21st Century Metal
- Hi, Mikko! Congratulations for the 1st full album 'The Spirit Of Ukko' via Spinefarm! It's been more than a year since you released the debut EP 'Winter In June' from Rage Of Achilles, but could you tell us first how you got a deal with Rage Of Achilles back then?
Mikko Salovaara (MS): Yes, of course, Masa! Duncan from Rage of Achilles read a review of our second demo 'Born Under The Northern Lights' and surfed to our website. After hearing the clips of the demo-songs he got excited and wanted to sign us. Winter In June
- You released 2 demos before the deal with Rage Of Achilles, but were there any other labels in Finland that were interested in your music prior to that deal?
MS: Yes, in Finland and elsewhere. But Rage offered the most generous deal so we took that after considering a while.
- Let me ask you about the band now. KIUAS means a "sauna stove" in Finnish and it's quite a peculiar name for a metal band in my opinion. Why this name?
MS: The Sauna is an extremely important part of finnish culture. Everyone who comes to Finland should spend a sauna evening with some finnish friends. With the right people and the right surroundings it's an unforgettable experience! It has been that way for centuries, and since finnish culture is an important part of the Kiuas concept, the name fit us very well.
Also, "hiidenkiuas", which could be translated as "demon's sauna stove" refers to the ancient tombs which are huge piles of stones all around Finland. There are a lot of legends associated with the word, too many to mention here, but I'll just say that the Kiuas can be found in a lot of finnish folklore including the finnish epic poem, the Kalevala. Also in this mythic environment it is an object of heat and power.
- Did you go through some line-up changes since the band was formed? Please tell us the brief history until KIUAS was born as well!
MS: Me, our drummer Markku, our bass player Teemu and our keyboard player have been playing together since we were about 15 or something, also in other groups with different people. We found our talented vocalist Ilja at a Maiden concert afterparty somewhere around 2000-2001 and decided to get serious. Luckily we have managed to carry on with the same line-up after that.
Since then things have progressed steadily: 2002 we managed to record our first demo 'The Discipline Of Steel', where we were still looking for our sound; in 2003 we recorded our second demo 'Born Under The Northern Lights' which was a bit of a breakthrough in our musical evolution and got us signed with ROA; the Ep 'Winter In June' was released through ROA in 2004; and now finally our debut album has been unleashed through Spinefarm!
- It's really tough to label your music style. It's neither black nor death metal and neiter power nor viking metal... but it still has everything from all these fields. How would you categorize KIUAS if you need to?
MS: If it's tough for you it's even harder for me!!! I agree though, those genres sound somewhat fitting. Although I have to say that "viking metal" is misleading, since our "pagan" influences - in our concept and lyrics - are totally based on FINNISH pagan myths and history. The Vikings were essentially norwegian, swedish and danish. And by the way, this does not mean that we are nationalistic, we just feel that it's natural to draw influences from your own roots. Maybe words like "epic" or "folklore" would describe this aspect better.
There are power or melodic metal elements there definately, but this side of KIUAS could be also described as elements of "traditional heavy metal" or something like that. Also, there is a "symphonic" side with influences from classical music, just listen to "And The North Star Cried". I hope we can explore this direction further in the future too and use more acoustic classical instruments. I hope this answers your question!
- Who is your major influences or inspiration? C.O.B.? MOONSORROW?
MS: Both are great bands and it's interesting that you mentioned those two since they are very different but still have similarities with our sound. Always when I'm asked this question, the first thing I have to say is that most of my inspiration and influence probably comes from other things besides music: life in general, history, global events, other arts, literature, my personal life etc. It's not that I would necessarily write a song concerning a specific global or historical event (althuogh sometimes I do that too!), but stuff like that affects us all and therefore influences everything we do. And subconsciously it affects your songwriting a lot.
Musically, there is so much good stuff out there that it's hard to name just a few bands as major influences. I like bands from all genres of metal - be it melodic or extreme - some bands just have the magic. There's a lot of bad and always at least something good in all genres. PANTERA has to be one of my all-time favourites, they really created a recognizable and destructive sound which appealed to me in my critical teen era. :)
But besides the other obvious bread-and-butter bands (METALLICA, OZZY, MANOWAR etc. ), other influential bands would be MORBID ANGEL, EMPEROR, BLIND GUARDIAN, new DIMMU BORGIR, ARCTURUS, BORKNAGAR, THE CROWN, OPETH, TYR, MESCHUGGAH, SYMPHONY X, DIABOLICAL MASQUERADE, JETHRO TULL (I know it's not metal but they've influenced my metal writing!), ...to name a few, each masters in their own field. Recently I was really impressed after checking out NILE.
Besides metal I like classical (also from old music and reneissance stuff to the 20th century, some of my favourite composers are Wagner, J.S.Bach, Sibelius, Berlioz and Beethoven), blues/roots and some jazz, traditional music, ...and some stuff that's harder to categorize like progressive and fusion bands. Frank Zappa is also one of my favorite characters in music. There is a lot to learn for a metal musician from other styles of music just by listening. I think the folk-metal movement might be a good example of this phenomenom.
- Let's go back to the album 'The Spirit Of Ukko'. "Until We Reach The Shore", the opening track of the 1st demo, has been remade on this CD. Why this old song instead of a new track?
MS: We still liked, even though it's a bit different compared to the new songs. It seemed to fit well with the whole package.
- Now about "Warrior Soul" and "Across The Snow". This is the3rd time for you to record these songs and each version sounds slightly different. Why did you re-record them for both EP and the album as well?
