Interview: Markus Vanhala of Omnium Gatherum

Interview: Markus Vanhala of Omnium Gatherum
Interviewed by Tim Finch

Omnium Gatherum release album number nine this week in 'Origins'. An expansive death metal offering that is different from the norm. We caught up with guitarist and the bands main song writer Markus Vanhala to discuss this new album in depth. 


The Razor's Edge: Markus, welcome to The Razor’s Edge

Markus: Thanks for having me.

The Razor’s Edge: We’ve had more than 18 months of this pandemic, it seems never ending. Have you guys got through it ok?

Markus: I’ve been at home a lot. It was crazy at the start, it hit us pretty bad. We were just starting a North American tour in March of last year, in the morning as we were flying out to New York I saw on the news it looked like chaos and that was the first point I thought there might be something real in this and we are flying out there and I thought “fuck!”. When we were over the Atlantic it was classed a global pandemic and so when we arrived at JFK it was like the apocalypse, the whole airport was empty and it was like something from the Walking Dead [laughs]. Then we thought at least we have no queues this time.

Then the problems started to arise, we got to play one show in Philadelphia and we were forced to fly home, and we’re still here 18 months later.

The Razor’s Edge: Did you have any problems getting out of the US at that point when the pandemic struck?

Markus: There were some emergency flights back to Finland, so we took the last one.

The Razor’s Edge: A lot of bands explored streaming and things like that over that period. Did you go down that route at all? Or try anything else to keep the fans engaged and yourselves busy?

Markus: I think we were one of the first bands to do a live stream, Omnium Gatherum did a stream with my other band Insomnium. Just because we got that big financial hit from the North American tour being cancelled so we had to act quickly. I think we did it about two weeks after the pandemic started. But it really helped and we survived and we thank the fans for that.

After that we did another live stream then it’s pretty much been writing music and doing new projects, I formed two new bands during the pandemic. I think it was really nice as we had all thew time in the world, we hadn’t been rehearsing much together as a band over the last ten plus years so now we had a full year of rehearsals and did this whole band things like we were teenagers again.

I think this can be heard with the new album, we really polished this album. I did a lot of composing fore the album and I threw a lot of stuff away as there was time to do more. This album was originally scheduled with Century Media for release last year, but we said there’s no point rushing it as there’s not going to be tours any time soon.


omnium gatherum-min

The Razor’s Edge: I’ve been listening to the album, ‘Origin’, this week and I think all that polishing really shows through!
Origin is your first for over three years and there’s been a few personnel changes in the band since last time. What's happened there and how are the new guys settling in?

Markus: Basically a few guys left before the pandemic, when you are in your 40’s people start to think about their life more and what they want to do. The guys got bored with traveling and I understand, airports suck, sitting on the bus for months is not easy. I still love it but I understand people who don’t want to do it anymore. Then our drummer lost himself when the pandemic started to rise, he took it very seriously and had some mental health issues. He just disappeared and sent us an email, like in Spinal Tap where drummers disappear. [laughs]

Now we can laugh about it, but at the time it was not fun at all. Luckily we found these new guys Mikko and Atte our new bass player and drummer and they gave us a really good boost in the band. Change is not always bad, these hungry new guys helped us fix our band.

The Razor’s Edge: How soon after ‘The Burning Cold’ came out in 2018 did you start thinking about this new album?

Markus: Not very soon, there was so much touring after that album, our calendar was full for two years. We did really long tours, North America, Europe a few times, Asia, the Far East. It’s almost like make a new album then forget about writing for years whilst we tour, then start all over again.

The Razor’s Edge: Did the pandemic impact the way you wrote the album at all, you mentioned earlier you spent a lot more time perfecting it, but did you change the way you write with the other guys in the band because of what was going on in the world?

Markus: Maybe only a few things, I did the demos in my home studio then Jukka added the lyrics. Then we just send them to all the other guys and rehearsed it, so I think it was for the best.

The lockdown really sucked and writing this album helped us keep our own sanity, this album was so important for us, a big goal. I am really proud of this album, it feels more special than our other albums just because we gave so much for it and spent a long time one it.

