KUOLEMANLAAKSO: TULIJOUTSEN SESSIONS, 2013
A top-secret location, Finland
Laakso, guitar & keys
V. Santura, production & engineering
Day 1: The Arrival
August 12, 2013
As some you might know, we recorded our debut album “Uljas uusi maailma” with producer/engineer/musician V. Santura of Triptykon and Dark Fortress fame at his Woodshed Studio in Germany. Our cooperation was such a knockout professionally and personally that we decided to extend our working relationship to further albums right then and there.
Well, here we are now, at a top-secret location in the middle of the woods, waiting for Santura to arrive.
The place is very peaceful and quiet. The only sounds that grace our ears are the chirping of birds, the rippling of the lake, the wind in the trees, and the occasional raindrops falling softly on the roof. We could have chosen another location, such as Woodshed, but we specifically wanted to “live the lyrics”, so to speak, and spend three weeks in a genuinely primitive setting as possible to capture the true essence of these new songs. They are above all influenced by the Finnish nature in various forms: the illustriousness of the forests, the serene eminence and ominousness of the lakes, early 1900s poetry, folklore, and ancient invocation poems. Even though cloaked in a dim gown of the nature, some of the lyrics are extremely personal.
Musically, compared to the debut, we’ve chosen a more epic and melancholic perspective on our dark craft. Not forgetting the crushing heaviness, diversity, and our love for the avant-garde, which defines our sound, of course. It is such a cliché to say this, but I have a feeling, that once Santura works his magic and we capture the new songs on hard disc, they will blow our minds. Perhaps yours, too.
We got here last night at about 10:30 pm, unloaded the equipment, had a few beers, relaxed and had a good time. Usva and I will pick Santura from the Helsinki airport today, while Kouta and Tiera will start setting up the drums and other gear for the next days to come. Kotamäki will join us later. The Owls have landed.
I can’t wait.
Day 2: The Gathering
August 13, 2013
The usual suspects woke up one by one with a slight hangover. Today’s task was to pick our producer/engineer V. Santura up from the Helsinki airport. Kouta and Tiera stayed at our secret hideout, Woodshed Finland if you will, as Usva and I drove down to Helsinki, bought a bunch of guitar strings and drum skins, and headed for the airport.
As we were waiting for Santura to arrive, Nightwish and The 69 Eyes were at the same package claim with our German ally. After stopping by at Jumbo’s mega-sized Prisma supermarket and Alko, we were good to go. I convinced Santura to try out some mustamakkara (“black sausage”, a black sausage made of mainly blood), which was a bloody success.
Not that much happened during our drive here but catching up and talking about old times. We listened to some Blood Ceremony, My Dying Bride, Swallow the Sun and Pan-Thy-Monium on the way. Good music is great for the soul.
When we got here, the guys had set up and pre-tuned the drums. They also had a sausage fest going (I do mean literally, no reference to “men only”). So, after a bunch of beers, haze and grilled sausage, we hit the sauna. Everybody but me went for a midnight swim in the lake. I’m not a fan of cool water (+ 21°C), so I mainly concentrated on purifying my weary body.
Right now Santura is finishing up on setting up the computer and drum mics. We are almost good to go.
Laakso, 15:05 pm
P.S. We are going semi-self-sufficient, as we picked decent piles of chanterelles, blueberries and lingonberries. Old school is the only school.
Day 3: The First Evidence on Tape
August 14, 2013
Yesterday’s main task was to get the computer and drum mics up and running, and to capture the first beats on hard disc. As V. Santura was busy plugging cables and uploading software, the band headed outside for some manual labor.
Kouta chopped the branches of an entire cut down birch, Usva and Tiera picked a few small buckets of blueberries and lingonberries, and I transported a couple of pine trees worth of logs to our “wood chopping center” with a wheelbarrow. It is important to get some fresh air, and relieve tension and stress by punishing your body in a gentle matter.
However, Kouta was so beat, he went for a nap for few hours during the day. While Santura and Tiera were doing a drum sound check, Usva and I lit up the open fire grill, and made some drumsticks, halloumi cheese, and a superb marinated champignon and eggplant dish. Usva is one helluva chef.
After a late dinner, Tiera blasted the drums for a song titled “Kalmoskooppi”. As Darth Vader would characterize: “Impressive. Most impressive.”
This day was a small victory.
Day 4: A Trace of Smoke in the Air
August 15, 2013
I’m writing this entry from a porch graced with epic lake scenery. It is 15°C outside. There’s a mild breeze in the air, which makes the leaves of the birches hum.
Usva is setting fire on an open grill. The chef is making coconut curry with chicken drumsticks.
The only thing corrupting the idyll is Tiera’s relentless pounding. He is working on a song called “Tulenväki” right now with V. Santura and Kouta in the building on top of a rocky hill.
Tiera was on fire yesterday. He beat the crap out of no less than four slices of doom. Everything has been going very smoothly, and we’ve had absolutely no technical, musical or personal problems during these few days. Santura has even been very happy with the sound of the log cabin room, which we recording at.
As always, Santura headed for a run after the working day was over. The lazy Finnish bastards, meaning us, stayed behind and heated up the sauna. There was a trace of smoke in the air.
Earlier today Kouta nailed guide guitar tracks to the heaviest song we’ve ever done, after which the two of us headed to Lidl and Prisma supermarkets, 30 kilometers from here. Now we are set up for a few days – although we haven’t had any luck fishing.
The goal of today is to nail the drums to four songs, 3 of which are already in the bag. It’s 5:33 pm right now, and the guys only started a few hours ago. The dude is on fire.
