Markus Vanhala: 'I'm Not Seeking Only Brutal Guitar Sounds'

artist: Omnium Gatherum date: 02/27/2009 category: interviews
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Markus Vanhala: 'I'm Not Seeking Only Brutal Guitar Sounds'
Markus Vanhala is the guiding light for Finland's Omnium Gatherum, a savage melodic metal band. The guitarist/songwriter is an accomplished musician and part of that description derives from the ability to twist and morph the sounds of metal. On their newest batch of songs grouped as The Redshift, he brings the high-speed drama normally associated with the genre. But he also brings in highly melodic pieces as instrumental sections; has keyboard parts flying all around the place; and even manages to insert a ballad. But make no mistake, Omnium Gatherum are a bunch of brutal bashers propelled by Vanhala's and Harri Pikka's tandem guitars. In this email interview, Markus enlightens Ultimate-Guitar readers with his honest comments about the new CD, fellow guitar players, and even his admiration for "70's prog rock, 80's AOR and 90's pop." He is also one funny plucker and able to laugh about things even when he's laughing at himself. UG: A recent article in the L.A. Weekly (local newspaper) said: Venom coined the term Black metal in 1982 with their self-titled album - would you agree with this? Well, maybe yeah. I guess they invented the term and then that became the name of the new genre. But black metal music nowadays is style-wisely quite far away from old Venom. Venom is more like black punk in my opinion The article also said black metal bands are apolitical and anti-Christian - true/false statement? If a band is playin' that true black metal, the main point is in the lyrics which are anti-Christian. That's the ideology of the whole genre. But, I don't know why you're asking these black metal questions in the OG interview as we're really not a black metal band; not either music-wise or ideologically. We don't have any religious or political propagation in our lyrics. We're just a METAL band, and I don't like to be over-categorized as somebody invents everyday some new metal style. Most common term to our style stated on the OG album reviews have been melodic death metal. I guess that gives some hints about what's going on in our music if something. Is there a difference between the black metal scenes in Finland? Norway? Denmark? Sweden? How would you characterize the differences of the scenes in these various countries? There were some differences in the 90's as Norway was the nastiest one and there were the black circle with church burnings and murders, etc. But, also Norway had the best BM bands at that time like Emperor, Ulver, Mayhem, Burzum and Darkthrone. Black metal people of Finland are nice and warm alcoholics and I guess that ber true & evil hating life -ideology is fading away more and more, which is welcomed. Most of the time the life is nice, so why hate everything and everybody and tease yourself with those kind of sick feelings? Is the dark imagery/brutality of the lyrics on The Redshift a philosophy that you really follow? Heh, no I won't as I'm not a dark or brutal person. Jukka our vocalist writes all our lyrics so usually I don't even know what they are about exactly, as I'm just a dummy musician. But there's also lots of hope in our lyrics and they aren't dark and destructive kind of stuff. They tell you to carry on in this shitty modern world If I were to meet up with you on the street, would you kick me in the shins? Or smile and talk about your band? Probably I would smile and talk about all the lovely guitars in the world (read= mostly Jackson!) and ask you to join me for a pub-ride and drink a pint or two. But, that's only if you're a nice dude, haha. Are the personalities portrayed on the album covers/in the lyrics based on Omnium Gatherum characteristics? Or is that just an image? A marketing tool? I guess there's both sides in Jukka's lyrics; some are facts from real-life and some are fiction.

"If a band is playin' that true black metal, the main point is in the lyrics which are anti-Christian."

