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March 16, 1999

Amorphous adj. 1 a: having no definite form : SHAPELESS (i.e. cloud mass)
b: being without definite character or nature : UNCLASSIFIABLE (i.e. segment of society.)

Few bands in the metal scene live up to their billing quite as literally as does Finland's Amorphis. Evolving dramatically throughout their career, Amorphis have continuously reinvented their sound with each successive release. The Metal Update caught up with guitarist and founding member Esa Holopainen after a rare American performance and on the eve of the domestic release of the band's latest sonic reference point in the progession,'Tuonela'.

Metal Update: The new album is brilliant.

Esa Holopainen: Thank you.

MU: But I am having trouble figuring out how to pronounce the title.

EH: That's a good start for the interview. (laughs) It's pronounced, "toe-on-el-a".

MU: And what does that word mean?

EH: It means the underworld. It's the place where people from hundreds of years ago in Finland thought that they'd go after they died. So it's not like necessarily like heaven or hell, but it's, like, the underworld.

MU: Is Amorphis still a part of the metal underworld?

EH: I guess so, yeah. I still consider us a metal underworld band, but I really hope we can also achieve a bit more audience, a new audience, with this album as well.

MU: Do you consider yourselves a death metal band?

EH: I really don't think that we are a death metal band. I think, yeah, we started as a death metal band for sure.

MU: So, when you go back and listen to the 'The Karelian Isthmus', does it still excite you and get your juices flowing?

EH: It's a good album. And it presents the music that we did back then. For me it's quite impossible to listen to that album. (laughs)

MU: If a brand new band came out with that record right now, would you like it?

EH: I don't know. Probably. (laughs) I don't know. It's so hard to say because I've heard the album so many times and we've played the tracks so many times.

MU: The dictionary definition of the word "amorphis" means something like, without definition or form, is that correct?

EH: Yes. Yeah, that's true.

MU: Did you anticipate the ongoing process of musical evolution that we've seen throughout your records way back when you named the band?

EH: No, I think it's just a coincidence. I guess through the years the band's name has been like a description of the band. That is also like the name of it so it's always going to change. I think we're still going to change, we don't know which direction, but definitely there's going to be some progression every album like there is.

MU: So, you used to be a death metal band--but you don't think you are one anymore.

EH: I don't think so. You know, it's hard to categorize your music becauseit's stupid, I think, to put the music into different boxes. Whenever the music is good, it's good.

MU: Metal has gone through some tough times in the United States this decade, but is now experiencing a bit of a resurgence. Agree?

EH: No, it's strange, comparing to Europe, the metal markets are so totally different. It's like, kids from Europe, it starts to get a good market for metal music there. And I really wish that it's going to be here as well. As far as I'm concerned, it's like, most metal bands in America, I guess they are like, Korn and Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson.

MU: You just spent the weekend, or at least Friday night, at the March Metal Meltdown in New Jersey.

EH: That was a good thing. I think there should be more festivals like this because it also shows that there is a lot of people and a lot of interest.

MU: So how did you think your gig went?

EH: It was very chaotic because we didn't have a proper sound check, just a quick line check, so you never know what's going to happen and the sound is what it is.

MU: Did you get an opportunity to check out any of the other bands?

EH: Yeah, but to be honest, I wasn't that interested in some of the stuff. But yeah, Hyprocrisy and a few tracks from Dimmu Borgir.

MU: Do you like Hypocrisy?

EH: I like what they're doing. They've got their own sound which is very very heavy and I like the band. Those guys are really cool.

MU: How important is it for Amorphis to achieve commercial success in the United States?

EH: Well, it's important for us that we can ... It's important. Because at some point, we have done it in Europe and I hope we can do it the same way here. So that gives us a good chance to do proper tours in America.

MU: If everything went your way with this record, where would you see yourselves in a year?

EH: I think that, as a band, we could, with as good an album as 'Tuonela', after one year, do a proper tour in America.

MU: What do you consider a proper American tour? Would you headline or support?

EH: The first thing, for now ...the best for us would be to have a good supporting tour.

MU: What band do you think it would make sense for Amorphis to support?

EH: Ah, I have no idea. Deep Purple? (laughs) No, it depends. As long as the venues are good, and a decent amount of people come out to watch the show, which ...I would prefer to see a thousand people per show. That's the goal.

MU: How many people come to the typical Amorphis gig in Finland?

EH: I think it's around one thousand.

MU: You last toured the United States with Entombed, right?

EH: Yep.

MU: Can you envision yourselves doing another tour like that again?

