BATTLELORE - Children Of The Doomed

January 31, 2011, 8 years ago

By Carl Begai

battlelore feature

World renowned epic fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien’s works are a source of inspiration for metal band’s the world over, but Finland’s Battlelore have had an iron grip on the tribute throne for the better part of a decade. Launched by guitarist Jyri Vahvanen in 1999, the band’s 2002 debut …Where The Shadows Lie was a full-on musical journey into Middle Earth presented through song lyrics and Battlelore’s orcs n’ elves image. Rather than tone down their fantasy image over time by trading in their swords for Vans sneakers – or something equally absurd – the Finns have gone deeper with each album, unleashing their latest outing as a Tolkien-based concept record. Doombound is easily their most adventurous album since 2003’s Sword’s Song, and a clear sign that the septet have evolved as a unit. Once upon a time it was Vahvanen that called the shots, but he’s gotten used to not being Battlelore’s only creative voice.

“You’re right, he used to be,” laughs vocalist Tomi Mykkänen. “I think it was actually my idea to try and make Doombound into a complete concept album. We had a different concept at the beginning, though. We tried writing songs about Fëanor (from The Silmarillion), but Jyri ended up with writer’s block. He had some lyrics and managed to get a few more done, then decided we had to ditch the concept album idea. I had the lyrics done for three songs and I told Jyri to check them out, and he fell into the concept idea again when he understood I was focusing on Túrin Turambar (featured primarily in the novel The Children Of Húrin). So, we changed the topic and the rest of the lyrics came quite easily.”
“To my amazement the reviews have been really good so far,” Mykkänen continues. “I was thinking that it might be a hard album to get into because the previous album, The Last Alliance, was straightforward and this new one is more progressive. We were thinking about the song order, and we could have made it pretty ‘normal’ I guess you’d say, if we had put ‘Iron Of Death’ as the first song. That would have been a predictable start for an album, and we wanted to cause more of a shock going into it (laughs).”

Keyboardist Maria Honkanen – affectionately and officially known simply as Maria – who admits to being content remaining in the background, is fact an integral element in the songwriting. As the composer for all Battlelore’s keyboard / symphonic orchestrations, Maria is largely responsible for the atmosphere conjured up on any given record.

“Of course the guys have their say in the matter,” she says. “If they feel that something doesn’t work I change it or try out something different. It’s quite a lot of work, but it’s something I enjoy and well. There’s no better feeling than finding the right melody for each part of the song. Composing is like any other creative work – it can be really painful, infuriating, and sometimes it feels that nothing sounds right and one is ready to give up completely – until the moment arrives when all the pieces come together. It feels amazing, just the best feeling ever. I can’t even describe it. One of those light bulb moments, or something like that. Just knowing and feeling in your gut that this is it, the perfect melody to bring the story to life in music as well as in lyrics.”

“Some songs are more challenging to compose, and some feel easier,” she adds. “I’d say that during the song writing process for Doombound some songs just came together – the melodies were there before I even noticed, like ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Last Of The Lords’ – and some songs were real pains in the ass. I had some problems with ‘Kärmessurma’; I didn’t really know at first what to do with it as I’m not that familiar with the folky stuff, and the approach felt strange. I also had a bit of an attitude problem with it, as I didn’t really hear Battlelore in the song skeleton even though I thought it was a good song. The conversations concerning this song especially got extremely heated, (laughs). In the end I’m glad that I tried out different things and was able to finish my parts for the song – it does sound like Battlelore now. I’m happy that we added it on the album as well. It gives tribute to Finland and our national epic, Kalevala, and the connection between the story of Kullervo and the story of Túrin makes it even more perfect for Doombound.”

Mykkänen makes a startling revelation about ‘Kärmessurma’, which has all the obvious elements of a future Battlelore fan favourite for the stage.

“That song is something we were thinking about leaving off the album. For us it’s so different compared to so-called ‘normal’ Battlelore. We had lots of problems with that song. I don’t like singing in Finnish because it’s really hard to do. I think I sound silly (laughs). The song, in the studio when I got going it was really easy. The growling parts in the whole song were done in one take – and there’s a lot of growling – so I was out of breath by the end (laughs).”

The Last Alliance was noteworthy for Mykkänen in that he stepped up his vocal game compared to the two previous albums – Third Age Of The Sun (2005) and Evernight (2007) respectively – putting an much of an emphasis on his melodic vocals as his trademark growls. Doombound finds him taking his clean vocal dynamics a step further even though he isn’t a fan of singing in the studio.

“When I was making my demos – we make demos of all the songs before going into the studio – I actually had the problem at one point that I hadn’t done any growls (laughs). So, I decided I had to change things up a bit because I make it tough on myself by not having any growls in the songs. For me, the shouting in the studio is easy; doing the singing is horrible. I really, really hate it. I like singing on stage a lot but in the studio it’s too clinical, which makes it really hard for me. I try my best even though I don’t like it that much, because I know that in the end it will sound good. I think the songs deserve more of these melodic vocals and not just the growls.”

Singing or growling, Mykkänen’s vocals contrast as sharply as ever with those of his female counterpart, Kaisa Jouhki, resulting in the band’s unique sound. He considers their artistic relationship quite strong even though, and often because, they butt heads in the studio.

“It’s quite easy for us to work together,” he says, “but I think we can both be a bit jealous when it comes to the parts we sing (laughs). When we’re doing the demos it’s either me, Jyri, Jussi (Rautio / guitars) or Timo (Honkanen / bass) that make the basic guitar parts. Then Henkka (Vahvanen) does the drums and we record the demo with him and two guitars. Everyone gets the mp3s and we start adding our own parts, and it’s quite normal that me and Kaisa end up composing for the parts of a song. We don’t have it written in stone ‘This part is for Tomi, that part is for Kaisa’. We have the lyrics and we have to come up with the melodies or ideas for the vocal arrangements. Quite often we’ve made the same parts, so we have to decide which one is the better of the two. We fight a lot about it in the sense that we both want the best parts of the song (laughs). Sometimes it’s pretty much a case of flipping a coin to decide. But we really have to do things that way just see what happens. We pick the best result for the song.”

In closing, Maria addresses Battlelore’s born-in-Middle-Earth image, which changes slightly from album to album but remains a steadfast calling card. Expect to see the warpaint and Mykkänen with sword in hand on stage during their string of live dates.

“We’ve all felt that dressing up for gigs is a vital part of Battlelore.” Maria admits. “The visual side of our show is important to give the full impression and over the years I think it’s grown on us as well. Getting into our gig-gear and make-up is a big part of preparing for a gig and it also gets us in the right mood. Preparing for war, as we put it (laughs). During a longer tour it does feel like a pain sometimes, but every time we hit the stage we remember why we’re doing it.”
“Kaisa no longer wears the pointed ears, though,” she adds, something that long term diehard Battlelore followers may consider sacreligious. “The glue was truly a pain in the ass with hair getting stuck while headbanging and all that. I believe we’ll be able to survive without the ears though, if we really try (laughs).”

- live photo by Wilson B.

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