Serpent Warning interview
Serpent Warning from Joensuu, Finland have stroke with their great self-titled debut offering catchy and quite grim traditional doom metal with a lot of remarkable riffs and expressive vocals.
They were founded ten years ago. Vocalist Samuli Pesonen (The Wandering Midget) left Serpent Warning and the band recruited Suvi Laaninen. After awhile they decided to try another vocalist. They found Jimi Lehtijoki who was featured on their latest Pagan Fire album. We’ve discussed all these issues and more with one of Serpent Warning’s founders Antti Koponen.
Hi Antti! We haven’t spoken for ages, as your way to Serpent Warning sophomore album was really slow and uneasy. Accept congratulations with long awaited release! The album should be out in late October, and it seems you spent a lot of time polishing it. When did you start working on Pagan Fire?
Hi Aleks! Yes, it’s been a long time! Thanks, we appreciate it! I’m not sure if we polished it or not, but… We started to work on our second album already in the summer of 2015. Before the actual recording started, we recorded demos for the album. We worked pretty much non-stop the rest of 2015 and did a “mini-tour” in between the recording-sessions. Some songs took ages to get down right! Basically, we got drums down pretty quickly and then Jussi (we also call him Geezer!) did bass-parts, those did take bit longer than the drums. I think he wasn’t happy with everything he did, so he fixed and re-arranged his parts a bit. Actually, I’m not sure if he’s happy with his bass-parts even now! Haha! Anyway, after we had drums and bass done, I started doing my guitars. I think I did my parts more or less simultaneously; after I had rhythm parts, then I added leads and solos. Some of those took ages too, even if they are not that difficult or technical to play! Haha! I always try to complement the mood and the atmosphere, make leads and solos part of the song, more than actual “show-off” or whatever. So yeah, it was a lengthy process indeed. Once we had everything done, instrument-wise, then Suvi started doing her vocals, bit by bit. By this time we had reached the spring/summer of 2016. We did some gigs from march to may, I think and after that we kind of came to conclusion that Suvi’s singing wasn’t really what we wanted with those songs. I’m not saying everyone in the band agreed with the decision of letting Suvi go, but basically that’s what happened. We really wanted the vocals, with enough power and attitude to drive them through, so to speak. So, now we had a bit of a problem in our hands… We needed a new singer!!! So we started to look for one and after few candidates, we found our man.
You have a new vocalist Jimi Lehtijoki and your second guitarist Marko Purhonen, is in the band since 2015. Did they take part in songwriting?
Yes, Jimi- I think we made absolutely right decision in getting him!!! Jimi has turned out to be very enthusiastic musician and a great friend!!! Marko, did some guitar on the album, but basically almost everything was recorded before he decided to join. The thing is, we had been asking him to join already before he actually did and I think he finally came on board just before the mini-tour, in the fall of 2015. Unfortunately at the moment Marko is no longer in Serpent Warning, since he felt that he doesn’t have enough time to play with us anymore. But he still plays of course, and has two other bands, namely Kддrmeenkantaja and Hiitola, which also has Suvi on vocals. And if you ask me, her vocals fit better in that band than they ever did Serpent Warning. But as to your question, no they didn’t participate in the actual songwriting. But Jimi did have a big hand in the vocal-arrangements of course!!!
Do you plan to recruit new second guitarist or will you keep on performing all parts alone?
That has not been decided yet. But actually, Jimi played rhythm guitar on our latest gig, in Tampere. So that’s one option, that Jimi will play guitar and sing. But we have wait and see how things work out!!!
The band’s debut album was recorded by Samuli Pesonen on vocals. It’s obvious that he’s busy with his black metal conspiracy, but I can’t avoid the question: did you try to lure him back?
Well, we kind of did actually ask Samuli, to kind of come back and to sing on the album and he did consider it and I think he was actually going to do it, but… I think he didn’t really have enough time for another project at that point. And actually, I’m not sure if he’s doing any black metal anymore…? But I know he must be busy with Outlaw! Not sure what Wandering Midget are doing now. Samuli also did a project called Anvil Strykez, which is quite interesting thing.
Suvi Laaninen was Serpent Warning vocalist for three years. How do you value this period? Was it a good experience for the band? “Under The Dolmen” and “Exit In The River” weren’t included on Pagan Fire.
Well, trying not to repeat myself here too much, I’m sure I do! As for playing gigs, it was okay and in a way it worked quite good. I’m not saying it was to everyone’s liking and probably it wasn’t. I wouldn’t say it was a waste of time or anything, I guess it was kind of natural progression, where we felt that the music was pretty good and we would like to have vocals to match that. Not necessarily someone who would be overtly technical, but someone with the voice to fit the mood of the songs. “Under The Dolmen” and “Exit Into The Dream” we did as an experiment to see what we could come up with. And that was what we came up with! Haha! Those songs were done as a promo, to use as a calling-card for record-labels and also for the Muskelrock festival we did in Sweden in May/June 2014. By the time we got to Pagan Fire, we had kind of discarded those songs a bit, I think. We also had some other songs, quite a few actually, which were not really good enough for the album. Or maybe we felt that since they were kind of old, we got tired of them or something…
Jimi Lehtijoki’s vocals fit perfectly Pagan Fire‘s atmosphere. Did you rearrange some of your songs for him or did it just click right from the start?
