‘THE DEVIL’S RESOLVE’
Studio Diary by Kasper
And so it is that Barren Earth – ’supergroup’, Finnish Metal Expo’s Newcomer of the Year 2010, winner of Metal Storm’s Best Debut Album 2010 – has once again entered the studio. Our first venture into the realms of audio recording took place back in 2008, when we went in to cut our first (and only) demo. Summer 2009 saw the recording of our debut album, The Curse of the Red River, which was released in April last year. Since then, we’ve played quite a few shows, most notably in North America, where we did 28 dates earlier this year. The material played live has consisted of material from the album (as well as the Our Twilight EP, recorded in conjunction with the album), but new material has constantly been in the works, and the time has now come for those tracks to be properly recorded. In other words, Barren Earth’s Studio Escapade Number 3 has commenced!
All in all there are 12 new tracks. It is as of yet unclear which tracks will make the final album, but the aim is to record them all, anyway. The oldest of these tunes was rehearsed already at the end of 2009. Since then, the stream of new songs has been flowing steadily. New songs have emerged, but they have been subject to constant alternations. There have been all kinds of changes: the order of riffs has changed, specific notes have been altered, there have been structural shifting, verses have been added, omitted, re-added, re-omitted, only to be added once again. But this is only one aspect of the changes which have occurred. Also the titles have been in a perpetual state of metamorphosis.
In the old days one usually had a working title which was eventually replaced with the actual title, once the lyrics were completed. Not so anymore, as a song can now have as many as 4 different titles, much to the chagrin of the engineer who is desperately trying to keep track on which song is which. One example is a certain new track which still hasn’t got a final name. Its original working title was Le Brouillard, which means fog in French – perhaps referring to our pleasant visits to Quebec City and Montreal. But since none of us is particularly fluent in French, it then transformed into Le Brouiller. Soon, this too proved tricky. After a short spell as LeBro, it is now widely referred to as Sumu, which is fog in Finnish. I hope the fog around the title clears soon, as to allow a proper name to emerge. We are hoping to find a good title from the lyrics. And as they are written by Mikko, it’s probably going to be pretty foggy stuff anyway…
Another area where frequent changes have occurred are the tempos. Some songs have proven tricky tempowise. Sometimes a song has been deemed too fast, sometimes too slow. Different bpm-rates have been tried and tested. These have tempo-rarily (pun most definitely intended) been thought as suitable, only to be followed by gnawing doubts. This tempo changing continued throughout the rehearsals. Presently it continues in the recording studio. In fact, I think it won’t stop until the album is in the shops, and maybe not even then.
During the first day in the studio, Sami picked up a banjo, which happened to be lying around. Some pretty cool country-style finger picking was soon heard. Impressed by this, it was then pondered if the banjo could be featured on the new album. This is not a new thing. There seems to be a jolly desire to utilize random instruments, just because they happen to be there, regardless of if the music itself requires them or not. But jolly and fun as these ideas are, upon seeing a recorder flute lying on the table, I thought it best to discreetly put it somewhere out of sight…
The first day in the studio consisted mainly of setting up the gear and acquainting ourselves with the environment. The studio in question is the revered Sonic Pump Studios, located in Sompasaari, Helsinki. It is a fine, even lavish studio with a nice view to the sea (and also, as it happens, a merry gypsy camp) and a wonderfully spacious recording room. Other facilities include a comfortable lounge and, perhaps most importantly, a sauna. We are in Finland, after all.
Sonic Pump Studios, thusly plurally named because there are two separate control rooms, has state-of-the-art technology. The list of technical gear at our disposal is truly impressive. There is an Otari MTR II analog recorder for a fat, warm sound. The mixing console is the legendary Solid State Logic 4040G+, which also produces a nice warm, natural sound. And as regarding the sauna, the sauna stove is an Iki-Kiuas 145kg which incidentally also produces warmth, and with the application of water, some natural sounds, too.
After the drums and amplifiers were in position, instruments plugged in, and everything mic’ed up, we managed to do a couple of preliminary takes at the end of the first day. The plan is to first record all the 12 songs live, keep the drum and bass tracks (not drum’n’bass-tracks, mind you, those we leave to the rave-DJ’s in Britain), and re-record the guitars, vocals and keyboards later separately (where necessary, that is). All in all this should take about 20 studio days. Well, it had better not take longer than that, since that’s all the studio time we can afford to pay for…
At the beginning of the second day there were some problems with the bass signal, which didn’t seem to find its way from Oppu’s Gibson Thunderbird to the mixing desk, instead getting lost in some of the numerous gadgets lying in between. After about an hour of detective work, the bug was eventually detected and the connection re-established, and everything was then ready for recording. At any rate, everything inside the studio was ready for recording. But quite unexpectedly, a problem from the outside emerged.
