Interview with guitarist Jarmo Puolakanaho and vocalist and bassist Altti Veteläinen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 25, 2020
Finland's messengers of melodic death metal, Eternal Tears of Sorrow, have been on a long journey since the band was formed in 1994. After recording seven studio albums, combined with many successful tours (e.g., one with Sinergy and Nightwish in 2000, on Nightwish's Wishmaster tour), they have undoubtedly left a mark on their many fans who see them as one of the best existing acts of the melodic death metal genre. The band's most recent album, Saivon Lapsi, was released in February 2013, which has made some fans curious if they are still active and making new music.
The Metal Crypt decided to find out what's been cooking in the E.T.o.S. camp lately and whether the fans can expect any new music from them any time soon. Jarmo Puolakanaho (guitar), with some additional help coming from Altti Veteläinen (vocals and bass), kindly took their time to shed some light on the current state of the band.
THE SHIT HITS THE FAN
How's life? Is the suckitude level high now when we are all dealing with this Covid-19 and with many of the restrictions that have come along with it?
Jarmo: Hello there, Luxi! The situation isn't all that shite when writing this in late June. Finland is opening after the first wave of the outbreak, summer is finally here, my summer holiday is going to start soon and so on, so things aren't too bad. Although life is definitely different from what we all thought when this year started. Nobody talks about the Happy '20s anymore :P
I read on your official Facebook page that you were booked for the ProgPower XXI Metal festival, which would have meant E.T.o.S.'s first-ever US appearance, but you ended up canceling for safety reasons due to the virus. I suppose this is something that you considered for a long time, right? Safety should come first...
Jarmo: Our decision was mostly based on health and safety as well as financial security. And yes, we really did consider cancelling all of our live shows for quite a while. It wasn't an easy decision for us, but it had to be made.
Some of us are entrepreneurs and some of us have families with small children, so during these uncertain times we must do what is most reasonable for us; keep our loved ones safe in all possible ways. And we can do this because this band is not the first job for any of us. Instead, E.T.o.S. is more like a combination of a second job and a lifestyle.
This means that, unlike at the time when Chaotic Beauty came out, this band isn't the first priority in our lives anymore. Twenty years ago, an outbreak like this would have been a disaster for us. Now, the whole worldwide outbreak is just a reminder of life being an uncertain thing, even if in our modern global society, we'd like to think otherwise. Sometimes the shit hits the fan and you can't help it.
NEW MATERIAL IN THE WORKS
Let's turn to something a bit more positive and lighter, shall we? You mentioned to me a while ago that you were in the middle of writing some new material for E.T.o.S. That's cool news, of course! Could you give some sort of an update on where the band is currently standing regarding new material? Do you have enough songs ready for your next album?
Jarmo: We've been writing new material for about five years now.
And to be honest, it's been a surprisingly difficult mission, with our emotions ranging from extreme frustration to glimpses of hope – but we never wanted to give up. And we can't blame anyone else for the difficulties because it's us who have made the songwriting hard.
See, when you take a look at our three latest albums, they are excellent and we're very happy with them. But they are also quite similar to each other when it comes to style. On those albums, we explored the symphonic side of melodic death metal.
So, ever since the last album came out, we've been thinking it'd be a good time to head in a slightly new direction. This is because we think - or at least I have always thought - that writing music could be compared to making journeys of exploration. Explorers rarely visit the same place, do they? Searching for new musical things keeps us and me going.
Lately – and finally – during the months of this corona lockdown, I think we've finally found our new voice. Before this year, we had several half-finished songs. Some of them sounded far too much like what we've done before, some of them sounded just a bit weird and many of them weren't just very good.
But now we're on the right track. And for the first time in years, we all are damn excited about the new songs we've written. We still don't have enough songs for any kind of release, though, but we're definitely marching in the right direction now.
Do you think it's a possibility that you may record a 3-4 songs promotional demo that you could shop to some well-selected labels, just to see where it might lead?
Jarmo: That sounds a bit like Journey to Pohjola, a legendary promo tape by Sentenced :D
But things are different in the 2000s, I think and now that the Internet is present in almost every moment of our lives, things are different. We could record songs and release them by ourselves, or we could record demo songs at home. The possibilities are endless, actually...
Videos are important promotional tools in today's (rotten) music business. Do you have any intention to make one any time soon because it's been such a long time since the band has made any noise and let fans know that you are still among?
