Lead Guitar for Manitou and Omnium Gatherum
Interviewed by Chaosankh
I recently had the opportunity to send some questions over to the very busy Markus Vanhala to discuss his involvement with the recent releases by Manitou and Omnium Gatherum. As lead guitar player for both bands, it was interesting to see how he balances two bands at opposite ends of the metal spectrum: on the one hand, there is the more traditional, highly melodic metal of Manitou and on the other there is the melodic death metal of Omnium Gatherum. Among other things, we got the chance to discuss the influences that contribute to both outfits, the difficulties in navigating the business end of things, and what the writing process is like in each camp.
As NO SIGNS OF WISDOM is about to hit store shelves, how would describe the sound of this new album?
It´s honest and original traditional metal in the vein of 80´s but with modern touch. Big boys just doing the music they like and no need to try to do any commercial success. Some might hear that these bands we like are Iron Maiden, Dickinson solo stuff, Whitesnake, Annihilator, Judas Priest, Queensryche and these kind of classic bands. There might be some influences seen on our album, heh. And to answer to your exact question – the sound is good, hehe.
How would you say Manitou’s sound has changed or evolved from your earlier albums and demos up to today?
In the beginning the idea was to be progressive metal band and we tried to sound like Dream Theater and Symphony X, but we found that´s not our thing. So, we have re-directed the style more to straight-forward heavy metal. There´s still little bit some proggy spices here and there also on the new album as a legacy from our past doings…
If you had to pick two or three songs from the new record as your favorites, which would you pick? And why?
My absolute favorite is the epic ending, over 10-minute “August Sky” because it´s just great sonic adventure and there are lots of different parts and moods. Other faves are the opening song “In This Indolence” because of the energy and the title track “No Signs Of Wisdom” because of the crushing slow tempo and dio/black sabbath vibe.
What is the writing process like for Manitou?
I pretty much demorecorded all the material of this new album at my home and then we arranged them ready at band rehearsals, but there´s also one or two spontaneous songs that are just composed by jamming with the band.
Name a few bands who you think that if people were fans of them, they would probably get into Manitou as well. And why do you think so?
Fans of Queensryche, Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson solo stuff, Tarot, Whitesnake, Dio, earlier Ozzy, Thunderstone, Machine Men, more commercial Annihilator like in “Set The World On Fire” album and so on… Because there are lots of same boogie going on than these bands stylistically, of course not copycat stuff but the feel etc….
Are there any tour plans in the works for NO SIGNS OF WISOM that will give Manitou a chance to reach a wider audience?
At the moment there are none big plans… And that´s shit!
Do you have any plans to produce a video for any of the songs off of NO SIGNS OF WISDOM?
There are always plans, but i don´t know if they´ll happen.
From the biography on your webpage, it looks like Paul Di’Anno has taken a special interest in the band. You even played a show as his backing band, ripping through some early Maiden classics. What was that experience like?
We supported Dianno on his Finnish tour and he really liked our stuff and attitude, so he asked us to play a show with him and so we did it. It was really great to play on same stage with your childhood idol, and of course it was really weird experience at the same time!
Are there any bands that you would really like to tour with?
Avril Lavigne! If that´s not gonna happen, then Iron Maiden or Judas Priest would be fine.
What has been the highest point for Manitou so far?
Gigs with the big names like UDO, Helloween and Paul Dianno. And the success with our second album single, as it went to the second place on finnish single chart.
What has been the lowest point for Manitou so far?
What are some goals or dreams that you have for the immediate and long term future of the band?
To make Spinal Tap style movie about this band gig travels, because it would be more entertaining than the real Spinal Tap… Sadly funny moments indeed, hehe. At the moment it would be cool to get our asses to some international support tour to spread the word, and at least do some more great albums with this band.
What have you found most challenging about the business side of metal music?
The luck! All depends about luck or who you know. We have got always really bad luck with promotion etc., labels. Our first label quitted the business just when we released our debut album and after that we signed with one finnish label and they didn´t promote us much even our single topped that finnish singlechart on second position…
How do you feel about the current state of the metal scene throughout the world?
It´s big, endless and infinite. …But includes also really good moments.
Who are some new bands that think are especially good?
Kiuas, Insomnium, Diablo, Amoral, uuups they´re all from Finland. Well, Nevermore is really bad-ass good, though they´re not SO new band anymore…
Do you find it challenging to keep two bands going at the same time, especially two bands that are stylistically very different?
Of course, schedulewise it makes sometimes some problems to be a mastermind in two bands, but when there´s some real burning to do this thing and the attitude is right, then every problem can be solved. Sometimes it just means little bit less sleep in night when there´s work to be done but whatta hell… Both bands are so lazy to have band rehearsals, so that´s why it works. To be honest, hehe.
And also stylistically it´s the best solution for me to play these two different kinds of metal music – death metal in OG and traditional metal in Manitou – as I love both genres very much and it´s better to channel the different stylistic ideas this way.
The genre of Melodic Death Metal is one that has gotten some criticism in the last few years because there are just so many bands making this kind of music right now, many of whom offer nothing new to the genre. How would you respond to this criticism, and what do you think is special about Omnium Gatherum that will help them stand out from the pack?
