Interview with vocalist and guitarist Emperor Nattesett
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 16, 2023
Darkwoods My Betrothed, an old black metal cult act from the Finnish metal scene of the past, made their comeback in 2020 and released their fourth album, Angel of Carnage Unleashed, in 2021, marking the first new music from the D.M.B. camp in almost a quarter-century. Nobody expected to see them make a comeback and certainly not with Tuomas Holopainen from Nightwish as part of the lineup. The time was optimal for Tuomas due to the unfortunate lockdowns of societies around the globe when bands were forced to stay at home.
Things started moving in small steps for D.M.B. during 2020 and the right lineup and record label were eventually found enabling these semi-legendary Finns to make their comeback a reality. How did all this happen? All you need to do is read the following interview with the band's main driver, Pasi Kankkunen (aka Emperor Nattesett), who was more than eager to tell the story, also openly revealing things that none of us could possibly have been aware of. For your immediate relief, I will let you know right off the bat that during the band's long absence, Pasi didn't turn to a believer, so feel free to keep your cross turned upside down, okay?
[*Kindly also note some of the content in the interview has an outdated feel to it due to some unfortunate setbacks in Pasi's personal life*]
THE UNHOLY MEETING AT STEELFEST
So, how's life? It was good to see you at Steelfest, Hyvinkää, Finland. Did you have a blast at the festival?
Emperor: Thank you. Life is just as it should be despite some health setbacks. I recently had hand surgery and now I'm going through hellish rehabilitation so I can play bass or guitar.
Yes, and indeed, it was nice to finally see you and put a face to a living legend! ;o)
It's fun at Steelfest, especially when the setting and the performers are optimal for me personally, as it has been the case with Steelfests so far. It's a pity that I couldn't participate this year, but if I can do it again next year...
THE COMEBACK AND NEW ALBUM
Finnish black metal legends Darkwoods My Betrothed reformed in 2020, and if the information one is able to find on the Internet is true, this was your second attempt at making a comeback and the successful one because there's a new D.M.B. album, titled Angel of Carnage Unleashed, as proof. Can I ask what happened between the years 2004-2005 when the band was apparently active for a year but then the mysterious silence descended over the band again...
Emperor: Surprisingly, over the years, D.M.B. has been asked to play gigs everywhere, so it happened that my friend Toni Taleva suggested that if D.M.B. becomes active, he would arrange for the band to play at Tuska's after-party, at the famous Tavastia Club. We ended up shaking hands and put the band together as promised. To be honest, I had no concrete idea who would play in the band or how this would all work.
I then told Jouni (Hallgrim) that I promised to play and would you mind joining the band or will I be forced to do things as a troubadour. Jouni gave it some thought then he gave the green light and from there the lineup started to build up through some friends. The gig lineup was, due to obvious reasons, very different from what it was on the record, but the original lineup would not have come together at that time.
This lineup of the band was me playing only bass and Jouni (Hallgrim) playing second guitar. The Rytkönen brothers, known from Horna, Lauri "Kassara" was on drums and Tuomas "Spellgoth" was on vocals, my friend Juha "Magician" Kokkonen was on synths and, last but not least, Juhana "Icelord" Salo from a Kuopio-based band named WRTX on the guitar.
With this lineup, we did the gigs in Kuopio and the Tavastia gig. We also did gigs at the Turku club and at Kouvola's Rytmikatti where Tuomo Kuuluvainen from the WRTX band accompanied Hallgrim on second guitar. In that sense, we were quite satisfied with the amount of practice for the gigs. It was cool to play the old songs live, without new songs or a bigger investment in live situations. Doing further gigs after the ones we already played, didn't seem so meaningful to me at that time.
GETTING THE RIGHT LINEUP TOGETHER
When you got the spark to raise this band back to its feet in 2020, did you have a clear vision of who should be a part of the band and how did you manage to interest Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish) in playing keyboards?
Emperor: Jouni, Teemu, Tuomas, and I had been talking about D.M.B.'s return over the years, but it didn't progress further than that. However, D.M.B.'s comeback finally happened when Jouni and Tuomas started talking more about a possible return and eventually Tuomas gave the green light to the matter because Nightwish got less busy due to the famous COVID pandemic.
When Jouni later asked Teemu and me if we were eager and open to the idea, and we were, but we had a lot of questions about how things would progress from the idea to the implementation. At that time Tuomas said that Nightwish had just taken a break and D.M.B. would have a good but limited time gap to get something concrete done. The matter was urgent because studio bookings, schedules, making songs and rehearsing would pose their own challenges for the project.
