March 23, 2023 Interview – Vesa Ranta of The Abbey
If you are a fan of Finnish Metal, the name Vesa Ranta is more than likely one which is very familiar. Why? Well, Ranta was the man behind the drum kit for The Northernmost Killers, Sentenced, for sixteen long years. Rising to international recognition thanks to their unmistakable sound, while Sentenced bid farewell in 2005 with The Funeral Album, their legacy still lives on. This in mind, Ranta has kept himself active outside Sentenced in the decades to follow. Spending time in the band The Man-Eating Tree, Ranta is also a photographer with a passion for still life and motion pictures. Now Ranta finds himself back in the thick of Heavy Metal once more with the emergence of the new band The Abbey.
Founded by Jesse Heikkinen, The Abbey features Ranta on drums, his mate Henri Arvola on bass, Janne Markus (The Man-Eating Tree/ ex-Poisonblack) on guitar, and Natalie Koskinen (Shape of Despair) on vocals. A lineup that immediately piques the interest of many fans, The Abbey projects a sound that is melodic, dark, and at times, cinematic in nature. Releasing their debut album Word of Sin just recently, they are prepared to devote everything they have to this new endeavor. Excited to be a part of The Abbey, Vesa Ranta recently took some time to chat about his time in music, the wild journey of Sentenced, joining The Abbey, photography, and more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music professionally for over three decades. An intricate part of Sentenced, you have also worked with The Man-Eating Tree, and in most recent years, The Abbey. Tell us, how would you describe your incredible journey in music to this point?
Vesa Ranta – I started playing Metal music as early as in the late ‘80s, and have remained more or less active in the scene ever since. Sentenced was founded in 1989, I was sixteen years old at that time, and we kept going for the next sixteen years. It was pretty intense as we released eight albums and numerous tours around the world. After we buried Sentenced, I kept low key for a few years, just mainly jamming with some friends and with no plans included in this activity whatsoever. In 2009 I and my good friend Janne Markus, founded The Man-Eating Tree, and with that band we made three albums. I have been a professional photographer and videographer for over twenty years, and in 2017 I wanted to focus only on my job, leaving bands and music aside.
I felt that I had nothing more to give and was too preoccupied with everything else. In the end, it lasted only for a little over a year, when the music called my name again. With an old friend of mine we came up with this Progressive Rock band called KUUMET, and with that group we are just finishing our debut album, as we speak.
The Abbey appeared in 2021, when Jesse Heikkinen, whom I had also known for a long time, approached me with his demos and inquired whether or not I would be interested in playing some Doom Metal. Jesse’s songs hit me instantly, there was nothing else I could do or say, except for that I am in 100%. These songs felt really good, unique, and original. The Abbey’s debut album, The Word of Sin, was made during the summer and fall of 2021, and it has been completely done since November 2021. Now it is finally out, and we are ready to play some shows! The reception, comments, and feedback this album has gotten have been really good. I can’t wait for what’s yet to come!
Cryptic Rock – Wow, it is really interesting to hear how your life in music has ebbed and flowed, with you finding yourself in the thick of it presently again. It has been nearly two decades since Sentenced existed. Sentenced left a massive impact on the Metal scene and created some extremely powerful records. Bidding farewell on their own terms back in 2005, was it difficult to say goodbye to Sentenced? Furthermore, what was your time like as a core member of Sentenced for so long?
Vesa Ranta – Yeah, this year will mark eighteen years since the funeral of Sentenced. Of course, saying goodbye and letting go of the band was a long process, and at the same time quite weird As each one of us kept going on with our lives, our own ways and pretty much right after the last gig we all were left to just hang in there, holding onto nothing – with no plans for the future.
The whole time with Sentenced was one hell of a journey. Young guys starting a band together literally in the middle of nowhere, in a small village in Northern Finland. After 16 years we had gained a bit of a name and status even globally. The record company and the management would have wanted to take this to another level, bigger in every aspect. But we were pretty worn out by that time already, and decided it is best to bury this band while every one of us is still alive. During the years of Sentenced we grew from boys to men and experienced some very magnificent moments together. Sometimes I look back on those days, reminiscing.
Cryptic Rock – They were special times and Sentenced created some really special music. Tragically Miika Tenkula passed away in 2009; a passing which really hit fans hard. All these years later, do you think Miika and the rest of Sentenced would have considered writing music together again had he not passed? Or was the Funeral Album really the nail in the coffin for the band?
Vesa Ranta – Funeral Album was really and truly the final nail to Sentenced’s coffin, the final chapter of that story. We as a group felt that we had traveled that path, and there was no way we would have kept going especially as a touring band. That was some heavy stuff for this group in particular.
Miika and I were envisioning a new band, but it didn’t go off and there are a lot of reasons for that. We had one sort of a band practice together and we made one song during that session.