Tell me about some of the music on the album: Nail has amazing tremolo bar harmonics. Are you a fan of the whammy bar? Also, there's a guitar tone in there that sounds like a keyboard - how is that created? There's quite eager starting whammy bar dive on that song. The whammy bar is a nice spice when used a little and tastefully but not in every corner of the solos. Dimebag Darrell did quite nice job with his w-bar indeed in my opinion! I'm not so sure what guitar part you're meaning in Nail with that keyboard-like thing, but I could guess it's the verse tapping-melody-riff, so it's just right hand tapping with open-strings lick in it, and it's overdubbed with harmony guitar. The sound is created with my beloved Jackson Randy Rhoads axe and Mesa Boogie Rectifier screaming thru Marshall cabs. A Shadowkey has a great huge rhythm sound - can you describe how this is created? My guitars are Jackson RR's and a Mesa Boogie Single Rectifier amp head spiced with Ibanez Tubecreamer TS9 thru Marshall JCM800 lead series cabs, which I think are the best sounding Marshalls ever. Harri's (OG's another guitarist) set-up is Gibson Flying-V thru Marshall JCM800 model 2203; that's the single channel model, thru Marshall cabs spiced with the mighty yellow Boss SuperOverdrive. The sound is created with just these two rhythm guitars, but there were lots of different microphones in front of and behind the cabs. Chameleon Skin has a brilliant solo; describe where this comes from in terms of scales/modes/influences? A little bluesy/a little shredding? The outro lead line is terrific - it goes into a harmony part? It's just basic blues scale and Aeolian scale shredding with some arpeggios, string skipping and a little bit sweeping and whammy barring with it in the main solo. Outro lead is melodic phrasing with another good ol' guitar in third harmony, spiced with some special harmony notes here and there... Good solo in my opinion gotta have some blues spirit, lil' bit shredding runs and sweeping lines between the lines, BUT the soul of the solo should be the melodic parts; those make the solos memorable. Not the fastest runs and the most difficult techniques... Where do the harmony guitar influences come from? Heh, I don't know; spirits of metal whisper the right notes to my ear. Of course, there's some Iron Maiden harmony stuff here and there = means lots of harmony with the third. But usually it's a lot of experimenting with the harmonies when I'm seeking the one and only right decision for each place separately. They're constructed individually and not just with the same interval.. Are the guitars providing the harmony parts or are you double-tracking the harmonies? Do you do harmony parts with Aapo Koivisto's keyboards? Yeah; now when we have had synths over 10 years in OG, we finally noticed in the Redshift album that keys can be used and they'remuch more versatile than on the previous releases, haha... On the new album, there's some harmonies done with guitar/keyboard, like in songs A Shadowkey and Chameleon Skin where Aapo follows the guitar lead lines also with keys. And, of course, there's some stuff where keyboard backgrounds like strings make some harmonies with the guitars hidden between the lines. On No Breaking Point, there's a terrific use of keyboards; very subtle. Did you specifically want keyboards in OG? What do keyboards bring that a second guitarist can't? Also, there's a section of the song where the guitar has Leslie on it? Keyboards bring really a lot to OG's soundscape, as they paint the overall sound a lot and bring so much atmosphere and feel to the stuff. They're like painting the background ready. Sometimes you won't even hear the keys under the music, but if they were taken off from there, you would notice that there would be a big loss in spirit of the music. Yeah, we added a Leslie speaker to the clean sound on the part of No Breaking Point, that's cool. Sounds like some 90's Bon Jovi, and that's the only right way in a Death Metal band, isn't it! With a second guitarist in Harri Pikka and a keyboardist, do you have a lot of freedom to explore harmonic ideas? Different instruments playing different voicings? Of course it gives you lots of possibilities to work with the different kinds of song backgrounds and that gives lots of variety to stuff. Everything is also easier to produce on the live situation as we don't need to do millions of bonus guitar overdubs on the record in studio as we have the two guitar players and a synth player. U have also a possibility to do even four different harmonies, if wanted or needed, when bass-master joins the mess. Are you always looking for a more brutal guitar sound? If so how do you achieve this (different amplifiers/guitars)? Well, I'm not seeking only