Marianas Rest surrendered themselves to their music on latest triumph 'Auer': A Q+A with Jaakko Mäntymaa

Marianas Rest surrendered themselves to their music on latest triumph 'Auer': A Q+A with Jaakko Mäntymaa

- By Stephen Reeder

The Finnish melodic death-doom outfit have stamped their place in the scene on their fourth record

Words and interview by Jon Garcia

For the last 10 years, Finland’s Marianas Rest have been carefully honing their version of melodic death doom into the finely crafted machine it is today.

Following the extremely well-received Fata Morgana, their fourth full-length Auer takes their craft even further: expanding on the cold, melancholic atmosphere they’ve created. It’s enough to make any fan of Insomnium, Swallow the Sun, or My Dying Bride salivate, while still giving them something they haven’t quite heard before.

Vocalist Jaakko Mäntymaa sat down with KNOTFEST to speak about the creation of the Auer. He touches on how the band used the extra time to follow where the songs led them, and how they had the images of the songs in mind before ever writing a note. He also explains how they held tryouts within the band to see who would record clean vocals for the first time, and that they’ve already begun work on album number five.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

KNOTFEST: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us! How are you doing today, my friend?

Jaakko Mäntymaa: This is just super times to be alive. Just kind of the overall pressure of releasing a new album is out the window and now just feels good. Everything has gone as well as it could have been. Just trying to enjoy it now.

Auer came out on March 24th. I know you’d been sitting on it for a little bit, how are you feeling now that it’s finally out in the world?

Jaakko: It’s weird, you kind of don’t realize just how much it takes a certain amount of your brains until it’s gone. It’s a relief, and of course it helps a lot that the album has been received very well. Probably the best reception that we have done this far, in critics and so forth. Of course, that’s important but the main thing is that we as a band are kind of okay with what we’ve done over here . We can be proud of and stand behind the record all the way. It’s a big work. A couple of year’s work.

And there’s a certain amount of emptiness, too.

That bittersweet moment when you release something and now it’s no longer yours anymore?

Jaakko: Yeah, definitely. And it’s always – no matter how many times you do it – it’s always the same. It never changes, and I like it that way.

You mentioned that the album has been received very well. Your previous album, Fata Morgana was also received very, very well. That record seemed like it was kind of a realization of many years, many albums of the sound you were building and evolving into. Auer feels like, ‘Okay, we know who we are and what we’ve done. Let’s try and push the bounds a bit more and do some things we haven’t done before.’

Do you feel that because Fata Morgana was the stamp on what you’ve been doing for years, that allowed you the freedom to go wherever it is that you wanted after that?

Jaakko: I think so. We had the courage to try out new things, and also the time.

When we released Fata Morgana, the pandemic was at its strongest. We didn’t get to tour after the release, so we kind of went straight away to recording new songs, making new songs, new demos. Hung out a lot in our rehearsing studio, that sort of stuff. So the demos were kind of ready really soon after Fata Morgana, and then we just had more time to try out new things, and kind of try to make the songs so that they would best suit the story, what we wanted to tell.

We knew straight away that we wanted to expand kind of the outer limits, and try to kind of make new tools for us that we could maybe use next time we do something. That was the kind of main idea.

We tried to have the concept ready before we started making songs. On other records it has kind of come on the way. Pretty soon after we’ve written our first demos but still kind of amidst the process. Now, we’ve managed to do it before we did any songs, anything. So we kind of had the story ready, then we had the pictures in our head. Then we just kind of started to make songs to match the pictures. I think that’s a great way – for us, at least – to do stuff.

You mentioned the time you had on this record, which led you to discover more and add things you may not have in previous years. Does that make you want to spend more time on records than you did in the past or will that just be a product of the era?

Jaakko: If I could choose, of course time is always nice to have. But I think we’ll just go with kind of if you have the momentum, it’s better to strike when the iron’s hot. You always have to make some compromises, and we’ll just have to see how big of a compromise we’ll have to make on the next album.

But yeah, of course it would be awesome to get to tinker around. When you follow the songs, you realize at some point, ‘Okay, we have to do this.’

I like what you said about following the songs, letting them dictate where you go. Has that been there since the beginning of the band? What have you learned about yourself as a band in following the songs, rather than just doing what you as musicians want to do?

Jaakko: I think it’s always been there but it took a while to realize it, that that’s the right thing to do. It takes a bit of courage and self confidence, both are things we didn’t have when we started doing this.

We are still a young band, but when we were getting started, of course we really didn’t have a clue if we were going to be able to pull it off or what the end result would be. But now we’ve done it so many times that we kind of can rely, no matter how the initial idea of a song is, it will sound like us in the end. It will turn out ok.

That’s kind of that’s the main thing, to be able to let yourself go and just flow with the song. Go where it wants to go. And of course, if it’s not as good as you thought you can always leave it on your desk and return to it later.

Third and fourth records are always so huge for bands because that’s when they have spent enough time with themselves to really know where they want the music to go.

Jaakko: Yeah, we’ve kind of had our people who trust us. That means a lot. The decision to make this album came straight away after the release of Fata Morgana, so we didn’t have to hang in some middle space, wondering if we are going to make the record for the same label or not. And that’s kind of an important thing. You know that these people trust you, know and you’re going to make another good album. It gives you peace, time and you can just focus on making the music.

