March 15, 2023 Interview – Jarmo Puolakanaho of Eternal Tears of Sorrow
Anyone who is a fan of Finnish Metal is aware of how rich the country is with talented bands. Yes, you have the international stars such as Nightwish, Apocalyptica, and Children of Bodom, but a little deeper into the scene are veterans Eternal Tears of Sorrow.
Well-known and respected amongst Finnish Metal loving circles around the world, Eternal Tears of Sorrow have built a strong foundation over the last three decades while putting out some exceptional albums – including works such as 2000’s Chaotic Beauty and 2001’s A Virgin and a Whore. Always progressing and combining Melodic Death Metal with some beautiful atmospheric keyboards, Eternal Tears of Sorrow are truly one of Finland’s elites. Having last released their album Saivon Lapsi a long decade ago now in 2013, it is high time the band return with new material. So, will it happen? Answering that burning question, among others, founding Guitarist Jarmo Puolakanaho recently took some time to provide insight into the story of Eternal Tears of Sorrow, discuss their evolution, and so much more.
Cryptic Rock – Eternal Tears of Sorrow’s history dates back nearly three decades now. In that time the band has released seven studio albums and solidified themselves as one Finland’s primary Metal bands. Tell us, how would you describe the journey of the band to this point?
Jarmo Puolakanaho – In the early ‘90s, when planning our first pre-EToS metal band, Altti (bass and growling vocals) and I (guitar) had no idea it could get this far and become such an amazing journey. We just dreamed of recording songs of our own and finding a label to release at least one of them. It took some years, but by the end of the century we already had two albums out.
Looking back on our path so far, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished as a band, and we’re excited to see what the future holds. We still have the same attitude we did in the beginning; we plan one step at a time, and our primary goal is to write songs that we enjoy and that sound good to us. We don’t care about being big or successful; we just want to make music that we’re proud of. Record sales and streaming numbers are just numbers, but good songs are something to be proud of for the rest of our lives. We’re also grateful for all the experiences we’ve had, all the places we’ve seen, and all the people we’ve met along the way. We’re excited to see what the future holds for our band. We’re not done yet.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like you have a very good, down to earth approach. It is about music! When the band first began the style was more straightforward Melodic Death Metal. However, as time progressed, so did the sound of Eternal Tears of Sorrow. What inspired the band’s shift in artistic direction?
Jarmo Puolakanaho – From our perspective, we’ve played Melodic Death Metal since our first demo tape, and that fundamental approach to songwriting has been consistent throughout our career. To us, Melodic Death Metal is about being versatile and creative, mixing heavy and extreme elements with melodic and atmospheric ones, and drawing influences from a wide range of sources. But naturally, our style has changed over the years. Our desire to evolve and explore new sounds and ideas naturally drives us to experiment with different musical elements; from Folk Rock to Dark Ambient to Classical Music to various Metal genres.
A couple of concrete examples of our musical shift… When we started writing songs like “Autumn’s Grief” and “Angelheart, Ravenheart” we noticed that they were sounding quite different from our usual material. At first, we weren’t sure if they would ever become EToS songs, but as we continued to work on them, it became clear that they had a unique quality that we wanted to include in our repertoire. We took a bit of a risk by including them, but they added a new dimension to our music. In the end, we’re glad that we recorded them so that people could hear them. Overall, our shift in artistic direction has been a natural evolution, but we still see ourselves as a Melodic Death Metal band, and that won’t change.
Cryptic Rock – Right, and the evolution has been fun to experience for listeners. Looking back, some might say a turning point for the band was the 2000-01 era when you released Chaotic Beauty and A Virgin and a Whore. Both brilliant albums, some might go as far to say A Virgin and a Whore is the perfect album. What was that creative period like for the band?
Jarmo Puolakanaho – We’re proud of Chaotic Beauty and A Virgin and a Whore because they represent a special time for us, and the songs we created during that period have become some of our fan’s favorites. They were created during a unique and transformative period in our career. We had a new lineup as we had expanded our lineup from a trio to a five-piece band, and interestingly, these two albums are also the only albums that we wrote mostly at our practice space, together as a band. This was a significant departure from our usual approach, where most songs were written individually at home, each songwriter writing at least a half-finished song before showing it to the rest of the band. The new approach helped us work more effectively as a team and led to a period of exciting growth and experimentation for the band.
Having younger new members in the band was vital as they brought energy and enthusiasm to the table. In addition, Petri, our long-time drummer, brought a more professional attitude to the band as he was the most experienced musician among us. Overall, these two albums hold a unique place in our band’s history and represent a pivotal moment of collaboration and experimentation that we look back on with pride.
Cryptic Rock – Very interested to hear, because as stated, they also hold a place in the heart of dedicated listeners.