Day 5: The End of Drumming
August 16, 2013
Tiera nailed four songs yesterday, and finished the last two today. So, the drums are now recorded. It would be useless to brag about how awesome they sound, but for the record: very.
We ended up having a wee bit of a party after, and had a few good laughs. Everybody was feeling tired, so we didn’t stay up very late – or at least I didn’t. I was supposed to get some other work done by the next day, but I watched a couple of episodes of That 70’s show, and hit the sack.
My wakeup alarm went off at 9 am, and I started working on the non-musical task I had. As always, I got the assignment done in a few hours. It felt great to get it out of sight and out of mind.
Meanwhile the other guys and V. Santura had almost finished working on the guitar arrangement of the first ever cover song we will record. We were planning to start Kouta’s guitar parts, but had minor technical challenges, so we decided to call it a day.
It was a pasta bolognese day – they’ve never failed us yet.
P.S. Still no luck with fishing.
Day 6: These Go to Eleven
August 17, 2013
We actually didn’t call it a night after the latest entry, but found the perfect rhythm guitar sound instead. Santura had actually pre-prepared it for us – the guy knows EXACTLY what we are looking for, which is one of the reasons we love to work with him.
Compared to “Uljas uusi maailma”, our new sound is even heavier, bigger and more epic. This album will sound huge, that’s a fucking promise.
Tiera left to Kuopio this morning. He did an incredible job on the drums. To quote Santura: “You were grooving like a motherfucker!” His drumming was more versatile than I’ve ever heard him play before. It will be a pleasure to play on top of his tracks.
Usva and I headed to the nearest town to buy some groceries this morning. Meanwhile Kouta and Santura had started recording guitars for “Kalmoskooppi”, the same song, which Tiera started with a few days earlier. It is a straight-forward song with a clear structure, so there was no need for Usva and I to be present, so Usva made some banana pancakes and I transported big-ass piles of logs and chopped wood from A to B.
It is 15:32 pm right now, and “Kalmoskooppi” is in the bag, and “Aarnivalkea” is in the works. Kouta’s goal is to nail five songs today – and he probably will.
Day 7: The Death of Summer
August 18, 2013
Kouta delivered: five songs are in the bag as far as his rhythm guitars are concerned. He is a very precise and sharp player, so it seemed to be a piece of cake for him. However, he was exhausted after he got the job done, so he hit the sack right after.
Today’s plan is to get another 5 tracks on hard disc, and leave one till Monday. The new songs are relatively long and versatile. Today’s mission includes the cover song, classic Kuolemanlaakso heaviness, My Dying Bride type of melancholy and black metal influenced darkness as well as a few other fresh spices.
I still have a lot of lyric writing to do, so I will to my best to concentrate on it today. We went to bed early, and I feel physically and mentally reborn. Too bad, that I seem to have lost half of the notes I’ve written down for the lyrics, but they can’t be too far from the recording room bench I’m sitting on right now.
The birch leaves are turning yellow day by day. As always, Santura had a swim in the lake first thing in the morning. According to him, the water is also getting colder and colder.
The summer is dying slowly and inevitably. It is pitch-black at nights, lit only by the belt of stars glimmering above us. As the fall conquers the summer, our album is gathering mass bit-by-bit, riff-by-riff. Awaken, the Children of the Moon.
Day 8: Hienoa, turtanyytti
August 19, 2013
The drums and Kouta’s guitars are done. Kouta blasted through another five tracks yesterday, so we are actually ahead of schedule. Today we will record some acoustic guitars and a song, which requires no electric instruments.
We were feeling quite cheerful after a successful week of recording, so I drove down to the nearest gas station (7 km away) to get some beer. It had closed five minutes earlier.
It was getting close to 9 pm, after which it is forbidden to sell alcohol in the shops in Finland, so I had to rush to the next city, 30 kilometers away. I think I made it to Siwa at 8:58 pm, and bought a few twelve-packs.
When I arrived back to our little boot camp of doom, Usva had prepared us a late dinner in the grill, and Santura and Kouta were just in the middle of checking out our fish trap. After a week of dryness from the Gods of the lake, we actually caught a pike! Kouta disemboweled the fish like a warrior woodsman, and we grilled it fresh.
Then: beer, sauna, beer, music, beer. I woke up with a slight hangover. Usva and Santura seem to be fine, Kouta hasn’t woken up yet. It’s 12:40 pm right now.
In the morning Usva and I polished up the structure of the song, which we are going to record today. It will be quite different from everything else we’ve ever recorded, but equally cool.
We’re going to have a day off tomorrow, and the whole gang is going to Kuopio. It will be way beyond awesome to take a shower with running water, and sleep in my own bed.
Days 9 & 10: Acoustics & a Day Off
August 20-21, 2013
We were ahead of schedule, so we didn’t feel too much pressure for this day. Kouta played his acoustic guitar parts for a few songs. After he was done, we concentrated fully on arranging and nailing the non-electric song. I think it will turn out as one of my personal favorites. It’s such a groovy and spooky song.
When the fucker was in the bag, we cleaned this place up and headed to Kuopio for a deserved day off. We dropped Usva off to his apartment, and continued to my house with Kouta and Santura. Everybody was feeling exhausted, so we hit the sack right away. Well, it was about 2 am, when we got there… We would have made it a lot earlier, but we took a little detour on some unpaved road, and stopped at an ABC gas station to get a few mega-sized burgers with four steaks and bacon.
Our day off turned out to be more fun than expected. We had lunch at a local Viking restaurant called Harald. Santura had reindeer for the first time in his life, and he absolutely loved it. Same thing with the restaurants own brand of beer, and ultra tender moose meat.
