Interview with vocalist and guitarist Rämi Jämsä
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 5, 2016
Convulse were a product of the first wave of Death Metal that swept Finland in the early 90s. They were quickly snapped by France's Thrash Records and released their well-received debut album World Without God in 1991 (their country men Sentenced released their debut album Shadows of the Past on the same label the very same year). Fans truly dug the hell out of Convulse's uncompromisingly dark and murky Death Metal on World Without God.
The winds of change blew through Convulse's rehearsal room right after the band's debut. In 1993 Convulse fans got a taste of what was to come on a 2-song EP titled Lost Equilibrium where it was obvious gears had been switched to a more progressive and rocking mode. This scared some of the devoted Death Metal purists quite a bit. A year later, in 1994, Convulse's follow-up album Reflections was released on Relapse Records and it was hoped it would be a game-changer. Despite a fair amount of success, the Finnish military service, among other things, convinced the band it was time to call it quits.
It took 18 years but rotting flesh gathered around the bones of Convulse in 2012 and another 2-song EP, titled Inner Evil, with the band's signature brutal and dark Death Metal was released. In the fall of 2013, the band's third full-length album, Evil Prevails, brutalized the ears of Death Metal fans all around the world. Convulse stayed true to their Death Metal roots and that made many metalheads happy. Convulse played a good number of shows after the album came out, including a mini-European tour with US Death Metallers Disma in November 2013.
Cycle of Revenge is the title of Convulse's fourth album, set to be released on Svart Record on March 18, 2016. The winds of musical change have yet again reached the Convulse camp but we'll let the mastermind and main songwriter Rami Jämsä tell us what we can expect from the band on this new album. Cycle of Revenge won't be seen on any Hip-Hop album charts so you don't have to worry about...
Luxi: How's life Rami? Feeling excited about Convulse's fourth album and the day when fans of the band will get a chance to hear it?
Rami: Hi Luxi and all Convulse fans around the world! We finally got our fourth album, Cycle of Revenge, ready and it will be released 18.3.2016 on Finland's Svart Records. Two years of hard work is done. There is an advance track out and we've gotten great feedback so far. You are right; we are quite excited. The new album will be a big surprise and I am sure we will get some contradictory feedback. We are very satisfied with our efforts to progress. We feel we succeeded with this new record almost perfectly.
Luxi: Let's start off with the album title, Cycle of Revenge. Why did you choose this name?
Rami: Well, I really would like to write lyrics from the brighter side of life, but it's quite impossible to go on with a theme of hope when you think back to 2015. I see the world falling apart with wars, agony and selfishness. "Cycle of Revenge" is the title and opening track of the album. Look at the situation in the Middle East and you will see the cycle of revenge.
Luxi: All so true. Could you give us of a rundown of each song on this new Convulse record? We don't expect you to write a novel about each, so worry not...
Rami: You will get an idea of the lyrical themes from the previous question. I don't like to open up my lyrics too much. You can do yourself when you listen to the album. That's the way I like it. I can introduce the track list.
1. "Cycle of Revenge" is one of my favorite tracks on this album. "C.o.R" starts with a very slow tempo and introduces the main melody here and there, which is very heavy and melodic at the same time. Some may hear old Amorphis influences. I hear some old Finnish folk music influence. This song has been written around the main theme melody. At the end of the song we release the band with a fast part which is based on free jamming. The song ends with a clean guitar arrangement from the previous main melody and cross-fades to the next song.
2. "God Is You" opens with a fast guitar slicer effect and whispering voices. The song is based on a fast riff with synths and clean vocal melodies. This song came together quite fast and was the last song we got ready for the album. The main idea was ready at the first rehearsal and it was composed around the opening slicer guitar effect. Basically I just had some fun with my new slicer effect and the rest was composed together with the band.
3. "Pangaea" has Sepultura and Kingston Wall influences. "Pangaea" was written at the end of 2014 and it somehow showed the way for the rest of the new songs. We tried to keep this song short and pithy. At first "Pangaea" was a much longer track but gradually we dropped the useless parts and tried to keep things simple and groovy.
4. "Fractured Pieces" is next. Believe it or not, but one of my favorite albums is Hurriganes - Live in Stockholm. I especially love the track "Hey Bo Diddley." I got the idea to add a monotonous drum rhythm to this song and Rolle took it from there. I wanted to create a pulse that goes on and on and on. The end of this song is quite a free jam.
5. "Nature of the Human Kind" – the main melody for this song was written in 1992 but it was never released on an album. I hear some old Paradise Lost influences. I wanted to add some reggae breeze in the middle part of this song. It was a moment that created some differing opinions within the band.