After thinking about it for a few days, we decided that since the four of us (me, Teemu, Jouni and Tuomas) had a relatively clear vision of the musical goal and a burning desire to make music together again, the decision to return was quite easy despite the challenging situation.
The next question that arose was who would play the drums, and we asked the band's original drummer, Tero, what his thoughts on the matter were. I don't know Tero's exact thoughts because Jouni was mainly in contact with him, but it became clear very quickly that since there would be very little time for rehearsing, it would be impossible for Tero to commit and give his full contribution as the band's drummer. Tuomas had a solution to this problem, and he suggested that we could hire Kai "Kaitsu" Hahto. Kaitsu had worked smoothly in Nightwish, both in terms of training and other things, so cooperation would be easy and effortless. I have been a fan of Kaitsu as a drummer since the days of Cartilage and knew the man's talent behind the drums. For Teemu and Jouni, Kaitsu's doings in Rotten Sound were a bit more unfamiliar, so it was quite easy for me to convince them of Kaitsu's abilities by linking a few well-chosen "live clips" of Rotten Sound from YouTube, to fully convince them of his talent.
Kaitsu and I had already crossed paths in Kuopio sometime in the late 1990s at Valhalla Metal Bar when Kaitsu was there at a gig with one of his bands. While I was waiting for the gig, having already poured a few beers down my throat, I threw myself into talking with Kaitsu and found him to be a really down-to-earth guy. After talking about music and everyday things, I thought, with a twinkle in the corner of the eye, to ask, "Would you be our drummer on the upcoming album?" To my surprise, Kaitsu answered immediately, "I will," so I had to swallow a few times before I had the guts to shake his hand as a sign of mutual approval.
After a while, our paths crossed during the drum recordings of the new album at Studio Petrax and when we saw each other, we both remembered that fruitful conversation. I said, "You really don't promise things in vain..." Quite a few years later, but still. [*LOL*]
Would you say that, as both you and Tuomas shared a common history in the Finnish gothic/doom metal outfit Nattvindens Gråt between 1995 and 1997, you had a connection, making it relatively easy to approach him and ask about his interest in being a part of the band's new album?
Emperor: Yes, as I said before, Tuomas played a key role in the band's new arrival. It was also clear to us that Tuomas would be an official member of the band in the future, although still in a role where Teemu, Jouni and I would mainly be responsible for songwriting.
Besides Tuomas, the album features a cavalcade of guest musicians, like Tuomas' wife Johanna Kurkela with her fragile, angel-like singing, Kai Hahto (from Nightwish also) playing drums, Tommi "Tuple" Salmela (Lazy Bonez, ex-Tarot, etc.) and a few others. Did it take a lot of effort to get all these musicians invited to the party?
Emperor: Getting those people on the record was easy and kind of natural. First of all, Johanna is Tuomas' wife, and she was really excited about the songs and the experience of being part of the record. Johanna has her own way of working on the vocals at their home, where the band also recorded the guitars and most of the songs for the new album. As I recall, Johanna said that in her youth she listened to more brutal and more violent music, so it was quite natural. We are very satisfied with Johanna's contribution.
I got my friend Tommi "Tuple" Salmela on board when I was recording some more rhymes for that record at Tuple's home studio. I just got the idea for a few bonus things, to spice things up a little bit and complete the atmosphere of a few songs. We put Tuple behind the microphone, and it took about 15 minutes and he got his job done. I was like, "Wow... this is how professionals take care of things and make them happen."
The use of other guest musicians/friends on the album was mainly either a matter of chance or the merit of contacts that were perceived to be good in advance.
CHALLENGES WITH TECHNOLOGY
Was getting this lineup, along with the guests, the only challenging thing for the making of the album or were there some other challenges that you had to tackle in order to get the album finished?
Emperor: As I already mentioned, getting different guests on the record was not difficult, but for me, the biggest challenges by far were the technical solutions we used during the recording and especially when demoing. It was difficult for me to transition from the analog world to the digital one, although I have the basic know-how regarding studio technology. Transitioning from the band training and songwriting to the computer world and making the songs almost ready at home was completely new to me. I also changed from PC to the Mac world, so I had to learn all the tricks with a really tight schedule.
Was it clear to you personally that you wanted to have a full band and not to do this alone as a one-man nostalgic crusade?
Emperor: Yes, with this new arrival of the band, the most important thing for me, and I think for others, too, was that we'd get as much of the original lineup as possible, right down to our longtime producer Tero Kinnunen and merited photographer, Antti Iivonen.
When did you write the first songs for the Angel... album? Were some of them composed a long time ago or did you start from scratch?