We went for a walk at the harbor and Väinölänniemi, which is a gorgeous cape by Kallavesi, and met with Tiera at the city centrum. I managed to borrow some cool and uncommon instruments from a couple of friends of mine, so we are good to go for today’s recording session.
Kouta’s job was done, so he headed for a little road trip, while the rest of us had a barbeque gathering at my house. Markus Makkonen of Hooded Menace and Sadistik Forest joined us, and we had a great time just talking a lot and eating a little.
Now we’re back in action, recording Usva’s acoustic parts. It’s sunny and warm outside, and the mood is mellow. I think we will work late tonight.
Day 11: Call of the Night Owl
August 22, 2013
Usva finished all of his acoustic guitar parts, except a couple of melodies on one song. I don’t think I’ve been as tired at this album recording session before as I was last night, so we decided to start recording my acoustic guitars in the morning.
I only had one song to do, which turned out to be tougher than I expected. The song isn’t technically challenging, but playing the acoustic guitar was honestly quite painful – and I do mean literally.
Anyhow, I got the job done after an hour or so. Usva grooved on the same song with an acoustic bass like a mofo. He also
nailed electric basses to two other songs. NOW they sound HEAVY.
A few visitors came by to for the night. As the night conquered the day, two bats circled over the dark waters, lit by the full moon. As if it wasn’t eerie enough, the baleful call of an eagle owl echoed very, very near in the night forest. Is this the perfect place for recording or what?
Day 12: Low Tone Extravaganza
August 23, 2013
We had a long day of bass recording ahead of us. Gladly we had a bunch of wicked bass sounds already set up, and Santura came up with fresh killer tones as well.
Usva was improvising quite a lot while recording. Improvisation usually leads to pretentious crap or greatness. In a few months you’ll hear which is the case here.
Usva nailed seven tracks in one day. Not bad. So, there is only one song missing as far as the bass is concerned. While Usva and Santura were busy in the studio, our guests found a whole bunch of chanterelles. Usva made badass chanterelle gravy with pasta, and Santura another cheese pasta dish. Epic mealtime.
When our guests left and the guys were recording the basses, I wrote some lyrics and recorded demo vocals for one of Usva’s songs (set up: MacBook Pro, Garage Band & MacBook Pro’s own mic). There’s still one verse missing, but I’ve got to say – being an overly self-critical bastard – I’m quite enthusiastic about the way the text and vocals are building up on that one.
After a long and efficient working day, we had a couple of beers and listened to 90’s classics such as Storm of the Light’s Bane by Dissection, Tonight’s Decision by Katatonia, Jester Race by In Flames and Blessed Rawings by Kyyria. Good times.
Day 13: Logs, Burgers, Acoustics and Electrics
August 24, 2013
Usva nailed some missing acoustic leads and even a solo on the non-electronic track. Even though he is a bassist, he is by far the best acoustic guitar player of the band. While the guys were recording and working on the solo, I continued the log transporting and chopping marathon. Lots of work done in that field of business, lots to go.
After Usva’s task was done, we prepared epic burgers with self-made buns, minced meat steaks, mushroom gravy (from handpicked boletes), cheese, salad, cucumber and different sauces, and homemade fries. Usva was so full that when he dipped his head underwater (daily routine), he instantly threw up. Good times.
Finally it was my turn to start with electric guitars. We began with probably the most epic track of them all: an eight-minute spectacle, which showcases the classic Kuolemanlaakso features and a spectrum of others.
I played my rhythm guitars first, and then concentrated on the leads and clean guitars. The rhythm parts were relatively easy to nail, and they were caught on hard disc rather quickly. As always, it takes some time to get the perfect sound for different parts, but Santura had a few tricks up his sleeve again, so we were good to go with the leads in no time.
After I had played the leads and the clean guitars, Santura wanted to try out a new lead on top of an instrumental passage. His objective was to tie the song tighter together by using elements from the intro melody (which are not repeated later) on his lead by varying it a little bit. I liked the idea, but we ended up twisting and turning it for two hours before both of us were satisfied. I love his vigorous and unconventional style of playing. Now the part is perfect.
We were supposed to go to the sauna afterwards, but Santura was the only one who had the energy for it. These Germans seem to be quite efficient.
Day 14: The Profit of Doom
August 25, 2013
It was time to get my guitar recordings fully rolling. Two songs were in the bag (one electric, one non-electric), nine to go. I started with a track called “Tulenväki”, which is more or less musically inspired by the Bram Stoker’s Dracula soundtrack and the early works of Emperor. It was easier to nail than I thought even though it has some tricky parts in it.
“Aarnivalkea” was a bit harder, because it is quite an epic with loads of different shit to play – plus one of our heaviest riffs ever. After that baby was in the bag, the three of us, Santura, Usva and I, headed to the nearest town to purchase groceries. It was such a beautiful, sunny and warm evening, that we headed to admire the view from the dock for a while.
Upon our return, I nailed the catchiest tune on the album in no time. One of Usva’s songs took a while longer, and Santura ended up playing a few parts on it as well. He even wrote some leads to it. A very cool tune, one of my favorites. It’s the closest thing to black metal that this band has done so far.
As we were working on the leads to that one, Usva baked a badass lingonberry pie, which we consumed on the spot with some Alice in Chains in the mist. Five songs to go, and lots of lyrics to write before the vocal sessions start. Doom or be doomed.
