Melodic Death-Metal never felt more at home than in the eerie musical concoctions of Before The Dawn, the great sonic Frankenstein of Tuomas Saukkonen, a true "monstre sacrĂ©" of the Finnish metal scene.
On April the 27th, 2012, the band released its latest album, "Rise of the Phoenix", via Nuclear Blast. What better idea than to try to get a hold of the mastermind himself, to ask him some questions regarding the new material, and not only?
So we summoned Tuomas for an interview in which we spoke about the ancient good-and-evil combo, and about how each and every single one of us is a miniature pagan god.
"Deathstar Rising" is an album with a lot of poetic melody, super-musical guitars and calligraphic drums. Judging by "Pitch-black Universe", I’d say that you’ve returned to rawer, more aggressive, more "purely" death-metal roots with "Rise Of The Phoenix". How accurate is that impression and what can be expect from the new material?
Tuomas Saukkonen: That impression is very accurate indeed! The new material is more aggressive, but also more melodic since the lead guitars have taken the place of the clean vocals, which are no longer part of our music. The new album is also more varied, as it includes big acoustic parts, and fierce, fast parts, in the style of black-metal.
There has always been a stream of revolt running through all of your songs. Often, the lyrics rely on an apocalyptic imagination that deplores both the evils within, and the evils without. What are the main themes of "Rise of the Phoenix" and how do they relate to the name of the album?
TS: The main theme seems to be the rebirth of the band, and the title is a fine example of that. Of course, there are a lot of darker personal issues (like always) in the lyrics of BTD. The changes inside the band, and their positive results, have had a very strong effect on both the music and the lyrics
When I listen to your songs, I think about Pagan gods of the underworld struggling to overturn through anarchy the suffering of a dying world. Are there any mythological sources that you cultivate in your music?
TS: Not really. I believe that both ancient evil and profound goodness are within all of us, and there is no greater power than this dichotomy. Many people are too weak to see this and to accept both sides of humanity so they’d rather turn to one of the numerous "goods" for forgiveness and comfort. We are the Pagan gods, so to speak.
"You just have to write the music that you love for yourself. Nothing else matters."
Before the Dawn is a band with a tumultuous history and with many lineup changes. At this point, do you think it’s safe to say that it’s a one-man-show, considering the fact that you are the sole songwriter?
TS: Musically it is pretty much a one man show but I have always considered BTD a band, and nowadays making albums for BTD is very close to team work, with our solo guitarist Juho who is a professional sound engineer. He has mainly recorded and done the whole mixing for the previous and also for the new BTD album, so he has a very big role, even though he has nothing to do with the actual songwriting process.
Your usage of two vocal styles – harsh and clean – made the songs extremely versatile and likeable even amongst people who might not enjoy growls. Was it a strategy or was it for the sake of musical expressiveness that you chose to work with another vocalist?
TS: It was a purely musical decision. With this new album, we actually made some major changes in the line-up, and we’ve also changed the musical style. There are no more clean vocals in BTD, and again the decision was purely musical. I never think of what the fans, the media or the labels might say. You just have to write the music that you love for yourself. Nothing else matters.
I heard that you burnt your hand pretty badly while shooting the video for "Pitch-Black Universe". Is it worth going to any lengths to give shape to your vision? Would you call yourself a perfectionist?
TS: It was only a 2nd degree burn, so nothing that serious. I wanted to have this certain fire stunt in the video but we did not have a big enough budget for an actual movie-style stunt, so we did it old school – with Zippo gasoline on a bare skin. I knew that I’d get some kind of damage so I was not surprised when it happened. I see myself as a visionary but not a perfectionist. To me, feeling and emotion are always more important that the perfect performance.
"The Finnish metal scene is like a big brotherhood"
You quoted Darth Vader as an inspiration during an interview regarding the previous album. What other dark icons from pop-culture inspire you?
TS: Everything that reflects the battle between good and evil. Batman and Joker, Thor and Loki etc. It’s a classic theme that you can find everywhere you look.
Tuomas, you are truly a creative force and your passion has been rewarded with many awards, from "Best Instrumentalist", to "Best Band" and, more recently, at the latest edition of The Finnish Metal Awards, "Musician of the Year". Do such awards carry a special significance, or are they just for personal vanity?
TS: It was an open voting system so, to me, such proof of respect and dedication from the fans is amazing. I would never consider myself the "musician of the year", but I am deeply honored that so many people think of me that way. It would become vanity if I started to believe it myself, or act like it.
The Finnish metal scene is particularly rich: Amorphis, Swallow the Sun, to name only two. Are there any band rivalries, or is there room for everyone?
TS: The Finnish metal scene is like a big brotherhood, so very rarely do I see any kind of competing or problems between bands.
A last message for Luke Skywalker…and for your fans in Romania?
TS: Luke…I am NOT your father….and for all the Romanian metalheads: horns up!