In 2014 the power metal act Arion released their debut album “Last Of Us”, which was an instant hit on the Finnish metal scene. The album was an up-to-date version of the Finnish power metal we all have come to love over the years, reminiscing of acts like Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica.
In 2016 the band released two singles for their upcoming sophomore album to introduce us to their new singer Lassi Vääränen, but after a few bumps on the road, the band was only ready to release “Life Is Not Beautiful”, October 2018. Four years have passed since “Last Of Us”, and “Life Is Not Beautiful” really surprised us.
We had the opportunity to sit down with guitarist Iivo Kaipanen and singer Lassi Vääränen to talk about the new album on its release day on 19 October 2018. Watch the interview here, or read the text below.
Hi guys, first of all, congratulations and thanks for making time in your busy schedule for today! How are you feeling?
Iivo: Great, of course.
Lassi: We are very excited.
Iivo: It just feels great to finally release the album, we’ve been waiting for it for such a long time. We’re super happy to finally bring it out.
You mentioned it’s been quite some years. You brought the first singles out in 2016. Was there some kind of difficulties during the whole process?
Iivo: I wouldn’t say difficulties. In Finland, we have to this obligatory military and civil service, that’s what got in between the songwriting process, around 2015 and 2016. That’s mainly why the songwriting process had a gap in between it. It was one kind of difficulty, but not quite. We continued the songwriting process at the beginning of 2017, that’s why it took so long. Another reason is that we finished the album in January 2018, but we have waited for the labels to finish their deal, regarding the licensing of the album.
Lassi: So the business side is also involved in the delay. Also, my role as the new singer was a new thing to Iivo when he was writing the songs because there’s a new and different style of voice and kind of singer in the band.
Iivo: Which of course really affects the songwriting process. So that’s why it took a while. At the start, it was very easy, but then it got a bit more complicated. I wouldn’t say there were any difficulties. It’s just… (pause) Life you know.
Ahh, cause Life Is Not Beautiful! (laughs) So, would you say that Lassi as a new vocalist was a contributing factor to the songs sounding so different than from your debut album, more versatile?
Iivo: Actually yes. The first thing that came into my mind when Lassi joined the band, was to find a perfect style of songwriting for the new singer. So, the first three singles which are “At The Break Of Dawn”, “Unforgivable” and “No One Stands In My Way” were actually the first we wrote for the album. They fit Lassi right away. It was a very good start. After that, when we felt like now we have three really good and punchy and catchy songs, which work really well, it was all about making the album more diverse. So, we had to experiment a lot more. That resulted in some quite interesting songs, which we are really happy about.
Lassi: When we did those first three singles, we even found that there is so much that we can work on with my voice, like the different type of ways to sing. That changed everything again because we could do other types of songs that would work with my voice.
Iivo: It works for the straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll style, but it also works for those mellow ballads, and also in the deep tones in for example “Last One Falls”.
The latest single “Punish You” was surprising because it sounded more like a thrash metal song, and it was more aggressive than what we are used to from you. What have the general reactions been?
Lassi: I think some people were blown away that this is like thrash metal and they didn’t like that all. Some reactions were questioning where the power metal is that people are fond of from Arion. But I don’t know, I think in Spotify, for example, it’s been quite successful.
Iivo: Yes, quite a success and overall a positive reaction. Overall. There are people who say that the song is not melodic enough or something for Arion. Those reactions are surprisingly louder compared to those who actually like the song. The people who like it like to remain silent. That’s why it seems that people are reacting like what the fuck. But, it’s been overall very positive, many people have thought, like you said in your review, that we should probably explore more on the heavier side of our music, which actually feels quite cool. We will definitely do that in the future.
Lassi: I think we can gain some more new fans with that song because it’s a different style.
How does the songwriting process go in general, because you are the main songwriter, Iivo?
Iivo: Yeah, exactly. The most common process for the songwriting is that I try to find a good melody, a good idea and then work on the backing track for the song. I work on the lyrics as soon as possible and then the first demo vocals. There are also other ways to do the songs. Actually, I have a couple of examples. For example “Last One Falls”, “At The Break Of Dawn” and “No One Stands In My Way” were done melody first, the way I just described. I write the melody first, then as early as possible, write some lyrics. Maybe, not the final lyrics, but some kind of demo lyrics and try to make the vocal lines as complete as possible in the very beginning, then in the very end of the songwriting we work with Topias [Kupiainen] on the arrangements and those kinds of things. There are other kinds of songs, like for example “Punish You” was written with the backing track first. It was just a backing track and that’s actually something that affects the song a lot. That’s why the vocal lines are less melodic. It feels like it’s more like rapping or very rhythmic that’s where the rhythm part usually comes from when you write on top of a backing track. But, then there are also songs for example “Life Is Not Beautiful” the title track. The backing track was written by Topias actually, the whole fucking thing, then after that, I wrote the vocal melody together with Matias Kupiainen on top of the song and I added some of my ideas to the backing track too, but it was mainly Topias. “The Last Sacrifice” is the same thing, mostly Topias who did the backing track and me writing the top line over it and the lyrics. That’s the story behind those.
