UMBRA NIHIL

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This interview with Finnish doom metal band Umbra Nihil's leader Ville Vierimaa was done by Fjordi in March / April 2004.

There´s life beyond that melancholic metal which the triumvirate consisting of My Dying Bride, Anathema and Paradise Lost wielded some years ago, apart from the fact that the last releases from these bands are quite distant from being excellent. Extreme doom metal is a relatively fresh style that provides new bands in the last times and a different dimension has been created through slow funeral bands music. Umbra Nihil follow the wake of the Finnish myths as Skepticism, but they emerge with their own vision of doom metal: harsh, severe, cold and dour. Originator of the project Ville Vierimaa unveiled some stuff from behind the shadows:

When was Umbra Nihil formed? Have you had previous experiences playing in other bands?
I used to play in a thrash metal band and in a hardcore band some 6 years ago. The first one was more serious at first, the second one was mainly an excuse to drink. Neither worked. After quitting those and moving to another town in the year 2000, I wanted to make slower and more atmospheric music and I started working on songs by myself. Then the bassist of the thrash metal band moved to the same town. Since he had always been a good friend and a good bassist I asked him to do the basses on some of the demo songs and he agreed. Recently Master Warjomaa of Aarni joined the band as well. His role is to provide Umbra Nihil with additional guitar noise and solos.

So far, the only Umbra Nihil release is the split CD shared with Aarni. Are you happy with this split, or was your first intention to edit your material on your own through an Umbra Nihil album?
The songs of the split basically contain our demo "Enough, or too Much!", which was remastered for the split. Aarni and Umbra Nihil were sending demos out at the same time and Firebox suggested that demo material of both bands could be published on a split and we agreed because it was a nice way to get the old songs out of the way. Now we can fully concentrate on new material for the debut album. I'm not thoroughly happy with the split's sound-quality, otherwise it's an OK release as long as the fact that it consists of demo material is taken into account. At first I had only planned to do the songs for a demo.

Explain us something about the contract with FireBox... how many albums will you release for them? What are the things you like of that small label?
We signed a deal of 2 albums. A good thing about Firebox is that they have a pretty good international distribution for a minor label and also that there are bands on the label that are from abroad, such as Pantheïst from Belgium and Mar De Grises from Chile. It is rather easy for me to visit the Firebox HQ frequently, which means that I have learned to know the manager of the label up to some degree. I like to talk to people face to face, it makes keeping things in order easier. So the relatively close distance is a merit as well.

When it comes to Aarni, what is your opinion about Aarni music on the split CD? What are the main differences between your style and Aarni´s?
Well, Aarni is in some ways more extreme than Umbra Nihil. Or more varied, at least on the split. The atmosphere shift from Aarni to UN is quite tremendous in a sense. With this I mean that try listening to Reaching Azathoth and then put on e.g. Determination and you'll see the difference. Umbra Nihil is more mellow and not as sick overall.

The songs are taken from the “Enough, or Too Much!” demo. First of all, I must ask if you have listened to some albums based on William Blake´s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” like Bruce Dickinson “The Chemical Wedding” or Ulver “Themes from William Blake´s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, since you seem to be keen on Blake´s creations.
Yes. I have listened to Chemical Wedding, but I discovered it just last summer. It is an excellent album. I heard Ulver, but it didn't really impress me. Although I am now aware that there are two albums that include themes from Blake, neither Dickinson nor Ulver introduced me to Blake. I got a copy of a book into which Blake's poems were gathered when I was 17 or 18 and have been reading his works ever since. I study English, so I have taken advantage of the literature and poetry courses that the local department of English has to offer and have gotten some information concerning Blake as part of my studies as well. Anyhow, there aren't that many traces of Blake on lyrics on the split.

The sound is dirty but audible, and everything´s in its place... aren´t you fond of clean productions, or the result was just consequence of a low budget or the shortness of time?
The latter is the case. I don't have a problem with dirty sound-quality and it suits many sicker bands (Moss and Swans come to my mind), but then again there's nothing wrong with clean production as long as the album in question is not overproduced. I've noticed that some albums annoy me because of the overproduction. Anyway, without a doubt Umbra Nihil would benefit from a clearer production. The sound quality of the debut will be much better, I can guarantee that.

