(Our Russian contributor Comrade Aleks returns with another interview. This time his conversation is with Sami Hynninen, who has been involved in a diverse array of musical projects over a 30-year career, now including Opium Warlords and Azrael Rising.)
Sami Hynninen is one of most extravagant men in the Finnish artistic world. He has explored realms of the musical underground for about 30 years, and some of his excursions are well-known by metal heads (especially “doom” heads) of this miserable planet. For example, Reverend Bizarre were a damned famous band of the traditional doom new wave. As this band is long gone, Sami continues his searches with Opium Warlords, Spiritus Mortis, March 15, another his electro projects, Tähtiportti, and the black metal band Azrael Rising. Maybe I’ve forgotten to mention something… well, in this case Sami will correct me. Terve Sami!
Terve Sami! This year you have reached an interesting date — the 30th-year anniversary of your musical career. It’s a pretty long road, but dare I ask how you would sum up the experience of these years?
First of all I have to point out that those early years 1984 – 1990 were very rudimentary, but still, all of that chaotic noise I started with has connection to what I do now, so I think it is appropriate for me to celebrate these thirty years. It is all the same journey I am still on.
My career as a published music maker – first with noisecore tapes released by underground “labels” – started when I was sixteen or seventeen, and since then I have done the same thing that I keep doing today. Because of this I have never felt getting older, in the same sense as some people I used to know are really starting to look tired with their lives. I am that same sixteen year old boy. I have just gained some experience, and knowledge, and intelligence. But emotionally I am just as fragile as I was back then.
What are the main milestones of your musical experience? And how does your experience of playing in different heavy genres reflect your spiritual changes? Oh, I believe this could be an individual interview by itself!
Ok, let me think… First of all S.O.P.O.’s “I Wanna Be Music” -tape in 1985. Then it has to be my first gig, which was somewhere around 1991 or 1992, with a death metal band Punishment. I still remember that night as it was yesterday. Then comes KLV’s “Rakkaudella Elinalle / Luomakunnan kruunu” -tape, which had more than 1400 songs, all named, unlike with some other noisecore bands. We continued doing KLV tapes, and slowly the music changed quite radically, to very slow and progressive doom rock. One culmination point can be heard on our split with the Finnish band Viikate, which came to be one of the most famous hard rock bands in our country. Our session was recorded in 1997 or 1998.
After this the next important recordings were with Reverend Bizarre and The Candles Burning Blue. Reverend Bizarre’s first public release came out in 1999, four or five years after the band was founded. The Candles Burning Blue’s album “Pearls Given To The Swine” came in 2000 I think. Basically after this I have just kept doing music as my main thing.
I have more than 40 records out, and all of them have been milestones for me, but if I have to name few, I would say Reverend Bizarre’s debut “In the Rectory Of the Bizarre Reverend”, and the final album “So Long Suckers”, The Puritan’s “Black Law”, Armanenschaft’s “Psychedelic Winter”, Spiritus Mortis’ “The God Behind the God”, Azrael Rising’s “Anti-Gravity”, March 15’s “Our Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre” LP version, and everything with Tähtiportti and Opium Warlords.
Of course all the music and art I have done reflects spiritual and emotional changes and states, but as I do not record my music in chronological order, and most of the material has always been at least a couple of years old – often 10 years old, or even more – before it comes out, it does not necessarily reflect the state I am in when it is recorded, or especially when it is released. Then again sometimes, this old material happens to match my current state, and for example the next album I am going to do will be a way for me to purify myself from the darkness and hatred I feel now, even though the music was composed in 2007.
Svart Records released the third album of your actual doomy project Opium Warlords, “Taste My Sword of Understanding”, in May 2014. Your previous work “We Meditate Under The Pussy In The Sky” was met by critics coldly — some listeners noted “that it was difficult to listen to” — so can you encourage them that the sound of Opium Warlords has changed in general?
We have had atonal music for more than one hundred years now in the Western world, and still some morons have a hard time listening to anything other than conventional melodic bubblegum music. I have no interest to encourage those who found “Pussy” unlistenable in any possible way, BUT it has to be said that “Taste My Sword Of Understanding” is “easier”, and much more regular sounding than the two first albums. However, this does not mean that this is what Opium Warlords will be from now on. Actually, the next album will be more violent than anything we have done so far.
