Interview with Oddland – “It is said in the story that Chtulhu appears in the dreams of fragile minds like an artist.”

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Progressive metal juggernauts ODDLAND recently released their new album, Vermillion,” after being a couple of years away from the scene. We talked with bass player Joni Palmroth about the release of the new record. Read the entire interview here…

Hi there! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. How are you doing? 

Hi! We’re doing great. We are rehearsing hard for the upcoming shows and these interviews keep dropping steadily. Feels good to have the album out at last. And we’re actually writing a new one already. So busy but happy times here in ODDLAND.

This is your first record in many, many years. Your last record was released in 2016, which is quite a while ago. Why did it take a while for you to release anything new? 

After the release of “Origin,” we made a couple of European tours and we did a lot of work renewing our live setup. For the first 2 years, we focused solely on live shows. Back in summer 2018, we started writing the third album and actually had a bunch of songs that were more or less ready. But in early 2019, our inner chemistry started to get worse and we ended taking a break from writing for almost a year. Fortunately, we found new ways of working together and ended up discarding all the previous material we had already written and started fresh. We hit the studio in late summer 2020 and the album master was ready in early 2021. But due to the situation around the world, the release was postponed several times.

The third record is sort of when you have already established your sound. What was your goal going into this record and would you say that “Vermillion” presents a more fine-tuned ODDLAND sound than your previous two albums? 

This is the album that left us sonically most satisfied. Back when we recorded “The Treachery of Senses,” we didn’t have any idea what we wanted it to sound like and although we were happy with the result, there’s a lot of things that we would have done differently in hindsight. With “Origin,” we had a clearer vision but we made some compromises in the recording phase and also with the final mix, which we both regretted later. So with this latest album, we decided not to make any compromises and take more responsibility for the overall sound, and it paid off. We knew how we wanted each instrument to sound both individually and together in the mix. Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland really respected our vision and we felt it all came together quite easily.

Our journalist who reviewed your album, would describe the sound on this album as, “MESHUGGAH playing Miles Davis with Frank Sinatra on vocals.” It’s clear that you combine a lot of genres, styles, and moods into the progressive metal realm; is it hard to figure out how these certain sections blend together? What is your songwriting process usually like?

That´s a great description! My favorite was LEPROUS with balls,” but this is even crazier. We all listen to a lot of different genres and I would say at least half of it is non-metal. So it’s quite natural to use different styles and sometimes the blend can be rather twisted. But also combining different elements gives us a certain freedom in our songwriting process and even if sometimes some parts may seem to be hard to glue together, it also makes the whole process interesting and rewarding for us all. Sakari, our singer/guitarist, and Ville, our drummer, are responsible for most of the composing. In the previous albums, we all contributed more on the writing, but “Vermilion” was written entirely by Sakari and Ville. We usually play with different rhythm ideas and a lot of our songs are based on one or two rhythm patterns that have a lot of variations, but the core of the rhythm is always recognizable. The songs we start to work with are usually complete songs but still, the final product can sound quite different from the original, although the core of the song, the structure, for example, has remained the same. 

He also mentioned that this album might just be one of the best prog releases to come from Finland, that must be a nice thing to hear after having been away from the scene with new music for quite some time. How have the other reactions been so far?

Of course it is very nice to hear! There seems to be some kind of illustrious glow that is associated with our debut album and while we obviously enjoy the album and feel it has some excellent moments, it’s sometimes hard to understand how that album is perceived as our best work. Mainly because we strongly feel that the album was not nearly as mature or well-composed as “Vermilion” and our vision of “The Treachery of Senses” was not as well-defined or executed as we were able to do now. So actually it is really nice to hear that people are hearing the new material the same way as we do. The reviews have been positive. The biggest struggle some reviewers seem to have is the structure of the album, which is understandable, although we strongly disagree. [laughs] Back in the ’70s, this kind of album structure was common with prog bands, so we don’t see the problem. The production of the album has gained a lot of praise, which of course is nice since we put a lot of effort into it. 

The title’s biggest piece (and the highlight) is the title track, “Vermillion,” then there are three other tracks. Are these thematically connected to “Vermillion” as well, or are they separate tracks?

The latter part of the album was unofficially named “Aftermath” and it is a reflection of “Vermilion.” So in that sense they are connected. “Vermilion” is a story of starting in a dark place without hope and ending with finding a connection to another person and coming into light. I guess another way of saying “finding a connection” would be “finding love.” Then “Aftermath” is a reflection of this, “Pathway” reflects on the circular nature of finding and losing a connection, but ending on a hopeful note: 

“But in darkness
A glistening light 
Can only shed
Love”

Then “Resonance” continues with this theme:

“I believe we are all fated to feel pain
Determined to endure and to escape
On the other side
Where love resides
The void fulfilled with what we need to grow”

And “Unity” ends the album pondering the question of individualism vs. the idea of all human beings sharing a connection or being “one.” So it kind of ties these themes together, being the last song.

Did you write these tracks as a whole or did you later figure out that they sort of belonged together?

Ville made the original composition of “Vermilion” as one entity from the beginning, it was then reworked and arranged quite a bit. But the core is still very recognizable from the first demo. “Aftermath” then was composed to accompany the name-piece. “Resonance” and “Unity” were composed for the album using ideas for songs we already had in the drawer, but “Pathway” was specially composed to build a bridge between the two parts on the album.

