Interview Interrogation: Alexander "Aor" Osipov and Jane "Corn" Odintsova from Imperial Age (Russia)
Russia, the largest country in the world has throughout the decades (and centuries) played hosted in delivering some stellar musicians in all walks of life. As for metal, first it was Arkona and now the call for Russian Metal has been heard once again, this time in the form of Symphonic Metal sextet Imperial Age of whom have developed and brandished their own unique sound.
Set to embark on their forthcoming UK tour, GMA spoke to Alexander "Aor" Osipov (tenor vocalist) and Jane "Corn" Odintsova (mezzo-soprano vocalist) about said tour, the Russian Metal scene, the relationship between classical and metal music, as well as the ongoing discusssion surrounding sexism in metal; whether Symphonic Metal or in an overall purview with bands featuring female musicians.
"With the phenomena of reincarnation... everything evolves... Beethoven and Wagner would for sure be playing Metal today"
For those who are not aware of Imperial Age, could you give us a brief history of the band?
"Officially the band formed in 2012, though Aor and I had spent about 2 years preparing everything for the start. We work hard and the band is getting bigger with every year - slowly but consistently."
"We have 2 albums and 1 EP to date and we are working on the third album. If you want something to start with, go and grab 7 free songs from our website. If you like those, buy 'The Legacy Of Atlantis' - our latest album. If you like it - buy all the rest :)"
Arguably Imperial Age and Arkona are the most internationally successful metal bands from Russia, yet the scene is mightily huge, from your own perspectives, what are the challenges Russian Metal bands face?
"It is true about Arkona and us, and we are honoured to be spoken of in such a way. It's a dream come true. The scene in Russia is actually small and is dwindling every year. We are not putting any effort into there. Instead, we focus on the entire world, especially the West, where everything happens. 90% of our fans are from the US, UK, Germany and France. We also have a strong fan club in Portugal and (surprise) a lot of fans in Poland. Because we love and respect our Polish brothers and sisters and we are not some political jerks. We would also love to play in Ukraine, but we are not sure its safe for us there because not everyone understands that we have nothing to do with our (or their) government - we play metal and metal knows no borders and bows to no politicians. We get a lot of interviews from Australia and we have a license deal in Japan. Our distributor is Swedish. I dont think it gets more international than that :)"
"The biggest problems bands face in any country is their own laziness :) they think that it’s enough to just write an album. Then a fat guy called the “producer” should appear and make them the new Metallica. Most people (not only in Russia) are not ready to work hard, to put tons of their own money, time and energy into the band for many years before the band starts earning any cash. They are not ready to sleep in the van or not to sleep at all on the tour. They have a lack of persistence. They have too romantic a view on all this music business, thinking that its only about having fun - sex, booze and shows... forgetting that shows are very hard work, that there are tonnes of non musical work that has to be done in order to maintain the band. They are not serious enough about their intentions which means they don’t really believe in their own success. “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” (C) Darth Vader
Your tour in April will be the 5th time you've played in the UK, each time must have been more successful than the previous?
"Yes, this is our second headliner tour in the UK (previous times we played as support) and it has already sold twice more tickets than last year although last year it was 5 cities and this year its 4. It's going to be a fantastic tour and we will play songs from the upcoming album for the first time ever!"
With respect to your three vocalists in Alexander, Jane and Anna, did you have classical training in the past or did you master your vocal levels respectively?
"Jane & I have had no formal training but have been working a lot with vocal coaches over many years. Anna graduated from a classical music college. However, over time and while working with so many musicians, we have found that education is completely irrelevant and actually its not always good if you are in metal because more often than not it narrows people’s horizons and makes them think within set rules, while we need maximum creativity and artistic freedom.
Classical music was made 200-300 years ago, and everything has changed since that time. Unfortunately, many people just don’t want to acknowledge that. We are very lucky to have had a classical coach with a very broad and open mind who understands metal music, although she has never been a metal fan :)."
Would you agree that classical and metal music are very closely related?
