Interview with guitarist and vocalist Mikko Myllykangas, guitarist Antti. J. Karjalainen, bassist Joni Tauriainen and drummer Tuska E.
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 29, 2022
Antipope is a Finnish metal band from Oulu who have been around for 18 years and have released six full-length studio albums and many shorter releases so far. The band has always had an open-minded approach toward their music; they have mixed many elements within the music they have created, from black metal to industrial metal to gothic metal to pure heavy metal, etc. Talk about an obscure and even bizarre chameleon.
The band's sixth album, Rex Mundi, came out on Moribund Records on October 28, 2022, and that triggered us here at The Metal Crypt to try and learn more about this relatively unknown Finnish metal entity.
We sent a bunch of questions their way and the whole band gave us good insight into the current and past of Antipope... read on!
Good day... how's life up there in Oulu, Finland, these days? Waiting for the first snow to cover the ground?
Mikko: The wait is finally over, the first snow is here, and hopefully it stays until March 2023.
THE MAKING OF REX MUNDI
First off, I guess we need to talk about your sixth full-length studio album, Rex Mundi, which came out on October 28, 2022, on Moribund Records. What was it like to record this album compared to the previous album, Apostle of Infinite Joy? What did you learn from the previous recording sessions that served to make the recording of this new album smoother?
Mikko: Well, Rex Mundi turned out to be our first proper concept album with a huge, epic medieval story that unfolds over the course of nine songs and two instrumental tracks. We wanted to match the production to the grandiosity of the songs and the story. Previously, we've used a lot of synthesizers to build the atmosphere of the songs, but this time we used full sampled orchestras and choirs to give the album that extra epic and organic feel.
We engineer, record, and produce our album by ourselves, so there's always so much to learn in the making of an Antipope album. There are obviously many things that were done differently this time around. On Rex Mundi, I think we did a pretty good job of capturing very organic guitar sounds. We used our Diezel amps that we use when playing live to capture the rhythm guitars and a Marshall Plexi for solos. It might sound like we've just been nerding with the guitar tones, but recording through a real tube amp makes a huge difference in how you play in comparison to playing through a plug-in or a modeling amplifier. Also, we used a new tube microphone to record vocals, which gave the album more clarity and a vintage vibe at the same time. And this is the first Antipope album to feature all band members performing background vocals and choir parts. So yeah, there were so many new things while making Rex Mundi that I guess we could talk only about that!
Did any of your roles change from the previous songwriting sessions or have they pretty much remained the same from the last album to this new one?
Antti: For this album it was Mikko and Joni doing most of the writing. I did some things here and there, but that was mainly during the recording process rather than composing. Roles are not really defined, as everyone can come up with an idea or concept which is then taken forwards together. Usually, the ideas do not end up sounding like they did originally, but that usually just means they didn't sound Antipope enough in the beginning.
Joni: I can't comment on how the songwriting process and roles worked in the past as I joined Antipope when the previous album, Apostle of Infinite Joy, was already pretty much composed and done. I think we have mixed roles, and everybody can contribute to the process if they have good riffs or ideas. Everything goes through Mikko's filter and ultimately Antipope is his vision, and he has his "magical" way of twisting ideas so that they start to sound like Antipope songs.
How would you describe your role within Antipope in a few words?
Antti: I feel like everyone wears quite a few different hats when it comes to Antipope. Personally, I feel like recently I've dabbled more in the production side rather than composing. That may or may not be indicative of what I shall focus on during the next album project.
Joni: I'm here to make my bandmates sound better.
Mikko: Joni definitely has made us all sound better with his bass playing since he joined the band. I've always had a huge appreciation for great bass players who lift the band to another level, you know, players like Steve Harris, Geddy Lee, Steve DiGiorgio, and so on. But to have a great, creative bass player in your band, wow, that's something else. Since Joni joined the band in 2019, I've been able to focus a lot more on my singing than trying to play guitar at the same time with 100% intensity. Antipope's songs do have quite a lot to sing and are physically challenging to perform for two hours. That's why it is great to be able to trust other band members to carry the instrumentation of the song. Tuska and Joni take care of the crushing rhythms and Antti polishes everything with melodies and I don't have to work my ass off while singing and trying to play everything on guitar. Of course, it is great to join them with guitar during the instrumental sections, too!