EH: That was very rough, because we did it with a little van. I'm very happy that we did it, because we met a lot of nice people and we had a good opportunity to check out the places where we haven't been before. But, I have to say, there was a lot of little, little places that we played. (laughs)

MU: What about the possibility of Amorphis being offered something in connection with the Ozzfest this summer?

EH: That would be nice. I have heard a lot of things about Ozzfest. A lot of people saying that it's a good thing because there's that, like, metal-festival-type thing. It would be a really good chance for us to play for a bigger audience here, to join Ozzy.

MU: Will Amorphis do a MTV-style video for any of the tracks off the new album?

EH: Yeah, actually we filmed a clip for the track "Divinity". It should go to MTV. Hopefully they'll - I think they'll do it in Europe, but I don't know what ...

MU: Do you think they'll play it in the United States?

EH: I don't know. I really don't have any idea about the music channels, and how ... I heard that MTV doesn't react that well to metal bands here.

MU: But you guys have a nice new look, and a nice new image, that the current market could embrace.

EH: Yeah, yeah. (laughs) So we'll see.

MU: C'mon, admit it. Amorphis is the Great White Commercial Hope for every "death metal band who wanted to branch out." I mean, which of the bands that came up with you have had the greatest commercial success?

EH: In Europe, bands like Tiamat, they did quite well. But then they flopped with the latest album in Europe.

MU: Why do you think that was?

EH: I don't know. I think they went too far. I respect them because they did what they wanted to do. I think it was too difficult an album for the ... (laughs)

MU: Do you worry that audiences could have the same problems with 'Tuonela' ?

EH: You have to take the risks, that's the thing. That's why I say I respect bands like Tiamat. I don't know if you know The Gathering ...

MU: Sure.

EH: They changed their style a lot, on the new album. I respect them a lot for this choice. It says tells about that you do the music that you enjoy to listen to and enjoy to play.

MU: Are you familiar with Primus?

EH: Yeah, sure.

MU: And their guitar player, Larry LaLonde?

EH: Yeah, yeah.

MU: Do you know what band he used to be in?

EH: I think I've heard ... He used to be in Possessed.

MU: Right. I wonder if he is proud of his days in Possessed. Is he embarrassed to admit his past when he's touring with all of the alternative rock kids on the Lollapalooza tour? Similarly, if Amorphis hits the big time, will you be embarrassed to admit that you used to be a death metal band?

EH: No, no, no, no. It's our roots. No shame or to be embarrassed, because everybody knows that and it's stupid to deny that.


MU: Let's talk about 'Tuonela'. Your guitar work is fantastic. I hear lots of non-metal influences, ranging from David Gilmore to the Edge. Are these guitar players you try to emulate?

EH: Yeah, I like them both a lot. Especially Edge is one of my favorite guitar players.

MU: You're using a lot of delay, similar to what he does.

EH: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I love to do that. That's why I love David Gilmore's work as well. He doesn't play it as much, but every note has its own feelings. And that's what counts.

MU: What music are you listening to these days?

EH: I like a lot of Oriental music as well. Like Ravi Shankar, and those sitar players.

MU: There's sitar on this record.

EH: Tomi plays sitar on "Greed". Sitar is good music. What else? We listen to a lot of folk music as well, and to rock music in general. And a lot of the old bands.

MU: Getting back to 'Tuonela', did you consciously limit the growling, death metal vocals to the middle track, "Greed"? Was that designed to contrast and/or bookend the two halves of the album or something?

EH: We decided that as long as the music needs aggressive vocals we were more than willing to use it. And I think that "Greed" was one of the tracks which definitely needed a growl and the more aggressive vocals so that's basically why we put it there.

MU: Did you put it in the middle of the album to emphasize its heaviness, or did it just naturally fit there?

EH: No, no. That was something that came up when we decided the order. Basically we let our producer decide what he thinks.

MU: Who produced the new record?

EH: It was a British producer named Simon Efemey.

MU: And that's a different producer than you've used in the past.

EH: Yes, it is different.

MU: How do you think that change effected the overall sound?

EH: Well, on this album, Simon was more like a producer ... Before, our producers have been more like sound engineers. It was a very good thing for the band because Simon got a lot out from us that we couldn't do before. We didn't know this about ourselves.

MU: I'm interested in your impressions of the United States. You're spending the day today in Millersville, PA?

EH: It's our third time up here, so I'm used to it already.

MU: It's very rural, isn't it?

EH: It is, it is.

MU: Have you seen any horses and buggies or Amish people?