Opium Warlords “The Solar Burial”
How long did you spend composing this album?
I would say that roughly it was for a few years, in 1999 – 2002, but one song is from 1996, and some elements and parts were also composed after 2002. I guess I could say that all the music was finished in 2010 when we recorded it.
Also Svart Records released a new album of your noise/ambient/industrial project March 15, “Our Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre”. It includes tracks from the original EP from 2004 and some new tracks; can you reveal more details about these new compositions?
I love this album! It is for me one of my most important and perfect works, but sadly it has not found an audience almost at all. It is a reflection of extreme pain of soul. Naturally it is also a purification; from Hell through Purgatory to something else. I can’t say that I became happy after it was finished, but I was happy doing it.
I really wish that this album would be found by those people who could enjoy it. I know they exist somewhere around this Globe. Many critics have showed their narrow perspective in music by describing this as just “unlistenable noise”, but actually there are lots of musical constructions. Only one track is pure noise. Others are ambient, rough and minimalist electronic music, and contemporary atonal art music. These new songs became much more diverse and wide than what I at first had expected them to be. One of them comes almost close to some ultra raw gothic hiphop.
What kind of feelings do you put into March 15 and how do they differ from those moods that have filled the music of your other electro project Tähtiportti?
March 15 is an introverted project. It is all about self-destruction and inner pain and feeling of loss. Tähtiportti is an extroverted project. All the dark forces are directed to the outer world. Most of The Puritan and Opium Warlords is like that too, but this latest Opium Warlords album is more focused in melancholia and unvoluntary self-destruction. The next album will be completely extroverted, a war-like violent creation.
I want to underline that in Tähtiportti I am only vocalist and lyricist, and I was asked to join the band by the other guys. I am glad they did that, as it has been a very positive trip to me. We now have an album coming. It has both of the 7”s in it, but also new material, including a cover version of a song originally performed by famous Finnish philosopher and culture person Esa Saarinen. We got his blessings for doing our own version.
It seems that most of your projects have a really original touch, even Reverend Bizarre’s lyrical side besides all of its obvious traditional doom elements. Can you mention any specific influences of Finnish culture in your songs?
Only in KLV songs, which had this Finnish ancient mysticism and shamanism influence going on, but of course the place where you live becomes part of you, so someone else probably could find something that I can’t see… certain cynical elements, nihilism, isolation… and it has to be said that this town where I was born, and have lived most of my life, HAS affected my whole career. Everything that has happened to me here can be heard in my music and lyrics, and seen in my drawings. The darkness outside is as real as the darkness inside, but actually the place where I live now, and have lived for almost ten years, is quite beautiful, and my solitary life now is very different from how it was a few years earlier when I was beaten up every now and then.
Talking about Finland or being Finnish, it does not mean so much to me. I do not have such national connection, and this land does not even consist of ONE homogenous group of people, but more like sort of relics of old tribes. People here in the south are different from the people up there in the north, and the same goes with west and east. All of these are almost like different cultures. Maybe this is because we have a rather large country when it comes to the land itself, but so very few people. There is distance!
I do not feel like being “Finnish”, as there is no such thing as one kind of Finnish. If I am something, I guess I would be an inhabitant of Uusimaa, but when I look at the people around me I feel like a complete outsider, so I do not belong even here. But I like the fact that we are here in between Sweden and Russia, but still in a kind of a periphery, and I do care about some Finnish films, and literature and music.
Also I would like to ask you to name some Finnish bands of different genres which perfectly reflect the atmosphere of your land. Ajattara? Tenhi? Serpent Warning? Well… KYPCK?! : )
I used to be on friendly terms with Pasi of Ajattara, not that we had been close or anything like that, we just met few times because of gigs and I liked him as a person, but to be honest I do not care at all about any of those bands you mentioned.
If I should show someone what is Finnish music I would play her some Beherit, Terveet Kädet, Sielun Veljet, Circle, Radiopuhelimet, Musta Paraati, Panasonic, Leo Bugariloves, Noitalinna Huraa!, early CMX, Unholy, Unburied, Death Trip, Mana Mana, Opel Bastards, Hurriganes, 22 Pistepirkko, and especially two albums: Vesa-Matti Loiri’s first “Loiri/Leino” and Tauno Palo’s “Kulkurin kannel”. That is the Finland even I can be proud of.