Just when Jukka (that’s Jukka Varmo, our engineer, manager, co-producer, mentor and father figure) was about to press the ‘rec’ button, we heard a massively loud, deeply resonating buzz coming from an unspecified source and making the room tremble. It was as if straight from the AC/DC song, as the ‘walls were shaking, and the earth was quaking’. Everybody looked at each other and asked ‘what the f*** is going on?’ After a while the disturbing sound stopped, allowing us to proceed with the recording. But halfway through the first take, the buzz returned, and therewith the recording effectively ground to a halt. Then, looking out the window, the source of the noise was revealed: just outside the studio there were men at work, laying down asphalt. In the process of doing this, they were also doing some serious drilling, not only on the ground, but on the wall of the studio building.
After about 15 minutes of intermittent drilling (and consequently intermittent recording) Jukka finally decided to go down and ask them how long they were planning to continue. There was some genuine worrying going on at this point. Would the drilling continue for weeks? Would there be a constant sound of buzzing drills on the new record? Would the new album turn into a belated Michael Jackson tribute and be called Driller?
Down on the street, it took a while for Jukka to get the workers’ attention (the human voice after all is not quite as loud as that of a pneumatic drill), but contact was eventually established. The upshot of the meeting was favourable to us. Through a discussion with the drillers it happily transpired that the drilling was almost complete, and that only a few more drills were necessary.
So luckily the story ended differently than in the AC/DC song, and we were mercifully not ‘shook all night long’…
Even though the studio has distinctly separate areas for working (the control room, the vocal booth, and the main recording room) and for relaxing (the lounge and the sauna), it seems that the division between working and resting is not very clearcut for us. On one occasion, after an intensive period of recording, we were relaxing in the lounge, acquainting ourselves with the studio’s vast collection of DVDs. Music videos of all sorts were being viewed, analyzed and criticised. But one video put an end to all talking. It was ‘Warriors of the World’ by Manowar. After a few moments of silence, a simple question was put forth: ‘If they can do it, why can’t we?’ There was only one way of finding out…
Rushing back to the recording room, we soon started blasting away our own rendition of the song (curiously incorporating elements of Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees). The sights and sounds were wild: fit, unashamedly naked torsos, shades, bass guitar held notably above the waist, high-pitched screaming – and an out of tune upright piano. In other words: full-on metal mayhem. Luckily, the tape was running and the cameras were rolling, so the whole thing was saved for posterity. It is unclear if this particular track will make the album, but at any rate I’m sure YouTube viewers with a soft spot for Power Metal and/or Finnish male beauty will soon have something to ogle in delight.
Our previous album (‘The Curse of the Red River by Barren Earth, available in all good record stores around you!’) was recorded at a more leisurely pace. This was because last time we had virtually unlimited studio time, since we were making the record in Jukka’s own studio. Hence, many a day which began as a recording session, ended as a beer drinking and barbecuing session in the studio’s backyard (it was summer then, too). Unfortunately, that studio has now closed shop, and we’ve had to come to terms with the fact that this time the BBQ gear is better left at home. It has also been agreed that the amount of beer consumption should be kept at a minimum, or at any rate on a lower level than last time. But one can not be assumed to be working thirsty, no way, so it has been decided that by turns every one of us has to buy a crate of beer to the lounge fridge. But even though shopping duties haven’t been neglected, the fridge seems perpetually quite empty…
The other day in the studio we bumped into our old friend, the Swedish video director who shot our ‘The Leer’ video last year. He happened to be in the adjacent studio shooting a music video for The Lauri of The Rasmus, and showed us shots from his current work in progress. The footage was most impressive, with excellent party scenes full of glitz and glamour, shot on location in Las Vegas. I have to confess to being a bit envious of The Lauri. Why, I wonder, didn’t Barren Earth, too, shoot a video in Vegas, instead of in a dubious adult-film recording facility in some industrial part of Vantaa?
It has to be noted, though, that this is already the second video he’s doing for Lauri. Let’s hope that by the time he does the second one for us, an exotic location, too, will be involved…
The studio sessions got a pretty good overall start, as Marko nailed down his drum parts very quickly. Oppu’s bass parts followed suit soon after, and so the groundwork for the album was completed early on. It was then Janne’s and Sami’s turn to start putting down their chops, licks, and various other exhibits of guitar pyrotechnics. They, too, have now for the most part been completed. So much so, that yesterday it was time for me to set up the keyboard kiosk, and get on with the recording of my respective parts. Yesterday and today have solely been spent on keyboards, and although there has been quite a bit of experimentation, as well as the obligatory technological hassles of lost signals and unstable analog synthesizers, we have managed to get about 80% of the keyboards done.