6. "Ever Flowing Stream" - this one starts with an acoustic guitar (A-part). The chorus melody of this song has been haunting me for years. The beginning of this song reminds me a little bit King Crimson's later years (the Thrak album in particular) with some weird backward drumming added. I tried some very different styles of singing on this song. Growling, yelling, whispering, none of them worked so I tried "clean" singing and asked both Rolle and Juha for their opinion about that. When I got the green light, I arranged my vocal lines a little bit more and it was ready. Some may say this song is reminiscent of Sentenced's Amok days.
7. "War" is quite a complicated song. Some death 'n' roll parts or Foo Fighters added with growls or just "Convulse approach", you name it. The storyline of this song is a very strong and sad. It's about the Syrian Civil War and the suffering of civilians. In the middle part of the song there is a father losing his little son in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Lyrically, it's the same main theme of "Cycle of Revenge" that exists around many songs on this album.
8. "Into the Void" - I had the idea for the verse back at the end of 90's. The rest of the song was composed together in our rehearsal room. It was pretty clear that this one was going to be the ending song of this album, both musically and narratively. Everything comes apart in the end.
Luxi: How much pressure was on your shoulders (if any at all) when you started songwriting for Evil Prevails? Evil Prevails was basically 100%, full-on Death Metal and it was well-received by the Death Metal crowd all around the world. On the forthcoming Cycle of Revenge it seems like Convulse has done something similar to what you did on your second album Reflections; stripping down the Death Metal elements and replacing them with a more progressive type of Rock/Metal approach. What made you decide to take this very different musical direction on Cycle of Revenge?
Rami: When you have no economic pressure and you are not doing music for living, it's easy to do what you want to do. Of course I hope that Svart Records will get the costs covered and the new album will sell enough so that we have the chance to record a new album in the future. The new output came by accident in part. When we became a trio in the beginning of 2014, we started to play more freely and jammed at lot at our rehearsals. Gradually we found our style and we focused on groove and dynamics in our playing. The new songs wrote themselves quite spontaneously. I threw all the psychic pressures away when making the Cycle of Revenge album.
Luxi: How much did your band mates, Juha Telenius (on bass) and Rolle Markos (on drums), offered you feedback during the songwriting process? Would you say their help is crucial?
Rami: Well, I certainly had an idea for this album in my head but without Rolle and Juha it probably would have stayed in my head. Basically I need Rolle and Juha as much as I need my own ideas to come up with something worth trying. I believe in the power of communality in many ways. Without other people and their interaction, we can't ever reach as far or as high. I want to thank Juha and Rolle from the depths of my heart for their support of my open-minded ideas and their important input as musicians and men for this album. Without the two of them, there won't be the next Convulse album.
Luxi: Were there any problems continuing as a trio when your other guitarist Kristian Kangasniemi decided to step away from the Convulse ranks? Were the songs on Cycle of Revenge composed for one guitar or are you still hunting for a second guitarist?
Rami: After Kristian left the band, we soon noticed we could deliver quite huge dynamics as a trio so there is no need to expand Convulse with a second guitarist. The old songs work just fine with one guitar; we just have to play more cock-sure and tighter. It's somehow easier to play as a trio as well. Everything is grooving better this way. The fact is that our decision to stay as a trio shaped how Convulse sounds nowadays. I don't see any reason why we should change now and recruit another guitarist for the band. We sound just fine.
Luxi: Do you hope that after Cycle of Revenge is out people won't see Convulse just as a Death Metal band but as a band that is ready to push limits? Some Death Metal purists may think a bit differently though...
Rami: It's an interesting question. To be honest I don't have any interest in categorizing our music. Perhaps we are beyond all the categories with our new Cycle of Revenge album. Basically I make music for myself. I have to satisfy my hunger and keep things interesting for me. That doesn't mean that I don't care about the opinions of old Convulse fans but I have to challenge myself as a musician and composer. I want to create some new, open-minded music and somehow for me it has always been like that. I hope that listeners are able to grow with our music too.
Luxi: How important is an open mind in Convulse? Do you believe if you had a die-hard Death Metal purist in the current line-up it would lead to distracting and negative things?
Rami: How could a die-hard Death Metal purist play in Convulse today? I think it would be an impossible task. Well, not for me, but for the purist for sure!! The most important thing playing in a band is to love your band mates, both the good and bad. The right chemistry between people is a very important thing to keep the band running smoothly.
Luxi: Having the privilege of hearing three songs off Cycle of Revenge in advance, I cannot help bringing up one name; Kingston Wall, a semi-legendary progressive Rock band from Finland. Do you believe people may associate Convulse with Kingston Wall when they hear Cycle of Revenge? Do you feel honored with these comparisons to Kingston Wall?
Rami: It's not a secret that I have been a huge Kingston Wall fan over 20 years. So when you compare our new stuff to Kingston Wall, I will be honored! For me Kingston Wall is the best band from Finland ever!
