Just Another Rainy Day

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Finland’s Rapture has been described as a mix of Katatonia and Opeth. Fair enough. Scratch the surface, however, and there’s far more Finnish in Rapture than a knee-jerk comparison to Swedes a sea and culture away. In fact, across three albums (Silent Stage came out in 2005), the members of Rapture sought not to emulate […]

Finland’s Rapture has been described as a mix of Katatonia and Opeth. Fair enough. Scratch the surface, however, and there’s far more Finnish in Rapture than a knee-jerk comparison to Swedes a sea and culture away. In fact, across three albums (Silent Stage came out in 2005), the members of Rapture sought not to emulate better known outfits for sake of simplicity, but to craft a sound-to me-that uniquely identifies influences but is distinctly new. Refreshing in its composition (smooth, doleful melody lines), disturbing in its lyrical realism (city life never sounded so remote), and artfully rendered by a band of disparate yet seasoned musicians unified under the common emotion of melancholy, Rapture was inarguably the best melodic death metal act since Amorphis.

Rapture’s first foray into the wild world of metal took shape in 2000’s excellent Futile album. Immediately likened to Katatonia’s Brave Murder Day sound, Futile, however, excelled in portraying the Finns’ music as solitary, isolated yet oddly alluring. The magic in tracks “This is Where I Am” and “To Forget” is unmistakable-each song is veritable journey through forgotten Helsinki alleys, unending cold rain and urban seclusion. The desperation continued two years later on follow-up Songs for the Withering. The line-up changed (guitarist Aleksi Ahokas replaced Jarno Salomaa, bassist Joni Ohman exited and Henri Villberg entered to share vocal duties), as did the sound ever so slightly, but the core was very much Rapture. More upbeat in tempo, Rapture’s ability to wrap sorrow, acrimony and despair in slick, melodically-infectious overdriven songs (“Transfixion”) is something of wonder; few bands of similar ilk are as clever as the Rapture songwriting group. Furthermore, Songs for the Withering‘s dual vocal approach advanced the potential for exploring different shades of tribulation and personal struggle-the track “Two Dead Names” is a ballad of frightening realism.

Good for Rapture that not much differed from previous years. The three years it required the outfit to write Silent Stage was an ideal incubating period. Mature, focused and always dark, Silent Stage comprises the successes of its predecessors, and offers new musical colors to its gray-blue-black palette. “Past Nightmares,” in particular, breaks from album trends, offering a myriad of vocal styles, piano accompaniment and a killer connecting riff that’s hard to forget. Elsewhere, Silent Stage rocks like no other clinically depressed record should. Opener “Misery 24/7,” “I Am Complete” and “Cold on My Side” are the perfect ailment for contentment and a positive outlook on life; “Misery 24/7’s” shimmering, downcast riffs and rock-solid rhythm hook you right into submission.

With more than a year in isolation after the release of Silent Stage, Rapture is still very much an active outfit. More massive line-up changes, a fulfilled contract with Spikefarm, a subsidiary of Spinefarm, and yet another cruel Finnish winter behind the remaining members (there’s another on the horizon), a new life dawns as songwriter Tomi Ullgren [Shape of Despair, ex-Thy Serpent] commences writing Rapture’s as-yet-untitled fourth full-length.

Rapture’s elusive pair of vocalists Petri Eskelinen and Henri Villberg (Villberg has since left) were called upon at an absurdly late Helsinki night. Always wry, but seemingly eager to purge the emotional ills that contribute to what makes Rapture, well, Rapture, the turbulent twosome tell all.

So, there’s been more than a year between Silent Stage and new music?
Petri Eskelinen: Yes, there’s been lots of changes in the band. Samuel [Ruotsalainen; drums] and Sami [Hinkka; bass] are not in the band anymore. I think Aleksi [Ahokas; guitars] is also out of the band too. There was some kind of static between Tomi and Aleksi, but it’s a soap opera that involves a woman. As usual. I could care less. [laughs]

Did they leave for professional reasons?
PE: Well, Samuel is now full-time with Finntroll and Sami joined Ensiferum. So, I guess those would be professional reasons, but what I can say is that when we get some stuff together, we will find the right people to play with us. We had a couple of friends fill in for them when we did a few shows earlier this year, but I’m not sure if they are going to be permanent replacements.
You’re writing songs now, correct?
PE: Yes, Tomi and Henri are also working on new material for Rapture (slowly but surely). I have no idea what it’s going to sound like except it’s going to be very somber and very Rapture. We are always trying to do new and interesting things within the Rapture context as opposed to repeating ourselves. We don’t want to be like AC/DC, though the money would be nice. [laughs] They’re also writing songs for Diablerie, which is another reason why it’s taking a bit longer for Rapture to get things going.
Going back to Silent Stage, how do you feel Rapture developed from Songs of the Withering to Silent Stage?
PE: Slowly. [laughs] I think we’ve got a bit more diversity in there now; everybody has grown a bit as musicians and music listeners.
Musically, it seems in between the somber Futile and the upbeat Songs of the Withering.
PE: It does bring a lot of elements from both of our previous albums together; a culmination of sorts. We didn’t really set out to do something specific. Tomi [Ullgren; guitars] just writes stuff and I don’t really think he gives it more thought than it should sound like Rapture.

