Interview with guitarist Kasperi Heikkinen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: May 19, 2019
Merging Flare is a melodic Heavy Metal band from Finland that was started in 2001 by true guitar virtuoso, Kasperi Heikkinen, who has earned his stripes in several other bands (Guardians of Mankind, Conquest, Amberian Dawn, U.D.O./Dirkschneider, Beast in Black, etc.). The band's debut album, Reverence, saw the light of day in 2011 and it was well received across the world despite little promotion by their previous label, Disentertainment Records.
It took eight more years before the band's follow-up, Revolt Regime, was ready to be unleashed. Germany's Ram It Down Records set June 14 as the release date.
Merging Flare feature eighties and early nineties old school Heavy Metal in their sound, with catchy melodies, infectious choruses and attacking guitars. In a way, one could say they are a tribute to those jolly good bands that made Heavy Metal great again.
The Metal Crypt contacted the band's main spokesman Kasperi Heikkinen in order to find out more about the band's new coming, so to speak.
Luxi: How's everything, Kasperi? Life's keeping you busy, but in a good way?
Kasperi: Everything's going really well, keeping very busy but that's a good thing. We're waiting for our second album to be released on June 14 and I'm also really looking forward to the next Beast in Black shows in Japan in a couple of weeks. Then the festival season begins in June.
ALBUM NUMBER TWO – REVOLT REGIME
Luxi: It's been "a while", eight years to be precise, since Merging Flare released their debut album, Reverence, back in 2011. You became involved with U.D.O./Dirkschneider for four years then you joined Beast in Black while vocalist Matias Palm joined Domination Black, etc. Are these the main reasons for delaying the release of Revolt Regime or are there perhaps other reasons behind the delay?
Kasperi: Yes, those are the main reasons it took so long to complete the second album. I was really busy with the touring and everything else that comes with it so naturally we couldn't really work on Merging Flare that intensively or regularly. Then we also mutually decided to go separate ways from Disentertainment, the label that released Reverence, which meant we had to find another label to release this new album. That took quite a while as well.
Luxi: To me, and many others as well, the album's worth the wait. It's a really dynamic album, with excellent guitar harmonies and melodies, top-notch solo work, etc. paired with Matias' phenomenal and varied vocal range, making it one of the better albums in its genre (melodic, guitar-driven Heavy Metal) this year. Were there other challenges besides commitments in your personal life? Undoubtedly, time is always a challenge. Sometimes 24/7 just isn't enough...
Kasperi: Thank you, that's great to hear you recognize the most important elements that make this album what it is. We really put a lot of effort and focus into songwriting and arranging the songs so the whole album would be an enjoyable and interesting experience for all the fans of this kind of melodic old school Heavy Metal and we worked really hard in the studio to capture the magic on tape as well. I think the biggest challenge was to try to keep the whole thing as fresh, natural and spontaneous as possible without over producing anything but still capturing the right energy and power in the songs.
Luxi: I assume the album was recorded at Sonic Pump Studios. What can you tell us about the recording process? It was recorded it phases over several months, correct?
Kasperi: Actually, we started recording the basic tracks (drums and bass guitar) at my summer cottage in the woods in Northern Finland after midsummer 2014. This took about a week. After completing that we slowly started recording everything else (guitars, vocals and keyboards) at Content Union Studio in Helsinki with some additional vocal and keyboard tracks recorded at Sonic Pump. I think we had most of the material recorded by the spring of 2017, so it was a pretty time-consuming and arduous process altogether. You can also find a couple of videos on YouTube from the recording sessions if you're interested. ;)
Luxi: How did you share the songwriting for this album?
Kasperi: All the music was written by me (except for the cover song, of course) but we finished and arranged all the songs together with our drummer Henri (Pyy) and bass player Harri (Leinonen) just jamming and trying out different arrangement options and ideas in the rehearsal room. Of course, the album is a mutual band effort since everyone in the band has their own style and they leave their mark with their interpretations. That's how I like to work on new songs, together as a team and that seems to be the most effective and rewarding way to do it when it comes to writing music for Merging Flare.
Luxi: You had Mattes Pfeiffer mix the album and Stefan Kaufmann (ex-Accept) to take care of all the mastering. How was it working with these two gentlemen?
Kasperi: It was really easy working with them since they both are real professionals with lots of experience. When Mattes had a new mix of a song, it was usually at least 95% ready and there were just a couple of little things here and there that still had to be tweaked or changed. Whatever those little tweaks were he always got them right for the next mix. And since we didn't have any kind of deadline for the album, he could work on the mixes when he had some free time from all the other projects he had going on. Same thing with Stefan, he did a quick test mastering of one of the songs first and it was so convincing that he ended up doing the mastering for the whole album.
Luxi: Did you learn anything new while you were working with Mattes and Stefan?
Kasperi: I just learned how to avoid certain unnecessary things in the recording process and how to do things more effectively in general. It's always a learning experience when working with seasoned professionals.
