Heaven and Hell. Two distant places within our universe that continue to fascinate those of us on planet Earth. Two locals that cry out for understanding and interpretation. Two places in our mind set that have been explored and evaluated throughout time within metal music. Places, in one aspect, where demons lurk and another realm where angels soar. Finnish metal minions Amorphis have leapt into the analytical world of sky palaces and the grim underworld with their latest _Tuonela_. Quite the fascinated overview, if there ever was one.
"Tuonela is quite an interesting word, I think, and a fitting name for the album title", notes guitarist / creative mastermind Esa Holopainen about the album title of their latest effort. "Tuonela is somewhat of an underworld of sorts, a place between Heaven and Hell where a lot of the older Finnish people believed is where your soul goes when you die." "_Tuonela_ was chosen as the album title because we thought it gave quite a good description of what the album was about. It reflects and describes the music that we did perfectly. It's a good assortment of two distinct worlds rolled into one. It's significant to the progressive angle of _Tuonela_."
"Our change has come with natural progression. We're pretty happy with the fresh sound of the recording and the material on _Tuonela_", says Holopainen on the new LP. "It's better produced for the most part, too. We, as a band, wanted to make sure that this time around we were able to bring about certain changes to the band. Changes that seemed to showcase where we were progressing to. We achieved that here."
Along with his friends and cohorts -- vocalist Pasi Koskinen, guitarist Tomi Koivusaari, bassist Olli-Pekka Laine, drummer Pekka Kasari and session keyboardist Santeri Kaltio --, Holopainen is pleased with the band's transformation since their 1992 debut full-length disc _The Karelian Isthmus_ and on through such classic releases as _Tales From the Thousand Lakes_ (1994) and 1997's groundbreaking _Elegy_. He's happy with Amorphis' state of musical diversity in 1999 and hopes their fans will like it as well. "I believe most of the fans will enjoy what we did here. People who have become fans of the band have come to expect changes within our music from album to album. It's what we are all about. All of our albums are different and that's what we want."
"When people first heard Amorphis, they were enchanted by the variety of what we were doing. Leading up to the last record, _Elegy_, people understood that over the years this was going to be brought through an experimental phase as we went along. People shouldn't be surprised with _Tuonela_, rather impressed that we have brought more variety to Amorphis. It's an exciting way to hear the band."
_Tuonela_ was a lengthy album to assemble. The band toured consistently with _Elegy_ and, as Holopainen explains, long recording sessions is something Amorphis tries to avoid. "It took a while for us to get off the road and into the studio. It was unfortunate that it took a while to get things going, but you know what? Once we got the road travelling out of our system we were able to get the writing underway. No need to really lull over ideas. It all came together rapidly and that was a good sign. It took about half a year to assemble the music, but once we got through that process, _Tuonela_ came together quite nicely."
"When we go into record, we wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Sure our past efforts are a guideline for us as to what we have achieved as a band, but for the most part we keep it in focus as the creative process goes. If we do go back and hear older stuff, it's not to copy those styles or sounds, but more so for some form of analysing of what we did previously and how we could have done things differently."
A lot of different instruments were used on _Tuonela_, everything from saxophone, sitar and even a flute. At any time did Holopainen think using those varied musical instruments would disrupt the varied style of Amorphis? Or did it enhance it? "A famous Finnish folk artist [Sakari Kukko] played the flute on the record and it was such a great experience for us, as we have been big fans of his work for years. Pasi [Koskinen; singer] met him in a bar and introduced him to the band. Who cares what people think about us introducing a flute into Amorphis' sound. It was an honour for him to play with us. That's all that matters."
On newer bands, he comments: "I think there are a lot of bands out there nowadays that are really into making their music stand out. It's great to see that, but then there are all of these bands that are picking up on trends and bringing nothing to the music scene except more of the same band styles. Those bands don't survive. Amorphis has always believed in being unique. Bands need to focus on that."
Since early 1991, Amorphis has been a playing ground for Holopainen. It's been a worthwhile experience for him to explore his musical creativity. His love for music runs deep. "This all started out as a fun thing to do. Y'know? Get in a band with friends and play songs. It was fun. We were very lucky as a band, because it didn't take long to get signed. We've been in a very lucky position for the last few years with tours taking us outside our homeland of Finland to play shows. It's gotten our name out and helped us to sell records."
"Regardless of playing shows and selling records, it's still about the making of the music", says Holopainen with a sincere tone. "We want to be happy with what we do. Of course there are times when you are mad doing this and it seems like there is no point continuing on because you are lagged behind by label politics or just recording the material. Sometimes you just want to get away from it all and rest in your house with your wife and child. Y'know what I mean? This industry takes away a lot and is quite demanding, but it also gives back quite a lot."
So, in closing I ask, is this their best record? "Of course, it has to be", says Holopainen quickly. "I mean, if _Elegy_ was our best record, then why even release _Tuonela_, right? You always have to think that the current record you have finished up is the best, because that is your current musical creation. It symbolizes just where you stand. Who wants to put out a record that isn't as good as the last one? Not us. We always try to outdo ourselves and I think we did that here with _Tuonela_."