Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Murray's Introduction

As all bad things come to an end, so does this studio report- and on saturday, 28th or March 2020, we finally performed the last bits of the recordings for our new album. Despite of the ongoing virus pandemic, we managed to track everything down during this month of worldwide chaos and no-one of us got knowingly infected by the virus during the studio. These two last entries tell a bit about what happened there and what's happening next. 




Tundra and our recording engineer Juho
FRIDAY, 27.3.2020.

Studio day #16. Are we there yet? Vreth was still doing the last bits of his vocal duties at the morning when I received a message from another guest that due to belonging into a "risk group" he had become a bit cautious about the studio and asked if he could deliver his parts as files from home instead. Completely understandable, but I still called Vreth immediately afterwards and told him to perform also those (yet) missing parts which the guest was supposed to do...which should also be completely understandable from my side of the table. I'm not going to have an empty verse in a song in case something happens and the guest won't be able to deliver in time.

After Vreth had finally nailed the last piece of his vocal duties it was the time to bring on the acoustic shit! I decided to leave the accordion out of these session in order to have a bit more "old school" sound and keep the stuff less "real", but brought a ton of other folky stuff in compensation. My weapons of choice for this album were a 6- (steel)stringed acoustic guitar, a classical guitar, 8-stringed bouzoki, mandolin and of course my (t)rusty cheap 6-stringed banjo.


We spent the late afternoon and evening on tracking all sorts of traditional and not-so-traditional ideas to the songs with the acoustic instruments. Vreth, Virta and Routa were sitting on the control room sofa and having their word on different playing styles and arrangements while I was suggesting them from the playing room behind the glass.

While our plan was to keep the folky stuff rather on the minimal side this time, it quickly went completely bonkers and we just started to use the good old "we can always mute it in the mix"- mantra which we didn't even believe ourselves anymore at some point. More is more! After starting to get blisters from the constant playing and realizing it's getting to close to 21 and we really should give our poor engineer a rest, we decided to call it for the day and went home. I played Uncharted with my wife until we realized it's 1 AM, I have the studio in the morning and our kids will probably wake us up at seven in the morning because why the fuck not.


SATYRDAY, 28.3.2020.

Yes, I'm so funny I kill myself. I spent half the night awake with constant fireworks of banjos, bouzokis and whatnot ringing in my head and was sure I'm becoming mad at some point. But waking up 10 AM (!!!!!!) to my wife's yelling from downstairs about "weren't you planning to go to the studio? It's ten o'clock already!" didn't make me feel any better either. In fact, I was still dead-tired, dead-late and feeling rather unprofessional. Trying to gather the last bits of my professionality from our bedroom floor, I was soon in my car desperately drinking coffee from a thermos mug and driving to the studio in order to get there before this guy arrives!

Slap this guy on the left a pair of glasses on and call him Devin!
That guy naturally being the great Olli Vänskä, who has been playing his violin on a couple of earlier our albums. Apparently we've done something right before, because this time he actually asked me about playing some violin for the new album. So I wrote even more violin parts than usually! But don't worry, we're not suddenly gone all Otyg (or Månegarm for those who came late to the party).

After some initial fiddling (I KILL MYSELFekfjhlasjkfhsldkfjhjkdfsh) with the microphone setup and going through some last-minute doublechecking of playing styles and articulations, we started tracking the violin parts down one hour later than I originally planned. Because seemingly my thought was to set up everything before he arrives....which kind of backfired. Ahem.

When Olli finally started to play, everything went smoothly until we came to the song which had those keyboards out of tune. If you've ever played a fretless instrument on top of out-of-tune stuff, you know what to expect. While I was again gathering the last remaining piece of that so-called professionality of mine from the studio floor, I cried a thousand apologies to Vänskä and at the end he nailed that one as well on top of the guitars only.


I don't think we've ever had so much cool violin stuff on our albums than this one will have and a big thanks for this goes to Olli- who also once again reminded me about that fact that a sampled instrument can be useful but nothing EVER beats a real musician playing a real instrument.

As the race against time kept on going, I made an executive decision to skip the lunch. I also made a rather apologizing executive decision to make our engineer Juho to skip his lunch too, which I felt a bit bad about. We ran quickly to the Lidl across the street, bought some crap there and inhaled it while we were going through the next parts we were supposed to record. Which weren't Mörkö's, who had just arrived to the studio with his kids in order to play his percussion parts in right now as being told earlier.

Kick drums for war drums or GTFO!
I could already taste that impending heart attack getting closer as a musician after another stormed through the front door one by one. We were supposed to have a quarantined and organized recording session, and suddenly the room was full of people and I still needed to play some acoustic guitar before I could scatter these people into different rooms. I fucking scheduled TWO DAYS for this all, yet it's all happening again. When I returned from the recording booth, Mörkö's kids were watching Totoro in the studio lounge and Tundra was drinking beer with Routa. I wanted to watch Totoro as well, but reluctantly dragged my exhausted body to the percussion treasury and started to bang in all sorts of shakers, bongos and different cucumber-remiscenent gadgets in the playing room with Mörkö.

We actually managed to bang all the percussion in during a tolerable timespan due to the fact there weren't that much of those planned. In order also to keep the mix somehow manageable, we decided to play only the essential things in and thus leaving even one element of the album less overwhelming. That being said, we did play some serious war drumming for the intro which will be discussed a bit more in-depth in a future blog post. I may still add something small with samples to the album if needed later, but right now the percussion bombardment seems to be play nicely in the spot it was given and reserved. At this point, Mörkö and his family were finally able to leave this possibly plague-ridden carnival, it was 19 o'clock, people kept drinking beer and I kept thinking why the hell did I decide to come by car to the studio.


