For many the UNHOLY is a brand name of ultra depressive doom metal. Its first steps the band made in 1988 and it’s first three demos including the legendary «Trip To Depressive Autumn» have become the cult among the world’s tape traders. The two amazing albums which followed the demos were positively accepted both by public and by critics. And then... Then the band officially announced its split for the reason of the tense personal atmosphere within the band. Two years later, in early 1997, UNHOLY reunited in the original line-up and began to work on its third album «Rapture». The UNHOLY guitarist and keyboard player Ismo Toivonen disclosed that rather soon the fourth album of the depressive Finns will be put out.
First of all I would like to admit that interviews with UNHOLY can rarely be found in metal press. Why is it so? Is it the lack of interest on the part of the media to your band or is it your personal point not give too many interviews?
Well, the truth is that not many people know us today because of the two years’ break we took in 1995-1996. For many people we are a new band in the scene and that's why I understand our situation. Even though we have been existing for the last 10 years and our fourth album is coming out in early '99, still we are a new band here. Funny. People have changed during these years. Our old fans are still here which is good but now we have a completely new generation of fans. They have liked and listened to our music only from «Rapture» maybe. And the same thing is happening with metal press too. Some old zines, for example Isten, still remembers us but there are so many new zines nowadays that mostly they haven't heard a word UNHOLY. But hopefully this situation is getting better when our new album comes out. Then many people will know us. But still on the other hand, we have given over 50 interviews during one year and I think it's quite a lot.
And why did you take the break in 1995-1996?
Well, after "Second Ring..." we got an idea to develop in some direction, but we didn't know where. We tested many kinds of styles, of course it was metal all the time, but we didn't find any good direction to go. So we called that a lack of inspiration. And we got some personal problems as well. Jarkko used alcohol quite much and didn't seem to be interested in playing music. So we decided to take a break and re-join again when it feels good. So in the summer of '96 I was in a rock festival with Jan and Pasi and we talked and it felt good to play again with UNHOLY. We had many kinds of project bands during that break and we «iced» them and joined in our rehearsing place and started to play and it felt great! We didn't ask Jarkko to join us because we don't want any kind of alcohol or drug problems to stop our activity again. So, we started to write songs and in the spring '97 we had them ready. We contacted Avantgarde and they agreed to work with us and here we are.
I think it’s a good choice considering the fact that your first Austrian label didn’t promote you and was not at all honest... Is it really possible for labels to be honest with the bands they’ve signed?
Lethal Records was a rip off label and their boss hadn't got a slightest idea of how the label has to work. It was good that we didn't face any other rip off labels but it was really instructive for us to face that one. Underground metal labels today have a really hard job trying to reach at least passable selling amounts. There are just too many bands and too many labels, too many big labels and big bands. That is why there could be little chances to make money with bands. The whole business has changed since we got our first contract. Now it's too easy to get a deal, so there are too many shit bands, they have nothing to say musically but they're just «eating» the other bands’ selling amounts. I believe that for a label it's still possible to be honest with bands if you know what to do. But this is the business where no one can win or get rich. If you do music or be a label owner you just have to love your job, not money. And I'm taking about underground now.
UNHOLY is one of the oldest depressive doom metal bands. What was the major influence that made you play that sort of music?
If you mean musical influences, bands we like and something like that, I must say that we never had any kind of purpose to take influences from the other bands. Why play music that someone else has already played? So, we don't take influences, but I'm sure that bands like CELTIC FROST and VOIVOD had some kind of effect to what we are now.
UNHOLY - by your name I can judge that religion and in particular Christianity have always been the target for your attacks... Is it really?
I'm sure some people can think it that way. The good side in our name is that you can choose and interpret it like you want and so you find your own story behind that name. For me the name UNHOLY means that we are unholy in musical sense. We don't care if something is not from the main stream style or be against "laws" of music theory. If it sounds good then it's good for us. If some song doesn't sound like doom metal we don't mind if it just sounds good. For example "Into Cold Light" is more like techno than doom but we thought it sounded good and so it's on «Rapture» album. That's what the name UNHOLY means to me.
«Rapture» - the title of the two Finnish albums of UNHOLY and IMPALED NAZARENE... How do you consider the fact? What was mass media reaction on the «twins»?
That was a strange coincidence. Neither we nor them knew that we were going to release the albums with a same title. It was a surprise. Maybe the name is so cool that both bands got the same idea in same time, ha-ha! Finnish media didn't react to that fact as far as I know. And I haven't seen anything in other countries either. But as I told, maybe it's because people don't know us very well yet. You know we had that break and now the line-up is new, so maybe media will notice it later, when they learn that we exist again.
As far as I know, your band didn’t tour a lot. Does it mean that your label can’t afford it or you prefer not to tour too often?
Well so far we have only played live in Finland and our last gig was in 1994. When we began to play together again after that 18 months’ break we just didn't have enough members for gigs. I played guitars and keyboards in «Rapture» so you see, it's quite difficult to play them together in gigs. But right now we are getting more members, a new session guitarist for gigs, so we will have two guitars for live shows and we have a new permanent member Veera who sings our female vocals and plays keyboards. Right now we are rehearsing our live set and next year when our forthcoming album is out too, we are ready for gigs after many years’ break. It's just a little bit sad because we have not yet any management or booking agent to organize gigs and tours and our label, I think, have not enough resources to organize tours. As a matter of fact in 1994 Avantgarde Music organized a European tour for us with KATATONIA but the whole thing was canceled just a couple of weeks before it started. Nowadays I think Avantgarde is more careful with the things like that.
