Jan Kuhanen & Ismo Toivonen (Unholy) interviewed

What do you make of Second Ring of Power after all these years? It’s getting a second chance at life, so to speak.Jan Kuhanen: All of our albums have been re-released, so Second… is in no way specific. Plus, we have some bonus stuff with all of them except with the first one.
Ismo Toivonen: I assume you didn’t know about other releases [yes, I did. — CD], so maybe readers don’t either [they do now. — CD]. Our demos were released as vinyl records last spring by Rusty Crowbar, and releases continued with all the albums by Peaceville. The main reason was simple: there were no albums available anymore. Avantgarde didn’t want to press them, so they sold the rights to Peaceville, and things started to work. The demo project was a present to our long time fans. People have asked for demo tapes, but obviously we didn’t have any. So, when Rusty Crowbar asked do we want to release demos we said, “Yes”. Rusty Crowbar also published 32-page history booklet, which was sold with demos. There is a history of Unholy, as perfect as it can be, based on fresh interviews of all ‘original’ band members.

Why the cover art change? I don’t recall the other reissues with altered covers?
Jan Kuhanen: I think the original prints were just ruined and could not be reproduced any longer, so we had to come up with a new cover layout.

There’s a lot of conjecture as to who started the whole funeral doom thing. What’s your viewpoint on the subject?
Jan Kuhanen: Beats me… Is it really important? Maybe it was Black Sabbath.

Do you find it peculiar that Thergothon, Skepticism, and Unholy all started around the same time and from the same country? The three bands shared similar traits, chief among them the slow, funereal movements.
Jan Kuhanen: Never thought of that, really. Those two bands have many things in common, I think. They were/are very extreme, in a way. We were a bit different somehow, and I do not feel great spiritual connection existing between us and them. They were different from us and we from them, the madness of Unholy was something that you really cannot find in those two. They are extreme in other ways.

Do you recall some of the primary motivators for songs like “Neverending Day” or the more straightforward title track?
Jan Kuhanen: I think the title song was inspired by C. Castaneda, whose books Jarkko [Toivonen] used to read a lot. That’s where the name comes from. It’s a about shamanism and that stuff of being in between the worlds, etc. “Neverending Day”… I really can’t remember.

In ‘zines, Unholy was always classified more as black metal than doom metal. Was there a black metal component to Unholy and, if so, how deep was said component?
Jan Kuhanen: I think there was in the beginning, when the corpse paint thing was IN in the early 1990s. Lots of people took us as a black metal group, and were severely disappointed ’cause we were not that fast at all. Surely, the black was there, and metal was there also, but still I would not call Unholy as a black metal band under any circumstances. Our fascinations came out of completely different world.
Ismo Toivonen: We never made any genre decisions. We just played, and it depends on the journalist who named our style as black and who to doom metal. It doesn’t really matter. I think, compared to traditional doom bands like Candlemass, we have quite different style, so maybe that caused the effect that someone thought Unholy had black metal influences. It’s quite funny because we didn’t listen to black metal any.

I always liked the fact that Unholy wasn’t easily categorized. You had these mega-doom like songs but inside of them you’d do things like very harmonic lead play or almost funk bass playing. Like Voivod brought to its slowest and strangest conclusion. Thoughts?
Jan Kuhanen: Maybe. I recall Jarkko said recently that his aim was to be heavier and more weird than Celtic Frost at the time. Now that’s some challenge, but I think that is what he was trying to accomplish with Unholy.
Ismo Toivonen: We played what we thought sounds good. We didn’t want to hang ourselves to any category or genre. So, that’s why we have many different songs. You can hear it in Rapture if you compare “Into Cold Light” and “Wretched”. Or “Haoma” and “Athene Noctua” on Gracefallen. And “Wunderwerck” had all those elements in same 15-minute song. [Smiles]

What do you make of the bands that have come after Unholy? Whether they are Dolorian, the late Colosseum, Esoteric, Ahab, or the countless others carrying Unholy’s sonic signature.
Jan Kuhanen: Of these, I only know Esoteric. Impressive. But everybody really copies everybody else, consciously or unconsciously. We did it, everybody else did it. So, if someone really got his or her kicks out of our stuff, or was inspired by us — wonderful. We were inspired by others, too.
Ismo Toivonen: I haven’t listen to metal music very much in my life. Jarkko once told that it was the way to avoid influences from other bands. But for me, it just didn’t interest me. Other music genres are more interesting and musical richness comes from combining all these together. That’s what Unholy was, basically.

I think there are two Unholy periods. Pre-Rapture and post-Rapture. Do you see/hear the same distinction?
Jan Kuhanen: Yes. On the first two albums, four angry, young men were letting out some steam. On the last two albums, three men were spitting out the black mist of their soul -– that’s the difference.
Ismo Toivonen: The way to write songs changed a lot on Rapture. We made music by improvising, just by jamming, three of us (without Jarkko). The first two albums’ songs were more like riff based. We made riffs and put them together and there was a song. It was quite angry stuff: raw, primitive, sick. On the last two albums songs were more united internally and were driven by pure feeling and empathizing. Story was the same, observing life as it comes to us every day, but on the last two albums the point of view was more mature and deep, and not only proclaiming one truth.

Now, there’s speculation Unholy may reform for shows in 2012. True or false?
Ismo Toivonen: Both! True: We finally found a rehearsing place and start to play together with original lineup (two guitars, no keys) in couple of weeks. We’ll do live shows in next summer and who knows maybe some new music. False: there is always possibility that nothing works as planned. We didn’t have a single rehearsal in the last 10 years. All of us even don’t have the needed equipment (amplifiers, effects devices, PAs). So, we have to get that stuff first. Secondly, we live hundreds of kilometers away from each other. How we manage to organize logistics, to get everyone in Imatra when needed, etc. Lots of uncertainty! But we’ll know more in couple of months. So, I wouldn’t talk about reunion yet, but I hope we can surprise fans and gig organizers next summer.

** Unholy’s The Second Ring of Power, Rapture, Gracefallen, and From The Shadows are out now on Peaceville Records. Order them HERE, or ride a glacier like a carousel pony. Sans underpanties, of course.