"You don't have to come until 15",



Which was what I told to my trusted mates of the so-called "Valhalla Choral Ensemble", a.k.a Mitja and Janne from Moonsorrow who always help our own river bandit crew to sound a bit more tolerable during our choir sessions. The choir and background vocal days are always the most fun part of any album recording, usually paired with lots of beer and laughter and catching up with friends from other bands who invite themselves to the party. Unless, of course, the whole world just happens to suffer from a severe pandemia, lockdown and a close-to-zombie-apocalypse situation which naturally happens during a Finntroll album recording.

After constantly running from a room to another while apologizing everyone about the horrible lag in schedule every time I passed them, I felt like someone had dragged me into an episode of Fawlty Towers. Lucky for me, any of the guests weren't German! I asked Virta to bring them a crate of beer to keep everyone happy, which he delivered like a true keeper of the seven credit cards. Meanwhile, we tried to figure out with our engineer Juho how should we record a bunch of people in the same room while keeping distance from each other AND singing into a same microphone without spitting. Might had as well to figure out a cure for coronavirus, worldwide famine and AIDS, but nevertheless we ended up miking the whole room with two microphones and utilizing the room's own sound in the takes simultaneously. After all, it's one helluva good-sounding room!

"Almost" 2 meters from each other.
Finally, after 20 o'clock we were able to start with all the choirs and background vocals. As you can see from the picture, we clearly followed the instructions of WHO about having safe distance from everyone and certainly nobody was spitting anything at any point while shouting as loud as they could.

To open up the vocal cords at first, we started with the intro, which now has lyrics in an ancient Trollish language referred as "the Brown Speech". (absolutely nothing to do with Tolkien, nope, never.) Due to not wanting to use proper words and being so fed up with always going with the "huhs and hahs", we sat down and figured out completely made-up words from syllables which had the right intonation we wanted. Not surprisingly, it became something of which sound had absolutely nothing to do with music from World of Warcraft, nope, never.  
Roka-sha, my brave warriors of the Horde!

Most of the remaining group vocals were yelled and grunted in within the next two hours, as we deliberately kept all the arrangements rather simple. Our intention was definitely not to fill the album with choirs a'la Moonsorrow, but utilize them only where needed in order to give more room for everything else. Trolls don't sing nicely anyway, they fucking CRY FOR WAR, aye! I felt so sorry for our engineer (having been there for over 11 hours already without a single proper break) that I told him to have some beer on us. Lucky for him, he had already brought his own and pointed his plastic bag. "Please do", I insisted him and felt a bit more humane. And even more thirsty.

At 22:30 there were only a couple of simple grunts left which Vreth could easily instruct and conduct, and I felt that my omnipresence wasn't necessarily needed anymore. So we agreed with Vreth and Juho that I could wrap it up, pack my stuff and head home. The guys probably partyed like it was 2002, and that's fucking good. I wish I could had stayed in that party as well, but I'll leave that to the next time. I thanked everyone from the bottom of my heart and headed finally towards home....but not without stopping to buy some milk and cheese first from a store which was still open. Yes, rock'n'roll is officially dead.



EPILOGUE (apologia)

Our initial plan was to record this album within a five-week timespan at Sonic Pump Studios. Due to the COFUCK-19 and various other reasons, however, most of our schedule went completely bonkers already after the second week. It simply doesn't seem to be possible to make a Finntroll album without something going horribly wrong, haha! At worst we were operating simultaneously at two different control rooms in the end in order to catch up with the schedule: while Vreth was screeching his lungs out in the big room, I was playing guitar with my daughter sitting on the sofa of the other one. Every day was a race against time in order to finish things before someone catches the virus and in order to keep the schedule maintained even somehow. Some of the ideas we planned earlier had unfortunately to be cancelled or at least postponed while on some matters we had to make certain decisions knowing that it will most likely upset some people. Nevertheless, at the end the results caught on hard disk were in our humble opinion some of the best we've ever achieved to do.

Despite of everything, we were still able to pull this all off due to the flexibility of many people for which I'm eternally grateful. My biggest thanks in all this studio chaos go to Nino Laurenne, the owner of the studio who was always accessible and ready to help us to sort any problems at any time of the day and our persistent recording engineer Juho Kemppainen, who sometimes even had to eat his lunch at the recording room due to not having time for a break. A well-recorded and performed album is already half-mixed and I'm eagerly waiting already that phase to happen!

I hope you have enjoyed reading of this studio diary and the process behind it. Naturally it's only written from my personal perspective and thus doesn't necessarily always give the most objective or detailed picture of what's happened, but nevertheless it's something. There's been a lot of effort behind making this album and I personally think it may become one of the best ones we've ever done, and I sincerely hope you like it as well when it's finally out.

I'm going to leave this one small video at the end of the studio diary, because that cozy laidbackness just brings me a smile on my face every time I hear it. Hope it brightens up your day as well!

Cheers,

Trollhorn



Sunday, March 29, 2020

Firing the Cannon



The Townsend Sphere L22
After the synths were recorded, it was finally time for Vreth to step up and deliver! I was really excited to hear what sort of sound he will produce out of his mouth this time. 

We had agreed for a couple of things with him: First of all- we wanted to have some variation on the vocals in general. So if a songs needs a bit more high-pitched approach, he goes a bit more screechy and in case the song is less furious, we may want to try out some lower things instead. As he has been lately teaching proper metal screaming, I was eager to hear how it has affected to his outbursts behind the mic. It's too easy to fall into the trap of being rather monotonous when doing an albumful of vocals, so every song was carefully thought beforehand what sort of "playground" and palette he will have within the boundaries of his vocal cords.