Tomi is still the primary songwriter Is there input from the rest of the band members.
PE: we kind of took a new direction as Tomi wrote the riffs, but Henri put the songs together. As we all have a good sense of what Rapture should sound like, it turned out great. Henri really did bring a new touch to the music. “Past Nightmares” is a very different song compared to our earlier stuff, I think. I don’t think we were looking for anything. We just try to go with the flow.

Henri Villberg: Yeah, Tomi sent me these WAV files via e-mail. Then I just picked up some riffs from here and there and put them together. It was like doing a puzzle. He likes to write songs like this. He does great riffs, but he is not capable of writing whole songs. ‘Cause last time he did this same thing with Aleksi.

How much input did Aleksi have? Did you replace Aleksi as the song structure person?
HV: Yeah, well Aleksi was busy with his own projects at the time. So I did replace Aleksi.
It’s interesting regarding the input of each individual. Songs for the Withering was upbeat, bright, whereas Silent Stage is darker, denser, closer.
HV: And Futile is the darkest yet. Tomi worked with the doom metal god Jarno [Salomaa; guitars, ex-Rapture] from Shape of Despair.

PE: Good point. He did work with Jarno and that album is dark. Aleksi is more like a rock ‘n roll dude. Songs for the Withering was very upbeat.

Speaking of the music, why are there two instrumentals on the album.
PE: “For the Ghosts of Our Time” is just a kind of a break. The whole album flows as a whole. “Completion” is like an outro.

How do you feel they change the album flow?
PE: They’re just these moody, slow sons of atmospheric bastards. Can’t really describe it better than that.

There are some great piano/keyboard moments on the album. Reminds me of mid-period Paradise Lost.
HV: Yes. I agree. Tomi wanted more influences from Paradise Lost.

PE: I think they’re done with class-used in just the right spots and in perfect doses. Silent Stage would have sounded too much like Songs for the Withering. Or so we thought when we were recording the demos with Tomi.

HV: He is tired of this Brave Murder Day thing. You know, we are always compared to Katatonia and Opeth, but no one ever mentions Paradise Lost. [laughs] We wanted something new for Rapture. Like new soundscapes and more atmospheric elements. Songs for the Withering was more like rock ‘n roll album. And, well, we are (Tomi and I) big fans of Icon and Draconian Times-era Paradise Lost. But we never meant to sound exactly like Paradise Lost. But I see it rather a good thing if one can hear some Paradise Lost influences in Rapture.

So, Henri, the hardcore vocal part in “Past Nightmares” was inspired by?
HV: I don’t know, actually. Growls just didn’t fit there. And clean vocals didn’t fit either. Tomi actually wanted some Slipknot stuff ’cause he is a fan. And he considers Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society be the best band in the whole world. I wonder why we sound like this when he listens to not-so-emo(tional) music. [laughs]

[Henri leaves for a short break]
So the album just happened, I gather. The final sound is the result of spontaneity. Why three years in between albums?
PE: I think it’s because we all have jobs, we study, we don’t have a rehearsal space and Samuel [Ruotsalainen; drums, Finntroll] played in Finntroll. The same things as before. I don’t think the guys really feel like rushing things anyway. Things come more naturally if not forced. We never were the band to become commercially successful anyway. It’s a kind of a Zen approach. I know we could’ve done a lot more work ourselves.

It’s interesting that a band with three solid albums, a fairly solid line-up and a decent label isn’t interested in achieving some of the commercial viability of H.I.M. or Nightwish.
PE: As long as Finntroll is busy half the year, we’re not going to be the next anything. I mean, it would be cool to be ‘big,’ but it’s really nothing we give too much thought to.

You’d rather create music than market music?
PE: It’s much easier being honest to yourself when you don’t really care about how people are going to react to the music you do. And I think this approach yields far better results anyway. There really was no pressure at all for a new album. Things had been brewing slowly all the time, and when the material seemed ready, we went and recorded it.

Even though Sami [Tenetz; Spikefarm boss and Thy Serpent guitarist] was applying pressure in 2003?
PE: Well, the studio was booked and everything, but most of the material was almost completed at that point anyway. It was just a matter of putting it all together to make proper songs out of all the riffs Tomi had. We’re lazy. And busy with educating ourselves and making money to support our broke asses. Returning to 2003, when Sami was pressuring us, he just wanted to get the album out before people forgot us. But how could they when they never knew us in the first place? People were asking us about the new album all the time, but we didn’t feel like rushing things. We just wanted to get things done at our own pace.

How do you feel the album turned out in retrospect?
PE: I find it really hard to say if it’s good or not. It’s definitely a step ahead for us. There’s new things in there, but it’s still very Rapture. “Misery 24/7″ and “Past Nightmares” are a snapshot of where we were at that time. I have this weird feeling of detachment from the whole album. I find it quite hard to say anything concrete about it. It does have a place in my heart-it contains some of my proudest moments as a singer and a ‘musician’-but still I find it hard to try to explain from where these things were born.

