Rage and FrustrationExtreme Music Reviews & Interviews
Crimfall – Amain (Review and Interview)
Band – Crimfall
Album – Amain
Country of Origin – Finland
Genre – Symphonic Viking Metal
Release Date – August 25th, 2017
Label – Metal Blade Records
Author – Hayduke X
Sometimes I struggle to find words to express my thoughts about an album. That, of course, can mean a couple of things. Either the album is mediocre to the point of having nothing unique to present or the album is so outstanding and different that there is almost too much to share. Amain is most definitely the latter. I confess that my first listen to The Last of Stands, the lead single, left me with the impression that I would struggle to fully engage with the album. It is, after all, headed towards over the top territory. I fail to be a Manowar fan for a reason. After imbibing the full album, and then doing so again, and then yet again (it’s still in the heaviest of rotation in my ears actually), I have pretty much fallen in love with the third full length by this Finnish band. They have managed a nigh impossible feat by walking the ‘over-the-top’ line without setting a foot over it. Amain is grand perfection, a metal opera of the highest caliber.
At this point, I generally break down what the individuals in the band do, and I will discuss the core band, but understand there is more going on here than guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. The symphonic elements are a combination of electronically rendered and session musicians, with the latter reportedly providing a lot of the strings. Also understand, this is a composition with more in common with a classical score than a typical metal album. Amain has some great individual tracks, but is best heard all the way through, and that repeatedly. On to the core quintet. Crimfall’s music is written almost entirely by guitarist and programmer Jakke Viitala. In many ways, he is the band, certainly the band leader. Read the interview below to see how their process works, but it’s fair to say that he is driving force behind Crimfall. As I’ve already stated, his compositional work on Amain is pitch perfect. Each element is perfectly in place. His work on guitars is equally so, hitting the necessary mood of each moment with just the right riff, tone, or effect. Miska Sipiläinen handles bass and Janne Jukarainen is the drummer. The rhythm section anchors the soaring highs and tragic lows of this masterpiece. Finally, we have dual vocals. Helena Haaparanta and Mikko Häkkinen handle these duties with power, anger, beauty, and emotion. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a better combination of male and female, power and beauty. Take note that, while Helena usually does the beautifully soaring clean vocals, she also has moments of vicious power. Likewise, while Mikko generally perform angry harsh vocals, he has some cleans as well.
There is a story told here, a story of agony and loss. Amain has completely wrapped me in it’s grasp. I am transported to another world, a world of battle of glorious victory and agonizing defeat. Crimfall is escapism, no doubt, but it’s escapism done immaculately.
Recommendation: Words are not enough. You must hear.
Hayduke X: Thanks for taking some time to answer some questions today.
Helena Haaparanta: Our pleasure. Our pleasure.
HX: Why don’t you start by just introducing yourselves and your roles in the band?
HH: You go first, Mr. Mastermind.
Jakke Viitala: I’m Jakke Viitala. I’m the composer and guy behind the whole band. I also play guitar and do the orchestration and the…
HH: The arrangments…
JV: The arrangements…
HH: The composition, everything. He’s behind it all. And, we’ve sometimes gotten him to sing some choir parts as well. So, that’s a hidden talent as well.
JV: But I didn’t do the lyrics. Mikko does lyrics, but he’s not here today.
HH: Yeah, he couldn’t make it today unfortunately. I’m Helena Haaparanta. I’m the other vocalist of this group, in addition to Mikko Häkkinen, who couldn’t make it today. I also do some melody composing on Jakke’s master works. So, we usually compose the melodies together.
HX: Congratulations on the upcoming release of Amain. I’ve only heard the one song, The Last of Stands, that’s been streaming, and it sounds great. What kind of reception are you getting for that song?
JV: The reception has been awesome. We have already gotten new fans. Old fans love it.