Let’s get into the music. There is a lot of despair and destruction in this record, both in the lyrical content and how the songs themselves are crafted, but there’s also a fair amount of hope. How important was it to find the balance of hope to put into this music and how did you strive to achieve that?

Jaakko: That’s one of the things we’ve learned in the process. Plain black doesn’t seem that black anymore if everything is black. I think we’ve had some parts where we have kind of had little bit of hope, and of course the guitar stuff, the melodies, they have this sort of quality for them. But now we really try to cherish that part of our band.

I guess that kind of comes from the overall concept, or storyline, to start from place where everything is going straight to hell, everything is pitch black. Then to kind of have some sort of implosion, and everything crumbles. Then you have this moment of serenity, calm, when you’ve lost everything you can focus on the really important things. We had the image of the classic yin and yang, light and shadow. After the brief moment of light everything starts to get on the wrong track again. We can’t kind of re-repeat our mistakes, we can’t kind of get out of the loop.

The idea was: the light reveals our wounds. You see the beautiful things when things are bad enough. It’s easy to lose track and to lose yourself, get a bit depressed and that sort of stuff. You don’t really see because everything is basically going alright all the time. People need a shaking up every now and then to realize what they have. Maybe that was the idea, to kind of rattle people a bit. Of course it needed to be done if we wanted to expand the borders of it.

There’s a lot of that. You let the songs develop. “Disease” starts with that creepy quote, but the guitar is almost like a lullaby and lures you in before jolting you awake. You see that in different aspects throughout this record. “White Cradle,” “The Hanging Blade,” each of those has those moments as well.

Jaakko: Yeah, “The Hanging Blade” is a good example of ‘why not try to enjoy the last moments together?’ type of thing.

And of course “White Cradle,” that’s one of the most important songs, I think. Maybe the most important song on this album.

We made clean vocals for the first time, and of course kind of the song structure. There’s a lot of calm parts, droning part in the middle. We knew pretty much from the start that this is going to need some clean vocals. It’s kind of a different thing to compose that kind of stuff. And of course, to sing it in the studio is different than singing it by yourself in the shower or something.

We each tried it. We have three guys, me, the bassist Niko and the guitarist Nico who can kind of do something clean. But we are not naturals, we haven’t done that a lot. So all went to the studio and recorded our demo and just voted who was the best, and it ended up being guitarist Nico. He has said to me that it was one of the worst days of his life! He was so out of place. He looked miserable through the glass, but we had to kind of lift his spirits a bit.

‘This sounds great. It’ll turn out fine. Just do what you do.’ He didn’t believe us one moment! He just wanted to get out.

With this type of music – cold, wintery, melodic death doom – it always takes several listens for the songs to really reveal themselves. As a listener you kind of have to work for it and meet the band half-way.

I’m curious if that works the same for the musicians? How does your relationship change with the songs over time?

Jaakko: Yeah, I think so but it’s a bit different. Same but different. The process changes all the time. Our demos, they are kind of skeletons of songs. There can be some kind of idea of theme, melody or riff, but it’s never a full song. Or if it is, it gets chopped up and remade. So it’s hard to kind of go back and see what I was thinking on each part of the process. But how you see the songs definitely changes during the process.

You always have some songs that you never had faith in, until you hear them ready. For me, it was on this record, it was “Light Reveals Our Wounds.” When we were in the studio and everything else but vocals were made, I was pretty sure that this is going to be total crap. But it wasn’t!

Yeah, that’s one of the best songs on the album!

Jaakko: Yeah, I like it too… now. You need some time. The reason is because you are so into the whole kind of world. You’re so long in it. You cannot really… it’s like going through a fog. You cannot see. That’s why you have to have a good producer, who can look outside the fog and guide you through it.

So when you listen back, does that give you a new lease on the album you’ve created?

Jaakko: Yeah. Usually, after the studio, you don’t want to hear the songs. You’ve heard them a hundred times. You don’t need to hear them in a while. But then, when we are nearing release of the album – there’s a big gap between there – you kind of get to hear them fresh again. And of course it’s a whole different thing.

I think it definitely is a different thing to hear the album when it’s ready. And of course you have the album covers and everything like that, the whole thing is in a neat package. I’m an album guy, too. I need to have something to look at and touch.

What do you guys have coming up and where would you like to take this band next?

Jaakko: Actually, the next album theme is already done and ready. We have a title for the album, and actually we have like roughly 10 demos ready. Which is… I don’t know how we’ve gotten to this point. I don’t really want to talk about the theme but we definitely have a plan! That’s a good thing. We have the visual image and we have some featuring artists, we know them already. So that’s kind of… we’re on a good track.

At least we hope we get to do a proper European tour and, of course, after that to all the other parts of the world. We are definitely a live band. That’s the best thing. I like to be in the studio but you can’t really… the feeling you get from live shows the best thing in the world. Of course that’s what we want to do as much as we can.

We have a thing where we kind of hug each other before the show and say, meet you in an hour. Nobody has no recollection of what happens. And then we come back in an hour, we’ve been in some sort of different dimension and nobody has really any idea what the other has made or done. It’s just something else.

We kind of try to create a mass-like feeling. So that there’s no in the middle of the songs or anything like that. Always something droning in the background and to realize that the crowd is syncing into the same place where you are is cool.

The fourth album, Auer, from Marianas Rest is now available via Napalm Records. Get it - HERE

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