No King Reigns Eternal was a dark and brooding album, written during a difficult period of personal distress some of the band members went through. Still, there was a delicate underlying sense of hope to be found on that album, with its many uplifting, almost empowering riff progressions and leads. Realm Of Ash And Blood, on the other hand, sounds utterly hopeless. It sounds like the doom incarnated, like that pile of dead bodies on the front cover, especially during its first half. How much was the sound of this album affected by the personal circumstances you had gone through while writing it? Compared to No King Reigns Eternal, was it this time even easier to find inspiration for this kind of music in your private lives?
Kari Kankaanpää: In all honesty, I think the writing process was rather similar for both albums. We got four songs ready pretty fast after No King Reigns Eternal was out, but due to everyday life, things progressed a bit slower. With our sophomore album I was in a dark, dark place, so the lyrics reflected strongly on that. With Realm Of Ash And Blood I was in every way freed from said emotional distress and could follow more on lyrical aspects that had been brewing in my mind for a while, ruination, self-empowerment, life and death. I think that private lives are a great fuel to feed the creative urges and often reflect on the music we make.
Was the success of No King Reigns Eternal something that generated additional pressure to outdo yourselves and give your 110% on Realm Of Ash And Blood instead of just 100%?
Kari Kankaanpää: Not at all. With No King Reigns Eternal we pretty much cemented the sound and idea what Solothus is all about, so the creative work was natural, for we know who and what we are. Of course, we aimed to do the album better than the last one, push ourselves for the better and I think we succeeded. Singing-wise, I stretched myself much further than ever before.
Father Of Sickness is a harsh, unforgiving track, with some of the heaviest riffs ever written by Solothus, that truly leaves an impression that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. What made you think that something so painful and crushing would be a fitting opener for this album?
Kari Kankaanpää: That song has truly all that is needed from an album opener, it hits hard and right away. We wanted to set the tone for the album from the first riffs. Utterly heavy and lumbering beast of a song with a killer solo.
The doom never seemed more imminent than on The Gallows’ Promise, and not because of the title of that track that, in fact, has the least to do with such a notion. Apart from maybe Darkest Stars Aligned, nothing you have ever written has been charged with so much misery and anguish. Is this sentiment in line with how you feel about this track?
Kari Kankaanpää: Yes, you perfectly summarized the themes of the song. The Gallows’ Promise is all about the bitterness, hatred and sorrow that fill people’s hearts. When I first heard the song, it was right away clear to me what it will be about. I have had the song title in my mind for many, many years, but there never was a song what would fit its atmosphere, until now.
That amazing lead halfway through Chasm Of Shattered Bones with the riff that follows right after it must be one of the most memorable moments on the album, maybe only rivaled by the opening riff of A Rain Of Ash. Would you also count these two songs among the album’s highlights?
Kari Kankaanpää: It is interesting that you took these two parts. It is clear that everyone has their own highlights. A Rain Of Ash has gathered perhaps the most praise and no wonder. It is one epic song from the beginning to the end. I would say that the ending of A Rain Of Ash is easily one of the highlights of the album, but there is so many that it is hard to name just a few. Perhaps personally I love the way how The Gallows’ Promise begins. It is so damn heavy.
Sensibility-wise, it feels that Realm Of Ash And Blood has two parts, the sombre and gloomy first half and the somewhat more mood elevating second, with a short instrumental break squeezed in between. Would you say that this is a fair observation and, if so, were you at any point considering a different order, where the glimpse of hope would have been given to a listener at the beginning of the journey and then abruptly denied at the very end?
Kari Kankaanpää: You once again nailed it. We wanted to have Last Breath as an ending for side-A and it really works phenomenally there. It kinda sets the tone for the rest of the album just as you described it. I think the order of the songs was decided pretty quickly, as soon as we had full album written.
The front cover of No King Reigns Eternal by Juanjo Castellano was not only visually appealing, but also very effective in how it reflected the mood and the overall feel of that album. That said, with the artwork for Realm Of Ash And Blood the visual presentation of the band’s music has been taken to a whole different level, thanks to Adam Burke and his style that appears to be much more cerebral and technically proficient, more redolent of a large format painting than a drawing for an album cover. How did you end up working with him, what were some of his previous pieces that assured you he was the right person to work with? Was it difficult to say goodbye to Castellano?
Kari Kankaanpää: First off, yes, I loved working with Juanjo. He is one of the best and most professional artists that I have worked with and I can guarantee that Solothus and him will do work together again in the future. I love the cover of No King Reigns Eternal, it’s insane how well he put so many different aspects of the album on the cover, the stars, the towers, everything. Juanjo is a top notch dude to the bone. With Realm Of Ash And Blood we wanted to try something larger and more poetic in a sense. Adam Burke’s art caught my eye right away with Acephalix, Eternal Champion, Hooded Menace and especially Loss’ cover arts and I think it was me who introduced the idea to the rest of the band.
Without any false modesty, is Veli-Matti Karjalainen the best young lead guitarist in Finland at the moment? Are you aware of any other metal guitarist of your generation who plays with the same dexterity, subtlety and sense of melody?
Kari Kankaanpää: I agree with you here 100%. I feel extremely honoured to share and to have formed the band with him. We have known each other all our lives so you can imagine how great it is to share this adventure with your best friend. Veli has a rare talent of being able to add so much emotion into his guitar playing. It is a feat you rarely see these days. There are so many talented dudes in the scene, that it is impossible to name them all, but I think the guys in Corpsessed, Lie In Ruins and Gorephilia are worth the attention.
