Interview with vocalist Michael Majalahti and guitarist Eero Tertsunen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: October 17, 2015
Angel of Sodom is a Finnish Thrash Metal band with a post-apocalyptic band image that was formed in 2010 by the main core unit of guitarist Eero Tertsunen and vocalist Michale Majalahti. Since day one they aimed to play violent and aggressive Thrash with a strong old school vibe to their sound. The band bows shamelessly to the golden times of 80's Thrash Metal sucking everything that made those times so great directly into their engines. Classic movies from the same era, like the Mad Max trilogy, are also important influences for Angel of Sodom.
Divine Retribution is the band's 10-track debut effort which has been five years in the works. So far it's been released only digitally but the hunt for a label to get it out physically is on.
Without prolonging your curiosity any further, The Metal Crypt approached both Eero and Michael with a few questions and the guys did their best to fill us in on the concept of Angel of Sodom and more.
Luxi: It's no secret that Angel of Sodom has been in the works for years, five to be more exact. Now this fall you finally have a completed album on your hands. This 10-track record titled Divine Retribution throws the listener back to the very roots of old school Thrash Metal. To start, could you kindly enlighten us about the time-consuming and painstaking songwriting and recording process for Divine Retribution and what type of a journey it was for you guys to get the songs done and recorded for this opus?
Michael: 10 songs is a perfect old school number. Don't wear out your welcome, I say. Leave them wanting more. That's the secret to any successful enterprise, so I am all good with how this album turned out. To be honest, most all of the material was written over a two-year period. Eero is a songwriting machine with an incredible aptitude for writing this kind of music. He penned all the songs in rather short order and then I fleshed them out vocally and lyrically. It flowed very naturally. It was a very easy process which really says something. The thing is, Eero had all these other musical projects that kept him busy and he prioritized all of them above AoS for the longest time. I would have liked to have seen this album out in 2012-2013, as I had already painted the album cover in 2012, thinking that the time was going to be then. But it took what it took to finalize and mix this album and now is the time. Better late than never, I say!
Eero: As for songwriting, that part of the process was easy. Originally, I had a couple of tracks which Michael spun off some vocals and lyrics. The first one we did was "Righteous Kill" and soon after that "Bring the Sword" and "All Shall Die" and it worked out well. We had been doing some different style demos before this but when we did these we knew that this was our thing. From there, it just came out naturally. Getting Michael to record the vocals was always rewarding. 98% of the time I was just hitting the record button and being happy with what he did to those tracks. As for doing the album, everything on it was recorded soon after recording the drums in 2012, but due to the delay I ended up recording the rhythm guitars again in 2014 because I was not happy with the sound. Delaying the album was partly about me being involved in other projects and partly learning the art of mixing. It took some time but in terms of experience and learning, it paid off in the end.
Luxi: Was rekindling the fires of 80's old school Thrash Metal one of your main purposes with Divine Retribution? People always tend to say how the 80's was/is THE golden decade of Thrash Metal when it was done right without any gimmicks. Was your main intention to capture at least a part of the same vibe and feeling from those nostalgic times?
Michael: I absolutely bow to the old school. I loved the 1980s, the golden decade of my youth. If I could, I'd return to the mid-'80s and never return. Forget the internet, forget cell phones, forget computers. I'm a retro kind of guy, a throwback to yesteryear in more ways than one. The music back then was more generic, not so over-produced. I can appreciate that. The human factor, like Metal Church sang, showed in stunning Technicolor and could be readily heard. Today, music has been sterilized by and large and made too clinical and lacking organic tangibility. I hope that Angel of Sodom can bring back a bit of how things were and how they are supposed to be.
Eero: For me Divine Retribution was more about writing songs I like to listen to in this style. We didn't make it to sound like the '80s on purpose, but I guess most riffs and songs of ours are inspired by that era. We did this with kind of a laid-back attitude.
Luxi: How pleased are you with how Divine Retribution turned out considering the gap between going into the studio in early 2012 to initially record it and putting the finishing touches on it in the spring of 2015?
Michael: I think we were on the same page since day one. I do not believe we would have chosen another path. I am as happy with how the album sounds now that it is finally out in 2015 as I was back in 2012 before anything was mixed. I wouldn't change a damn thing.