Day 15: Party Like It’s Your Birthday
August 26, 2013
Another day of guitar recordings. We started by redoing some of yesterday’s takes. They were alright, but needed a different kind of attitude in playing. Santura nailed some awesome licks again (one with a pen), and the songs are taking their final shape before the vocal recordings. Everybody’s quite excited about all the tunes.
It was also my birthday. I actually started the day by driving down to the nearest town to buy a hex key, because I left mine at home, and you cannot tune a Floyd Rose tremolo guitar without one. Those things suck, by the way. By “those” I mean Floyd Roses. They make tuning and string-changing a living hell. Note to self: get rid of all my Floyd Rose-infested guitars.
On “Uljas uusi maailma” I played all of my parts with my Schecter Hellraiser V-1, the same one I’ve been abusing at all of the Kuolemanlaakso shows. This time I’ve mostly rocked an Ibanez RG570, my favorite axe. I love its heavy-ass sound, and it’s really easy and smooth to play. Dudes at Ibanez: if you’re reading this, an endorsement deal would make a fine birthday gift…
Kouta and his girlfriend dropped by to see us, and have a peak at what we’ve been doing for the past week. It was very nice to see them even though it was a brief visit. We had a little sausage fest, and off they went.
Usva and Santura worked on some leads to Usva’s song for a couple of hours during which I chopped a huge pile of wood and smelled like a true lumberjack for the rest of the day.
We got pretty much everything done except the leads to the cover tune. After nailing that one, we’ve got time to go through every song in great detail, and see if they need some additional spices before Kotamäki gets here with his vocal cords and impressive facial hair.
We cranked up the sauna and had a bunch of good ol’ Finnish lager with “kiuasmakkaras”. Usva baked a badass lingonberry pie again, and dj’d with Björk, Cult of Luna, Ghost Brigade and such until the birthday boy took over with Oranssi Pazuzu, Beherit, Harmaja and The Morning Never Came by Swallow the Sun, one of my favorite albums ever and one helluva soundtrack for the Autumn.
Day 16: Like Sands Through the Hour Glass
August 27, 2013
We spent the day recording missing details from here and there and penning down notes for additional percussions. I’m writing this on August 30, as I’ve been busy working on the remaining lyrics in addition to the usual shenanigans. These last few days have been a blur, and time has been flying like bats in heat. Not much else to say about the day. Well, I stayed up until 4 am watching Prozac Nation.
Day 17: The Second Day Off
August 28, 2013
We were originally planning to have the day off in Helsinki so that we could have picked Kotamäki up on the same trip. However, we decided to spend it here in the wilderness.
I spent the day working on the lyrics of one of Usva’s songs, and Usva and Santura took the rowing boat and headed off to a nearby bay to pick mushrooms, blueberries and lingonberries. They had discovered decent piles of each one, especially the mushrooms.
As I was finishing the lyrics and vocal demo, the guys prepared badass mushroom gravy with fried potatoes. Santura went for a run at sunset, and the rest of the evening was spent in the sauna.
Day 18: Shit Hit the Band
August 29, 2013
I don’t know if it was the mushrooms, sauna sausages or what, but I woke up at 7 am with a weird stomachache. My belly had swollen ridiculously, and I was feeling horrible. I don’t want to go to nasty details, but I believe it had something to do with the (non-magic) mushrooms we had the day before.
Santura was feeling 100 % normal, but Usva had exactly the same symptoms as I did. He had also woken up at 7 am, and hit the crapper immediately. In fact, he was in a much more serious state than I. He spent most of the day in his “private suite” sleeping, reading about soccer and trying to survive.
Santura and I went through each of the songs that we had written notes for, and recorded all the missing parts, except a solo on the cover song we’ve recorded. Santura will nail it at his studio, when he gets back.
This day was all about fun and feeling mellow (and shitty at the same time). We recorded some guitars, but the main thing were the percussions. As our selection of “real instruments” is limited, we experimented with a bunch of stuff we found in the kitchen. In addition to recording witchdrum and tambourine, we nailed some finger snaps, handclaps, Pepsi Max shaker, sugar, couscous and oat.
So, we’ve only vocal recordings to do. But let’s not jump in joy yet. A friend of ours was supposed to bring a vocal preamp to Kotamäki last night, but his car had broken down, and the guy wasn’t that excited about walking around Helsinki at nighttime with a heavy device after a 10-hour working shift. No preamp, no album. We were going ape-shit here, and it was nearly midnight.
After scratching our heads trying to figure out a plan b, Kotamäki sent a message, that Mikko Karmila, one of the most notable Finnish producers, just walked into the same bar he was in. Karmila was kind enough to rent us his preamp, and thus we are good to go again. What a great day of Mikkos!
Day 19: Storm of Tonight’s Decision
August 30, 2013
Usva was feeling much better than the day before, and so was I. We’re still not in our normal everyday condition, but at least we’re both functioning. All three of us (Usva, Santura and I) drove to the nearest city to pick Kotamäki up from the railroad station.
Kotamäki had Karmila’s preamp with him, which pretty much saved our asses as far as recording vocals is concerned. We headed straight to the local Prisma, and bought shitloads of stuff, mostly meat, beer and wine. All six of us, Santura and the band, appreciate good food and enjoy cooking (culinary doom), which is awesome.
Kotamäki started his epistle with possibly our blackest song ever, and nailed it in no time. He was feeling a bit tired, as he had only slept for five hours on the previous night, so our goal was to record two songs, not more. I screamed demo vocals for three songs as guidelines for him during the break. The purpose of them is to help him out with the rhythms I’ve had in mind for the lyrics. Some of them he uses, some of them he doesn’t. The only thing that truly matters is the best possible outcome.
