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Etеrnal Tears Of Sorrow

Etеrnal Tears Of Sorrow
Our Priority is Writing Good Songs

08.10.2009

Архив интервью | Русская версия

Even in a country where metal regularly tops the charts, it is not always easy for a good band to make it through. Finland’s Eternal Tears Of Sorrow have been around since 1994, and a lot of their albums have gained respect and recognition well beyond their homeland, but the hand has until recently struggled with all kinds of problems, from line-up changes to label turmoil, and never seemed to get the success it deserved for albums like “Chaotic Beauty” (2000) or “Before The Bleeding Sun” (2006). In 2009, however, the revamped six-piece seems to be doing better than ever, with a new European deal with Massacre Records in place and a new excellent album called “Children Of Dark Waters” in stores. We asked guitarist Jarmo Puolakanaho to tell us what it took the band to get this far…

How does it feel to have your album on #19 in the Finnish charts? How has this achievement influenced the life of the band?

It is a great thing to notice that the Finnish metal people have not forgotten us during these years. Nevertheless, in the end, the chart positions are numbers only, they have never changed anything in our band. The only concrete thing that has affected us is the fact that it is a bit easier for us to get gigs in Finland now. With the previous album, we just were not able to have too many gigs even in Finland for many reasons, including personal reasons. This time, however, it will be different as we have already booked several Finnish gigs and next year, it is time to go abroad.

In general, what do you think about Eternal Tears of Sorrow in terms of commercial success? Does the current status of the band make you happy? Or do you think your band is very much underrated and should be known by more people?

We are very happy with the success we have had so far. Success is always a relative thing. I mean, if you think we still have no official music video, most of our songs are too extreme for any radio channel, and we have not done so many gigs during the past eight years, you could say we have really gotten just the right amount of success that we deserve. In other words, there are many things we (and our record companies) need to do with the next album. We need to do many gigs, we need a music video (finally), and we need to write a bunch of great songs in order to make the next album even better than "Children of Dark Waters".

Besides, having success is not our main priority. That’s what writing good songs and good albums is. Our new songs and albums must be good to us every time, year by year, and if that does not happen, there is no point going on anymore. In order to have more success, you will have to write better and better songs and make better and better albums. And that is what we are aiming to.

You used to be signed to Spinefarm Records for many years, but now you have one label for Finland, one for Europe, one more for Japan and so on. How do you like working this way, do you think it is better for musicians to be more involved in the business side of things?

It is definitely better to have many record companies all over the world than just one. I mean, it is really hard for a Finland-based record company to try to promote an album in Japan. This is because Japan has a very different culture, also in music business. And this is how our albums have been death with since our second album in 1998, since that album every one of them has been licensed by at least one foreign label and the four latest albums have been licensed by a Japanese label, for instance. I think our albums have always been released by a Russian label, the first and the latest albums are an exception in this rule.

It is a good thing for a band to be involved with the business side, too. If you let all the record labels, promotion companies, managers and booking companies do their own thing without knowing exactly what they are doing, you could come into a situation in which someone rips you off. This is a business in which most of the money earned from the music does not go to the bands, so the bands sometimes have to fight for their money. But we have been lucky to have been working with great companies, almost all of them have been 101% reliable, and we have been happy to have been working with them.

And how much did your new Finnish label help you to get into Top 20?

Of course, Kari Hynninen and his record company (Suomen Musiikki) helped us a lot, as well as Taija Holm who did most of the promotion here in Finland. We got much more interviews as well as much more radio airtime with this album. Thinking of how well things have gone with this album, it is going to be exciting to have new albums released by them in the future... Also, it is much more rewarding to be signed to a small, independent label instead of a big division of a huge multi-national major label. I think many bands signed to a huge label feel that they are just small parts of big machinery and do not know what is happening with them and who is handling their things in this machinery. Being signed to a smaller label, it is much easier for a band to get to know what is going on.

All your records have great cover artworks, and “Children of Dark Waters” is no exception. How do you develop the artwork – do you let the cover artist decide by himself what will be there, or do you send him suggestions, choose among several variants and so on?

It is usually that we have a vision that we give to the artist (with the two latest albums, he has been Travis Smith) who gives several artistic suggestions (i.e. several versions and ideas for the cover art) to us, but the end result is usually up to us. We want the artwork of an album to fit our music and our lyrics perfectly, which is why we try to be perfectionists with the artwork, too, as well as with many other things. So, you could say the cover art is always a result of co-operation between the members of the band and the artist.

Where does the title “Children of Dark Waters” come from? Is it just the name of the first song, or does it bring together all of the songs on the album in any way?

The title was influenced by a dream of Altti (Vetelainen, vocals/bass). It is about a dream-like scene where dead children quietly walk out of a dark lake or sea. When Altti told me about the dream, it sounded like a Japanese horror film to me, at least it had the same kind of vibes. We discussed the dream, and the result can be heard and seen on the album. In addition, it was quite obvious for us that this song would be the second act of the "Angelheart, Ravenheart" theme we started on the previous album.

