Interview with Max Power (bass, vocals)
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: July 21, 2012
What on earth is "Cinematic Extreme Metal" all about? What do you get if you combine theoretical physics, Finnish mythology and a "Lynchian" storyline into one big entity? Ahem, I guess those are just two questions out of probably zillions of other questions that can be answered properly enough by one of the founding members of Finnish extreme metal band Chaosweaver, Max Power.
The band started out in 2004 and since then Chaosweaver have released two full-length studio albums, with the latest one carrying the name "Enter the Realm of the Doppelgänger" which Austrian Napalm Records released worldwide at the end of June 2012.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls... let's enter the Realm of Döppelgänger under the favorable guidance of Max Power...
Luxi: How's it going Max? I guess your days are getting busier and busier due to all this promotion that needs to be done to promote Chaosweaver's new album, "Enter the Realm of the Doppelgänger" - with all the phoners, email interviews and stuff. Is that correct?
Max: Yes, the media interest has been overwhelming, which is really cool. I've actually been doing so much interviews lately, that it's starting to affect my day job, heh... Well, I enjoy talking about the band, so I'm not complaining.
Luxi: "Enter the Realm of the Doppelgänger" has been 4 long years in the making. Do you feel like you should have gotten this second album out like 1-2 years earlier so that the band's name could have stayed a bit better on people's lips. A four years gap - from your debut album "Puppetmaster of Pandemonium" to this follow-up album may have even have had some people thinking that Chaosweaver was only a one album treat. Did this worry you at some point, knowing somewhere deep back in your mind that you probably cannot delay the release of the album much anymore?
Max: We didn't worry about that too much, but to tell you the truth, it was frustrating as fuck to have things moving that slowly. We started recording the album in December 2009, but a lot of things happened in the studio and in our personal lives, which postponed the completion of the record. And when you are making music such as ours, the oceans of track layers are a bitch to mix and get perfectly in balance. The album was actually mastered over a year ago, so we're super happy to have the album finally in stores soon. It was Napalm's decision to hold on to the album for a few extra months, because the label was releasing new records by Moonspell and other big names, and they didn't want our album "competing" about the media coverage and whatnot with them.
Luxi: "Enter the Realm of the Doppelgänger" is both music and theme-wise a huge tour de force, showcasing Chaosweaver's talent and skills in writing something this big and pompous; hence you have decided to use the description 'Cinematic Extreme Metal'. Could you possibly talk a bit about the whole concept for the readers of The Metal Crypt? One thing is already certain: you don't take things too lightly, without any pressures, when it comes down to your ambition to create something big in terms of music in general, do you?
Max: We certainly take our music and lyrics very seriously. We are a bunch of hairy-ass perfectionists and detail junkies. As for the band's concept: we see Chaosweaver as one artistic entity, which is composed of grandioso Metal, well thought of lyrics, highly visual promo photos and videos (at least on this album, heh!) and top-notch cover and booklet artwork. But all in all everything blends in quite naturally and without forcing anything.
I came up with the term 'Cinematic Extreme Metal' as it describes our music very well as it is visual and full of drama, "movie-like", and has absolutely nothing to do with religion or anti-religion. We are not a black metal band, we are a cinematic extreme metal band.
Luxi: Was writing the lyrics for this mammoth opus kind of challenging - I mean, something like it took a little bit more time and efforts, to get them nailed down just perfectly, supporting the actual music all the way from start to finish?
Max: Yes it was. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done. I got really into superstring theories, especially the M-theory. The main point of the M-theory, at least on this album, is that there are 11 dimensions in this world all together, and not just three or four. Our universe is just one tiny cell in a network called the multiverse. In between those universes are black holes, which are portals to other worlds. I read a bunch of books on the subject and came up with a fictional story of my own, which I molded into the lyrical concept of this album. It combines theoretical physics, Finnish mythology and a "Lynchian" storyline of my own. I've written a short description of each song in the liner notes, so that the listener has a better view of what's going on. They are not guidelines, but they hopefully open the listeners' eyes a bit wider.
Luxi: Did you face any setbacks while you were putting the songs together? What I mean by this is, were there some musical compromises that you were forced to do for this record so that each band member finally agreed on the musical style or concept?
Max: Unfortunately we had a lot of setbacks during the making of this album. Jack's (drums) studio, Studio Perkele, moved from Oitti to Helsinki, and he had to build a new one from scratch, which took months. We've recorded both of our albums there. While we were recording, the studio's computer broke down, and we lost a helluva lot of orchestration tracks and keyboard sounds. I had a son with my wife and moved from Helsinki to Kuopio, which complicated things a wee bit. Some of the guys suffered from relationship break-ups, and there was a lot of substance abuse going on, so yeah, we had some setbacks, heh...