The second song he nailed was Kouta’s “Kalmoskooppi”. Evil shit. We had a little party after the songs were done, and the whole gang hit the sauna. Kotamäki had brought a two-star Jaloviina bottle with him. It is a rarity nowadays as it was a limited edition, which has been sold out for a long time. I’m glad Santura had the opportunity to taste it.
We listened to old nineties classics again during the night, mainly “Storm of the Lights Bane” by Dissection and “Tonight’s Decision” by Katatonia. Some claim that the best metal music was produced in the nineties, and they kind of have a point…
Days 20–23: The Final Chapters
August 31–September 3, 2013
The last days of recording were so busy, that I didn’t have time to update this diary “in real time”. I’m writing this entry from my livingroom couch, a day after the arrival back home.
While Kotamäki and Santura were capturing vocal magic on hard disc, with Usva as Santura’s co-pilot, I locked myself in my studio bedroom and worked on the remaining lyrics. There were plenty left. I had chosen the topics of the lyrics a long time ago, but hadn’t finished all the texts yet. Luckily I had made decent notes beforehand, and brought a few great books with me.
Time flew so fast, that I lost track of what happened on each particular day, and every day felt like Groundhog Day. Our alcohol consumption was surprisingly low before Kotamäki arrived. That certainly changed, when he got here…
Kotamäki enjoys his beer, wine and liquor, but he’s also a superb chef. Usually the gang got up at around 11 or noon, we had breakfast (or beer), and started working. I had recorded vocal demos of all the songs I had lyrics for, except one. When I finished writing lyrics to that one, I just handed the guys the text, told them to do their best, and headed back to my bedroom to continue on another track.
After a couple hours the guys came knocking on my door. The hair on my arms blasted to a full erection and my smile was wider than Canada, when I heard their vocal arrangements and Kotamäki’s ultra brutal and theatrical delivery – absolute perfection. As were Mikko’s and Usva’s culinary treats.
The guys changed the position of our fish trap, and they captured two decent pikes in two days. Tiera (drums) drove down to feast with us on Saturday. He had only heard his drum tracks and some of Kouta’s guitars before he left two weeks earlier, and was very impressed with our work. And there was much rejoicing. Beer, two-star Jaloviina, red wine and a few pranks might have been involved.
I was feeling stressed out on Sunday: two days left, three songs to write lyrics to. I got the ball rolling rather fast, and managed to deliver two of them in one day. It is quite schizophrenic and demanding to dive mentally in a certain mood, topic and atmosphere of the song you are working on, and continue directly to the next one. I had been giving a lot of thought on the topics of each song during the last three or so months, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
Kotamäki had two songs to sing on the last day of recording – and I had to come up with the lyrics of the latter one on the very same day. Be as it may, instead of feeling überstressed, I felt happy, relaxed and creative. The lyrics I wrote that day were surely one of the best I’ve ever done.
We stayed up late on the last night, and had a long and warm-hearted discussion about our three-week adventure in the woods with Santura. Needles to say, we love working with him, and I believe the feeling is mutual. We were already half-jokingly planning our next cooperation, and where it could take place. The first one was in the middle of the winter in German southwestern countryside and this one at summer’s end in the middle of the Finnish woods.
We slept about 4 hours, got up, cleaned up, packed the car and headed to the railway station. Or so we thought… The car wouldn’t start, and we were running out of time! If they guys wouldn’t make the train, Santura would surely miss his flight back to Germany.
I called them a cab, which arrived surprisingly fast, given the fact that we were ten kilometers away from the nearest village. They made the train barely.
The battery of my car had somehow drained. Luckily an old geezer, whose cabin stands nearby, was at the terrace of his place, and helped me out. He arranged a battery charger for me, and after unpacking the car (the battery is located under the trunk) and charging the battery for an hour and a half, I got the engine running again.
What an adventure. And I don’t just mean the last morning, but the whole three plus weeks in the wild. Thank you, Santura, Kouta, Usva, Tiera, Kotamäki, Svart Records and everybody, who made this possible. I do believe that these songs brought out the best in all of us. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. The mixing will commence in a few weeks.
Thank YOU for the support, and reading this studio diary.
With much respect and gratitude,
P.S. We will not only be releasing an album, but an exclusive EP as well. So, lots of new Kuolemanlaakso material will be heading your way in the following months.
Uljas Uusi Maailma Studio Diary 2012
KUOLEMANLAAKSO DEBUT ALBUM SESSIONS
Woodshed Studio, Germany
Laakso, guitar & keys
V. Santura, production & engineering
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
January 31st, 2012
The alarm clock rings at 7:03. I went to bed around 2 am, and feel like a zombie on tranquilizers. I take a quick shower, finish packing and bid my wife and son farewell as they rush to the day care center.
It’s -32 °C outside. Tiera was supposed to pick me up, and I wonder if his car can handle such malicious frost. As it turns out, the engine had had trouble rolling, but the knight in not-so-shiny armour rings my doorbell at a little past 8 am.
We drive from Kuopio to Mäntsälä, where Tiera’s brother lives, because the car must have an option for heating the engine, when he gets back. We take a train from Mäntsälä to Helsinki, and head to Kouta’s place, 390 km from Kuopio. In a few minutes Usva arrives, so the whole gang is set to go.
None of us has a flight case for the guitars or the bass, so the only option is to try to take the instruments on board as carry-on luggage. We try to minimize the hassle, and pack everything else on the suitcases that go inside the belly of the beast.
As it turns out, the flight from Helsinki to Amsterdam is fully booked, and the person at the check-in desk says that we might have a hard time trying to get the guitars on board. It’s now up to the flight staff.
