Interview by Shaq
Finland is without a doubt one of the top breeding grounds in the world for metal acts, and Amoral is no exception as they continue to rise the ranks. With the release of their newest album REPTILE RIDE impending, I was able to discuss with guitarist and songwriter Ben Varon everything from their demo days right up to the current release.
First let’s talk about your new album REPTILE RIDE. With a name like that, and having song titles like “D-Drop Bop” and “Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Fun” were you trying to add a humorous element to the album?
It just came out that way, to be honest. It’s not like we sat down and decided “ok, let’s try to be funny” or something. I mean, we’ve had stupid stuff like that from the very beginning. There’s a Chevy Chase sound clip on the first album, so… We just wanted a bit catchier titles this time, that’s all.
Did you have any involvement with creating the album art for it?
Oh yes we did: the artist is an old friend of mine, so we worked closely from the very beginning of the process, just throwing ideas back and forth. We had a bunch of killer sKetches and ideas that just kept evolving, and what you see on the cover is what it ended up being. We knew we didn’t want the typical tight-ass metal cover. And of course it had to include our skull logo, so we went from there.
Where did you draw inspiration from when writing the album?
I think me and Silver mainly get inspired by good albums and gigs. I know for me, there’s no better inspiration than a killer live show, that always makes me want to run back home and grab my six-string. And also, just thinking of making new songs and going out there to play gigs is inspiring. Lyric-wise, it can be anything, at least for me, and I’d guess for Niko too.
What was the writing process like?
Same as it always is with us: me and Silver write on our own, and then start to get together every now and then to see what we have and compile songs. We usually end up completing each others songs, in some gay way. Silver will have a near ready song with just one part missing, and I’d just so happen to have the right riff for that exact part, and vice versa. Once we have the structure of the song down, we’ll present it to the rest of the band and see what they think of it. If it’s a thumbs-up from everyone, we’ll work on it together until we have a new gem in our hands.
Are there plans for a North American release of REPTILE RIDE?
Unfortunately not at the moment, as far as I know. It pisses me off to see a whole continent getting left out but there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it; it’s for the labels to sort out. So I just hope they’ll get it done soon.
The Japanese release of the album includes a cover of “The Naked Sun” by the band Pandora. How did you end up choosing that song?
Silver came up with it, he saw the potential in the main melody, which just begged to be turned in to this heavy as fuck, Nile-ish riff. We took the good parts, the main melody and the chorus, and went from there, completely re-doing the verse and adding a few new riffs in there. I think it turned out killer!
As a precursor to the album, you released internet-only single LEAVE YOUR DEAD BEHIND. Did this kind of release work out well for the band?
I have no idea about the sales, but it was cool to get something out in advance, just so the ones interested could get a taste of what’s coming. It was in the top five in a few net stores for a while, so I guess some people bought it. But the whole paying for files thing is not that big yet in the metal scene. We still like to have the real thing in our hands and go through the booklet while listening to the album.
You also filmed a music video for the track “Leave Your Dead Behind.” What can you tell me about that?
We had this tiny-ass budget, so we decided that we’d just do the “live” video, as that’s where we feel the most comfortable and we could make it look good even without huge budgets. So we rented the best club in Helsinki for a day and invited fans to come over and join in the madness. I really like the end result, I think the director did a great job with the editing, camera positions, etc. It’s a good way to show people what we look like live.
As the band progresses, particularly with the new album, it gets harder and harder to classify Amoral as a death metal band due to the different styles and melodies you work into the songs. How do you classify the Amoral sound and how do you feel you have progressed over the years?
We have definitely progressed as musicians and composers. I’ve always called this just metal, since there’s so many elements that we mix together in our songs. And we’ve gotten a few people come up to us and say “hey, I usually don’t listen to music with vocals lke that, but I love Amoral!”. So there’s no reason to limit ourselves in any way. We always joke that if Morbid Angel is “extreme music for extreme people”, then we must be extreme music for fans of Extreme… (laughs)
Where do you think you fit in within the current metal scene, both in Finland and the rest of the world?
Well, there’s definitely room for us at the very top of the game, right where we’re heading. (laughs) I believe there’s a demand for a band like us, who brings some of that rock’n’roll vibe into the uptight “death metal” scene. I believe in putting on a show; people come to concert to be entertained. And we try to get some of that onto the albums too, be it the hair metal riffs or the dumb song titles. This is supposed to be fun, people! And let me tell you, we’re having the time of our lives.
Most of the tracks from your demo days made their way onto proper releases, but “Not To Be” seems to have been left out. Are there any plans to include this on any future releases as either a regular song or a bonus track?
Wow, talk about back in the day… No, I really don’t think “Not to Be” will be re-recorded for any future releases. It’s very clumsy as far as composition goes, I wasn’t that skillful as an editor back then. (laughs) But there’s one riff in there that me and Silver still like, so maybe, if we find the right place fot it, it will be added to some new song one day, who knows.
Recently it was announced that Erkki was no longer a member of Amoral. Is the band still on good terms with him?
Yeah, definitely. He has to do his own thing, while we do ours. At least here in Finland, it seems like every musician is involved in at least three bands. Amoral keeps it’s members busy enough, so we need every members’ undivided attention. We can’t sit at home waiting for the bass player to finish up touring with some other band, so we decided this was best for both parties.
Do you have anybody in mind for the position that you can comment on?
We have a couple of guys who’ll be session players for now, just so we can do all the scheduled gigs. And we also have a candidate for the permanent spot, but the band has decided to take its time before making anyone an official member, so we’ll have to see. We really need to be 100% sure we have found the right guy to complete the line-up before we make him part of the family.
Last year you opened a tour for Dark Funeral, which seems like a bit of an odd pairing. How did their fans respond to your style?
Pretty well, actually! We were kinda nervous about it, but in most cities we got a good response, winning over new fans from the black metal field. That’s always rewarding, seeing people getting more and more into you as the gig goes on. By the time we start the last song we’d have the moshpit going and the fists in the air. We’re not scared by new audiences, we’ll open up for anyone. Just give us our 35-45 minutes of stage time and we’ll kick some ass!
You also have an upcoming tour with Norther, who are also playing at your CD release party. Are you looking forward to getting out there and playing the new songs live?
Oh, absolutely! We can’t wait to update the set, as we’ve been playing these old songs for quite some time. We’ve already played a few new songs live, and they seem to go down really well. And besides, touring is the best part of this whole thing, so we really cannot wait to get on that bus and get this thing rolling. We know the Norther guys well, they’re friends of ours, so the tour is gonna be killer, for sure.
Aside from Amoral, are you involved in any other side projects or bands?
Nope. Amoral takes all my time, and then some. I’ve had some small fun projects, but nothing serious enough to be called a band. We had this hard rock project for a while, me and some friends. It’s fun doing something like that, but I really can’t commit enough to take something like that to the next level.
What artists or albums do you find yourself listening to the most recently?
Let’s see… I just bought some Ratt and Van Halen CD’s, so they’ll be spending time in the player for a while. I really like the last Avenged Sevenfold album, City of Evil. I think they do a killer mix of metal and pop. And for a couple of years now I’ve been constantly listening to Idan Raichel, a ridiculously talented Israeli musician who has two albums out – The Idan Raichel Project 1 and 2. He collaborates with musicians from all over the world, and there’s some magical stuff on those CD’s.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Not really, I think we’re all set here. Give Reptile Ride a few spins people, you’ll love it!