OK, let’s take a glimpse of your albums and figure out their main ideas and differences. Let’s start right away from your demo «A Trip To Depressive Autumn».
"Trip..." was the demo with which we got our first recording deal. It has sold really well and it really was a good product for a demo. Our first album "From The Shadows" was a really dark album and I think there are not many albums of that kind in the world. But it was badly mixed and that's why I don't like it personally. "The Second Ring Of Power" was 100 times better than "From The Shadows" but it didn't get the publicity it deserved, it's sad. Then "Rapture" was the first album with our new line-up and it differed from the others a lot and it was really a hard album to understand. You have to listen to it about 20 times before it opens to you. I like it even when it's more straight music than older ones. Our new album is more of the same style. Our forthcoming album will be the best one in the band’s history. It's really professionally produced and it contains almost the perfect playing. There are more female vocals and it's more melodic than the earlier albums were. Wait for "Gracefallen"...
Being a doom metal musician, could you tell us about the roots of doom, the main influences that gave birth to this style?
I don't know how it was born. We just began to play the music we liked. But I think CANDLEMASS was the first, at least one of the earliest bands to play some kind of "doom metal". Their first albums were really slow and ultra heavy, of course more melodic, but the basic elements were there. I have been told that we were the first band who mixed some weird things and growling vocals to that basic heavy stuff. In the early ‘90's, at the time when we had been playing this stuff for a couple of years already, some other bands started to use the same elements in their music. But as everyone can see, doom metal is now going back to those CANDLEMASS times, becoming more melodic and involving normal vocals. Personally I'm very pleased with what some of our fans have told about us and this "our kind of doom metal"; people said that we created this atmospheric, depressive or whatever it's called, doom metal. And after us there came other bands who started to take some elements from us, to copy us. I don't know if it is true but the fact is that there were no many bands to play that kind of music in 1988. For example our oldest recorded song "Time Has Gone" was made in 1988, at the times of TESTAMENT, KREATOR and POSSESSED. So all these years we have been trying to get to other direction from what we have made on the earlier albums, because we want to be one step ahead all the time and find some completely new ways to make this music.
On your albums you involved female vocals, normal vocals and growling. Why did you decide to use all types of singing?
That is not chosen consciously. We just use the voice that fits the best way to music. We have had three female vocalists in our history. There was an Austrian woman on our first one. And on the second album there was Merja Salmela and on «Rapture» as well as on the forthcoming one Veera Muhli is singing. Veera is now our permanent member and she will play the keyboards in concerts.
It seems that doom metal is slowly deteriorating and now there are very few bands which play the real doom metal. Some bands turned to pop and some began to play gothic. Actually gothic has become the inheritor of doom...
You could be the right person to say that. I feel I'm the wrong one because the question "what is real doom metal?" is very hard to answer. Was or is CANDLEMASS the real doom? That would mean that there are only few doom bands in the world. Or is the music we play a real one? As I earlier told, it's possible that we were one of the first bands who mixed weird, atmospheric keyboards and weird guitar chords to music that is basically resembles old Celtic Frost but slower and with more classical influences. What is real doom? I think we don’t play that music anymore. "From The Shadows" could be categorized as doom from the old-school-doom point of view. But I'm sure that there are many people who think the whole thing appositely. Bands change their musical line because they want to evolve. As well as we do. I think doom metal (or whatever it be called) loses its attractiveness quite fast. Sooner or later band uses its inspiration and ideas and I don't see any reason to continue to make money (?) with the same stuff from year to year. It's underestimation of listener. Band has to change and seek for new challenges. So I think that's the only logical advancement. And about turning to gothic... Gothic and doom are quite near of each other. A little change and soon people say that "they have turned to gothic". When our new album is out I'm quite sure that many people will say that it's not doom. But that doesn't bother me. I think it will be just metal... maybe with ambient, gothic and doom influences. I don't know what music term could be good to that but I'm sure it's not doom metal. Maybe it's Gothic Doom Metal. I’ve just made this term a few seconds ago...
One can easily count doom metal bands in America by his fingers but in Europe there are (or were) lots of bands playing that sort of music. Why doom metal has become popular in Europe and hasn’t gained wide popularity among the American audience?
Maybe it's because of the cultural differences, maybe just because in north America there are hundreds of bands we never heard about. I mean maybe the reason is that they just have their own bands and there is not enough space for European marketing. But maybe it's, as I said, a cultural question. American people, I think, are happier and so they like faster and simpler music. But that's just questioning.
Has doom metal a future? How might it evolve?
I think that doom metal has a better future than black metal for example. My opinion is that doom metal will stay the longest time in metal scene. That's because it has more composing elements and the classical element is not the smallest. And everyone can notice that classical music is not bounded to time. If I must - I don't believe it either but if I just have to - name one musical line that will exist in 20 years I would say it'll be doom. There is and there will be a small scene but the main thing is that it will stay. UNHOLY is going away from doom all the time so I'm the wrong person to say in what direction it should develop. But I have an idea... I think it should strive toward more original line. Not to mix too much different styles because it might lose and disappear in the chaos of other styles. SCEPTICISM and ESOTERIC are leading it in the right direction.
And finally, what would you like to say to all your fans in Russia?
Stay alert! Wait for our next album "Gracefallen" and you'll be surprised. You'll love it or you'll hate it but there is nothing between it. It's different, it's melancholic, it's heavy... And check our website for more information and details of UNHOLY - http://wwnet.fi/UNHOLY/