Unholy – Interview

int_unholy_headerI remember several years back during the height of my tape trading, somehow securing a 100th generation copy of “The Second Ring of Power” by an unheard of band (at least by me that is) out of Finland called UNHOLY. The strange moods that were created on that impressive piece of work (their 2nd full-length release) by the bands combination of black tinged doom metal and a heavy handed, avant-garde weirdness, moved me to wear out my copy of that tape. 2 Years have past, during which UNHOLY had broken up, only to reform and return to a scene that may not have quite understood their intentions, with their most bold and experimental release to date. “Rapture” journeys deeper into cross genre pollination for results that are dreamy, emotive and swept with a dense gothic charisma that even a lot of Goth bands can’t figure out how to produce. If you have an open mind that excepts depressive mood swings to accompany your metal heavy music, I encourage you to read on and let Ismo Toivonen (guitars/keyboards) fill you in on one of the scenes most cultured and impressive bands. UNHOLY is a name you should remember. -Marty – (Taken from Worm Gear #7)

Greetings Ismo! It’s great to have the depressive UNHOLY back into the business of creating underground music once again. For the less educated regarding the bands evolution, could you give us all some history behind UNHOLY?

Well, this will be long… UNHOLY is formed in 1988 when Jarkko Toivonen and Pasi Aijo decided to begin playing together. I joined the band in autumn 1989. At that point they had been released their first demo. Jan Kuhanen came behind drums in -91 or something, I don’t remember exactly. Before that we had several drummers but not any good. I think Jan has made possible all of what we are now, because he was so good that he even made us to try harder and harder. So, we made a few demos and at last in -91 we recorded our last demo “Trip to Depressive Autumn”. It was quite popular in those days and we made a recording contract with Lethal Records. Wild Rags also took our demo under their license in USA and so in -92 we recorded our first CD “From the Shadows” in Austria. Well, that album was terrible shit because of awful mixing. Lethal wanted to do mixing by themselves and anybody can hear this. Lethal was a RIP OFF label and I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Then we got a contract with Avantgarde Music and in spring 1994 we recorded a second CD “The Second Ring of Power”. In those times I left guitar (I played it in UNHOLY since the beginning) and began to play only keyboards. We didn’t need two guitars but we really needed strange, original sounds. That was what we got and personally I’m really satisfied in result of Second Ring. Sounds are good, mixing works and so on.

We made gigs in Finland and we had a change to make a quite big European tour but the tour manager was a rip off and the tour was cancelled just a few days before it was to start. Some guys also had some personal problems, I would say personal alcohol problems, and because of that and those other setbacks in a very short time we felt frustrated and lost our creativity and energy. So we decided to withdraw from the metal scene. I had, and I think we all had plans to continue one day so I wouldn’t say that we split. During that break we all had, and still have, some of our own projects. Some successful, some less successful. In the summer 1996 I asked Jan and Pasi to begin playing together again. We didn’t ask for Jarkko because he had his own band “Tiermes” and he lived far away from Imatra and we thought that things wouldn’t work because of it. So, I play guitars and keyboards now. We started to make new material and this time we were really serious. We asked Avantgarde to make a contract, because everything went well last time. They agreed and in spring -97 we signed a two album deal with them. We recorded it during the summer in the same studio where we made “The Second Ring…” So, here we are. Uh, that was a shorter version. You can check out a longer one from our web site.

UNHOLY has been disbanded for a 2 year span after the completion of the amazing “The Second Ring of Power”. What was the deciding factor/elements that brought you all back together and into the frame of mind to create again?

I think we all wanted to play some heavy stuff after the many different kinds of personal projects we had during that “holiday”. I think we had more energy than ever so we got to go and set it free. Maybe that’s the reason why “Rapture” is quite aggressive and depressive in the same time. We also know each other so well that it’s easy to start again. When you have played almost 10 years together you know exactly what guys mean.

During the 2 year hiatus, did yourself or any of the other members remain in contact or productive in the underground? Have you noticed any drastic changes in the music or people that make up this scene?