Jarmo: Music videos have always been very hard for us because they need certain sums of money (thousands of euros) and talented people who can make excellent music videos. And they always need full support from the record company/companies, too. This is why we didn't get a music video until 2013, and even then, the whole process required a lot of time and effort.
All things considered, it's hard to say anything about the next music video yet. We're not sure whether it's going to be a lyric video or a real music video. I'm sure we're going to have more than just a couple of variables when deciding what to do...
Have you had any serious talk within the band about when you would like to record your next album?
Jarmo: Each of us have had some thoughts of how we should proceed once we finish a handful of new songs, but we haven't had a serious talk about our near future yet. But I think we won't release anything for at least a year, or perhaps even until 2022.
So, it's still a bit too early to say anything because we need to write more songs and to finally have that serious talk.
GOING FOR A HEAVIER APPROACH?
How would you describe this new E.T.o.S. material? Is it more into the vein of your latest album, Saivon Lapsi, or more back to the roots of the Chaotic Beauty and A Virgin and a Whore albums, or something in between?
Jarmo: The songs we're working on at the moment are definitely heavier than we've done for ages. Then again, I think our songs always sound like us no matter what we do, so it might be futile to even try to describe them, but I'll try to give you a short background story.
For some months, I've been listening quite a lot to old-school death metal because for some reason, I skipped some of the legendary death metal albums from the early '90s. They include, for instance, Clandestine by Entombed and some other Swedish masterpieces that are not melodic death metal. In addition, I've been listening a lot to some of my favorite death metal bands such as Carcass, Morbid Angel (up to Domination), Pestilence (up to Spheres), which has definitely affected my new ideas.
Also, for quite a while now, Altti has talked about an old-school death metal side project, just for fun, I think. So, he definitely does not mind our new songs getting a bit heavier.
In addition, Devin Townsend's latest album, Empath, has had quite an impact on me. Not the music as such but the "I can do whatever I feel like, I don't have to please others" attitude. That's a very good attitude (now, this doesn't mean that we would write 20-minute progressive songs similar to what Devin had on Empath. Being a progressive rock fan, I wouldn't mind that, but I just know it wouldn't work for us).
Combine these things and let them mix in our heads for months, and the result is not entirely different from what you may think of. It is definitely not our version of anything by Nocturnus or Possessed or Obituary. Perhaps, using the original definition of melodic death metal – death metal with melodies – you could just call our new songs melodic death metal. Music that sounds like us. And I hope people are going to say "oh, great stuff, a bit different, but this stuff makes sense" when they hear it.
OF SONGWRITING BALANCE
Since Saivon Lapsi was released seven years ago, quite a lot of things have happened in the E.T.o.S. camp. Mika Lammasaari, who wrote the majority of the songs on that record, left the band to pursue his own career in both Mors Subita and Wolfheart. As he was such a key player in the songwriting process of the band, how much did his departure change the band's songwriting balance?
Jarmo: We've always had at least three songwriters in our band, which has made it easier for us if a songwriter has hit a dry spell or has left the band completely.
Mika wrote many songs for Saivon Lapsi, Jamppa (Kylmänen, clean vocals) for Children of the Dark Waters, and I for Chaotic Beauty and Before the Bleeding Sun, etc. (but as we're also a democracy, there's never just one writer for song; in this case, the term "songwriter" refers to a person who has written most of the song, or started it.).
It's easy to admit that without Mika, we wouldn't have been able to make Saivon Lapsi. Therefore, if it hadn't been for him, perhaps we wouldn't even exist today. And we're very thankful to him for that.
Naturally, the songwriting balance and the overall personal dynamics always change when the line-up changes. And even though we have the same line-up as on Children of the Dark Waters, the songwriting dynamic is still somewhat different as we've grown up and each of us want slightly different things from our music nowadays.
So, I think I need to take the main responsibility for our music on the forthcoming album. Not because it's my turn but because somebody needs to do it, and at the moment I feel like I have a musical vision of how to write new songs for us.
Saivon Lapsi was released on a small Finnish label, KHY Suomen Musiikki OY. To me, it all looks like the promotion they did for the album failed to bring E.T.o.S.'s name to the international metal scene so that things would have really started happening around the band. Is this a wrong assumption, or is there actually some truth in it?
Jarmo: What Suomen Musiikki did was quite good for us, but that only applied to Finland. Outside Finland, the album was released by several companies, including Massacre Records from Germany. And many of them did a good job promoting the album.