brutal guitar sounds. I'm open to finding different kinds of sound set-ups and seeking always the better sound; that's THE SOUND. It's like the search of the Holy Grail, haha. At the moment I have two different guitar rigs: Mesa all-tube head with lots of stomp-boxes with it; and my another guitar rig is rack full of equipment like Marshall JMP-1 preamp; Tech21 Sansamp preamp; TC electronics effects and MesaBoogie 50/50 poweramp. I use these different guitar rigs with my different bands, as along with OG I'm playing also in progressive metal band, Malpractice and traditional heavy metal band Manitou. Also both these bands have released official albums lately. On the guitar side, I'm honoured to be endorsed now by Jackson Guitars USA so Jacksons are really my main axes like they've been since the early 90's. I have five Jackson Randy Rhoads models (most with Seymour Duncan pick-ups), which are the best damn guitars I've ever played. I have also some guitars by Gibson, Kramer, Ibanez and Dean, which i use every now and then. Outside the Jackson Guitars, my next favourite is my beautiful all-white Gibson Explorer '84 re-issue with EMG's. That's the Master Of Puppets-era James Hetfield axe without the pick-guard. Nice one indeed! After, when I got the Explorer, the first thing I played with that was, of course, the Master Of Puppets song. It was one hell of a divine feeling to play James' melodic solo in the middle section with that axe, heh! Lyrically, many European death metal bands tend to write about the dark energy of life: sadness; broken hearts. Is this a prerequisite of death metal? In other words, could you write about sunshine and butterflies if you married it to a brutal track? Absolutely! As we're not a black metal band, we're not strict or limited dark souls but a happy bunch of wasted musicians. In fact I wrote the instrumental track of the Redshift album about the big deep sea spider crabs of Osaka. Nowadays, the tune is called and re-named by Jukka our vocalist A Song For December. I was watching nature documentaries about these scary deep-sea creatures at the same time when I composed this tune. Nice animals aren't they? There's also a song on the new album about our nihilistic ex-bassist's huge nail of his middle finger. That song is called Nail, haha.

"We're not strict or limited dark souls but a happy bunch of wasted musicians."

You cite Randy Rhoads; Marty Friedman; Edward Van Halen; and teve Vai as some of your favorite players. What attracted you to these players? Do you think you actually play like any of these abovementioned guitarists? Edward Van Halen and Adrian Smith, (and Paul Stanley, ehh!) were the main reasons why I started to play guitar in the first place. I was, and still am, a big fan of Iron Maiden and Van Halen. Randy Rhoads came little bit after, but I could say that Mr. RR has had the biggest impact to my playing style. After I heard the Randy Rhoads Tribute live album, I didn't sleep almost at all before I got that whole album played throughout well enough. Greatest guitar solo ever - Mr. Crowley and exactly that Tribute live version! Marty Friedman also has extremely cool chops and tasteful playin', and I think I've soaked up much inspiration and playing style also from there. Steve Vai is more like a guitar God & ber guitar maestro; he's just so cool on everything that he does. But my playing style is quite different from him although I admire Vai and have stolen some ideas and chops from him also, of course. But yeah, my playin' style is more in the vein of VH & RR and these 80's guitar heroes that rocked the world. The shredding faster than ever style of today's new guitarists isn't my cup of tea, as I like a more rocking and ballsier approach associated with melodic approach. Any players out of Finland you particularly like? Why? Roope Latvala did a great job with his early speed metal band, Stone; nowadays he is playin' rhythm guitar in Children Of Bodom. Mikko Salovaara from Kiuas band is a bad-ass mean motherfucker that has insane skills in shredding but is also writing good melodies! Joonas Koto, who is playing alongside me with my other band, Malpractice, is also an amazing guitar player who has a great technique but also a big heart in his playing and songwriting. Was Yngwie Malmsteen important in terms of making people aware of musicians coming out of Sweden; Finland; Norway; etc? I think he was important in the 80's as he was so different from the others, style wisely and personally. His job was really important for the metal guitar, but his Ferrari and Rolex style was quite a joke; like a good example of not letting Swedish guys be stars in the USA, haha! Shapes on Shades has a terrific rhythm sound - how do you make those single note arpeggios (where