It has been a while since I wrote anything on my blog. Reason for this is simply the lack of time as we’ve been busy writing, preparing, recording, mixing, mastering and now finally promoting the new Insomnium album titled Shadows of the Dying Sun.
Now that most of the work is done and it’s only a couple of more weeks until the release of the album, I’m going to take my time to go back and shed some light on this whole process.
I started to write and demo the new songs for the album somewhere in the beginning of 2013. I had accumulated quite a lot riffs and ideas, and the Christmas holiday was the first time I had proper time to sit down and start working on this new stuff. As always after a long break, it all started quite slowly. And it did not really help that we ended up doing quite a lot of touring during 2013, even though we planned to take time off to concentrate on writing the new album.
But it is always hard to say no to good offers. So we went and did support tours for Moonspell and Children of Bodom in Europe, which took us on the road for two months and away from the whole process. But before this, I had a good four months to write and demo some new material.
I had just moved near London and started a new job, and there were lots of different things going on at the work front as well. Most of the music came from playing acoustic guitar and recording these rough ideas to my iPhone. Simple but effective.
After the Moonspell tour in May, we talked with Century Media and an idea about recording a new single was thrown in the air. We actually did this same thing also with One for Sorrow and released one song (“Weather the Storm”) before the actual album came out.
Everybody thought why the hell not, and we just went for it. And the song we chose to put on tape became later “Ephemeral.” We also thought that this might be a good chance to try out different recording studios and mix the song with different guys. Just to see what difference it makes and to give us some idea with whom we would like to work with for the actual full-length album.
After tracking the drums near our hometown, Joensuu, at SF Sound studio by Kimmo Perkkiö, the rest of the instruments were recorded in studio Korkeakoski at Kotka with Teemu Aalto, who had worked previously with Markus’s other bands (Omnium Gatherum and Wolftrap).
The finished track was then mixed by Dan Swanö and and André Alvinzi from Fascination Street studios. Everything went really smoothly, and I felt that we clicked with recorder Teemu really well. Both mixes also sounded really good, and it was tough decision which one to use. In the end, we picked André’s mix and locked him down to also do the mix for the actual full-length. Just to offer something extra for fans, I recorded a couple of acoustic instrumental tracks at home to be included as B-sides for “Ephemeral.”
In hindsight, this whole process was a really good experience and set the standard for the rest of the album. I guess we had only about half of the songs ready when we released “Ephemeral” in the fall of 2013. So, back to the drawing board we went. But only for a short while as the European support tour with Children of Bodom was already looming ahead.
We had good intentions to work with the songs on the road, but of course it did not really work like that. So, after we got back home, we realised that we really needed to give the whole process a big push in order to keep up with the deadlines we had set ourselves in the beginning of the year. But that’s why we have deadlines. Otherwise we would not be able to finish anything really. It was a tough one, but at the end of the day we made it.
As I live in the U.K., we pretty much worked separately and just exchanged demos and ideas through e-mail. Markus came up with a couple of really great sounding songs by himself, and the rest of the material was written pretty much by me. It was great to realise that there was really good interaction going from the beginning with Markus. We clicked really well and were able to complement each other’s ideas. Markus finished a couple of my songs with really nice solos, and I came up with some clean vocal lines for his songs. Me and Niilo also co-wrote two songs with Markus (“Out to the Sea” and “The River”).
After getting the album pretty much together, we marked our calendars with two intensive rehearsal weekends. First one took place in the end of November. To shake up things a bit, we took our gear and secluded ourselves to Markus’s parents’ summer cabin. It was these couple of intensive four-day sessions in the middle of the forest where we put the last finishing touches on the album.
In retrospect, we could have not made a better decision: these sessions made a big difference for getting everything in order so that we were able to step in the studio in December. Gave us a chance to step aside from normal daily routines and solely focus on the album. All in all, sessions were quite easy going and grown-up. For a Finnish band, surprisingly small amounts of booze were involved.
Although we did wreck one Jeep with these sessions. However, this was due to ice on the road and could have happened to anyone really. It was also important to spend some time as friends and just chill and fool around. Even at the level we’re operating, band related stuff often becomes pretty serious and more or less work. So you really need to have fun and take it easy sometimes to create a creative working environment. And even though we already then knew that we were fighting against really tight schedules, we somehow managed to pull it through. I believed in the songs and the album myself from day one, but we still needed to rehearse the songs together. At the end of the day, our music is band music. Everybody needs to get the feel of the album in order to stand behind it.
After the second intensive rehearsal weekend in December, we finally had 11 songs somewhat rehearsed. At that moment, we were only one week away from the start of the drum recordings.
As with “Ephemeral,” we decided to record drums in our hometown, Joensuu, Finland. For this purpose, we booked SF Sound studio for couple of weeks under the trusty guidance of Kimmo Perkkiö.
