Interview with guitarists Matias Knuuttila and Toke Gerdts
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: May 31, 2019
Finnish Power/Death Metallers Gladenfold were formed by the Itälä brothers, Esko and Lauri, back in 2003. During the next eight years, the band worked on songs that ended up on their demo and EP releases.
They signed a one-album deal with Italy's Buil2kill Records and released their debut album, From Dusk to Eternity, in May 2014. The album created a little wave of success across the underground Metal scene which opened some new doors for them.
The band is on the verge of releasing their follow-up album, When Gods Descend, via Germany's Reaper Entertainment on May 24, 2019. The Metal Crypt grabbed a golden opportunity to interview the band about their new album, among other things.
Luxi: Nice meeting you, guys! Is it true that the band started out under the name Rotta (Ratt in English)? Was the original intention to make Metal music sung in Finnish from the beginning?
Matias: Thank you. As for the Rotta name, Esko and Lauri Itälä formed the band in 2003 with some of their schoolmates. There was this event in Turku at the schools they attended. I guess they had to come up with a name. That was the first incarnation of Gladenfold. Gladenfold was more or less the same as the first demo recordings. I cannot really tell you anything else about that.
Luxi: Do you know if they intended to do some Finnish-sung songs based on the band name, Rotta?
Matias: I don't know really. I don't think the idea was that everything would be in Finnish, although there are actually a few songs on some early demos that have Finnish lyrics.
COMBINING DIFFERENT STYLES INTO ONE SOUND
Luxi: You made a number of demos and EPs before you finally made your debut album, From Dusk to Eternity. Musically, you combined different Metal genres together quite nicely. The album features Rhapsody-style Power Metal, as well as more folk-ish stuff, akin to Ensiferum and, of course, a healthy dose of more melodic Death Metal that may link your band to such names as Children of Bodom and Norther. Do you believe that your album represents a mishmash of different Metal genres because everybody in the band listens to different music?
Matias: I think the debut album sounded, as you said, like a mixture of many styles because back in the day we made a lot of demo recordings and were kind of seeking our own style. At that point we had found the main core sound. On the demo recordings there was a lot of Folk Metal elements and we also started adopting Black Metal elements into our sound as well. The debut album is more like a combination of Power Metal and melodic Death Metal with some flavors from different genres, I would say.
Toke: Wasn't it mostly Esko who wrote the songs for that one? There was an earlier guitar player Jaakko (Riihimäki) who also had some influences in there. In general, Esko is the main songwriter for the band. For some reason, he has a lot of different influences. I think he battles a lot with German Power Metal, Finnish Folk Metal and melodic Death Metal—like Children of Bodom, Ensiferum, Blind Guardian and so on and so on.
Luxi: How much of your spare time is dedicated to the band?
Matias: It depends on what is happening at a specific time. When there's promotion and all the album release-related stuff, it takes a lot of time. Between album cycles when we compose material for the band, I think the biggest time-consuming part is arranging the songs. Esko comes up with songs regularly and he sends us really rough demos. Usually there are no lyrics or vocal melodies and that's why we need to arrange them a bit more to see what kinds of songs they will be. The biggest time-consuming part is arranging this stuff and, of course, recording because they are quite complex.
Luxi: What is a typical band rehearsal like?
Toke: Usually, we do a lot of writing ourselves and then send ideas around for feedback. We all have at least a minimal recording setup at home. In general, we all spend a lot of time with the band, but we have different roles. For example, our drummer, Esko, spends a lot of time booking gigs and Matias spends a lot of time with the promo side. Esko, Paavali (Pouttu), our keyboard player, and I spend a lot of time with newer songs, getting them together and stuff like live backing tracks and whatnot.
Most of the rehearsals are centered around the live gigs. We don't do a lot of song writing in the rehearsal room. We don't try to match the recording when we play live so we spend a lot of time figuring out who plays what, getting the levels right and what part of the backing vocals that we've recorded on the album we can do live and so on. It's mostly that kind of stuff.
Matias: Rehearsing is really live performance orientated. Of course, when there is an album coming out or studio recording sessions are coming, we still rehearse the songs in a really rough format before recording drums or anything like that. After that, there are still a lot of layers.
WHEN GODS HAVE DESCENDED
Luxi: Let's talk about your latest album, When Gods Descend. Was there extra pressure on your shoulders when you consider how well received your debut was?