Eero: Musically, I have a similar vision as Michael. If there was something one of us was not happy with we changed it until it was okay for both of us, whether it was in the songwriting process when we demoed songs or in the mixing of the album.
Luxi: Was there a chance, even a tiny one, that this album could have been done any earlier?
Michael: I think Eero just prioritized other projects that he was involved in above AoS for quite a long time. Eero was behind the controls of mixing the album, he had chosen to take that on. Finally, he got focused on getting the album done for this band in 2015, and truth be told, I would have liked to see it finished back in 2012-13. But life takes all these different twists and turns and you cannot always have things your way. I was keeping myself busy with my other bands, Southern Rock outfit Crossfyre and Hard Rock act Overnight Sensation, in the interim. But the whole time, I was waiting with bated breath for this one.
Eero: Yeah, since we had everything recorded in 2012 I could just have handed our recorded material to a pro and paid for mixing instead of doing it myself whenever I had time. I had lots of going on back then in different bands. But no regrets. From everything you do you learn something more.
Luxi: Did you have only these 10 tracks ready for the album or was there a bunch of other songs and narrowed down the ten best for Divine Retribution, those that you felt truly represented Angel of Sodom in the best possible way?
Michael: Yeah, we had a few more demoed and recorded, with a couple left over for a possible special CD pressing and/or label release of Divine Retribution. We did a kickass cover of Metal Church's "Start the Fire", which can be heard on YouTube, along with a dropped-down tune called "Die as a Martyr", which is one of my favorites. We had a few other songs that were left off of this album, be it because they are drop-tuned or whatever. I think we can save them for the follow-up, which I hope will be more than a wishful thought.
Eero: I would say we left out one track as it was more old-school Death Metal and we had previously written some songs on a 7-string guitar and more in mid-tempo. I would like to release at least two songs we did with the 7-string guitar at some point.
Luxi: Rolf Pilve played drums on Divine Retribution before he became too busy with his Stratovarius. Would you have kept him as your permanent drummer if he hadn't been so busy with Stratovarius? Now you have Joonas Heikkinen sitting behind the drums in Angel of Sodom.
Eero: We asked Rolf just to help us in the studio and he came to record drums as a session musician. He even promised to help us with the coming gigs if there were any. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to find other suitable six and four-string players back then so I never gave him a call about that. I met Joonas during a project I was busy with in 2013. We were doing rehearsals, mostly just the two of us, since the rest of that band was living quite far from Helsinki. That project disbanded pretty quickly, but we kept playing and recording different material and demos, so it was natural that Joonas came to play with us in AoS.
Luxi: Officially there's no bassist in Angel of Sodom at the moment so obviously that's something you need to ponder a bit as you can't count on the power of vocals, guitar and drums only as far the future of the band is concerned, right?
Eero: We can handle things with the current band lineup if we just do recordings. I just recently moved to the USA, so for now, looking for a bass player to play gigs is quite pointless. When it comes to album production, nowadays we just record and send files back and forth online. Maybe next time somebody else will record bass tracks since I left my bass guitar in Finland.
Luxi: Divine Retribution is only available digitally at the moment. Undoubtedly the hunt is on to find a proper label that will be interested in getting this Thrash monster out in a physical format as well or am I mistaken?
Michael: Definitely! If some serious label out there pitches us a reasonable offer - which is easier said than done in modern days - then we would all be for a wider reach and I am sure we would benefit from a credible label's promotional machine behind us. However, if the terms aren't right, why bother selling your soul? What would that profit us? Too many young bands are all too willing to sell themselves for nothing to labels that take everything from them and leave them actually owing the label afterwards. We aren't spring chickens anymore; we've lived a bit too much life to fall for the illusion. So present us a solid, reasonable offer and we will heartily consider!
Eero: To get Divine Retribution released in physical format is something we don't want to manage by ourselves. We both have undergone the experience of having hundreds of albums from our past bands laying around our homes and mailing them to media, distros, and single customers. For now, I want to avoid that so thank God for the digital distribution.
Luxi: You also have a video available for a song called "Righteous Kill". What can you tell the readers of The Metal Crypt about it? Did it come out the way you hoped, visually?
