AMORAL – From death to melodic heavy metal
This year at Tuska I got an invitation for an interview with the Finnish melodic hard rock/heavy metal band, who started at the end of the nineties as a technical death metal. This got me pretty curious to learn more about the band, to watch them live at Tuska and, of course, to accept the interview invitation. It turned out that I met a band with a good stage experience from all over the world, interestingly mixed compositions and an awesome promo photo that convinced me they’re a bunch of crazy guys enjoying what they are doing. The result of the interview can be read below, and everything else about the band, plus media streams can be found on their website.
Who is the band Amoral?
Ben Varon: Amoral was started by me, on guitars and our drummer Juhana Karlsson, back when we were still kids…
Ben Varon: Anywhere around fourteen, fifteen, we couldn’t even play the instruments back then. Then we got more and more people around, started recording more proper music, people came and went into and from the band. Me and the drummer were the ones who always stayed though. We did three albums with an old singer, Niko Kalliojärvi, and that was much more of a technical death metal band. All growlings and screaming. He decided to leave around 2007 and we decided to do something more melodic afterwards. That’s when Ari comes along after few discussions, and today, four years and two albums later, he’s still here. Things have been going good.
How comes you decided this switch from death metal to more melodic stuff?
Ben Varon: We wanted to do something different.
Was it like you changed your music taste, or started listening to something new that brought different influences?
Ben Varon: It was a bit of a change in the taste, yea. It actually started the other way around. At first it was more melodic stuff, like we are now, then we got into the direction of black and death metal which was at the same time that Amoral started to record demos. Then, when I got older, I started to get bored with that stuff and somehow returned to the same bands I dig now and to the classics of the eighties, nineties and so on. The death metal period was somewhere around ten years ago and then it’s not like I found new inspiration, but more like going back to the roots. Actually, a lot of people say, after listening to our most recent releases ‘oh yea, we can definitely hear where you come from’. We’ve been always talking about, for example, Guns’n’Roses and other hard rock influences, and those could always be heard in the riffs and the solos of our old albums as well. Even if they were more death metal songs. So we never actually lost those influences.
Yea, today after watching you guys live, I can see some obvious differences in songs, as if they come from different music styles.
Ben Varon: We played indeed one song from our first album, but mostly from our latest two releases.
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu
How comfortable are you to play the new melodies versus the old ones that demand other types of vocals?
Ari Koivunen: Very comfortable. I liked the band before I joined them.
And your voice actually allows you to go in various directions as far as I noticed…
Ari Koivunen: Have you seen the movie ‘Rockstar’?
No, not that I can recall.
Ari Koivunen: Well, if you watch it, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that I am like Marky Mark.
Hehe, so you’re his version. Why did you guys come up with the name ‘Amoral’?
Ben Varon: No reason, seriously. It was pretty much the first good idea that we picked. When we went to the studio to record our first demo, we already had been playing together for a couple of years, but we had no name since we had never done any show. We were like ‘guys, we need a name since we have to print something on the cover’. Everybody went home, took a pen and a piece of paper and decided to meet after few days to make a choice from everyone’s suggestions. One of the guys had ‘Amoral’. I thought it’s cool. It was short, as I didn’t want to be something like ‘Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ where nobody bothers to pronounce the whole thing; it started with an ‘A’ so it puts us at the beginning of the alphabet, which can be quite useful; we also googled it or whatever it was back in those days..
Ben Varon: We yahooed it and didn’t find any band called ‘Amoral’, so we took it.
Fair enough. Are you guys self educated musicians or did any of you do some studies?
Ben Varon: Some of us do actually have some. Our second guitar player, Masi, is the one with most studies.
What about singing lessons? Did you attend any?
Ari Koivunen: Maybe three lessons altogether.
Ben Varon: The lion’s share of everybody’s talent is actually self taught when it comes to their own instrument. Even our drummer studied music, but guitar, classic guitar, and not drums.
Ari Koivunen: For half a year when I was about seven, I studied piano. And then I learned drums, and I’ve been playing drums since. I’ve been singing for about ten years now.
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu
When it comes to the songs that you guys write, who is the main brain? Or is it a collective composition?
Ben Varon: For the last two albums, I did the lion’s share for them, but now, with Masi, our new guitar player we have such a good thing going on so I think it’s gonna change more towards a collaboration on the upcoming materials. He has a lot of cool ideas.
Ari Koivunen: I’m just doing some melodic vocal stuff for it to feel more comfortable for me.