Matias: I can start. Not really. On our debut album, we all felt that the songs were good, but the production wasn't something that we were into. I would say the production was good, but with this new album, we wanted to do it even bigger. There's a lot more layers on this new album than on the first one.
Toke: I want to say that we had clear goals in terms of what we wanted to achieve with the album. We weren't afraid of what the world would think about it. We were more driven by our own ambitions and we had our own standards to live up to, so as soon as we all agreed that this was something that we could feel proud putting out, there wasn't really much else to think about. I think we hold ourselves to such a high standard that we don't have to worry about what anyone else thinks.
Luxi: Did you have some unfinished stuff from the sessions for your debut album that you were able to rework for this new album?
Matias: Not really. All the songs that are on this new album are brand new. Esko might have had the ideas before the album was released, but we haven't played or rehearsed them before, so the songs are brand new in that way.
Luxi: Is there some sort of theme on this album that links the songs together?
Toke: I think on a very broad level, maybe yes, but it's not like there's a hard concept. Maybe we have some general themes like the gods' relationship to humans and high fantasy stuff, which fits the music. That was probably our main thing. We were not trying to tell a very detailed and a linear story, just tie the songs together in a way that makes sense for us and create some narrative that made sense for the songs that were written in very different places and with different influences, I guess.
Matias: We had the basics of the songs ready and written, but we had no lyrics or anything. We came up with the idea that maybe we should have some teamwork which would be easier because that's always been a bit of an issue. We have a lot of songs ready, but no lyrics and we wanted to do something epic, something related to gods and high fantasy and everything. Well, here we go...
Luxi: What made you decide to move to Germany's Reaper Entertainment?
Matias: When we got the album master ready late in 2018, we approached different labels and got a few replies back. To us it seemed quite obvious that we wanted to go with Reaper Entertainment.
Luxi: They showed the green flag right off the bat and welcomed you as a part of their roster?
Matias: They were really interested.
Toke: In their first reply they said, "Yes, this is a goal. We just have to figure out the details."
Luxi: How was the responsibility for the songwriting shared on this new album?
Toke: Our singer and former guitar player Esko is definitely the one who contributes the most to the songwriting. I think he wrote eight of the 10 of songs.
Matias: Yes. There's one song that was composed by me and Esko and one song that was composed by Paavali, our keyboard player, but it's mainly Esko that writes the songs.
Esko does most of the writing but the arranging is also a really big part of the process. On this album, it was Esko and I that did the arrangements for all the vocal melodies and I helped him with the lyrics and spent a lot of time at the rehearsal place playing demo tracks for the vocals.
Toke: The same can be said of the orchestral elements and so on and so on. Esko doesn't have a lot of experience with that, so while he may have ideas that he writes down, it's mostly me and our keyboard player Paavali who take care of that side. We all have our input in the end, but he writes the main foundations.
Luxi: So everyone has a say in the songwriting process?
Toke: Yes, definitely!
Matias: He really likes to do it that way. He gives a really rough idea of a song for us to work on. He doesn't really polish the details, as he doesn't necessarily know how the song should turn out. We work on those details together and everybody has some input, so that is a good way for us to do it.
Luxi: On this new album one is able to find grandiose dimensions of very epic stuff to the straightforward cadence of Power Metal and a bit of everything in between. Was your intention to continue on that successful musical road begun with your debut album, just refining and sharpening your music, getting more epic and bigger orchestrated parts incorporated into the songs?
Matias: I agree with that. That was how we felt when we started to work with these songs. The basic structure of the songs is not that different, but compared to debut album, we spent a lot of more time arranging stuff for this new album because there was also a bit more stuff that needed to be arranged.
Toke: Esko also described it as wanting to have more space in the songs, like allowing the different parts to breathe on their own. The first album was very balls-to-the-wall with very straightforward Power Metal and melodic Death Metal songs. On this album, we have different vibes going on within the context of a single song, so it can change between an orchestra vibe to more straight up Power Metal, and things like that.
Luxi: Talking about the variety of songs on this new album, there is a great and very sad ballad called "Ghosts of Our Past". Were you trying to show everyone the different colors of the band as far as your songwriting with this track?
Matias: Yes, I would say so. Now that you bring up this question, I actually feel that the main structure of the song was demoed a while back, so it was probably composed before the debut album was even finished. At some point during the songwriting for this new album I said, "okay, Esko has done this kind of song, and this is really cool, so why don't we just use this one and do something different at this point".
