The Fragile Ones
Back in 2005, I reviewed ‘Absence’, the second album from melancholic Finnish death/doom metal act Noumena. Despite competing directly with the likes of Amorphis, Insomnium, Swallow the Sun and Rapture, the release was one of my favorite releases of that year. The very next year the band released ‘Anatomy of Life’ — once again to critical reviews. However, the band then went silent. Real silent. After being on the verge of truly breaking out, they were not heard from again for seven years. Until now.
Out of the blue, I got an email from a guy named Ville Lamminaho (serving for Haunted Zoo Productions) asking if I would like to review the new Noumena album, Death Walks With Me. I, of course accepted the task. After a few more emails, I discover that this Ville Lamminaho is the guitarist of Noumena. He and drummer Ilkka Unnbom have formed their own label and self-released the band’s fourth album after a 7 year hiatus. Of course, the album is fantastic; it is yet another top notch release of somber Finnish doom death. With the addition of Suvi Uura who replaces Hanna Leinonen on female vocals, the album is taken to a whole other level. So, Ville and I decided to have a little chat and talk a little more about Death Walks With Me as well as the 7 year… absence.
So my first question would be: Why the long wait between Anatomy of Life and Death Walks With Me?
The long wait is a combination of many factors, but first and foremost it was the case of difficulty of finding a proper label for us. Our contract with Spikefarm Records ended with Anatomy of Life, and finding someone willing to co-operate with us proved to be a very difficult task. During the silent years we did a couple of promos, but they weren’t enough to convince any decent label. In the end we decided to take the matter in own hands, the break between the albums was already too long to make another promo.
Another factor is that we had a scarcity of song material. We composed a lot of songs after Anatomy, but most of them weren’t good enough. If we weren’t happy with the material, I bet no one else would have been. We decided then to abandon most of the material and start over. In my opinion it was a very good choice. We could have released another album maybe in 2010, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good as Death Walks With Me turned out to be.
Additionally, our former female vocalist Hanna decided to stop making music altogether and concentrate on other things in life. We needed some time to find a new vocalist and make her a part of our group. Of course, also the other band members were busy with other things: finishing studies, taking care of their newborn children etc. This all accumulated, and the break between the albums grew.
Absence was the real breakthrough album for you guys. How do you feel you guys have developed since then?
Absence really was a great album, and I’m still very satisfied in it. Anatomy of Life came out too soon, there were some great songs but in my opinion it’s not as consistent as Absence or Death Walks With Me. I think we’ve become more confident in ourselves. We probably hadn’t the guts to put songs like “Sundown” or “Death Walks With Me” on an album at the time of Absence, now we have the confidence to stretch our limits musically and make it still sound like Noumena. The soundscapes have also developed, we’re sounding much more natural on DWWM, and it’s the first Noumena album where we’re really satisfied with the production.
You have the same line-up on all three albums. Is this why you guys have been so consistent?
Yeah, possibly that’s the reason. The band wasn’t established around some previously unknown musicians, but a group of friends. We have known each other for a very long time, some of us have been friends since kindergarten. We all have our own roles in the band, both musically and in the background activities, which play to our individual strengths. To have a consistent relationship with the people in the band definitely helps in providing consistent results musically.
Talk a little about Suvi Uura — she really adds a whole new dimension to the band and the album. Her vocals are unique and different compared to normal female vocals in metal.
She really does. Previously we weren’t able to use clean vocals as much as we wanted to. Although Hanna was a great singer and great person, she didn’t live and breathe music in a way that Suvi does. We had to ponder carefully how much clean vocals we can use, because Hanna didn’t join us in all live appearances. It was necessary to have enough material that works without female vocals to be able to play live without her. Suvi is willing to join us in every rehearsal and every gig, so we can now use as much clean vocals in songs that we’ve always wanted. I’ve personally never liked female vocalists that sing in operatic or overly rock style, I’ve always liked a more natural approach. Fortunately Suvi’s style is exactly like that, she makes the band and its sound complete.
You released two albums on Spikefarm. The new one is on what appears to be your own label, Haunted Zoo Productions. How did this come about?