HH: Yeah, it seems that – we were kind of nervous, would it divide people, because it’s, as you’ve heard, super pompous and really big. Up to the point of maybe, if we had gone a little bit further, it might have gone over the top. We were a bit worried, but we’ve received very, very good feedback on the song. It has been very well received by both old and new fans. We’ve been very grateful for that. It was a good choice for the first single. I mean, Amain means all in with full force, so why not put up a song with full force for the first single.
HX: How does the rest of the album sound? Is it more of the same?
HH: There’s a lot of variety.
JV: There’s a wide variety. If you’ve heard our previous albums, we like to play with things, play with different contrasts, different ideas…
HH: …atmospheres, arc of drama from start to the end. There are no similar songs, I think, on any of our albums.
JV: I guess this one is even more like, has even more different flavors.
HH: However, it is also, I think, our most compact piece, like compilation of our – all these six years, or actually ten years travelling all together, but yeah, six years of making it. It shows that we’ve been making it a long time. In a good way, I think.
HX: Tell me about the songwriting process for this album.
JV: Basically, I start doing demos and when I feel they are good enough and I have made all the drums and bass and orchestration, I send the files to Mikko. Then we listen to the songs and he gets some kind of vision in his head, things about the themes and what kind of subject he will write of. When we are happy with the lyrics and other arrangements, then we start working on the vocals with her.
HH: Yeah. At that point, we do create also melodies. He might have many good ideas and we might try them out. Some might stay. At some points, he might give me free hands. ‘Just give me something.’ Then, either it’s good or not. I think we work very well together in those kinds of situations. It’s good to have free hands like that. Of course, every instrumental player or singer, is the best expert of their own field. I think, as a captain, he really takes full advantage of that in the best possible way to make the music work, as best as possible.
HX: As one of the vocalist, how do you feel the two types of vocals – the dual vocal attack – what does that bring to the sound for you?
HH: Variety. However, our kind of approach is maybe not the very traditional in the field of metal. When female singers come, they’re is this kind of beauty and the beast kind of power setting. But, I do use my voice in more brutal ways also, but I think Mikko’s approach to vocals is so much more fierce than mine will ever be, in that kind of like, male power harshness, like black metal. I mean, the guy is the size of a huge closet, so he’s got like, timbre there also to work with. I’m quite tiny, so… I think I’m going to do some throat singing stuff in the future also. of course, it’s richness. He’s using symphony orchestra stuff in his music, so if I were him, I might consider hiring maybe five more singers, and enjoying sort a full Queen choir sound. I think, with our pre-recorded choirs also, when it goes live, I think it will work very well.
HX: More a question for you Jakke. What kind of gear are you using to create the Crimfall sound?
JV: The Crimfall sound… So, basically we have the normal heavy metal band. So, guitars, bass, drums. I kind of do the songs together with orchestration. I don’t do first the band and then the orchestration. I do them together. I think that is one of the reasons we have this organic sound. It’s not like we have a band over here and then we’ve just put some cream on the top.
HH: Yeah, or hire somebody to do phenomenal orchestrations to the songs that already exist, but make them all together. It kind of reminds me of classical music writers. They write everything at the same time. They have the whole stuff in their head.
JV: So for the orchestration, I can’t remember which libraries I used, because I had the privilege to use my boss’s computer, who has the best of the best of these virtual instruments on his computer. So, I used those, but we also put some real violins and cellos and other real instruments on top of these samples to make them a bit more realistic.
HH: Yeah, I remember he is often saying, “It mustn’t sound too beautiful and too perfect.” It has to have life in it.
JV: Yeah, yeah, a bit out of tune…
HH: In some parts at least. It has to have life in it.
JV: I think that’s the idea behind the sound of Crimfall at a high level.
HX: As far as your own set-up, you know, the type of guitar you use, pedals, amps, that sort of thing?
JV: Those, I really love Ibanez Guitars. Now I’m using Axe FX system. It’s combined with a Peavey amp and cabinet. I think I will start using these Axe FX directly with the mixing desk, because it sounds so good as it is. Then, you don’t have to carry all the stuff, just for the shows. Nowadays, it’s enough to have this digital stuff. Of course, when we do studio albums, we use real guitar amplifiers.
