An Interview with Jim of Lamentations Of The Flame Princess webzine (Mar 2006)

First, What is your name and what do you do in the band?

MW: "They" call me Master Warjomaa for reasons of which it would be unlawful to speak. In Aarni I take responsibilty for the stringed instruments as well as the vocals, lyrics, music, rituals, intuition, wossname and whatnot.

What does the term "heavy metal" mean to you? What significance does heavy metal have to your band?

MW: The term brings to mind the time in the mid-80s when I listened to bands like Iron Maiden, Dio, post-Ozzy Sabbath and the occasional Judas Priest tune. I think "heavy metal" is somewhere between the proto-metal or "hard rock" of the 70s and modern metal (with all its perplexing subgenres) from the 90s onwards. I consider heavy metal today to be a "mere" style/subgenre with distinct features. To oversimplify: pretty basic and predictable arrangements, clean vocals and more or less apparent roots in blues rock. To me these musical elements nowadays often equal a boring listening experience, if encountered in a modern band. I still occasionally listen to the what I see as timeless heavy metal classics: Iron Maiden, the latest Bruce Dickinson albums, Dio-era Sabbath etc.

As for Aarni's material, you can perhaps hear the odd Maiden and Sabbath influences here and there. But for the most part I regard our music as influenced by other genres of metal/rock/folk than heavy, for example acts like classic Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Candlemass, Camel, Hawkwind, Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson, King Diamond and even Pantera.

How does your nationality influence the type of music you play?

MW: Fuck nations and nationalities... They exist only as abstractions on paper anyway. In my view rock/metal should be about rebellion and achieving by any means necessary at least a degree of freedom from the social, political and religious systems that seek to enslave us all. Rants aside, I think my cultural background does indeed influence Aarni's music in a conscious way in our Finnic folky tunes. Often when I choose to have a shamanistic/mellow ambience in a song, stylistic influences from the ultra ancient "Kalevalan" pre-pentatonic tonality and its post-Stone Age developments tend to creep in. Naturally the Finnish language is usually used if I have included lyrics in this kind of songs. But generally Aarni's music seems directed at a more universal audience, hence the use of English, Latin, German, Ancient Egyptian, Enochian, Ouranian Barbaric and other globally (and elsewhere) understood tongues.

If you are releasing music for sale, how is your band not simply a commercial enterprise?

MW: Perhaps because we don't seek to maximise profits... not by a long shot. Otherwise we would be making the kind of nihilistic lowest-common-denominator dance music that smears the "official" media today. I like to think of Aarni as residue from my personal musical psychotherapy, in effect almost total introversion with no apologies. Yet after I have vomited forth the main parts of a particular song, I usually try to switch myself into a more objective state of mind and throw in some hooks as well. Hopefully the end result will be listenable to some of the people dissatisfied with most of the bland big-buck music industry waste of our dark times. So maybe Aarni has altruistic goals, but an altruism that is not for all. Do you believe that?

There are a ton of bands releasing albums these days. Why should anybody care about your band?

MW: Because we at least try to make more original music and not live in the past or just ride on the latest trend's bandwagon like most current acts sadly seem to do. People with strong neophobia and short attention spans probably shouldn't listen to Aarni unless they wish to be cured of their pitiful but all-too-human condition. The above can also be taken to be a convulted way of saying "I don't know".

Complete this sentence: "The ideal fan of this band is somebody who..."

MW: ...pays up and shuts up. But more seriously, I don't much care for fanatics and collectivism. Don't look for others to give meaning to your life.

What are the best and worst trends that you are seeing in heavy metal lately?

MW: (From hereon I assume you are using the term "heavy metal" to refer to metal music in general and reply accordingly) For some years now I've been trying not to even look. I think I'm too busy with my own best and worst tendencies to be interested in current pop culture fads. If you need to outwardly show you're part of a group, you ain't.

What is the greatest challenge facing you as a band?