But I think the foundation of our career was mostly built by several record companies about 20 years ago when Chaotic Beauty came out. We had a long European tour with Nightwish, the album was released in a lot of countries and so on.
So, it's been more or less a continuous process, and it still seems to be worth it because there are so many people who haven't forgotten us, even though it's been seven whole years since Saivon Lapsi was released.
The fans of the band have obviously been curious to know why it's taken such a long time to get some new music from the band they love and adore. Can you tell us the reasons behind the band's "inactivity" so to speak?
Jarmo: Let's just say one half of our inactivity has been caused by many, many personal things. And the other half of it due to the fact that we haven't been sure what to do with our music next.
In some way, I think, we have been in a situation similar to what we had after our fourth album (released in 2001). At that time, we had no idea of what to do next and even if we hadn't been exhausted by several things related to the band, we would still have required a break to think of the future. Then, it only took about three or four years to get reignited. Now, the amount of time needed to reinvent ourselves has doubled because, well, we're not young anymore...
AN EXPERIMENTAL PROJECT
You are also into doing dark, experimental ambient stuff by yourself outside of E.T.o.S. How did you get interested in this type of stuff?
Jarmo: In the early '90s, before and around the time our previous projects finally became E.T.o.S., Olli (one of the co-founders of the band) and I used to write dark intro and outro sort-of-ambient songs for our demos. These songs usually had pseudo-evil names such as Obirah ("Haribo" backwards; not the most evil kind of candy, is it?).
Then, I just forgot that stuff because we didn't need intros or outros for our albums anymore. But, when writing stuff for Saivon Lapsi about ten years ago, I think I got frustrated by the fact that I couldn't come up with any new songs. So, I just took my keyboard and wrote something completely different. Something influenced by many albums I had listened to earlier, including Dead Air for Radios by Kevin Moore, Dream Theater's ex-keyboardist (I know that's where using the samples from movies and TV series came from).
Some years later, I released those songs myself, partly to see how easy or difficult it'd be to release songs and make videos for them. And a couple of months ago, I did the same thing again, but this time to try to express my feelings about the whole damn virus outbreak.
It's a very personal project and I've only done it for personal interest, which is why I've never even promoted the songs or sent them to any record companies. If someone likes the songs, I'm happy, but I've only written them to express myself and to do some experimentation.
Making videos is an integral part of this experimental solo project of yours. How much do you believe learning to make videos, editing them, etc., may also help you to make some cool plans for E.T.o.S. as well?
Jarmo: That is a difficult but good question because until making those videos, I've never considered myself as a visual person at all. I've had some visual ideas lately, but I still think Altti should have the main responsibility for the visual side of the band because he's a very visual person as he is a tattoo artist.
UNDERLINING WHO YOU ARE
The song "Angelheart, Ravenheart (Act III: Saivon Lapsi)" was the first song E.T.o.S. did in your native language, Finnish. Was it just a one-time experiment for the band or do you believe you might do more songs in Finnish in the future?
Altti: Yes, it really was the first time we used Finnish in our lyrics. It was actually an interesting idea that came into my mind when writing lyrics for the previous album and thinking of the story of Saivo. It was nice to try how our native language would fit in our music and how vocals in Finnish would work in general. It was a bit of a different growl in Finnish and I had to think even more carefully how each verse and phrase was emphasized. At the end I think it gave an even harsher edge on the vocals compared to the usual English language and the whole idea turned out pretty nicely. Who knows if there will be more Finnish lyrics in our songs at some point?
How important is having some sort of Finnish identity in your band? Is it essential for you personally to reflect Finland's past history, with its folklore tales and such, through your own music, just to tell people who you are, where you come from, etc.?
Jarmo: It may be surprising (at least to us) that we very rarely write songs about Finnish or Finnic (= Finnish, Estonian, Karelian etc.) folklore tales. Apart from writing one song in Finnish, we don't have that much "Finnish-ness" in our music, I think. We had a song called "The Son of the Forest" on our last 1994 demo tape, and it was very much based by a poem by a legendary Finnish author, Aleksis Kivi. But that's all I can think of right now.
The reason for us avoiding Finnish topics could be as simple as Amorphis sort of reserving the rights to the heart of the Finnish culture, Kalevala, our national epic.
But we've always been very interested in folk legends, however, and we've had influences from the Sami, Japanese and Irish folk tales, among others. So, perhaps it would be a good time to dive into Finnic folklore this time, who knows?