Following these two records, the band took a break around 2003. Thankfully you returned in 2005 and released Before the Bleeding Sun in 2006. From there the band has two more records in 2009 and 2013. In many ways it could be looked at as the second chapter of Eternal Tears of Sorrow from 2005 to present. How would you describe the different eras of the band?
Jarmo Puolakanaho – Looking back on our long journey, I’d say we’ve gone through three distinctive eras or chapters so far. The first era was in the ‘90s when we released our early records, which were mostly raw Melodic Death Metal blended with Doom/Death Metal. Although we were still trying to improve our song- writing and create cohesive albums, we were on the right path. At that time, there were three of us in the band: Altti, Olli, and me.
Then, Olli left the band in early 1999 and the second era began. It was the time of our perhaps best-known albums – Chaotic Beauty and A Virgin and a Whore, which are when we added more diverse musical elements while keeping the foundation of our previous records. We practically had split up before AVaaW even came out.
The third era of our band started with our reunion in 2005 and lasted until Saivon Lapsi in 2013. During this time, we continued to expand our sound and experiment with new elements while building on what we learned in the first era. We were joined by new members, such as Janne, a talented keyboardist, and Risto and Mika, lead guitarists who contributed to our evolving sound. Additionally, we welcomed Jarmo as our clean vocalist, bringing a new dimension to our music. (So, we have two Jarmos in the band; I’m usually called Jape among the members, and the other Jarmo is Jamppa). Though we faced some lineup changes, such as the departure of Petri and the addition of Juho in 2008, we persevered and continued to grow as a band.
Despite the changes, each era of our journey has been connected by our signature style of Melodic Death Metal, characterized by our focus on melody, heaviness, atmosphere, and versatility. Each era has its unique features and strengths, but they all connect through our common thread of Melodic Death Metal. Melodies, heaviness, atmosphere, versality and so on.
Now, we’re in the fourth chapter of our path, the 2020s era. We’re older, wiser, and have learned from the challenges of the music industry. With our experience, we’re better equipped to navigate potential obstacles and continue to evolve our sound while remaining true to what we are good at. Or that’s how we’d like to think.
Cryptic Rock – Again, that is fantastic outlook and it seems you have taken away something from each era of the band. Amazing how time flies, but it has been a decade since you released Saivon Lapsi. So, can we expect some new music from Eternal Tears of Sorrow again soon?
Jarmo Puolakanaho – It really is hard to believe that ten freaking years have passed since the release of Saivon Lapsi! Although we’re eager to release new music, things have slowed down compared to our earlier days. And there are a bunch of reasons for us slowing down as a band. First, balancing work, family, and the band is a constant challenge for us, especially since only one of us is a full-time musician.
Also, in 2005, we made a promise to ourselves that we would only continue as a band when all of us had the time and energy, and we’re sticking to that promise. This is one of the reasons why we’re taking things more slowly. We don’t want to get into a situation that we’re so tired with everything we don’t even talk to each other anymore.
With each album, our standards have been getting higher, which makes it more difficult to come up with fresh ideas for our songs. Additionally, the music industry’s constant changes have made it harder to plan new releases, and record companies are less willing to invest in studio time. This is unfortunate since we believe that recording enough days is essential for achieving the level of quality we desire.
Despite these challenges, we hope to release new music in the next two-three years. We’re hoping to release some new tunes around the time of our hometown Oulu’s European Capital of Culture in 2026.
Cryptic Rock – Alright, well it is good to know you have a plan in place. It will also be exciting to hear new music when the time is right. Since this has been the longest gap between Eternal Tears of Sorrow music, what direction can we expect the band to go next?
Jarmo Puolakanaho – In the 2010s, I faced some challenges as a songwriter trying to come up with something new while staying true to our sound. Thankfully, the rest of the band was on a roll, and we were able to release Saivon Lapsi in 2013. I only had one good song written for that album.
However, just before the pandemic hit, I began to have a clearer vision of where I wanted to take our music. I had just bought a 7-string guitar, which made me realize that we hadn’t explored the heavier and more extreme aspects of our sound as much as we wanted to over the past decade. So, we’re pushing the envelope with our new material and making it even heavier while still trying to incorporate some more progressive elements.
As a democratic band, it can be difficult to incorporate progressive elements that please everyone; as one member’s idea of a good progressive song may sound too complex or long for another. Therefore, compromise is always a part of our songwriting process. With several songwriters in the band, no one member can completely change our style.
While it’s hard to predict the exact direction of our new music, we’re aiming for a bit heavier sound that satisfies all of us while still sounding like us. And so far, so good, as the songs we’ve written are heavier indeed. We hope our fans will enjoy these songs as well.