"Despite what I wrote above, yes! But not all genres. For example Death, Thrash and Black Metal are built on harmonies which are prohibited in classical music. However, in Heavy, Power and of course Symphonic Metal, if you look at melody, harmony, rhythm – they are extremely closely related to classical music - especially the 19th century romantic period: Beethoven, Wagner, Tchaikovsky etc. There are also a lot of 17th - 18th century Baroque influences in metal as well, especially in progressive metal genres – just play Paganini or Vivaldi on an electric guitar and you will have your familiar Heavy Metal solos and shreds :)"
So much so would you say Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc were metalheads of their time?
"Outside music, we work a lot with the phenomena of reincarnation and I have a very strong suspicion that some great modern musicians are the reincarnations of classic composers. Time flies by, everything evolves, and so do the people. I’m not sure about Mozart, but Beethoven and Wagner would for sure be playing Metal today. Can you imagine those guys doing pop or trance? I can’t."
Symphonic Metal at times is at the receiving end of sexist remarks; especially when female musicians are involved, is this something you've endured in Russia?
"This is a very good question. And I have quite a few thoughts on it. Why is Symphonic Metal associated with female singers so much? There are some really good bands with male vocalists, for example all three Rhapsodies :)
When we are talking about sexism, why is it always about women? How are women different from men in Heavy Metal? Frankly, I have never seen or received any sexist remarks from anywhere, but there is this ‘objectification’, sexualisation and feminist thing going on, not only in music but in the film and modeling industries as well. And I dont understand it at all.
They speak of equality, but for some reason it is ok for a man to use his sex appeal on stage and to promote the band and attract new fans through his looks, but if a woman starts doing it, it is called objectification and reducing her value to just her body. Why isnt anyone saying that Ville Valo was being reduced and oversexualized? His fans are mostly girls (myself included). Why is it ok for men to pump up their muscles and show off their bodies (Manowar, Rammstein, Misfits etc), and not ok for a beautiful woman to show off hers? For example I really respect Alissa White-Gluz for how she uses her appearance to promote Arch Enemy and herself, but some people critisize her for that. Why don’t they critisize her boyfriend Doyle, who plays half-naked and is a body builder? Alissa actually has much more clothes on!
I am not only a producer of art but also a consumer and I find it much more pleasant to watch shows or music videos which have attractive people in them, as opposed to unattractive... of course it's about the music, but if you are adding a visual part - and shows / videos are precisely that - then make it look good! It's like wearing clothes or wrapping up your product. Of course the inside is what its all about but if you are wrapping it, do it beautifully so that the outside reflects the inside! Otherwise just listen to the CD or Spotify. When I watch movies, I prefer those with handsome male actors. Is that sexism and reduction too?? Should I force myself to enjoy less attractive guys instead just so they dont get pissed off?
Most feminists whom I have seen are unattractive and unsuccesful in their love lives. I think that all this social activity, for example the ‘body positivity’ movement, is just an excuse for not starting to eat properly and start going to the gym. It's much easier to say “accept me the way I am” than it is to raise your ass and go pumping it in the gym. There are two types of people - those who blame others and those who blame themselves.
Why do they put warning pictures on tobacco but not on burgers? Obesity is much more dangerous than smoking - 60% of deaths in developed countries are from heart-related problems. Trust me I have a degree in medicine and worked 2 years at the hospital as a doctor. What is the point in promoting ‘plus size’ while banning the promotion of drugs, tobacco and alcohol? Its just as unhealthy.
Dont get me wrong - there is nothing wrong in being unhealthy. Actually there is nothing wrong with anything as long as its your conscious choice, you are ok with it and accept the consequences. Personal freedom is everything. But if you aren’t ok with what you have, don’t complain - go and change it! Make yourself what you want yourself to be! Become your better self! Thats what all our music is about. If you are doing something anyway why not try to do something great?
