In January 2013 Finnish metal band Masterstroke release their fourth album “Broken”. To find out more, Andrew Doherty interviewed Janne Juutinen and Jussi Kulomaa the band’s drummer and keyboardist respectively.
AN: Hello! Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for Ave Noctum. I reviewed your latest album “Broken” and really enjoyed it. I must confess that apart from that all I’d heard of your band was a few tracks of your 2007 album “Sleep”. My own impression is that you’ve moved from a kind of progressive power metal to a generally heavier and more sophisticated sound on “Broken”. How would you evaluate the progression of your musical style?
Janne: We’ve never really thought about what type of songs we should make, but we’ve always gone with how we’re feeling at that moment and these songs turned out like they did. “Sleep”, “As Days Grow Darker” and “Broken” are on the whole different types of albums, but now that we’ve been playing songs from all of these albums live, we’ve noticed that they are Masterstroke songs. I think we’ve found our own style to a degree and probably the next one will be in the same vein.
Jussi: We did start out way back when as a more power-metal outfit, but it’s not what we want to do now. It is a more darker, more … dare I say … heavier world we create now. It’s been a natural process for us.
AN: For me, “Broken” is like an energetic romp but with carefully balanced song and sound structures. With all the different elements, how did you manage to make it sound so continuously fresh and lively throughout the album?
Janne: Altogether we recorded 11 songs and we picked 8 songs for the album just for that reason; to make the album a tight package that hits you from the word go and one that you’d want to listen to again and again.
Jussi: I think that we’re always trying to serve the song more than to show off. There is a lot of give and take, naturally, but everybody pitches in with ideas and playing music is still fun! It’s hard work for sure, but doing it in our own studio helps to make it more relaxing.
AN: The title track “Broken” could be regarded as the template metal track. It’s a fluent melodic metal song with drama, darkness, energy and mystery. I hope you’re pleased with it! How do you know you’ve achieved the right formula for a track like this and it’s ready to be released to the public?
Janne: Well actually we didn’t know it. We just did it. We thought that this could be a good song to promote our new, more aggressive album.
Jussi: Good to hear people liking it! It’s weird and wonderful that there’s nothing mysterious about writing a song but at the same time, there’s this … I mean … something just seems to happen, you know? During rehearsals you have an inkling of an idea that this might be something, but once all the elements are there and it’s mixed and you really listen back to it, since you’ve been so concentrated on doing it… Did we really do that? How did we come up with this and that idea in the first place?
AN: One thing which I sometimes find with metal bands is that the guitar solos are like an obligatory add-on to the main song, whereas in your case they are integrated and the solo melts out the song. How do you blend the solos into the tracks so that they don’t stand alone?
Janne: Maybe because while we’re writing the songs, we don’t think (or even know!) what the solo will be like, just what’s going to happen where the solo will be. Once Markus has come up with at least an idea for a solo, we might adjust the backing so that they both complement each other.
Jussi: Also, Markus likes solos that are a part of the song, not just a shred-fest. If the song doesn’t feel like it needs a solo, then we don’t put it there just “because there has to be” a guitar solo. “My Last Day” is a good example. Nothing seemed right until we came up with the idea to do a unison/harmony arpeggio with guitar and keys. Suddenly it all worked out and fit the song better.
AN: How long did it take you to create and record “Broken”? Was it an easy process?
Janne: It was done on purpose in short periods, so that it’d stay ”fresh” to us throughout the whole process. Drums were recorded late 2010 and everything else was recorded, mixed and mastered during 2011. In between and after, we took some time-off from rehearsing and gigs. Last year was spent making new songs and doing some gigs. Really looking forward to playing live right now!!
Jussi: Yes and no. It’s easy in that we know what we are doing or at least know how to pull it off if an idea comes along the way, but the sheer amount of work is always taxing. You tend to be more critical of your own work and that leads to doing extra hours to make sure it’s just as you want it. Which is not to say there’s never anything you’d like to do differently… don’t get me started!
AN: I find that each of your tracks on the album has an identity so you go from the mixture of dark and light on of “I Condemn You” to the more upbeat “Seed of Chaos”, then there’s the mysterious “Broken” and the more power metal oriented “As We Crawl” and so on. Is the order of the track list on the album as well as the structure of the tracks themselves something you gave careful consideration to?
Janne: We did fiddle around with the song order until finally we came up to what we felt was the final and right running order.
Jussi: During the recording, it was also found out that one song (or was it two?) wasn’t going to make it and then at least one song dropped out when the whole arc of the album was coming together. It’s a good song, just didn’t fit the whole. Let’s see what we’ll do with it. We do think and discuss these things but ultimately, what feels right is what we go with. During rehearsals we come up with ideas for the song structures and try those out, see how the song flows. Sometimes, what works during rehearsals doesn’t work when tracking and sometimes the opposite. It happens.
AN: Although your music is fresh and expansive on the outside, it can be dark on the inside. This comes across in both the music on tracks like “I Condemn You” and especially “Before the End” and in the lyrics. Which do you start with – the dark or the light, or does the input come from different band members and then it’s all moulded together?
Janne: What usually happens is that Niko has a raw idea for a song (riffs, basic structure, etc.) that we start working on together as a band and that’s basically how almost every Masterstroke song has come to be. We’re all needed to make the songs what they are.
