Interview with guitarist Ari Väntänen, vocalist Kristian Herkman, drummer Assu Purojärvi and bassist Mika Rytilahti
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 4, 2021
Arched Fire was a Finnish metal band that took its first baby steps in the relatively small town of Kemijärvi, Finland, in the late eighties. Back then, the band was comprised of four enthusiastic teenagers, all 14-15 years old, who were all keen on playing music that was greatly inspired by both American and Finnish speed/thrash metal. At that age, the sky is the limit and nothing stops you from chasing a piece of fame and fortune. Unless you have been born in a small and isolated town where things may not be as luxurious and advanced as in some bigger metropolitan areas.
Arched Fire sadly ended in 1990 before making a name for themselves (which was the case with so many other Finnish metal bands back in those days, unfortunately). Naturally, books have many chapters and the same applies to Arched Fire. The band decided to regroup in 2019 after being away from the scene for nearly 30 years. What triggered them to make a comeback after all those years? Read for yourself as we here at the deepest and darkest chambers of The Metal Crypt wanted to know the same thing...
How's life, guys? Good, I hope. How severely has this ugly Covid-19 pandemic kicked your asses these past two years or so...?
Ari: Considering the circumstances, we're alright, thanks for asking. The Big C has had its effects on our lives, of course. Could have been worse as we're not dead yet. Waiting for a vaccine fix...
If any good has come out of this situation, it is that many musicians have been able to create tons of music as the whole world has been closed for gigging. Do you feel fortunate that due to this pandemic you were able to focus on this record more determinedly and find a label to put it out?
Ari: We were very focused and determined, because making the album was the only plan we had. We had to postpone a couple of studio sessions because it wasn't safe to travel and meet people, but things turned out great in the end. Personally, I feel very fortunate for the opportunity to be a part of this band with these guys.
SIGNING TO WORMHOLEDEATH RECORDS
How did the Italian label WormHoleDeath Records come into the picture?
Ari: That was really something. I was online looking for contact information for record companies when I saw a piece of news about a Finnish band being signed to a label called WormHoleDeath Records. At the time, we were working on a song called "Wormhole", and the word caught my attention. So, I thought I'd send our first video, "Remote-Controlled End", to them. The label's main man Carlo Bellotti got back to me the next day, saying he really liked it and was interested in hearing more. We sent him more songs and he thought we had a good thing going and sent us some papers to sign, and here we are.
The album contains nine songs and an intro. What people should know is some of these songs are taken from the band's early incarnation, back in the late eighties. What kind of process was it for you guys to get the songs re-arranged and re-recorded for this opus?
Ari: Yes, six songs out of nine are rooted in the turn of the 1990's era. In 2008, there was a kind of a prequel to our rebirth, when our lead guitar player Janne Särkelä and I rearranged "Remote-Controlled End", "A.T.W.", "Crawling Down", "Escape", "From Dust to Dust" and "...And Ride Away" and recorded instrumental demos of them. I rearranged the structures on paper and Janne wrote some cool new middle parts in some of the songs.
The original 1990 rehearsal recording of "Escape" was over nine minutes long, the version on Remote Control is four minutes. I guess that says something about what we concentrated on: "Don't bore us, get to the chorus!" We only got the base tracks done, but when the band got back together in 2019, those demos were a solid base for us to start building on.
How much did you send files to each other via the Internet and how much did you have real face-to-face time?
Ari: The band arrangements were done online. We live all over this place called Finland, and it was the only way we were able to work on the songs on a daily basis. Everyone arranged their own parts, and the others made suggestions. It worked really well for us; may the Metal God bless Facebook Messenger. We met face to face when we recorded the drums and the guitars in the studio, a couple of different studios, in fact.
How did it feel to return to your old material and get it shaped up to fit better with today's standards, sound-wise?
