Pink Floyd "The Wall" as well, but with
a bit more guitars. Not real amazing, but I think on acid this would probably sound brilliant. Too bad I stopped doing acid.

Black Anvil "Triumvirite" (Relapse)
Why is it when I hear the word "Triumvirite" I think of Trey Azagthoth? Are these guys part of his video game/motivational speaker Chthulhu Kult?
Anyways, this is basically Death Metal trying to be "Blackened" in sound. Or maybe they are Black Metal trying to be "Deathened?" I dunno, honestly
it just sounds like white noice to me. The singer screams but he sounds about as angry as me when the guy in front of me is driving to slowly. Well I
guess that is angry enough for say, Thrash metal. But for Blackened Death Metal I wanna feel like your grandma just got stomped out, and I just
ain't convinced. Also, the production sounds very cookie cutter and flat. Just lifeless. Ok, I hear some cool riffs/melodies here and there. But
it just sounds like not very much time went into this. "Ok, let's hurry up and whip out some brutality so we can lay it down and go on tour!" Anyways,
not bad really, just nothing special at all. There is a song called "We Own You" which I had to check out because that title cracks me up and makes me think
of some 80s Stallone flick or something. Anyways, the song actually sounds kinda like Dissection with a more annoying singer. This band would be much
better if they took more time to write their songs and got a better producer. NEXT!

Rotten Sound "Cursed" (Relapse)
Worship early 90s Swedish Death/grind much? This is the most Swedish thing to come out of Finnland since Yngwie Malmsteen took a dump in Helsinki...
I don't really like this album, but live this band destroys, I have seen them myself very recently! They just need to go to Sunlight and hang out
with that Skogsberg guy and that will fix the problem here. But I'm sure most fans of all that is old school grind brutality will like this just fine.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Demo Reviews...

I come across demos all the time at shows and in the mail...here's some of the latest ones I got...

Neurotoxicity (untitled demo) I got this at Hazmat in Oakland at some show I went to a few weeks ago. I dub this "Sinister Metal." Very grindy, but in an old school Boltthrower sorta way. They sound like this live too, but more raw of course. Pretty vicious female up front if I remember. Nothing fancy, but gets the job done and then some. After a few drinks I usually can't resist shit like this. Recorded by Jesus Crust at Earhammer in Oakland, the holy shrine of all that is grindy and crusty in Oakland. Some of that hellsound has surely rubbed off and infected this CDR!

Wake the Machines "Demo 2010-11"
Well shit, this is pissed off isn't it??? Nice Lovecraft/Cthulhu references in the song titles. There is some weird arty punk/grind/stoner thing happening here. If they break into a lounge jam I will dub this "Exit 13" worship. Ok, no jazz, but Repo Man samples are even better! I guess this is power violence. No, it is. That is exactly what this is. Or perhaps, Exit 13 with killer movie samples instead of lounge/jazz breaks. Actually, a cheap 50s song sample just busted in, so they are THAT much more like Exit 13. But the aggressive parts aren't quite as aggressive. Still, the singer sounds at least as pissed off as someone who just got their 5th parking ticket in a row. Beats are very jerky. You'll need some cheap drugs to feel the rhythm of this.

Feral Deprevity (Self Titled Demo)
Like the band name suggests, these guys sing in Spanish. Wait, I guess that's not true. But with titles like "Menudo De Humano" and "The Beer Song" I guess we can at east assume that these guys drink beer and eat food. Or something. No seriously though, the singer has a good growl. guitars are rather thick and Death Metally. Not really sure what these guys are going for, this live "Beer Song" is really confusing me because it's in English and sounds nothing like the first song. In fact, it sounds like one of those new kid Thrash bands from the East Bay or somethin. What happened to growley guy? Ah, I see there are 2 singers. The 3rd song sounds like total grind power violence ala early napalm Death with a touch of Slayer or Terrorizer. Speaking of Slayer, the last song starts with a cheap haunted house version of the Reign in Blood intro. Man, I gotta hand it to these guys - I have no idea what the fuck is gonna happen in the next minute during the entire listeing of this CD! Sounds like Necromantia now! Oh wait, now there's some funky bass interlude. Jesus, I give up - this is fukked! I dub this the "Physical grafitti" of fucked up Death grind with one song in Spanish...

Epinefrin (CDR Demo)
I looked up this word and it doesn't appear to exist, but the word Epinephrine is some sorta Neuro Transmitter or something. Anyhow, nice Thrashy melodic riffs. Singer sounds like a more Jeff Walkery version of Tomas Lindberg. The music is very At the gatsey. More with each passing riff in fact. Ok, it just got a little Dissectiony. This is the sort of Metal that sounds great with ugly/shitty demo production, but gets worse as the production improves. The quality of this recording isn't bad for a demo. Drum snare is nice and "popcorny." Some good Euro Swedo guitar work. There's just a little too much "try to sound like this and that Swedish band" goin on. But this band could easily evolve into something great if they stick with it and perhaps find a more original sound. Singer is real Jeff Walkery, did I say that? He's also very Jon Nodveidty. Anyways, it is refreshing to hear something more musical than the typical krap thrown my way.