Cryptic Rock – That is a great bit of insight and it will be interesting to hear. Here is a very specific question. Back in 2000-01 you worked with Juha Kylmänen who provided some really amazing, memorable guest vocals on songs such as “The River Runs Frozen” and “The Last One for Life.” Has the band considered working with Juha again for some guest spots on any new material?
Jarmo Puolakanaho – We appreciate Juha’s guest vocals on “The River Runs Frozen” and “The Last One for Life.” Regarding the possibility of working with him again for guest spots on any new material or live shows, we haven’t discussed it, but we’re definitely open to collaborating with him again, in one way or another, if it feels like right for all of us. That applies to all the guests on our previous albums. You never know.
It’s worth noting that Jarmo Kylmänen, Juha’s older brother, has been an integral part of Eternal Tears of Sorrow since he joined the band nearly 20 years ago, contributing his clean vocals and songwriting skills to our sound.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and Jarmo has really added a new dynamic to the band on albums such as Before the Bleeding Sun, 2009’s Children of the Dark Waters, and Saivon Lapsi.
Eternal Tears of Sorrow has done their share of European touring over the years. Could we ever expect the band to make a visit to North America?
Jarmo Puolakanaho – As a band, and as individuals, we’ve always been intrigued by the idea of playing in new territories. While we’ve had the opportunity to tour extensively in Europe over the years, we’re eager to expand our reach and perform for fans in other parts of the world.
In 2016, we had the chance to tour in Japan, which was an incredible experience for us. Unfortunately, like many bands, our plans to play in North America at ProgPower USA in Atlanta in 2020 were cancelled due to the pandemic. However, we remain hopeful and excited about the possibility of playing in North America in the future, especially once we have new music to share. Touring internationally can be a challenging and expensive undertaking, but we’re committed to exploring all opportunities to bring our music to new audiences around the world.
It’s interesting to note that none of our albums have been officially released in North America, and while we can only speculate as to why, we remain open to all possibilities for getting our music heard by fans in that region. Ultimately, we’re driven by our passion for music and our desire to connect with fans, no matter where they are in the world.
Cryptic Rock – It would be wonderful to see the band make it over to North America. It is also extremely curious as to why the albums have never had a proper North American release.
Speaking of releasing music, we are living in extremely odd times. So much can be said, but let’s talk about how music is being consumed. We have seen CDs all but disappear, and the only physical format we see released of music is on LP and cassette for the real dedicated listeners. This is honestly troubling because how can someone truly appreciate art without the tangible piece in their hands; the artwork is part of it all, etc.
In our opinion, this detachment from understanding the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into creating with the advent of streaming, etc. It is a reflection of the modern world as a whole to be honest. As someone who obviously has devoted their life to art, what are your thoughts?
Jarmo Puolakanaho – Yeah, it’s very true that the way music is consumed has changed a lot over the years. And it is hard for old geezers like us to accept the fact that CDs are pretty much extinct now, especially since they used to be such a big part of the music experience when we were young. But, times change, and we just must roll with it. Streaming has taken over as the main way people listen to music nowadays, and while it’s a shame to see the value of our hard work reduced to just a stream or download, it’s also given us the opportunity to reach a wider audience than ever before. We’re grateful for that, even if the tangible aspect of it is lost in the process.
As a band and individual songwriters, we put a lot of heart and soul into our music, and we believe that the expression of our art is what truly matters. We hope that fans will continue to appreciate the effort we put into our work, no matter what form it takes. Music has the power to bring people together and to make life a bit easier, so we’ll keep creating and sharing our art with the world in the best way we can.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, where would many of us be without music? It is certainly a vital part of life. Last question for you. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorites and why?
Jarmo Puolakanaho – Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of crafting a ghost story song, since I can’t seem to recall any songs about ghosts that we have. The song could be about people who don’t know they’re dead. Perhaps. So, apparently, I need to watch the movies on this list once again.
I find myself drawn to Horror movies with dark and gothic atmospheres, as well as clever plot twists. The Others (2001), which is one of my all-time favorite Horror movies, exemplifies both elements perfectly. The Sixth Sense (1999) is another great example of a movie that manages to create a hair-raising atmosphere and deliver a satisfying twist.
When it comes to Horror, I tend to prefer psychological terror over gore, and two movies that stand out in this regard are The Ring (2002) and The Blair Witch Project (1999). The concept of a cursed videotape in The Ring was both captivating and unsettling, and it lingered with me long after watching. In fact, for a while, it even made me a bit uneasy about opening doors into dark corridors. Meanwhile, The Blair Witch Project is notable for its innovative found footage style, which created an immersive and realistic experience. Scary!
Of course, there are also some classic Horror movies that I greatly admire, such as The Shining (1980) and The Exorcist (1973). While Stanley Kubrick’s take on the main character in The Shining has been criticized by Stephen King (and I sort of agree with him), I still regard it as one of the finest movies ever made.