Living on the Edge
CoC talks to Sami Lopakka of Sentenced
by: Adrian Bromley
Finnish act Sentenced, who have moulded their sound effortlessly from their early death metal days onto the current mix of melodic hard rock and metal, have always seemed to be one step ahead of the pack in terms of creativity. Their latest LP _Crimson_ [reviewed in this issue] is yet another masterpiece that travels a bit further down the rock spectrum of their sound, though still offers up a few darkened passageways to discover.

It has been ten years since the band formed, taking the metal world by storm with the abrasive metallic sound found on their debut disc _North From Here_ (1993). It was death metal with clarity and melody, though still grim in outlook and substance. It was a new world for metalheads to discover. While speed was a factor, the music of Sentenced waved upon us emotions that still run deep.

Through the toughened sounds of 1995's _Amok_ and the gelling of sounds and styles since their debut, the band eventually managed to experiment a bit more with their sounds. In 1997 Sentenced recruited new singer Ville Laihiala and the band emerged with a solid and well-received LP called _Down_ [CoC #17]. While more rock-oriented than past efforts, _Down_ showcased a band geared up for the long haul of searching out diversity. They'd grown tired of pure death metal and working with _Down_ and its successor, 1998's _Frozen_ [CoC #33], the band found a style that rang true for them.

Enter 2000 and the band has once again embarked on another exploration of their emotions, a tightly knit and rocking effort titled _Crimson_. You'd never know it, but guitarist Sami Lopakka is still having fun after all these years. "We are just having a really good time with this band right now", he starts over the line from his home in Finland. "Making this record has been a blast. It was quite easy for us. We are not trying to keep the faith and make a record that will keep us in the spotlight and make us rich. We do this for ourselves. Our material comes to us very easily. We never have to put any extra effort into making our music work. It just does."

There is no doubt in my mind that some who listen to the new record will no doubt see that the band has matured their sound, opting for a more traditional rock act style set forth into their music. Rather than sprucing things up with rocking speed-like riffs and banshee-like wails of emotion, the band plays it safe and does a fine job at it. Songs like opener "Bleed in My Arms", "Fragile" and "With Bitterness and Joy" shine with craftsmanship. _Crimson_ is a quality record that takes repeated listens for it all to sink in, but once it does, you'll find it an astonishing piece of work to take in.

On the changes, he states: "We are very comfortable with the changes that have surfaced within our music over the last little while. Why should we be worried? It is what we want. This is the direction that we wanted to take. We [the band is rounded out by vocalist Ville Laihiala, guitarist Mika Tenkula, drummer Vesa Ranta and bassist Sami Kukkohovi] were playing pure death metal ten years ago, heavily influenced by acts like Iron Maiden, Death and Metallica, but since then we have been working hard at trying to find our own sound and style. Over the years we have found it, possibly from _Amok_ onward. From then on we have basically done the same style of material with a bit more melody. And right now it is quite hard to really classify what we do. We sure aren't death metal anymore."

"Music is getting a lot easier to write and arrange and that is a good thing", accounts Lopakka on his craft at songwriting. "I don't see an end to the creativity that we have been so lucky to have all of these years. All of these ideas and sounds come out quite naturally. If it wasn't this easy or the songs lacked any emotion, I don't think we'd actually make an effort to work with them. All of our material has meaning to us and that is a very grand thing for us." Adds Lopakka, "We try to keep the creative side very positive to what we do, because of all the negative stuff that is sometimes occurring outside of the band."

Seeing that singer Ville Laihiala has been a stable part of the band through the past three releases, how has his work helped shape the band? "When the line-up change happened in 1996, it was very confusing for a while. After we found Ville we knew that he was an important ingredient which would help make sure that we were going to be around for a much longer time. He actually has made it a lot more positive for us in the past few years and we're pleased with that."

And despite the hardships of replacing lead singers and trying to stay creative throughout the years, how have the changes within the music industry affected them? Do they care? "We really don't think a lot about the business. All we know is that each record we put out outsells the past release in album sales. We're glad to grow in sales and audience size. We can't complain. But I do know this, some of the fans that we had five years ago probably don't follow us anymore because of all the changes, but on the other hand we have always gained more than we have lost."

So how is the tag "Suicide Kings" sticking to Sentenced these days? "I think the feeling is something that we really concentrate on with each and every song we do and I think that's been a strong element within our music. For us, being able to showcase all of these atmospheres and emotions within our music has been great, it just seems that a lot of these ideas and expressions have been quite negative and depressing. I'd like to think that the music of Sentenced acts as a therapy session for us, allowing us to get those feelings out of us for a while and into a song. If we sing a song about killing ourselves, it sure is a lot better than doing it in real life."

Why is there still interest in creating metal music for Lopakka? "I just think there are so many more possibilities of what you can do with metal music than, say, dance music or techno music. You can put in so many different melodies and explore with your instruments. It is very natural for us to play with electric guitars and heavy sounds and just go all out and express ourselves in an extreme way with our music."

In closing, I ask Lopakka the secret to the band's longevity. He responds: "We have been very true to ourselves. Twenty years from now we will be able to look back and say to ourselves that we didn't kiss anyone's ass to change, we just changed. We didn't give any attention to what others thought of how our music should be or what we should do. We paid attention only to ourselves and that has been the key. That is the secret for many bands to have a lengthy career. Bands should be true to themselves and their music. Fuck the rest!"

(article submitted 5/3/2000)

10/1/1998 A Bromley Sentenced: Never to Be Freed
6/7/1997 A Bromley Sentenced: The Changelings
5/13/2005 P Azevedo 6 Sentenced - The Funeral Album
7/3/2002 P Azevedo 7.5 Sentenced - The Cold White Light
3/5/2000 P Schwarz 8 Sentenced - Crimson
9/1/1998 P Schwarz 9 Sentenced - Frozen
3/10/1998 A Bromley 8 Sentenced - Story: A Recollection
2/4/1997 A Bromley 8 Sentenced - Down
12/13/1995 G Filicetti 7 Sentenced - Love and Death
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