Yes, some people are luckier than others and have a better body or other talents such as a good voice presented to them on a silver platter. But it is also well known that talent is overrated (there is a book with the same name) and attributes to just 10% of success - the rest is hard work, blood and sweat. There are tons of people who look better than Bella Hadid and play guitar better than Paul McCartney, but we have never heard of them and never will. Why? Because talent alone is never enough and hard work always beats lazy talent.
For example - I'm too short to be a podium model. They only accept from 170cm and I'm 160cm. But I dont go around trying to change the modeling rules - because they are there for a reason! I'm also not trying to stretch my height. I'm cool where I am and with what I'm blessed to have and all I try to do is make the most out of it. I'm quite happy being a singer in my own metal band and occasionally a photo model (and I didnt get all of this from birth, I had to work my ass off for a decade and to limit myself in everything to get there, and this work will never stop), to tour the world and be able to answer this interview :)
And whats even more important, it's not enough to just be born lucky, it also takes a huge effort to maintain what you have. There are multiple examples of really talented people who didnt look after themselves and lost those talents, people with great gifts who have never developed them and have never benefited the world with them just because they didnt put in the required effort.
Also, if you have an asset, its stupid not to use it. If you have something to show - show it. Make people’s lives better.
So, in short, I don’t see any sexism. I see men liking beautiful women - and it has always been like that, and always will. There is nothing wrong with that, I also like handsome and clever men."
Would you ever be tempted to try and represent Russia at any Eurovision Song Contest?
"Imperial Age does not participate in any contests, just out of principle - we shall not bend to any rules and we shall not be judged, because who the hell are the judges to judge us? Only our fans are allowed to judge us. Thats their sole privilege and everyone else is welcome to f**k off. We are an acquired taste, not a $100 banknote to be fancied by everyone. The only ones who benefit from rules are the ones who make them. The house always wins. Rock is all about rebellion and we shall not comply. It is all totally rigged in this country and the state only supports the local pop culture which has zero chances to break internationally. TaTu were close to it but that was looong ago…"
Jane: "I’ve never been interested in any type of contests."
What are your thoughts on the ESC?
"Honestly, I have never watched it :) But I was happy when Lordi won it. That’s probably my only touch with this contest."
Jane: "No thoughts."
Should more metal bands apply for it?
"I think every band should maximize its chances for exposure, so yes, if they get this opportunity, why not? But be careful not to lose yourself. Metal is all about authenticity while the pop culture is refined and artificial."
For the year ahead, what plans aside from the UK tour does Imperial Age have in store?
"We have enormous plans, which we can’t reveal right now because we need contracts to be signed and confirmations to be made, but watch us closely – its coming soon! However, we can say that we will tour more than ever before and the new album will come out before the year is out!
It's conceivable that the Finnish people are metal-music crazy, with a hole host of bands making names for themselves and achieving mainstream success. From Children of Bodom to Nightwish and HIM to Lordi (who won Eurovision 2006) and Apocalyptica who still to this day remain as the sole Cello Metal band. But gnawing at the latter's heels is the nonet Ravenia of whose self-styled Symphonic Metal sound takes on an epic dramatic twist, with the symphonies being engulfed by film-score/operatic elements that leave the listener entranced by this sensational outfit.
Having released their debut album "Beyond the Walls of Death" back at the end of April, it was about time GMA locked the group away in a Lapland cabin, waited till dark and under the night sky watched the Northern lights dance away whilst we interrogated Armi Päivinen, Ravenia's vocalist. It begins with the background story of Ravenia's past...
"I don't think that metal music is very well represented in the the history of soundtracks but maybe we can fix that"
"Back in 2013 Samuli Reinikainen asked me to sing on a couple of his songs, so I wrote the vocal arrangements and lyrics for them. The vocals had already been recorded when he decided that he no longer wanted to work with me. Well, we figured why waste the vocals when they were already recorded, so we decided to compose new songs around them. Hence Ravenia was born. After that we started composing music for our full-length. Samuli knew our other violinist, Ville, so we asked him if he wanted to be a part of the album, he also recruited the other guys.
