Some bands, work their way into your heart, and never leave. And your highlight as an editor, is when you finally talk to them. For the writer, that moment was the 24th of January, when he got to have the following chat with the Finnish Sami Yli-Sirniö, lead guitarist of the Teutonic thrash metal legends KREATOR (and a very pleasant person to discuss with as you can tell by the interview below). With the “Gods Of Violence” worldwide release 3 days away, Metalpaths seized the chance to learn more about its conception, the bands’ view on the scene, their experiments and much more. The gods of violence come alive…
Good afternoon Sami! The new KREATOR album “Gods Of Violence” is going to be out in 3 days from now. What do you think now that the record is done. and what are the fans’ reactions towards the new material?
Well, the upcoming album is our 14th studio endeavor, and we’ve put a lot of work in it. And of course I hope that the people will like it. The 2 video single songs we’ve put out, they seem to have very nice reception. So they will be ending in the live set for sure, as well as many other songs too (laughs).
“Gods Of Violence” was worked again with Jens Bogren behind the producers’ console. What was done differently compared to the “Phantom Antichrist” record?
Well we used the same producer for the second time as you said (Laughs). But always, when you work with somebody for the second time, it usually becomes a little bit easier, cause you already know each other. And then, when you’re making music and trying to be creative, it’s also important that you don’t have to be so polite anymore, you can say stuff directly to their face (laughs). And also it’s easier to disagree about something and, you know, easier to argue as well. There wasn’t that much of that going on, but when you put a lot of effort into something, a lot of discussions are going on of course. But we used him again, because we knew he takes his job very seriously and that he makes us sound very good. He pushes the bands to sound better. He’s pretty insane, you know, he always wants to have another take and another take until you think “This doesn’t make any sense anymore. Is this guy insane? Has he lost his mind?” (laughs). But, in the end, it’s worth the trouble.
Once again, you’ve worked with the Polish Grupa 13 for the “Satan Is Real” and “Gods Of Violence” videos. The first time was the “Phantom Antichrist” promo video in the summer of 2012. Do you think that they’re the most fitting filming company to visualize the KREATOR material?
Yeah, I mean there aren’t too many production companies to do metal videos, at all these days actually. But, these Polish people, Grupa 13, it’s actually like a group of artists, and they’re very creative. And once we told them about the initial idea, they immediately came up with ideas by themselves. So that’s what we like about them. They’re artists that we appreciate, so that’s why we wanted to work with them again.And the result is pretty much amazing in my opinion!
Well thank you very much. I’m very happy with it, the third episode of the video trilogy’s coming up on Friday. It’s about the song “Totalitarian Terror”. “Gods Of Violence” it depicts the birth of the Kreator demon, and the second song “Satan Is Real” is about how Satan must have been real for some people in the Medieval times. “But how he can be this day?” is the question, that’s what we’re wondering about and that’s what the song is about. Of course, we’re all atheists and so on. But the third one (“Totalitarian Terror”) brings it up to the modern times. I saw the video and I was a little worried that it might be easily misunderstood, because there are some Nazi symbols there. But anybody who knows the band and checks out the lyrics, knows that we’re not a right-wing band.
You are about to release the video”Totalitarian Terror”. Despite the fact that KREATOR were clearly against totalitarian ideas throughout, this is the first time you’ve ever done a video addressing the issue. My question has two parts: What took you so long and what’s the story behind the video, who is filming it this time?
It was done by the same company, Grupa 13. It is the birth of evil, how evil lives on through the times, through humanity and how it is in the modern day, like I told you earlier. I think it pretty much explains itself. And “how come there wasn’t a video like that before?” I don’t know, I don’t know. It’s never too late, the band is 32 years old. Now we finally did it! (laughs)
Also this is a video trilogy along with the “Gods Of Violence” and “Satan Is Real” videos. SLAYER did the same thing with the videos from their latest album “Repentless”. Who came up with the trilogy idea?
I didn’t know they did, honestly (Laughs). Mille might have known! (laughs) But yeah, it was Mille’s idea and Grupa 13, so that was also good. You know, some bands today, they put videos out for every song. It’s difficult these days to market your music, because everything is available for free. Videos are a really good tool and I love the visual side, because it strengthens the message you want to bring across with your music. And of course, it’s become easier also with the technology of 2017 to create visual imagery and so on. So yeah, what else was there? (laughs)
Apart from the three Grupa 13 videos, you’ve had many warm-up treats before the release of “Gods Of Violence”: the “Earth Under The Sword” vinyl single via Decibel magazine, the “Violence Unleashed” EP, the Metal-Hammer-exclusive “Live Antichrist” album and on Saturday the “Totalitarian Terror” song was uploaded on KREATOR’s Spotify page.
