Q&A: Ville Viljanen & Andy Gillion (Mors Principium Est) On Death Metal And Life-Threatening Burgers

Mors Principium Est

Mors Principium Est are at the end of massive U.S. tour with Wolfheart and Carach Angren. Duo Ville Viljanen and Andy Gillion look a bit worse for wear when Decibel rolls up two hours late for our interview — blame Philadelphia traffic, please. Nevertheless, they off-board from their bus, take Decibel up a flight of stairs at The Stanhope House to a room with two small couches. There, Viljanen and Gillion sit, readying for our barrage of cliches and poop jokes. Actually, both musicians are mentally focused on the gig they’re two long hours away from, but they manage to regale Decibel on giant burgers in Vegas, stories about the bus lavatory, and what it takes to make Mors Principium Est music between countries.

That a new album isn’t on the way doesn’t mean it won’t be, however. Viljanen and Gillion are a duo. One writes the music (Gillion). The other writes the lyrics and serves as Quality Control Manager (Viljanen) for the whole operation. Together, they’ve written three full-length albums — the latest of which is 2017’s Embers of a Dying World (AFM) — and as they see there’s no stopping the current dynamic. They’re not the fastest songwriters on the planet, but the quickest draws in music aren’t writing tracks like “Reclaim the Sun,” “Death Is the Beginning,” “Masquerade,” or “The Colours of the Cosmos,” which are, if we’re being transparent, some of the most violent yet saddest melodic death metal in years. Key phrase: “most violent yet saddest.”

Read on as Viljanen and Gillion unveil Mors Principium Est in the gravest, most calorie-ridden detail.

What have you been up to since Embers of a Dying World?
Andy Gillion: My god… What have we been doing? Playing quite a few shows, I think.
Ville Viljanen: Oh, well, right: We’ve been touring a lot. We’ve been to Russia, Singapore, Japan. We did the Summer Breeze festival. And the Karmøygeddon festival in Norway. I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting something.
Andy Gillion: The album, Embers of a Dying World, was released either during or the day after we did the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise.

So, touring, right?
Andy Gillion: For us, it’s been busier than usual. We’re touring more than we’re writing.

Will touring influence the way you approach the follow-up to Embers of a Dying World?
Andy Gillion: I think it will influence the writing for the next album. Maybe not intentionally. I’m already getting strange ideas in my head. What I mean is: every night I heard the same melodies from other bands, so I’m already thinking about melodies. Actually, I’m having trouble sleeping because my brain is starting to write music. It’s happening already. As long as I write my ideas down before I die we should be good. [Laughs]

Wait, what does that mean?
Andy Gillion: [Laughs] My heart, man. Too much french fries and hamburgers. Did you see the burger I had in Las Vegas? It was eight burgers high. It was from the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas. So, that is still wedged firmly in my colon. I ate 6/8ths of that thing.

Why didn’t you go to In-N-Out Burger?
Andy Gillion: I’ve been there before. It’s the best! Burgers are affecting my music writing since I’m more often on the toilet than playing guitar. Actually, I do most of my writing on the toilet, so we should be fine.

Are you going to use a toilet metaphor for the next album title? Like Upon A Golden Throne?
Andy Gillion: [Laughs]
Ville Viljanen: I don’t think I’m going to use that title.
Andy Gillion: It’ll all be there in the music. You just have to listen closely to the bass drops and the blastbeats.
Ville Viljanen: Don’t forget the brown notes! [Laughs]

Now that you’re on your seventh full-length has anything changed over the years? The approach, the thought process, the writing process, things like that?
Ville Viljanen: For me, I don’t see any difference. Always been like this: when I hear the music, I get the ideas for the lyrics. Pretty simple. It’s always worked this way. For the first three albums, it was a little different. Jarkko [Kokko] did some stuff with the lyrics, but it was mostly Jori [Haukio] who would write the music. I never heard anything from Jori until he was ready. With Andy, he does the music. I influence the result.
Andy Gillion: Right. Nothing really will change. Embers was my third album with Ville. The only difference with me in the band is I’m writing from a different country. So, we write through email. I’ll write riffs, send them to Ville, and he returns with comments. Ville’s the quality control manager. Anything that’s not quite right doesn’t go in. Like any day I go over the top on progressiveness and it’s a little bit out of our range, Ville will rein it in.

