Interview with guitarist Juha Kupiainen and vocalists Kari Olli and Mikael Salo
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: April 28, 2019
Finland's technical Death Metal band De Lirium's Order have been working hard for the last seven years on their fourth full-length studio album, Singularity. This band, led by guitarist and mastermind Juha Kupiainen, has always tried to do things a little differently and find new ways to express themselves musically.
On Singularity, they have stretched their musical boundaries and thought outside the box, resulting in one hell of an opus. Think you have heard everything there is to hear in technical Death Metal? You haven't, I assure you.
The Metal Crypt and other media outlets were invited to join the pre-listening session of the new album on March 30th, with the chance to interview the band afterward.
So, without further ado, let's start talking about the album with Juha, Kari and Mikael...
Luxi: Your fourth studio album, Singularity, will be released on April 26, 2019. It's been seven long years since your previous album, Veniversum. What caused the long gap?
Juha: Heh, now that's an "easy" question; we've just been so busy in our lives. I have been doing many other things the past few years. It would be nice if we only had to concentrate on music which we are all truly passionate about. On the other hand, this break has had a positive effect on our music. The more time we have put into new stuff, the better it sounds. The fact is the stuff we have churned out on this new album isn't anything you can create with minimal effort. It takes time to create this type of technical/futuristic sounding Death Metal and I believe we took the needed time to make this album happen. We didn't want to take the songwriting process lightly and put out the kind of half-assed stuff that wouldn't have pleased anyone. That's why it took quite a lot of time to get this album done.
I must also mention that all the material we came up with over the past seven years has been used on the record. Very early guitar riffs may have been modified over the years or even replaced by better ideas but that is natural in a creative songwriting process. I have taken lots of time coming up with this stuff, with the help of my bandmates, of course, to get this far. It took seven years, but it was all worth it.
Kari: The making of this album has been a long process of trying to make as good an album as possible. We never really thought about how much time it would take to get the album done or how long it was since our last album or anything like that. We wanted to take our time to improve and evolve our sound, both as songwriters and as a band. As Juha already mentioned, all of us have had a lot of things going on in our lives outside of music like family, work and so on. Balancing band activities and non-music activities is always something that needs attention. I think the most important thing for us regarding this band has been thinking of what we'd like to create after Veniversum. We asked what is the best way to express ourselves and who we would like to work with. Mikael Salo, one of our guests on this new record, was a great asset to us. He had a big role on the album.
Mikael: What was the question again?
Mikael: I joined these guys well over a year ago and we started recording some of my vocal lines right away, as I remember.
Juha: Yes, that's what happened. I went over to Mikael's place and suggested that we do some demo takes to see what he can do vocally. When I got home with his vocal samples I thought, "Wow, this guy can truly sing in perfect pitch..." and we ended up using these "demo vocal sessions" on the album.
Mikael: I was kind of amazed that we were able to record my vocal parts in my living room.
Luxi: Where did the idea of using Kari's death grunts as well as Mikael's clean vocals come from?
Juha: I guess the idea for this came from the fact that I like both very extreme as well as very melodic music and was fascinated by how Kari's and Mikael's vocal styles would blend together. Kari's death growls are, of course, a very important element within our music but I wanted to find out how much we could stretch the melodic dimension by adding Mikael's clean vocals. These two different worlds melt together very well, in my opinion. For example, I love the clean vocals of Simen Hestnæs (aka ICS Vortex) when he was in Dimmu Borgir. His ethereal, high-pitch vocals, almost like a tenor vocal style, left a very positive impression on me. It stuck with me so much that I started searching for a similar vocalist and eventually got in touch with Ilja Jalkanen (ex-Kiuas, ex-Raskasta Joulua) and he suggested contacting Mikael Salo. I started googling and went straight on to YouTube to find out what kind of a singer we were talking about. I learned quickly that Mikael hadn't sung extreme stuff at all but still decided to give a shot. After doing some demo sessions with him, I knew he was the guy I wanted to work with on this new album.
Luxi: So your cooperation started right there?
Mikael: Yes, indeed. I must say that it was really nice to sing my vocal parts on this album. I am the kind of guy who's just bubbling over with ideas so it really doesn't matter to me what kind of stuff I am working with vocally. I suggested a million things to Juha and he listened to what I had in mind. My ideas dealt mostly with vocal harmonies and and it brought me a great deal of satisfaction to get some of my ideas on this album. It was really damn cool. It also made the whole recording process easier because I was able to sing the way I wanted to sing. We had a pretty symbiotic relationship during the recording sessions. I remember watching Juha's facial expressions many times when I sang something. If he didn't say anything or had an odd facial expression on his face, then I knew, "Okay, perhaps I didn't deliver vocally as well as I thought so let me try again...".