I guess I should say something about my role, too. So far, I have been the main composer in the band, and I also take care of the song lyrics.
As Rex Mundi is a concept album, would you kindly elaborate on the concept behind it? Apparently, we'll go back in ancient history...
Mikko: Like you said, Rex Mundi is a concept album in a very strict meaning of the word. The story presented on the album takes place during the Albigensian Crusade or "Cathar Wars" in Southern France in the early 1200s. I've known about the Cathars for a couple of decades but haven't really thought about writing an album about them. But then by some coincidence I read about the Albigensian Crusade, which was fought against the Cathars, who were considered heretics by the Roman Catholic church, while I was looking for a concept or theme for the album. It immediately felt right, and more I read about events that took place roughly between 1208 and 1240 the more I was inspired to write the lyrics to describe certain events and individuals who partook in the Crusade either on the side of the Crusaders or as a persecuted heretic. Of course, there's a lot of popular fiction related to Cathars – Da Vinci Code is just one to be mentioned – but what I wanted to do is to get as close to the historical facts as possible and then add some occult twists to the story in an attempt to explain the brutal violence that took place in the 1200s. You've probably heard a saying "Kill them all, let God sort them out," well, that or something along those lines was actually uttered by a bishop who participated in the Crusade according to chronicles written at the time. But like I said, there's also fiction and some occult elements on the album to spice things up. And the two main characters – one of which ends up being burned alive – are purely products of my imagination but represent aspects of real people.
Making a concept album is a hard and ambitious project, so did you face any real obstacles when you were putting this album together?
Mikko: I've been wanting to write a concept album of this caliber for a long time, so in many ways it was awesome to finally put my mind into a project like this. Once the musical direction was found after five or six song drafts, it was quite easy to write the rest of the music. Also, the songs on Rex Mundi tell the story from both sides, as I mentioned, and therefore there was a lot of historical reference points to work on from an emotional point of view. It is always important for me to be able to see in my mind what the subjects of my songs would see and how they would think about their surroundings. Now that I could sort of get into the heads of real people who lived and left their mark in history 800 years ago, it was easier to come up with the lyrics for this album than for any of the previous ones.
Do you need a certain time and space when you get inspired by something and start writing lyrics for the band?
Mikko: We always compose the music first. Only after that I can access the emotional landscape that the songs are presenting. Once I can feel what the songs want to tell me, then I write lyrics down pretty quickly, or at least the first draft, which then gets polished. Usually, it's me with headphones in some quiet space with a notepad where I get the lyrics written. Often, a phrase or a line pops up in my head while walking my dogs or doing something totally unrelated to music. That's why I feel it's very important for the creative process to give your subconsciousness time and space to do its magic.
MUSIC AND WORDS ARE EQUALLY IMPORTANT
How do you see the interaction between the band's music and lyrics? Do you think it's essential both elements support each other?
Mikko: Definitely, the music and words are both at the core of what Antipope does. That's why I never write any lyrics before I have the music ready. Once I have the music, I do my best not to try too hard to find the idea for the song, but I try to let my subconscious do its tricks. That way the album process stays fresh. First, we compose the music, then I let the music tell me what I should write the lyrics about. And finally, when I do the vocals for the album, I get to experience the story of the songs in a very physical manner, as I try to express the feelings and the meanings of the words as fully as possible and from the point of view of whoever is the subject of the song.
When listening to Rex Mundi, one notices these Maiden-ish guitar harmonies here and there in some of the songs, so my obvious question is how much has this dynamic Murray/Smith duo inspired and influenced you as guitarists and how do you guys overall pay more attention to the importance of harmonic and catchy melody lines and stuff?
Antti: I actually don't really listen to Maiden that much, but I am aware of the influence from Mikko's vantage point. That said, I do enjoy making and playing those Maiden-like harmonies with Mikko a lot. I feel like our temperament of playing matches nicely for that specific sound.
OF CATHAR HERETICS
The album's cover art is eye-catching, too. There seems to be the grand finale of a witch trial being illustrated on the cover. How did you find Danny Gonazalez to do the album's art for Rex Mundi, and do you think he pulled it off the way you wanted?