MW: To overcome inertia and make music that passes our self-censorship. Actually the biggest challenge might be to be deconditioned of our sense of self-censorship...

Rank these musicians, from first to last, according to their historical importance to heavy metal. (Trey Azagthoth, Joey DeMaio, Ronnie James Dio, Leif Edling, Steve Harris, Tony Iommi, Quorthon, Chuck Schuldiner, Jesper Strömblad, Tom G. Warrior)

MW: Here's how I currently rank their contribution: Iommi, Harris, Dio, Edling, Schuldiner, Azagthoth, Warrior, Strömblad, Quorthon, DeMaio.

Rank these magazines, from first to last, according to their integrity and commitment to heavy metal. If you are unfamiliar with one of them, note that and put that mag at the end. (Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles, Isten, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Legacy, Metal Maniacs, Miasma, Pit, Scream, Snakepit, Terrorizer)

MW: I don't really pay attention to music writings either, but here goes: LotFP (extra points for the RPG section), Miasma (the Finnish mag), Metal Maniacs. The rest are more or less unfamiliar to me, except Terrorizer which I'll place at the end because I dislike its mostly mainstream/shallow approach and limited coverage.

Read either Impure Metal or Scum and give your opinions on the article. Or tell us about your favorite piece of writing about heavy metal instead.

MW: Scum: a rant with many interesting points that should be more widely read than it likely is. Like every reader, I agree with some of the opinions and disagree with others. I think the article would have benefitted from a less dogmatic writing style, meaning more relativistic statements as opposed to absolutistic phrases such as "X is heavy metal" and "Z is not heavy metal". After all the text has been written as representing one person's subjective viewpoints. Hair-splitting aside, I agree with the writer that metal as well as music and other art in general should be about individualism and its expression. That entails unconventionality in both the music and lyrics, as the mainstream/lowest-common-denominator (call it what you will) dross featured in the mass media is nothing if not conventional and reactionary. I see metal music and its ilk as being radical by this definition alone. Also a simple fact should always be kept in mind by the fans/consumers and especially by the artists: everything a record label does is a marketing scam, not just the release of Greatest Hits albums and "accidentally found" past "lost" recordings. Whether you are an artist, a manager, studio engineer, music fan or a producer, you should read the book "Confessions of a Record Producer" by the pseudonym Moses Avalon, which exposes the corrupt, dystopian world of music business and how to defend yourself against the worst scams. No matter how cynical your outlook towards the industry is, it's likely you will be afterwards more disillusioned still. It has never yet been "about the music". With true indie labels (not the intentionally misleadingly named sublabels of major companies) the situation might be better - if you are lucky. My advice is never sign a record contract if you don't personally know the people running the label... don't be fooled by bullshit like advance payments... many artists mistake it for some sort of free money from the "friendly & helpful" label. The money will be recouped from your meagre royalties and/or other payments, meaning you will be indebted to the label for years to come. In many cases making a distribution deal instead will prove less unfair to you. About using artistic pseudonyms: I think it's somewhat beside the point which names appear in the sleeve notes of an album. After all, which represents the person(ality) of the artist more: the name given by your parents at your birth or one that you yourself have chosen? In Aarni I use both in a way. Anyway, when listening to an artist I prefer to let the music matter alone, whether the author is listed as John Smith or Gandalfripper Christfuck.

About the chapter The Devil's Advocates: I agree that if you're an idealistic art fundamentalist, making metal music (or any kind of music/art for that matter) entails purely pouring out your creative urges in an isolated setting: just the band jamming without an audience, no recording, every musician "doing her (or his) own thing" with abandon. If the band chooses to develope a song based on such a jam, from an idealistic viewpoint it could be defined as "selling out" or at least artificially restraining the creative flow into a limited, unchangeable structure. But in the real world a song cannot be played in a similar fashion two times, every performance is different even if only in tiny nuances. So it seems to be a matter of "shades of creativity" and of course entirely subjective, just like everything else.

