Interview: Aleksi Munter Of Swallow The Sun & Markus Vanhala Of Omnium Gatherum


After a fascinating interview with Mikael of Dark Tranquillity, I proceeded to speak with members of two other bands from Century Media Records, meeting up with each other to perform on the second of two shows together. The first was Aleksi Munter from Swallow The Sun, Finland’s death/doom metal outfit with an atmosphere made complete with Aleksi’s style of keyboard-playing. Their triple album from last year Songs From The North was a huge point of discussion.

On the current tour:

The tour’s been going great. This is the fifth show. We’re touring with Dark Tranquillity, Starkill, and Enforcer. We actually had not met those guys before but we had heard lots of good things about them as touring mates. All of them have been great and it’s super easy touring with them. It’s just really a nice relaxed atmosphere.

Swallow The Sun’s latest album is a triple album. Which disk is your favorite among Gloom, Beauty, and Despair?

It’s really difficult to pick favorites because they’re all very different. It kind of depends on your mood, like whatever is your favorite at whatever moment because they are impossible to compare, even though they’re kind of the same.

What was it like playing Songs From The North in it’s entirety over the course of 3 days in Helsinki? Which day got the strongest reaction?

The acoustic album (Beauty) got the strongest reaction because it was a closed event. Only people who won this competition could come in, so it was maybe just one hundred people or so. And it was a very intimate setting. Super quiet, super cool, and you could see that people’s reaction was pretty strong towards the music.

Can you recommend some music for inspiration to fellow keyboardists to achieve the type of atmosphere that you bring to Swallow The Sun?

I listen to all sorts of music from jazz to electronic music to punk with no keyboards at all. So I’d have to say just listen to all types of music with a very open mind.

How much of tonight’s set contains cuts from Songs Of The North?

Unfortunately because of the amount of bands today we have to play a shorter set so I’m afraid there’s not going to be too many songs from the new one, so I’d say a couple.

Next year, Swallow The Sun comes back to the U.S. with Amorphis. What would you say based on your experiences touring here, do Amorphis have to look forward to the most, since they haven’t toured here in a long time?

Yeah they haven’t been here in a while. I know how it has and has not changed with the ten years we’ve been touring here. I think it’s been pretty consistent. So if they’ve been here within the last twelve years, I think they know what to expect.

Since your tour joins Leaves’ Eyes’ tour tonight; If Liv Kristine can join you onstage for guest vocals on any STS song which one would it be?

I guess the best bet would be “Cathedral Walls” because now we are just doing it with a backing track, so it could use an actual female voice.

What’s it feel like playing on election night in the U.S.?

I don’t know. We’ve been trying to get the TV working here to be able to follow the election in real time. And I’m actually wearing my election socks. *Reveals American flag socks*

What is your desert island album?

…Queen’s Greatest Hits… Part 2.

The next, was with Markus Vanhala, guitarist for Omnium Gatherum, a band that can best be described as Adult Oriented Death Metal. Besides describing the style that the band goes for, he also explained his responsibilities as a songwriter as well a live performer for both OG and Insomnium.

On current tour:

We are touring with Sonata Arctica from Finland, and Leaves’ Eyes who’s bus we’re using right now. It’s only the second night of the tour, so we have 6 weeks to go. Last night was a lot of fun, it was two tours colliding; Dark Tranquillity with Swallow The Sun, and this tour, so this is the second date. Good times. Hangover.

What are the lyrical themes to your new album Grey Heavens?

Jukka does the lyrics. He’s always playing with dualistic themes and it’s more like him and his life. He’s just expressing the good and the bad. It’s like dualism. The living and the dead. The black and the white, which is grey, and something like that. I basically don’t know, I’m not the poet, I’m the guitarist.

On the guest vocalists for Grey Heavens:

Niilo from Insomnium was doing some backing vocals and then a few local guys from our town. That was just a good time, having people sing along in the choruses.

As the main songwriter, how do you go about writing a song? What’s in your ritual?

If I had it my way I’d write songs every night. But it varies a lot. For me, the main point is to combine the aggressive side and the melodic side, because there must be both in order to make it work in Omnium Gatherum. I usually get the songs ready at home, in my home studio, before giving the demos to other guys. I like to always present full songs.

Last year you played on co-headlining tours with Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum. How tired were you playing one set right after the other?

Yeah, those tours were tours to remember. In the U.S. I played ninety minutes with Insomnium and sixty minutes with OG. So two and a half hours every night on stage. And on this tour we are only playing 30-35 minutes. So this is completely different. But it was nice to play long sets, it wasn’t hard. Less drinking, more work. But I prefer one sober night definitely.

Do you still fool around with brutal death metal or are you sticking to your more progressive work these days?

I prefer both. My musical taste is weird, listening to adult-oriented rock like Journey, and Toto, and then really raw old school black metal like Burzum, Mayhem, and Darkthrone, and old death metal. I’m not interested in nu metal bands because, I’m the old geezer and prefer classics like Death and Entombed, and Edge Of Sanity.

What the fuck does Adult Oriented Death Metal mean?

As just mentioned I’m a big adult-oriented rock fan, and we kind of tried to get that Journey, Toto influence between the lines in the death metal in OG. So that’s where it comes from. Adult Oriented Rock – Adult Oriented Death Metal. Death Metal’s Journey: Omnium Gatherum.

What’s it feel like playing on Election Night in the U.S.?

I don’t know what’s happening. We know this election is gonna be brutal this year. I don’t know if there will be riots after this but we’ll see. It affected the first gig of the tour, which was at the Fillmore in Charlotte, NC. It was cancelled by Hillary Clinton’s election rally. So that’s my only thoughts for the presidential election.

What is your desert island album?

Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son by Iron Maiden. Because it’s the best. It’s been the best since I was five years old. Still is.