Finland is often associated to ultra-doom bands, and having in the history of your country acts as Skepticism, Unholy or Shape Of Despair, that´s not strange at all. But I don´t think Umbra Nihil could be categorized just as ultra doom, because your music is much more diverse. Many elements on your music remind me of My Dying Bride and Skepticism, and as a curiosity I will ask you if you enjoyed the last albums from that couple of bands. I´d also like to know your opinion about extreme slow doom bands in general, are popping out many bands from that style in Finland nowadays?
I agree with you that Umbra Nihil can't be categorized simply as ultra doom, because we are trying to make music spontaneously, which in our case means that the tempos & elements shift in songs. I do enjoy the latest albums of Skepticism and MDB. By the release of the latest album Skepticism has evolved more than MDB, though. I like Skepticism's new album perhaps the most of their efforts, but this is not the case with MDB at all. My personal favourite is Angel and The Dark River and The Dreadful Hours cannot possibly beat that one. MDB's AaTDR, Like Gods of the Sun and Turn Loose the Swans evoke great feelings of nostalgia in me and new MDB albums cannot possibly have the same kind of effect. I like many slow doom bands; Esoteric, Unholy, Skepticism, My Shameful and Shape of Despair, to be more accurate, but I don't think that slowness in itself can be seen as a merit of any kind. It's the overall atmosphere of the album that counts. I don't know if that many new funeral doom bands are popping out in Finland. I think that more funeral doom has come out from Belgium and the Netherlands lately (Pantheïst, The 11th Room and Stijn Van Cauter's various projects).

I´d say the songs are kind of a concept work about a suicide... the first songs are introducing a person´s situation when he/she feels empty and lacks of interest about life, and then that person makes up his mind and determines to kill himself, drowning into a lake... at least the songs inspire me those thoughts, lyrically and musically, because the music supports very well the feelings and moods of the person that tells the story (lyrics are not printed in the booklet, and only two song lyrics are available in the official website). Explain me something about it, the lyrical concept...
Well, you hit the right note in a way. Then again, I wouldn't want to meddle with other people's impressions, but there's a twist in the last song. The person's life doesn't really end, because when he is under water he sees other "people" there in the bottom of the lake. I am very much inspired by lakes and water as an element. Anyway, the songs form a kind of concept, but one doesn't necessarily have to see it like that. I don't think that I could make a strict concept album because I usually make the music and the lyrics at the same time to make sure that they suit each other. But as I made the lyrics I saw that they can be fitted together, so in that sense they form a concept. The first song "Follow and Believe / Fall without Relief" is the most hateful song in my opinion. The lyrics are in the form of a speech or a rant to religious fundamentalists and in the end a nostalgic wish of restoring the old ways is implemented. "A mere Shell" is a plea for winter (can be seen as death) to not to come yet. This includes the cosmos / microcosmos idea suited to a personal situation. Well, the winter (of soul) seems to arrive anyway. Then comes the way to the lakeshore where the final determination comes. The person then goes and drowns himself, but his existence does not end. Now he has become a mystical creature living in the bottom of the lake. I was inspired by Finnish Vetehiset and Vetten Väki myths which mean the people of the waters or the force of the waters.

While listening to your music I make a picture... and I see sometimes reflections of Poe and his tortured writing while heavy chords are floating through my room, whereas the track “My way to the lakeshore” is in certain ambiental passages evocative of David Lynch films... What degree of influence have the books you read in your music and lyrics? Are your texts based rather on personal experiences, or the authors you mention as inspiration are present in the words you write?
The artists, authors and directors have had a huge impact on my life and they have also influenced the way I see art and one's self-_expression, thus it can be said that they have had an indirect rather than direct influence on Umbra Nihil. But what I sometimes think when I'm making music is e.g. how a Lynch's movie's or Simberg's painting's atmosphere could be captured or expressed by music. This is how the artists have had a more direct influence on Umbra Nihil. I have formed a method of expression in which the works of others play an important role. This does not mean that I would try to make a Twin Peaks soundtrack all over again, because I use this method just to get started or if I am still under the spell of some painting or movie or whatever.

Master Warjomaa told us the new Umbra Nihil album will be very good... I am eager to know what things are you gonna offer with that new release, so before I have it on my hands, I´d like to know some tips about the new opus...
At this point I would say that it is going to be more varied musically. There will probably be some sick stuff as well as some speedier parts, but then again there will probably be parts or songs that are even slower than the slowest moments on the split. There will also be more progressive influences, which means that there will be some psychedelic sounding parts. Despite all the changes, the new material still sounds like Umbra Nihil, because there will be plenty of melodic passages. The production will be much clearer and it will be mastered in a better studio in Finland this time. There will also be at least one lengthy instrumental song on the album.

Some people think singing about depressive things, suicide and emptiness is nonsense, immature or childish. I don´t agree with them, by the way; it depends on how you express those things. Suicide is a topic that is very interesting and very metal, in a way, it´s extreme, dark, romantic, passionate and harsh... much more extreme that singing about goats, fires and horned priests and things like these! What are your reflections on that subject?
I agree with you that it's not the subject that counts but the way one writes about it. I think that one can make great lyrics about suicide, but one can also make more or less great lyrics about goats, fires and horned priests. It all depends on the approach. In a way suicide is rather cliched as a subject, because every MDB clone band and even every commercial goth metal band seems to do mediocre and uninteresting songs about the issue. I think that there are more interesting things to write about than self-pity and suicide, but even cliched subjects are OK if you find a fresh viewpoint. In a sense it's easier to make songs about goats because it's easy to take a humorous approach on that subject.