Well, that was an accident because they were still editing the video (laughs).
Do you like keeping the fans busy with small treats like these before giving them the full-length album?
That’s something you’d probably have to ask somebody from Nuclear Blast. Of course it makes sense to put out singles. To give people an idea of what they can expect from the upcoming album. That has been done since the 60’s I believe (laughs). And that one song between the Decibel, it was basically a leftover song, because there was something similar or simply it didn’t fit on the album. It’s not on the album anyway, but it was mixed mastered, you know might as well put it out somewhere. Decibel were presenting our tour so they wanted to have something, something exclusive. So we went “here’s a song for you, take that”. There’s really nothing more to it.For the third time in your career you’ve worked with Jan Meininghaus for the beautiful album cover. It reminds me of SLAYER’s “South Of Heaven” I gotta tell you. The cross and the lake of blood etc.
Yeah it has metal themes (laughs). Jan Meininghaus is a little bit something out of the genre, which is something important for people to work a little outside of metal also. And Jan Meininghaus is one of them. He heard the demos before we even went into the studio. So the music was the inspiration for the artwork, as it should be in my opinion. There’s no other trick to it really.
So that was his guidance for the album cover?
Yes yes, just the music really. Song titles, demos, lyrics and stuff like that.
As a member in one of the most legendary German thrash bands, what are your thoughts on the thrash metal scene today? Do you think there are bands out there that stand out from the rest?
Well, if you think of the older American bands like Testament and Metallica, it’s cool that they’ve put out new album and I thought they were really good too. But what’s even more amazing, I mean, I’m from Finland, there’s a bunch of young bands that play this kind of music, almost retro music when you think about it from their perspective but also from my perspective, doing something we were doing when we were much younger. But it’s great, it hopefully brings younger crowd to our gigs too.
Bands like Ranger, Lost Society…
Yeah, Lost Society are from Finland yeah, they got a really cool energy to them. Saw them live once, they were amazing. Full of energy those kids! (laughs) But that’s great, there’s nothing against it.
KREATOR has toured with many non-thrash-metal bands over the past years, in a more wide field of extreme metal. ELUVEITIE, CALIBAN, BELPHEGOR, ARCH ENEMY, VADER, MORBID ANGEL, NILE and of course SOILWORK and ABORTED on the upcoming February 2017 tour. Is that something you enjoy doing, exposing as many different bands to your audience as possible?
Yes, of course. I think it also would be boring to have four too similar bands to play one after another, it wouldn’t be interesting for the audience either. And I’m hoping that Sepultura will bring other kinds of people, who might be interested in our show, Soilwork’s show or Aborted’s show for that matter. But it’s also sometimes bands that we actually like, that’s also important for us. Morbid Angel is one of those for sure, I love their older stuff and not to mention Celtic Frost I was really glad to go on tour with them in 2007. Back then, I haven’t even heard their new album that was coming out, it was so cool because I remember “Into The Pandemonium” and “To Mega Therion”, you know albums that were important to me when I was a kid. So going on tour with Celtic Frost was like “yeah, let’s do this!”.Which bands would you like to take on a tour from the new breed of the metal scene?
“The new breed of the metal scene” it means so many things! (laughs) There’s so much going on. We have done that of course already years ago, you’re from Greece, we went on tour with Suicidal Angels. Back in the day, when we were touring with Eluveitie, they were still pretty young back then. You know, whatever is current and interesting and also people have to want it themselves of course. And also when you go on tour with a band, it doesn’t hurt if they bring some people to the show as well (laughs). That’s also a question that you can’t forget!
As a follow-up question: For a band that spans 32 years in the making regardless of genre, the hardest part before every show is making a well-balanced set. And sometimes they’ll be lots of arguments on what songs to play or not to play. How does KREATOR cope with this, taking into account each new albums’ promotion as well as pleasing both new and long-time fans?
Well I came into this about 1,5 weeks ago to argue about the setlist, and we’ve been doing it for 10 days (laughs)! Not really arguing, but we came to the conclusion that we all want to play plenty of new stuff, so there’s six songs on the setlist. Then we realized that it might be clever to put some old shit there too, you know some people wanna hear the older stuff. But this time we thought about playing different older songs, to have something new to offer to the people. We want no one to be able to say “oh they’re playing the same shit again”.
Yeah, like in Chania, you played “Awakening Of The Gods” after – I don’t know – how many years…
Yeah, and we stopped it now (laughs). But yeah we played it for one tour. It’s for the hardcore fans who know all the older songs. It’s fun for us too, you know.
Speaking of touring, which band inspired you to get fully professional with music? And which are the bands or artists that influenced you the most to start playing guitar?
