Nico Mänttäri: “I think the one thing that we have learned through the years is having not too many things in one song. We only need one good idea, one good theme and rely on that. We don’t need seven different mathematic themes to make it work. That’s not the essence of doom metal, our music is slow and floating”
In het land van de duizend meren (Finland) werd tien jaar geleden de basis gelegd voor Marianas Rest, een doom/death metal band waar we sinds vorig album ‘Fata Morgana’ helemaal weg van zijn. Finse melancholie en de liefde voor stevige metal is hier op een verrukkelijke manier verbonden met elkaar, ook op het nieuwe – inmiddels vierde – album ‘Auer’. We herinnerden ons nog goed ons gesprek met zanger Jaakko Mäntymaa en gitarist Nico Mänttäri twee jaar geleden en het was dan ook een vrolijk weerzien nadat we enige technische probleempjes met Skype hadden opgelost.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 4 april 2023
Hi guys. Exactly two years ago, in 2021, ‘Fata Morgana’ came out and we had our first conversation, but that was in the middle of the corona crisis, so I guess you could not play live and you started writing new songs earlier. Can you tell me what did you do after ‘Fata Morgana’?
Nico: ‘Yes, I think we started writing right away pretty much. We knew we would not have any live shows, so we started writing and I guess we have some songs that ended upon this album which are written about a year ago. Well, it was nice, we did not have any pressure time-wise this time. We have had time to experiment a bit and tried to have fun with the songs. We tried to go with the flow and kind of stir the songs into the direction where they weren’t going naturally. That is a nice way to be when you are making new stuff.’
Jaakko: ‘Maybe you can hear it on the record as well. It is more diverse than the previous one. We have found something new that is really us.’
One of my questions was about that development of the band. You sound like the band before, but on the other side you hear an evolution in the sound, such as clean vocals in one song…
Jaakko: ‘Yes, I think that those kinds of things had probably not happened if we would have released the record earlier. Teemu Aalto, our producer, had the demos pretty early this time. We had a lot of time to play with the songs and then just tried to find some new ways, some things that we had never done before. We had time to try things out on this album and some of it worked and some of it didn’t work. I think most of it worked. It is fun to experiment a bit. We had the theme of the album really early. Before we made any songs, we had this drunken get together and that is when we kind of figured it out what the story of this album would be and when we had that theme ready, it was easier to figure out what kind of musical parts it would take to tell the story.’
And what is the theme?
Jaakko: ‘Ah it is about of how mankind has hard times learning from its mistakes. Maybe the most important thing about the storyline was that we made this dramatic atmosphere from a bad place somewhere. It is all darkness and then you come to the middle where is this gap where the darkness splits and light shines through. Actually the name ‘Auer’, it refers to a certain kind of fog or day-smoke. It has no really proper translation and I think… it is not mist, it is not fog, it is not smoke, but a mixture of all of those and it makes light look different. It is a kind of devastated city, a ground zero where mankind’s failures are shown and have happened and then the light shines through the auer and it maybe shows something we didn’t notice before and then eventually that is this sprinkle of hope. Maybe we can reveal that this will not happen again, but in the end it always does happen again. Then it becomes dark again. The album kind of stops where it began. It is the same place. Full circle.
Can you tell about your adventure of doing clean vocals for the first time?
(both laugh) Jaakko: ‘Actually it is good that Nico is here, because he did the clean vocals.’
Nico: ‘It was horrible (laughs). We had the demo ready and then, when we listened to it, our producer was listening with us and I guess we all thought maybe this is the time when we should try at least, if it works or not if we sing some clean parts. Me and Jaakko, we both recorded some demos and just tried out what we can do. I think it was Jaakko who wrote the parts and then we both sang them in the studio and then eventually ended up deciding that I would do the singing. Well, it is awful when you do it the first time (chuckles). When you hear your own voice for the first time, so that it is recorded well, it is difficult to listen to it, but well… it starts to grow on me.’