I was once at an early Tenhi gig in Turku. Their female flutist mesmerised me in such way that I could not sleep the next night.
Besides doom and your electro projects you also play in the black metal duet Azrael Rising, and Primitive Reaction Records released its first and only full-length album “Anti-Gravity” also this year. What is the story of this project? Why did it take so long to record this stuff?
In this case too, I was asked to join. This was in 2007 or 2008. At first I was bit reluctant because I already had so much to do, but we did the first EP and it turned out to be excellent, so it was clear that we would do an album together too. This work started in 2009, and at first everything proceeded fast and easily, but then when it was time to do the mixing everything slowed down, mainly because the engineering guy had a bit different ideas of the sounds than us, and we had to start painstakingly returning to the original sounds. I am a perfectionist, so the album was remixed maybe nine or ten times.
During these years when we were working on “Anti-Gravity”, I was also working not only on all the Opium Warlords records, but also Spiritus Mortis recordings, an art book, and so on, so I was burnt out even without Azrael Rising. Finally we managed to finish it. Then it took some time to get it mastered. The first mastering session was cut short and then the material was taken to Joona Lukala, with whom I also worked with March 15 and Opium Warlords, and the result was excellent!
After this album I finished two more songs, which will be in a coming compilation album. After I had done vocals for those songs I did something I usually do not do and went to a bar alone. After a long night I woke up in jail.
Azrael Rising “House Without Windows”
Sami, do you have an effective method of restoring your physical and psychic energy, like in the case of “burning out” after the record sessions with Azrael Rising?
Well, it was not those sessions that burned me out, but everything that was on top of each other, enormous stress, and pressure and burden, and Azrael Rising was one of those elements, but in the end a very satisfactory one too.
I do not have that method, and that is why I am in such bad shape. Without chemical help I would collapse. NOW I am able to relax sometimes, but it is just for a brief moment. Still more than in 2008 – 2012 when I was in state of a constant grinding stress. I feel much better than I used to do back then! I feel that when I am done with some of these “extra works” and can focus into Opium Warlords I will actually become healthier.
You have a pretty big number of projects to reflect your inner world outside — do you feel satisfied with the musical methods you use for that? Did you ever think of restoring some of your old projects like The Candles Burning Blue or KLV? Or were these bands emotionally identical only to certain periods of your time that have long ago gone?
I am starting to feel satisfied now! I have learnt more and more about production and recording, and now I am working with the people I wish I had been able to work with already years ago. So, everything is better and easier now. I still have to wrestle with many inner demons, and stress and worry, but the outside world around me in my process of making music has evolved. Do not get me wrong: I am satisfied with everything I have done earlier too, minus some very little productional things, but it was very difficult for me to work with projects before Opium Warlords and Tähtiportti.
Emotionally and spiritually speaking it would be very easy to return to The Candles Burning Blue and KLV when it comes to the MUSIC and LYRICS, but practically speaking it would be very difficult. Both line-ups had more than just my share of demons.
What is the current state of Orne?
I guess Kimi is the only one who knows the answer to this. To me the current state is unexisting.
You said that during this year you will release a Tähtiportti album, an Azrael Rising compilation album, as well as work on the fourth Spiritus Mortis album. How did it happen that the stars took the right places and you have so many opportunities to release your works in 2014?
…and I have already released “So Long Suckers” boxed set, Tähtiportti 7”, Azrael Rising album, March 15 album, and the third Opium Warlords album in 2014. All of this has been under work for several years, and now it happened to get finished the same time. People do not always remember that if an album comes out in 2014 it has not necessarily been written or recorded that same year, or even the year before.
Actually, the latest news is that Tähtiportti will be out in 2015, but that is up to the label. Also, I do not know what plans the label has for the Azrael Rising compilation. My personal plan was to get it out in this year of jubileum.
After I was relieved of “Pussy”, “Anti-Gravity”, and “Sword”, I was able to continue with other projects, like writing lyrics for Spiritus Mortis, and do new sessions with Tähtiportti – that album is already finished! After Spiritus Mortis I will try to get the Azrael Rising compilation mastered and then work with The Puritan album. Then it will be only Opium Warlords for me, besides some one-off projects. I have more than ten Opium Warlords ready to go in my mind.