Mikko: Actually, it's the burning of Cathar heretics that's taking place in the cover. The front cover depicts things that happen in the last song, "Hell on Earth." Like I said, there was a lot going on during the Cathar Wars, and for example, the system of Inquisition was established at that time to root out those Cathar heretics.
Moribund Records helped us find Danny, and after our initial exchange it was clear that he was the perfect person for this project. I had the initial idea that the artwork should be a bit like a medieval miniature painting, with weird perspective and showing things that could not be seen in the real world and that's what Danny achieved with a great historical accuracy, especially if you look at the back cover and all the armor and weapons that are being used. Danny also drew seven black-and-white drawings to go along with the songs on the album, so each has a picture or part of the cover artwork representing them. That was also a dream come true for me, as I love those kinds of concept albums (or albums in general) that overwhelm you with amazing graphics and create a world where you can spend hours and hours while listening to the album.
It's kind of hard to put a certain genre category on your music because you have given yourselves the freedom to combine many genres into one package. Could you tell our readers why you have chosen perhaps rocky yet challenging road?
Mikko: Yeah, over the years it has become clear that the style we have chosen represents a kind of anti-style for some purists and members of the metal press, mostly in Finland. Outside of Finland, what Antipope does is greeted with enthusiasm and interest. Maybe it is here in Finland that if you don't faithfully copy some established band or stick with some "cool" subgenre of metal, then you don't know what you do. At least that's what we hear in Finland quite often. But Antipope knows very well what we want to do, and we have known it from the beginning.
I never consciously decided to take this "challenging" road or any road, really. I love traditional heavy metal and prog bands of the '70s, and I also love '90s black metal bands, especially those who incorporated interesting melodies and bombastic atmosphere in their music. Those two things, heavy metal and gothic/symphonic black metal have always been in the DNA of Antipope. Some 10 years ago we tried a more "industrial" sound, too, but I got bored with it pretty quickly, and since our 2017 album Denial/Survival, we've been steadily moving towards our current "New Wave of Blackened Heavy Metal" style (hah!)
MIXED SOUP OF INFLUENCES AND INSPIRATIONS
Antipope's music has always been kind of a chameleon with its different colors; changing its metallic hues nearly constantly, from one album to the next. One just can never be 100% certain what to expect from your next release. Is that something that you are going to keep up on the band's future releases?
Mikko: Like I said, on our last three albums, Rex Mundi included, we have been going back to our roots which are set in heavy metal (and power metal) and black metal with some spice added from 1970s prog more and more. Personally, I feel that there was not a huge leap from Apostle of Infinite Joy to Rex Mundi, we just emphasized different parts of our music a bit differently this time. So, I would not be surprised if the next Antipope album is roughly in the same music category. But you never know, we might always do what Ulver did in the late 1990s...
Anyway, to be honest, I also feel that Antipope being "a musical chameleon" or "a genre-eel" has been exaggerated, especially when it comes to our most recent albums. From the point of view of putting different styles on one album, I think Antipope has never been even close to what Queen did on Night at the Opera or anything that Frank Zappa put on any one of his albums.
You guys have morphed your sound on every record you've done but have always done it with consistency, so fans know right away it's Antipope, unlike many bands who merge genres. Do you find it easier to work this way when there are no true boundaries for your musical approach?
Antti: I have come to believe that we have a system by which we work when it comes to writing music. To what extent it is a conscious effort and what percentage comes from the gut, I cannot say for certain. The method is often quite laborious as at first. We usually have something that sounds interesting then through a painstaking process of polishing we end up with an Antipope sounding end product. It's often during this polishing when one can identify what I've come to call "the Antipope effect." So, I guess it's not really an easy way of making music, but it's our way, nonetheless.
Mikko: Yeah, I can definitely see the process Antti is describing. First of all, the new music that we write needs to be interesting and resonate on an emotional level for us. I cannot decide beforehand what kind of music I want to write, because it might not speak to me on a deeper level.