Speaking of Veli and how predominantly his versatility as a musician shapes what Solothus is all about as a band, it seems that very few death doom metal bands these days understand how much more interesting music is when it doesn’t depend only on repetition and slow, heavy riffing.
Kari Kankaanpää: Once again I completely agree. I think that too many bands lean only on repetition of that one riff they have and they forget that song could also progress and move onward somewhere. That is something that death doom metal bands should take from epic traditional doom metal bands, to spend more time on the songwriting itself. Don’t get me wrong, I love some crushing riffs, but variety is a virtue here.
Do you find No King Reigns Eternal to be inferior to Realm Of Ash And Blood or equally as good but different?
Kari Kankaanpää: I personally love that album too, but the progression we have done is so apparent songwriting-wise and sound-wise, that it kinda goes pale before our new album. But I am still extremely proud of No King Reigns Eternal and we will certainly keep songs from that album also on our setlist.
With regard to the official epic doom death genre label, that was devised and approved by the band itself, death and doom tags are pretty self-explanatory and hardly anyone would have a hard time recognising those two components in the actual music. That said, what are some of the features that give your sound that epic feel in your opinion?
Kari Kankaanpää: I think it is the epic themes and tales we sing about, the imaginary and the fact that we lean heavily on the epic doom metal bands as inspiration in the form of songwriting, solos and guitar leads. Someone once said that Solothus is what Manilla Road would be if they played death metal and perhaps I do not hear it myself, but I still take that as a huge compliment.
In two different interviews, you gave two different accounts of what Solothus means and where that name came from. One version is that it is a reference to Pekka Jallu Solothus, famous Jaloviina-partio assassin, and the other that it stands for a creature from the ancient Finnish folklore that brings disease to households during darkest winter nights. So, which one is it?
Kari Kankaanpää: The name was chosen through ominous and dark rituals in the midnight hours of the coldest winters in the eternal forests of Parainen. The true origins are too foul to be written down, but I can give you a hint that the message came from beyond the stars.
Is Solothus a death metal band that flirts with doom or a doom metal band deeply rooted in death metal tradition? More than ten years into your career, have you made up your mind which of these two scenes the band belongs to more?
Kari Kankaanpää: I think this depends a lot on the people you ask about this, but we prefer to think we are a doom metal band that is rooted strongly in death metal sound. I prefer both scenes and styles all the way.
One of the best definitions of what a band is, or what a band should be rather, in ideal circumstances, is that it’s a group of individuals all heading in the same direction. Would you say that Solothus today is that kind of a band? If so, how long did it take to become one?
Kari Kankaanpää: In the year 2010 we became much more serious and ever after that we have set our eyes on the future and marched strongly in that direction. At the moment I could not possibly be any happier and more confident about our lineup. We have had a few changes over the years to get here, but now I feel like we are at home. We move as one unit towards greater things to come and Solothus is a major priority for everyone in the band.
During a promotional photo session for this new album, you were wearing Death Velour t-shirt by your fellow countrymen Ghastly. That particular album went under many people’s radar, so let’s at least give it a fair treatment in this interview. What makes that band and that album worthwhile in your opinion?
Kari Kankaanpää: Ghastly has been around for some time, but not many people, me included, took notice of their brilliance until 20 Buck Spin released their album. I think Ghastly is such a breath of fresh air in the death metal scene. The way they take so many elements and make them sound truly unique is only one of the reasons why people should seriously check them out. If I was to name bands that have a bright future ahead of themselves, one of those bands would be Ghastly without a doubt. Death Velour is a masterpiece of furious, chaotic and mesmerizing death metal. I can’t wait to hear what these dudes have in store for us.
Speaking of Finnish bands, a few years ago, while they were in the middle of preparing what would later become Impetus Of Death, you were praising Corpsessed and those demo tapes in some old interview, predicting that their upcoming album would be something to behold. Now that Impetus Of Death has been out for more than a year, and that you have presumably spent at least some of that time carefully and diligently listening to it, would you say that your expectations have been met? Also, how do you feel about this remixed and remastered version of Abysmal Thresholds that they put out last year, do you feel that they did a disservice to the original recording by doing so?
Kari Kankaanpää: Impetus Of Death is a phenomenal album to the core and man am I honoured to be a part of that album. I did some guest vocals on Endless Plains Of Dust. It really did reach my expectations. For some reason I think that album did not gather as much hype as their debut album did, but well, I know the dudes are preparing material for their third album, so more is to come. Since I know how dissatisfied Matti was with the mix of their debut album, I can understand them making that remix, though I am not certain if that was all that necessary. It does sound a lot better, that no one can deny.
Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed was the latest addition to Hooded Menace’s pretty much flawless discography. Would you say that you two share somewhat of a special bond, considering that both bands started out in 2007 and that there is a fair share of similarities between you style-wise?
Kari Kankaanpää: I would not deny the similarities. Hooded Menace is a band that I have always looked up to. Never Cross The Dead is pretty close to my all time favorite death doom metal album. I have been in touch with Lasse from the beginning and we have even gone that far as covering Hooded Menace in the early years. Solothus and Hooded Menace have travelled different paths for a while, but I can understand us being compared to each other. We have been talking of doing a split album for so damn long, hopefully that happens one day.
A Crimson Cosmos or Moons And Mushrooms?
Kari Kankaanpää: Out of those two I’ll take A Crimson Cosmos, but it is a close tie between that album and Headstones. Lake Of Tears is the most important band to me, for it is the band that helped me discover my love for heavy metal music.
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