Fireal: Beyond the Gothic idiom with Finland’s hottest alternative act

The richness of the Finnish musical world is not hard to overlook when one thinks about all those super-popular local bands that have come to be associated with the essence of Finn rock.

With acts like The 69 Eyes, Poisonblack, The Rasmus, Nightwish and HIM, the ordinary consumer of music is tempted to dismiss every product imported from the remote northern country as the sonic progeny of a profoundly Gothic idiom.

However, it would be foolish to ignore the budding alternative scene which has mustered up the courage to rear its hybrid head. And because the devil needs to be named in order to gain power, hereâ’s FIREAL for you! 

The band was born in 2009, rising from the ashes of what used to be Bleak, the master project of singer-songwriter Caleb, who refused to yield to the wicked workings of an unraveled lineup, and quickly regrouped in order to create Fireal. 

Right now, the band is alive and kicking, so much so that the guys are planning to release a new album – „Lit” – preceded by a brand new single, to arrive sometime in autumn. We tracked down Caleb and persuaded him to unveil some of the secrets behind his art. Beware, thereâ’s a good dose of poetry, sensitivity and „Star Wars” in the interview you can read below.

MRM: You guys are the "inventors" of a genre of rock that you called "Imperial Rock". Where does the name come from, and how would you describe the genre?

Caleb: The name of the genre is derived from the song „The Imperia”, and it represents the Empire and the Dark Side – hence the name of the album – of the Force from Star Wars; „Imperial Tie Fighter”, „Imperial Troops”, so why not „Imperial Rock”? Obviously Iâ’m a fan of the franchise. Imperial Rock is basically a genre of rock spiced with grunge, metal, pop hooks, and electronic music. Itâ’s a contrast between hard and soft, rough and clean – like a bright-red flame burning in the ice-cold dark.

Do you see yourselves as initiators of a "trend", with other bands emulating you, or would you rather hold on to your distinctness?

There were some minor bands in Finland that were influenced by us; some of them donâ’t exist anymore. Originally, I thought that was flattering but later on Iâ’ve seen how people basically „steal” ideas and styles from different bands and present them as their own – and thatâ’s wrong. I sincerely hope musicians try to find their own style through exploring different types of music, and their own creativity – instead of ripping off other bands.

You sound nothing like some of the bands that have come to be associated with Finland – Nightwish, HIM, The 69 Eyes – and who share that Gothic element. How come you chose to stray away from that "doomy" recipe for success?

Ironically, in 2005 with the former lineup of Fireal (Bleak), people would compare us to HIM. I really think the music or my singing had nothing to do with it. I talked about this with Ville and he agrees our sounds are totally different. I think me wearing makeup, us opening up for HIM few times – plus Ville and Mige saying in interviews that their favorite band at the moment was Bleak – made other smaller bands, critics, and even some fans jealous and suspicious of us, since we sort of came out of nowhere to open for the most successful rock band in Finland. But that disappeared within two years when we started touring on our own. Itâ’s a good example of how peopleâ’s prejudices and jealousy can twist their minds. As for straying from the recipe, I think Iâ’m just too stubborn to follow any other road than my own. Iâ’ve had this clear vision in my head since 2003 and Iâ’ve followed it for almost ten years now. Iâ’m sure that if Iâ’d made different choices we might have become more popular. But if it was all about becoming successful, I wouldnâ’t be writing this kind of music. The main thing is to be true to your art, even if it is commercial – and to follow your vision. Thatâ’s what Iâ’ve been doing from the start – and thatâ’s what I will do until the end.

"I aim to keep it rough, while holding on to the hooky melodies"

Most of the songs from your previous album, "The Dark Side" are cinematic, and you also feature on the soundtrack of a couple of movies – "Harjunpaa ja Pahan Pappi" and "Jadesoturi". Does this sonic narrativity have anything to do with your passion for the epic "Star Wars"?

No, those were actually only coincidences – we never aimed for that. I do love movies though, and I love movie soundtracks. Iâ’ve always loved dramatic music and the string sections in movies. I think that love for movies has made a song like „The Nibiru” possible.

Related to that, why do you call yourselves a Star-Wars inspired band? Aside from the lyrical influences, how does the film inform your music?

I think Iâ’ve actually explained this above but I could add that Iâ’ve been a fan of the movies since a kid, and Darth Maul, especially, has fostered my love for the chromatic duo of red and black. Plus, we have the „sith hoods”. I just love the feel of the Sith and of the Imperial Forces in Star Wars. Jedis seem lame to me – but the Sith are kickass.