Michael: "Righteous Kill" is about dying under spiritual condemnation and the harrowing regret that is sure to follow for the aeons of eternity never-ending. Heavy shit! The chorus presents the flip side of that fate, spoken from a position of divine power. There's a huge contrast there. It's like choice A versus choice B and you're left weighing the scales. The visual presentation of the music video for this song was orchestrated by Eero and Joonas and we were unanimous on the Mad Max: Fury Road angle for the feel and vibe of the video. When I was 10-years old, Mötley Crüe's second album Shout at the Devil was my first love in the world of heavy music. They went with Mad Max's The Road Warrior movie look and that was a huge influence on me in my youth. So I was really stoked to follow in those footsteps in 2015 with AoS, both in terms of our post-apocalyptic band look and the visual presentation of our "Righteous Kill" video.
Luxi: Is there anything out there that would allow you to have a righteous kill; to kill someone without any regrets while thinking "You bastard, you deserved to die...!"
Michael: That choice is not mine. I'm not the executioner or judge; I am perhaps more the sentinel or the messenger. I do, however, believe in judgment. In the end, justice will be done, one way or the other. It's the law of life. You can run but you cannot hide. There is a greater power that dictates ultimate judgment for all of us whether we accept it or not. I use a lot of irony and fate in my lyrics. I've also taken the angle of dealing with a lot of heavy topics with Angel of Sodom. From corporate world domination to eternal damnation to eschatology, it's a weighty album.
Luxi: Michael, you write all the lyrics and I am curious to know if you merely pay attention to the way the lyrics rhyme/flow as a part of a song or if there is more to it than that.
Michael: For me, the lyrical process is two-fold. In part, it's phonetic, in part, it's storytelling. I was gifted with a great aptitude for writing compelling, strong lyrics. I just have a knack for rhyme and flow. Give me a topic and I will flesh it out and make it compelling in prose. You shouldn't fear clichés from time to time. You don't need to recreate the wheel, but you can color it up to make it more interesting, if you have the skill to do so.
Luxi: Am I the first to say that at times you sound very much like Mr. Steve "Zetro" Souza of Exodus with your teeth-grinding, snarly vocal delivery that seems to be loaded with a huge amount aggression and hatred?
Michael: I see myself as a narrator of sorts, even as an actor in a way, proclaiming righteous indignation. I fire up as much visceral spite and aggression as I can muster. I put everything I have into my delivery. I really WANT the listener to FEEL what I am saying. It's not so much a message, it's really a proclamation. It's like the angel of doomsday laying it on the line for all to hear. That's really how I feel about our music. A real artist will make their audience feel what they want them to feel. Zetro was a big influence back in the day, so in many ways, I am happy to hear the similarities!
Luxi: Are you aiming to play live with Angel of Sodom or is this merely a studio project?
Michael: I think that will be kind of tough at the moment because Eero just moved to Indiana in the USA this summer and it looks like he'll be there for at least five years! Barring a serious label deal with a significant amount of tour support money, I can't see live gigs in this band's immediate future, and that is a shame in many ways. This band is very much me and Eero at the core, akin to Bobby Blitz and DD Verni in Overkill and without the two of us, this band doesn't exist. I live in Finland, Eero lives half-way across the world now. Somebody is going to need a good sum of money to get the logistics of it all to happen and for us to still make some money at it to boot!
Eero: Originally we wanted to play live since the inception of this band but due to the fact that we never found fitting members we ended up doing the album with the songs we already had. When Joonas came aboard, we started to practice our setlist rather regularly but did not find a bass player to fill the slot. Now we are divided by the Atlantic.
Luxi: If/when Angel of Sodom play live for the first time will you have some sort of a dress code onstage? Obviously the visual side of Angel of Sodom is very important, correct? I am thinking that wearing plain worn-out jeans and some vintage band T-shirt isn't enough for you guys.
Michael: If you've seen the promotional photos that we shot with ace photographer Jarmo Katila behind the lens, you've seen the look we would have hit the stage with. I personally think that image is very important. It's part of the overall presentation and gimmick of any band. I do not believe that the world at large wants to see average Joes up on stage. Look at all the big names, from Mötley Crüe to Dimmu Borgir to Marilyn Manson; they are all styled and gimmicked up in look and presentation. You have to offer a whole package to your potential audience, from audio to visual to entertainment value in your performance. This I learned from professional wrestling, as I've been all around the world as a grappler and a successful journeyman at that in my chosen game.