The Razor’s Edge: I’ve been listening to the album all week. It’s got a huge sound, very immersive and a lot of progressive elements. Is that your aim when writing new music, to immerse the listener in your sound?

Markus: With this album we really had this 80’s boogie, the spirit of the 80’s and Miami Vice and these US 80’s things. For UK bands we were referencing to Def Leppard and we started to jokingly call the album as Death Leppard.

In fact Jens Bogren, who was mixing this album, when he asked for reference albums for the sound we are aiming for, I just said to him Def Leppards ‘Hysteria’ album and we will do a death metal version of it. Jen’s really liked that, usually bands tell him “I want to sound like Arch Enemy” or whatever and this was something completely outside the box and I think that makes this unique.

The Razor’s Edge: I certainly found the keyboards added an extra element to the sound that most bands of your style just don’t have!

Markus: Yes, synth wave on top of death metal [Laughs]


Interview: Markus Vanhala of Omnium Gatherum

The Razor’s Edge: You’ve called the album ‘Origin’ is there any meaning for you guys behind that title?

Markus: Yes there are a few meanings. Because of this lockdown we really got back to our roots and our “origins” and started rehearsing with the band and concentrated on that, so that was the origin of all things for us.

And of course the lyrics are connected to it. They focus on a search on the mysteries of life and what’s happening inside peoples minds. I think this album really looks into the human mind, what is the origin of the species, why are people doing what they are doing?

Jukka doesn’t interpret his lyrics a lot, he likes the listener to find their own way with them. People can really reflect themselves with these lyrics.

The Razor’s Edge: Artwork is a huge element to any release, and the cover of Origin is outstanding, it's almost as immersive as the music. Where did the concept come from and how closely do you work with the artist on that?

Markus: I have a copy of the vinyl in my hands right now as the postman brought me the finished copy today and it looks really cool.

Omnium Gatherum’s artwork has always been done by my really good friend, bro I would say, Olli-Pekka Lappalainen. He’s kind of the sixth member of the band, he was originally our singer on the first demo’s but he changed to the art side. So he listens to my demos for the album and reads the lyrics and then paints the music. This time he went to the origins, there is an Omnium Gatherum logo in the mountain and of course we are a death metal band so there are some skulls. And on the back there is some stairs and a pathway which lead you to the origin maybe. It looks really good especially on vinyl.

The Razor’s Edge: What’s next for Omnium Gatherum, with venues opening up again now are you going to hit the road?

Markus: In Finland we have a good situation with all this shitstorm, so this week when the album is released we start our Finnish tour. It’s going to be cool, our first club shows since March 2020.

Unfortunately the European tour with Insomnium was cancelled, but we do have a North American tour, our first headline tour over there which is pretty cool. That’s early next year, then some festivals and a six week European tour with Fleshgod Apocalypse.

It feels like things are starting to pile up again. When ‘The Burning Cold’ was released we had a two year plan, but this time, we are like lets go week by week.

The Razor’s Edge: You mentioned the tour with Insomnium that got cancelled, obviously you are in Insomnium as well. When you do tours like that, how hard is it for you to do two full shows a night?

Markus: It is hard, it’s like doing two full tours and over 100 gigs, that’s insane. I have always had a working man mentality, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Lets just dive into it and don’t think too much, it’s a lot of sweat, but sweat dries.

The Razor’s Edge: When can we expect to see you in the UK?

Markus: I think on the Fleshgod Apocalypse tour we are doing at least London I think. There has been some talk to do a UK headline tour again, we did one maybe three or four years ago. It’s always fun there but it’s hard to handle now thanks to BREXIT, it’s a thousand times more harder for us Europeans.

The Razor’s Edge: Yes I guess you have to pay for extra visa’s and stuff now. It’s a pain in the arse isn’t it?

Markus: Yeah, via’s and customs, it’s better to do a whole UK tour as part of a a full European tour now. That’s what the booking agent told me anyway, I’m not into the bureaucracy of it.

The Razor’s Edge: Before we finish today, is there anything you want to say to the fans about the new album?

Markus: It’s a really decent album, everyone must buy it! [laughs]

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