Cryptic Rock – Well, the time Sentenced had together will not be forgotten. It would have been interesting to see what may have happened with your other project with Miika, but I guess it will forever be unknown.
As mentioned, you have been a part of a new project in recent years called The Abbey. This is a really interesting band consisting of yourself, Natalie Koskinen from Shape of Despair, Janne Markus from The Man-Eating Tree, and led by Jesse Heikkinen of various other projects. So, how did The Abbey come about for you?
Vesa Ranta – The Abbey came right around the corner when I least expected it. I noticed that Jesse Heikkinen was looking for members for the Doom Metal band, and because I knew that Jesse is a really talented guitarist, my interest immediately rose to some level. However, I did not approach him because I found it inconvenient that he lives on the other side of Finland these days. Well, he himself asked me to join him that same evening and put on a couple of demos. I found the material very interesting and immediately went along.
At the same time, I found out that my former bandmate Janne Markus is also involved. I myself suggested that another singer be added to the band, and Natalie Koskinen came to mind when I was thinking about who would have a great female voice for Doom Metal precisely. Our bassist Henri Arvola was found through my friend. It was nice and inspiring to start playing music with some fresh faces that I haven’t played with before.
Cryptic Rock – And here we are! The Abbey’s music is really an interesting mix of styles. Rooted in Doom Metal, there are also some very compelling, progressive harmonies. What were your thoughts when first hearing the songs coming together?
Vesa Ranta – Jesse approached me with the sales pitch of playing Doom Metal with ‘70s vocal melodies. I also like a lot of ‘70s music, Rock and Prog. I was immediately inspired by the fact that the songs were totally original and I was surprised how good a lead vocalist he is. Previously I just knew he was a great musician. Then, when we decided to start this band, the songs started coming at an incredible pace, and the songs really spoke to me a great deal.
It was good to start making an album pretty much straight away. When I went behind my set for the first time to work on these songs with drums, I didn’t know then that we were going to make a record right away. But we started demoing in such an inspirational state, that after a couple of songs we realized that we are already making a record here.
The whole album was born in a very creative and improvising mood. Otherwise, creativity has been strongly present. Before the album was mastered in the autumn of 2021, Jesse had already composed almost ten new songs for the second album.
Cryptic Rock – It seems like this band hit the ground running right from the start. The Abbey’s debut album Word of Sin was recently released on February 17th. The album really has a mesmerizing feeling. As alluded to, there are doom elements, progressive elements, and more. What was the writing and recording process like?
Vesa Ranta – Like I said, the whole process was very spontaneous, easy and full of creative madness and craziness. In this band, everyone is allowed to carry out their own site without strictly defined frames. I feel that we have found just the right people for the band.
Cryptic Rock – All very positive to hear. With the album out, could we expect more from The Abbey? Perhaps some more live shows as well?
Vesa Ranta – The album just recently came out. We had some shows in Finland recently, and there will be more during spring time. We hope for some festivals in the summer, and some tours in the fall. It would be a pleasure to get to play in at least Europe and the US.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully we see more tour dates announced soon. Beyond being a musician, you are also a photographer and filmmaker. What initially sparked your interest in photography, and how would you compare the two creative outlets?
Vesa Ranta – Yeah! I got interested in photography through my father who had old film cameras in my childhood home. Photography and video work are a really good second channel to express my creativity and I feel that I am quite good at it. I make my own art projects, video productions for bands and companies. So far, through my production company, Kaira Films, I have made about thirty music videos in the last six years. I have also done many productions abroad. Now we have a couple of bigger productions planned, but we can’t reveal more about them yet. These ideas are also related to Heavy Metal music.
Cryptic Rock – That is really cool to hear. Having different artistic outlets is a great thing, and it seems like you have two very good ones. Let’s talk about the modern media world. 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… is a reflection of the modern world as a whole. As someone who obviously has devoted their life to art, what are your thoughts?
Vesa Ranta – Yes, the music business has completely changed. Today, the sale of physical records is quite a small part of the band’s income. It’s a pity. Bands have to actively make records so that they can do tours and make money with gigs and merchandise. I personally still prefer the physical format, especially vinyl, because I want the artists I admire to live with their art. I also appreciate that I can admire the cover art and learn more about the album’s lyrics while listening to the music. For me, records are complete works of art, that’s why I want to experience music as physical records.
Cryptic Rock – Completely agreed. It is really tragic what has happened in the music business. Last question for you. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorites and why?
Vesa Ranta – Yes, the horror movie scene is very important to me. I have been working with my team on the first horror film script, which is now ready. The story is based on old Finnish mythology. My dream is to make my own film one day. My favorite Horror movies are those where the horror is more genuine human horror, rather than zombies or “splatter” department.
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) are my favorites. I like movies where the story is based on only a few actors. This way you can get deeper into the inner world of the characters in the film. The movies I previously mentioned are the best examples of that.