Luxi: Thrash Metal has come back with a big bang and you have surely noticed all these reformed and completely new Thrash Metal bands around the world. What you do think of the state of the Thrash Metal scene? Has it become a bit too "retro" and even trendy? Seems like almost every kid out there nowadays wants to form his own Thrash Metal band...
Michael: I think there are some promising new Thrash acts out there like Lost Society here in Finland. Of course, there is always the danger of an influx of any "hip" thing at any given time. The main thing, in my opinion, is the quality of the songwriting. Even the production standards are secondary to that. A lot of bands nowadays have this slick, thick production, but are lean on good, memorable riffs or sing-along choruses. I want meat on the proverbial bone and for better or worse, I think that AoS offers a lot of tunes that are apt to stand out in listeners' minds and make them sing along. That said, newer, modern Thrash heavyweights like Evile and Legion of the Damned also have a good number of standout songs that really grab the listener. Good songwriting is where it's all at. I think that bands like Overkill, Sodom, Kreator, Testament and many others have persevered, without falling apart over the years, because their songwriting has been viable and noteworthy.
Luxi: To continue with some Angel of Sodom related topics do you believe there will be another Angel of Sodom album someday? All of you are more or less busy with your jobs, other projects, etc., so dividing time between your personal priorities will undoubtedly be challenging...
Michael: I definitely want to do another album. Whether this band tours or not is not the issue. The fact is, I have had more fun doing AoS than I have had since the early days with my old band Stoner Kings in the early 2000's. I feel like a painter, creating a work of grandeur and wonder. We already demoed a few new songs this summer before Eero left for Indiana. I am personally stoked about this band! I hope we can make a lasting imprint on the Metal world.
Eero: We will definitely do another one. We already have some tracks ready and now that I know exactly what our drummer is capable of, I have written more technically-demanding tracks for both of us. There will be much more variety between the songs on our next one. Of course, we are not aiming to be some kind of technical musician showmanship band, for us this is about Thrash Metal and good songs only. With Joonas aboard, we can expand musically.
Luxi: What kind of an imprint would you like to leave on the Thrash Metal scene with Angel of Sodom?
Michael: I would hope for this band to persevere beyond one album, to be sure. The challenge at the moment lies in the fact, as said previously, that barring a serious deal and good tour support, the only thing in the immediate future that I can see is another album down the line. First, we want to see how Divine Retribution is received by the masses because this has been a labor of love to bring about, all things considered. I personally hold that Divine Retribution can stand toe-to-toe with any other top Thrash album out there, be it past or present. That's saying a lot but that is the gut feeling and faith that I have in this debut effort from AoS. This is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the most solid albums that I have ever been a part of.
Luxi: American Thrash or European Thrash; which one of these options is closer to your own heart and why?
Michael: I personally would have to go with American Thrash. I was born in Canada, I lived for 23 years of my life in North America and I grew up with domestic music there first and foremost. Overkill is my favorite Thrash band of all time. Nowadays, however, I would say that my favorite new Thrash band is Legion of the Damned out of The Netherlands.
Eero: For me, American Thrash, when it comes to traditional Thrash Metal. I also love Swedish Thrash bands like Carnal Forge, Darkane and some others but Angel of Sodom is definitely influenced by Bay Area Thrash Metal in general.
Luxi: Is there anything else that you'd like to reveal about Angel of Sodom for the readers of The Metal Crypt which we didn't talk about yet?
Michael: We are the sentinels of something greater than what it looks like on the surface. Let that mean whatever you want it to mean.
Luxi: Much thanks to both of you for your time and all the best with your future endeavors with Angel of Sodom. May your path be full of pleasing rewards. And the final words are yours...
Michael: Thanks for the chance to speak to the Metal faithful at large. If you want true Thrash and heartfelt spirit in the music you listen to, Angel of Sodom should not be missed!
|Other information about Angel of Sodom on this site|
|Review: Divine Retribution|
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