Interview with guitarists Henri Asikainen and Hannes Horma
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 16, 2019
Silver Bullet, from Riihimäki, Finland, may not be a household name to many, however, if the winds blow favorably, they may well become that before you notice it. The band is about to release their second album, Mooncult, on March 29th. It is a concept album loosely based on the North Berwick witch trials that took place in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1590.
Musically, the band throws a curveball on the Mooncult album; there are many kinds of elements to be found in their sound, from severely thrash riffs to almost neoclassical metal to big, orchestrated sounds, etc. They all create a strong and irresistible whole that should open many closed doors. There's nothing half-baked about this band; they are the real deal, folks!
The Metal Crypt had the pleasure of sitting down with the band's axe masters Hannes Horma and Henri Asikainen in Helsinki to talk about the band, the new album, their influences, future plans and such. Let's welcome both Hannes and Henri...
Luxi: OK, guys, let's jump right on to the subject of your forthcoming album Mooncult, which Reaper Entertainment will be releasing on March 29, 2019. What kind of expectations do you have?
Hannes: First of all, of course, we hope people will like it. I myself am very happy with what we did, and it sounds great! It remains to be seen how it will be received among the crowds...
Henri: Like Hannes said, we really hope people like it as much as we do.
Hannes: Indeed. Reaper Entertainment has done a splendid job promoting the album. They will get it on Spotify and all kinds of digital platforms and so on. In reality, after March 29 when the album's out, we'll be getting our first indicators whether people like or not. But we are ready for it, so bring it on!
BIG SOUNDING STUFF
Luxi: I had never heard of the band and I was very positively surprised when I started listening to the album. Names such as Iced Earth, Candlemass, Virtuocity and others flashed in my mind while the album was on. What bands were your strongest influences?
Hannes: Well, I would say that our debut album, Screamworks, was obviously influenced by Judas Priest, King Diamond, and such names and as far as our follow-up album is concerned, we wanted to expand our sound a little bit by adding different elements into the songs. I am certain many will pick up Iced Earth as one of those reference points, as you did in your review, for example. Also, we wanted to increase the role of melody on our new album, so probably Blind Guardian's name may well pop up every now and then, too. Also, when you have some orchestration, speed, thrashy riffs, melody and these kinds of elements mixed in your songs, I bet people will associate our new stuff with a band like Blind Guardian.
Mooncult will also contain some clear elements of power metal à la Rhapsody due to the orchestrated parts that we have on the record. We don't consider ourselves a power metal band at all but we do have bits and pieces from that genre incorporated into our songs for sure. This new album a pretty mixed package this time, there's no doubt about it.
Henri: Yes, I definitely agree. The album's kind of "big sounding," so to speak...
Luxi: I feel like there are not many bands in Finland that are doing a similar style to yours. Finland is, of course, pretty famous for its high-quality and widely known power metal bands, but it's tough to associate your band to any of them...
Henri: That's true. Our sound might be closer to traditional US power metal, which is very different from the European one, I guess.
Hannes: Yes, we certainly have some elements from US power metal in our music. The riffing that we use in our songs is heavier and thrashier and we don't use major scales so much. We have some, but it's not the main point to stick to those scales slavishly but more like including them as one of the elements in our stuff.
LEARNING FROM PAST EXPERIENCES
Luxi: If you compare the making of Mooncult to the days when you were working with your debut album Screamworks, would you say the making of the debut was a good learning process?
Hannes: Yes, absolutely yes! The thing with Screamworks was it contained songs from a long time span. I made some songs for this album, Henri did some and I would say it was sort of a compilation of everything that we had done under this band's name to that point. Our plan was to get enough songs done for this album and then go to the studio and record them.
Henri: Yes. We had many songs to choose from, so we simply picked the best and recorded them for our debut album. We had lots of material from many years actually.
Hannes: With Mooncult, we had a whole different starting point because a concept album needs more time and effort to make. That's why I composed most of the stuff for this album due to all the challenges that one may face with a concept album. The new album was like a big puzzle, making the songs and the storyline flow as effortlessly and seamlessly as possible. The making of the album made me scratch my head a couple of times, to be honest.
Luxi: To keep that thin red line going through the whole album, tying the songs together for a concept album surely is a challenge...
Hannes: It truly is! It isn't like, "hey, this song sounds like this, so let's try to fit this type of lyrical theme into it...". It does not work like that way with a concept album; it needs more thinking and effort. Also, I knew in advance what type of sound I wanted to strive for on this record. All the guitars were tuned in standard tuning on Mooncult while we used D tuning on our previous album, except for one song. For the new album, we wanted to get a more striking and tighter sound but perhaps not as massive sounding as we had on our debut, though.