After negotiating briefly with the flight attendants, one of them, a really, really nice woman, asks us not to worry as she will sort things out. After a few minutes we place the guitars in a “hidden” storage behind the first class passanger’s coats. Ten points and a thousand thank-you’s to the KLM Royal Dutch Airline’s flight attendant for customer service par excellent!
In Amsterdam we are not so lucky. As everyone clearly understands, a guitar is most likely to get shred to toothpicks if it’s placed under heavy luggage, and be thrown around by the baggage handlers. We manage to place Usva’s bass on the overhead cabin on top of us, but as Kouta heads to pick up our guitars from in front of the pilot’s cabin, the flight attendant informs him that our guitars are already on their way down to the baggage area. Fuck!
I get so pissed off that I start self-medicating with beer and red wine. And so do the rest of the guys. After a while, all the troubles seem so far away.
Kouta manages to convince the by-the-book flight attendant, that we MUST get the guitars right away, when the flight arrives to Munchen. And we do – and the guitars are in one piece! Thank you very much, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines!
Victor Santura of Triptykon and Dark Fortress fame comes to pick us up from the airport with his tiny car. After a few minutes of playing “luggage Tetris”, we head to McDonald’s to grab a bite. Kouta and I had met Victor once before, and he seemed to be the nicest, warmest and friendliest German on the face of the earth. Our first impression was correct.
With our stomacks full of junk, we unload the gear at Victor’s renowned Woodshed Studio. It’s about midnight. After a while Victor drives us to our pension, which turns out to be way better than we expected. Victor had booked us a two person room with two extra beds, but this one has two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a gigantic bathroom, balcony and six beds! This has been a farm house of some sort, but the only thing reminding of it is the “brown odor” floating outside the building. All in all, the pension is a pleasent surprise, and it only costs less than 15 euros/night/person.
Loss of Power and the Sound of Thunder
February 1st, 2012
Victor came to pick us up at 11 am. We don’t have a particularly tight schedule with the recordings, so Victor suggested that we take our time to get the best possible drum sounds and takes on tape, as the drum tracks are the backbone of everything else. A wise decision.
As we were just about to start recording, the electricity went out with no apparent reason. The fuses were alright, but everything just shut down. Never before has this happened at this studio before. After about a half hour or so, the power came back on. There had been some problems with the electricity network of the area, but fortunately it didn’t consume too much of our time or make us go berserk, as it was sunny outside.
Tiera had brought his own snare and cymbals, but obviously not the rest of his set. Most of the toms had already a bombastic sound, as the drummer of Dark Fortress had recently tuned them. After some hours of sweating Tiera and Victor had the set up and running. The snare sound was the hardest to get right, but the sound of the set just blew me on my hairy ass.
The nearest grocery store is about 10 kilometres from the studio. We purchased a lot of good food, wine and beer, and as Tiera and Victor nailed the first track “Minä elän” on tape, and Kouta was busy fine-tuning his axe, me and Usva took care of the cooking.
Recording an album can get boring from time to time, so it’s important to have stuff to do. Victor has a foosball table and a Super Nintendo at the studio! I challenge you to top that.
Instead of going to details about how I whipped Usva’s as three times at foosball and lost only once, maybe I should mention something about the recording method we used. We had demos of most of the tracks we are going to be recording. Victor had laid down a structure map for each of the songs beforehand, but as some of the arrangements had been improved and changed, we went through the structures together.
As we were doing that, he made markers on the riff or part change positions. He uses Cubase software. We recorded a guide track for the first song together live with the whole band. Never in my life has my guitar sound sounded better – and this was just a demo take with a presetting! Needless to say, the drums sounded like World War III, apocalyptic thunderstorm and the wrath of the Gods combined. The album will take no prisoners.
February 2nd, 2012
Victor picked us up again at 11 am. I went to bed at about 2 am, but the other guys stayed up until 5 am, drinking wine and world-famous German beer. Never the less, everyone was feeling good, except for Victor, who had been ill for a number of days. Fortunately he has been able to work and keep his spirit high.
We used the same method as yesterday with the markers and guidelines. The plan was to record demo guitars and bass, and final drum tracks for three songs, “Nostos & Algos”, “Etsin” and “Uljas uusi maailma”. We had made new arrangements on the first two, so they needed to be tested in a studio environment. They seemed to work well, so it wasn’t a big hassle.
Tiera is a fantastic drummer. Oops, did I just blurb that out loud?! Can’t wait for you to hear his work on this album.
Victor hasn’t commented on the arrangements that much so far, but in his opinion “Uljas uusi maailma” needed some revamping. As the songwriter, the structure of that particular song has troubled me as well. As we were running out of food and beverages, Usva and I borrowed Victor’s car and headed to the grocery store. I gave the guys free hands to experiment with the structure and arrangements.
When we came back, they had recorded a demo of the song with almost all the drum tracks. I only heard it once, but their ideas seemed to make sence. Gotta listen to it again today.
Victor had plans to go “pump iron”, as they say, so he dropped us of at our pension at about 8:30 pm. We had some wine and beer (surprise, surprise), and started editing video material from the sessions. We also composed a “pumping iron” kind of a track, which sounds like something out of an 80’s Jane Fonda workout video, as a tribute to Victor. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it…
The album will have eight songs on it, last of which is still in the works. I’ve written all the songs in solitude, but that one started picking up flesh on the bones at the rehearsals. The problem with the song is that it has too many good parts and melodies, and it’s a bitch of a task to choose the right ones to make the wholeness complete. The song differs quite much from the rest of the tracks, as it reminds me of “Fjara” by Sólstafir. With a Twin Peaks vibe, of course.