Ari: For me, it was exactly what I wanted to happen—a complete makeover. I always thought there was something in it. When we got back together and Kristian stepped into the picture, I found it very exciting and inspiring. There was doubt that we were working on something brilliant. We wanted to have the present-day sound quality, but not the sound itself, as in what modern metal bands sound like today. We'd rather be more old school.
BEING INSPIRED BY THE PAST
How much nostalgia was involved in the whole process and wanting to stay as loyal as possible to the original song arrangements?
Ari: It was crucial to get rid of the nostalgia. We were talking about this before Kristian became our new singer. Should it be just the four of us? Not necessarily, because we were always looking for a vocalist and a front man back in the day, there just weren't any around. Should the music and lyrics remain like they were? Only if they are good. As soon as we decided that this can't be about bringing back the past, the songs started to sound great. With Kristian's vocal lines and lyrics, the old ideas grew into new songs. We're inspired by our past, not returning to it.
What's old and what's new on this album?
Kristian: The plan for the first album was to record the six old songs that Ari and Janne had already rearranged and then we added three other songs. "Back on Track" was initially recorded twelve years ago by Mika and I and we did a new version of it. "Futile" was made from old and new Arched Fire riffs and "Wormhole" started from my riffs that were recreated by the band.
Ari: I'd say the "old" songs on the album are just based on our old material. Most of the riffs are from our early days, but all the structures are heavily reshaped, new parts were added, the arrangements improved, and the vocal lines are brand new. Only the verses in "A.T.W." and "Escape" have some echoes from the past.
Assu, Mika and I formed the band in the spring of 1989, and Janne joined a few months later. The final song on the album, "From Dust to Dust" was the first song the four of us played together in October 1989. Janne still has the tape I gave him then. Hard to say after all these years, but that song could be the oldest of the bunch.
Undoubtedly, you dug up a bunch of early lyrics that were written when you were in your early teens. When you looked at them, did you feel some inner pride for those accomplishments or was your initial reaction... err, something else perhaps?
Ari: Yeah, we looked into what was written in the days of yore and soon realized much of it was useless. The opening lines of "Escape" are from the original song, but that's about it, I think. What we had written as teens wasn't very good and the new melodies needed new lyrics anyway. We decided to keep the original song titles, so that they'd inspire the lyrics, like the old riffs had inspired the music. So, the concepts and themes remained somewhat the same, but the stories and details changed.
How much of the fire and enthusiasm are still burning in each of you from when you started the band some 30+ years ago? Are you still crazy for some old-school American and Finnish speed/thrash metal like back in the day?
Ari: Being excited about Arched Fire is the only reason for us to do this. We have no past glory to return to, so it's all about wanting to be in this band, playing this music with these people, being with friends. Yes, I've been listening to a lot of the old stuff just to get in the right mood for Arched Fire, and I do get a warm fuzzy feeling about it. I'm not the same person I was 30 years ago, but some things never change.
THE MEANING BEHIND REMOTE CONTROL
The album's title is Remote Control. Would you mind telling us the story behind this title?
Kristian: We all live in different cities and the pandemic hit the world during the recording of the album, so we made this album very remotely. All the songs of the album somehow deal with control. They are about self-control or oppression or power. The album title is saying that we are all remotely controlled. The skull guy on the album cover is called Bazie. There's another Bazie in his head controlling him, and someone in his mouth is saying things for him. They are all controlled by the one at the top of the pyramid.
Papa Wilska, the grand old man of the Finnish metal scene, did the cover art for your debut album. Did you give him the title of the album along with some rough idea and ask him to do his best with it, so to speak?
Ari: I asked Markus Laakso of the band Kuolemanlaakso if he knew a good artist who could make us an album cover, and he recommended Wilska. I didn't know him at all, but I knew of him, of course, and we have mutual friends. So, I just went and asked him. He turned out to be a very nice man and was happy to do the whole thing from cover art to graphic design to band photography. And yes, he was free to do what he wanted. We sent him the songs and told him that the key words here are "power" and "control". He did a great job, and we'd love to work with him again.