To me it sounds great…
Jaakko: ‘It was the worst day of his life.’ (laughs)
Nico: Imagine if you have to sing it live! That’s still another adventure then…
Jaakko: ‘It is always, when you try new things, you should have fear. If it is not hurting a bit, you are making something wrong. It shouldn’t be easy. It is like standing naked in front of people, when you sing clean vocals for the first time.
Nico: ‘Yeah we have to do it live some day.’
Some of the songs start with spoken word. The one with Aaron of course, but I was wondering what the start of ‘Diseased’ is about. It sounds eerie..
Nico: ‘It is taken from a pretty old recording in a mental asylum. I think it is in the US or the UK. Actually I don’t remember, but probably from the 60’s or the 70’s. The situation is: the man who’s been asked all the questions, he is in a catatonic state I think. He knows that people don’t like him because of the way he plays piano, but actually he never played piano and the guy who is interviewing him gets answers about how he started thinking like this. It relates to the song, it is about mental issues and they are more present than ever, at least we see at social media a kind of mental strain these days. When we didn’t have internet and all this stuff, people were working more with the hands, not the heads. Of course the mental problems have always been there, but now we kind of know more about them and maybe there are more things that circle through your head. That is what ‘Diseased’ is about. Well, you can make up your own mind, but at least some parts in my own head, it is about a kind of poison that spreads throughout the channels that we have nowadays. It gives power to people that maybe shouldn’t have power over other people.’
Jaakko: ‘Actually the whole conversation is on YouTube, it is more haunting with the pictures if you want to check it out. It is really eerie.’
I saw you have a new video today for the song ‘Light Reveals Our Wounds’. That is also a very nice song, with a sort of repetitive musical theme… what can you tell about this one?
Jaakko: ‘Yes, the repetition. We wanted this song to have a kind of hypnotic vibe and maybe it is a bit more melodic than the other songs on the album. I don’t know what else to say about this song. When it was ready, we decided pretty fast that this one was going to be one of the singles. When we played it to the video producer, he went away and straight away he had a lot of ideas. This album is kind of full circle and the cycle repeats itself. So we wanted to have one song that had this in the music and the story as well. The story is about a page from an old journal that is found somewhere and it pictures the same events that are happening to the people that found the page and so the repetition ties the music and the story together. I think when we made and recorded this song, it was one of the hardest ones to make work in the studio, but we found ways to do it. It is not easy to make this repetitive thing interesting, without sounding boring. So we had to search a bit.’
Nico: ‘Yes, experiment. The original idea had a simple melodic theme throughout the whole song and it had to be transformed, while not taking it away at any point.’
And then: the singer of My Dying Bride, Aaron Stainthorpe, on your record! You must be proud! (in the song ‘Sirens’)
(both laugh) Jaakko: ‘Yeah it means a lot to us. Of course we are honoured to have him on our record, it was one of those ‘what the fuck’ moments (laughs). He is such a nice human being. It was really easy to work with him and he nailed it with a first try I think. He immediately figured out what we were aiming at and what we wanted to have and he delivered. We are proud to have him on our record.’
There is already a video for it, with the two girls. Sirens I think…
Jaakko: ‘Yeah, it kind of has a dual meaning. The alarm sirens and on the video there are… sirens (human).’
When you write songs, is it a lonely thing or do you really work with the whole band to create them and finish them?
Nico: ‘We work together. It is definitely a group effort. One of us, usually our other guitar player Harri or our bass player Niko, comes up with a basic idea, usually a riff or something else and then we just start playing, jamming as a group and try to find the atmosphere we are aiming at and then find ways to deliver. We start from skeletons of songs and it works for us to finalize it that way, by playing. We really feel that these are everybody’s songs, where everybody gets to contribute and it is really weird to kind of listen to the first demo and then the full song, because most of the time there is only one thing left and everything else is changed. Sometimes even nothing is left. We have to wait for something to get this process starting, but sometimes everybody figures out immediately that this is it. This is what this song is about. I think the one thing that we have learned through the years is having not too many things in one song. We only need one good idea, one good theme and rely on that. We don’t need seven different mathematic themes to make it work. It is because the songs are slow and floating and if you would like to add a lot of things to this floating thing, then it would start sounding like a bunch of pieces, rather than one complete song. I don’t think it matters in thrash metal or technical death metal, probably not, but I mean with this band.’