I started playing when I was around 13-14 years old. First, I went into the classical conservatory in Helsinki. But after that, of course, it was the end of the 80’s and I was a teenager, of course I got into metal. And also I wanted to play in a band and started having shows and so on. Inspiration to become a musician, well there was this band in Helsinki called Kingston Wall. We knew they were playing in the same rehearsal space, and were a bit older. They had people coming to their shows and they jammed like hell. All gigs were the same, similar to the other. But if you’re talking about international names, Ritchie Blackmore when I was a kid back then, of course, you know, Maiden, Metallica and Slayer. All the names that you would expect (laughs).Sami, you’ve been a part of KREATOR for the past 16 years. How has your guitar playing style changed throughout the years and what was your influence on the bands’ musical direction?
Well, difficult for me to analyse, cause I’m so close to it. But I guess my influence would be one fourth, because we have four members in the band, everybody thinks that’s only fair. (laughs). I mean, of course, during the last albums, Mille and me are the only ones being in the studio all the time. But it’s just because you’re a lead guitarist, it makes sense, you have a bigger role there. But if it changed it, I don’t know, I mean if you think the band was going back into a more thrash metal direction back then in 2001, when I joined the band, that was more of a general consensus that was in the air: “maybe we should concentrate on what we do best and forget about that gothic crap, because It doesn’t fit that band so well” (laughs). It’s about concentrating on your strengths and try to figure out what you’re best at, but also at the same time brought a new sound to it and avoid repeating yourself. These are important things that happened with Kreator’s music lately.
I think it (KREATOR’s music in the 00’s) had some influence from the experimental era of the 90’s.
Yeah, I guess so. But I would like to say that we’re still experimental. I think on the new album we are.
KREATOR have always been loved by the thrash metal audience in Greece, since they first visited Greece in 1989. You’ve honored us twice with the “Betrayer” and “Civilization Collapse” videos shot here. But apart from that, what keeps this bond so strong in your opinion?
Well, you know, back then, when I joined the band and I did the first European tour with Kreator, everybody always told me “Wait until we get to Athens! This crowd is amazing there and the reception is just like something else!” (laughs). I mean there were good gigs elsewhere too, but I remember back then Athens being absolutely amazing. Yep, it’s difficult for me to explain why, but hopefully it’s because of the music. I can’t figure out any other reason, really. Probably that “Betrayer” video had something to do with it, who knows? (laughs). There is no Athens show, on the upcoming European tour, but there will be this year for sure, there has to be! We’ll try to come and play there as soon as we can. Part of the themes on the album is based on ancient Greek mythology, so that’s another reason to come! (laughs)
What are your memories from the last time you played in Greece, at the Chania Rock festival 2016?
I remember it was very windy, it was an old fortress quite close to the harbor of Chania. I remember going out to the harbor, we went there for dinner, later on for drinks also after the show. Beautiful place and really nice, beautiful island. The only shitty part was that we had to leave so quickly because we had two other festivals on the same weekend. So it was like in between. We had to go way back in Sweden to play another festival there. But it was nice, it was really cool.
Besides KREATOR, you’re also a member of the Finnish doom/death metal band BARREN EARTH. How do they fit in the tight KREATOR schedule?
Kreator is very time consuming, and also Kreator is my priority. But I love playing with the guys from Barren Earth, but the basic idea is a little bit different. The drummer play in a band called Moonsorrow, and the guitarist as well. So it’s always about finding the right schedule to tour and it’s very difficult. But a couple of times we manage to, Barren Earth did a US, holy shit 10 years ago! (laughs)
Can we expect something new anytime soon? As far as I know, you released “On Lonely Towers” in 2015.
Exactly, yeah. And we played some shows in Finland and elsewhere. Actually, Century Media just spoke up their options, so we’re going to try and find time to record a new album. And the songs already exist, only in demos and stuff. But we’re gonna try and do a new one.
I’ve seen you have the February tour with SEPULTURA, SOILWORK, and ABORTED, as well as the Decibel tour with Obituary. Any other future plans for KREATOR?
After that, there’s a lot of festival offers that I’ve already got even before the album is out. And some of them have already been notified, like Summer Breeze and Wacken. Those are the two German festivals that I know about. There’s plenty of offers going around, but I’m still heckling about it. As we finish the tour, some festivals will be announced. But everything is not completely confirmed, I do know we’re doing the Greenfield in Switzerland, which must be a really nice festival and as time goes, in the autumn we’ll continue touring. There’s lots of places to go to, Greece being one of them!
That was about it Sami. Thanks a lot for your time it’s been a huge honor. And you get to say the final words!
Well John, thank you very much for your interest. And like I said, we have to figure out a way to come to Greece to play the right kind of show. And I’m gonna see you there!