Why do you feel detached from the album? Your singing is more confident as part of the whole.
PE: Because I can’t explain why some things are done the way they are. I feel like I just sort of channeled something that did not come from me, but from somewhere else it sort of gave me a lot more confidence. Kind of ‘come hell or high water’ thing. Most of the stuff (my vocals) is written on the spot, the way it felt best at that precise moment. I think the things we spent most time on sound the worst

They didn’t restrict vocal melodies or phrasing?
PE: The rest of the band? No, they just said that I should do my thing; “We trust you, dude.” They weren’t even in the studio as I was recording. Henri was there and he had a couple of melodies, but that’s about it.

So, it was really detached from a band perspective. Do you enjoy that freedom or would you rather have the rest of the band present?
PE: In a way, it’s really good as I can just let go, but it also makes me feel very nervous because I’m always a bit unsure if the things I do are good enough for them. I just decided to not give a shit and just let go. I think it shows an immense trust that they let me do things like this. And I respect that so much, but then again, I trust them to do their stuff well. I don’t interfere with their songwriting.

How is your working relationship with Henri?
PE: We work really well. We both have pretty much the same ideas about which part requires clean vocals and which part craves for the gruff stuff. I think there was only one disagreement. But “Past Nightmares” is something completely different for Rapture. The mid-part with the hardcore-ish vocals and that groove…it sets a completely different tone to the entire song. And I think that song has the best overall dynamic. Henri’s vocals are fabulous-his esophagus emits sounds I can only dream of.

But you have a different approach on “Cold on My Side,” right? That build-up vocal style, coupled with the wavering, unsure style.
PE: That was actually Henri’s idea. He had the melodies and stuff ready; I just came up with the backing vocal. The melodies that are on top of the main melody line.

How did the lyrics work? Did you and Henri share lyric writing?
PE: I wrote “I Am Complete,” “Dreaming of Oblivion” and “The Times We Bled.” The rest are Henri’s lyrics. And it worked out well.

There’s lots of talk of closure and completion on this album. The first time I read the titles, I thought it was Rapture’s final album.
PE: Well, “The Times We Bled” is literally a closure. It’s the last thing I will ever say on a certain subject. Something I needed to get out of myself. “Silent Chrysalis Stage” is about transformation or traveling. Henri can tell you about that a bit more.

[Henri returns. Quick conferring in Finnish.]

How did the lyric writing tie into the title of the album, Silent Stage? Was there a theme?
PE: Not really. We started talking about our lyrics in the studio and found that they pretty much happened to revolve around same things. Just like with Songs for the Withering. Henri came up with the title and the lyric for “Silent Chrysalis Stage.”

HV: First we had this idea that we should release a MCD titled “Chrysalis,” and full-length titled “Silent Stage.” The MCD would have included one live track and two previously unreleased tracks. But the label didn’t agree with the MCD thing. MCDs don’t really sell. Well, Spinefarm did that with Finntroll. It wasn’t a smart choice. Or so they told us (me and Tomi).

Petri explained that the title and lyrics shared a common theme with the lyrics. Care to explain?
HV: Well…um, I am thinking here how to put this in English. Can you help, Pete? [Long conversations in Finnish ensue].

PE: It’s all about this death-like state. The lyrics are about small deaths-metaphors, you know? Deaths of emotions, people, etc. So, that’s what I meant when I said that we talk about same things. Death, in its many forms, was around me at the time I wrote some of the lyrics. People dying, emotions dying, parts of myself dying, but there’s also positive stuff in there.

HV: Something like leaving the old (almost dead) things behind and moving forwards.
I see. It’s coming to terms with the past and moving forward with life.
HV: Totally.

PE: Definitely. That’s what songs like “The Times We Bled” are all about-moving forward.
So, the album has a lot of personal issues sewn into the lyrical fabric?
PE: Always. That’s something that Rapture has always been about-personal stuff. There’s a bit of a paradox there, speaking about personal stuff publicly, but still in a way that others might not understand. There’s something twisted, almost exhibitionist there.

Do you both feel you’ve moved forward?
PE: I know I have. I’ve changed a lot in the last two years. “I Am Complete” is the first lyric I’ve written from a positive point of view. It’s a love song, damn it!

HV: But then there is the dark side of leaving the past. ‘Cause sometimes it will haunt you. And that’s what “Past Nightmares” is about.

So it’s all sunflowers and happy days at the beach from here forward? How un-Finnish of you both.
PE: Don’t hold your breath on that, dude.

HV: I am tired of writing about things that deal with suicide and stuff. My life is just so great at the moment. It is hard to write sad lyrics we you are doing fine.

PE: I think it’s still going to be from a cynical, nihilistic point of view though.
Yeah, it wouldn’t Finnish if it wasn’t.
PE: Exactly.

So, what’s 2006 like for Rapture?
PE: Like 2005, 2006 looks like…a mystery. We never plan anything and that suits Rapture just fine.

** This article was originally published on Metal Maniacs.com. The original link is dead. I felt the interview was too good to die, so I re-published it here. Rapture continues to make music despite not having a record deal. The band is very much alive. Visit them on MySpace.- Chris Dick 05/19/2008

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