Juha: The same has happened with Kari many times. We have known each other for quite a few years.
Kari: Yes. Let's not talk about that because as far back as I can remember Juha has given me more whip than anyone else for not delivering my vocal parts the way he wanted. It's a very different thing bellowing your lungs out with a grunty vocal style than sing clean. I think when you use clean vocals, you have way more room to do it convincingly than trying to impress with death growls. We have also had some very funny moments when Juha has been watching me with a very strange facial expression on his face while I was thinking I just delivered the goods. How wrong I was.
Mikael: I have learned that whenever Juha's eyebrows go up, then I am close to what he was expecting.
Kari: Yes, I have noticed the same thing. He's got this sort of "eagle owl" look with his eyebrows up.
OF BEING DIFFERENT
Luxi: What I found great about this new album is how often is surprise you with a good amount of unorthodox elements. For example, "Surfaced" has those prog-ish and jazzy bass parts. That's something very special. My question is did you want to take technical Death Metal out of its comfort zone by bringing in unconventional and perhaps even odd elements?
Juha: Yes, you got it right. When I started composing material for this album, I allowed myself to think out of the box. Many bands of our ilk want to put themselves into strict subgenres of heavier music whereas I wanted this album to be something different from the masses. I don't want us to be considered just a plain technical Death Metal band. We want to explore music in general and what we can do with it, with certain restrictions, of course. We are focused on creating a melodic, catchy and technical stuff but technical wankery cannot be the main thing for us all the time.
Mikael: I strongly agree with Juha. I think it's always healthy for bands to push the envelope a little bit and not stick to a safe formula all the time. I have always liked some albums where things are done in a different way. For example, Iron Maiden's Somewhere in Time album and those guitar synths were a clever combination. Compare this album to when they released their first two albums, you are like, "Oh, wow... That sounds really cool!". Same with the synth intro in "Moonchild" off the Seventh Son album, it sounds really darn cool, although Bruce Dickinson said three years earlier that synths don't belong in real Heavy Metal music, or something along those lines. Also, Helloween brought their own spices into the world of Heavy Metal with their synth elements, which was cool.
Juha: Yes, it's a cool trend where bands don't hesitate to push and even break musical boundaries within different subgenres of Heavy Metal music. It can be considered a normal development in the scene when new things are being tried out. When it comes to us, I don't see anything unusual in our music or that we have combined subgenres together on our new album, it's just little things that can make our music sound a little different. Each listener will be the judge of whether we have managed to bring something new on the table or not.
ABOUT BEING THE CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP
Luxi: As you are the main composer and dynamo of the band, do you prefer keeping all the strings held tightly in your hand in order to keep a coherent focus on what you want this band to represent musically or are you open to others' ideas?
Juha: There are two parts to this answer. First, we need to remember who in the band has ideas to contribute to the songwriting process and the second is the path that we can need to follow that leads us to the result we want. All of us are passionate about music, but for this band, I am the one who leads the ship in the right direction so to speak.
On Singularity, the focus has changed slightly as far as the making of it is concerned. On our previous albums, I did basically everything from start to finish. The one also has the others' impact incorporated into it.
Kari: Yes, it was naturally Juha who brought the main framework of this album to the table but each of us was allowed to bring in his musical approach. The great thing about this creation was that Juha showed us a big painting with its many colors where each of us was able to add some of our own nuances, if I can put it this way.
There are obviously many bands out there nowadays doing stuff similar to ours but the way I see this band, I would say Juha is the kind of a guy who's able to create something very unique and original. In Finland, I guess we are in our own league, at least originality-wise. We have our own sound, a very unique songwriting style and a bunch of idea-rich individuals who are all gifted enough to contribute to the main musical framework that comes from Juha's sharp songwriting pencil. I think this band has evolved from one album to the next over the past few years, which is a great thing!
Juha: I feel like I have been lucky because I have had a chance to work with some of the best lads to work with. It's been really cool to work with these guys on this new album.
"WE GAVE OUR FULL 75% FOR THIS ALBUM"
Luxi: What was the most challenging thing in getting this new album done?
Juha: I would say all the composition took a lot of time to build up this album to sound the way I wanted it to sound. Sometimes I can come up with riffs effortlessly, other times it takes an enormous amount of time to get things done so I am 100% satisfied. I never allow myself to accept half-assed stuff on our albums; I have to be honest with myself and write the kind of stuff that brings me joy and satisfaction. In this sense, I am a perfectionist.
When I have enough raw material ready, the integration process starts. I start to polish the songs to a form where I can think of adding more guitar parts or other instruments into the song structures.
Kari: It's a time-consuming process and it needs to be done as perfectly as possible, but one that needs a targeted deadline because otherwise you don't know when to stop. I mean, it's good to have some sort of a time frame for doing things because it helps you to stay more focused.