Jussi: Music comes first and then Niko tries out which lyrics best fit the mood, flow, rhythm or what ever, of the song. If there’s something in the lyrics that doesn’t quite fit the song, we work on that a bit, trying to make it work but still keeping the core of it intact. Which can be hard if you have to take out half of what’s written down! Most of my keys are done after I get the song recorded down so I can concentrate on those better. I can’t really do that while we’re writing, but I don’t just sit there doing nothing, I’m actively involved in the process from the start as we all are. It suits me and the way I see my role in the band.
AN: What is the track “Broken” about? “Broken inside trying to fix the outside” – what is it that’s broken and being fixed?
Jussi: The idea is that some hide themselves with outer trappings, trying to compensate or, yes, fix everything from the outside in. Trying to fit in or flip the finger, as it were, by the way they dress and act. To be an individual by wearing the same things as everyone else. I find it a bit funny. There’s a humorous, albeit dark, aspect to some of my lyrics, even if it doesn’t appear to be that way on the surface (and I guess you’d have to know me to notice it). Oh, well.
AN: “Broken” isn’t the only song with chilling lyrics. “I see myself falling long before the rise, and I see us going back where we started” on “Before the End” are lyrics to identify with and remind me of the progressive sphere of music. Where do you find the inspiration for these lyrics?
Jussi: It’s actually “I see myself falling / Lost before her eyes / As I go, go back where it started.” Of course movies, books, music and life in general inspire me, but this one was the first to be directly inspired by the short film La Jetée. Some of my lyrics are thoughts on paper or almost like pages out of a journal (that I don’t keep) but on this album, I tried a more story-telling approach on a couple of songs. I tried using my imagination more, which was fun, since I like to tell stories.
AN: My guess is that you like the classic metal artists such as Iron Maiden, Dio and the like. I detect also an element of Nevermore on the latest album and particularly in the heightened tension of the title track. I got a clue when I saw that your guitarist was wearing a “Nevermore” t-shirt on the video for “Broken”! Are these assumptions correct? Do all the band members of Masterstroke come from the same direction in respect of musical interests and influences?
Janne: We all listen to old-school bands, like Iron Maiden, OLD Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, etc., but there are of course differences. For my part, I don’t listen to Nevermore at all, but everyone else does. Jussi listens to a lot of synthesizer music that the rest of us do not. We all have our favourite bands/artists and when we play together, all those influences are thrown in to the mix.
Jussi: Yeah, maybe my tastes in music are the most eclectic of the bunch… One thing that I do try is to knowingly bring in influences from sources that are not so apparent. I hear a lot of metal keyboard players copying the styles and sounds of other metal keyboard players. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just not interesting to me. Now, what if I took the things done in Berlin circa 1975 by the likes of Tangerine Dream and apply that to a more modern metal setting? That’s so much more interesting to me. It might not always work, but at least I’m going to try!
AN: Your music is very recognisable in style. Do you think it could be a disadvantage to your progress that you perhaps haven’t got a trademark style and therefore could get lost in the pack of metal bands, or does this not concern you? You may not agree that you don’t have a trademark style of course.
Janne: As a matter of fact, we are very aware of the fact that we are difficult to categorize and label. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Good thing is that we can’t be accused of directly plagiarizing other bands. The bad thing you could say is that I guess we’re too dark and heavy for, say, power-metal fans and then again too light for trash-metal fans. But the main thing is that we like to write and play this kind of music.
Jussi: Too pop for metal, too metal for pop? Meh.. I’ve always said that we define what we are doing. It could be humppa, could be black metal, doesn’t matter as long as it’s something we love doing.
AN: It looks like you are a very professional band, as since 2005 you’ve released an album every two or three years, and in between times you’ve gone out and performed live. How do you see the future developing for Masterstroke?
Janne: We’ll definitely continue playing live and making records for as long as it’s fun. That said, you can’t automatically trust that you get gigs and get your records released these days. Organizers and record companies have become really cautious about what kinds of bands they take. Still, let’s hope for the best.
AN: As for now, how are you going about promoting the new album?
Janne: We have promoters working for us here in Finland and abroad who are doing as much as they can. As for us, we’re trying to get as many gigs as possible and promote the new album that way.
AN: Your style lends itself to live performance, and I can see that you’ve done a lot of touring and live performances. Do you ever get tired of touring?
Janne: Not yet at least! Actually, there could be a lot more!
AN: What has been the highlight of your musical career as a band?
Janne: I’m not sure if we’ve reached that yet… Opening up for the Scorpions in Madrid at a bull-fighting arena was pretty cool.
Jussi: Going on tour and actually releasing albums (plural!) was something I’ve always wanted and we’ve done that. But it’s left us hungry for more!
AN: Is there anywhere that you would like to play or a band you would like to play with in future?
Janne: I guess a dream for any band would be a world-tour with Iron Maiden, heh! Realistically, a band like Evergrey would be perfect and as a matter of fact, we’ve been so close a couple of times to actually going on tour with them, but there’s always been a hiccup somewhere along the way…
AN: That’s near enough it from me. I’d just like to invite you to promote your band and tell us how to buy your albums if you like. At the same time, is there anything you would like to say to the readers here in the UK?
Janne: I’ve read a few reviews of “Broken” from the UK and they’ve surprised me in a positive way! I hope we can play there one of these days.
Jussi: “Broken” should be available in any well stocked record store and of course through online stores. It’s a damn good album, what more do you need to know?!
Thanks very much for your time I wish you every success with the promotion of “Broken”. Good luck for the future, and I look forward to seeing you playing live in the near future.
Interviewed by Andrew Doherty