you're kind of spelling out the chords) so huge? Just playing the add 9 chords arpeggiated and letting them ring. Some Police feel on them really! Do you have any tricks you used in the studio to record guitars? Of course, there's always some wise inventions and tricks: Like some toilet paper muting, and playing strings with a baseball cap or a piece of cardboard to get some softer sound to clean picked chords... And tons of stomp-box and microphone-setting experiments that bring freshness to the working (environment). Greeneyes is one of your better compositions on the album - half-time ballad/really stripped down track; Jukka Pelkonen's vocal is super. Could you describe the chord progression here? That song has a different tuning from the others; besides Shapes And Shades, they're tuned to drop-C, so that gives it a different shade of sound there. There's that open G string cipher on every chord on the arpeggiated verse that goes in F-Lydian mode (1st, 6th, 3rd, 2nd[major third translation]), and the chorus is just good ol' F-Lydian (1st and 3rd...) The bridge is mighty with some Gary Moore royal melodic magnitude. I tried to paint that stagnated phase that would grow really big with the melody guitars. I think the bridge section works really well and is one highlight of the album! The whole song was quite an unafraid experiment for the album, as it's really different from what OG have done with all that clean vox and Anathema/Katatonia feels, but it's great and the album's musical storytelling needed that track there. Where does a track like this come from/influences? I don't know; the spirits of music just whispered that to my ear and I played that on tape, haha. I had this idea to make this kind of a different slow ballad because the album needed that. And of course, this song, as almost every other song of mine, was done at night. That's a basic clich, but the feeling is right, and there's no hurry to anywhere. Does this type of slower track fill you up like the faster tracks do? Yeah, like I said, the musical storytelling needs variety to keep the whole album interesting. Faster songs sound faster when there are also slower songs included, and heavy parts sound heavier when there are also softer parts included. That's the one thing that most metal bands haven't realized when they're doing that brutal-only clump. The Second Flame goes into that clean section at about 2:15 - excellent section with a brilliant solo section. Then that section comes in again at the outro. This section has a little bit of the feel of Greeneyes - would that be an accurate statement? OK, I'll accept that, hehe. Those are the softer OG spots. If OG recorded an entire album of tracks like Greeneyes and this middle section of The Second Flame, what would your audience say? Would they accept this? Well, maybe some couldn't accept that but then some new fans would come for sure. But don't be afraid, we're not doing that kind of a softening process, at least in the near future as u should never say never. We like the music to be still heavy as a really heavy thing, but these geek parts are a good spice between the metallic lines. Where does this very melodic side of you come from? -Everywhere. I like the music when it's melodic; I'm a happy melodic personality. I'm not listenin' only to some brutal stuff like Hate Eternal or Deicide. Of course, I've had my big share of this when I was a teenager; I listened only to brutal death metal and black metal. But before and after that, I've been more into the melodic side of the music. For example, 70's prog rock, and 80's AOR and 90's pop are among others very popular on my playlist. Song For December is your instrumental track. Really lovely. Special tunings? Do you dig the instrumental part of songwriting? Song For December is something that I'm really proud and happy about, except Jukka retitled this: The Spider Crab Of Osaka, haha. It wouldn't be a big surprise if I made a solo-album at some point including this kind of material. On the previous album, Stuck Here On Snakes Way, there was also this kind of a guitar-instrumental intro called The Snake & The Way which I like a lot, too. December has the same normal one-whole step-down tuning like the OG songs normally. I had this issue that I HAVE to do some harmonics lead and here it is on this song. The intro picking riff of the song was, in fact, composed by OG in '96 when I was 15 years old, so it's the most ancient part on the album. It has stood up greatly to the sand of time indeed! Acoustic guitars? Are nice and work perfectly in metal also! Usually I've been overdubbing my clean guitar tracks with acoustic guitar; they are a beautiful combination.

"We don't have any religious or political propagation in our lyrics."

