Interviewed by Simon Lukic
Universum is an Australian melodic death metal band with huge potential. Their debut album LETO DESTINATUS has only just been released and if you haven’t yet read my review, it is a stunning album that Soilwork and Scar Symmetry fans should look into. Those who enjoy In flames will be floored as well, but these comparisons are only a guide because Universum is their own band and one listen to LETO DESTINATUS proves this. I got in touch with guitarist Michael Soininen and here is what we discussed.
The band originates from Australia. Can you give me a little background information on the band as Universum will be new to many?
The band started early 2006 and originated as a 3 piece with Stephen (Murphy – guitar), Jaron (Soininen – drums) and I. Rachael (Madden – keyboard) and Liam (Brophy – bass) joined the band a while later. After, wading through the list of vocalist applicants we picked up our brother Adam (Soininen) who expressed interest and a new found ability to scream!
Was there a clear goal behind Universum? If so, what was it exactly?
Apart from world domination? Joking. Right from the first meeting Jaron and I had with Stephen there was a strong sense of ambition. Although early, we spoke about our common European influences and our goal to work with overseas production companies. There was and still is the desire to be a band that is doing something different in the local and national scene and there is a burning desire to go international. It was there from the get go.
Was it the bands intention to venture into a melodic death metal direction?
When writing the music, it was naturally quite melodious. We all have a lot of European influences so although never discussed it was more or less assumed that heavy melodic music was the style we would play.
With that said there are many elements to your sound from NWOBHM to Prog/Power as well. Did it take time to fuse these styles into your sound or did it happen naturally?
It was definitely a natural process. Universum’s sound is a hybrid of genres but it wasn’t a focus to create music of a particular style. It’s interesting to note that you suggest power metal influences as it would not necessarily be a conscious decision to write in that genre. Once again, what you hear on the album was all very natural.
This has obviously had a positive impact on your debut “LETO DESTINATUS” which was recently released. What can you tell me about it?
In a nutshell, it’s a versatile album containing 13 melodic death tracks, mixed and mastered in Sweden by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Soilwork, Amon Amarth, Katatonia) with artwork by Brazilian Gus Sazes (Sonic Syndicate, Nightrage, Firewind) and a guest solo by Tomy Laisto from the Finnish bands Mors Principium Est and Hateform. It’s an international effort.
The music has elements that would be familiar to many but there is unique quality about it. Your melodies in particular really stand out. What goes into making a song?
Up to this point, Stephen and I have really kept isolated during the song writing process. We both tend to write by ourselves (including a number of the lyrics) followed by Jaron laying down his drums. Ideas for vocals are a collaborative effort between Stephen, Adam and I and tend to be both worked on during writing and also finalised towards the end with the keys. There may be a few changes here and there regarding song arrangement but generally the core of the tracks get presented to the band as a whole and given a yes or no before proceeding.
Does the band obsess about the arrangements and tinker endlessly?
It can feel like that sometimes because you become so engrossed in what you are doing, you almost can’t pull away from it. I know I’ve come up with riffs that have had slight subtle changes where some of the others don’t really pick it so yeah, that can be a good indication that it’s time to stop! haha
What did you want to bring to sessions as an individual?
Apart from capturing as good a performance as possible, melody, rock and aggressiveness.
Apart from your role as a guitarist you also supply the clean vocals. What do you enjoy about the dual role?
It’s something different. It provides versatility and the opportunity to express myself through another instrument while hopefully adding a further dimension to our music.
The band also produced the album and it sounds great. What did you have in mind when tracking the sessions?
Don’t stuff up because the money meter is rolling on out the door! No, we wanted to capture a heavy sound. There are six members and we wanted to get that ‘body of sound’ on the album. Having perfectionists in the band can mean re-recording to a degree but ultimately we got what we wanted.
How did having Jens Bogren (Soilwork, Opeth, Amon Amarth) mix the album complete the process?
Jens brought a wealth of experience to the project in terms of providing that European sound we were after. His mixing is among the best and the mastering just further polished the product. Although he had his specific way of operating, he took on board the list of ideas and feedback that we had, which was excellent.
Why him in particular?
His reputation precedes him with the artists that he has worked with at Fascination Street Studios in Sweden. Also, when we contacted him, he expressed a mutual interest in working with us saying that it looked like a “cool project”. We were flattered and with liking his sound, it was an easy decision.
The band also had Gus Sazes (Sonic Syndicate, Nightrage, Firewind) complete the artwork. This all makes for a very professional release and I feel that many people would be surprise to know that “LETO DESTINATUS” is an independent album. Has that been the case?
Yeah, definitely. From the outset, Universum wanted a professional package through and through. Also, once you emphasise quality in one area (such as working with Jens), it’s hard to dip out on the other areas as the ‘weakest link in the chain’ principle comes in. Listeners and other ‘outside’ interested parties have been surprised that we had no financing but our own.
Moving on to the album title. What does “Leto Destinatus” mean?
Following in the Latin vein of the band name Universum, ‘Leto Destinatus’ means ‘Destined to Death’. Although it can have negative connotations, it is more an honest look at the mortality of everything from human life, the world around us to planets and stars, whether that life comes to an end naturally or unnaturally. Often at the centre of that ‘destruction’ can be humans themselves, hence the humanoid figure on the front cover.
What thread if any do the lyrics focus on?
The album covers psychological issues, personal struggle and political topics. Some of the stories told within the lyrics can definitely stem from past experience where others can focus on things to come…..Armageddon?
What will be the bands next move?
We’d like to get label/distribution support in order to see Leto Destinatus in stores nationally and internationally. Support slots with international bands along with national and international touring are also high on the list.
Speaking of that the band recently completed an Australian tour with DragonForce. Considering that the album had only just been released, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for the band. What was the trek like for you?
The timing couldn’t have been better. It was a great opportunity to play our debut release to current listeners of our music as well as hopefully recruiting some new fans. Although taxing at times due to us managing the tour ourselves, it was also very rewarding and of course awesome to play to packed theatres across the country. We learnt a lot in terms of operations for large scale shows/tours and will be in a better position to do it again next time.
I understand that you were hand picked by DragonForce. Did you get a chance to talk to DragonForce about it?
No, it wasn’t something that we queried DragonForce on. We were quietly satisfied that we were selected by them for the tour. That was enough for us.
So what were the highlights of the tour?
Simply talking to DragonForce and the crew over a drink (or more) and just living the band lifestyle for 2 weeks was a great break from regular life and something that we could get very use to.
I caught the tail end of your set at The Forum in Melbourne and the crowd really got behind the band. What was the reaction like for you personally?
Excellent! I was stoked at the reception we got at all the shows. Considering we were the ‘warm up’ and knowing what crowds can be like for support acts, we were welcomed with open arms. I couldn’t believe the support we got during the performance and after, when having a talk to individuals. All up, it was well worth the effort involved and we can’t wait to play in all of the respective cities (plus some new ones) again!
Any last words?