MS: 'Winter In June' our first official release, and we wanted to re-record them. Since Rage of Achilles ran out of funds, and only 1000 copies of the 'Winter In June' EP existed, we wanted to include those two songs on 'The Spirit Of Ukko' as well so that they would reach our audience.
Also, the new versions are the first ones we are totally satisfied with and our superior to the previous ones. To be honest, even though it was a result of a lot of hard work, 'Winter In June' was technically still far from 'The Spirit Of Ukko' so it was more of a stepping stone and an opportunity to practice our craft. I think we can consider 'The Spirit Of Ukko' to be the true beginning of our journey!
- Album title 'The Spirit Of Ukko' is an interesting title. I tried to find out what Ukko really means and I got some results, saying it's a "Finnish ancient father" or "a god of sky" or "a dwarf" etc. etc. What is behind this name actually? Could you explain?
MS: Yes. Ukko was the supreme god and the god of thunder of the ancient finns, he was the master of all, a feared and respected god. The word Ukkonen actully means thunder. He is the most powerful character to represent the world of finnish pagan myths. - Even though KIUAS don't sound like typical viking/pagan metal band, I have the impression that you take in lots of theme about Finnish mythology. What does "Finland" mean for you as your country?
MS: There are a lot of things I like about Finland, especially the nature, and a lot of the traditions. There are so few people in Finland, that even in Helsinki you can experience nature in the right places. Also, living in Finland is relatively safe and comfortable compared to many countries in the world. This sounds a bit patriotic, but I consider myself lucky to be born and raised in Finland, and for a metal musician, it's the perfect county!
Finland as a nation is very young, so the mythic influences are from a much earlier history. Although the nation is young, the same people have inhabited the same area for hundreds or even thousands of years, so our traditions and the our ethnic identity go way back.
- I love the strings and acoustics of the last track "And The North Star Cried" for it's depth and atmosphere. This must be a new song, but would you tell us about the song?
MS: The story of this song is directly from finnish history: it tells about the crusades from Sweden to Finland in the middle ages. Actually it's probably the most serious of the songs on the record. It reminds people that christianity was brought here violently.
It's the newest song, most complex, and definately my favourite. It also demanded the most work from me, since I had to write the string arrangements note-for-note for the string players and record them separately at a different studio. Also we added a lot of extra tracks like synth, extra guitars etc. so it's very dense at times. Even so, it has lighter sections and a lot of dynamics. I'm especially pleased with the parts where the strings are playing alone. It takes the listener totally away from the metal environment for awhile, until the storm hits again!
- You guys were in Japan in May 2005 to play at "Finnish Music Days in Tokyo 2005"... what kind of event was it and how did you get a spot to play?
MS: We were invited there by Japan's Universal. The whole thing was organized by Music Export Finland (an organization funded by the finnish government) and the record companies. The event was great! Everything worked perfectly and we had a great time. We had a lot of interviews but also a lot of free time, so we had no trouble enjoying ourselves!
- How was Tokyo? What was the most impressive thing there?
MS: It was an amazing city! So many people! We ate a lot of sushi, sang karaoke and jammed with Billy Sheehan at a bar one night! On our website we have a "Tokyo Diary" section which contains the whole story and a lot of pictures. To answer this question...check the diary out everyone at WWW.KIUAS.NET!
- Unfortunately I've never had a chance to see you live yet, but do you play some cover songs on stage as well?
MS: We've played at least MANOWAR's "Metal Warriors", "The Gods Made Heavy Metal", OZZY's "Perry Mason", " Lick It Up" by KISS, and DANZIG's "Mother" with me on vocals and Atte on guitar! That's also one of my Karaoke gems! :)
- Mikko, give us your equipment details what you're using in studio and on stage?
MS: My main axe is an Ibanez Jem, and I have an ENGL Fireball head. The cabinets vary depending on the gig. Usually I use Marshall cabinets. I like to keep it basic, so live I just have an EQ pedal and a delay for solos, and sometimes I'll use my Dunlop Cry-baby wah-wah to kick ass with some bluesy rock licks! The EQ is necessary for the leads to add some mid-boost. I also use the delay for leads, but I like to keep it really subtle to keep my playing "honest".
On the record I'm playing a Mesa Rectifier through a Peavey 5150 cabinet. My tuning is dropped C, so from high to low the strings are tuned: d, a, f, c, g, c. The strings are .10 to .56. I played the solo on "No more sleep for me" with my 1988 Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster in standad tuning. I also have a spanish Bernabe classical guitar and a steel-string guitar on the record. Oh yes, and I have 10-string Kantele which you can hear in the end of "Across The Snows". I'm planning on playing it live someday!
- Your all-time favorite! 5 bands & 5 records here please! :)
MS: This one is hard! I'm not absolutely sure and they change from time to time, but here goes! (Not in any order)
MEGADETH: Countdown to Extinction BLIND GUARDIAN: Nightfall in Middle-Earth GUNS 'N' ROSES: Appetite for Destruction PANTERA: Vulgar Display of Power ARCTURUS: La Masquerade Infernale
- Any tour dates planned for KIUAS this year?
MS: Yes, a few, but so far only in Finland. We will update our website always when new gigs are booked, stay tuned!
- Last words for KIUAS fans are yours!!
MS: Check out 'The Spirit Of Ukko' if you don't have it yet! We are working on new materials and practicing hard so we can keep on delivering the might and power of Ukko into your hearts! Stay true to yourself and follow the path you've chosen, hope to see you soon!!