This is not really a concept album even though there are some songs on the album that are related to some other songs, on this album or the previous album(s). I mean the first song on this album is the second act of the last song on the previous album and the two last songs on this album are kind of related to the songs "Sakura No Rei" and "Sinister Rain" on the previous album.

What inspires you to write such lyrics as “Angelheart, Ravenheart”? Do you get inspiration from fantasy books / movies, or is there another source?

The “Ravenheart” story began when Altti and I started talking about a new epic theme, something that would be bigger than life. Well, it was not very serious talk at first, but soon we came up with an idea of an innocent young guy called Angelheart who was seduced by evil and became Ravenheart. On the previous album, we had the first act. But when naming the song "Angelheart, Ravenheart Act I", we were not sure if there ever was going to be sequels to it. Calling it "Act 1" was just a way to underline the epic nature of the song. Then, last year, Altti had a dream of children rising from the dark waters and it was instantly clear to us that we would need to write another Ravenheart song. And the result can be heard on the album...

I cannot say that when writing lyrics for the Angelheart theme, we are influenced by anything specific. Of course, we have seen movies such as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy or all the “Star Wars” movies. But, also, those movies have been influenced by many universal myths and stories, and so has the Angelheart concept, too.

By the way, is “Act 2” of “Angelheart, Ravenheart” the final part of the story, or shall we expect more parts on your future records? And have you ever considered doing a full concept album, since stories such “Angelheart, Ravenheart” seem to be very suitable for it?

If we were more of a progressive metal band, it would be natural for us to write a whole album out of the Angelheart concept. As a prog rock and prog metal fan, and also as a musician interested in writing stories, it would be a damn fascinating idea for me, but at the moment, I think a whole concept album is out of the question. EToS is a democracy, and every member of the band (or at least a majority of the members) must like the fact that it is going to be a concept album. In addition, both of the main lyrics writers (Altti and I) must really be into the idea of a concept album. And that would be a bit difficult as we usually write music first before writing the lyrics or even thinking of a new lyrical theme. That way, it would be too hard a task for us to write the story for the concept album first and then trying to write music to fit the lyrics. But who knows what we will come up in the future.

Anyway, I think we are going to write more songs for the Angelheart story, anyway, most probably starting with the next album. All it needs is a song that really fits the whole story as well as a nice idea for the third act.

How did you come up with the idea to do an acoustic reprise for “Sea Of Whispers”? This is quite a brave experiment, which worked out very well, I think. But are there any limits to your style; is there any type of music, which you would never dare to integrate into EToS?

Yes, there are certainly some limits. But I cannot name any style or genre we could not go on with. If a songs sound like EToS to us, it will be done. I remember at least two songs which kind of broke the limits to the extent we started thinking, "Hey, does this song really fit our style, should it be recorded at all?” These songs were "Autumn's Grief" on our third album and "Angelheart, Ravenheart Act I" on our previous album. But, in the end, if we had not recorded those songs, we would have regretted it. And that is how our style has always evolved.

“Tears of Autumn Rain” portrays the season of autumn in a beautiful and realistic way. In what season was it written? Is there any story behind this song?

The song was written in January 2008 and the lyrics were written one year later, in January 2009. So, it is somewhat funny none of it was written during the autumnal season. The story behind the lyrics came from me as I was thinking it would be fun to write our first vampire story, even though the vampire part of it is really just the superficial level of the lyrics.

My personal interpretation of the lyrics is the fact that there is a man or a woman who uses people and s/he metaphorically sucks the blood out of people and throws them away. And it's no coincidence that the lyrics take place during autumn as it's by far the most melancholic season of them all, the season when most of nature dies or goes to sleep, at least here in the North.

Now that you have two lead singers in the band (Altti and Jarmo Kylmanen), how do you divide the vocal parts? How do you decide, what parts should be screamed, and where the clean voice should come in?

I think hiring Jarmo K as an official member has not affect the process of us writing and arranging songs at all. We are still going to write and arrange the songs the way we think is the best: if there is a part that in our opinion needs the clean vocals, then it is going to have the clean vocals. Otherwise, the growling vocals will be used.

Your new drummer Juho Raappana is quite a famous musician, who has played with Catamenia, Mythos and several other bands. Your new guitar player Mika Lammassaari, on the other hand, is virtually a stranger, nothing is known about the guy. What is his background, and how did you get him into EToS?

In short, Mika is the creative force of an uprising local band, Mors Subita, and he was recommended to us by many of our friends. We had several candidates for the solo guitarist last spring and Mika was by far the best candidate we had.

EToS were formed in the early 90s, when Finnish metal was in the underground, and there were just a few Finnish bands known outside the country. Now metal is one of the most popular genres in your country, but there are hundreds of metal bands around, and with illegal mp3 downloading it is very difficult to live on music alone. What period was better for EToS – the present time or 15 years ago? And when was the underground scene better – at the present time or 15 years ago?