It has a sort of Led Zeppelin feel? Was Zeppelin a band you listened to? Jimmy Page? Well, that's a new comparison, but a cool one. I re-discovered the Zeps last year after a long break and listened to them a lot, so maybe there's some (similar) feel between the lines stolen from the Zeps. Great band and Page has done some unforgettable rock riffs and solos like Stairway... Amazing stuff. How do fans react to a slower instrumental like Song For December? Would you play this live? Does a melodic black metal band always have to be brutal? Can they have their softer moments? And will their audience accept that? We've been playing Song For December live as an intro to Distant Light highway or Black Sea's Cry and people seem to like this silent prayer a lot. It's a good contrast in the live set and time to relax and breathe a little in the middle of aggressive acting. Like I said before, softer moments can be harder than the heavy parts and vice versa. The intro to Distant Light Highway is incredible - that picking part. That picking part then becomes the main riff for the chorus. Very cool arrangement idea. Can you talk about how this song developed? There's a section with Leslies on the guitar? Different vibes in different sections? Distant Light Highway is a song by our other guitarist, Harri Pikka, and the working title by Harri for the song was Monkeys And Humanoids Made Us. I don't know anything else about the birth of the song but Harri walked to his day-job working place and the company was closed for that day, so Harri went home and played, composed and arranged about 12 hours in a row and there was this whole song ready and already demo-recorded in his home studio including everythingexcept vocals. There's lots of different vibes and sounds in this song really, including some amazing weird and scary keyboards. What a lot of people don't realize is that a song doesn't have to be played at 256 bpm and have a screaming vocal to be heavy. A track like Song For December can be just as heavy in a much more musical fashion - more drama/more intensity. Would you agree/disagree? I'll agree totally. Heavy drama is usually much heavier stuff than heavy sounding metal. Do you know Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth - what do you think of his playing? Mike is a great player and open-minded composer, who has done a lot for the evolution of metal. He has incorporated different music styles easily to flowing songs that always sound like Opeth, no matter what they do. And that's a gift! In a book just released, it lists the 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists. Here are the Top Five: 1)Dave Mustaine 2)John Petrucci 3)Jeff Waters 4)Zakk Wylde 5)Dimebag Darrell Abbott Would you agree with that listing? Be honest. Who would you have included in the Top Five if not these players? Great players all of them indeed, but the important metal guitarists for me would be Randy Rhoads, Edward Van Halen, Jeff Waters, Chuck Schuldiner and Adrian Smith. Other high candidates for me would be misters Marty Friedman, Dimebag Darrell, John Petrucci - mostly with his earlier stuff - John Sykes with his work on Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy, Jake E. Lee on Ozzy's two albums, Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, Jason Becker, Slash, John Norum and Steve Morse; and Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield on the rhythmic guitar playing. All these guys I mentioned won't stop amazing me and making me happy when I hear their playin'! I talked earlier about the image of European metal bands. At a point, the image almost becomes comical. The band tries to be so dark but they come off like comic book characters. Would you agree? Disagree? I kinda agree on this, as they try to be often sooo bad that they're not bad at all as they're comics. At some point, I can understand this image but it was cool like in the beginning of the 90's in Norway and nowadays it's just so lame. It's wise that the good ol' true black metal bands have almost all dropped the penguin makeup What was the hardest solo on The Redshift to record? Why? I can't pick up anyone to be harder than the other, as there's not such complicated or technically extravaganza stuff on this album. The point in OG solos is to be not so shreddy basic shit but melodic that fits well into the song itself. Maybe the hardest parts to record were some additional overdubs or harmony guitars, as it's sometimes quite hard to find the same feel and touch to the another solo track. And 100% clean slow bending playing is always a hard task! How do you keep pushing yourself as a guitarist? Is it important to you to be named one of the Top Five heavy metal guitarists? No, the fame isn't important for me. The most important and the hardest thing is to please myself and get the pleasure from playing and seeing that my playing or technique have really developed. It's the best thing to see your own chops evolving and style/taste growing. It's nice to see in the studio that last time this kind of stuff was hard to play but now it's easy. Composing a good song is also one hell of a spiritraiser and always that gives me a lot energy and enthusiasm! Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2009
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