Altti: At the beginning of our career it was very important to underline the origins of the band and our Finnish roots. Of course, it is still part of our music and identity, but we don't keep emphasizing that as much as at the beginning. Finnish and northern myths, stories and folklore have always been present in our songs, but I feel nowadays it's more like a mixture of that plus influences from movies, books, and myths from other cultures, too.
WHEN WILL GIGS HAPPEN AGAIN?
I noticed that your gig calendar contains just two gigs in Oulu, one in August and the other one in September this year. I guess it's still pretty early to say 100% if those gigs will happen, due to the prevailing virus situation. How hopeful are you regarding those two gigs and are you aiming to book some more gigs for the band to be done in the fall of 2020 perhaps?
Jarmo: We will have more live shows once we and the world are ready for that. This won't be in 2020, I think. Next year seems to make more sense.
However, the more time passes since the last album, the more I feel we should have at least a single released before doing any live shows. We've had the same basic setlist for seven years now, with some variations, and it almost feels like cheating the audience when playing the same songs over and over again. We need new songs released to prevent the people falling asleep during our shows.
Undoubtedly people have been asking quite a lot about re-release plans of the band's back catalog. Finland's Svart Records released the legendary Chaotic Beauty album at the end of August 2019, and that was the very first time E.T.o.S. music was released on vinyl. Do you have any further plans to get some of your other albums released in this format? Would Svart be interested in releasing some other E.T.o.S. albums on vinyl? How about a luxurious and fancy-looking box set, having all of the E.T.o.S. albums collected for it, which would also be a one-time and limited release?
Jarmo: We would definitely have plans about re-releasing our albums in different formats if we owned the rights to them, but we don't, so the next best thing is to cooperate with Svart Records who, as you already said, released one of our albums so far. And I think they're already planning on releasing something more but that's all I know so far.
I don't think there's a need for a complete all-you-can-have LP/CD box set until we finally want to quit, which is really not what we're thinking of right now.
Also, I think our final release should be an album of re-recorded songs from each of our previous albums. That would be a much more interesting release in my humble opinion. The album would include a couple of songs from our very first promo tape (The Seven Goddesses of Frost, May '94), that have never been released in any other format than a cassette. But in the end, this is just my idea of how we should wrap up our career. Fortunately, this is not going to happen for years.
THE E.T.o.S. TRAIN IS MOVING
Looking far into the future, what are some of the things that you'd like to achieve with the band before you say mission accomplished?
Jarmo: If we started thinking we were finished with the band, we would split up (again). We still enjoy doing what we do just as much as we did ten or twenty or even twenty-four years ago, which is when we started this band.
But now that I think of it, it's actually a small miracle that we're still active. Most of the bands that started in the early '90s have already quit, Children of Bodom being one of them. It must have something to do with the fact that we don't burn our candles at both ends. Every live show is a big thing for us, and we try to enjoy them as much as we can. We have been taking it slowly for years now.
I remember the first time I read an interview about the first years of Metallica. I think Lars was interviewed and he said something like "oh, since day #1 of the band, I wanted this band to be the biggest metal band in the world". And I instantly thought "well, we've never had huge plans like that". Our plans have always been small and realistic. Like, when we started this band, Altti and I thought "wouldn't it be nice if someone released our music, as a 7" or an EP or something?" And that wish came true after a few years. After that, we've had a lot of small wishes and plans, and most of them have come true. So, we've been lucky.
However, looking at the big picture and how much we still enjoy writing new songs and playing live shows, our mission is far from accomplished. There are still a bunch of new, interesting songs to be written, places to be played at, and lyrics and stories to be finished. The E.T.o.S. train is back on the track and we ain't planning on stopping it now.
Altti: Well, at least making that show happen in the US ;-)
Seriously speaking it would be still nice to do some ass kicking songs and play some shows in countries we haven't visited yet.
Alright guys, I sincerely want to thank you both for your time and making this interview happen and wish you all the best with your endeavors with the band in the future. If there's anything that you'd like to add, then be my guest... ;o)
Jarmo: Thank you Luxi for the profound questions! All has been said, for now. Have a great second half of this year! I think it will be better than the first one...
|Other information about Eternal Tears Of Sorrow on this site|
|Review: A Virgin and a Whore|
|Review: Chaotic Beauty|
|Review: Vilda Mannu|
|Review: Sinner's Serenade|
|Review: Before the Bleeding Sun|
|Review: Children of the Dark Waters|
|Review: Saivon Lapsi|
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