Certainly, there is no need to portray this wonderful Finnish band to fans of melodic death metal. Omnium Gatherum was established in 1996 in the Finnish town of Karhula. After releasing six albums and playing many concerts, the band is the most prominent representative of this genre. A new, seventh album “Gray Heavens” has garnered great reviews among music critics as well as listeners.
At the biggest metal festival in Finland: Tuska Open Air Metal Festival 2016, pillar and guitarist of the band – Markus Vanhala – also known for his performances in Insomnium, talked about the process of creating a new album and about how he is managing playing in two bands that play countless shows all over the world.
INTERVIEW WITH MARKUS VANHALA
The music identity of Omnium Gatherum is clearly related to melodic death metal, we found this dark sound on the previous albums: “New World Shadows”, “Beyond” and now again on “Gray Heavens”. What distinguishes the new album from the previous ones?
Markus Vanhala: How the new album is different? Well, we had some plan with the new album because from “Beyond” we kind of reached the point about our epicness. We just wanted to concentrate on the sort of more kick ass songs. The new album is kind of designed to the live situations. Because after the tour in North America promoting “Beyond” we somehow found out that people like more kick ass songs, straight forward show. And that was the plan for this album. Just “live” album kind of.
The new album “Gray Heavens” has reached great reviews among all over the world. How was the creation process of the album?
Markus Vanhala: Easy and not so easy (laughter). Typical political answer. The new album built itself really quickly. Mainly it was me creating the music and Jukka (Pelkonen – voc. JK) doing all the vocal parts and arrangements. It feels like it was an easy album to compose when we are thinking about songs itself. But the studio session was more like pain in the ass because I was busy with my other band Insomnium we were doing so much gigs at the same time so I basically didn’t have any free time. Not even one day during three months, because we were working on the album and when I had a free day from Omnium Gatherum I was traveling to the gigs with Insomnium. But the album process was easy. We are already kind of old enough band so we know how we work, we know how we should sound – the natural sound of the band was already found.
Markus Vanhala @ Tuska Open Air Metal Festival 2016
Are you working only on the music or also lyrics is your part?
Markus Vanhala: No, music is my corner and Jukka is doing all the lyrics. I don’t have anything to do with the lyrics and I think we do good cooperation with Jukka with that.
The visual design of the new album cover is totally different from the ones we found before. What is the meaning of this cover art?
Markus Vanhala: Good question (laughter). Mainly the album themes is really dualism. Like white and black. Kind of living world and the dead world – so white and black. And in between is gray. If you will mix white and black you will get gray. So that’s why the album title is “Gray Heavens”. That’s mainly the point of the cover art: there is the living and the death and all in between. We have seventh member in the band Olli Lappalainen who is doing the artwork for the band. He is doing all artworks from the beginning since our first demo.
Yes, and you can really see it on the previous cover arts that it is done by the same guy. But the new album cover was really different. Probably many people were thinking this time you asked someone else to create it.
Markus Vanhala: No, it’s still the same guy. And Olli always illustrates the music. And mostly all the bands are doing the music and then they are ordering the cover arts from someone. But Olli is listening a lot to our demos, music and then he just “paints” the music. And in this case art and the music is really going hand in hand. Which is pretty cool. None of the bands I know is having like the additional member who is responsible for the visual style.
Your style while playing guitar is very personal and inspirational for other musicians. What inspires you to writing music?
Markus Vanhala: If I would be able to answer this question I would be able to do much more music because inspiration is always a mystery. It’s like state of mind. Sometimes is very hard to get and sometimes it just comes. It varies a lot. I don’t have any particular formula for that. It can be going for a walk to the nature, watch the sea – I’m living near to sea so maybe nature is inspirational. Good music used to be a good inspiration for me but I not get anymore inspiration from the music, because I kind of know already how Omnium Gatherum should sound. Mainly just a state of mind.
Markus Vanhala @ Tuska Open Air Metal Festival 2016
So how you divide your “state of mind” between Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium? Is it a different way of creating music for each band?
