Interview with drummer Vesa Ranta
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 17, 2018
When the Death Metal scene exploded in the early ‘90s, Finland was no exception. Many bands were trying their best to separate from the pack and Finnish bands really pushed the envelope hard to sound different than your already familiar Entombeds, Morbid Angels, Obituarys, Deaths and so on.
One of these acts was a band named Sentenced, formed in 1989 in Muhos in the north of Finland. They released their debut album, Shadows of the Past, on France’s Thrash Records in 1992 and it put them in the same league with other Finnish extreme acts like Amorphis, Convulse, Funebre, Xysma, Purtenance, etc. The album was well crafted but lacked its own identity. That was also the only Sentenced album on which the band’s main songwriter, Miika Tenkula (R.I.P.), took care of the vocals.
It was the band’s follow-up, North from Here, that can be considered a real game changer. On this record, bassist Taneli Jarva switched to vocals. What separates this album from the band’s previous work was the more technical, darker and hungrier song writing that found the band driving themselves to the limits of their abilities. N.F.H. is the album that took the band’s career to a new level, bringing them all the success they were entitled to.
2018 marks the album’s 25th anniversary and we here at the headquarters of The Metal Crypt decided to contact the band’s drummer, Vesa Ranta and asked him to return to the making of North from Here some 25 years ago and comment on how it changed things for Sentenced.
Vesa politely took his time and gave us some his thoughts on the Death Metal masterpiece, better known as North from Here.
Luxi: It’s amazing that it’s been 25 years since Sentenced’s second album, North from Here, was released. I mean, it still sounds amazingly fresh, having nicely withstood the test of time. What are your thoughts about this second Sentenced creation 25 years later?
Vesa: Time goes incredibly fast. I personally cannot imagine it’s been that long time since it was released. In my book, North from Here is one of the clear milestones of Sentenced’s whole career and one of the top three records in our catalogue. A lot of work was done on the material for the album at a time when we were on the threshold of our career. There was an incredible fire within the band to work for our music and make an original Death Metal album that would be remembered for a long time. I can say I felt a little pride inside me about this album. It opened several doors and really made great things happen for us later on in our career.
Luxi: When was the last time you listened to it from start to finish?
Vesa: I believe it was a couple of years ago when I listened to the entire vinyl version. It was a pretty nostalgic experience. I was wondering where all that rage and anger came from that we captured on the record. The album sounds real and uncompromising. We were fully extended to the limits of our skills when making it for sure. ;o)
Luxi: Even though North from Here was just the band’s second outing, you went through a major musical metamorphosis compared to how you sounded on your debut album, Shadows from the Past. What caused this transformation from a full-blooded Death Metal outfit to a harsher and more technical and atmospheric band on the second record? I guess there’s more than one reason, right?
Vesa: This is a tricky question. We felt that when we recorded our debut album, Shadows of the Past, our musical influences were too clear in the material. After some discussion, we all thought we should make a more original-sounding album. I myself was listening to much more than Death Metal at that time. There were bands like Darkthrone, Bathory, Atheist, Master’s Hammer, Faith No More, etc. on my record player back then. However, our guitarist Miika Tenkula, was largely responsible for writing North from Here. He did not listen to the same bands. Sure, he had to listen to our favourites in our free time. Sentenced was basically a band that was pretty unpredictable as far as our musical orientation was concerned. I guess people really couldn’t predict which direction our music was supposed to go. The whole trajectory of our music happened spontaneously. North from Here happened to be a record that was pretty tricky to put in a specific category. We had the desire was to make a more extreme album than the debut and I think we managed to accomplish all that, and more.
The colder and more atmospheric sound that we had incorporated on our 3-song Journey to Pohjola promo was continued and sharpened even further on North from Here.
Luxi: Lyrically, the band took a more serious approach on this record, dealing with Finnish military history and mythology, a clear improvement from the somewhat typical Death Metal lyrics that you had on your debut record. Was this a calculated move?
Vesa: This is a bit tricky for me to answer because I was not responsible for the lyrics. However, I remember that Taneli (Jarwa, ex-Sentenced vocalist) was interested in northern mythology at that time and was also inspired by Kalevala. Quite soon it became clear to us that another Finnish band was drawing its influence from Finland’s national epic, Kalevala. The lyrics had an important role for the band even back then.
Luxi: When the album was released back in 1993, a lot of comparisons were drawn to the Floridian tech-Deathsters Atheist. Were some of you inspired directly by Atheist when you were composing the songs for N.F.H.?
Vesa: Atheist was indeed in heavy rotation back in those days, but as I said, the main composer Miika was not a hard music fan. However, he probably got the impression from the rest of his bandmates that had started digging more progressive Metal.
Luxi: How much do you remember from the studio sessions for N.F.H. when you had Ahti Kortelainen at the production helm? Did he use his severe whip to get the band to sound as tight and pro as possible or were those sessions somewhat easy for you?