Luxi: I am curious to know what kind of stuff were you listening to while composing new stuff for this upcoming Convulse album? I have seen many recent photos where you are wearing Pink Floyd shirts. Should we draw some conclusions out of this perhaps? ;o)
Rami: During last few years I have listened a lot of Pink Floyd, The Who, Kingston Wall, Pekka Pohjola, King Crimson, Rush, The Police, Anssi Tikanmäki and Black Sabbath. Right now while I'm typing this interview, I am listening to Death Hawks. They are a great psychedelic Rock band from Finland.
Luxi: Focusing your concentration on your own creation is always very important if you want to reach a cohesive and solid product. How well do you believe that you managed to reach that on Cycle of Revenge?
Rami: I believe the journey is a little bit more important than the result itself. Making a new album is a hell of a lot of work. It's always the hardest decision when it's the best time to stop writing new songs and step into the studio. If you want to write a perfect record, you should not ever rush into the studio because the music always tends to be somehow incomplete. It's also very productive to keep new songs fresh and unfinished. Play enough, but not too much and you will get an interesting and powerful album. That's my way of doing things anyway. This is the best Convulse record for me so far, but it won't be the best Convulse record ever, I believe. Our journey is still unfinished and that was the main reason I put Convulse back together again.
Luxi: Comparing the recording processes for both Evil Prevails and Cycle of Revenge, obviously both demanded a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but which was easier and why?
Rami: It was a pleasure to make both albums. For me Cycle of Revenge is more personal. This time we managed to challenge ourselves better and the result is very satisfying. I threw all the expectations into a corner and just let it go. I am still hearing a lot of relief on our new album and it suits me perfectly.
Luxi: The album cover looks pretty simple this time around, basically having a big, modified Convulse logo in the middle (with the old Convulse logo lurking behind it) and the album title right below it. Does modifying the old Convulse logo to look clearer and more readable symbolize something to you on a personal level along with this "old-new" change of musical approach?
Rami: I remember looking at our old logo and thinking, "is this logo suitable for the cover of the new album and our new style?" The obvious answer was "no." So I just took a pencil and started to sketch a new one. You tracked the idea behind the new logo quite well with your question.
Luxi: As far as the album's production is concerned, I remember reading that you weren't quite happy with the last album, Evil Prevails, saying the final sound was a bit too muddy. With this in mind did you pay more attention to making Cycle of Revenge sound clear but still heavy and crispy?
Rami: Making Evil Prevails was a cool process altogether and it was very interesting to record and mix it in full analog but it's true that I am not 100% satisfied with the sound of the guitars on that album. That's why I wanted a different studio this time with a new recording engineer. I contacted my old band mate Janne Jokinen (Pornorphans) and we discussed the new Convulse album. Pretty soon it was clear that Janne was the right person to record this new Convulse album. He fully understood my thoughts of a live feeling with aggressive sounds. So thank you Janne!!
Luxi: As you have gotten some distance from Evil Prevails what do you overall think of it these days? Are you still as happy, satisfied and proud of it as when it first came out back in 2013?
Rami: I think it is a pretty decent comeback album. Not the best possible, but good enough to be proud of it. You have to remember that I am a near perfectionist and I always find something that should have been better. Considering that background, I am overall satisfied with Evil Prevails.
Luxi: When Convulse reformed in 2012, did you ever think in your wildest dreams that you would go this far with two full-length albums recorded in just two years plus all these shows both in Finland and elsewhere?
Rami: To be completely honest with you, no. After we had played together about half a year or so, I felt something interesting was going on. We just started making new songs together. We love to play songs off the World Without God album live but just rehashing old memories hasn't ever been my deal. I want to make new music. It's the only way to keep things interesting for me personally. Of course I hope that we will get some decent tours abroad in the future. I have two great band mates to travel with!
Luxi: What is in Convulse's future after Cycle of Revenge has hit stores at the end of March 2016? Do you believe you may do a tour of Finland first and then head to do some festival gigs? What more can be expected from Convulse in 2016?
Rami: I do hope that we go to the next level with our new album. It would perhaps mean more shows with decent conditions. I am not talking about money; I am talking about reliable festivals, organizations and equipment. We will have some Finnish festival shows ahead of us later this year and hopefully a tour in the fall either in Europe or the States. I am not a promoter or anything, but if you want us to play at your festival or tour near your location, feel free to contact us!
Luxi: I guess I covered everything I had in mind so thank you Rami for your time and letting all of us know what Convulse has in store in the following months. If you have anything else in your mind that you still would like to add to this conversation, then be my guest. The last words are yours...
Rami: Thank you Luxi! This was a very interesting interview. You did a great job putting your questions together. Cycle of Revenge will be out on March 18, 2016, and I hope you support our journey by buying a physical record. See you all soon...!!
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