Markus Vanhala: Mainly is about the schedules. I used to write music all the time but nowadays I decide: now I’m working on the music for Omnium Gatherum and next time I’m concentrating on Insomnium stuff. And somehow you always get your brain to that kind of “click”. It’s the same kind of state of mind. I somehow feel what suits each band even if both are playing melodic death metal but they are still pretty different. You are just looking from the different angle. Omnium Gatherum is more about playing and technical stuff while Insomnium is more about the mood.
Soon you are touring over Asia and North America, what in your opinion are the best and worst things about touring?
Markus Vanhala: It’s easy (laughter). Best thing is always playing the show. Because that’s the thing I really love. That’s the best in doing music – go and play at stage, play for the people. It’s a magical moment and amazing feeling. The worst thing is traveling. More and more when I’m getting older I just hate Airports and all this security checks. Like last week, we were playing the show in Norway. The show was forty minutes but it took two days to get there with two different flights, lots of traveling in a VAN just for doing the forty minutes show. Maybe the craziest gig I have ever done with Omnium Gatherum was the show in Japan. We played one show in Japan, tho it was a good show as we were supporting Nightwish. But the show was like thirty five minutes – and yes, we went to Japan, to play thirty five minutes (laughter).
Especially for you it must be very hard as you are playing in two bands and both of them are quite popular so probably you are touring more than other members of Omnium Gatherum.
Markus Vanhala: Double (laughter).
How you are managing?
Markus Vanhala: Somehow (laughter). I still have the flame to do this. Sometimes my friends and my inner ego are saying: you are just stupid! Because I’m always on the road and always playing but that was the thing I always wanted to do so now, when I have to do it like full time, I can not complain. Is kind of living the dream but the dream but same time the dream is a nightmare because of traveling (laughter).
So traveling is definitely the worst thing?
Markus Vanhala: Yes, and summer is the worst because of the festivals. It’s the season when you have to travel a lot. If we are touring like for one month we are staying in the same bus so it’s very easy. We are just go to the bus, then go to the stage and then again to the bus – it’s easy. Festival season is crazy! So much flying as this summer, with both bands, I have twenty one festivals to play and as a bonus eight gigs in Asia with Omnium Gatherum.
So we already know your plans for the summer – it’s a tour (laughter).
Markus Vanhala: (Laughter) Besides the concerts, there is non!
What do you usually do after performance, of course, if you have free time? Are you resting or do you like to set off for a sightseeing?
Markus Vanhala: I’m still like a tourist. I like to see places and go for a walk to the city and sightseeing. It keeps things fresh. It’s quite boring to go to your hotel room or to the bus and stay twenty three hours in that plays and play only one hour show in between.
Markus Vanhala & Erkki Silvennoinen @ Tuska Open Air Metal Festival 2016
Do you still have the strength to go and be a tourist after you are probably exhausted after all traveling and shows?
Markus Vanhala: (Laughter) Yes, always. Well, other guys in the band are not so interested in tourism anymore but I love it to keeps things interesting.
Is there any place you would like to go and play a show and see the city as well? Or after all these years on the stage you already saw whole world?
Markus Vanhala: I never played in South America yet with any of the band. So South America would be next in line. Last year we played our first shows with Insomnium in Australia. It was amazing! We had three days off so we took some surfing classes.
What was the craziest thing has ever happened during the tour?
Markus Vanhala: This is always the hardest question because there is always too much (laughter) and nothing like one above. So, really I don’t know (laughter).
As you are playing tomorrow and you are here also today – is there any band you really want to see during Tuska festival?
Markus Vanhala: Testament – it’s the only one band I want to see today. Cain’s Offering was really cool to see as Jani (Liimatainen – vocals/ ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist – JK) is one of my best friends and they never played in Finland before so it was a first time when I was seeing the band, but I was also working as a guitar technician. I was really happy to see my friend starting his new “life thing”. It’s a really good band! Tomorrow I want to see Anthrax and on Sunday Gojira and Katatonia.
Thank you very much for your time and see you on stage tomorrow!
Markus Vanhala: It was my pleasure!
Text and photo: Justyna Klorek, 1.7.2016 @ Tuska Open Air Metal Festival 2016, Helsinki – Suvilahti.