Musically speaking this one was much, much harder to make than the first one. The first one was just fun and laughs, but this one was a product of serious work and thousands of hours of polishing the arrangements. As there are three songwriters in this band, and each of us has strong opinions, it was a tough task to get every single detail perfect and suitable for all of us. But we succeeded very well, and are really proud of this album! It is by far the best thing we've done so far in every angle: songwriting, lyrics, arranging, production, musicianship and the technical aspect of playing.
Luxi: What about the band line-up these days? Ever since Chaosweaver was formed 8 years ago, the line-up has been through a number of changes. Do you feel like the current line-up is the one that you'd like to stick to?
Max: 8 years, has it really been that long, fuck?! Yeah, we've had a lot of line-up changes, but the band wouldn't be the same if one or more of us left. We've been together since the making of the first album, and I believe the four of us will stick together till the very end. The session members might change, but I hope the core group won't. Everyone has a specific role in the band, and if you cut one out, there would be a huge hole in the concept. Or at least the outcome would change to something completely different.
Luxi: Are you still happy with the way how your debut album, "Puppetmaster of Pandemonium", turned out even if it's quite a different effort musically compared to your latest work? Did you already have a musical vision in your head ever since "P.o.P." was released as to how Chaosweaver would evolve musically, and refined all of those crazy yet pompous ideas for the band's next record?
Max: In my opinion, "Puppetmaster of Pandemonium" is a helluva weird and cool album. The production and playing could be much better, but I still love it. In a way it's braver than the new one, because it was so avantgarde and out there as this one is more professional and serious, so to speak. I don't mean boring as there are twists, turns and surprises everywhere on this one as well, heh... You've gotta have drama in order to keep things interesting.
We started composing stuff for this album pretty much right after "Puppetmaster" came out in the Spring of 2008. What I remember from the earliest session is that we wanted to surpass our debut in every way. We especially wanted to boost up the orchestrations - and by this I mean make them bigger and "classically" more relevant. We were feeling super creative, and before we started recording "Doppelgänger", we had over 70 songs, themes or parts of songs to choose from! It was a bitch of a task to choose just nine of them which would best fit the concept of this album. So, we've got tons of killer stuff demoed in our back pockets, but I don't think they'll ever see the light of the day, because we always want to go forward and start with blank sheet. We have actually started making new tunes, but are not in a hurry. At this point I have absolutely no clue what album number three will sound like, even though I believe we've got the intro and album title in the bag already.
Luxi: You also shot a video for one of the songs off of this new record; "Maelstorm of Black Light". This video looks like you have invested big piles of money into it: it's really expensive and professional-looking, so would you mind sharing a few thoughts of yours about it with the readers of The Metal Crypt?
Max: Well, we are on a large label... Seriously speaking the budget of the video was nowhere near as big as it would seem. The video, or short sci-fi epic, was directed by a good friend of ours, Sami "Jämy" Jämsén of Riot Unit (http://riot-unit.com/). He did it with a very reasonable price as a favor to us. He's done videos for a bunch of bands, such as Machinae Supremacy, Deathchain and Suburban Tribe, but I think this is his best work yet. Sami has already mentioned his interest in directing a prequel for "Maelstrom of Black Light" on several occasions, but the final decision is obviously up to Napalm as they would fund it.
This is what Sami wrote about the video in his Facebook: "I just directed a movie about 4 insane asylum convicts that escape a maximum security space prison and start a chain reaction that causes the destruction of a whole solar system". His megalomania matches ours...
Luxi: How important do you see it for bands to make videos nowadays? No doubts, it's one of the strongest ways to get your band promoted around - especially in today's world when we have the Internet with all its possibilities...
Max: This is what I think of them: it's no use to make crappy videos, but the good ones help the band out a lot. If a video becomes a YouTube hit or something, the band gets a lot of attention, which is hard to master these days. In our case, the "Maestrom of Black Light" video is an extension of the visual side of Chaosweaver, and I see it really important. So, Sami Jämsén and Mika Kettunen, if you're reading this, a thousand gargantuan thank you's!
Luxi: Listening to "Maelstorm of Black Light", I cannot help be reminded of Dimmu Borgir's musical song arrangements: It's got quite many layers to it - the vocals, the music, the feeling, etc., aren't that far removed from a similar musical road that those Norwegian Black Metal giants have been wandering through for years. I suppose this isn't the first time you've heard this Dimmu Borgir comparison... or is it?