You mentioned that although Antipope's style has superficially changed over the years, you can always recognize the band immediately. That's very important to me, as I am not experimenting with different styles just for the sake of experimenting. Everything, every scale, every rhythmic structure, all of it, must resonate and point in a specific direction or toward a goal for the album that we are making. I would like to think that the reason you can always recognize Antipope's music although there might be some stylistic changes is that we are honest about the artistic and emotional expression that we put behind the music. We do not try to be something other than what we are. We are not using different styles and musical elements to hide ourselves, but rather to try to express what we feel is necessary to achieve whatever artistic goal we might have.
What drives you as an artist? What keeps you motivated?
Mikko: I guess the two main things are to get to know where I am as a person at a certain moment in time when I'm making a new album, and the opportunity to learn new singing, playing, recording, mixing, and production techniques. Of course, there's a drive to create these new worlds through our albums. But the fact that there is so much to learn, for example about different singing techniques and how to incorporate them seamlessly into my singing is very inspiring. Most recently, I have been listening to a lot of Lara Fabian – of all artists out there! Her control of her voice and at the same time honesty and rawness in her emotional expression is out of this world. Don't get me wrong, I listen a lot to metal and rock, too, but especially when it comes to singing, I find vocalists from totally different genres more inspirational as they are not confined by "metal" singing.
As Antipope's music isn't limited to a certain genre category, does that help you try out different things drumming-wise, kind of feeding your inner flame to both evolve and find new ways to express yourself behind your drum artillery? I mean, wouldn't it be kinda boring for you to do nonstop blastbeat mayhem all the time?
Tuska E.: Antipope's versatile music already helps me keep drum playing interesting. There are plenty of traditional riffs that need traditional drum patterns, tight and good sounding drum grooves which are great fun to play. Of course, there are a lot of blastbeats, but it's nice to add some twists and turns here and there. And, of course, there are those powerful black metal riffs which just drive me to hit the drums as hard and brutally as I can without any extra gimmicks.
You have played drums for many years, do you still try to find some time for trying out different drum techniques that could be utilized in the band's songwriting process?
Tuska E.: Antipope's music evolves all the time, and it drives me to explore new stuff all the time. And the new stuff for me usually means going back to the roots of rock and heavy metal drumming, getting inspiration from the forefathers of heavy drumming. It's not a secret that we're not getting any younger, but the music remains fierce and fast. So, the new techniques for me also mean ways to develop techniques to play fast and hard and still be able to play our music for many hours in rehearsals and gigs.
COVID meant tough times for many gig-booking agencies and venues over the past two years. Many venues closed their doors for good and some booking agencies ceased to exist due to financial crises. Did any of this affect the comings and goings of Antipope? Did this unfortunate period somehow alter the existence of your band or did it only add more fuel to the fire?
Joni: Of course, it sucked that we could not play any gigs after our Apostle of Infinite Joy album had come out in the early days of the pandemic. But the whole pandemic period actually strengthened our bonds and made us rehearse even more because we didn't have anything else to do. That also meant that we had plenty of time to write and record Rex Mundi and make it as good as it could be.
SITUATION OF METAL VENUES IN OULU, FINLAND
What does the club scene look like in Oulu, Finland, nowadays? Do metal bands still have venues play at up there in the north or did COVID kill some of them, too?
Joni: We lost our biggest venue, Club Teatria, due to COVID. It also killed a couple of smaller venues. Fortunately, places like 45 Special are still up and running and it seems like we are slowly getting back to how things were before COVID hit. At least places like Kantakrouvi and 45 Special are still booking local bands from all sorts of genres.
What's in store for the band, gigging-wise?
Mikko: The rest of the 2022 is a relatively quiet time for us. A lot of media, of course, due to the release of Rex Mundi, but the gigging restarts next year. Hopefully we get to present Rex Mundi in as many venues as possible, first in Finland and then abroad.
That was all from my part, so I want to thank you sincerely for all of your time in getting this interview done, and I want to wish you all the very best with your future endeavors with the band. Now the last comments, swear words, whatever, are yours. The word is free...
Antti: Support your local metal scene, attend those live shows, stay metal!
Mikko: If you haven't already, go check out Rex Mundi! It is available on all streaming platforms, on YouTube, everywhere! And come see Antipope ceremony live in 2023. Stay blasphemous!
|Other information about Antipope on this site|
|Review: Rex Mundi|
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