About the concept of "selling out": how do you define it exactly? When can you tell a band has "sold out"? There are many reasons why an artist is seen to have changed their "original" sound. One can be at the orders of a (major) record company, which wants to make what it believes to be a fashionable product for the current market trends. Usually this covers the image of the artist, not so much their actual music, although the label often assigns their own studio producer to make the artist's music more marketable. Labels tend to have a nihilistic view on the consumers of their target group, whom they consider to be essentially a stupid mass ergo easily controlled. Sadly the labels appear to be right... most of their record sales are shown to be impulse purchases (fed by commercials aka music videos) by ignorant teenagers, so the key factors are 1) the artist's image 2) the album cover's graphical design. Likely the buyer will listen to the album as background music to other activities only, so the quality of the actual music from an artistic perspective is largely immaterial. In this situation, if an artist wishes to remain with the label, it MUST make the most trendy music possible in order not to be replaced by a new talent. Even then, when the trend dies (in a year or two), the artist will be without a contract once again. Here we can see one evil Catch 22 of the music business. I agree with the writer that (metal) music needs to be free of record companies and the business side. Computer technology and the net looks like a possible solution to this, providing the chance for quality DIY recordings and direct distribution to stores and/or individuals. But let's assume a change of musical direction with a more or less marginal heavy metal band, one that doesn't really have to concern itself with commercial trends. When I was younger and more ignorant about the ways of the world, I was easily enraged about the "traitorous" behaviour of bands like Metallica and Paradise Lost, about what I saw as radical and heretical changes of their "true and holy" style. In retrospect I think I was suffering from the psychobiological condition affecting most youngsters: fear of change, innovation and of losing a safe, stagnant & immature worldview. This seems also to explain why people in their formative years are in general especially prone to falling prey to totalitarian no-thinking-necessary ideologies and religions. I see this attitude as the opposite of individualism: afraid to stand on your own and to accept constant change in your musical and other tastes. "Not metal". Which brings me back to bands' style changes: artists with integrity change the style in accordance with changes in their psyche and worldview... or maybe they just think they have discovered an improved sound. It is something I respect. If you don't like the change, there are always scores of clone bands around. This seems to be true especially in the metal genre. In contrast there are bands that never seem to change much, for example Slayer, Bolt Thrower, AC/DC and Manowar. In their case I suspect it's a matter of being afraid of losing their fan base (= record sales). Like the article's writer says, this "is not" heavy metal. I see these groups as consisting of show business entertainers, not musicians. But is it somehow wrong to have found a way to make ends meet? I'd like to believe the people in such bands have side projects as well to satisfy their more creative ambitions.

On music journalism/writing: I've worked as a record reviewer for a metal subgenre and was quickly disillusioned about the quality/quantity ratio in even that one marginal genre. I agree with much of the article. I'd like to add that actually being a musician yourself probably gives one more perspective for the job in general... it did for me. That was about when I quit.

The above rants notwithstanding, sometimes it is fun to listen to music of a suspect nature. Depends on the mood and social context. Unless one wants to constantly be an anal-retentive purist, more or less entertainment music like Slayer, Candlemass or Pantera fits a party atmosphere well. And so forth for other situations...

What five new albums are you liking lately, and why?

MW: Absoluuttinen Nollapiste: Mahlanjuoksuttaja, because it has witty lyrics & Camel-like music. Opeth: Ghost Reveries, because as usual it has quality proggy melodies, parts and musicianship with bad lyrics. Tenhi: Maaäet, because of interesting dreamy lyrics and atmosphere. Amorphis: Eclipse, because of groovy but predictable melodies and a new improved vocalist. Cathedral: The Garden Of Unearthly Delights, because it's Cathedral and they have somewhat returned to their Carnival Bizarre style, which I like fnord...

Final words?

MW: Thanks for the ranting opportunity and do your own thing, everybody. 93.