Amongst the things we have yet to do keyboardwise is the recording of the Hammond C-3 organ, complete with a Leslie speaker, which happens to be perched in the studio. Many a moment has been spent drooling and gazing in awe at this beast of an instrument, but only today has it been confirmed that we will actually be allowed to use it. The big day will be next Saturday, when the organ’s owner, Mari from kids’ metal group Hevisaurus, will come and activate the Hammond for us. It might be a good idea to wipe off the saliva stains before her arrival.
This afternoon we were recording a synth part and had trouble in coming up with a suitable ending. All manner of scales and harmonies were tried, but to no avail. We then decided to take a break. During the pause we met the studio proprietor’s parents, who had checked in for housekeeping chores, as is their habit. They were very kind and friendly, and said they’d be happy to help us if we needed anything at all. Well, what we did need at that particular point was a suitable ending to the bloody keyboard part! But upon enquiring if their help would extend to recording keyboard tracks for us, they regretted to inform us that instrumental duties were not included in their range of services…
And what to say of the new Barren Earth music, then?
The 12 songs we are working on cover a wide range of styles. And, as one has come to expect of Barren Earth, there are stylistic departures also within the songs themselves, not just between them. It is too early to tell in detail what the record will be like, since it is likely that, due to time constraints, 2 or 3 songs will be left off the album. And the presence or absence of any 2 or 3 songs could easily affect the overall balance of the new album.
As before, there is some extremely heavy stuff. But also as before, there is counterbalance with some mellow moods. Talking about the heavier stuff, Oppu has been writing old school death metal riffs which range from the brutal to the ultra-brutal, covering every shade of brutality in between. One of his tracks, Vintage Warlords, was originally titled Lost Bolt, which connoisseurs of 90’s metal will no doubt realize is a reference to 2 leading bands of the genre. Maybe next time we will have Paradise Thrower, or even Morbid Corpse…
As before, there are also influences from an even older period in history. Once again the so-called 70’s prog influences are present, and traces of King Crimson and Genesis are detectable in places. Apart from some longer song structures, this is further reflected in the choice of keyboard sounds: Hammond organ, Mellotron, Moog synthesizer, etc. But the nostalgia doesn’t end there: there have actually been discussions on possibly releasing the forthcoming album not only on CD and vinyl, but also on C-cassette(!)…
Returning to the subject of keyboards, the studio really is filled with them. There is a true cornucopia of synths lying about, and there just isn’t enough time to experiment with every one of them. But I must say I am especially fond of working with the Micro-Moog and Nord Wave. As a matter of fact, the ideal synth for me would be a keyboard which would combine the best features of both. I think I’ll suggest the idea to the Clavia Keyboard Factory. Who knows, maybe the Micro-Wave will be on the production line very soon…
Yesterday started with great anticipation, as it was the day of recording the mighty Hammond C-3 organ and its accompanying Leslie speaker. It was also the day we’d be borrowing the legendary 70’s string synthesizer, Solina, from the studio next door. Expectations were running high. Having never played either instrument, there was truly a sense of an occasion in the air.
The owner of the Hammond, Mari a.k.a. Milli-Pilli, arrived and showed us how to operate the machine. And what a joy it turned out to be! Sitting at the instrument, one was quickly able to produce sounds hitherto heard only on classic records, and emulate (well, kind of) many legends of the instrument, such as Jon Lord, Keith Emerson, Jimmy Smith, and, erm, Klaus Wunderlich. It seemed that one could do no wrong with the instrument; everything sounded so cool and lively. After some extended wanna-be organ antics, I was reminded that the studio clock was running, and we then proceeded to record all the Hammond parts, all in all to be heard in 7 songs.
After the Hammond it was time to plug in the other special instrument of the day, the Solina (reportedly used on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album, amongst others). Setting up the instrument, it was with great enthusiasm I switched the thing on and started to play… Well? Bit of a letdown, actually. Bit of a plasticky Commodore 64 sound, to be honest, with some cheesy Atari TV game sounds thrown in for good measure. To be sure, there is a place for ridiculous, cheesy and plasticky sounds, but that place is not on a Barren Earth record. We had had visions of recreating the majestic tones of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, but ended up inadvertently recreating the rather unmajestic tones of Donkey Kong and Moon Patrol Space games.
It had been with great bravado we had carried the synth in from the studio next door. It was with considerably less bravado we returned it back to its dusty shelf, where it properly belonged. Good riddance!
During the course of the day, we recorded all the remaining keyboard parts with various other instruments, and by the evening we were happy to conclude that all recording for the album was now completed. It was a most satisfying feeling, since there really had been a whole lot of recording going on. Several songs, plentiful playing, numerous notes, copious chords, lotsa licks – and we’d nailed them all down.