HX: Tell me about any theme or themes on the album, lyrically and so on. What’s the album about?
HH: The lyrics are, as mentioned, by Mikko Häkkinen, so he has the bigger picture of the whole content. However, I do recall him mentioning about – and I’ve been singing his lyrics – and what I get out of it is, it’s quite…like…the word that comes to mind is actually misery…war.
HH: Defeat, but also surviving through it all. So, there’s some empowerment there, but like, no one’s celebrating battles or victories or anything like that, because it’s brutal stuff. I think it’s also…maybe inside Mikko’s stories there may be a little moral to the whole situation, like, ‘This is not fun, guys.’ I don’t know.
HX: Do you have a favorite track?
HH: I’m completely in love with the one song that hasn’t come out as a single, but it was kind of the making of material we released back when we were recording and finalizing the recordings. It will be released, naturally.
JV: If you’re talking about the song, then we might have a single coming.
HH: But I’m not sure if we’re allowed to…
JV: Yeah, we cannot what the song is.
HH: Anyway, what was the name again. Mother of Unbelievers. If you check it out when it comes, I mean vocally, it’s a marathon for me. It’s so much fun. It feels so good to do. It feels so good on stage. We’ve tried it out a couple of times already on stage. In practice or the rehearsal room, it feels just so freaking powerful. Also, on the album, it’s definitely one of my favorites.
JV: My favorite is maybe the Ten Winters Apart. Sixteen minutes of pure epicness.
HH: Yeah, that’s not bad either.
HX: I can’t wait to hear them.
JV: As you can guess, the songs are completely different from each other, so it’s hard to pick any favorite.
HH: Yeah, and I think also, time will tell which songs work best live and which songs might be happier to remain in the CD player and streaming services.
HX: Tell me about the album cover. Were you guys involved in putting that together at all?
JV: Actually the album cover is painted by a friend of mine. He’s a very talented painter of course, as you can tell. Actually the model on the cover is also my friend. He’s also a huge fan of Crimfall, so I asked him, “Do you want to show your ass on our album cover?” He was like, “It’s an honor!”
HH: So, we’re really happy Jakko came into the picture to pose his marvelous butt, for the pleasure of us all. And the artist is just…
HH: ….yeah, he’s amazing.
JV: It also follows the same concept we have had on the previous album covers. We have this one warrior. Now he’s even more beaten, scars in the back.
HH: Yeah, it’s kind of another side of the same guy even. I don’t know.
JV: Yeah, and there’s a storm rising.
HH: And he’s butt naked, so that’s symbolism for you there. I mean, the war, or this battle is clearly behind us. We’ve done this major, huge thing. We’re pretty bare for the audiences. ‘We’re here. Do you like our stuff or not.’ This is all in, so to say.
HX: Let’s go back to the history of the band. Can you tell me how you guys started and how things have evolved?
JV: We started back in 2007.
HH: Must have been.
JV: About ten years ago, or so. I made some songs for myself on then played them for my friends. They were like, ‘These are awesome. You should have a vocalist in here.’ Then I’m, ‘Ok…’ I didn’t know anybody. Well, I have a friend at the office, Mikko, so I asked if he wants to do something. He said, ‘Ok. Sure. Why not?’ Well, I need a clean vocalist as well, because there’s so much variation in the songs. …Google, Google, Google… We someone who can actually sing, so I sent her a message, ‘Ok. I’m Jakke. I made a few songs, Do you want to be part of the project.’
HH: And I was young and needed the exposure, so why not? I had never worked on, soundwise, such a vast project before, with all the massive orchestrations. Our work together went very well. It was easy to make stuff happen with him.
JV: It was actually the first time we met in person, when you came to our home.
HH: Like, ‘Hey, I’m Helena. Let’s press record.’
HX: How did you guys connect with Metal Blade?
JV: We finished the album. We wanted to complete the whole album, the mixing and everything, and then approach the record labels. We had a list of A quality labels and then B and C, but luckily Metal Blade was already an A.
