I did a huge feature on Mausoleum Gate a while ago, and now it’s time to get to know Iron Griffin a little better. Iron Griffin is the solo project from Oskari Räsänen, the drummer from Mausoleum Gate. The new album, “Curse Of The Sky” is soon to be released.
As far as I can see, the first sign of life from Iron Griffin on Facebook was in August 2017, but how and when was the idea for Iron Griffin born?
– Iron Griffin was born somewhere in 2016. Then I got myself an electric guitar, after many years playing only drums. Of course I got some riffs and stuff done, and at first I tried to bring them out for Mausoleum Gate. But it really did not feel quite good, so I ended up keeping them to myself. And when songs begun to take shape, doing demos, writing lyrics and toying around with them, I thought: Why not make a release on my own? So I ended up recording a demo in 2017, which eventually turned out to be proper debut EP, explains Oskari.
When you signed to Gates Of Hell Records, how important was the link you already had to Cruz Del Sur through Mausoleum Gate?
– At first, the idea was to just make a cassette demo out of my material, but when I had the material recorded, I thought why not to send it to some labels? What if someone is crazy enough to release it on vinyl? The 12″ mini-LP is my personal favourite format in metal, but at the same time, it is a really uncommercial format these days. Ridicilous, but worth the try, was my thought. Of course Gates Of Hell and Cruz Del Sur came to my mind right away because our earlier business with Mausoleum Gate, so I sent the material to them. I was really surprised when Gates of Hell responded quickly, and they really were up to releasing the EP, on both vinyl and tape formats. So the deal was signed. I really don’t know if they could have released the EP without working with Mausoleum Gate beforehand. We can only speculate about it really. They’re great labels, anyway!
It appears that Oskari really enjoys reviews of his own music, but he doesn’t use them as guidelines when it comes to forging the sound of Iron Griffin.
– The EP got some really good feedback, and I am really happy with the final product. One of the absolute best things after a music release, is to read reviews of it. I love reading them! But they actually does not matter, I make my things my way and as I see fit. That’s what solo work is all about.
According to the press release, the new material you wrote for “Curse Of The Sky” craved a different singer. What is it about the new songs that the singer on the EP, Toni, isn’t able to do? How did the new singer Maija Tiljander enter the picture?
– As with the EP, the songs on the new full length release were made by me, and I also sang on the demos myself. The songs are not arranged for some specific vocalist. Toni could have easily sung on this album as well, and I had in fact spoken with him in advance, to make sure that when the album came, he was available to do the vocals. By the time I was in deep “USPM-psychosis” and thought I would like to have more raw power in the vocals for my music. I actually asked Pekka Montin (from Judas Avenger, Amoth, ex Evil-Lyn etc) if he was interested in a project like this. He’s a hard boiled professional and phenomenal vocalist, who really could do the job…But then, when I thought about vocalists I know and who I have witnessed performing live, I remembered something a couple of years back. In Henry’s Pub in Kuopio, there was a tribute band called Spirit Of Steel performing power metal covers, stuff by Rhapsody, Edguy, Helloween, Galneryus and so on. There were a couple of guys playing there I knew from the past, but the vocalist, she really ripped! When that gig came to my mind, I immediately tried to find out who she was, and contacted her. She was up to doing this album project, so we arranged a demo session in Joensuu. At first I had some mixed thoughts about this combination, but during the next day when I listened to the demos again, it was pretty clear to me that this really was an unique sounding mixture, and that she really had the power I was looking for. The process was not too easy, and in the end I had to transpose almost every song to fit her vocal range, something that was a challenge for an amateur like me. But after the base was right, the recording sessions went really smooth and she made some amazing work. I am so grateful to Maija for being part of this album!
From what I know, drums are your main instrument, but in Iron Griffin you handle all the instruments yourself. Which one is most challenging for you to perform?
– Drums are my safespace, that’s for sure. Guitar solos, on the other hand, are my worst enemy. I really don’t have the patience and devotion to practice enough, something like scales or theory or techniques… Argh! So yeah, in a way guitars are the most challenging part. But that’s the magic of making your own music, you don’t have to make it too difficult for yourself. Hehe! But of course I want to become better, and I’ll promise in the future there will be more solos and leads.
Oskari finds it difficult to describe the idea behind Iron Griffin, and how everything from the logo, the artwork and the lyrics to the music itself tie together…
– I really enjoy old folk music, atmospheric dungeon synth, medieval stuff, fantasy and nature, and lots of other stuff. Iron Griffin is a combination of things I love, and I prefer my music epic, dark and organic. My lyrics are nothing special, I think. They do not create whole new worlds, nor are they very poetic. They tell tales in an earthly and melancholic way, and there’s nothing fancy about them. I have a new song brewing which tells about agriculture, for example. With an Iron Griffin twist of course!
Where do you look for inspiration for the lyrics? Do you have bigger ambitions with the lyrics than to write something that fits the music and the overall concept of the band?
– I go with the music as the main priority. Usually I have the melodies in my mind, and then I start making lyrics around them. As usual in heavy metal, how the vocals and lyrics sound, is more important than the actual content. This far, the lyrics has been mostly about fantasy and battles, as they fit with the music, but I’ve been thinking about more sci-fi-oriented stuff also… But we’ll see what the future holds.