I personally really like the dynamics of the album. Did you spend a lot of time working on the order of the songs? 

The order and the dynamic of the album were quite carefully thought of. There was a goal to make the album flow so you are taken on a journey where the different atmospheres and terrains don’t overstay their welcome, but don’t feel too hectic or impulsive either.

I really love “Vermillion Part 2 – Below.” What can you tell me about that specific song when it comes to writing?

Well that song had a strong character even before adding vocals, that slow and monstrous kind of feel to it with such power. Adding the vocal melodies was almost intuitive and that simple chant-like chorus with many layers of vocals just felt right. This was also the first song where Ville and Sakari started working on the vocals and there was such excitement with finding a new way of working and hearing the song come together in a very satisfying way. 

Also there´s interesting lyrical content behind this. When I read the lyrics I instantly thought the they were based on the horror novel, Call of Chtulhu, by H.P Lovecraft. In the lyrics there’s an evil entity who sleeps dead in the depths of a mountain and the description of this entity is straight from the novel.  Even “vigilante,” the ship that finds Chtulhu, is mentioned in the song. But when I asked about it, Sakari didn´t even know who Lovecraft was. It is said in the story that Chtulhu appears in the dreams of fragile minds like an artist. How freaky is that?!

I love how it works with the calmer piano melody of the third part, “The Walls of the Mind.”

“Below” is a rather towering and hefty song and the transition to pt. 3 continues with the dark atmosphere it has created, but in a more delicate kind of way. We had fun with finding the right kind of blend of lead guitar tones to double the piano lead, it has a nice mood, we agree! And also the guitar solo following the piano melody was initially crafted on top of the piano melody, but we found a cool way of using the solo to build into the main rhythm/riff of “The Walls of the Mind.”

There are also a subtle amount of Oriental influences in “Vermillion” – was that something you wanted to put in there or are they somehow related to the themes of the song?

The Oriental influences have been present in our music to some extent from the beginning. It has all to do with Ville’s affection for Oriental instrumentation and scales. The Oriental soundscape seems to have a mystique that really appeals to him. I guess it kind of works in a way that the rest of us have to try to tone it down a little bit so that it doesn’t become the core of what we do. Actually, you should have a listen at Ville’s side project, AKTA, to see what happens when he has full control. [laughs]

The last track of the album, “Unity” was also really interesting. Is there anything special you can say about that particular song and why did you decide to make it the album’s closer?

When Ville introduced the song to us for the first time, it actually got thrown into the trash can. I myself thought that it was too technical and there’s too much going on in the song. But when we were thinking about what should be the last song for the album, Ville brought it back to the table and Sakari got inspired by it. So they molded it into something more suitable for ODDLAND and final arrangements were done together by four of us. We thought it would be cool to end the album with two more straightforward songs and “Unity” also had an ending that was perfect to end the whole album. 

It seems like you paid a lot of attention to the production of the album. What was your goal sound-wise to achieve with the record and do you feel like you succeeded in that purpose? 

Yeah, we are happier with the production than ever before! It was important for us to avoid any compromises in the production and recording phase this time, which meant taking a new approach, especially with recording drums. Working in the studio, there is always a pressure to get things wrapped up quickly rather than tweaking fine details, so this time we decided to do all drum recordings ourselves in our own facilities, helped by our long-time live sound engineer, Tommi Siniranta. And we were lucky to find Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland, who helped us already during the recording phase to find the exact sound we were after.

Regarding guitars, our ideal core sound has always been a heavy rhythm sound, which also has a lot of harmonic clarity, because many of our songs combine heavy rhythmic riffs with complex chord voicings. On this album, we continued to evolve this idea, going for a bit more modern sound with even more heaviness and clarity than before. People seem to associate this type of sound to the djent genre, which we don’t fully feel we belong in, but we dig the sound!

Is “Feed the Void”‘s music video, which also has a lot of vermillion in there, a nod to the album’s title? How important is it for you guys for the music videos to sort of match the music and cover art?

Yes, absolutely a reference to the album title. In terms of matching everything, I feel it just creates a more coherent package when you are able to match the different elements. In terms of “Vermilion” and why it is called, that can be explained by Ville’s synesthetic tendencies: when he made the first draft of the five-part “Vermilion,” he experienced the music as red, or vermilion if you will.

Speaking of the cover art, what can you tell me about it?

Well continuing on the last answer, it guess the cover art is a more detailed picture of how he sees the music on this album. So it is quite literally a visual expression of the music.

Concerts are starting to happen again. I noticed that you are already booked for the Hellsinki Metal Horizons Festival. Do you have any other live shows planned for the near future? 

Yes! A fine festival that will be. We are also booked for a Danish festival, Naestved Metal Fest, that will surely be a blast. In terms of touring, we do have one lined up, but because of the situation in the world we haven’t been able to fully confirm it.

Thanks so much for the interview! Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with our readers? 

Thank you so much for your interest in our band and latest album! We would like to thank everyone who took the time to read the interview and invite you to come to one of our shows in the future. We plan on covering our full discography at live shows and at this point in our career, with so much music to choose from, we feel that our set will be quite solid. So come see a show and come say hi, we want to meet you all! See ya!

Written by Laureline Tilkin