Tears From the Thousand Lakes
CoC interviews Ismo Toivonen of Unholy
by: Pedro Azevedo
Some bands don't conform to trends, and Unholy's _Rapture_ [CoC #31], the follow-up to _The Second Ring of Power_, is a proof that the Finnish Unholy are (or, at least, have been so far) one of those bands. My e-mail interview with guitarist/keyboardist Ismo Toivonen ended up being delayed for reasons that every band usually considers very welcome: they were in the studio recording the successor of the very depressive _Rapture_. With Veera Muhli, who performed some nice vocals for them in the past, as a permanent member now, the new Unholy album may very well be a fine piece of doom metal; however, things may not be so linear, considering Ismo Toivonen's answers below.

CoC: _Rapture_ becomes rather hard to describe as a whole, as it goes from dirgeful doom to mid-paced doom/death, to doom with female vocals. How would you describe the music contained in _Rapture_?

Ismo Toivonen: It's just Unholy music. I think there is no need to describe it in any other way. People always want to use those terms like doom, death and black metal. I don't want to use those words. When someone listens to _Rapture_, he or she will notice that it's not so easy to describe in those normal terms, so I think the only right word is just Unholy.

CoC: How do you explain the considerable differences between several of its tracks?

IT: It's refreshing to make different kinds of songs, because if you do the same kind of stuff for ten years you start sounding like the same -- every song sounds like the same. And we have always tried to change musically and try some different things because it makes the whole thing more interesting. And when I think about our forthcoming album, it's once again something different from what you used to know. You know, the most important thing has always been -feeling-, and that's still the same, even if the music changes a little bit in every album.

CoC: What is your songwriting method? The reason why I ask this is because your song structures are (fortunately) far from normal.

IT: What is normal? [Four minute long chorus-based songs. -- Pedro] Well, OK, I think we have a normal way of writing songs. We have two main ways: one is just writing riffs and finally putting them together. The other one is more interesting, in my opinion. We just start playing together, improvising, and maybe we can find one or two good riffs. Then we start playing them and making all kinds of modifications, and finally we have some good riffs ready that fit together better than those that have been written in that "old method". This new way has became more and more common. I don't remember how many songs in _Rapture_ were written like that, but in our next album over half the songs were written like that. But of course there are more ways to make songs and we use everything between those two ways. Every song is a different case, so I cannot give any specific formula of how we write songs. I can tell you one more way: sometimes we just have one riff that myself or Pasi [Aijo, bassist/vocalist/guitarist] wrote earlier. We start playing it and making new parts for that song by improvising.

CoC: Is there a logical sequence in the tracks? I mean, is there any special reason why you placed "For the Unknown One" and its nice female vocals just before a much more barren track like "Wunderwerck"?

IT: There is a logical sequence, but that's not the sequence in the album. The "artistic" sequence of songs can be found in our website, in the lyrics page. [According to which, the sequence would be: 6, 5, 3, 7, 1, 4, 2, 8. -- Pedro] The lyrics form some kind of a story or something like that, but it's not easy to understand. Therefore, we didn't put those songs in that sequence, because most people wouldn't be able to understand this. (You know, you are probably the first person who has mentioned it.) So, we just made a sequence that was musically the best possible. Why is "For the Unknown One" the third song? I don't know, maybe because the third song in _The Second Ring of Power_ had female vocals too. Hah!

CoC: What's the story behind Veera Muhli's participation in "For the Unknown One"?

IT: I don't know exactly what you want to know. I didn't know her before, but Pasi knew that she is a good singer. So we asked her to come and sing in our album. She agreed and made melodies for that song. And we are really satisfied with it. So she's a permanent member now and will sing in about half the songs in our next album.

CoC: "Wunderwerck", being about 15 minutes long and having that large acoustic section, is a good example of something that is seen throughout the album: you never really bothered about how long it would be, did you?

IT: No, we make songs and we don't think about how long they should be. When the song is ready and contains everything it has to contain in our opinion, we just check, and "oh, it's 15 minutes, OK". If you start making songs with thoughts like "is this too long or short?", you are going in a very wrong direction. And the album could have been even longer, but we left one song out because it didn't work the best possible way and we noticed that too late, when all songs had already been mixed. But it has some changes now and it will be in our next album, which, if everything goes well, should be an even longer album. About 70 minutes. But we are not worried about it.

CoC: How did the strange "Unzeitgeist" appear?

IT: As a matter of fact, I wrote that song when Unholy was inoperative. I played it to Jan [Kuhanen, drummer] and he said it was a good song. When we re-formed again after that break, Jan still remembered that song, so we took it to Unholy. Same story for "Wretched". I made it, during our break, with my sequencer, and when we joined back together we just re-arranged it.

CoC: What inspired you to write such doomy compositions?

IT: Nature itself. Everything around us. Being Finnish, I think. I don't know one or two reasons because there are millions of them. It's the same kind of question as "why do you want to live?".

CoC: Do you feel like you're part of the doom metal scene?

IT: No. I don't like that word because it's far from us, I think. Sometimes I say that we are playing doom metal, but that's only because it is closer to our music than, for example, punk or classical music. But it's not our music, I think. And I will be quite surprised if someone calls our music "doom" after our next album... Get ready to find a new word...

CoC: Is there any doom band you relate to in some way?

IT: Not exactly, but when I read Skepticism's lyrics I noticed that they have quite similar thoughts to ours and that was great to know. Their music is different (simpler, slower), but they have the same kind of basic feeling in their music that we do. Greetings to them!

CoC: How do you feel about the other Avantgarde bands?

IT: I haven't heard much of them, but there are a few promising bands who will be something one day. At least that's what I hope. I must say I like Katatonia, even though I have only heard their old material and one song from their new album [_Discouraged Ones_]. They know how to do things in a very simple way, and it still works.

CoC: What about the future? What are your plans for Unholy?

IT: We have no plans yet, because right now we are just trying to finish our next album -- which should be out by the end of the year, but I think it'll only be out in January or February 1999. But when the album is finished, we are going to do some gigs during the Winter, and after releasing a new album we'll start doing more gigs. Right now, we are looking for a booking agent, because it's really too hard to organize tours in other countries by ourselves.

CoC: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

IT: Wait for our next album... You will love it, or hate it. I love it!

Contact: mailto:i.toivonen@mail.wwnet.fi WWW: wwnet.fi/UNHOLY/

(article submitted 1/9/1998)

8/12/1999 P Azevedo 9 Unholy - Gracefallen
6/7/1998 P Azevedo 7 Unholy - Rapture
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