Secondly, no something called "overlapping", which means that you can't "cheat" by singing one line in one track and the next one in another in order to spare your lungs. Taking breaths between the sentences are a natural and initial part of the vocal performance and especially in a faster context they give a sense of urgency and flowing adrenaline. Just imagine how dull Reign in Blood would had sounded if Tom Araya had sung all the lyrics in five-second clips later edited together! Oh, and despite of despi....dips...spyt...Dispyt, no fucking crust screaming. :P

TUESDAY, 24.3.2020.

Studio day #13. Sonic Pump had seemingly travelled in time and brought us a microphone from the future. I'm fully aware of Slate's Virtual Mic System, but this Townsend's "Sphere L22" was completely fucking sci-fi to me. Not only it sports of a couple of different capsules inside and is capable of emulating different mic models and polar capsules even later in the mix (using the plugin) but it has in-built leds inside the grille. Holy LAN party, batman! The computer nerd in me was both excited but also a bit disappointed at the lack of different colors at the same time.

Crusti Crock in action!
After the initial setup, I left Vreth screaming his lungs out and left the studio in order to check out some earlier-recorded bass takes at home I had received from our engineer Juho. After hearing some of them, I was rather relieved that I happen to be both a so-called "audio professional" and a bass player myself. That being said, some of the parts were indeed rather tricky despite of me trying my best not to go full Rancid when arranging them. And in defense of Tundra, though, he must be the world's most violent-sounding bass player ever!

On wednesday, I went to my (now temporarily closed due to corona) office studio to pick up some instruments with my daughter and drove to Sonic Pump. Vreth had performed three songs thus far and jesus tapdancing christ they sounded great. The best vocal performance the guy's ever done with this band, period. We went through the takes, made some notes and I left him to continue his work because my daughter was really letting us know her increasing boredom, which was rather understandable, hah! Later Vreth messaged me that he had actually collapsed during the last scream of the one referedd as "Nightwish", which I thought was excellent. Suffering for the sake of art is undervalued these days when everything is about safe spaces and comfort zones!



THURSDAY, 26.3.2020.

Studio day #15. I received a message from Vreth in the morning that our first guest has to cancel his appearance for now due to the upcoming lockdown of southern Finland. In case he came here, he could not return back home. What a FUCKING TOTAL LETDOWN. I talked with the guy and we desperately tried to arrange a plan B, but at least for now we just need to put the idea on ice. Let's hope we could get something done a bit later when we're still mixing! Luckily there was a silver lining and another guest I had talked to confirmed his appearance right after that and we agreed he'd pop by the studio on friday to do his needs.

I went to the studio after work in order to go through Vreth's takes and to record a lot of guitar squeals, feedbacks and different noises for various places in the songs. As all the guitars were played with a DI signal (a.k.a no amp) and needed to be reamped later, many essential sounds produced by the interaction between the guitar mics and the amp couldn't be captured that way and needed to be recorded separately. While Vreth was spitting on the microphone in the bigger room, I was sitting in a closet in front of a freaking loud guitar amp, playing chords and punishing the guitar like it was 1977 and punk had just been invented. After a couple of hours I was finally ready, and left Vreth finalizing his duties. After all this incredibly bad luck and some rather unconvincing performances, it was a sheer relief to leave the studio for professional people doing professional work, knowing that I don't have to worry about anything later.

We agreed that Vreth will do the last song and some replacements on friday, and after that it's time for all that weird shit and whatnot. More on that later!



Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Wally Crying

"Trollhorn demanding more Korgs, 1998"
I decided earlier to continue the stupid tradition of giving the studio blog titles names from my favourite video game soundtracks, even they tend to confuse also me a lot when I need to find something from the previous texts. I mean, surely a blog post called as "Bowling For Tentacles / Mail This To Siberia" is a clear indicator that it was about recording synths for our last album.

As the smartest of you have probably expected, this text is actually not about crying ex-cartographers in a sinking pirate ship, but synths. And WHAT kind of synths, let me tell you!
Brace yourselves and prepare for a sonorous blast from the past, as this is a story of our keyboard recordings, a.k.a....

"MAKE DIGITAL SYNTHS GREAT AGAIN" 


As I told before, we thought this album should be more about keyboards and less about folk instruments. Not that we don't like real folk instruments anymore - quite the contrary - but after the rather superfolky Blodsvept we wanted to bring most of the good old synth madness back. (Yes, there will still be banjos and whatnot. Don't worry.)

In the comment-section of that last album's keyboard blog text, I mentioned that "This time we´re purposedly taking the "extra shit" from keyboards away because there are so much other things for the listener to hear." Well, guess what? The extra shit is back with a fucking vengeance! We talked about just a couple of days ago with Virta and Vreth how the keyboards were not in a very prominent role on Blodsvept and wanted to do something different this time again. But in order to put a ton of synths, you have to start from somewhere. So let's start from the basics, and to quote one of my favourite persons in the video games industry, mr. Jason Graves; "steal my sound!"

The meat and potatoes of our keyboards have always been the same three sounds of my (still main workhorse) Korg N364 which I mention also in the earlier Blodsvept- keyboard blog text. I have never recorded a metal album without using these in pretty much every song:

 - An analog-styled slower synth string pad for layering the basic chords underneath the guitars usually through every song non-stop. Depending on the context, it's either playing simple doublings of certain notes of the guitar riffs or just providing a tonal chord pad underneath the screechy guitars- usually omitting the third note of the chord in order to keep it less overwhelming. I use a lot of fifths instead of triad chords in general- something which just stuck onto me from the 90's, hah! When combined with a rock band, it can mellow even a nastier guitar sound into a more pleasant one and carry the basic tonality of the song together with them.

- A traditional choir ("aah") pad which has a slower attack and mellower timbre when played lightly and faster attack and more brighter sound when smashed mercilessly. Usually used for either for punctuating more important parts which need to stand out more with chords, or as a single "pedal point", usually from a lower register.