Lassi: I think that’s the way to write great progressive songs, it’s always like that.
Iivo: Yeah, that’s true, because actually, it’s more about the arrangements when you are writing progressive songs. When you write a single song or a slower song, it’s more about the melody. That’s why I start with the melody, experiment, and arrange it afterwards, that’s basically how it goes.
How is it for you to work together with musicians such as Matias Kupiainen and Jani Liimatainen?
Iivo: It’s great, both are great guys, we have done a lot of typical co-writing with a couple of songs, especially on the first album. We sit together in one place, exchange ideas and really work and compose. With Jani, it’s different, for example with “No One Stands In My Way”, which we co-wrote the lyrics for, we exchanged ideas back and forth all the time via email, and when we felt like we’re finished then we were finished. “Life Is Not Beautiful” was mainly Jani’s work and I wrote the interlude part inside the song, that’s mine, the other stuff is Jani’s. It’s different with Matias we have a very good relationship on this kind of thing. I also recently co-worked a Stratovarius song [Burn Me Down] with Matias on their new album. We have a very good relationship, we’re friends, he’s close to the band. It’s also great to work with Jani, I hope to work with him a lot more, as much as possible in the future.
Do you still feel you can learn a lot from them as musicians?
Iivo: Yeah, sure! Obviously. For example, during the first album, many of my songwriting techniques come from Mathias and Jani. They actually have been very important, not only as influences but also as teachers to me. I’ve actually learned how to write music because of them, especially Matias because I’ve worked so closely with him. With Jani, it’s been different, but I’ve learned from both of them. Both have been my idols in my teen years, so sometimes I stop to think about it and it feels like a miracle. I’m so lucky to work with the guys that I have been idolizing in the past.
When you look at the cover art at both albums, it’s clear that there is a story behind it. Can you talk a bit about that?
Lassi: Well, perhaps you can say something about the first album, Iivo?
Iivo: It’s the same character, the same protagonist on both covers. He’s a guy, by the way, that’s something I want to specify. Many people think the character of the first album is a girl. He’s grown now, he’s in a darker world, he’s escaping from a nightmarish type of a world in “Life Is Not Beautiful”. That’s what it’s about. The rest of the story is something the artist only knows.
Lassi: Claudio Bergamin. Great artist.
Iivo: He has worked with bands like Battle Beast and Judas Priest.
Judas Priest? What album?
Iivo: The latest one, I think.
Lassi: I think there are some fire elements on it.
Oh, “Firepower”. Very different!
Lassi: That’s a cool one, right?
Iivo: He has also worked for Accept. He’s a really cool guy, very down to earth.
Lassi: It was easy to work with him.
How did you find him?
Iivo: It out of Riku Pääkkönen’s who’s the leader of Ranka Kustannus. It was his suggestion. He found him and he thought it’s a great guy who actually knows how to do power metal art. He was an obvious choice.
Yeah, it looks really great, the end result. I’m just a bit surprised he also did “Firepower”. It’s a totally different style.
Iivo: It’s different, but he’s versatile. He actually didn’t do the cover of “Last Of Us”. That’s a different artist. It’s the Toxic Angel guy, the guy who has done the Nightwish cover art. But he doesn’t work in the industry anymore. That’s why he didn’t do this one.
You also got this new deal. Has that helped you forward as a band?
Lassi: Of course, it has helped us a lot. We got a deal from AFM Records from Germany. They’re actually a pretty big label. Of course, it’s gonna help us a lot.
Iivo: It’s been a real pleasure to find out that the guys actually are very into our music, they are super excited about this also, that’s just a great starting point for that type of cooperation. Always when we get a mail from them we can feel that this is actually important to them. They really like the band and it feels great.
Lassi: Yeah, it feels like we are friends with Timo who’s the guy working there. He actually came to Helsinki to see our show in Semifinal. That’s when we first met him. It felt right, from the beginning.
Iivo: It clicked right from the start. We felt immediately that those are our guys, this is amazing. I’ve been loving the work with them.
Lassi: It feels like they really love this kind of music and that’s gonna help us a lot.
Iivo: I believe they have a lot to offer us. I want to believe that we can help them too. I’d like to believe that they actually want to work in the kind of way that we can help them forward in some areas, which are new for them or like places where they are less dominant right now, we can help them also in those areas and that kind of stuff. It’s just a whole cooperation. It feels great.
What are your plans now? I saw that you announced a concert in Tokyo? Do you have any others planned, a tour perhaps?
Lassi: Well actually we can’t tell you right now, but…
Iivo: There is gonna be a tour.
Lassi: There is gonna be a tour, I mean, a big tour for us.
Iivo: Of good length and a very decent one.
Lassi: It will be released in a few weeks. We have to wait for that, but it’s gonna be huge.
Iivo: It’s gonna be big news for us. It will be a great tour of a good length, like I said, with a great band. It’s gonna be good news. It’s a shame that we just can’t talk about that yet.