Of course, if you change a lot of rhythms and moods, it goes in the direction of technical stuff and progressive metal… don’t do that…
Jaakko: ‘We used to do that. You can hear it on the first recordings I think.’
Nico: ‘Of course sometimes you need to surprise everybody and do something nobody thinks is going to happen, but this kind of stuff you better don’t do too often. We have black metal parts and that may surprise people, and now clean vocals in one song.’
You are already ten years in the running this year!
Jaakko: ‘Yeah we just figured it out (laughs). We didn’t count the years and when these interviews started, it was pointed out that we should celebrate something. It is weird. It feels longer I think. I have been in this band forever. So it feels, in a good way. It is difficult to imagine the time before this project, because it is life-changing to have such a thing. We are close to each other. We have been together for so long, so it is hard to imagine life without the band.
Nico: ‘We have been lucky to be spared from changes, just one line-up change, but we stick together because everybody appreciates each other’s company. You hear that sometimes life gets in the way and somebody has to… well; you have to make decisions and we have been lucky to kind of manage to stick together and hopefully it continues for a long time… I don’t want to think about it (both laughs).’
The artwork was done by Gogo Melone. I know her from Aeonian Sorrow and Clouds. How did you get in contact for your artwork?
Jaakko: ‘I think somebody suggested him. I think it was Sami. I think he had made some artwork for Insomnium or the T-shirts I think. He is our manager. Sami kind of knew Gogo Melone and he suggested that maybe we should contact her and it is a good thing we did. It was not so easy, the kind of idea we had. We wanted the statue of the split man, it is an actual statue. We wanted to have it, it was perfect for this theme. One thing about the theme is, we wanted to kind of honour the martyrs that tried to change the history even though it costs their lives. That is why the man is split in half, or woman, that is what it represents in this context. We wanted to have the statue and we wanted to have a destroyed city and the auer and the light shining through what’s kind of a hard thing to ask, because it was working on a small CD booklet and it should work in large vinyl form, but right away with the first draft she made, it was almost ready. Of course we were giving suggestions along the way, but she immediately saw what we wanted to do and saw what we were aiming at and understood what we were trying to tell and I was glad she ended up doing the cover. She made a bunch of T-shirts as well.’
In the news today I read that for the sixth time in a row, Finish people are the most happy feeling people in Europe and the world…
(both laugh) Jaakko: ‘Yeah, it is an annual thing to hear it on the news and every time it makes people laugh. It is a good thing, but I don’t know how sad people are in different countries (laughs). When you walk through the streets here, you will have tears of joy. Maybe happiness doesn’t need to show. People are maybe more satisfied with what they have here. At least we have space here to go and free your frustration by taking a walk in the woods.’
To occlude: what are the plans for the near future, that you hope that will happen and so?
Jaakko: ‘Of course we plan world domination’. (both laughs) We have hidden mind control messages. Well.. we are going to party like hell in this weekend, when the record comes out we are going to have lots of fun and lots of beer. We have a couple of record release shows coming up and we need to kind of get our act together, play the news songs. Just a few things we have to rehearse more, but I think it seems like we are going to be able to pull it off. After that hopefully we get to tour as much as possible. We have some plans, but nothing is certain. Touring wise the world is still not in a normal state. It will take some time, but hopefully we will get to tour Europe and possibly other parts of the world as well. That is what we plan to do.’
Nico: ‘That is the goal. We will get to do that.’