Emperor: I started working on my own songs sometime in December 2020. I would say that I started from scratch. I listened to some riffs or ideas that I had saved on my phone over the years, but I didn't find many that were then refined on the record.
As for the band's previous, very well-received Witch-Hunts album, did you use that album as some sort of reference point when you started to lay down the foundation for the material, and did you want to stay loyal to the band's familiar and distinctive sound?
Emperor: I don't know if we considered that particular album as a special reference for the material on our comeback record Angel..., but, of course, we wanted to include some elements from that album that we still liked.
LONG LIVE... QUORTHON!
Having listened to Angel... several times, in my sincere opinion it's a truly brilliant album, maintaining the creepy and dark atmosphere that has always been a crucial part of D.M.B.'s sound. To label the band as a pure black metal outfit, however, would be a crime because there's so much more involved with the band's sound. Some moments lead listeners toward soundscapes like Thomas Forsberg, aka Quorthon, started leading his Viking ship toward the shores of more pompous and epic things from the classic Under the Sign... album back in 1987. For example, a song like "In Thrall to Ironskull's Heart" is a very good example of your love of Bathory's Viking era. How much has Bathory meant to you since you became a musician many decades ago?
Emperor: Yes, Bathory was and still is, at least for me and Teemu, the most significant band when mirroring my relationship with black/Viking metal and the songs in general that we have done thus far. Of course, later there were a few other bands as well that have had strong influences on our music.
It goes without question that you still have a lot of passion and burning fire left for this band, after being on hiatus for almost a quarter-century. What has kept your inner fire burning, so to speak?
Emperor: I have been quite active in the metal scene over the years, so my passion has not been lost. I was secretly hoping that the original band would be activated at some point to create something concrete, which finally happened.
VISIONARY COMPOSER MR. T. HOLOPAINEN
As has been proved on many occasions, Tuomas is a superb composer. How much "freedom" in terms of bringing in the kind of keyboard parts that he wanted to conjure up, did you allow him?
Emperor: We gave Tuomas free hands to use his creativity when it came to the demo songs we made. We demoed the songs and Tuomas usually came up with a few different things for them, which we then discussed together, about their functionality in the songs. Very often, Tuomas' ideas went straight to the final production, because they were so damn good. Most of all, we thought about where and when the vocals, synths or any instruments would be so that all the elements would best support each other.
How did you get your deal with Napalm Records? Did you have other label interest?
Emperor: Ewo Pohjola, who works as Nightwish's manager, seemed to have a hand in the game when it came to Napalm Records, so there actually was no need to look at other options.
What was it like when Spinefarm Records signed you and released your third, semi-cult-ish record Witch-Hunts, in 1998?
Emperor: I think Spinefarm became interested in D.M.B. after our second album Autumn Roars Thunder, released in 1996. If I remember correctly, we might have had an option for another album if we had been a tad more active after the Witch-Hunts album came out.
THE END IN 1998
What were the reasons that stopped the band back in 1998? Was there some serious drama between band members when you decided to call it quits?
Emperor: Witch-Hunts was a time-consuming and difficult project, and it seemed that everyone felt somewhat exhausted after it was done. Also, at the time, my interests were in the work of Furthest Shore's debut and Barathrum's Legions of Perkele and the gigs and tours that took place to support them. I can't really say what the other band members' interests were, but apparently D.M.B. wasn't their main priority at that time either.
Do you have plans to get D.M.B. out to play live shows, if you can get each of your timetables to match at some point in the future? I envision wildly in my head that those shows might get sold out in no time if both Tuomas and Kai from Nightwish were part of the band's live lineup...
Emperor: Hmm... There has been a commendable amount of interest in the band's live performances all along and especially after the release of the new album, but nothing concrete has happened. Tuomas and Kaitsu are very busy, of course, with Nightwish, but also with their countless other projects and bassist Teemu is working abroad for at least a year, so light at the end of that tunnel is not visible at this time. However, I wouldn't completely rule out the option of seeing D.M.B. live someday, but it would require a lot of effort to make it happen on a scale that would be functional and meaningful enough.
Do you believe, deep down in your heart, that in the distant future there might well be a follow-up album to Angel...?
Emperor: Yes, absolutely! We have already done some things with an eye on that, and I believe that the epicness of our firm Kitee-roots will continue in one way or the other.
Well, that's everything I had in my mind for this conversation, so I want to thank you for your time and wish you all the best with your future endeavors with the band—and beyond...
Emperor: Thanks for the interview, Luxi!
|Other information about Darkwoods My Betrothed on this site|
|Review: Heirs of the Northstar|
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