Quality, originality and sincere attitude are the factors that differs OG from millions of other bands playing the “same style”. We have heard from many reviews that you can´t point and say downright OG to sound like some other band, as we have our very own sound. That´s always the point what makes THE good band.
And to answer that “popular” genre question = all genres in every music style are very very overcrowded nowadays. Trends come and go and bands quit, but we´ve been here already since 1996…
Since the music in Omnium Gatherum is so different from that of Manitou, do you have a whole other side of musical tastes and influences that cause you to make music like this too? If so, who are some of those influences?
Both bands have already been around that like 10 years, so the songs come quite naturally for each band and I could say that the big inspiration are the bands own sound itself… But roughly said, Manitous archetypes are Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, Ozzy, Annihilator and all the traditional stuff and OG´s influences come a lot from the Swedish metal bands like Opeth, Edge Of Sanity, Dark Tranquillity, Entombed, At The Gates, Soilwork and Death and so on etc…
Before the release of Stuck Here on Snakes Way, you guys split with Nuclear Blast. What were the factors that led to that? And how are things going so far with your new label, Candlelight?
We weren´t a right band on a right label then… Co-operation with the Candlelight is going quite fine and we´ve just agreed to do also the fourth OG album with the label. Of course they could promote us more and put us touring more, so things are basically fine but they could also always be better.
You also recently lost your vocalist Antti Fillpu. Was this due to a difference of opinion on musical direction or was it personal differences that were causing problems for the band?
This was a sum for a long time differences in both musical and personal sides and we came to a point of no return where we couldn´t carry on same path at that moment.
What unique qualities do you think new front man, Jukka Pelkonen, brings into the band?
Jukka gave a needed boost to this band with his great vocal abilities and his nice attitude which is on the same level with other members, so the chemistry is working at the moment and it´s the most important thing on a band.
We have also a new bassist on board called Eerik Purdon and he is fucking amazing player and a person. It´s sad to have these line-up changes but so far those changes have only done the band better all the time as some people have lacked motivation for this thing etc…
How would you explain the stylistic evolution of the band from its earliest demos back in the late nineties up to Stuck Here on Snakes Way?
From shit to jewel.
How do you think that Stuck Here on Snakes Way improves on previous Omnium Gatherum records?
From shit to jewel, heh. In my opinion, our debut album “Spirits and August Light” is a great album but on the second album “Years In Waste” we kind of a lost our musical direction on purpose and tried to do “something different”. “Snakes Way” then is a sum of best parts of these both earlier albums enhanced with the new fresh ideas, and the completion is much more compact. If there´s one thing I would change on “Snakes Way”, I would drop one or two songs from the album that it would be even more compact and better entirety.
But the next album seem to be building the best OG album so far, as there´s already about half of the material ready and were heading more to the first albums sophisticated simplicity, and maybe to more melodic direction again.
What would you say is the most important lesson you have learned about making music over the last decade?
Do the music just for yourself and don´t let anything to change that attitude.
It seems like Omnium Gatherum has had the chance to play some live shows with some big names in extreme metal, such as Cannibal Corpse, Entombed, Children of Bodom, Napalm Death, etc. What are some of your favorite moments of playing gigs with these artists? Did any of these bands offer you any advice about growing Omnium Gatherum that you found especially helpful?
Gigs with Entombed have been very cool moments as they´re great dudes and it´s always great to see that your teenage heroes are nice guys. first gig with Children Of Bodom some years ago, after our first album, was also a great moment as it was the first time we played in front of a big sold-out crowd in Helsinki at Nosturi.
About good advices from old men – we got a good business lesson from Entombed in the last months tour: “Worship Satan!”
It looks like there are only a few more tour dates on the schedule for Omnium Gatherum this year. Will that be the end of touring in support of Stuck Here on Snakes Way, or are their more tour plans in the works?
There´s already (and again…) some plans and things going on to sort some bigger international tour but we´ll see what happens. Sometimes it seems that a big European tour is as utopian idea than Santa Claus or Jesus Christ = fairytale that won´t happen in real life! As we’ve had very shitty luck with the tours, as there´s already too many options cancelled this year.
At the moment we´re also composing the next album and doing few Finnish dates, but if something good touring action comes to life, of course we´ll jump to that tour bus immediately and rock the world!
Since you seem to have a wide variety of musical ambitions, is there a type of music that you haven’t made yet that you would like to make an album of in the future?
Some epic stuff with very long progressive songs maybe. There´s three over ten minute songs in Manitou discography and they´re maybe my favorites, so it would be cool to do an album full of that kind of stuff mixed with OG style also. I would also like to do an album of honest rock stuff, another one that would be true black metal, another one with some acoustic stuff only and another one of some annihilator infuenced thrash. So, there´s lots of projects that should be fulfilled still!
Does your involvement in both bands discussed here give you the opportunity to live off of what you make in music, or do you also have to work a day job like the rest of us?
Playing guitar in OG and Manitou doesn´t make you a rich man…haha!
If there is anything I did not ask through the course of this interview that you would like to say to your fans, please feel free to do so here.
Be sure to check out us and buy our next album, as also the old ones also! Over and out!