What does it give you personally to have full control of a project like Iron Griffin?
– Working alone gives me the opportunity to do thing exactly as I want, and I don’t need to listen to any opinions or ask anyone for approval. I find this very fascinating. I’ve been playing in “real bands” since high school, and without those years of playing and learning, making solo music would not be possible for me. This is part of a long journey to become a better musician and composer. I really like recording and mixing stuff also, because I am interested in audio in general. Making artwork and layouts are among my interests as well.
That being said, I see you have been helped out by a few more guys in the recording process this time around, with some stuff like synthesizers and acoustic guitars. Are these things you can’t do on your own?
– F.F. Nieminen made such a good job with the intro on my first EP, so I wanted him to play some synths on the album too. I am no good at playing keyboards, and I did not have the suitable gear either, so I found it easier and more pleasant to have him playing them. We had a nice session in his apartment in Helsinki producing those synths. The same goes for the acoustic guitars, they’re performed by the ex- Mausoleum Gate guitarist Kasperi Puranen.
The press release names seventies proto metal, as an important source of inspiration. Would Oskari say that Iron Griffin’s sound is closer to this genre than to late seventies/early eighties heavy metal?
– That’s a tough question! I surely like old Black Sabbath, Flower Travelling Band, Lucifers Friend and others, but I don’t find them very inspirational when it comes to Iron Griffins music. Of course the sound of this album is maybe more towards that era, but it is only because I want to have my music sound natural and real. And I believe I succeeded. If you come to my rehearsal place and listen to my drum kit, it sounds pretty much the same as on the album. This sound policy has already created mixed opinions among reviewers, and I like that! Because it is fun to see how some people think this is a lo-fi recording, because it is actually pretty hi-fi, as I used some high quality microphones and preamps. So the album sound is closer to to the seventies.
The new album opens with a short instrumental “Prelude” before “Reign Of Thunder”. Why did you want to open the album with these two tracks?
– After a long process of thinking about the album entity and the overall flow, I ended up in this order. Nothing more than that actually. I wanted to have an acoustic intro, and “Reign Of Thunder” started really well after that. Of course a fast rocker song is also a good start for an album, but the whole album entity is the most important aspect.
“Curse Of The Sky” is the kind of album that will most probably divide people. The music is certainly not for everyone, but on the other side it’s also one of those albums that will end up high on other peoples best of the year list. What do you think it is about your music that causes such mixed emotions?
– This album is not an easy one to listen. It might require an experienced ear for underground metal, and it is certainly not for modern metal listeners. I want to, and try to produce “musical” heavy metal; with strong melodies, living tempos and atmosphere. It is all more important than technical instrumentation or guitar solo wanking. Different people want different things from their music, but I try to cherish more the moody stuff than just” headbanging rock’n’roll beer drinking”- stuff.
I see that some people have already complained about the production on the album, did you achieve the type of production you were looking for, and what qualities did you want the production/sound to have?
– I am satisfied with the production, the instruments sound as they sound live. That was my goal, to make it sound natural. It seems some listeners don’t like it, and I can’t blame them! It is tough, as the album is pretty gritty. I think heavy metal should be wild. Everything should not be calculated and measured, and exaggeration is often better than being restrained.
Change of subject: There is this festival coming up in Helsinki , called “Heavy Metal Nights”, with quite an impressive lineup of Finnish bands performing, including Mausoleum Gate. Apart from those performing at the festival, there are also interesting Finnish bands like Legionnaire, Tyfons Doom and Chevalier to name a few. How would you describe what’s happening in the Finnish heavy metal-scene at the moment, and do you have a couple of favorite acts?
– A lot is happening in the Finnish scene at the moment. All those bands playing in that festival, and many more. The Chevalier-LP is soon here, Lord Fist and Angel Sword are both recording new albums as well. I really enjoy the Finnish roster of heavy metal, lots and lots of great bands and people! Keep an eye for a new band called Orphan Devil, they will surely deliver. Borley Rectory is one of the newest act in Finland, their recent demo tape is all right, but as a live band, they are excellent. So there are lots of great things! Beside these great acts, there is a somewhat more commercial movement also, with bands like Lazy Bonez, Tyrantti and Coronary, but this is not really my cup of tea!
Speaking about festivals, Oskari confirms that it is a dream of his for the future to take Iron Griffin to the stage as well.
– I would like to have Iron Griffin performing live some day, and I often think about it. But right now, the lack of time and resources keep it from happening. We’ll see about this in the future. If you, dear reader, would like to play in Iron Griffin, don’t hesitate to contact me.
We have to round off with a question about your main band Mausoleum Gate. The band recently announced a new singer and a new guitarist. When can we expect a new album, and will the new recruitments get a chance to put their mark on the material?
– The new Mausoleum Gate 7″ single is coming soon! It already has one brand new song, “The Demon Age of Aquarius”, with both new members Jarno (vocals) and Jari (guitars) performing. The B-side features one of the earliest Mausoleum Gate songs, “Before the Snake Sneaked In”, which was recorded during the “Metal and the Might”-sessions in 2016. A new full length album wwill hopefully come some day!