Jarkko had contacts in scene all the time because of his TIERMES project. But us three didn’t have any idea what was going on in the scene. I can see many changes have happened here. Few years ago, the scene was turned more inside, but nowadays it’s more open and people are not so prejudiced. That’s good because when people grow, the scene must grow too. Music has changed quite a lot. It’s really professionally produced and played, and I couldn’t imagine that stuff like “From The Shadows” could strike through today. Anyway I don’t listen that kind of music so who I am to talk?

Early on in the bands development, corpse paint was part of your theatrical presentation. What sort of significance did this hold for UNHOLY? Now that it seems like it has been elevated to a mindless trend, do you think more bands are falling back on the gimmick instead of concentrating on content?

Corpse paint kind of gave us strength and sharpened our minds when we were on the stage. It had no other meaning for me. BEHERIT, IMPALED NAZARENE and us were the first bands to use this in Finland. But soon there was all kind of shit bands who had these masks too. It became so trendy that we decided: no thanks. Hard to say but I hope not.

On a personal level, what do you feel is the most important element to consider when creating music? Do you feel that you have captured this with your new album “Rapture”? Do tell us how this melancholic release came together…

I think you just have to take your instrument, start to play and hear what is coming. We have always made songs in this method but earlier one guy made the whole riff alone and then showed it to others. Then we put all these riffs (made in completely different times and place) together and made some arrangements. So that was it. It sounded complex like “uuh, these guys can play!” but it is not a song. It has no spirit. We have made the songs of “Rapture” a completely different way: When we have a rehearsing session we just start to play something and improvise. When we got a good riff, we continue playing it sometimes for an hour and add some new things to it all the time. At the same time we compose the next riff. When we have spent all our energy and hopefully got several good riffs fit together, we record it to tape and then listen to it at home. If it still works, we begin to refine it and this period might take many weeks. At last the song is ready and with that method it’s really a song. Not just a handful of individual riffs. And we all three are creating it from the beginning. But that is just possible because UNHOLY has only three members now. It couldn’t work in old UNHOLY. And there is one thing that helps us too: we can play different instruments so we might even change instruments during making of the song, so it can give a new color to the music too. This new style to make songs has given us some new views and now everyone can be more a part of song making than earlier. Now we can really say that music is made by UNHOLY, the whole band. Yeah, I’m quite satisfied.

Where do you think the suicide inspiring mood generated by your music comes from? Are you and your fellow band mates really as grim as your art would suggest?

I haven’t heard that our music generates that kind of mood but I have to believe it when you say so. Maybe it comes to music because when we are playing, we are really “in” the music with our whole body. When we have rehearsed for 5 hours we are really tired. We don’t rage and jump all over the places during rehearsing period, we just concentrate and we are doing it quite calm. I can say it’s really mentally exhausting. No, we are not SO grim at home and on the streets. It just begins when we start to play.

The music of UNHOLY has retained it’s strong and groundbreaking avant-garde style while staying true to the traits that fall under the “metal” classification. Since the band has been labeled everything from death, dark, black, gothic and doom metal, what style do you feel your music rests most comfortably in?

I think it’s not wise to classify any music, because it always brings some chains to band and then they might think that “we have to play like this because we play XXX-metal”. That is not very usual but some people might get influences from those categories. There is other reason too: nowadays there is many different categories because bands are playing more original music than in 80’s and the beginning of 90’s. This will lead to a point where every band has their own classification term. That would be really stupid. We have always tried to get away from any classification. In the late 80’s there was only Death, Trash and Heavy (and Celtic Frost), and it was easy, hah. But after all if you ask me my opinion of our style, I would still say Doom, I don’t know why. Maybe it sounds less stupid.

Do you think your highly unique take on all of these styles has in some ways hindered the bands popularity over the years? Sometimes fans of this genre of music seem rather close minded to new thing…

Of course. I think that we have too original of music for big audiences. Offering our music to “normal” metal fan is like offering a fusion jazz to classical music fan. People just don’t understand our style. “Rapture” will be easier to understand, because it contains more classical elements and so it’s more melodic.