As I mentioned before, the contract with Spikefarm ended after Anatomy of Life and we had difficulties in finding a proper label for us. We have our day jobs providing us a decent income and some close supporters, and with that we were able to collect enough money to establish our own record label, and to record and release the album on our own. I wouldn’t recommend that to everyone, but we fortunately have people that have some experience in keeping a small label and a lot of contacts in music business. It takes a lot of effort to release an album on your own, but in the end you have a total control regarding your music and you only response to yourself. It’s a nice feeling to accomplish something totally on your own, having the album rise in decent positions in Finnish album charts and such. It also proves that you really don’t need a big label to release your music.
How is it promoting your own album versus a label release?
We don’t have too much money to spend on promotion, so it is mostly done in internet. We have outsourced the promotion to two professionals, one in Finland and one in continental Europe. They’ve done a good job, but of course the audience is limited compared to print advertising. Fortunately there are guys like you that help us to spread the word, thank you for that.
Why is Anatomy of Life so hard to find? I’ve seen copies go as high as 200 dollars on Amazon and card case promos on eBay for 80 buckaroos? Any plans to re-release it?
Anatomy of Life is sold out and our former label doesn’t have any plans to re-release it. In my opinion it is very unfortunate that you can’t find it anywhere for a good price. We have plans to re-release it through our own label later, but it depends much on how well DWWM sells eventually if we have funds to do that. Of course we don’t need to pay for the studio costs anymore, but the printing of the CD, licensing costs and copyright costs take a good amount of money, which we don’t have if the new album doesn’t sell too well.
It seems like when anyone talks about this style of Finnish metal, it starts with Insomnium and goes back to Rapture and even Amorphis. Do you think Noumena—now with four great full-length albums—should be in the same conversation as Insomnium?
The success in music business is defined by your ability to make great music, to work for your music tirelessly, to have someone to back you up and support you financially and eventually luck. Insomnium have had all of these, and they deserve every bit of success they’ve achieved. It most definitely didn’t come overnight. Of course we’d like to be in a same position as them, but we’ve lacked a supporting label and to be fair we’ve been quite unlucky over the years.
Have the songs on Death Walks with Me been written for a few years over your break, or is this all recent material?
As I mentioned, we had a sort of a cleansing around the time of turning of the decade. Three songs on the album made it this far from the last decade: Sleep, Only the Silent and Sundown. All the others are more recent, some songs were finished just weeks or months before the recording.
With that stark cover and the album title, is there any significant personal meaning behind the title of the album?
During the last few years, we all have confronted a lot of death. One of our dearest friends died after a long struggle with his disease, and we have also seen our relatives pass away untimely. Death brings up strong emotions, of course that is the starting point to build up lyrics, which proved to be the theme of the album and it is reflected in the cover also. In a way it feels that death lurks behind every corner, but fortunately you have the flame of friendship and love to guide your way through the darkest of times.
The album is great from from start to finish, but I absolute LOVE a couple of songs on the album. First the last few minutes of opener “Handful of Dust” (with that choir in the background) and “The Eye of the Storm”— that opening melodic riff is gorgeous—are there any particular songs or moments on the album that you are particularly proud of?
It is very difficult to point out any specific highlights, because I’m actually very proud of the whole album. The variance between the songs, the production, the individual performances, they all came out just as we wanted. If I had to pick some moments, I’d probably choose Sleep’s lullaby-like ending, the blast beat passage in the title song and the French horn solo in “Season of Suffocation”. If you’d ask any other member of the band you’d probably get different results, and that’s one the biggest strengths of the album. There are memorable moments everywhere, not just a couple of great songs and the rest of the album filled with weaker material.
What are the immediate plans for the band now that you are back in action?
The promotion of the new album is far from over and we need to work on releasing it physically in other territories. It’s available digitally worldwide for example in Bandcamp and Spotify and you can order it from Finnish Record Shop X who ship everywhere, but to reach the critical mass we need to be able to get it officially out outside the Nordic countries and Russia too. Of course we’re also playing more gigs now that the album is out, we’re having a few gigs in May and are planning more for the autumn.
Can we please have a shorter wait for the next album?
I sincerely hope that we can fulfill your wish! We aim to release the next album within three years, but of course it helps if DWWM sells well: that way we don’t need to think about funding, we can release the next one ourselves too and concentrate on composing, rehearsing and playing gigs. Actually we don’t need astronomical sales figures, if we sell around 60-70% of the amount Absence and AoL sold, everything is well and the next album will come out sooner. Every purchase counts!
Thank you for the great questions, it was a pleasure to answer these!