- A fast-attacking full string patch, which sounds exactly like this, because it's the same patch, haha! I usually don't use it for chordal work, though, but either for doubling most of the melodies in the background usually with block chords (which is kind of the same when you have a pop song with backing singers singing harmonies underneath the main vocal line), punctuating important lines and doubling many guitar riffs. (Yes, you read that right. I do a lot of that.)

Due to being over 25 year old synthesis, all of those three sounds have a certain "digital processing" going on - meaning they sound rather artificial, wide and lovely wobbly reverbrant- and they blend with the guitars and bass remarkably well, making the whole sound more glued together and giving the overall palette a timbre which suits the processed metal sound really nicely. While I'm a great fan of acoustic instruments in general, there's something unexplainable awesomeness in the synths of that era. Some might consider if blasphemy, but if you know what is referred as "the Lexicon sound", these sounds are basically providing the same gluey loveliness to the overall timbre. I personally think that a real orchestra doesn't suit processed metal music generally very well, and tend to enjoy more processed and "unrealistic" sounds on top of the usual wall of guitars. For that, nothing beats the digital keyboard sound from the late 80´s and early 90´s.

From left to right: M1, Triton, N364
In order to take full advantage of that sound, we decided to ditch the more high-end stuff usually complementing the N364 and take a step back. At the end we decided to use three older Korg keyboards as our main setup: My N364, Virta's Triton and an old M1 we borrowed from the studio. All being the same brand because we are very familiar with the Korg sound and PCM synthesis in general and know well how to operate them, and also because we couldn't get any decent other brands on our hands. For technical info, the M1 is from 1988, N364 from 1994 and the Triton from 1999, showcasing the "high end" of our gear in this session. Due to being rather well-used, all of the synths have the typical failures of malfunctioning and even missing buttons and some even some broken keys, but utilizing midi cables and some clever workarounds they all could be controlled and programmed as needed. In order not to go too deep to that rabbit hole, though, we did bring a couple of wild cards such as a newer Korg M3 and Novation K-station but at this point of the session they haven't been used, as we've got everything we wanted out of these three.

DAY ONE - FRIDAY, 20.3.2020.

We began layering the first tracks down in the late morning, and spent a considerable time at the start on making choices between different auxiliary sounds ranging from timpanis to flutes, pads and whatnot. For our disappointment, the M1 didn't have any extra memory cards installed so we were stuck with a way smaller palette than we originally thought, but the sounds we got our from it were good and useful. While on Blodsvept and Nifelvind we tried to get as realistic sounds we could got out of the synths, on this new one we ditched that idea completely and decided the result on the matter of how the sound fits to the overall timbre of the band. That being said, we did avoid the most horrible synth violins and shakuhachis in order to not to sound like an early 90´s relaxation music CD but on many cases we chose the N364 over Triton, because the more artificial sound often just fit the music so much better. That's also why I'm not keen on using high-end sample libraries in black metal albums either- they are a tad bit too realistic for this orcish stuff we're doing or just generally impossible to fit into the mix without sounding completely superimposed. There are some exceptions though, as I'm going to use some sample libraries to utilize some sounds which are impossible to pull of with an old (or new) synth, such as the nyckelharpa and Irish low whistle.

The Quality Assurance team in action!
As the keyboard days are usually a huge definition for the general timbre of the album (both in overall sound and density), we had some extra mental pressure to make sure that the songs that were "almost" there in the demo phase would get that small facelift needed while the songs that were already sounding great could become even a bit greater with better sounds and performance. The first three layers (Analog Pad/ Choir/ Strings) are always the more boring part, followed by a bit more interesting pre-written parts for piano, harps, flutes and whatever "basic" stuff. After that we go all nuts and try all sorts of different things with doubling, introducing completely new elements or just generally scattering some fun extra stuff everywhere from orchestra hits to pizzicato runs and weird synth sounds. As I do the basic arrangements myself, most of the decisions done in the keyboard days with Virta and Vreth bring certain personality to all songs- and especially to those ones which lacked a bit of it. There's only so much you can do with guitars after all!

The first song, codenamed as "Trollstorm" was one of those ready-sounding ones, which didn't need much new ideas albeit for the demoed ones. It was stormed (...) through in a couple of hours in the afternoon as a good simple starter for the session. Another easy one was decided to tackle next, and a song codenamed as "Urfisken" (!!!) was banged in during the next hours. It was fast - even faster at the studio than the demo version was - and we had some fun challenges playing everything as tight as possible in a furious 195 BPM speed. Due to sharing certain similar characteristics with another song in the album, we had to make decisions concerning the main melody instruments in order to avoid repeating ourselves....ending up using my 19 year old live patch for Jaktens Tid for the main flute melody. :D Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it!

"Nightwish" was one of those songs which lacked "something". After replicating faithfully everything what was written in the demos we started to experiment with different sounds in order to give the song a bit more uniqueness. We did all sorts of cool and weird things but still couldn't figure what to wo with the main melody. I had tried EVERYTHING at home, but just couldn't get it working in the way I wanted- until I suddenly came up with an idea which definitely wasn't something we'd usually do, and suggested a piano to the guys! After quickly trying it out, there was a silence in the room first, because everyone was too ashamed to admit at first they loved it. And I loved it too! In the end we decided to put even more piano to the song and it became so bombastic we went home with a huge smile on our faces.

 DAY TWO - SATURDAY, 21.3.2020.

Technology to the resque!
No, I can't remember all this! I'm old!
