Juha: If I can continue with this, I actually set a target that if each of us pulls out 75% effort on this record, then I can say that's enough and makes it me satisfied.
Kari: Haha... now twisting Juha's words a little bit, we are only 75% happy with this album.
Mikael: There's no such a thing as 100% perfection; it's impossible to reach especially when talking about perfecting a riff to the point where it could be 100% perfect. Such a thing simply does not exist. You need to find your limit, your own standard of what you can do within music. And if you can exceed those limits or standards at times, then you know you have done things right. For me personally, it was pretty hard to understand with this new album at first.
Juha: Afterwards you may realize, "Oh shit, this sounds like a 78% perfect effort even though we may have set the bar as high as a 92%." But like I said earlier, a 75% effort from each of us satisfies me.
Kari: As a closing anecdote I would like to use one semi-famous Finnish's musician words when he said, "We have given a full 70% into the making of this album...".
Luxi: Where on earth did they leave the remaining 30%? ;o)
Kari: Philosophically thinking, that remaining 30% is probably the kind of thing that's left to float in the air, and the responsibility to trace that remaining 30% somewhere, is up to a listener if he/she can find it or not, haha! OK, now we are perhaps getting a bit out of line, so next question, please...
Luxi: When playing live, how much room do you leave to improvisation, or do you try to stick songs the way they were played on the record?
Kari: We are improvising all the time because it's impossible to play this kind of tricky music note-for-note in a live situation, haha!
Juha: We have an acoustic record release show coming up shortly, so it's all about improvisation. Our second guitarist, Vesa Nupponen, is actually very good at improvisation, compared to me, for example. As for the vocal parts go, it will be easier on that department but for just about everywhere else, it is extremely difficult I must say. This kind of stuff does have its limits on improvisation.
Kari: Playing this type of technical shit acoustic is a pretty unique thing to do. I don't think that any technical Death Metal band has tried to play an acoustic show before, that's why I find this worth trying. Pushing and breaking boundaries are always a cool thing to do. We don't have that many bands here in Finland that play overly technical Death Metal. The scene for this type of stuff is overall really marginal. There's a huge technical Death Metal scene out there outside of Finland, though. For example, in the UK and USA, there's a huge scene for this type of stuff that we represent musically.
Mikael can continue talking about his thoughts regarding our forthcoming acoustic record release gig...
Mikael: To be completely honest with you I haven't really been thinking of it much.
Mikael: C'mon, it's still more than a month away!
Kari: Anyway, we are trying to do things our way by bringing something new to the technical Death Metal genre. It can only be successful if you have an open mind and are ready to tear down musical barricades in your mission to be innovative and sound original. It's at least a cool thing to try this acoustic thing, just to see if it can be pulled off. It may be a total fiasco or a big success or something in between. You never know until you try.
Music has been a part of my life forever and I am always finding new things in music that make it interesting for me on a personal level.
Luxi: As my time is up very soon, I would like to ask one more question. Could each of you talk about a highlight for you in your time as a part of the band?
Mikael: I have been in the band less than one year—please save me from any sarcastic comments—so this question is easy for me to answer. The highlight for me is "Acoustic Medley" on the new album. I really like Juha's sweep picking on the song.
Juha: Your personal highlight is MY sweep picking part in that song?! You must be kidding now, Mikael!
Mikael: Yes, indeed because I was also involved in this song in another way. Juha asked me if we should rename this song and I suggested another title but for some strange reason he rudely rejected it...
Kari: ...and then we eventually settled on this super-interesting and unique title, "Acoustic Medley."
Mikael: I remember receiving a text message from Juha, who went to the Sonic Pump Studios to do some additional recordings in one morning, with a hangover, of course. He told me that he was in a panic because he needed to do some tricky guitar stuff and he was suffering from this bad hangover.
I replied back to him, comforting and encouraging him to not fall into poor drinker's remorse, and even added a thumbs-up emoticon to the end of my text message. And Juha pulled off it just fine, even though he had this bad hangover keeping him company.
So I take some credit for that song in that I was there for Juha, giving some extra support that day when he needed it most.
Juha: I myself am very satisfied with this new album because I think it's our best album to date. I have felt that you always need to outdo yourself and everything that you have done earlier. We put lots of time into the making of this album and personally I only used the kind of material for the record I was 100% satisfied with. Also, the production on this album is top-notch.
I must also say that recording our debut album, Victims No. 52, is one of the highlights of my whole career with this band. Actually, it comes very close to this new album as far as the satisfaction level is concerned. There are quite a few things on this album that we'd like to rerecord some day again.
Luxi: My time's up, thanks for inviting me to chat with you guys!
Mikael: Thanks for coming over.
Kari: Thanks for having us!
Juha: Many thanks for the interview!
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