Luxi: On Mooncult, the whole lyrical concept revolves around witch-hunts and trials that happened in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1590. How did you get the idea to write about those dark times on the album?
Hannes: Originally, it all started out with a simple idea that I had in mind related to these witch-hunts. I pictured all these scenes happening in a village or a small town where some infamous aristocrats were taking advantage of these witch-hunts, controlling people by fear and using the power of fear over these poor people shamelessly an in brutal ways. For instance, if you don't follow my orders or are against me, I tell everyone your daughter is bewitched and should be burned at the stake. That was the original idea in a nutshell.
Henri: We did some brainstorming around this witch hunt, throwing ideas back and forth.
Hannes: Yes. Our vocalist Nils (Nordling) did a lot of research about the witch-hunt concept and eventually found an article about the North Berwick witch trials. We used that as a backbone for the theme of Mooncult and added our own fictional elements into the story as well; like the Hecate goddess, the Moon Cult, etc. so that we could get more magic and horror added to the story itself. The story was built up using all of these elements and even some DaVinci-type of elements, I would say. We wanted to come up with some sort of an ancient, evil cult in this concept story, which would have really existed during those dark medieval times in Europe. Mixing some fictional elements with some historical events that have really happened way back in our world was pretty fun to write about, actually.
Luxi: Did sequencing the songs cause any extra head-scratching knowing you had a concept on the record to be told?
Hannes: I think we had a couple of songs that we sort of knew where to place them on this new album. For example, we felt that "She Holds the Greatest Promise" should start off the album because it was basically made for that purpose, to kick off this album. It's a pretty fast-paced song, so we thought it's the best candidate to be the album's opener. Then we had another song called "Burn the Witch", which has a strong story behind it and we also knew that it would fit somewhere in the middle of the album. This song has a key role as a part of the story on the album, too.
So, as we knew these songs' positions on the record, we started placing the rest of the songs and got them in the right spots relatively easily. We did have a few songs that were searching for their final place as a part of the album because we were kind of figuring out whether they were musically the most fitting songs to take this or that place as a part of the album's story. I mean, some of the stories behind the songs weren't that strictly connected to the actual storyline, so there's some leeway to place them loosely as a part of the album's main concept.
LOADED WITH INSPIRATIONS
Luxi: How did you share the workload on this new Silver Bullet album? Was each member allowed to contribute or did some of you take the main roles?
Hannes: Yes, everyone was welcome to contribute to the songwriting process of Mooncult and that's the way we have always tried to work with this band so far. However, for some reason or the other, I somehow ended up in the role of writing most of the music for this album.
Henri: To be completely sincere with you, I strangely had sort of a "dry season" in the making of Mooncult. I seemed to have run out of cool ideas so to speak. I am glad that Hannes was able to take such a big role on this record because, in my opinion, the songs flow so well and effortlessly. He put lots of time and effort into these songs and the stories behind them, and the result couldn't sound any better.
Hannes: Like Henri said, for some reason the lion's mantle was thrown on me as far as the writing was concerned. I, on the other hand, had a very creative period and was just bursting with a lot of ideas. We proceeded with those ideas, adding bits and pieces as time went on and got the result we were striving for.
We had a couple of song ideas also that didn't fit the album this time, so we just left them out. We'll see if we can use them on some future release. A theme album like Mooncult is always a very different thing to make than, let's say, a "regular" album with songs telling different stories. You cannot just put all the best songs on it; you need to approach the making of a concept album from a whole different perspective. You need to picture the whole story in your mind, the natural flow to the story itself, and that's always a bit more challenging to get both the story and the music to flow as smoothly as possible.
Luxi: Did you have moments during the making of the album when you felt you had reached a crossroad and weren't sure which direction you should go in?
Hannes: Yes, I surely had those moments. It became crucial for us all to do some brainstorming regarding the concept story behind this album. When one of us got stuck, others stepped in and helped to contribute their ideas to the story and it worked perfectly. I think we eventually built up the concept relatively smoothly and I would say that we probably had more ideas on the table than we actually needed.
As far as creating the songs, it was a whole different process trying to get the feeling which would support the actual story as perfectly as possible. Making the songs for the album took more time than writing the lyrics. Our vocalist Nils wrote the lyrics for the most part, and he did a great job, I think.
