Interview with Esa Holopainen of Amorphis

This is a previously unpublished interview with Esa Holopainen of Finnish band Amorphis. It dates back to 10th April 2011 – just before the release of the critically acclaimed ‘The Beginning Of Times’ album.


How did Amorphis form in 1990?

I guess we started as a death metal band.  We met each other and all liked the same kind of music.  We were very much into death metal at that time and were able to form a band, that’s how we were formed.  We played in youth clubs with other death metal bands – that’s basically how it started.  It was just the passion of the music, we really didn’t have any dreams whatsoever, it’s such fun to play with the guys.

With a changed sound over the years, it’s usually a surprise to most when they learn that Amorphis’ initial inspiration was death metal.  Was it the sole driving force of the band at the beginning?

Yeah, pretty much.  None of us were brilliant players at that time.  The death metal wave at that time was really much like the punk wave.  It was about meeting people at all these gigs who loved death metal music at that time.  It was more like a little society, we liked music that no one else liked.

Would you describe yourselves as death metal now?

I can’t say that we are a death metal band, because our music has evolved so much, but we still do quite a bit of death metal tracks in our shows.  We do play songs from the first album, and it is something that we are very proud of.  It is how we started, and still the songs speak very well to the overall scene and music wise what we play today.  There are a lot of songs that people are keen to hear live as well when I play.

Would you say new album Beginning Of Times is going along different lines to your previous record or is it more of a continuation of Skyforger?  Were you happy with the final product?

I would say that it was a big challenge because there was more tracks on the album than we have ever had before.  On the digipack version we have 13 songs.  We always had left-over tracks but this time we really didn’t have any.  We really didn’t need any extra tracks and we were happy to put all of the tracks on the actual album, which I really like a lot because I think every track serves its place on the album.  So yeah, we have a lot of tracks this time, but of course the sound is quite similar to what we did with Skyforger and Silent Waters because we used the same production team.

Will Amorphis always have the growls and do you think the introduction of clean vocals was a natural path for Amorphis?  

Yeah, I think that’s the thing we’ve always had in our music since we started.  On Tales From A Thousand Lakes and especially with the Elegy album – On Elegy we started to search for another vocalist who would do the clean vocals so that’s when we found Pasi (Koskinen), and since then we have always had this combination between clean vocals and growling vocals.  I think at some points, we got really bored of the growling vocals and we really didn’t want to have that anymore, but when Tomi (Joutsen) joined the band he really loved to do it again so we brought that element strongly back.  He is the death metal head of the band, the only thing he listens to is Grave! [laughs]

In terms of your influences, are they pretty far and wide?

Yes, very much so.  As a player I really love the old 70’s music.  I’m really happy about the music scene today, because the metal music, overall, has grown so much that there’s a lot of crazy bands that take influences from the 70’s.  Bands like Opeth or Katatonia – you can tell that these guys are very much enthused into the 70’s stuff as well.

Who are your favourite guitarists?

I’ve always liked David Gilmour.  He is a great guitar player.  Especially when he doesn’t play that much, but every note has a huge amount of feeling.  That’s what I love about a guitar player.  It’s about the song, it’s about the sound, it’s about creating the feeling and it’s not about being the fastest guitar player.

Do you think that the desire for break-neck speed often obscures the creation of a good melody?

I think it’s probably music as well.  If somebody wants to do it, it’s OK, but when it goes harmonic it’s a bit weird.  I think people should know their limits and if they’re not capable to play that fast then they should perhaps play something else.  With two notes, you can do amazing things.

You work with ChaosBreed too, is that right?

Yeah, we haven’t played in a few years, but technically we still have the band somewhere in the air!

Do you think it will be continuing soon?

Every time I meet the guys they talk about playing together for another album, but it’s because everybody is just so busy with their own bands.  Perhaps some day when we get some time it would be great fun.

Did ChaosBreed require a completely separate mentality to Amorphis?

I think the first time we put ChaosBreed together, we did the Amorphis album called Far From The Sun, which was the last album we did with Pasi.  It was the album that had the worst and weirdest feeling when we recorded the album because none of us really knew how it was going to sound like and Pasi was very unmotivated at that time.  It was great fun to play with the guys especially with Oppu (Laine) (former Amorphis bassist) being bass player when we started.  It was great fun to do, totally different and motivated me a lot when we then again started to compose music for Amorphis again.  It was something I definitely needed at that time.

In the metal scene in Finland, which bands do you get along with?

There are a lot of bands.  We share a rehearsal room with H.I.M, they are great lads.  Children Of Bodom are great friends, they used to rehearse with us.  We generally get along with all of the bands.  It’s a small country and everybody knows each other.

Are you happy with what is being produced in Finland at the minute?

I’m very happy.  I never could of believed that the metal music coming out of Finland would get this popular.  I think it is the most popular music style out from Finland.  I don’t think anybody knows any pop bands from Finland.  We can’t do any pop!  If Finnish people try to do happy music it just doesn’t work!

It’s dark a lot of the time isn’t it?

It is.  Now it is getting better, we’re getting spring, but usually it is total darkness! [laughs]

Do you think that generates a certain atmosphere when it comes to writing and recording your songs?

I’m 100% certain that the weather here and the atmosphere here, it really reflects for the music.  Traditional Finnish music is very melancholic.  Most of the year if you go out you get a lot of rain, snow – all this shit coming down – and it’s really hard to motivate yourself to be in a happy mood.  Music is a good way to put all your apathy! [laughs]  Some people do melancholic music, some people kill themselves!

The new album has yet again seen Amorphis concentrating on the Finnish epic of Kalevala hasn’t it?

We’ve been using Kalevala for many many albums.  In the last couple of albums we take out one certain character and tell his story from Kalevala.  We don’t have any names whatsoever in the lyrics, so people can get their own picture about what we are telling.  It’s old philosophical ideas and beliefs that people used to believe here in Finland, before Christianity came over.  It’s something we’ve done for years.

Do you hold any of these beliefs yourself or is it something you appreciate for the romanticism or escapism of the folklore?

They are stories, but they are something that are nice to sort of believe.  It’s nice to read about what we used to believe here in Finland.  People used to believe that the Earth was born from the egg and there was a lot of shamanistic heroes who were sort of Gods.  It’s an interesting story book compared to The Bible or whatever other religious books there are.  I don’t take it too seriously but it has a big part of everything what’s around here in Finland.  Finnish language was created through it.  It is a big part of heritage and something that they have started to teach kids in school.  It’s part of what they have to learn in school now.

Interview by Calum Robson

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