Max: Yeah, some people compare us to Dimmu Borgir, which is natural, because both bands play extreme Metal with pompous orchestrations. In my opinion, being a Dimmu fan myself, those guys like the up-tempo stuff more as we tend to keep things weirder, mid-tempo and "movie-like".
"Maelstrom of Black Light" is probably the "poppest" song on the album. I don't remember the exact words, but someone commented it in YouTube in the vein of "sounds like Elton John only not as heavy". I thought it was absolutely hilarious! We actually made the basic structure and most of the orchestrations of that song in one day with Jack at the previous location of Studio Perkele in 2008. Usually the best stuff comes out just like that, during one day.
Luxi: Does it irritate you that you are sometimes compared to Dimmu Borgir?
Max: Everyone has a right to have an opinion, even a wrong one, heh... Seriously, we don't get compared to Dimmu that often, so it doesn't bother us at all. Dimmu is a great band, and the guys are cool too. I've met them a couple of times in my day job, as a rock journalist.
Luxi: Johan Edlund from Tiamat did the cover art for "Enter the Realm...". How did your roads cross in the first place, and could you tell more about this kind of avantgarde-ish looking cover artwork? Did you get exactly the kind of artwork from him that you originally hoped for, and how well do you believe the artwork reflects the whole concept you had for "Enter the Realm of Doppelgänger"?
Max: I met Johan for the first time at Woodhouse Studio in Hagen, Germany. Nuclear Blast had flown a bunch of journalists in to pre-listen to the new album, "Amanethes", by Tiamat. This was in 2008, a couple of months before "Puppetmaster" came out. We had a really good time, and ended up being absolutely shitfaced on Jack Daniels and German beer. We've kept in touch from time to time on Facebook after that.
I originally asked him if he'd be interested in doing the clear vocals on "Ragnarök Sunset", the ending track of the album. He immediately responded 'yes'. But as it turned out, he moved and didn't have enough time to build a vocal booth to his new apartment in time. I had previously complimented some of his paintings, so he offered to paint us an album cover instead, because he was feeling bad about the fact that he couldn't provide the vocals.
I had seen the painting that we chose for the cover before and it kept bugging me, because I thought it would be absolutely perfect for it. In my mind it reflects the concept of the album better than anything I'd seen before or since. On the album Doppelgängers are shadow souls, nightmare reflections of our true selves. If you look at the painting with this in mind, you'll get my point. A nightmare to some, revelation to others.
Luxi: Do you believe that it's possible that your cooperation with Johan may even continue in one way or the other in the future?
Max: I sure as fuck hope so! His paintings have the same kind of an avant-gardist edge as our music, so it's a great match. Johan is such a cool guy in every sense of the word, a really, really nice and generous character and one of the most talented and underrated songwriters of our time. I've actually been listening to Tiamat's discography the whole morning, from start to finish. I'm really looking forward to their upcoming album, which I think is in mixing at the moment. It is an absolute honor to be label mates with those guys.
Luxi: Talking about your current label, the Austrian Napalm Records... How did you end up signing to them anyway? If I remember correctly, you once told me that Finnish label Spinefarm Records also showed some interest in releasing Chaosweaver's second album, so I think something happened along the way. Why did you chose Napalm Records' offer instead of Spinefarm's. What happened there?
Max: We needed a worldwide label with a great distribution and marketing network to take us to the next level. Napalm showed interested right away, and the label guys seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the album and future cooperation. When I sent Napalm an email and a link to the stream of "Doppelgänger", the A&R guy Sebastian replied less than an hour later, and promised to send us a contract draft the very next day - and he did!
Our music is so "big" that it requires much larger budgets and more staff than what smaller labels could offer. Spinefarm did show interest in us, but it took six months for them to ultimately say 'no thanks'. I think the reason for the rejection was that they didn't believe in the selling potential of this sort of stuff. Napalm has Central Europe covered really well, and that will most likely be our number one target market, so we're glad to have joined their impressive roster in that aspect as well.
Luxi: You also used to run your own label, Shadow World Records, and released some albums like Chaosweaver's debut album, "Puppetmaster of Pandemonium". Did you ever think of releasing the band's second album on Shadow World at some point, or was this possibility basically out of the question, since you wanted to sign Chaosweaver to a more established and bigger label that would have a better ability to promote the band in the global music market?
Max: The artistic side of our second album was such an overwhelming task, that releasing the album via my own label would have most likely sent me to the asylum. As I said, we needed a big worldwide company to release it. If I would have released it through Shadow World, it would not have been released properly outside Finland, which would have sucked major donkey balls. Our intention is not to keep Chaosweaver a secret, it is the exact opposite.