Luxi: Did any of you have experience with concept albums before?
Hannes: I do. When I was playing in Turisas (2007–2011), I did two concept albums with them. I was mainly in the roles of player and arranger of their music, but not so much as a lyric writer. Also, our debut album is sort of a concept album also, but without any storyline that would tightly connect the songs to each other. The concept on that album is about horror movies, and each song has its own horror story.
REAPER ENTERTAINMENT STEPS IN
Luxi: How did Reaper Entertainment come into the picture? Did you send a promotional kit in their direction?
Hannes: Yes, that's exactly what happened; I sent our digital promotional kit to them and they got interested in us. With our previous label, 7hard Records, we had made a deal for one album only. After that album, we started looking for some record companies that would possibly be interested in working with us and happily Reaper Entertainment was one of them. Some other labels also contacted us but after doing some research and comparing them to each other, we felt like Reaper Entertainment would be the one that we'd like to work with.
Henri: 7hard Records would have made another album with us, but after some serious pondering we ended up signing a deal with Reaper Entertainment instead.
Hannes: There were quite a few reasons why we signed to Reaper Entertainment. Gregor (Rothermel) from the label seemed to understand best what we were hoping to get back when signing to his label. At the same time, many other things seemed to click for us, like getting a deal with a Japanese label, Spiritual Beast. They contacted us directly, and that way Reaper Entertainment got a cooperation partner to work with them as well.
Luxi: It's a great thing when a label helps a band but it's also very cool if a band is able to help a label this way. This is what I call real cooperation...
Hannes: Haha ... yes, indeed! Our cooperation with Reaper Entertainment has overall started well, too. No complaints, whatsoever!
TARGETING CENTRAL EUROPE
Luxi: The kind of stuff that you guys churn out is very popular in Central Europe; Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, etc. I suppose that's where you are targeting with your music, correct?
Hannes: Yes, you got it right. That's why we made a deal with Germany's 7hard Records for our debut album, because the markets for our type of stuff are down in Germany and the surrounding countries. In Finland, it's a bit different story I am afraid. We have been trying to find some bands from Finland that would be interested in sharing stages with us, but it's been pretty frustrating so far. Some fellow country mates have even told us that our music isn't heavy enough, or something along those lines anyway...
Henri: They haven't heard Mooncult, yet ... haha!!
Hannes: It seems that many Finnish metal bands nowadays want to play fast and have vocalists who sing in some of the highest registers all the time. It's the current trend, I guess.
Henri: We, on the other hand, seem to be out of step with this trend quite a bit. Thankfully, there's a band like Beast in Black that has realized the cheesiness factor of the eighties metal with lots of guitars, melody, big singalong type of choruses and shit. Hopefully, more bands like Beast in Black will pop up in Finland in the coming years...
Hannes: Yeah, they are a cool band, although I would never see us combining eighties heavy metal with pop and disco music. Silver Bullet comes from a slightly different genre musically compared to them. Our musical approach to metal is more on a heavier side, definitely! We cannot deny it a bit that we do have our own band influences incorporated into our stuff, which is completely OK, but I believe we also have a lot of our own elements squeezed into our songs. The cliché is that the wheel has already been invented, so we can only make it roll smoother for our own purpose.
Henri: It's not even reasonable to try to create something musically that people haven't heard already. We enjoy doing this type of stuff.
Hannes: Yes, we do. Making completely new and unique music is nearly impossible unless you want to create something totally different, experimental underground shit. The only thing that we can do is to combine different metal elements together and make the best out of them really. And that's what we did very well on this new album in my sincere opinion. The album has many different elements, and it sounds like us.
I have seen many musical references to our music and I kind of am surprised by some of the bands that people compare our band to, names that even didn't occur to me. Some may say, "this song reminds me of this or that song/band...", and I am like, "oh, really?!".
Henri: I must mention Candlemass as a name that you mentioned in your review of Mooncult on The Metal Crypt. I never even thought of that band in association with our music...
Luxi: Well, being a longtime fan of the band, I felt like your song "Light the Lanterns (Scavengers of Death)", had some elements in it that made me think of Candlemass...
Hannes: That particular song has its tad heavier moments for sure, so I don't mind that comparison at all. In fact, it's a good thing that people can find so many different nuances in our stuff—just like I mentioned earlier, we do have many different elements in our music.
Luxi: It's in the ear of the listener...
Hannes: That's true. It's actually better that people hear influences from many bands in our stuff than, let's say, people judging us to be a plain Judas Priest cover act only. That wouldn't be so flattering.