Historically, Mors Principium Est has been about melody and harmony with aggression serving as the foundation. Essentially, melodic death metal, true to form. Think that will change?
Andy Gillion: That will never change. That’s the Mors Principium Est sound. Melody and aggression and energy. It’s melodic death metal. We do it our own way. When I joined Ville made sure I knew to keep that sound. We can’t write the same albums. We have to evolve. Those are things we’re doing naturally. I don’t think we’re in any real danger taking the band in any direction that’s not Mors Principium Est.
Ville Viljanen: We’re not changing the genre. We’re staying put.
Andy Gillion: Before I joined the band, I was a fan. I joined the band in 2011. For me, I knew I was going to write fast, heavy, energetic music that was melody-driven and soulful. The melodies had to make you cry, right? We had to have both. I can’t listen to music that’s just aggressive. It has no heart to it. No purpose. When I write, every note has a purpose. These are not just cobbled together songs. There’s a story to the music. That’s why writing for Mors Principium Est is so rewarding. I get to be part of that story, part of the music, to put myself in the middle of it.

Any non-metal influences informing the way you write?
Andy Gillion: I get influenced from almost anything. Movies, burgers, feelings, or general things that happen in my life or pop in my head. I don’t dedicate a whole week to writing music. That’s not how I write. Usually, I’m in a restaurant and then go, “Holy fuck! What is that riff that just came into my head?!” I’ll record that idea on my phone. It can be anywhere, really. I’m usually not thinking about writing music when an idea comes to mind. It’s a pretty free way of writing, actually.

Mors Principium Est

How much Finland is in Mors Principium Est at this point?
Ville Viljanen: We’re Finnish, except for Andy. So, we’re pretty Finnish inside and out.
Andy Gillion: This goes back to the music writing, actually. In metal, there’s a lot nervousness around the word or sentiment of being emotional. Because of the emo trend and all that. However, Ville’s always said to me, “The music must have emotional sadness.” I love putting in really fucking sad sections that sound brutal as hell. The music is still angry and aggressive, but it also has a beauty and sadness to it. People are scared to write emotional music because of the emo tag. We write emotional music but we’re far from emo. [Laughs]
Ville Viljanen: If music gives you no emotions—just bland sound—then it’s nothing. No meaning. Or, if I hear happy music, I have no way to relate to it. I’m not going to write happy lyrics. Babies dying and happy music don’t go together. [Laughs] That’s why I need angry, melancholic music. I need an outlet that I can relate to.

Getting back to lyric writing. When you hear a song, what’s your approach?
Ville Viljanen: None of the lyrics are personal. Maybe one song, between the lines. Usually, the first thing I think of is the chorus. It just comes out. Words come out in a pattern. I will often change them up, but words come out.

In Finnish or English?
Ville Viljanen: English. I think a lot in English, because I work a lot with English. I listen, then bang! there’s the lyrics for the chorus. Then, I’ll focus on the rest of the lyrics. They’ll usually have to fit the ideas I have for the chorus though. That’s how it goes. Usually, the chorus then the verse. But sometimes I get the verse first. These are just ideas, right? Feelings. The lyrics are part of me, what I’m thinking about, and how I want those ideas to come across. So, that’s how I work.

What’s next on deck for Mors Principium Est?
Ville Viljanen: Sleep. Then, maybe a new album.
Andy Gillion: Getting this burger out of my system. [Laughs] Then, we’ll start writing the new album. I wouldn’t expect it until late 2019 or early 2020, I think. But it could come faster than that, but I wouldn’t count on it.