"The Dark Side" is an extremely versatile album, speaking from the compositional point of view. You have raw songs with agonizingly dark guitars (The Imperia), and some dramatic and catchy ballads (Ariel, Violet). Would you say that there’s a war between opposites being fought within you? 

I also mentioned this contrast earlier on, but to add something: I think Iâ’ve always been drawn to opposites. I think some bands are too lame with their hooky melodies and not enough roughness in the guitars. Also, some metal bands sound way too boring with the rough guitars, and utterly banal melodies. I aimed to keep it rough, while holding on to the hooky melodies; thatâ’s basically my thing. But itâ’s not a war – itâ’s controlled chaos.

The Nibiru is a song which covertly speaks about the end of the world, and the end of love. How apocalyptic is it for one to lose the love of their life?

Well, if I think about myself before I lost the love of my life, I was a bit naive and blind to many things. Experiencing a huge loss is always a learning point; after that I saw things in a new light – what the majority of modern society represents, what love and loyalty actually mean for the majority of people – and that made me somewhat misanthropic. This song was written after realizing how people really are in this world. It was modeled by my huge disappointment and indifference, mixed with the burning rage I had covered in world-weariness. But that was a passing moment; it doesnâ’t represent how I see the world in general… at least, not completely. I still think there is some hope for us. 

"Being miserable is not cool. You can be dark and fiery, and still be happy with your life"

Superstitious people say that in 2012 the Earth will collide with the lost planet Nibiru. What song/s would you listen to if you found out that in 10 minutes the entire planet would be shattered by the impact?

Iâ’ve spent most of my life doing music and that has cost me many years of my life that couldâ’ve been spent more wisely, for example: with my family. If the world is to end now, I will spend my final moments with my family. My love for them is the only pure thing in my life that has not been stained by anything.

There is a heart-wrenching feeling of loss pervading every note of "The Dark Side". Can you tell us what experiences inspired it?

Before writing „The Dark Side”, there were many changes in my life; breaking up with my ex-fiancĂ©e, breaking up with the old lineup, learning from betrayal, changing the scenery, family issues, money issues. It was the darkest point of my life. I also had older songs about other dark issues and worked on them as well. I think it was a phase of my life I had to go through – and Iâ’m kind of glad I did, since it made that record possible. Plus, I got all that stuff out of my system!

You’re working on a new album, "Lit", that is set to be released sometime in autumn. On your official website, you said it was going to be lighter, and happier than "The Dark Side". Have you had enough of the darkness?

Actually, you have been misinformed a little – like I said in the blog on the official Fireal website, we aim to release our first single next autumn, and hope to release the album next year. As for the music, yeah, itâ’s not as dark, and thereâ’s going to be more grunge on the album. But itâ’s not going to be happy – I donâ’t think I could write a happy song for Fireal. I do like darkness in a cool way, but not the darkness of the soul. Being miserable is not cool. You can be dark and fiery – and still be happy with your life. Itâ’s only a matter of style. 

"Eve" is your latest single. It talks about a shallow girl who doesn’t understand true love. Have your themes become more anchored in reality, more explicit, more realistic, and less otherworldly?

„Eve”, in this context, means Eve as in Adam & Eve; it means women in general. Iâ’m not saying all women are like that. Iâ’m rather presenting the stereotype of the modern beautiful woman. I donâ’t like to limit myself regarding song topics. I will write about whatever it is that affects me so much I have to write about it.

Come on, gives us a spoiler. A song name, a song theme or a lyric sample that you love. You can lie to us, only make it poetic.

Hereâ’s one from a Deftones song I love: „The shade is a tool, a device, a savior. See, I try and look up to the sky but my eyes burn. Cloud, come shove the sun aside…Thereâ’s no crowds in the street and no sun in my own summer.” Imagine the „sun” representing all the evil that shines; the lies and the illusion of fame, the riches, the success and the plastic beauty that is fed to the public; all that „light” is made to attract weak souls, like moths, like the „sunâ’s children”. Cloud, come shove the sun aside.

Your top 3 favorite characters from Star Wars and the songs (your own or other bands’) you associate with them.

1) Darth Maul 2) Darth Sidious 3) Yoda. Iâ’m sorry but I canâ’t think of any songs associated with these characters!

Who would you rather date: Princess Leia or Lily Munster?

I would date Princess Leia if she had Lily Munsters style.

If you had the "Force" for a day, what would you do with it?

Find a way to keep it and take over the world >:)

Thank you very much, Caleb! 

(Alexandra Furnea)

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