Luxi: In my opinion Chaosweaver is quite an oddball among the other today's Finnish Metal bands: there's no other band coming from Finland at the moment that's even close to Chaosweaver, neither music or image-wise. Do you see this as an advantage or disadvantage for the band?
Max: Artistically speaking, it is a huge advantage. We do our own thing - we are "naturally original", so to speak. We don't try to sound as bizarre as we can; we just mix our creative juices together and make the best albums we possibly can. And you're right, we do have our own sound and image, and we are quite alone in what we do.
As for selling records, we'll have wait and see how things work. "Doppelgänger" is our first worldwide release, and it might be a bit difficult to market. The response to our new video has been very positive, and it attracted over 8 000 views in its first week, which was more than we expected.
Luxi: What kind of plans do you have for live shows. Where and when will your next gigs take place?
Max: We are currently discussing about that. Nothing has been set in stone yet.
Luxi: Are there some plans to make a Chaosweaver gig a bit of out of ordinary?
Max: Well, if you make cinematic music, you've got to have the visual side of things well thought of... A graphic artist friend or ours, Hans-Peter Weckman, made videos for each of the songs we played live after the release of "Puppetmaster". Those videos played in the background on a huge screen. We might do something like that as well in the future.
Luxi: What do you hope to achieve with Chaosweaver in the next 2-3 years or so - except better gig raiders and lots of fame and fortune?
Max: This is what I really wish for: "Doppelgänger" sells enough to keep the label happy, so we have a chance to make more albums. It would also be really cool if we could make a living from making music.
I hope the gap between albums number two and three won't be as long as with the first two. It would be great to get the next one out in 2014. It takes a lot of time to finish "a cinematic Extreme Metal song", so making a whole album is slow and painful - but at the same time full of pride and pleasure.
Luxi: I happen to know that you have a couple of other 'project bands' going on, so I was just wondering how on earth can you find time for everything?
Max: Yeah, I've got several projects in the works. We recently finished recording a debut album of my own band, so to speak, Kuolemanlaakso. I play guitar and keys in it, and wrote the whole album by myself. The rest of the band helped with the arrangements, of course. The other members are Albert (guitar, Chaosweaver, ex-Verjnuarmu), Mikko Kotamäki (vox, Swallow the Sun, Barren Earth), Tuomo Räisänen (bass, The Nibiruan, Elenium) and Toni Ronkainen (drums, Discard, Cult of Endtime).
The album is very much inspired by "Eparistera Daimones" by Triptykon. It was a huge privilege and honor to have V. Santura of Triptykon and Dark Fortress to record, mix, master and co-produce it at his Woodshed Studio, in Germany. He even played guitar on five tracks on the album. He'll finish mixing it in the next few weeks, which is superb. Really heavy but catchy shit coming up, keep your eyes open.
I also play guitar in a currently untitled traditional Doom Metal band. That's actually my most active band as far as rehearsing is concerned. We've got about an album's worth of stuff ready, but we haven't been able to find a vocalist for it, which has been quite frustrating. We've tested about five or six guys, but no "eureka!" moments yet.
In addition to those, I have a lot of not-at-all serious projects just for fun. Here's a list: Yhden Tähden Sheriffi (Western Booze-Drinking Rock), Eyestabberz (Gansta Rap), Spunk (HC Punk), Gdansk (Danzig influenced Blues Metal) and most recently His Gray Eminence, a one-man Black Metal band, which I might turn into a real project, because the fast outbursts of hate seem to flow from me very naturally. I've got three songs demoed so far. It reminds me of the early stuff by Emperor and Mayhem. It's fun to play guitar at 220 bpm.
Besides musical projects and doing freelance journalist stuff during the day, I'm also writing my first book, but it's too early to go into details yet. How do I find time? Good question. It's all about prioritizing. Right now I spend most of my days doing interviews and taking care of Chaosweaver's "office" stuff. I've had to cut down my day job hours, which is a financial suicide, but hey, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.
Luxi: Well, I think I got it mostly covered what I had in my mind regarding Chaosweaver's excellent second album, "Enter the Realm of Doppelgänger". Thank you Max for your time and for sharing some of your thoughts with the readers of The Metal Crypt - and last but not least, I want to sincerely wish you all the best in all your future endeavors. Let the last words be yours, so go ahead Max...
Max: Thank you very much, Luxi! It's a pleasure to do interviews with you, because you always dive deep into the subject and never go from where the fence is lowest. Respect. A tap on the shoulder for you, dear reader, if you made it this far! All I want to say is this: support your favorite bands by buying their albums and keep the underground alive!
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