Luxi: As you have been playing with some great musicians and been involved with quite a few projects during your career, how has all this experience helped you get to know the right people in the music business?
Kasperi: Of course, you get to know a lot of people, fellow musicians, technicians, business people, journalists, etc. when you're playing in different bands and projects. One really good example is Mattes whom I got to know when I joined U.D.O. at the beginning of 2013. Nowadays he's one of my best friends and he also did an absolutely phenomenal job on this new album. The result wouldn't be anywhere near as good without his valuable input.
BACK TO THE ROOTS OF HEAVY METAL
Luxi: Musically, the new album's heavily rooted in eighties and early nineties Heavy Metal, flirting clearly with such names as Helloween, Accept, Gamma Ray, Running Wild and the like. Did you want to bring some of your favorite musical influences to the songs on this record as a tribute to some of your childhood idols/inspirations?
Kasperi: Yes, that's exactly how I think about it, putting together all the different elements that I enjoy about certain bands and artists. I think it's pretty easy to spot different influences when listening to our music. It's a conscious thing to pay tribute to all the artists who have influenced us throughout the years. The music that we play with Merging Flare is the kind of music we would like to listen to ourselves, that's probably the best way to put it ;)
Luxi: On "Sin Against the Sinner", starting at the 0:18 second mark, your guitar part reminds me of Running Wild. I suppose that's hardly a coincidence, or is it? ;o)
Kasperi: It's a very conscious thing and a humble homage to one of my all-time favorite bands. I intentionally wrote that song as a tribute to Running Wild so there's no big secret behind it, hehe.
Luxi: How would you say this new album is different compared to your debut album?
Kasperi: The whole new album feels much more solid and cohesive compared to the first one. The songs are written, performed, arranged and structured better and the whole album feels more coherent as a whole. Definitely a big leap forward in many ways.
Luxi: As was the case with your debut, you recorded a cover for this new album, which may well surprise some listeners as it is Laura Branigan's "The Lucky One" from her famous third album, Self Control from 1984. Felt like breaking some boundaries a little bit this time around, eh?
Kasperi: Well, we just thought that "a Metal band covering another Metal band" felt kinda boring so we decided to think about something else this time. We have always enjoyed pop music from the '80s and there are a lot of truly great songs to choose from. We all liked "The Lucky One" because it's a great melodic song and a much less obvious option than her most well-known song "Self Control". I think we succeeded really well with our version of the song and stayed true to the original spirit of the song.
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
Luxi: What kind of expectations do you have regarding this second album?
Kasperi: Of course, I hope all fans of good melodic Heavy Metal will find it and check out the album. It's a really good display of our skills and vision and a much-needed breath of fresh air in the genre that hasn't really had anything too interesting to offer for a long, long time. I'm sure most people who give it a spin will enjoy it very much and I hope it will also generate some fuss among the heavy metal community.
Luxi: Once this new album is out, is it possible that Merging Flare will be more active gigging-wise?
Kasperi: We have no plans with Merging Flare at the moment besides the album release on June 14 because I'm simply way too busy with Beast in Black for the rest of this year. I have some ideas, riffs and melodies for new songs, though, so maybe we will start working on new Merging Flare material when the time is right, let's see. Fingers crossed ;)
Luxi: How do you see Merging Flare's status in Finland? What about outside of Finland? Is there a better market for this style of melodic and more straightforward Heavy Metal outside of Finland, based on your own experience?
Kasperi: I know we are a pretty unknown band because we haven't really done much in the last couple of years. I think it doesn't really matter if the people who know the band and listen to our music are from Finland or elsewhere, music is an international language that crosses all borders. Of course, there are some countries in Central Europe, like Germany for example, where this kind of music has always been popular so that's naturally one place where there would be a potential market for Merging Flare as well.
Luxi: Will there be Merging Flare album number three in the future?
Kasperi: Yes, of course, there is always a chance for that, just like I pointed out in my answer to question #14. Never say never. But if that happens it will take at least a couple of years, minimum, because of my other commitments.
Luxi: If Merging Flare was a vehicle, what kind of a vehicle it would be? Hopefully, you have a pretty good imagination as well, haha!
Kasperi: It would definitely be the DeLorean time machine from the Back to the Future trilogy. That way we could travel back in time to the simpler and less complicated times when there was only real music played by real musicians. And autotune, the tool of the devil, was only a dystopian nightmare in some madman's sick and twisted imagination ;)
Luxi: Thank you, Kasperi, for taking your time with my questions and in the same breath, I want to wish you all the best with your bands Merging Flare and Beast in Black. May both of their roads be full of rewards and surprises... And as usual, the last comment is left for you, so be my guest, sir!
Kasperi: No problem Luxi, it was my pleasure! Thanks for the interview and interesting questions. Please check out the band and the new album, I can assure you won't be disappointed if you're a fan of good melodic Heavy Metal! See you all somewhere down the road and let's have a beer or two, cheers peeps! ;)
|Other information about Merging Flare on this site|
|Review: Revolt Regime|
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