While listening to “Rapture”, I get the impression that there is a deeper meaning or purpose existing within your songs than the standard “evil” rantings of this genre or typical “3 guys just wanting to jam” mentality. Am I reading too much into what you’re trying to achieve, or is there indeed something more?

You’re right, there is a deeper meaning. I think there has always been, but nowadays it be more visible. The whole idea of “Rapture’s” lyrics is to make people think where everything is going. We live in a sick world and there isn’t any “knight spirit” and honor left. All noble-minded people have been crushed into speechless-ness and all self-respect is gone. Man has lost his connection to nature and all these things makes us quite anxious.

I found “Rapture” to be far more mature and depressive than your past works due to a more eclectic aura being portrayed within your use of keyboards and sequences. Please discuss this instruments importance and evolution in the band.

As I told you earlier, we have changed the method of doing music. So, now we use keyboards more free and even in the composing progress. We have songs that have began from drums and bass and then we have composed all other stuff on it, using keyboards, guitar or what ever it needed. I think the main reason for depressive keyboard melodies is just composing! We just don’t make songs, we compose them.

Where do you see this medium leading your music stylistically in the future?

I think our next album will be more melodic and more symphonic. It’ll also be even more depressive and mind-touching.

With all the different and emotional ideas that exist within “Rapture”, I think it’s apparent that you strongly appreciate other genres of music like possibly dark wave for example. What are some other styles of music/bands that have influenced you that you could maybe suggest to others to widen their musical scope?

The fact is that anyone of us listens to any black or death metal. Of course if we find some good music which really feels good, we don’t care if it is black or any fucking panzer general metal. The main thing is that it has to work. So maybe our music taste influences our music but it’s hard to say what exactly makes this influence. We listen to music from classical to techno (I must say less techno but if it’s good we don’t split on it). Here is some bands what I listen to: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Sielun Veljet, Voivod, Circle, J.S.Bach, Dvorak etc. etc.

Now that we all have a greater understanding of the musical force behind UNHOLY, could you give us a glimpse into your lyrical concepts? Were does the band stand collectively on the theories of god/devil, heaven/hell? Are these thoughts just as vital to your everyday existence as they are a creative output?

I don’t believe in those kinds of things. My god is in my mind and I think the same goes with anyone else.

When looking at the Scandinavian metal scene as a whole, it seems like a majority of the global attention is directed to Norway and Sweden, when Finland also has a very healthy scene as well (i.e.: SKEPTICISM, IMPALED NAZARENE, UNHOLY, THY SERPENT and countless others). Could possibly the criminal aspects of the black metal movement be the reasoning for this? What are your thoughts on all of this and during that era, was there any mischievous activities going on in Finland as well ?

These criminal things have nothing to do with music. Teenagers buy more albums when the things the band has made is against societal authorities. Some bands are doing that and I must say that scene wouldn’t be the same without that but we don’t support that kind of action.

Being of Finish descent myself, I have always been curious as to why there seems to be so much animosity between the Finns and Swedish people? If you have also noticed this (and from being on the front lines so to speak), perhaps you could shed some light on this topic)

I think it is because in Finland we have Swedish minority and because of that we have to read Swedish in schools. Most people don’t need Swedish language in their whole life but still we have to read it. The Swedish have huge power in Finland when you think how few they are. That results in a grudge even for Sweden. That could be one reason but I cannot say it’s true.

Now that the album is available, will there be a tour to follow? How important is playing live to the band and what can one expect from an UNHOLY show?

I think there will not be any tour, because we have only three member now and I don’t see any reason to go to gig without keyboards and female vocals. We would have to take at least two new members to make some gigs. But I must say it’s not impossible. If we get a good offer everything is possible and it would be really cool to make some live shows again.

Many thanks Ismo for wading through this monster sized interview. May your journey be a successful one and once again, it’s good to hear something new from UNHOLY! Any final comments, Insults or ponderous statements?

It was really a pleasure to answer that kind of questions. I must say that this was the first intelligent interview I’ve ever answered. Some last words: “A Thought Unchained, Unpredictably Drifting In Wider Spaces, Beyond The Limitations Of The Spirit Of Time…”

~ by scottsplatter on January 3, 2009.

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