Nailing the Old Lady
February 3rd, 2012
Tiera started the day by nailing the rest of “Uljas uusi maailma”, or “old lady” as we tend to call it. It’s an inside joke, never mind. He had a severe hangover, and maybe it wasn’t the best idea to continue with “Ikiuni”, the fastest and most technical track on the album, but be as it may, he did a fantastic job.
After we had a delicious dinner provided by the masterchef Usva, Tiera was feeling much better, and he pounded away another track, which goes by the work name “Kuolemanlaakso”.
As I wrote earlier, the final track on the album, “Aurinko”, was only bits and pieces, when we arrived here. Our mission for the night was to finalize the structure and drink a lot of wine. Well, not in that order.
We listened to the parts and melodies a couple of times, made some new ones and captured them on hard-disk. So, we had the beginning of the song ready, a number of great parts and some melodies. Victor basically tore the song to pieces, moved the parts around and came up with a really cool structure in a half hour or less. After some minor revamping the structure turned out to be very interesting, sailing from mood to mood, from ultra brutal to tragically beautiful. “Aurinko” might actually be my favourite track of the album, at least at this point.
We were feeling cheerful after the structure came out great – and from red wine, of course. Victor invited us to stay at the studio, and do a bit of celebrating. We listened to the latest album by his band Dark Fortress, which none of us had heard too much before. As the biggest Twin Peaks fan in the world, it was an absolute pleasure to hear their version of “Sycamore Trees”. And to tell you the truth, the whole album sounded really, really good. Gotta pick up a copy.
We also listened to an album by Blotted Science for which Victor had recorded the drums for. If you think that you’ve heard everything as far as technical metal is concerned, you don’t know shit about fuck if you haven’t listened to “The Animation of Entomology” (2011). It’s hands down the craziest shit I’ve ever heard.
We also had a few matches of foosball. The guys in the band haven’t played it that much, and Victor is, as his name suggests, the ultimate foosball champion. He beat me ten to zero. What a bummer.
Victor drove us to the pension some time at night. The guys had gone a bit mental at the grocery store as they had bought nine (9) bottles of wine and six (6) bottles of beer. As it turned out, the amount wasn’t over exaggerated compared to our consumption – even though we had a few bottles left from the previous night…
An Evil Petting Zoo
February 4th, 2012
Tiera finished his task today by doing the drums for the last track, “Aurinko”. He even agreed to do some rim strokes, which he utterly hates. It required a bit of negotiating and manipulation skills…
We decided to record the rhythm guitars before the bass, because the songs have quite a bit of string-bending and gimmicks in them. Without the bass tracks Kouta could do his thing more freely. Victor and Kouta found an absolutely crushing guitar sound really fast.
Kouta nailed “Minä elän” and “Nostos & Algos” on hard disc. His playing was, as usual, razor-sharp and precise. He had doubts about someone else recording his parts, as he is a trained and experienced studio engineer himself, and has a tendency to “use colorful language” and “raise his voice a wee bit” from time to time between not-so-good takes, but everything went super smoothly with Victor. He has a sharp eye for studio psychology, which is one of the most underrated but yet most crucial parts of producing an album.
I personally think that it’s possible to make a good album in a neutral mode, but if you’re frustrated or pissed off at yourself or the guy that’s recording you, the final result will sound like crap, and the artist will probably hate it too. In a nutshell: The more comfortable you feel, the better you’ll do. This is of course individual, but it’s something Victor is really good at: he brings out the best in us. I honestly believe that can be heard on the album.
Nevertheless, we are also progressing on Super Mario World. The enemy must be destroyed.
February 5th, 2012
My son’s birthday. I feel like shit for missing the party, but at least he’s always with me in spirit. Sorry, little dude!
As usual, we drove to Victor’s at eleven. He came to answer the door, and passed on the worst news of the day: it has been so cold in the last few days that the water has frozen in the pipes. What does this mean in practise? No shower, no washing dishes, no doing laundry, no making coffee or flushing the toilet. Nice…
The agenda for the day was to record the rest of Kouta’s rhythm guitar parts. Me and Tiera concentrated mainly on saving the princess in Super Mario World – which we did by the end of the day!
Kouta executed his parts on all the tracks except “Kuolemanlaakso” (working title), which we’ve never rehearsed as a group before. He asked half jokingly if Victor would like to play his share on the song, and Victor responded with a wide ‘yes’.
I had already started having a few German lagers in my offspring’s honor (he is actually born on the same day as H.R. Giger at 13:49 pm, there’s some “Triptykon” references for ya), and was feeling like a million bucks. If someone had told me a year ago, that I’d be teaching V. Santura of Triptykon how to play my own riffs in the same studio where Eparistera Daimones (2010) was recorded, I would have taken it as a bad joke. Well, as they say, life imitates art…
I’m not going to go into details at this point, but Victor’s style of playing is unlike I’ve ever seen at a close distance. He brought so much new life, darkness and energy in the song, that it turned out as one of the band’s mutual favorites. Victor also played the intro on “Uljas uusi maailma”. As he was recording his parts, I sat behind him at the control room, and got pretty much wasted on red wine and beer… A colorful end to a colorful day.