Ben Varon: But in a music that’s such guitar and riff oriented, it’s only normal that the guitar players are the ones behind the songs.
You do a lot of changes within one song, there was hardly anything constant going on. Is that something you naturally end up with or…?
Ben Varon: We actually have to force ourselves to stay in one place, cause we get so easily bored. Plus, we all love so different styles of music.
Why force it then?
Ben Varon: Some people think there’s too much variation on the album. That’s for some people. For us, it’s the most natural thing to go from a death metal song to something much slower, melodic, to acoustic songs and anything in between. I don’t understand how old death metal bands can do it for thirty years, same kind of albums every second years. But I guess it works for them. I would never be able to do that.
I believe that times were a bit different back then, you didn’t have access to everything like you do today, so you had to either be like this or like that.
Ari Koivunen: Yea, I think Internet changed this stuff a lot.
When people talk about you guys, what band do they tend to compare you to?
Ben Varon: We heard everything, I don’t even know which ones are the most common these days.
Ari Koivunen: It varies from Skid Row to almost Behemoth.
Ben Varon: That was fun. Somebody said that our last album sounds like the album Skid Row should have done as their third album. So we get to hear comparisons with everything from hard rock, punk rock to all sorts of metal, Megadeth.
Ari Koivunen: Somebody said we’re a good combination of Pantera and Skid Row and that was a cool thing to hear.
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu
What are you singing about?
Ben Varon: It’s mostly from personal life, experiences, nothing fantasy related, no dragons nor dungeons.
Is it romance, hate, society related?
Ben Varon: Stuff in between, it doesn’t have to be only happy or sad. What happens to feel when you write the song. For this type of music it comes more natural to write about more sad stuff, rather than ‘woohoo, it’s summer, let’s party!’. We’re not exactly party music in that way.
Lately, your band has been on a tour covering countries on various continents. Like Japan…
Ben Varon: Yea, we’ve been to Japan, China, USA (even if just one show). We’re going to tour the whole of Europe with Ensiferum in few months.
How did Asia feel compared to playing in Europe?
Ben Varon: Japan is really cool. People seem to be a bit more enthusiastic about it. Here, a lot of people like to play it cool, if you know what I mean. Only looking at the show, hardly clapping.
So which was the worst live experience then?
Ben Varon: In 2006, we were still a death metal band back then. We were not as gay as we are today. We were playing this black metal tour and the Norwegians in Oslo didn’t like our show at all. We were goofing around, having fun and we were not serious enough. They were holding their arms crossed and just staring at us. Not clapping, not laughing.
But that’s the regular way there, they’re like that at every concert.
Ben Varon: That was weird.
Ari Koivunen: We actually did two gigs in Norway and that was much better.
Ben Varon: We’re gonna go to Oslo again this year and we’re hoping it’s gonna be better this time.
There is a promo photo that you guys took underwater. How was the experience?
Ben Varon: It was quite THE experience. It was really worth it!
Whose idea was it?
Ben Varon: It was me and the photographer. We had the album cover for ‘Beneath’ and we decided we have to take pictures underwater. It sounded like a good idea at the time.
Ari Koivunen: I didn’t tell them that I can’t swim.
Ben Varon: We rented a whole swimming pool for the evening. We jumped in the water, one at a time, the photographer was in there in his frog suit, with his underwater camera. It was a lot of work that took us many hours, but it turned out really cool. Something a bit different from standing in front of a place or so.
It is really cool, I hope you guys find more interesting ideas in the future.
Ben Varon: Yea, maybe we take the next one in the sky. Sky diving.
Any classic musician that’s dead by now, but you would like to revive to tour with?
Ari Koivunen: Dimebag Darell.
Ben Varon: Yea, he would be one of them.
Ari Koivunen: And Ronnie James Dio.
Let’s go back to the upcoming tour…
Ben Varon: The European tour starts September 14th in Germany and all the dates are listed on the website.
Is the band working on anything new or just focusing on touring?
Ben Varon: We just started working on new songs. We have few songs ready and we’ll try to get them done by the end of the year so we can start recording. I would say that album number six will be out in 2013.
If we make it there.
Ben Varon: Yea, if the Mayans weren’t right.
Merch dude: One thing, about the Mayans. The Mayan calendar compared to the calendar we are using today, doesn’t have leap years. So, considering this, the end of the world should have already been many many years ago. So, don’t worry about that!
Cool, then we’re going to live to hear the next album!