HH: Metal Blade was in the first round, so to say, of the labels we approached. We’re so happy they caught our hook and started working with us. Ever since, it has felt like they’re the people for us. They’ve made it very easy for us, by, for example, organizing these lovely interviews for us. It’s their job, after all.
HX: Tell me about your influences. Could be musical. Could be just something in the world. What inspires you guys to write this music?
JV: For me, I am taking inspiration from everywhere. From nature. From culture. From movies. I listen to lots of movie soundtracks. With Crimfall, I try to capture the same visual way to play things and compose things. Like, when you’re watching a movie, and you have this music score playing, you already feel nervous or happy or whatever.
HH: We all have probably seen those clips, pieces of well known movies, without music. I think what we create, it’s like, we don’t need the film. It’s just close your eyes and poof, there you are. For me, as a melody writer, I think the inspiration I draw from is also everyday life. Even though I’m kind of a shy person, sometimes there’s a vast imagination there and maybe a little escapist. There’s always somewhere to go and fetch ideas from, but also everyday life. I mean, the world is full of stories and stuff to write about. We just need to look around and pluck them from the trees around us.
JV: Yeah, and the crazier idea you have, the better it usually is for us. We don’t have any boundaries that we have to stick in metal music. We can take inspiration from folk music, if we want to.
HH: I have this little detour of working with a pop band in between, so my melody writing went a little bit to that direction as well. Also, when I consider my own history, there’s classical music, there’s a whole pre-teen youth of listening to 60’s and 70’s rock and pop music. Also, a vast variety of musical theater music and stuff like that.
HH: Jazz, yes, definitely, so it’s a vast book for where to look.
HX: So, you guys have these wide ranges of influences. So, why do you play metal?
HH: That is a very good question.
JV: Because of the money. Just kidding.
HH: That and the Ferraris. I think, since I’ve been doing a lot of different musical genres on different sorts of stages, and different sizes of stages, like I’m doing jazz with just me and a piano or play the contele and do some very nice folk music gigs and stuff like that. What speaks to me in metal is the power. I mean, the amazing force that just forces you to come into the song and mosh your head and wave your fist and just be part of the whole big bombastic material. The kind of magic that is there on stage and also in the audience, if the band can deliver.
JV: Yeah, I myself have been listening to metal music since I was five years old. It’s kind of natural to continue on that road. I could play something else, but it has to have some kind of connection to me. So that I love what I’m doing, then I feel comfortable with it.
HX: Any tour plans in support of the album?
HH: Nothing confirmed yet. Several plans though. We really hope we get to tour widely, because, as I said, this is our latest and finest and the biggest stuff we’ve created ever. It would be so amazing to get to perform all around and catch new fans and make old fans happy.
HX: Any hope for a US tour?
HH: Certainly. Big hopes from our part at least, because, I mean, now we have a good, big friend in the States in Metal Blade, so who knows? We really hope we can come there.
HX: Well, I’d be excited about that if you guys came this way. That’d be great.
HH: We too. We’ve never been there yet.
HX: Final question. What else should we know about Crimfall?
HH: We have a video coming.
JV: Yes, a music video coming during this summer. We can’t tell when yet.
HH: Yeah, we must shush from the date, but it’ll come before the record release. That much we can reveal. It’ll be enormously beautiful. It’s actually our very, very first actual music video.
JV: The raw footage already looks stunning.
HH: Yeah. There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And rain and misery going on in that film. Just yesterday they finished shooting in Poland. The band parts we did in Finland earlier with Mikko’s brother Olli Häkkinen who has also earlier taken all our promotional photographs.
JV: Yeah, he also made the second album cover.
HH: The second album cover too, yeah. He’s just a brilliant multi-talent who agreed to help us on this one. Together with him we got this idea about, I mustn’t say it, but ultimate, ultimate misery. You will see that on the film.
HX: Great. Thank you so much for your time.
JV: Thank you
HH: Thank you. It was our pleasure.