Is there any leftover songs that didn't fit this album for some reason or other? Do you have any plans for any of that leftover stuff to show up on your next release in the future perhaps?
Kristian: There are a few songs by the old Arched Fire, and also plenty of other riffs and unfinished songs in our drawers. We are currently rearranging more of the old Arched Fire songs and also composing new songs for the second album which is going to be awesome!
THE BAND'S UNTIMELY END
As for the history of the band, Arched Fire existed for only a short period in 1989-90. Could you tell our readers all the reasons that led to the sad decision to split up?
Mika: As for my part, although I didn't recognize it at the time, my drinking had become a problem. I wasn't able to take care of my responsibilities in the band, and the guys decided to dismiss me. It was quite amicable, and I did realize that I wasn't doing my best for the band. I wished them all the best.
Ari: After that episode, it wasn't the same anymore. There was another bass player, a good friend of ours called Jani Miinala rehearsing with us for a while. Then this pub rock band that had a lot of gigs and a plan to cut a single asked him to join. He decided to take on their offer, which was totally understandable. We were still way underage, had no contacts with other metal bands, had no means to play gigs outside our hometown, and the band spirit was waning. We were going nowhere. In the late summer of 1990, it was time to call it a day.
Did it bug you after the split that you didn't get the band working the way you originally hoped?
Ari: I remember being down about it. Basically, the band was all I had that point, and it really did a number on my self-esteem not to be able to pull it off. Living in a small town, it wasn't like you could just leave a band and walk into the next one. I mean, there were only a handful of people roughly our age playing music. I got over the sad phase before too long, but the thought of what Arched Fire could have been crossed my mind every now and then. I had our songs on tape, and a few years later Janne digitized the songs on a CD-R. I used to listen to it sometimes and think that although what we did back then was amateurish because of our age and experience, we had some good song ideas. So, yes, it bugged me, but in a positive way.
All good things must come to end at some point, just to get refuelled and restarted later on. Did you feel after letting the band rest in its temporary grave for those 30+ long years, it was a perfect time to reanimate this old corpse in 2019 and breathe some new life into it?
Ari: It must have been the right time. When Janne and I recorded the demos in 2008, it was just two of us, we only got so far with them, and then Arched Fire went back into hibernation. Then, in November 2019, Mika and I were chatting about how much fun it would be to get back on the old AF case, and then everything just happened. We didn't really have to discuss anything apart from "hey guys, let's make an Arched Fire album". Janne was in, Assu was in, Mika brought Kristian in. It was almost like it was meant to be.
I am sure that you experienced some memorable moments when Arched Fire was a part of your life during 1989-90. Is there any specific moment or event that comes to your mind when you felt like the sky was the limit and nothing could stop you?
Assu: First, we rehearsed in Ari's parent's garage. We played almost every night and wanted to be the best band of all. When we'd take a break, we'd sneak outside to smoke Chesterfield Blue cigarettes and hope Ari's parents wouldn't notice. Once I saw this little bottle sitting on the garage's windowsill. I opened it and sniffed it to find out what it was. It was acetic acid. My nose burned so bad it hurt for a few days. From there we moved to Tunturila, a youth centre led by my mother. The place felt huge after the garage. Every time I left the rehearsals to go home, I had the feeling that someday our band was going to become... something.
How was Kemijärvi as a town in the eighties, through in the eyes of a metal-digging teenager?
Ari: It was a very small town, but not quite as small as it is today. These days, it's a town of 7,000 people. Back then it was like 12,000 people, so it was lively. There were record shops and everything. Also, there were band articles in the local newspaper, and even record reviews at some point. I've got to give kudos to the people in Sessio, which is the local live music association, and Soundiässät, a local audio equipment company. They arranged gigs and events and gave us a chance to play live with more experienced bands, although we were still very much wet behind the ears. They could have easily said no, but they didn't. We even got to play live on the air, on the radio, twice! But for metal kids, there wasn't much action around. There were some decent hard rock and pub rock bands, but no speed or thrash. Apart from Arched Fire, there was a metal band called Noise Pollution, but they didn't play any gigs.