Lassi: But the next show is gonna be in Tokyo, Japan and that’s gonna be awesome of course. Arion has been there twice. This is my first time. This is like a dream come true for me. I haven’t been there, it’s something that I have wanted. Next show in Finland will be in Radio Rock cruise probably in March.
Is the tour going to be your first international tour, because you have another band right?
Lassi: Actually, not anymore. This is the only one. There used to be Cønstantine, I think you meant that one. We haven’t done anything in a couple of years, so.
So are these gigs gonna be your first international gigs?
Lassi: We did a UK tour, but it was a pub tour. So, this is the first real tour.
How are you looking forward to it?
Lassi: Of course it’s gonna be really good to play in great cities, with great audiences over there. Gain some more fans to Arion, cause I think that’s the way to do it. To play live. And I think we are a live band with great energy. We can share that with the audience. We can show that we really can do those things we have done on our album. That’s gonna be also a shock to people.
How much of a challenge is it to get things right for one of your shows, because your sound is so big and a lot of things are also dependent on the backing track?
Iivo: Well, that’s actually true. Our mix is huge. It’s very difficult usually to the mixing engineer because he has a fucking insane amount of tracks coming in. It’s about carefully arranging things with the backing track and being very careful with our sounds. We are very enthusiastic about that kind of thing. What helps is that we, the guys who don’t sing, we are trained musicians. So, it actually helps a lot. We actually understand many things that maybe some other more like straightforward rockers maybe haven’t studied.
Lassi: That’s my job in the band. (laughs)
Iivo: I believe it helps at least. It’s a lot of practice and a lot of rehearsing. That’s what helps to get it right. Of course, it’s never perfect but I believe we have done a lot of work together where the live show feels like it sounds decent and it’s coming together every time now.
Lassi: I think we’re at that point now where we, I don’t wanna say we can choose the venus that we are playing in, but we are that point that the venues where we are playing have a sound system that is working with our sound.
Iivo: And, if I didn’t say enough of this it’s also very much about just working with how you’re playing because that is what makes the mix clean.
How would you describe to someone who hasn’t seen you play yet what they can expect when they see you live?
Iivo: That’s difficult (laughs) we have never seen our own live shows. Of course, we have seen them on tape but from the audience. Maybe one of the main selling points would be that there is a lot of versatility. There are many types of songs. Most of them are kind of fast and energetic, but there are also slower and more peaceful, mellow ballads and I believe that most of the people will follow you [Lassi] during the live shows.
Lassi: Well, I don’t know. Because Iivo is a great guitarist and all those solos. I think it’s amazing. I think there’s probably also a few people checking that out as well. Then there’s Arttu [Vauhkonen] with his keyboards, Gege [Velinov] who’s so handsome, Topias with his technique and that’s that. I think that’s the whole package.
Iivo: We also like to put some emphasis on our light show. That’s something that’s very important to us. Most of the time it wouldn’t be very big, but quite decent for a band of our size. It’s something that we put some effort in. Every time. Or well, almost every time.
What is your dream to achieve with Arion in the coming years?
Iivo: Well, I don’t like to paint any pictures, or write anything to the stars.
Lassi: Probably just that we could do more shows.
Iivo: Which we are gonna do actually, with these two.
Lassi: That’s gonna change in the next year.
Iivo: Maybe to write another good album after this one!
Lassi: Probably faster than this one.
Iivo: Definitely much faster. (laughs) That’s the most important thing, of course, we want to get forward as much as possible, have some progress. Of course, that hasn’t been a problem. I don’t want to say it should be at a super high level, but at least get forward and having some kind of progress is enough to keep the spark alive and drive us forward.
Lassi: One of my dreams is to make our live shows bigger, the lights and that kind of stuff, probably some projection screens.
Do you dream about having a show the size of Iron Maiden’s performances?
Lassi: I saw Iron Maiden last some, it was pretty cool actually. Yeah of course if that’s possible someday.
Iivo: That’s fucking big. It’s like it takes a lot of budget. But you can always dream about something like that, but one step at the time.
Lassi: Yeah, of course.
So you said earlier that you plan to have the next album out earlier, do you already have some new material?
Iivo: We have some ideas, but no new songs or anything like that. There’s actually been a need for a small break, which has been very important, but I believe that it’s actually possible to do it in a much more compressed amount of time.
Lassi: I think I will try to join the team also with composing and with the lyrics, I think I’m ready for that.
Iivo: Yeah, I would like to believe that I’m trying to guide things to be more kind of a teamwork this time. Just because of the simple reason that it’s faster, or at least I believe it will be. I’ll be the happiest if I can take most of the charge but definitely to have Topias on board and if Lassi wants to work on the new music it will help a lot.
That sounds very promising already! I believe I have asked everything I meant to ask. Do you have any last word for our readers?
Iivo: Here’s to the new album!
Lassi: You should go to Spotify or YouTube, or if you have a physical copy you should listen to that, and enjoy!
Iivo: That’s clear! See you at our live shows later and stay tuned for some news, for example regarding the tour!