Yes, and he’s a great lad too! We did some rearrangements here and there. Basically, we tried the songs as they were originally done and then changed whatever needed tweaking and adjusting. We had the same approach as before, where we recorded some demos with Jimi singing, the songs from Pagan Fire. I don’t think we necessarily did a demo of every song out of those seven, but at least 4 demos were recorded. Jimi did have a pretty good feeling right from the start, as far as I’m concerned! Also, it helped that we got to do some gigs with him, before he went to record his vocals for the album.
Serpent Warning turns to be more dynamic, your new songs are faster and more energetic than songs from debut. Do you keep in touch with other doom bands from your region?
Well, there’s not really that much contact, I’m afraid. Only contact we’ve had (with doom-bands) is with Cardinals Folly, Church Of Void (RIP) and Acolytes Of Moros. But I cannot say that we stay in touch or anything. I don’t know if it would help getting gigs or not… Maybe we will reconnect or establish new contacts, you never know! I used keep in touch with many bands, already when I was younger… writing to bands, trading demos and all that. What we had, black- and death metal scene and then also doom-metal. Possible there were few punk-bands too.
Did you record the album in one take or did it take more time?
We did most of the album in 2015 and maybe bit in early 2016, all the instruments that is! After that it was the question of getting the vocals done. But like we know now, it took a bit of doing! Jimi’s vocals were recorded first in the fall of 2017 and then rest completed early 2018. After that Tero did the mixing and then mastering was done by Joonas. Listening to it now, I’m sure there are things we could have done better and all that, but I think it’s a pretty good album!!! You kind of see it for what it is, for that time that you are in. I guess you can only tell if something is good, if it stands the test of time… I hope it will!!!
Did you update some of your equipment for this recording?
Yes, we did get some new equipment, even if we have already gotten rid of some of it by now! How ironic. But we did get some new stuff, I think Geezer got himself an Orange bass-amp, and the precision-styled bass by Matti Nevalainen and I got myself an Ibanez Destroyer. As for the album, I used my Flying V and that newly bought Ibanez. Most of the album was done on Ibanez, as it had a good, clear attack on the mikes and nice balance on the treble and bass. I think I did some rhythm-parts with Flying V, but almost all of the solos were surely done with Ibanez. We also had some new pedals, I’m sure. Also our producer, recording-engineer, general all-help guy Tero, had some gimmicks, pedals and stuff. He’s good with that kind of things anyway! Great friend he is too! We also did the actual recording in different studio. We did the debut in Outokumpu (Strange Hill, that is) and the second one was done in Joensuu, University Studios.
Your debut has that ‘pagan feeling’. How serious are you regarding this?
Naah, I’m no pagan at all. No-one can be, really. These are too modern times anyway. We are almost like digitized-society now. I’m not too much of fan of that either, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles or something. My personal intention was never present Serpent Warning as any specific kind of band, not even plain doom or anything. Basically, once you define your style and declare it, or whatever you want to call it,- then you are kind of stuck in that. I’m not saying we invented a cycle or any of that, it’s just that I feel that whatever music we feel like doing, then that’s what we should do. Those songs that I mentioned before, the ones we discarded, they were closer to folk-metal, almost. I actually like a lot of folk-things, but I don’t think it was our style really. At least it was not the right time for us to do that, not to any great extent. I do like Celtic stuff too, so if anything, then I would prefer that. Either in musical style or in the atmosphere of songs. That’s what Pagan Fire is about; deserts, solitude, abandoned places etc. Our influences come from old horror/scifi-films, books and such. Personally, I like to spend a lot of time in the woods, forests and swamps. Just being in the nature is very inspiring. And what my previous interests were… I’m into very different things now, probably!
Okay, do you have a song based on horror movie?
“Death’s Tower”, “Orient Eyes” and “Whirlwind” are all influenced by 1960s/1970s horror movies. Lyrics to greater extent and maybe some musical themes too.
The album ends with “August 1972”, what is it about?
It’s based on the crime that happened in Kankaanp, Finland in august of 1972. In a nutshell, young woman got raped and murdered and the culprit got away. From what I’ve read, it seems that in such time and place the guilty one should have gotten caught, but that was not the case. One could say that justice didn’t win. But it will in the end, eventually.
Do you plan to do a release party for Pagan Fire? How many gigs are on your list?
We just did a gig in Tampere, kind of an early premier for the album, if you will. At the moment we don’t have any gigs lined up, as we’re all quite busy and it’s very difficult to get us all in one place at the same time! As for the forth coming gigs, I cannot really say… So far, it’s almost been solely me, who arranges the gigs, but I’m kind of given that up now a bit. I would prefer someone else get us gigs, proper gigs that would be worth our while!!! As for the future adventures of Serpent Warning, we have started doing demos of three new songs. We have a plan to do an EP next year, for 2020 that is. I’m not sure if Topillo wants to release it or not, we have to ask, wait and see.
– Aleksey Evdokimov