EH: Once when we were here, we saw these Amish people.

MU: What did you think of that?

EH: Uh, I think it's weird. (laughs) It's different than in Finland.

MU: What other differences have you noticed?

EH: I think people here are more keen to ask questions and talk to the band. I think that people in Finland, they're quite shy and they only start to speak when they drink and get drunk. Then they've got questions for the band.

MU: Do you like it when fans come up to you at a show?

EH: When they come to talk, but sometimes it feels like's just that some people don't mean what they say to you.

MU: What do you mean?

EH: It's like, if you notice when people ...somebody comes to say, "Hello, I love your album" and "cheese", you can see if he says it on purpose or if it 's just to small talk, he doesn't really mean that.

MU: Right. And, in other words, just because you're up there on stage, they want to be ...

EH: Yeah, they want to come to say something and have all the people take their picture ...

MU: Have you ever met any of your own rock-n-roll heroes?

EH: I've met ... The greatest, probably, was Ritchie Blackmore.

MU: Did you come up to him and say hello and tell him how great he was?

EH: I think I was 15 years old then. Got his autograph and probably, "Hello, how are you doing?" (laughs)

MU: Let's get back to your visit to the United States. Have you watched any television here, or gone to the cinema?

EH: We'd like to go see some movies, but we haven't had that much time. But yeah, we watch quite a lot of television from the hotel room.

MU: What do you watch?

EH: Beverly Hills.

MU: What do you think of that show?

EH: It's great. I watch - well, we all, I guess - watch it every Sunday, pretty much.

MU: They show older episodes in Europe, right?

EH: Yeah, it's behind a few months, so that's why it's nice to watch it over here.

MU: Did you know that Dylan was back on the show?

EH: Dylan was back. (laughs)

MU: Dylan's a badass, huh?

EH: Yeah, yeah.

MU: Do you think he would like listening to Amorphis records?

EH: I don't know. Perhaps we could appear on some show ...

MU: You could play at the Peach Pit.

EH: Yeah. (laughs)

MU: When do you think you'll be back to do a tour?

EH: We start to do Europe in May, and then we do summer festivals.

MU: Who are you going out with in Europe?

EH: That's not confirmed yet. We do a headline tour there, but I don't know who's going to support us yet.

MU: Do you have any say over what that band is?

EH: No. I really don't know yet.

MU: Which festivals are you playing?

EH: Dynamo should be confirmed by now. And there's a lot, like fifty or something, all over Europe.

MU: What's the scene like at Dynamo?

EH: It's great. (laughs)

MU: Do the bands associate and hang out?

EH: Yeah. It's like the party thing for the bands as well. Usually the festival, it's a very good feeling. It's the summer, it's warm and you're playing your show. It's fun.

MU: How does the legality of marijuana in Holland affect the atmosphere of the event?

EH: It's a weird country because it's legal there. If you have a show there, people are not that ...they're not doing any head-banging. They're more, like, watching.

MU: It's like a Pink Floyd show.

EH: Yeah.

MU: Compare that to last week's March Metal Meltdown here in the U.S.

EH: It wasn't like a real festival. I think it needs to be summer and good weather.

MU: When Amorphis goes out as a headliner, do you expect to have a big show? A lot of lights and that sort of stuff?

EH: I think we try to do a bit of visual show as well, but . . .

MU: But the music ... its gotta be about the music.

EH: Yeah, yeah, sure.

MU: What's your relationship like with Relapse Records?

EH: It's like a brotherhood relationship, because we have grown together. And we've been with the guys for so many years ... It's a good friendship thing we have going. It's nice to know and see that we've grown together with the label. At the moment they're doing some work for this new release and they push a lot for Amorphis. That's why I like independent labels.

MU: Would Amorphis ever seek an opportunity with a major label?

EH: I don't know ... If it goes there, then it goes, but if it's not to go then it's time. But I think ...

MU: How will you know when it's time to go, if it ever is?

EH: When you start to really sell, like, millions of albums, then you needa major.

MU: Is that a realistic possibility for this band?

EH: I don't know. We'll see. Probably. It could be.

MU: Do you ever consider whether Amorphis could ever be really huge, like a David Gilmore or a U2?

EH: It would be nice to be. But I try to think of things quite realistically, so ...

MU: Just don't abandon your heavy metal roots.

EH: No, no, no. That's definitely our roots, and exactly what's going to be there.

MU: Well best of luck with the new record. I really thank you for taking the time.

EH: Thank you.

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Interview: Eric German
Editor: Brant Wintersteen
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