Toke: Yes, indeed. It's always very interesting how as musicians we think about music, and then how people like reviewers or music journalists think about it and so on. We had a review recently that suggested the album is divided into two parts, divided at the ballad. I don't think we thought about it that way when we constructed it. Maybe intuitively, we wanted it to give it a bit more room to breathe by putting that ballad in the middle and divide the album somewhat between Power Metal and Death Metal.
Matias: Yes, I see the trend there. It has been mentioned that the first part of the album is more Power Metal than some of the songs towards the end of the album that are heavier, in a way, and have more melodic Death Metal influences.
"THE FORSAKEN" SUMS IT UP
Luxi: You also have a song called "The Forsaken" on the album that really brings out the band's entire musical arsenal, to my ears at least. This song includes powerful epic choirs, harsh vocal lines, nice melodies, great guitar solos and just about everything that the band represents musically. If you had a band business card, could this be the kind of song that gives a good representation of the band?
Matias: Yes. We have been doing a track-by-track video series on social media and a few days ago the video for this song came out and I basically used almost the same words to describe it. Every element that we are known for is in that song. That would be the song to check out, and I personally feel it's one of the best songs on the album, maybe even the best one.
Toke: Yes, definitely! I also feel we've discussed it as being like a business card for our music. It has acoustic nylon string guitars, it has the orchestral elements, it has the melodic Death Metal style, it has the Power Metal stuff and lower range and higher range singing. It has all the stuff.
Matias: The song is also pretty epic in length; almost seven minutes.
EPIC MELODIC DEATH POWER OR VIKING STRENGTH FROM FINLAND?
Luxi: It's pretty epic indeed. Due to all the elements in your music, it's going to be tough to drop the band into a specific musical box, if not impossible. Do you have a musical description of your own for Gladenfold?
Toke: Was it "epic melodic Death power" or something like that?
Matias: Yes, it feels more like a slogan that we have been using, not officially, but sometimes.
Toke: Yes, I think we had a sticker or something like that but I guess we could call our music "symphonic melodic Death and Power Metal".
Matias: Yes, that's what we do. Many people got quite confused about our style because we did a lot of demo recordings in the past and the musical style was even more variable. People sometimes connect our style with Folk Metal but it's not these days. I have seen labels like Gothic Metal used, which I don't really understand. Maybe it was because there were some female vocals used on the early demo recordings. Also, I think with the debut album, our former label advertised us with the label's own teaser video ("Fate Escape"), saying something like, "Viking strength from Finland".
Matias: That was a bit out of context [*laughter*].
Toke: It's especially fun to explain it to people who are not in the Metal community. It's such a nerdy description when you have to tell your grandma, "Oh it's a combination of melodic Death Metal, which is an interesting concept in itself, and then Power Metal" and stuff like that because they don't hear the same connections. When you say "Power Metal" you have a very clear idea about what that is inside your head but people outside metal, not so much.
Matias: I could add that we have been using "Power Metal" and "melodic Death Metal" to describe our music. That's our combination and most of the influences are coming from those genres for sure.
Luxi: Then you have these little nuances coming from other genres of music...
BEING FOCUSED AND AMBITIOUS
Luxi: What kind of personal expectations do you have for your new album?
Toke: Good question. Hmm... I don't know. As we said, we have been so focused on our own ambitions, about making it into what we like. I've not thought much about how other people are going to like it.
I'm, of course, looking forward to that, but we're going to try our best in to ride the wave so to say, and hopefully get to play some gigs and start working on some new music and taking it to more interesting levels.
Matias: Yes, when you are working with this kind of huge project that takes two years from the first recordings to the release, you want to be fully satisfied with the result. I think that we all agree that the album turned out great and we improved in many ways, compared to our debut.
For us, the most important thing is that we feel good about it and we'll see how people like it. The people who listened to our first album will like this new album because this is a refinement of all these elements that we had on our debut album.
Toke: We haven't betrayed our genre or anything like that. It's the same stuff with some different flavors.
Luxi: ...but with a bigger sound and a better production...
Toke: Yes indeed.
Luxi: Do you dream of making this band your main job or will it be enough to get some music done and released just for fun and to get a chance to play around every now and then?
Matias: I would say it's mainly the passion for the music that drives us. If we feel like doing a new album, we are motivated to make new songs. I think that's the most important thing and, of course, getting it out and playing gigs are a really a big part of it. Still, personally, I feel that making music is the thing that I really like doing, especially with this band. We really have a drive to do it at the moment. Everybody feels really into it and everybody's a lot of time and money for this kind of stuff.