Kimmo has been involved in the sound engineer business for a long time, and he used to co-own the studio where we recorded our two first albums, In the Halls of Awaiting and The Day It All Came Down. He now owns a top-notch studio in very scenic surroundings by the river near Joensuu.
As everything worked really well with “Ephemeral,” and as we go a long way back, it was a natural choice for us to work again with Kimmo. And considering that we had just finalised the drum arrangements about a week ago, Markus and Kimmo really did a great job with the drums. Teemu also travelled to Joensuu for a couple of days to give his production input and just to lend a pair of extra ears to help achieve the best drum sound as possible.
After a couple of weeks of intense banging, we had all of the drums safely on the hard drive ready to be transferred to studio Korkeakoski, where we would track all of the rest of the stuff. I flew over to Finland from the UK at this point, and after two days of Christmas holidays, made my way to Kotka.
So how did it all go? Well, I have to start saying that we worked really long hours and recorded lots and lots of guitars to the point where we thought this album would never get finished. Additionally, it was dark all the time; we had a really exceptional winter and did not have any snow in Finland. Even though the sun came up for a few hours, it was dim light cast behind the thick cover of grey clouds.
It kind of did not matter that much because we spent all of the days inside anyway. However, I just remember being tired for the whole time. And every day felt pretty much the same. Morning: dark. Evening: dark. However, the stuff we put to the tape started to sound really good. And the longer we went, the more motivated, ambitious and driven we became.
If we needed to go that extra mile, we did without compromises.
Rhythm guitar sound was done by splitting the signal between EVH and Marshall amps and capturing the sound with three different mics. The signal was occasionally boosted with HMV2 or TS-9 and “cleaned” with TC electronics fx board. We weren’t too anal about settings and tweaked the sounds as we went along: for example, we used various settings for clean and crunch sounds and added Vox head to the mix at this point.
Most of the guitars we’re tracked with Markus’s Jacksons, and a few of the songs were sometimes spiced with my 7-stringed Mayones. For the lead sound, we used the trusty Mesa Boogie Single Rectifier. I think it took around two weeks to track all electric and acoustic guitars, after I had one day to finish up with clean vocals before heading back home for work.
I hadn’t done much singing lately, so it took a bit of time to open up my voice. After that, everything went really easy. Teemu kicked my ass the whole time with articulation (to get words out correctly) and helped out with the vocal harmonies. He even sang some background vocals himself. All in all, I was really happy how my vocals turned out, and you could tell that all the touring we had done during the last few years had made my voice more confident and stronger.
I literally ran to the train after I got last bits and pieces together, and I had to leave a couple of guitar parts for Markus. I have to state here once more how cool it was to work with Markus in the studio. He’s such a talented guitarist and brought this Insomnium album alive really. We had a great vibe and communication going on for the whole session. He always had constructive ideas and we worked for the same goal: make all of the songs as good as possible! Moreover, our producer/recorder, Teemu, brought in lots of good ideas and really made a huge impact on this album. Just great team work– definitely not the last time that we’re going to work with him.
After I got my parts done it was Niilo’s turn to start tracking growls and basses. Even though I wasn’t present, we communicated with Teemu for the whole time and Niilo did just an awesome job. Just listen to him on this album. There’s just so much variety in his vocals, and the bass sound that Teemu was able to come up with is goddamn heavy and fits in the mix like a glove. As always, writing the lyrics was something that was left last, and I did spend a good few “lyrical” nights up when we were tracking the guitars. But that’s just how it goes.
Even though I like writing lyrics, it’s something that does not always come out that naturally: I need those strict deadlines to get stuff done. However, the whole writing process was quite easy for me this time. I had collected lots of ideas for songs and had lots on my mind I wanted to get out on the paper. Niilo wrote really great lyrics for three songs as well, and it was nice to see everything coming together finally.
Despite working hard all the time, we ended being a bit behind of the schedules when we finally sent the songs for the mix. Luckily, we were able to get a few more extra weeks of time from Century Media so that Andre had enough time to finish up the mix at Fascination Street studio, Sweden. And what an amazing job Andre did. I can honestly say that we finally got that bit more produced and friendlier sound we were already looking for on the last album.
All this, of course, without sacrificing the heaviness and roughness too much.
I mean, good production does not automatically mean commercial production. You have to have some edge in metal. After mixing, the album was mastered in Finland at Chartmakers by Svante Forsbäck. And there you go; in the end of February we finally had a new album wrapped up and ready to be sent to Century Media.
I remember opening a beer(s) and listening to the whole thing from start to finish. For one year I had lived and breathed this album, and it was great to realize that all the hard work had not gone in vain. Instead, everything sounded like it should sound and I knew we had a great album in our hands. I just felt honoured and proud: moment for a great sense of accomplishment.
One life, one chance. Make every day count.
[You can read previous installment’s of Ville’s blog here]
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