Vesa: In fact, I remember those recording sessions pretty well. We recorded the album in the middle of the coldest wintertime and the whole band lived in a cold-as-hell camper. Even though we had rehearsed hard before the actual recording session, it took 5-6 days to get the basic shit recorded, i.e. guitars, bass and drums. At that time the drums, bass and some of the guitars were played live so if one of us made a mistake, then the song was started over from the beginning. It was a pretty hard session for us and we worked our asses off in the studio to get everything exactly the way we wanted. The whole album was made in about two weeks, which is really a short time. Ahti (Kortelainen, the producer) made sure everything was recorded properly and the band was responsible for the production. At the end of the sessions, there was an interruption because Miika cut the forefinger of his left hand, so the solos were played 2-3 weeks after that unfortunate incident. The recording sessions followed one formula; during the days were played and the nights were meant for some heavy beer drinking. Somewhere in between, we tried to sleep a little bit, too.
Luxi: Before you entered Tico-Tico Studio to record your follow-up album, did you rehearse the songs so there was very little need for improvisation while in the studio?
Vesa: At that time, we practised really hard, about 4-5 times a week. The band really was at the centre of our life back in those days. We also got a new, good rehearsal place for the band during the song composing period. I remember we did a lot of recordings at that time with a really basic piece of equipment that we had. We had recorded a bunch of our rehearsal sessions on C-tapes and those tapes were a great help to get a picture of what type of material we had come up with and if there was something in the song arrangements that we should rework a bit more, etc. All this reminds me, I should dig up some of those rehearsal tapes from my own C-cassette collection.
Luxi: While you had locked yourselves up at Tico-Tico Studio in Kemi, Finland, did anything bizarre or hilarious happen, perhaps caused by your nonstop booze parties?
Vesa: As I mentioned already, the recording sessions for N.F.H. was overall really intense for us. I do not remember anything special related to those sessions. Miika’s knife incident, however, did mess up our timetables a bit.
Luxi: The album was originally released on Spinefarm Records, but it was also licensed to Century Media Records relatively soon after. Do you see your second album as one that started opening new doors for the band?
Vesa: This album was definitely a successful album for us, which brought us a lot of attention and grabbed the interest of many people in the business. Century Media took us under their care and they started discussing longer tours abroad. The label’s visions, of course, also brought new power to the young players. It was great to notice that some people really started to believe in our potential. A couple of years later, after the Amok album, we started seriously touring and going to different places with the band. The first European tour that we did, lasted about 6 weeks as far as I can recall.
Luxi: Spinefarm Records did quite a lot of promotion for your second album and undoubtedly wanted to keep the band on their band roster. Was it a difficult decision to leave and sign a new multi-album deal with Century Media Records?
Vesa: I do not remember Spinefarm’s part in all this so well. Obviously, they did some promotion for us at some of the Central European record label meetings, but that’s all they did for us in order to get our name around a bit more I am afraid. At the end of the day, switching from Spinefarm to Century Media was an obvious decision for us. The record company had a clear vision of getting us to international markets and pushing the band on the road to play around as much as possible. The first Century Media deals were insanely long—and from our point of view, it was the only thing that worried us a little bit at that point. However, our band stayed loyal to the label for the rest of its existence from that album on.
Luxi: In my opinion, the band’s second album lifted Sentenced up to the big league, giving you the needed boost to become recognized on a wider scale worldwide. Do you remember how it affected your comings and goings?
Vesa: I remember that N.F.H. was very well received by the fans and the media. The album reviews were good and people around the world became more interested in the band. All this attention felt good, of course, because we had invested so much our resources in this record.
Luxi: How highly do you rate N.F.H. personally, among other Sentenced albums? Do you still feel very close to this significant and still so relevant work?
Vesa: For me personally, three of the most important Sentenced albums are The Cold White Light, Funeral Album and last, but not least N.F.H. The latter one is one of our best albums, as far as song material and atmosphere are concerned anyway.
Luxi: Lastly, if you were forced to name just one personal favourite song of yours off the album, which song would it be and why?
Vesa: I would say "Fields of Blood, Harvester of Hate". It’s tough to select just one song from the album but this particular song crystallizes the album’s overall atmosphere very well. It’s a technical song that also has a great atmosphere. There are also Miika’s clean vocals on the chorus and I believe it was the first time for him singing clean songs on a record.
Luxi: That was it. I for one, want to thank you Vesa for the opportunity to talk about this masterpiece of an album. To conclude this interview, the last words are left rightfully to you...
Vesa: Thanks for the interview. It was just fun to go back to some of those old memories for a moment. I wish nothing else but all the best for the readers of The Metal Crypt. Listen to good music and do the things you like!
|Other information about Sentenced on this site|
|Review: Shadows of The Past|
|Review: North From Here|
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