A Day Off in Landshut
February 6th, 2012
Once we got back at the pension at around midnight last night, I went straight to bed, but the other guys made a gray mishmash of all the stuff they found from the cabinets. I believe the gourmet dinner consisted of tomato soup, mashed potato powder, red wine and a shitload of fist-crushed garlic. They had filmed “a making of documentary”, which could pop up somewhere in the future. Or not. Well, rather that clip than the one they filmed of drunk-ass me at the studio…
We had decided to have a day off, because everybody was getting exhausted, especially Victor. We drove down to Landshut, the nearest city around. It has an interesting history, which Victor briefed us about. To put it short, it’s a nice little medieval city, which was founded in 1204. Check this and this out, if you want to learn more.
We picked up some acoustic guitar strings, and as Victor continued to pump some iron, the band headed for some tasty and cheap döner kebab. Next stop was a game shop: I bought a Super Nintendo and Super Mario World, yay! Now the heroic quest will never stop.
Our plan was just to hang around the centrum, check out some nice buildings and see if we could find some stuff to bring back home, and that’s what we did. After Victor got back, we went to a really nice Italian restaurant and had a wicked dinner. One of the waiters had an over-grown David Hasselhoff style perm, which he had tied up on pony tail, which we found rather amusing… Nevertheless, he was super nice, and everybody had a great time.
A fine day for battery-charging and coping with a severe hang-over.
Lost in the countryside
February 7th, 2012
I had to wake up at six am, and drop Tiera off to the Munich airport, which was easy to find. The way back, however, was not. Victor lives in a tiny settlement, which doesn’t have as many signs pointing the way as the airport. After taking three wrong exits, and stopping by to inquire about directions at a gas station, I finally found the way.
When I got back, the guys were still sleeping like wee babies. Man, was I pissed off…
It was Usva’s turn to work his magic on tape today. Victor came up with a killer sound in no time, as usual. Usva pounded away on Minä Elän and Nostos & Algos. He actually played parts of the latter one with his dreadlocks! Rastaman vibrations, yeah.
Celebration of the Lizard
February 8th, 2012
Usva’s birthday. He was in a cheerful mood, and was excited about the way his bass tracks came out. “The best birthday gift ever”, I recall him saying. That’s about everything I remember from that day. There might have been some partying involved as the day darkened, and the owls flew over the night sky.
Get on My Horse
February 9th, 2012
Usva finished his low tone thundering today. I was anxious to start my guitar parts, and it seemed to take forever before I could actually start playing. The reason for the delay was a good one: some of the bass parts needed re-arranging. As Usva and Victor were a couple of busy bees in the recording room, Kouta and I concentrated on rescuing the Princess once again as Mario and Luigi.
It was rather late, when we started recording my parts, so I only did one song: Etsin.
February 10th, 2012
The last day of recording. Victor took off in the morning, because the water wasn’t running again, and he needed to get some electronic gear to fix the problem. So, he handed the engineers chair to Kouta.
As it turned out, most of the songs didn’t require more rhythm guitar parts. For once, I had really practiced before going into the studio, so I felt very frustrated and pissed off. I was really looking forward to playing these riffs I had been working on for a year or two, but as it turned out, my task was just to play the leads. Which I hate. There was only one thing to do: swallow my pride, and jump on the horse.
Everything I played sounded like shit, and we were running out of time minute by minute. After a couple of hours, and Nostos & Algos and Ikiuni, Victor came back and took the lead. He immediately saw that I felt uncomfortable and worried about the situation. So, being a great producer and master in studio psychology, he told me to go and play some Nintendo.
He set up his Peavey 6150’s and two Marshall stacks, and told me to drag my ass in the recording room. They were loud. Super loud. When I hit the first chord, the wall of sound shook my very core. Now, this is what I’m talking about! The natural feedback of the leads blew me away.
My spirit was lifted from rock bottom to sky high. Recording the leads turned out to be one of the highlights of my musical career. The feeling of sheer power, the atmosphere, the sound… Man, o’, man.
As we were doing my parts, Victor’s neighbor phoned him up, as he had heard that a dude in his area, meaning Victor, owns a studio, and he wanted to come and check it out. He was rather funny looking with his hair up like Sibelius’ and old, worn down sweat pants hanging low. He was actually really nice, and he wanted to share his life story with us. On the last day of recording, with a skin-tight schedule.
Victor kindly asked him a number of times, if he could come back another day, since we were in a hurry. Ultimately we pretty much had to tell him to take a hike, which kind of sucked, because he was such a sad character who only wanted somebody to talk to. He even brought a bottle of sparkling wine to share with us. But, as we were running out of time with a number of tracks to go, there were no other options.
We finished my parts at about 2 am. That was that, the instruments for the album, excluding keyboards, were in the bag. Victor made a quick mix of the songs, and we listened to them and banged our heads in joy (half asleep) until 3 am. When we got to our pension, we had about 2-3 hours time to sleep before leaving for the airport.
The Homecoming Queens
February 11th, 2012
After a few glances of sleep, we picked up Victor from the studio, and drove to the airport. Packing all the gear into his tiny Ford Fiesta was not as hard as the previous package Tetris we did at the Munich airport, because Tiera had already left a couple of days ago. And off we went.
It was truly a great trip, and hands down one of the coolest experiences of my life. And what I gather, the other guys seem to share my opinion.
I’m writing this on August 12th, 2012. The album is completely finished, and it sounds absolutely crushing. Can’t wait for people to hear it. We are currently working on the cover artwork and negotiating for a deal with a killer label. So, things look radiantly bright in this gloomy world of ours. If things go as planned, the album will hit the stores very soon. Hope to see you on tour!
Until the light takes us,
P.S. Oh yeah, forgot to mention: our singer is a certain Mikko Kotamäki of Swallow the Sun and Barren Earth fame…