Henri: I remember the original idea when we put this band together was that we'd create the kind of music that we'd like to hear ourselves. And whenever you dig some bands heavily, it's unavoidable that you also get influenced by them on some level. Those influences tend to feed your own subconsciousness and it's only natural and normal that the stuff that you dig so much about shows up in your songwriting process in one way or the other.
Luxi: Then again, if you know deep down there that you may, at least occasionally, sound this way or that way, why bother to hide your influences in the first place?
Hannes: Everyone is surely influenced by something per se. Why even make an issue of it because there's always been music around, which has inspired and influenced people to make their own music. It has happened even in classical music, in which all composers copy each other, using bits and pieces from some others' works here and there. All music theories and such, have borne from classical music, so I guess I proved my point...
Luxi: Yes, I guess you did. People tend to roll the same wheel a bit differently regarding this aspect...
Hannes: Yeah, pretty much so.
Luxi: If we jump to the next topic, what are your plans for gigging? After this new album is out, I believe you do have some plans to start doing some shows, right?
Hannes: Yes, something is in the works. Our official record release gig for Mooncult will happen at Bar Taso in Hmeenlinna, Finland, on March 29, which is the album's official release date as well. We also have a couple of other gigs coming up but unfortunately cannot reveal too much about them yet.
PLANS FOR CONQUERING THE WORLD
Luxi: Have you had talks with Reaper Entertainment regarding gigging plans?
Hannes: We have discussed with them a little bit about this, and it looks like something may even happen in autumn this year. We'll see later on how those discussions proceed.
Luxi: There always seems to be a lot happening in Europe as far as tours are concerned. Perhaps getting a chance to tour with some established act would be a cool thing for Silver Bullet, to get a chance to play for bigger audiences and get the band's name on the lips of as many people as possible...
Hannes: Yes, we are on the same page. For summer, our most important agenda would be getting some festival slots because that's the best way to promote your band for masses of people. Plus, like you already said, a tour with a known name would be the best thing for us.
As for the festivals, we may have missed the train to get us booked for festivals this year, although fortunately, the festival season is long enough that we may still have a chance to play at some of them. The only thing is that we are a relatively new band, so it's always tougher for a new band to get slots at the festivals.
Luxi: I just heard from Silke (PR for both Reaper Entertainment and Nuclear Blast in Finland) that you also got a new video out just today?
Hannes: Yes, it was officially released today. The video is for the song "The Witches Hammer", and it was previewed on Sweden Rock Magazine yesterday and today, it was officially published on YouTube, Spotify, and our Facebook page.
Luxi: Would you like to tell us more about the video itself and who directed it?
Hannes: Well, it has such elements as witches, a priest, and a pyre, of course, as the name of the song requires us to have these essential elements. The color scene is half black and white and it fits actually very well to the video's story. A guy called Joonas Ylänne filmed and edited it, and the video was made in Riihimäki, Finland. In my opinion, it turned out really well; I am happy with it.
Luxi: Did you get any kind of budget from your label for making this video?
Hannes: No, we did not but we had our own budget saved for making it anyway. For us, it's very important to use our own money wisely for this band; actually, every penny that we can use for this band. If we cannot do it on our own money, then we take our hats off and start asking for some financial help. In fact, working with this album was also a good learning process to understand how much time and money can actually be spent on the making of an album. It's always a good thing to learn how things can be done and done differently. I am sure we'll be even wiser with our next release.
Luxi: Will you be able to bring this "let-the-witches-burn-at-the-stake" concept on stage, as far as the band's live performance is concerned?
Hannes: Hmm ... we do have special clothing for the live situation, and in fact, they are being updated now as we speak. We have also used some actors as a part of our live shows, and I believe our cooperation with them will also continue in the future.
Once we have this new album out, I think we may have to figure out what fits and what makes us look corny on the stage. This is something we need to ponder a bit more carefully for sure.
Luxi: What about using an executioner's hood or cloaks in a live situation? These might well fit the theme of your new album...
Henri: As a matter of fact, our vocalist has almost used that type of costume in our shows. We have discussed this but haven't made up our minds yet.
Hannes: The cloaks were on our bucket list, but then I felt the cloaks might be a bit problematic for us, at least for myself because I tend to move and mosh around the stage so much that it might become a bit too uncomfortable to wear in a live situation. But let's see, we are still sending these ideas back and forth as far as our live presence is concerned. Time will tell...