Due to having quite a many synth tracks going on in the songs, I was playing them out of my memory on friday and when I had played everything I remembered, I did a double-check from the demo if I could hear something I didn't play. Opening the Cubase-demoprojects at home, however, revealed me that I still had missed some small things from here and there. We continued the work at saturday morning, but this time I was prepared a bit better, because I had actually taken screenshots of every demo keyboard parts and kept them visible on my tablet while I was playing. With that I could actually see what's playing and where, and wouldn't miss a thing anymore. (I actually forgot some things at friday and had to play them on saturday morning after double-checking them at home)

After filling the missing parts from the three songs we had completed yesterday, we started laying down stuff for another fast one. For my dissappointment, there really wasn't much room for anything extra fun or new innovations as the song was pretty straightforward and very "complete" sounding already in the demo stage. I was struggling a bit with the arrangements as some of the parts were shitty as hell to play (moving block chords from G# minor, thank me and fuck me) as I didn't really "rehearse" anything beforehand, but with some practice I managed to perform even the nastiest parts in. We decided to not to start filling it with futile and forced ideas and decided to hop into a next one which needed a bit more of that famous "something"- let's call it "personality" for the lack of a better word. And boy, did we get that something out from the synths!

Codename "Hermanni", did include some (plain) piano in the demo but we decided to take it to a next level and go full HD 90´s on that one. So instead of going with just a plain piano, we used a layered combination of piano, digital bells and an pad which is very, very familiar from many great albums as well. ;) On your left there's a sneak peak on what's coming!
We also utilized Vreth's idea of "Wardruna-esqued low bronze horns" but due to wanting to be more faithful to our current sound, we ditched the idea of using real samples and went for a pitched synth Flugelhorn instead, hah! At the end Hermanni was so full of synths we couldn't fit anything to it anymore and hopped to the next one.

We had quite much fun with the next fast one, which sounds like a violent crossbreed between early Emperor and a typical melodic Finntrollesque fun, featuring pizzicato runs, orchestra hits and even some church organ! After the song was completely cluttered with anything we could think of, it was time to move to the next one.

We started playing something called "Kampela" but at the second chorus stopped to listen that something was horribly wrong. Either our keyboards had been weirdly damaged or the guitars were out of tune- neverthless, everything sounded like a demo band from 1994- and despite for our love to the more oldschool setting, this definitely wasn't our plan to bring that element to our music.
After spending half an hour on finding out what was the problem, we then came to a conclusion that there is some seriously fucked up intonation problems on the guitars which clashes against the modulated keyboard sounds in a full context. You can't hear it from the guitars alone, which is why we couldn't spot it at first. I played the first usual three layers to Kampela without the guitars and we decided to call it for the day.

EDIT 26/03/2020: Against all odds, the problem wasn't with the guitars, but it seems heavily that the three first synth layers are actually about 20 cents down in tune. We have no idea how this is even possible, but will investigate the matters later in the weekend.

DAY THREE - MONDAY, 22.3.2020.

Come sunday, I was actually a bit sorry that we decided to have a day off, because I was really in the mood for playing the rest of the keyboards in. Nevertheless, it was a perfect time to finally prepare all the violin sheets for the marvellous Olli Vänskä (of Turisas fame) who is going to play some of that for the album as well. I spent the morning writing the notes for him while my wife was entertaining the kids and making food, and realized that I have become my late father in the 80's, who often was busy in his workroom "preparing sheet music for the musicians at the studio" while we kids were pestering our mom who desperately tried to keep the house running meanwhile. Kudos to my mom and my wife, me and my dad are sorry. It's amazing what the spouses of musicians sometimes have to go through due to us, and we should never take those things for granted.

We continued the synth boot camp on monday afternoon as soon as I had got rid of my real job assignments. On my way to the studio I realized that also Kampela needs more of that good old layered synth piano, and we spent some time figuring out the best way to arrange it with Virta and Vreth. As a rather dominant sound, you need to be careful not to clutter the whole arrangement and the upcoming mix, and need to figure out carefully which notes of the chord are enough to bring the element there and how much rhythm is really needed. The more there are elements on top of each other, the more careful you need to be with the arrangements and also keep in mind that not every layer can be the "main" one.

After a couple of hours, we had succesfully lifted Kampela from the category of "almost there but needs something" into "one of my personal favourites". Sometimes that happens! We hopped to something called "Angrybirds" (!!!!) which was rather quickly done due to the fact that there will be a lot of acoustic instruments and pre-arranged sample tracks (hurdy-gurdy, etc) for which we need to spare some room from the synth madness. As the clock was ticking and I had the absolutely most hardest and complicated song saved for the last, it was time to go completely nuts with some serious bal-sagothesque (hails!) keyboard work.

The last song took me over three hours to play in, and it had a TON of different stuff going on ranging from trumpets to harp glissandis and back. Some of those were so difficult to play from the key we operated in that I actually had to transpose my keyboard in order to get rid of some of the most fucked-up fingerings...which in the process made simultaneously my brain completely melt. I have what they refer as "absolute pitch" and if I need to play a familiar instrument with a "wrong" tuning, it's extremely hard for me to comprehend it because my brain keeps telling me that "this note comes from this place". When I press "C", there should be "C" coming out, or my system will go all syntaxerror. That meant that I actually had to play relying on muscle memory without paying attention to what I hear, and it took a considerable amount of time to actually get it done.

My face indicates that I probably played horribly wrong.
When the absolutely last part was performed in with a pan flute patch from M1 (MEGAHAILS 666), it was a perfect conclusion to end our three-day Kamp Keyboard journey. Everyone was really pleased on what we had achieved and I stormed out of the studio door two minutes after the last note in order to drive to pick up groceries from the store before they shut down. On my way home I was really happy of the work we had done and felt that not only this album is actually finally happening, but it sounds fucking good even though I say it myself. But hey, if I couldn't say something like that at this point it'd probably be quite alarming, right? ;)

While Vreth started to perform his vocal duties yesterday, I have still a ton to do with the rest of the guitars, reamping, some extra samples, editing the bass takes and preparing everything for the upcoming acoustic/percussion/choir sessions later this week. Stay tuned for the next update and hopefully you got what you expected for from this rather in-depth post!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Bloodnose the Pirate

THURSDAY 12.3.

