(Saint-Petersburg-based guest writer Comrade Aleks has delivered to us the following interview with Antti Koponen of the Finnish doom band Serpent Warning.)
Finland is well known for bloody good doom bands of every kind. Some like funeral stuff in the vein of Skepticism or Shape of Despair, some remember the old heretics of Unholy, and most of us know the traditional doom scene of Land Of The Thousand Lakes, Reverend Bizarre, Lord Vicar, and Fall Of The Idols, just to name a few.
But new blood comes our way as well, and we have seen the arrival of such bands as The Wandering Midget, for example. Samuel Wormius, a voiceman of The Wandering Midget, did a great work with his killer vocal lines for the first EP and full-length of the very promising band Serpent Warning — and Serpent Warning adds yet another glorius chapter of the Finnish national doom epos indeed!
I Hate Records educated me about the debut album, and I’ve gotten in contact with the band. As a result, Antti Koponen (guitars) is online today!
Hail Antti! How are you? How does the promo of Serpent Warning’s debut go?
Hi Aleks! We are fine, thanks! Hope you´re good too! Serpent Warning´s debut is now out and we´ve got some very good reviews with it. It´s still a pretty fresh record, so it´s a bit hard to tell how´s it been doing. Hopefully people will find it and it will gain the interest it deserves!
You had also released an EP, Beyond the Wisdom, in 2012 before this full-length. How much time did it take to draw the attention of I Hate Records?
Well, as I remember, I Hate contacted us pretty soon after the demo was out and we started to send it to labels. But it took quite awhile, still, to get the album out. It was recorded like a year ago, so it´s been in the can since then, really.
What kind of difficulties did you face during the recording session?
There were not really that many difficulties, a few minor obstacles maybe. Searching for the right kind of sound for the album, can become difficulty, if you delve into it too much. We were very open to it, so we just played it and listened to it. I´m not sure if they can be referred as difficulties as such, but we had to do some re-arranging in order to make songs work out better.
The difference in the situations, like playing in the recording-studio, rehearsal room, and live gig, are quite important. Whereas during gigs or rehearsals you might hear everyhting top-notch, in the studio you hear everything very clearly, so you really can´t miss the weak-points that easily. When you listen to the playback, it becomes very clear where it is necessary to make adjustments or changes.
One of the features of Serpent Warning is incredibly catchy tunes and choruses. What are your criteria for a worthy doom song?
Well, to make a song that would be memorable, I think you should create a good melody that would get stuck in your head and have some cool riffs or something. A good song is, for me, always the one that really sticks out, the one that you sort of get hold of. When we write music together, then it has to be good stuff, there´s no need to play music that doesn´t move you at all! When I write songs by myself, I usually know what would be good and what will be left out. Also, I don´t write down music that much any more, like I used to do before, so I have to more or less memorise what I´m playing in order to recreate that stuff. I guess good doom, or any other kind of song for that matter, is the one that you remember and get hooked into!
Why did you say goodbye with Samuli of Wandering Midget, as he sings bloody earnestly on the album? I know that you have a new vocalist. Who is he?
Samuli has a lot of his own projects and I think he really didn´t have as much time for Serpent Warning, which would have been required. He´s still a good friend and he truly is a great singer! We have a girl named Suvi Laaninen singing for us now. She´s very pretty and she´s a great singer with the right kind of attitude. Suvi possesses a lot of energy and she usually likes to do things properly, so there´s lots of good things coming with her!
Serpent Warning: “Evil River”
Did she sing before in a metal band? And… well, I just wonder how your songs could sound in this way…
Suvi used to sing in a more punky style of band, I would say. Quite rocking stuff, pretty raw sounding, also something that I quite like! We think that she has fitted in very well and she´s very good at handling things fast. That is something that tells about her attitude; she´s very adjustable and finds freedom in different things, I´d say. She´s been marvelous at gigs, really! Not sure if she thinks so herself, but I´d say we are were much relieved and we´ve become more confident about the whole thing and how things have worked out so far.
I’ve seen some live photos from some of Serpent Warning gigs. Indeed, I wonder how such gigs go in Finland, because it seems that there are a lot of towns and most of them are pretty far from each other.
Yes, this kind of music is not the most popular, that´s for sure. There are not that many gig-oppurtunities. I mean, if you play in a well-known band, say, sort of popular rock/pop, then you have many more places to play. Our kind of music seems to appeal mostly to a marginal number of people. And I don´t say that it´s a bad thing, but it would be really great to get more oppurtunities to play live and reach out to more people, to give them a chance to hear this kind of stuff.
I don´t think we would mind going long routes for gigs, even if they are scattered around a bit — as long as we have a good time and got our expenses covered. One of the main problems is to get even with your expenses, because doom-metal might not be the most popular draw for audiences. But still, if you get to play a great gig and you get paid, then it´s okay. I´m not waiting around to be a millionare with this music, but it would be cool to get some money and see if it´s all worth doing. The response from the people who listen to our music is quite rewarding. I´m interested in hearing what people think of this stuff, and if there´s one more happy chap because of Serpent Warning´s music, then great!
There is a song “Serpent Warning” on the album, which is about the Christian conception of sin. Is this question really interesting for you? What is your point of view on this subject? And why are you interested in it?