Toke: Absolutely! Every time I've tried to stop to do "smarter things" with my life, I haven't been able to. I come back to music every time [*laughs*]. There are other things I would maybe do in my life, but the more free time we get to make music, the better. That involves money and success to be able to spend more time with the music, but the success and stuff like that is not that important for me. If that allows us to spend more time with the music and if it just makes more sense to us, then we spend this amount of time with the music. And yes, that's a positive thing.
Matias: On the other hand, we all have day jobs so it's not the aim to make it in a bigger way. It will hopefully be a pleasant hobby for all of us.
Toke: Exactly, if we can get it to a point where it makes sense to make this music and put it out, that is our goal.
Matias: We still like invest a lot of time for this thing. Of course, there needs to be some goals. I was really satisfied that our label, Reaper Entertainment, also found a label in Japan to release the album there.
That's a milestone, releasing it in Japan. If something happens in that direction, it would be really cool. Let's see.
PLANS AND DREAMS OF PLAYING MORE LIVE
Luxi: Did you guys know that there's a gig organizer (of Evoken de Valhall Production) in Japan that has been arranging this Suomi Fest the last a couple of years? The lineup consists only of Finnish Metal bands as you may know...
Matias: Yes, I have heard of this festival. I can say that I would really like to go to Japan and play there.
Toke: Unfortunately, we don't have an agency yet that could book shows for us.
Luxi: You could talk to the staff of Reaper Entertainment and see if they can point you in the right direction so that this could be handled by somebody not your band in the future...
Matias: Yes, and the good thing is that now we have the label contact in Japan. In that way, it might be possible.
Luxi: How do things look for you gigging-wise? I only know that you were booked to Nummirock festival, Finland, this year. What else have you planned regarding playing live and which places you will target for your next crusades so to speak?
Toke: We have an album release gig at Apollo, Turku.
Matias: It will happen one week before Misummer, on June 22nd. And then after that we have the Nummirock show. There's probably one more festival coming up, but it's not confirmed yet.
Luxi: What about a small club tour around Finland?
Matias: Yes, we have been thinking about that and hopefully we can arrange something, but nothing is confirmed yet.
Toke: It's been a while. I think the last time we went around Finland was with Shade Empire in 2017 and we played in Helsinki and Hämeenlinna.
Matias: Yeah, and before that we actually played quite a lot of shows around Finland in the two years after the album release. So there was some gigs, but not like a real tour.
Toke: Doing a small tour across Finland would definitely be cool, though.
Luxi: What other hopes do you have for your band? Is there something that you would like to achieve in the near future, even within the short time frame after your next album is released?
Matias: Now that we have all this promotion to do for our new album, that naturally needs to be done first. Within a couple of months, we will be playing shows and so on. I know we have a folder in our band's Dropbox where we have new demos done and I'm already listening to them regularly and trying to think about some ideas. So I'm feeling like we've already started to work on the next release.
Toke: Yes, so very excited about getting time to do songwriting and production. Maybe also playing some gigs around?
Matias: Yes, of course, but don't worry. It's up to us based on our schedules, which are a bit of trouble because of work and family that come first, of course. But I think that we all agree that touring would be cool to do if we found the time and the right slot.
OF PERFECT TOURING MATES TO PLAY WITH
Luxi: Do you have an ideal band that you'd like to play some gigs with?
Toke: What have you been listening to recently? I think a lot of us like the Finnish band called Brymir. We are into that one.
Matias: They also have a really complex sound, which we are into.
Toke: Yeah, that would be cool to play with them. A lot of us are into Wintersun and stuff like that. Otherwise, I don't know. I think we have a lot of different influences and bands that we are into, so it would depend on the opportunities.
Matias: Yes, just to mention, once we get the promo stuff here done today, we're heading back to Turku and Seventh Wonder is playing there. So I think everyone of us is quite into that plan even though it's not something that we would like maybe tour with them, but music-wise, all of us really are into their music. So there's also this kind of progressive stuff in their music that all of us like.
Luxi: OK, guys, I think that's all I had in mind. Thanks a lot for doing this interview with me. It's been a pleasure.
Matias: Thanks to you. Thanks for coming over to have this chat with us.
Toke: Thank you.
|Other information about Gladenfold on this site|
|Review: Tales From Worlds Afar|
|Review: When Gods Descend|
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