[A note to the reader: The first part was written before "shit hit the fan", on thursday morning when there still were things called as "pandemic zones" and the coronavirus wasn't spread to Finland almost at all.]

I've never actually realized how much of a big influence Dead Kennedys has been for my guitar work in Finntroll until I listened to them this morning after some time. After a couple of songs I just had to switch quickly to Blodsvept to snicker silently how much Ett Folk Förbannat, Häxbrygd and Två Ormar bear some very DK- styled riffing in general, and how the end of Mordminnen is particularly "influenced" by the end of Ill in the Head. All similarities are completely incidental if anyone asks.

And as a pons asinorum, it is also time to discuss a bit about the guitar work in the upcoming album.
I composed the new material to be way less guitar-driven than in Blodsvept, which also meant that the guitars will be more about simple solutions, less dividing of the parts than usually and way more trashing and buzzing than actual "riffing". However, as all of the parts are still written and arranged by yours truly, it still is clearly the usual hybrid mishmash between black, thrash and punk but whenever I had the chance to thrash myself out, I did that with pride. So expect seeing a lot shouldercramps and twisted expressions on stage later when the guys are going to sweat these songs in public!

During the last week, I spent some time going through the drum takes with Nino and a considerable time to fight with the tuning...I mean, to perform absolutely flawlessly all the rhythm guitars myself  in advance due to various reasons before the actual guitar recordings start. I was recording them at my home studio room, which was a great move because I could actually play things every now and then while my kids ate or played together somewhere in the house. Due to that, I also declare rock'n'roll dead. Sorry about that, really! Ironically enough, it took me roughly 50% of the time to keep things in tune, but at least every single note is now finally captured (and backupped on four different locations, hah!) in order to make sure nothing will stop us.

Except for that dreaded coronavirus.

As some of you may know, Skrymer has been residing in Germany since the early 2010's. And ironically enough the area he comes from was just declared as a "pandemic zone" the evening before he was supposed to fly to Helsinki for tracking his guitars. Well, he did get to Helsinki still, but was forbidden to enter the studio facilities (a lot of people work there) due to high risk of him carrying the virus. He was told to get tested, but in the end he sorted out another place to track down his guitars "sometime next week". Somehow I feel way more confident now when I know there are at least my takes on his guitars recorded. Sigh.
I visited the studio briefly in the morning in order to insert my guitars to the projects and instructing the people what Skrymer will need as backing tracks. Routa is supposed to start his guitars on saturday, and I'm going to pay him a visit after that.

[All below is written on monday, 16th of March.] 

I have no idea who to credit for this pic. Sorry!
SATURDAY 14.3.

After having been visited Routa briefly at the studio, I read the news and realized it started to look like that the coronavirus-stuff is starting to affect the whole country more than I thought at first. It began on thursday when all bigger public gatherings were cancelled until June (which also means that the best festival ever, Steelfest, is now also cancelled. I am a proud supporter of my friend Commander and his Fest, and if you consider yourself being a fan of good music and the Best Black Metal Festival Ever (tm), support the Horders from this link!) and then apparently half the people went nuts.
 
Suddenly everyone was hoarding stuff like crazy, which meant that us normal, non-panicking people were fucked for what it comes to groceries. Roughly 25% of our groceries from the list was missing (YES, ALSO THE FUCKING TOILET PAPER. SERIOUSLY.) because all the goddamn brainiacs were buying things like crazy on friday.

I mean, just look at this fucking moron. Seriously. This is Finland. We're not running out of food or you will not die of hunger or diarrhea if you catch the virus. But we're running out of stuff for us NORMAL people all the time now because people shop the shelves empty in panic every time they are filled. I NEEDS THISE 20 PACAGES OF RICE IN CASE I BE QURANTIEN FOR TWO WEEKZ DUHHH. Saatanan tunarit!!!!

But you know the drill. It's the same everywhere now. Regular, healthy (physically, mind you) people panicking, overreacting and trying to convince themselves being safe from a pandemic because they are now surrounded by stacks of everyday things if the zomb...world wa....nasty flu virus attacks. It also seemed that the Finnish government was considering of following the footsteps of many other countries, and to shut basically this country down for a while. I was also starting to think that there is actually a strong possibility that some people in the band or studio will catch it, and then due to quarantine it's game over, man.

MONDAY 16.3.

It definitely seemed now that the coronavirus was the "real deal" (no, despite of that, I still don't think anyone should buy 40 rolls of toilet paper or a year's portion of pasta). And while I wasn't especially worried about myself and my family (my 90-year old grandma will probably send the virus to quarantine, being the lady of iron she is), I couldn't help thinking what a lung-eating superflu does to my kids with asthma medication, while my wife (and my mom!) kindly reminded me that I have that too. 
[cartman] But mom, I have an album to do, I can't stress about my lungs right now! [/cartman]

Me and my wife were already told to work remotely since friday "until further notice" and the officials were talking about shutting down more things. And I realized that I need to be "that guy" and cancel the planned party at the studio and spread the guest musicians for different days in order to minimize any possible damage. We just can't afford to get sick and quarantined right now, and as a producer, I cannot risk my friends and acquintances'  health anyway for a stupid metal album. Survival of the fittest is awesome on black metal rethorics, but infecting people deliberately with a plague is rather...I don't know, sad? It sounds something like a bad USBM band would do.

So I needed a backup plan. I drove to the studio and had a brief meeting with the owner Nino, our engineer Juho and Routa about "plan B". We agreed that we will continue business as usual as long as nobody gets sick or there will be nationwide curfew. We still have three weeks before the mixing starts, and in the worst case we can also record things during the mixing were there parts still missing. But as I said to the guys- if shit really hits the fan, I'm making the decision to halt the album production until further notice. I haven't signed a single paper with anyone where I promise this album being released 14.8.2020 and if this stupid COFUCK-19 compromised our album quality, I wouldn't be willing to deliver the master until it's finished the way it is supposed to be finished.

