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In Conversation with OMNIUM GATHERUM’s Markus Vanhala: Pure Finnish Finns Playing Purely Finnish Metal

We get up close and personal with guitarist Markus Vanhala of Omnium Gatherum with an exclusive chat before the imminent release of The Burning Cold via Century Media Records.



Markus Vanhala is laughing as he jokingly describes what he calls “the Finnish disease.”

“It’s a Finnish stereotype that we are antisocial and silent,” he explains, “but when you break the ice and make friends with Finnish people they are your friends for life. That’s the Finnish mentality, not speaking much. If you go into an elevator in Finland, everyone is silent and looking elsewhere; (the) same thing happens at bus stops. Strangers at a bus stop will stay as far away from one another as they can. Finland has a lot of space and a small population; it’s easy for antisocial people to live here.”

The Omnium Gatherum guitarist’s headfirst dive into an explanation of what appears to be more of a trait or stereotype as opposed to a full-on disease, communicable or otherwise, came as part of his response to me poking around about how and why the melodic death metal veterans ended up on Century Media Records after a lengthy tenure with Lifeforce Records. Vanhala already had a working relationship with the label as the other band he swats six-strings for, Insomnium, has issued three albums on the label since 2011. He speaks of the Century brass wanting to license Omnium Gatherum’s last album, 2016’s Grey Heavens for North America and the label not having to do too much of a hard sell once their Lifeforce contract was up.

“I’ve really gotten to know the guys and girls there through Insomnium and liked their work ethic, so it was really easy. We are Finnish; we don’t want to meet any new people. That’s Finland in a nutshell,” he laughs.

Check out the band’s video for the single “Refining Fire” here.

The forthcoming The Burning Cold is the eighth album by OG, as Vanhala repeatedly refers to his band (and admittedly, it is childishly funny to hear a gentleman with a thick Finnish accent say “OG” when we normally associate the saying with people with “Ice” in their names, i.e. Ice-T, Ice-Cube). The Karhula-based sextet was formed in 1996 by the then-14-year-old guitarist and issued four demos and an EP before their debut album, 2003’s Spirits and August Light. Since then, Vanhala has weathered lineup shuffles that have left him as the lone original member and leader of one of the most mellifluous of melodic death metal bands. He has been the ongoing, long-term stabilizing force that has created and contributed a refined combination of streamlined aggression and infectious earworms which really came into form with 2008’s The Redshift with its hook-laden, small-c classic melodic-death tunes “A Shadowkey,” “Chameleon Skin” and “Nail.”

“I formed the band when I was in school and it’s become a lifestyle for me. It’s crazy,” he expounds, “because I always loved bands like Death and Annihilator which had a lot of lineup changes that might make things weird, but people come and go. (Vocalist) Jukka (Pelkonen) has been in the band since 2005, so has (keyboardist) Aapo (Koivisto). And I agree that The Redshift was where we found our direction. The first three albums, you saw a little bit of it and after we got Jukka for the third album, Stuck Here on Snakes Way everything was turbo-boosted and I think we’ve stayed on that path.”

“Most of my school friends are adults now,” he adds. “They have real jobs and stuff whereas I’ve always been the same guy who just wants to play guitar, listen to metal and write music. Maybe I just found my place in the world when I was 14? Maybe I got to my adulthood before those other guys?”

The album The Burning Cold will be released on August 31st, 2018, via Century Media Records.

On the new record, the band delivers a denser, more grandiose and lush version of itself. There are riffs that punish as hard as old-school American death metal, but they are juxtaposed with guitar, keyboard and vocal melodies rooted in the original new wave of Swedish death metal and the soundtracks to cinematic blockbusters. Specifically, “Rest in Your Heart” and the tellingly-titled “Refining Fire” which make tremendous leaps towards “all the cheesy bands I like, like Journey and Whitesnake as well offering an epic and triumphant sounding “filmic” feel.

“All of the stuff on the new album was written after Grey Heavens, but ‘Refining Fire’ was an old song skeleton from the (2013 album) Beyond sessions that we re-did for the new album and it came out great. I like to compose music like a soundtrack. For me, songs don’t have to be intro/verse/pre-chorus/chorus. That’s why I like doing songs where I’m always thinking about landscapes and soundscapes; the song has to illustrate something for the listener instead of just being something to bang your head to.”

“I’ve always been the type of composer that needs to be alone and surrounded by quiet,” he says about his particularly Finnish creative process. “It’s hard to write on tour because you can’t relax enough to do it; there’s always something going on. It may be a cliché, but I think the best way to write is at night time at home with no interruptions when you’re completely relaxed and your brain is flowing more and you’re not thinking of anything else. That’s my way of working. The whole band is still really hungry and that’s a good thing and on this new album, we had a sense of something new and special happening. Everyone was so into making this record and we really felt like young guys again. I think that shows we are really doing this for the music, that we enjoy playing and we enjoy each other’s company. It’s more like a group of friends who are music nerds. We listen to music all the time and, like I said, it’s like a lifestyle and never feels like a job. And we want to make sure that we can do everything live. OG is a live band; we’ve never had backing tracks. It’s becoming a trend these days where bands will have vocals, parts of guitars and especially orchestration coming from a Macbook. We have to do all the stuff we play live. It’s still rock and roll, y’know?”

There’s no denying the awesomeness of this video for “Gods Go First.”

Tour Dates: (w/ Amorphis, Dark Tranquility, Moonspell):

09/07 – New York, N.Y. @ Gramercy Theater
09/08 – Montreal, Quebec @ Corona Theatre
09/09 – Quebec City, Quebec @ Imperial de Quebec
09/10 – Toronto, Ontario @ Opera House
09/11 – Ft Wayne, Ind. @ Pierre’s
09/12 – Detroit, Mich. @ Harpo’s
09/13 – Joliet, Ill. @ The Forge
09/14 – Minneapolis, Minn. @ The Cabooze
09/15 – Winnipeg, Manitoba @ Park Theatre
09/17 – Edmonton, Alberta @ The Starlite Room
09/18 – Calgary, Alberta @ Dickens
09/19 – Vancouver, British Columbia @ Rickshaw Theater
09/20 – Seattle, Wash. @ El Corazon
09/22 – Berkeley, Calif. @ The UC Theatre
09/23 – Anaheim, Calif. @ City National Grove
09/24 – West Hollywood, Calif. @ Whiskey a Go Go
09/25 – San Diego, Calif. @ Brick By Brick
09/26 – Tempe, Ariz. @ Marquee Theatre
09/27 – Las Vegas, Nev. @ House of Blues
09/28 – Salt Lake City, Utah @ Liquid Joe’s
09/29 – Denver, Colo. @ Herman’s Hideaway
10/01 – Dallas, Tex. @ Trees
10/02 – San Antonio, Tex. @ Rock Box
10/03 – Houston, Tex. @ Scout Bar
10/05 – Tampa, Fla. @ Orpheum
10/06 – West Palm Beach, Fla. @ Kelsey Theater
10/07 – Atlanta, Ga. @ The Masquerade
10/09 – Louisville, Ky. @ Diamond Pub and Billiards
10/10 – Durham, N.C. @ Motorco
10/11 – Baltimore, Md. @ Soundstage
10/12 – Philadelphia, Pa. @ The Trocadero
10/13 – Worcester, Ma @ The Palladium
10/14 – Clifton Park, N.Y. @ Upstate Concert Hall