The Chant – Gentle Thee Be
By: David E. Gehlke
For many, Finland’s The Chant are a latecomer to the atmospheric metal scene. Having formed in 1999, the Finns have spent the better part of a decade learning the ropes in one of metal’s most competitive scenes, emerging with a pair of charming, soothing albums in the form of 2008’s Ghostlines and 2010’s This is the World We Know. The band must have been doing something right (they have been…or else we wouldn’t be covering them), for Germany’s Lifeforce Records snapped the six-piece up for the release of this year’s excellent A Healing Place. And thus we have another act to join atmospheric heavyweights Anathema, Alcest, and most importantly, Katatonia.
Wanting to delve deeper into The Chant’s vast repertoire of ambience, melodic hooks, and keyboard swaths, we grabbed primary songwriter/guitarist Jussi Hämäläinen and keyboardist Mari Jämbäck for a round of the questions. Luckily for us, the duo responded in kind...
Blistering.com: After years of being one of Finland’s best-kept secrets, describe the feeling knowing A Healing Place will receive proper worldwide release with Lifeforce.
Jussi Hämäläinen: It feels great! We’ve been waiting for this opportunity for five years or so. Everything has gone really smoothly with Lifeforce. It feels nice to be wanted.
Blistering.com: You formed 13 years ago in 1999. Do you think you’ve come close to attaining some of your initial goals?
Hämäläinen: We’re getting closer every day! Probably the greatest achievement for me was getting the first album out. But now with Lifeforce, I feel really excited. For me personally, it would be all I could ever asked for if we could do couple of shows outside Finland… maybe as an opener for a bigger act.
Blistering.com: Comparisons have you with the likes of Katatonia, Porcupine Tree, etc. Are you comfortable being tagged with those bands?
Hämäläinen: Yes, no problem with those names. From what I’ve read those bands have the same ideas about making music as we do.
Blistering.com: Many are going to be tricked into thinking you’re a metal band, but you’re more of an atmospheric rock band. Do you worry about being pinned into the metal box?
Hämäläinen: Yes. There isn’t that much metal influences in our music any more. I think it would be a shame if people would speak about The Chant only as a metal band. But I also realize that there will always be some kind of a metal label on us.
Blistering.com: You’ve made some remarkable progress from Ghostlines. Do you ever go back to the album for inspiration?
Hämäläinen: No… not really. Been there, done that, I’d say. We usually have one or two songs from Ghostlines in our live set but they’ve been re-arranged to fit better with the newer songs.
Blistering.com: Describe the writing process for A Healing Place. Did the songs come together easily?
Hämäläinen: Well… yes and no. The actual composing of the songs was quite easy but the arrangements took a lot of time. There weren’t really any boundaries in composing, just needed to avoid couple of obvious choices. I knew that after arranging the songs together they would all sound like The Chant. And of course having three guitars gives you different possibilities. Some of the songs have been ready for quite a while. For example, I remember playing “Outlines” live somewhere in end of 2010 and the song hasn’t changed much from that. On the other hand, some of the songs reached their final form in the studio after trying out different arrangements.
Mari Jämbäck: I think we did a lot of work on this album in the studio. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to do most of the recordings in a home studio. To some extent that could be a nuisance but I think that it suits us to mull things over and try different approaches without a strict time limit. I hope that some of the songs sound even fresher because the final arrangements were constructed basically in the mixing phase; at least that’s how they sound to me.
Blistering.com: A Healing Place feels much more rich than the This Is the World We Know. You did the recordings yourself, but how did you achieve such a lush sound?
Hämäläinen: We knew from the start what we looking for sound-wise. There wasn’t going to be much of that distorted metal sound. We wanted have kinda warm and clear sound in the guitars because of three guitarists. We didn’t want to have a massive guitar wall on the album since we needed space for other instruments as well. Of course it helps to have good instruments and amps. The biggest thanks goes to Mikko Herranen who mixed the album (he has mixed all our albums) and recorded the drums. I hope he can still find the time to work with us in the future since he’s own solo career is going upwards after doing really well in this year’s Voice of Finland.
Blistering.com: Does the title have some type of deep meaning to it? As in, what’s the “Healing Place?”
Mari Jämbäck: The key piece in to opening the meaning of “A Healing Place” is the song “A Black Corner.” In that song “the place of healing” is described as a mental and physical state you have to face in order to get over difficult or even crushing feelings that life sometimes offers. It’s not really a happy place, not always even comforting but necessary nonetheless if you want to get better.
Blistering.com: “Spectral Light” might be the best song on the new album. What’s the story behind it?
Hämäläinen: I’m glad you like it. It’s the song that changed the most between leaving our rehearsal space and leaving the studio. It always sounded too heavy when rehearsing it and that’s why we decided to use acoustic guitars, which did the trick. And obviously the vocal arrangements were a success in my opinion.
Jämbäck: Lyrically this song is another central piece on the album. I think it’s very beautiful when the paths of water glide down a window of a car, a bus or a train on a rainy day. I started to think about the spectrum of colour that can refract through a single raindrop. These little drops of water, light and color are all around us and inside every person. We like this song so much we wanted to shine a hint of spectral light on the characters on the album cover as well.
Blistering.com: What do you have lined up in terms of live dates?
Hämäläinen: A Healing Place was released in Finland on the 30th of May so we’re doing some shows here in Finland during the summer. I really hope we are able to do our first gigs outside Finland after Lifeforce releases the album.
Blistering.com: Finally, what’s on tap for the rest of 2012?
Hämäläinen: Gigs of course, hopefully there’s more to come. We’re also going to release a couple of videos from the album. As a band we probably enjoy the most when we’re playing together so we are definitely going to spend time at our rehearsal place working on new songs.
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