I drove back  from the studio just in time to catch the special government information on the national TV, where new measures on fighting the virus were announced. All the schools and kindergartens will basically be shut down for a month, all public activies (libraries, swimming halls, etc) and borders will be closed and everyone is advised to stay home from tomorrow until mid-April. This will mean that we will have a jolly good time with the kids 24/7 for a month while simultaneously needing to home-school them while both adults still "working" remotely and me having the studio going on. And we can't even go anywhere due everywhere being closed. At least we have a yard of our own, but I'm pretty sure it will rain hails and nails outside constantly from tomorrow evening until mid-April. That, or "it's too cold, we want to come in already".

Later I read that the national liquor store had never sold as many 3-liter wine cans as today. I wonder how many of those were bought by parents reading the news? Anyway, if I don't start licking doorknobs on the third day of this breathing car accident referred as "self"-quarantine,  expect to hear from me after the weekend when we have banged all the keyboards in. Also, stay the fuck home unless you're doing a Finntroll album.






Wednesday, March 4, 2020

LeChuck's Hold

STUDIO, DAYS 3-4: THE DRUMS.

Ok, this is going to be a short and a boring one, sorry. I didn't take any pictures either. But Mörkö took some video he put to his Instagram, so let's see if you can find something from there!

Monday, the second of March, a.k.a "the third day of merciless pounding" started without me at 10:00 as I needed unfortunately to work until noon. However, I already got a message just an hour later that the first song was already done and the second one in the schedule was waiting for my final decision about the final tempo. We had agreed about speeding it up from the demo version's 170 BPM "a bit" due to us feeling it was dragging a bit, but never actually set the final number in stone. Until now.

Mörkö: "song #2 now that 175bpm?"
Me: "oh shit uhhhhmmm....goddamnit"
Me: "hmmm, well, go with 175 and let's freak out when we listen to it"
Mörkö: "sure"
Me: "so anyway let's do it like that"
Me: "but listen to yourself after recording it how does it sound like"
Me: "is virta of vreth there? if yes tell them to listen and confirm how that 175 feels to them as well"
Mörkö: "nope"
Me: "oh...goddamn"
Me: "well, record it on 175 and listen it through after the take"
Mörkö: "nah, it's ok 😅 "
Me"i'm a bit anxious about this 😀 but go with 175 and let's hope it's good"



Guess what? It wasn't. When I arrived to the studio a couple of hours later and listened to the take, I wanted to offer Mörkö a pile of money, cocaine, and my rarest black metal t-shirt because of what I was going to have to tell him...and I didn't even have that black metal shirt. :( Needless to say, he wasn't exactly very pleased to hear that he needs to re-record it... and judging from his expressions it was very clear that it doesn't at least happen today. Can't really blame him.

I've recorded quite a bunch of songs in my lifetime and swear I've never, ever, encountered a situation where a puny 5 BPM (2.9% in this case) increase on tempo tears the song completely broken. The most important melodies and rhythms just became a trainwreck of a mess which just "happened".... and thentheywerealreadygone. I spent an hour after the studio tweaking the tempo and listening for different variations, and for my even bigger surprise, a 2 (YES, ACTUALLY AND LITERALLY TWO) BPM speeding was already on the verge of sounding too fast. I confirmed this with two other people who knew the song by now and both told me the same. Now, one might ask why didn't I do this beforehand? Or, why didn't anyone think about recording some other song before I can come to the studio to check it out? And why did I bring helium instead or air?

Anyway, despite of probably wanting to punch me into my face, Mörkö punched his drums instead with furious rage and performed the rest of the album's drums in during the afternoon. After the day I went home to realize it was full of my daughter's friends who had eaten most of our dinner and started longing for the more calm and quieter studio environment again.

As nobody is really keen on literally losing money because having to take days off from work, and Mörkö having only one full song left, the next day (that being tuesday the third) we agreed to work first and start the studio in the afternoon. He banged that one missing song in 171 BPM which was exactly what it needed and we went carefully through everything we had recorded thus far. I made some last-minute requests to some parts which he performed again and we declared the drums finished for good.
While everyone else went home, I drove to my parents' house instead to pick up a huge Ikea-bag full of washed clothes (see the end of the previous post for clarification why the fuck a grown man asks his mom to do his laundry) and listened to NOFX on full volume at car. Because I was tired, and because NOFX.

There will be a break from the studio until next week's thursday (that being March 12th) when Skrymer starts to play his guitars. I will be spending the following days playing all the spare guitars myself at my home on top of Mörkö's drums in order to make sure we have extra takes for all the songs in case anything happens. Not that I'm paranoid or anything, but let's just say that I have not forgotten what happened the last time.

Stay tuned for the next episode in the grand adventures of Finns and Trolls!


Sunday, March 1, 2020

Chapter I - The Demise of the Zombie Pirate LeChuck


A chamberful of Longbottom Leaf, please.
STUDIO, DAYS 1-2: THE DRUMS.

This thing on the left could be something captain Nemo would probably use. Or possibly a gnomish copper pipe. (+3 engineering).

But in reality, it's actually one of the microphones we rigged up to capture the drums yesterday, 29th of February. I was told that it's some sort of a weird hand-made supermicrophone which has in-built tubes and a compressor/limiter...and boy it sure sounded rude. Most likely costs a fortune as well. That being said, it's probably "one of those mics you think are awesome until you realize that it sounds so dirty you just leave it being muted in the mix at the end".