We previously worked with Veikko in the group In Silentio Noctis, so we really wanted him to be a part of this as well, he was an obvious choice for us. Samuli has also played together with our bassist Toni Hintikka, so he asked him to tag along, we felt that his style would fit our album perfectly. After we finished recording in the summer of 2015, the album was then mixed at Sonic Pump Studios and mastered at Chartmakers. Finally, our debut ”Beyond The Walls of Death” was released April 29th via Inner Wound Recordings."
Ravenia is called a 'Epic Film score Metal' band, what is inspiration behind this and do you hope it will enable you to create your own genre?
"Who knows, it would certainly be cool. We really love film score / trailer music and we really wanted to get a chance to do that ourselves. Since metal has always been the thing closest to our hearts, we didn't really want to stray too far from it, so we figured why not combine the two. The trailer music elements are definitely our main focus, so the guitars and drums are there really to support that theme and not the other way around."
Because of your distinct sound, could you see Ravenia writing the score for a film? What upcoming film(s) would you love to pen the score for? Do you feel that metal music is not well represented in film soundtracks?
"We could definitely see ourselves writing a score to a fantasy or a war film. It would have been fun to be involved in writing the music for the Assasin's Creed movie but since it's already coming out in December, it's a little late for that. I don't think that metal music is very well represented in the the history of soundtracks but maybe we can fix that, hahhah!"
As Ravenia is a nonet (nine-piece), is it hard to maintain stability and write music together? What challenges has the band faced?
"Since Samuli and I write all the songs together, it makes it a lot easier than having nine people all pitching in with their ideas. We've had quite a few challenges, of course budget wise and more than our fair share of difficulties with the studio computer not working because of the massive amount of tracks. Sometimes we are forced to do things really slowly and it's wasting a lot of valuable time, so we certainly hope that once we start making our next album we would have been able to fix that issue."
Your debut album 'Beyond The Walls Of Death' is now out, what has the response been so far? Do your plan to tour the UK / Europe in support of the album?
"So far the response from most people has been absolutely incredible, it's truly wonderful to see that the emotion is coming through in our music. I have never really heard such beautiful things that
some of our listeners have said, it is very touching. We don't have any touring plans at the moment because of the size of our group, also we have quite a large amount of backing tracks, so unfortunately the venue needs to be quite large in order for those things to work well in a live setting. We have kind of dug a little grave for ourselves with that."
Could you give us a brief breakdown as to what each song means, which was the easiest and hardest to record and what one is your favourite?
"Here it goes, I'll do my best to break them down..
Hmm, the hardest one to record for me was probably ”In Silence”, I don't know why, it just took the longest. The easiest one for me, I would say was ”For Those We Forsaken”. It's hard to name a favourite, parents love all their children equally but ”Into Oblivion” has always been close to my heart musically, it really has the best of both worlds I think."
Your music video 'We All Died For Honor', what is it about? Is it about the Lapland War against the Soviet Union in WW2? Or something else?
"We didn't want it to be about a specific war, so it's more of a general description. The point of the video is not so much on the war itself as it is in those that were left behind to mourn. We wanted that to be the main focus."
Barack Obama acknowledged Finland's long history of successfully exporting metal music at the Nordic summit, what is it do you think that makes Finnish Metal music so popular? With Lordi's Eurovision win arguably being the most outstanding achievement for any Finnish musician, let alone metal, would Ravenia contemplate putting themselves forward to represent Finland at any forthcoming edition of the ESC?
"For some reason, you are not the first person to ask us that. Lately quite a few people have been
asking the same thing. We can't really see ourselves participating in the contest at this point but who knows what crazy plans we'll come up with in the future! It's kinda hard to say what makes Finnish metal so popular but it might have something to do with that that it's cold and dark almost all year long and what else is there to do in Finland besides making music?"
Finally have you got any hello's, thank you's, greetings you wish to send out?
"First of all thank you for the interview and to all our listeners a huge thank you for all the kind words and support. Stay epic."
Ravenia's debut album "Beyond The Walls Of Death" is out via Inner Would Recordings