Did you ever dream of moving closer to the metal capital of Finland, Helsinki?
Ari: At that point it was like wanting to move to another planet. You see, we were still just kids living with our parents, still in school. We used to read and hear about bands and Metal Massacre nights and stuff like that, and we saw Stone live in Kemijärvi when they toured their third album Colours. But leaving the town was the dream, for me at least. I couldn't wait to hop on the train, which I did as soon as I could.
ENTERING THE DANGER ZONE
You also had a band called Danger Zone going on for a short while, in 1988, which never played a single gig. What kind of learning process was it for you to have your very first band going with two of your childhood friends who apparently were also pretty keen on playing in a band?
Ari: It feels funny to talk about it because it was just kids' stuff. I had forgotten where the band's name came from, but I just recently noticed that the last song on Zero Nine's Voodoo You album (1988) is called "Danger Zone". That must be where I got it from. I think we were supposed to be a melodic heavy rock band.
Assu: Ari and I were looking for a bass player, and Jussi Säily, whose father is a jazz guitarist, was our friend, our age and played bass, so we asked him. We rehearsed a few times every week in the college music room, and the local newspaper interviewed us.
Ari: That's exactly what it was, a learning process. First rehearsals, first songs written, first interview, first arguments about how to behave in the rehearsal place. Assu played drums and sang like he did in the first incarnation of Arched Fire. Jussi played bass and still does. I played guitar and tried to write riffs and lyrics.
I remember being baffled about how to write a vocal line for a song, you know, the melody. I asked this guy about it, he was a few years older, the singer in a hard rock band that rehearsed in the same room with us. He told me that you just have to try different things until you come up with a melody that you like. We were just fourteen years old and had no clue about anything.
Assu: Danger Zone never got on its wings. Instead, it just killed itself bit by bit, and then Ari and I started to search for other players for a new project. We found Mika, who lived next door to me. And the rest is history.
What's your most hilarious memory from the days of Danger Zone, if I may ask? Obviously, when you are young and learning about how things work, things can go wrong whether you want them to or not, right?
Ari: Well, it seems hilarious now that we had "Paranoid" for a cover song. I mean, who plays "Paranoid"?! It was basically the only tune I was able to master, apart from my own songs. The older guys in other bands we shared the rehearsal room with found us annoying. Like, we could take someone's drum kit apart without even thinking why, just because we were kids and we could, and they'd have to put it back together before they could start rehearsing. Once there was a wedding reception held in the building we rehearsed in, and we found the catering, the food, and ate some. Did I mention we were 14? Sorry, everybody.
Do you believe there will be plans for a follow-up album on your bucket list in the future simply because playing in this band is so much fun?
Kristian: Yes, there will definitely be a follow-up album! The second album is on the way, and we aim to release it in 2022. And after that we will continue to do new music and release new albums. We are also using our creative juices for lyric videos with Jussi Hevander to give our fans a visual experience. Some merchandise is also on our list. Doing all this is mainly about expressing ourselves and making something hopefully remarkable that other people can enjoy.
That's all I had in mind for this chat guys, so thanks a lot for your time and, of course, all the best with your future comings and goings with the band as well. Any last comments and/or thoughts to wrap up this conversation properly enough?
Ari: Thanks for doing this with us, Luxi and The Metal Crypt, it was an honor. Thanks for reading, dear readers—check out our album Remote Control, available for streaming everywhere and also on CD: www.recordshopx.com/artist/arched_fire/remote_control
|Other information about Arched Fire on this site|
|Review: Remote Control|
|Review: Trust Betrayal|
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