Man committed the ultimate sin against God and therefore he must pay for the consequences. Funnily though, that song reminds me more of the moment when I started to write the lyrics down, when there was a spring sunset and evening fell… Therefore, as it says, “Sunset fell in the paradise…”, which was a bit of irony and sarcasm maybe. I´m interested in history, of all kinds of subjects, and the Bible too. The Bible is a pretty heavy book, actually. I read a lot of books, so I always get a lot of inspiration from those that are most interesting! Historical events and subjects are always very interesting!
“Evil River” is a song with a real story. What formed its base?
Well, “Evil River” really has no basis in real life, but it´s loosely based on the film called Deliverance. The term “loosely” applies well here, since it really is not about the film, but has more thoughts or images that are mostly made up, I think. Besides, since our hometown is located near a river and is also called Joensuu, which is loosely translated as “River´s Inn” or “River´s Mouth” in English, there´s bit of a joke in there too!
Most metal bands have lyrics about some imaginary topics. Some prepare stories about horrors, witchery, satanic, or historical stuff, and most bands refuse to reflect on real-world problems in their songs. What are your favorite songs’ topics? And what do you think about metal lyric clichés?
Maybe it´s good that there are various different subjects; at least it keeps things more interesting! I personally like to write stuff that deals with nature quite a bit, and also mental conditions such as depressions, isolation, and others are good subjects, too. I´d really like to write songs about forests and stuff like that. I should give a try and write some spacey-stuff too! Maybe it´s actually hard to deal with real-life subjects, as music becomes a form of escape for its writers… Well, I guess some of those cliches must be quite good, since they have stuck so well! I personally try to avoid cliches, but if there seems to be a cliched thing and it still works out well, then maybe we´ll keep that.
What kind of feelings do you aim to express through Serpent Warning?
What kind of feelings… That´s a hard question, actually! What I try to get across are maybe things that I would write if I were an author or some sort of book-writer… I really like to tell a story of some kind, if I can. Also, this band is a bit of a vehicle to deal with one´s own agendas, such as melancholia, anxiety, and loneliness. Yes, I seem to feel quite lonely sometimes. Many times it can be inspiring, but it can also reach the point of ultimate sadness. In order to exorcise any demons of that kind, I usually write something and try to use my feelings as a way out of it.
There’s a kind of stereotype about Finns that depression is a common state for most of you. You know, because of the long winter, the lack of sunny days, and so on. Is it a myth or is it close to reality?
That is quite true for Finns. I don´t know where it comes from, but Finns do moan and groan a lot. Depression also seems to be a chosen path for some us; some sort of get a weird kick out of being so miserable and whatever, and yes, I should know that. I´m not a generally depressive person, but I do get depressed and I do feel sadness and loneliness. It can get very bad sometimes, and then it’s good to have something to do or have someone around. Half the time, I have a feeling that being sad and depressed is the price I pay for making this music — it´s not what I choose to feel, but it´s something that gets to me. So, in order to make this music I have to kind of suffer. But if I didn’t write and play music, then I´d suffer even more. You have to suffer for your art, I guess.
There are a lot of qualified doom bands in Finland. Horse Latitudes, The Wandering Midget, and Serpent Warning took the place of Reverend Bizarre. But do you feel the actuality of the genre itself?
You mean if there actually is a genre as such? Well, doom-metal might be becoming more relevant today, or at least it´s becoming more available. I think Finland has quite a few good doom-metal bands, the ones you mentioned and also bands like Hooded Menace, Fall Of The Idols, and such. I´m not sure if Serpent Warning is part of the genre. I guess we could be. But it´s not really that important to be part of any genre, the most important thing is to be true to yourself and do the kind of music that applies to oneself!
Oh yes, you’re right – I forgot about Fall Of The Idols! What is your Top 5 of the most authoritative Finnish doom bands?
Oh my! In no particular order: Wandering Midget, Hooded Menace, Reverend Bizarre, Unholy, and Church Of Void. Also Mana Mana, who were sort of a doomish band, maybe.
Do you feel yourself as part of the doom family? Can we suppose that a friendly doom society exists in Finland?
I don´t think we have entered any family yet. I would not mind making new friends and creating connections — it´s always great to see good bands and get to chat with like-minded people!
Like I said, it´s not important to be part of the genre, but I think it´s good to have friends and be able to reach audiences and also get to trade maybe records, stuff, and ideas. I´m not sure if there´s any society as such, but we sure could use that friendliness and have some kind of society, maybe. That sort of thing would ease up arranging gigs and so forth.
How does it feel to live near such a horrible country as Russia? From time to time I read Western media, and some of my friends from abroad ask me strange questions, as if we lived here in a post-nuclear wasteland and forests in tyranny and other shit. Sort of like Stalin comes to “Fallout”.
I don´t see Russia as horrible. Maybe it´s a different culture and things like that. Yes, it seems that people in other parts of the world have a little bit misguided views about our part of the world here. The media also pushes certain views and creates hypes and stuff, so it´s no wonder that misconceptions are created. Yes, they are some really strange questions out there! I guess it just goes to show that the media can make up quite a circus indeed!
Thank you Antti! I feel better after seeing these words! : ) But that’s all for today, so say your words of farewell for our readers. Nakemiin toveri!
Okay, thank you, Aleks for this interview! Thank you to all the nice folks out there, I hope you get our album and come see us play live! And if you ever get depressed, then listen to some Serpent Warning and have yourself a cup of good coffee! I guess that´s all folks, take care and have a good one!