At this point we decided we had certainly deserved a few cold beers. But upon opening the fridge door, a grim surprise was awaiting for us: the fridge was empty, except for a handwritten note. It read: ‘Sorry for drinking your beers, guys, we’ll get you another crate later.’ What was going on? Who had had the nerve to pull such a lowly trick on us? Flabbergasted, we then realized that it was the bloody pop band which had been recording in the other control room. They had apparently also completed recording and had had similar motivations for having a drink. Sadly, the finishing of their record had led to the finishing of our beers. Therefore the session-completion-beers had to be consumed elewhere. And they were. As were the session-completion-whiskys, the session-completion-schnapps, and the session-completion-Fernet Brancas…
As usual, though having had a pretty clear picture of what we wanted before entering the studio, there was a lot of experimentation going on, too. Many new things (both instrumental and vocal) were tried, some of them worked brilliantly, and some of them didn’t.
Jukka now has the unenviable task of getting on with the editing process. As there are 12 songs and every song has tens of tracks (most tracks probably having two or more alternative takes) he has the daunting mission to go through every single track, and detect and choose the takes which have that special BE magic. But we are excited and convinced that it will be a very strong album, and it will easily surpass the previous one. All in all, it will contain all the elements one has come to associate with Barren Earth, but I daresay there will be a few surprises, too.
There will also be a few guest appearances on the album. Three, in fact. Mathias from Finntroll lent us his growling talents on one particularly adventurous song, White Fields, where his vocal stylings nicely complement those of Mikko. Another featured guest is Mr. Hittavainen from Korpiklaani, who kindly came in and played the bagpipe. Or that was what was requested from him, anyway. What he brought to the studio was in fact a torupill, which is an Estonian relative of the bagpipe. But the sound is pretty similar. The reason for wanting a bagpipe comes from the fact that one of the new songs was deemed having a bit of a Scottish feel, with a folky, modal theme as its main melody. The song’s working title was in fact Scotland, although the final title is now As It Is Written.
Having known Hittavainen for a while, Marko asked him if he’d be interested in coming to play on the record, and kindly enough he said yes. While we were getting ready for Hittavainen’s session, Jukka was doing some googling, finding tips for a proper microphone setup for recording a bagpipe. One of the more interesting tips he found suggested that the best way to record a bagpipe is to place the microphone at least 3 miles away from the instrument(!). But this was not a tip for us, no way, for we wanted our pipes and pills loud and clear. It’s been 36 years since AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way To The Top, and it’s about time that killer combination of pipes/pills and heavy guitars join forces again. Sacks, pills and rock’n roll – that’s the way we like it!
The third guest is Markus Vanhala, guitarist from Omnium Gatherum, who played a few seconds of what can only be described as sheer whammy bar lunacy on a track called Dead Exiles. Markus is an old friend, and very closely linked with Barren Earth, since he has on a few occasions deputized for Sami. If Sami happens to be busy with Kreator, Markus is the man to call. And not only regarding gigs. If Sami has been elsewhere, Markus has also been asked to stand in for him for our annual pre-Christmas party and other BE social gatherings.
Markus came to Helsinki last Sunday, because that’s when we were rehearsing for our upcoming gig at Wave-Gotik- Treffen 2011 in Leipzig, Germany next Saturday, when Sami will be playing with Kreator elsewhere. The rehearsals were scheduled for Sunday morning and were supposed to take place at our rehearsal room. However, as the recording sessions had only just finished, all the equipment was still in the studio. Furthermore, as Saturday night was the night of the completion-of-sessions festivities, it was getting rather obvious during the course of the evening that rising up early, dismantling the equipment, loading it to the van, driving it back to the rehearsal place, and then setting it all up again was not an ideal form of activity for (what was likely to be a) hangover morning. It was therefore decided to hold the rehearsals at the…studio. Ingenious!
But as brilliant a plan as this was, there were still issues to be dealt wit, such as all the amplifiers being in different rooms, as well as no proper amplification for keyboards and vocals. Obviously all of this could’ve been sorted out, but this would’ve meant a distraction for Jukka, who was already well underway on his editing duties. So we just decided to rehearse without amplification and without drums. Janne, Oppu and Markus played their electric guitars and bass acoustically. Luckily, I didn’t have to go all unplugged with my keyboard, since there was a mini Marshall amp lying around in the studio.
Plugging my keyboard into it, I found myself in a curious situation: having become accustomed over the years to the fact that my keyboards are frequently overpowered by massive guitars and bass, and often barely audible due to dodgy amplification, I was suddenly in a position where I was able to blow the guitarists away with a pocketsize Marshall.
Well, well, well. The tables had truly turned…