While Mörkö was rigging up the drums and getting the sound right with our trusted engineer Nino, I was busy trying to solve a puzzle consisting of pre-arranged temporary vocal parts and the new, final lyrics that didn't fit the places at all. After a couple of hours of careful editing, modifying and reconstructing the lyrics, I finally got them arranged into a shape which fit the song rather nicely. We then went through them with Katla, changed a couple of things, and we both were happy about the final result. I've been personally enjoying a lot working also with him on this album, as we've never done so tight collaboration earlier. In fact, there may be another nice little surprise in our sleeve concerning Katla if everything works out nicely. ;)


"I'm sure the kick drums were on fire after this take!"
Most of yesterday was spent for just getting the drums to sound exactly like we want to, and it was really worth it at the end. I had never worked with Mörkö in the studio before, so he wasn't exactly pleased about my rather anal approach for the sound I wanted, but it was time to introduce him what sort of fun it is to work with me in the studio. :D That being said, he also showed me how it is to work with him, and nailed the first song in about 25 minutes, leaving me rather baffled. And Nino as well!

When I finally got home, I had some quick dinner with my family and went to sauna with them....until I realized in the middle of that sauna that I still need to do the demo vocals for that song with the final lyrics before I forget the new rhythmic arrangements. I ended up screaming them in my studio room wearing just a towel, and of course it also dropped at some point. I'm pretty sure the sight of a fat man in his early forties screaming Swedish into a microphone naked would had been something to remember for a long time.

The next day we were supposed to start at 10 AM, but due to a last minute arrangement test for one song (which was supposed to be recorded that day) I finally arrived to the studio 11:30, only to be collectively informed by Mörkö, Vreth and Virta that the new arrangement idea I had sent them just before leaving to the studio was mutually rejected. I was expecting that, though, but it needed to be done to be sure about it. I hate the idea of never finding out if something would had worked. What really pleased me, though, was the way the told me about it. Every argument was based on raw facts, and all criticism was completely justified. That's how you give feedback!

We stormed through "the other of the two songs Mörkö hated most to play", had some lunch, discussed about the synths with Virta (who is now a devoted Korg M1- convert) and decided to speed up one fast song even more. It's usually quite hellish to record someone playing double kick drums in 195 BPM, but watching Mörkö doing it even without a drip of sweat was rather impressive. The benefits of having a background in technical death metal, I guess!

We left the studio at dinner time, and I was instantly dropped back to earth from my international rockstar/producer- utopia by an utterly broken washing machine at home. I spent the rest of the evening trying to clean up soaked clothes filled with small plastic parts (!!) with my wife, ordering a new washing machine (goodbye Mastercard, it was nice to know you) and arranging schedules with my mom so we could wash our clothes at their place while we wait our new machine to arrive sometime next week. If you guys are reading this, I might stink a bit in the studio at the end of the week. Sori siitä!

Tomorrow it's time for more drums. Thumbs up for Mörkö, who's been a fucking killer thus far!

Friday, February 28, 2020

When in doubt, Isengard!


No matter how many albums you've done and how well you've prepared, there's always "that feeling" right before the studio starts.

 


Is the material good enough? Should that one song still be a bit faster? What if the album has too much metal and too little weird and fucked up parts? Can we manage to capture the raw energy on the takes? Why does my stomach hurt? It might be something I ate. No, I'm not nervous at all. I'm a seasoned pro, you see. Have I taken care of all the files needed for the drummer? Do we have red wine at home? I need some. In fact, I need a freaking barrel of it. Who's going to pick up the kids from daycare on monday when I'm at the studio? And fuck, the violin notes. I still haven't provided those.

"Blurred vision, no balance, numb tongue. The mind recoils in horror, unable to communicate with the spinal column". It's a train accident of thought, where every fear starts to spin in your head faster and faster until it becomes a swirling mass of self-doubt, inconfidence and sheer, brain-tearing panic, only to be distracted by a faint echo of Facebooks "new message" sound every now and then. Oh, how that sound drives me even more towards the edge every time. But it's my own fault- after all, it was me who messaged everyone first about the schedules, final decisions of the arrangements and about borrowing a guitar. The distraction is a blessing and a curse, as I feel both joy and annoyement when the tiny excuse of a sound informs me of other people's existence. I am not alone.

When discussing about the drum arrangements with Mörkö, I had some trouble trying to explain him how the drumming should sound like. My first advice was that if he ever sounds like Behemoth I will chop his hands off and use them to program drums with a computer for the album. But I guessed it wasn't enough, so I also told him to "play the fast parts like Dave Lombardo and the rest like Fenriz". He was still a bit unsure what I mean by that, so I linked him a great example of an Isengard song. "Every time you are unsure, think what would Fenriz do".
 


"WWFD" - in other words, "when in doubt, Isengard!".


I will just breathe and tranform myself into an Isengard drum track. Doing exactly what is needed without overthinking everything to death. Executive decisions pounded in, one snare at the time. When did you last hear double kick drumming in Darkthrone? Exactly. Multitasking is for dummies.
At some point, the swirling mass of chaos will slow down enough to become infused with different thoughts. Confidence, clear vision, and a frozen river of stillness where time itself stops. Suddenly, I can do all the right decisions simultaneously, and watch myself doing it from the ceiling. My mind is Zen...fuck, I am Zen, and a walking executive producer, a breathing schedule and a skeleton wearing a meat-coat riding through space on a floating rock. And I fear nothing.

This transformation of thought will most likely happen tomorrow morning, when Mörkö starts pounding his drums in for our seventh, yet untitled album at Sonic Pump Studios. I have a very good heads-up on what he's going to play, as despite of the lack of mutual rehearsing with the whole band he's been extremely busy spending time at the rehearsal room himself and sending me countless versions of drum fills and variations to discuss about. When we get the drum sound right and hear him to play I know this is going to be good. And if I start to doubt....? Well, you should know by now. Neslepaks!