Oh yes I see – Reverend Bizarre’s “So Long Suckers” was re-released in February 2014. What were your reasons to do it? And how does this edition differ from original one?
The reasons were the same that we have had for all of these vinyl versions. Svart wanted to start doing them years ago, and so we have been doing them. Another element again of huge extra stress for me as I have to supervise EVERYTHING. I am not a huge vinyl freak and already back in 1984 I was frustrated with all the unwanted scratches and records getting stuck to some places – I still remember them! – but of course it is nice to have this whole catalogue in vinyl format too, as many people like to have them.
The difference from the CD is that some songs had to be cut into two parts, which also frustrated me, as that is not how I had composed them, but we were able to do these cuttings in a very fine way, so I am OK with it now. And that boxed set is really something special! But all of these vinyls demand compromises of some sort, and the CDs are how I wanted to have these records.
Next I have to work with Death Is Glory…Now vinyl version, which is easy to do as it was originally released as 7”s and 12”s, so it is much easier to divide the songs between the different sides. After that we release Slice of Doom, and then the notorious Magick With Tears, and that is the end, finally, and I will be free!
But you probably did not know that this was NOT a CD re-release, so my whole answer becomes quite stupid hah hah!
Sami, returning to genre variety of your projects – where is the real Sami Hynninen and where are his artistic alter-egos?
There is no difference. There is only one personality. Everything I do is everything I am. As a person outside of art I am nothing. Just a useless deranged body.
About the genres; I have always liked all kinds of music and art. I think these people who pretend – and I say pretend because I do not think that anybody could really naturally be so narrowminded – to be just into black metal, or doom metal, or funk, or whatever, are the ones who live behind a mask and alter ego. People like me just live.
Of course we all use some masks. When I go to the psychiatric polyclinic or the supermarket, or wake up in jail, I act differently, BUT all of those masks are real. In music all that I do is real. That is why I have not got a large audience – it is all too much for many – but it is a very DEVOTED audience, and that suits me fine. I do not belong to the mainstream, or among the masses. I am more like a small atom bomb there among the people, ready to explode and clean the air.
No one believes in such things now, it’s very naïve… But do you gain any financial income working over all of these projects in the same time?
I would lie to you if I said I do not get ANY income, but if I say that I have not got a single cent of royalties for the first Opium Warlords album, and for the second album I got about 240 euros, then you get the picture. March 15 could not even get me any royalties, even if people would buy it, as it was such a limited edition. Primitive Reaction was very kind to pay me the royalties for Azrael Rising beforehand, but even that was a couple of hundreds, not a couple of thousands.
Of Reverend Bizarre I get about 100 euros per year. If any. So, to cut it short, I basically do not have income hah hah!
Do you have any touring activity with some of your bands or projects besides Spiritus Mortis? Is it still difficult for you to play your songs live from the stage?
It was never so difficult for me to play any songs, but I just did not like doing gigs, and being on stage. For me it has always been all about doing records, especially albums. I do not have any interest to play the same songs night after night. I have never even enjoyed rehearsing. It is boring to play the songs again and again. I have not been in a single rehearsal for five years now. I just enter the studio and do my job.
I also gave up playing live that same year 2009. This was because of my mental health issues. I became psychotic on the stage, and on the tour. I am psychotic even without gigs, but I would rather be psychotic here in solitude than there before the eyes of some strangers. Also, the heavy dose of medication I have to take would not mix up too well with the life on the road.
What is the comfortable way and process of your creative activity? Do you have an intensive periods and periods of stagnation?
No. it is always the same. Well, in a very deep depression everything slows down, and after this kind of period everything speeds up a bit more than what it will be after a while, but I work every day, and get ideas every day. I am all the time curious to learn more and see more. I only have what I do, and a few people I care about, but mostly I feel that I am in the end a loner, with this cross of music and words to bear.
Thank you for your time Sami! I wish you to hold a perfect balance in your creative and common life. Let your music take its optimal form and reach its listeners all over the world. Any words for our readers?
I want to greet all of you out there! I also myself think that my music could please people all around the world. Just keep your heart and ears open. Thank you!