15 years ago, we had no record deal, we were just about to record our first studio demo and there was no Internet publicly available to most people. It took much more effort and work for us to get the band known, even in the small circles of the metal underground. We spent a lot of money on cassettes and stamps to spread our music around, which was a lot of money for us students. It was fun but hard. Now, 15 years later, we have had six albums out, our website has been online since 1996, hundreds of thousands of listeners have visited our MySpace page and so on... And it is still as much fun as it was 15 years ago.

Many things are better now. For example, the improvement in all kinds of technology has been amazing. Now we can write songs at home, make demos out of them at our home studios and send the demos to the other members in a second. Fifteen years ago, we had to wait until the next rehearsal to play the ideas to the rest of the band. But the current technology also has some downsides, like the mp3 downloading you mentioned. If you think of that, it is obvious that the music business is really going to change during the next 15 years. If EToS is still around in 15 years (I certainly hope so!), I do not know how we are going to release our songs. Are there still CDs around at that time or is music only sold digitally?

The metal underground? Hmm, it is quite hard to say, as we are not involved with the underground as much as we were 15 years ago. Let us just hope the underground is doing well because that is where the new great bands have always come from: Metallica, Slayer, and Death in the 80s, Opeth in the 90s, just to mention a few.

Many bands have re-released their early stuff after becoming famous. Have you ever considered officially releasing your demos on CD or at least uploading them on your website? I believe many fans are interested in these recordings…

Yes, we have been thinking about it but not so seriously. We've much more interested in rearranging two or three of our officially unreleased songs and recording them as bonus songs or so, a bit like what we did when we recorded a new version of "Vilda Mánnu", the title song of our second album. Counting the unreleased songs, the sum of them comes almost to ten, which includes songs from our demo times as well as some songs from a later time, songs that somehow just did not make it to the albums.

As a matter of fact, "Midnight Bird", a song on our current album, is an old song that I wrote for our second album. For some reason, it did not make it to the album even though we played it on our very first gig in the summer of 1997. Last year, I thought of rewriting and rearranging the song and now it was perfect for us. Also, Altti rewrote the lyrics. Perhaps we are going to do things like that again in the future, on the albums, compilations or as bonus songs, who knows.

I have always wondered what made you cover “Sick, Dirty and Mean” by Accept on the album “A Virgin and a Whore” (2001). It is a great song, and I like your version a lot, but it has never been a regarded an Accept classic. So what was the reason for doing it?

It is a long story but I will try to make it short. Ten years ago, we were asked to record a song for an Accept tribute album, and the song we chose for it was indeed "Sick, Dirty, and Mean". But we just had not the time to record it during the studio sessions for "Chaotic Beauty" in late 1999. A year later, we thought of recording the song again and now, we had more time. But, well, we did not have much song-writing time for "A Virgin and a Whore". Actually, we wrote most of it in only two months, which seems incredible when thinking of it now. We just had not the time to write one more song for the album, so we decided to have the cover song on it. And that is one of the very few things that I would like to change on our albums. It is not a bad song but I just wish we had had time to write a song of our own.

A few years ago, three of EToS members have been involved in the gothic metal super group For My Pain. There were reports that a second album is in the works, but it never came out, and For My Pain’s website has not been updated since 2006. What is going on with this project at the present time?

As far as I know, For My Pain will come back when all the members have the time needed to go on with the band. I think Altti and Petri's initial reason for forming up the band was to have a side project with which nobody would have any pressure or timetable conflicts, in other words, just to have fun with music a bit different from the style of EToS. So, time shall tell what is going to happen with this band...

Even though “Children of Dark Waters” has been released just a couple of months ago, I heard that you have already started writing new material. What can you say about the new songs? And when can we expect to hear a new record?

It is much too early to say anything about the next album. I mean we usually write at least 20 or 30 half-finished songs for an album and out of the half-finished songs, we will eventually choose the best ones to be finished. Let us just say we are going to go on with the attitude we have always had: to make the dark songs darker, the extreme songs more extreme, the melodic songs more melodic and the atmospheric songs more atmospheric.

What is needed to bring EToS over to Russia for a couple of gigs? Have you received any proposals from Moscow or St. Petersburg?

During these years, we have had some discussions with some Russian gig organizers but somehow the odds have always been against us. In other words, there has always been something that has prevented us from getting to play some gigs in Russia. But we definitely hope to come there next year! As a matter of fact, we have never played in any of the neighbouring countries of Finland: Sweden, Norway and Russia, and it would be so much fun to have gigs in all of those three countries. I know metal is huge in all of those three countries, or at least in the underground scenes of these countries, so I am sure each of the gigs will be a blast!


Eternal Tears of Sorrow on the Internet: http://www.eternaltears.info 

Special thanks to Yury “Surgeon” (Irond Records) and Tom Hack (Massacre Records) for arranging this interview

Roman “Maniac” Patrashov
September 14, 2009
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