Besides that, if it was childish, don´t you think that “suicidal” slow doom bands would be “trend” and a myriad of kids would start up ultra doom bands? And that´s not the case, I think! Kids usually form punk bands or black metal bands (with some exceptions), that´s something that can´t be denied... What do you think when someone tells you such things about your music?
No-one has told me such things and I couldn't care less if someone made such remarks. I think you make a good point there. Ultra doom treats self-hatred and suicide with the harshness that the subjects require. I also think that childishness can be a good thing as well as the ability to be able to laugh at oneself. Anyway, once again, it's not the subject that is childish in itself, but rather the way it is approached or written about.

Don´t you think that doom metal is certainly a mature style, in the sense that is more or less “metal for the initiated”? Lyrics often are written in a serious, more poetic style, speaking sensitively about everyday life; doom bands don´t use stupid make-up or leather/spiked clothes... funeral doom metal doesn´t appeal the youth of today!
That's correct, but leather/spiked clothes in the Manowar style do not seem appealing to the youth of today either [Well, I meant the music was the appealing thing, sorry if I wasn´t clear... Manowar has been the second place in album sales in Germany with their last album, sad but true – Fjordi] . To be serious, the thing that bothers me in some doom bands is the pretentiousness. Bands that either try to be so damn artsy or then on the other hand so damn tr00 and old skool. I think that the point of making music is to make music. Not to make music to prove that one is sensitive or tr00 or whatever, because in a way making music to prove one's artistic sensitiveness or tr00ness is like making music to become rich and famous; it is BESIDES THE POINT OF MAKING MUSIC FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF MAKING MUSIC [I wish it was true because I think that´s the essence when creating songs – Fjordi]. Anyways, I digressed. I don't think that my rant applies to many funeral doom bands as such.

I always ask people about their favourite beer and you won´t escape from this question, hehehe! Speak!
Hmm. I am a dedicated friend of beer. Hails to Pellonpekko! It is very difficult to name just one, but I will try. My favourite lager would be Sandels or Karhu, but I like almost every Finnish lager. The favourite non-lager beers would probably have to be Krusovice Black and Guinness. I also enjoy Murphy's, Caffrey's and many other non-lager beers. I also have to mention that an excellent new beer has emerged in Finland. It's Lapin Kulta Special Anniversary beer that has a nice edge of cloudberries in it. It's excellent, perhaps the best lager in the universe.

Being aware of your appreciation to Maudlin Of The Well, what do you think about that bizarre name change to Kayo Dot?
It's kind of distracting, but then again, if they think that it suits their new style (whatever that will be) better, then why not? If it suits, it's ok. As a matter of fact, I think that many other bands could have changed their names before going through a drastic style change. It helps the fans to realize that a change of some sort has indeed occurred.

I don´t know if you, being a young band, will have had several interviews yet... but nevermind: I know there are some questions that you hate as hell, so tell me which they are (and whip me if I have done them yet!).
I can't come up with anything that I would hate with much passion. The history of the band is something that is almost always asked and at the same time there are not many interesting things to tell about it, but then again I understand why the question is always asked.

I´d like to know how many times you rehearse a week and your thoughts about concerts.
Ok, here's the bad one. We don't rehearse that often at all, because no one has asked us to do any gigs. Not many doom gigs are played in Finland anyway, because the doomsters are few and far between. Last summer Jari, the bass-player who now lives in Helsinki, came all the way to Oulu and we played and rehearsed new songs daily for over a week and recorded one song. So this is the kind of rehearsing we do. Jari has to travel 800 kilometers to Oulu if we want to rehearse together, so the sessions usually last for at least a week and 100 % involvement is necessary. Other than that, we usually swap new song ideas over the Internet and each member rehearses by himself.

Egoist and pretentious as I am (hehehehe), I´d like you to qualify this interview from 0 to 10 (hey, -3 not accepted!!!). And then, I will bow my head in reverence to you and your kindness answering these lines. Kiitos!! Good luck for the future! As always, you are able to pronounce the last words to give closure to this.
I will give you 9 for the pleasant, and for the most part, interesting questions. My apologies for digressing and jabbering of things uninteresting. Thank you for the interview! Umbra Nihil related email and Internet addresses have changed. The homesite is nowadays at www.umbranihil.net and the band can be reached through the following email address: vilpir@umbranihil.net.


Links of interest:

Umbra Nihil
Firebox Records