Luxi: You mentioned earlier that you had a couple of song ideas that you didn't use for this album simply because they didn't fit in the concept. Do you believe you may work on these "leftover" songs and use them for some later purpose?
Hannes: That's possible, we'll see. Anyway, for Spiritual Beast's version of Mooncult, it will have a couple of bonus tracks; one will be a demo version from "Forever Lost" and the other one is going to be a cover version of Grave Digger's "The House".
Luxi: I bet that you have started receiving album reviews of Mooncult. Have you been surprised how positive they have all been?
Hannes: Well, I cannot say I would be completely surprised by all these positive reactions because I think we made a great sounding album. Then again, people tend to forget that everyone has a different taste in music; one opinion is just one opinion. Also, our musical style necessarily doesn't appeal everybody; it's kind of special stuff what we do anyway and if someone doesn't like our stuff, then I can completely understand that, too. Some of our songs are pretty complex and not easy to digest. They don't go over any prog-ish territory or anything that complex, but they do have many layers in them with many different moods and stuff, so it isn't an easy listening type of stuff. It's not car ride type shit that you can just put on the background while driving. If you use some time for listening to the album, I believe it will also reward you a bit differently, giving you a bit more out of your own listening experience.
But to answer your question, all the album reviews of Mooncult that I have seen so far, have been very positive. People have been comparing us to bands from Gamma Ray to Iced Earth to King Diamond...
Luxi: ... and obviously, Priest and Maiden cannot be completely missed either?
Hannes: Yes, those too. But seeing us compared to Gamma Ray sounds quite strange, to be honest...
Henri: Yes, that Gamma Ray comparison rang in the ear ... hard! But on the other hand, if you are a die-hard Gamma Ray fan, and hear their influence in our music, by all means, so be it. It's cool that people can hear different things in our music, even if we wouldn't recognize them at all.
Luxi: Much like me hearing Candlemass' presence in this one song on your new album...
Hannes: I want to say one more thing about "Light the Lanterns" that you were referring to, that we wanted to make this doomier part after the chorus. I do agree that it's a pretty doom-ish part in that song really, and we already had similar elements in use on our debut album as well especially in the song "Within the Dark". In my opinion, one of our best assets is that we have the willingness and ability to combine different musical styles and don't just stick strictly to one certain style of music. Of course, we want to keep some limits with what we do within our own style. Keep in mind we are not a prog metal band; the type of a band that can switch tempos and moods in a song several times within a minute...
Henri: You just never know what might make us excited on our next album ... ;o)
Luxi: Never say never...
Hannes: Haha ... true, true but at the very moment it feels like we'll stick to our guns and will continue on this musical path forever. I don't see us as an artsy fartsy act that would like to create something out of our own comfort zone, doing something just for the sake of sounding a bit "different" from all the bands out there. The main point for us is to create music that sounds and feels good to us. All different types of nuances and influences from other bands that may occur in our songs, is naturally OK for us.
Luxi: Alright guys, I have one last question for you and then I will let you go for cigarettes. What kind of hopes do you have regarding the band's future? What are you hoping to achieve with this band?
Hannes: First off, realistically thinking, going to Europe for tours would be an important step for the band as far as our future is concerned. That's where our type of metal music has the best markets for sure. To make this happen, we need to grow this band and do more work for it so that we'd be able to reach some of these goals. I hope the signs of Northern Stars will be in a favorable position for us too because getting the right team to work around you depends on some amount of luck, too.
Also, getting bills paid, some food on the table and such would also be something that would be nice to reach by this band. Keeping your feet firmly on the ground and being realistic about your chances must be kept in mind as well because it's very rare for new metal bands nowadays to get rich by what they do. I don't see myself buying several apartments, cars, etc. by all that "money" that we may get out of doings of this band. As long as we could pull off good gigs all over the world, with a good crew and stuff and we wouldn't pay everything from our own pockets either, that would be nice.
Henri: You can leave this "paying-everything-our-own-pockets" part away from the interview, haha!! That sounds too rad...!
Hannes: The truth, however, is that if you play at some festivals, it may cost you, like playing at Wacken Open Air festival in Germany. For smaller bands like us, it's always tougher to play at these bigger festivals. But then again, if you want to do as much promotion as possible for your band, then you accept it, and that's just fine.
Luxi: Sharon Osbourne's Ozzfest might not be the kind of festival to start with, I assume...
Luxi: Thank you guys for your time. It was a pleasure to have this chat with you.
Hannes. Thank you.
Henri: Thanks to you, too.
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