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Finnish outfit Astral Sleep are back, with a new album that includes a playable board game. It piqued Comrade Aleks's interest, and band members Markus and Jiri were happy to talk about their Astral Doom Musick.

Interview with Astral Sleep.
"Some time ago I started to feel apathy towards any writings about Doom, but the new album by Finnish outfit Astral Sleep, entitled 'Astral Doom Musick' drew my interest back to the genre. This album develops and refreshes the ideas of their previous EP, 'Subconsciousnesslesskoe' - though it was hard to name that an EP, as it's about 45 minutes long. From my point of view Astral Sleep have taken another step far from their 2008 debut album 'Unawakening', but the guys have a slightly different vision of where 'Astral Doom Musick' fits in their discography. Markus Heinonen and Jiri Pyörälä - with occasional support from Jaakko Oksanen - tell the story of their path towards the realms of sacred Doom practices."

Astral Sleep: Aaro Haverinen (guitar), Markus Heinonen (vocals, guitar), Jiri Pyörälä (drums), Jaakko Oksanen (bass).

Hi gentlemen! How are you? How are you spending the quarantine time?

Markus: Hello! I am fine, getting back on my feet after a long hiatus. Besides a lot of promotion work for the album, I actually started to work on Astral Doom Musick - The Video Game - project during the quarantine...

Jiri: We have also started working on music videos for the new album, the aim is to publish the first one in the autumn.

Markus, can you tell any more about Astral Doom Musick - The Video Game?

Markus: It will be a game that tells the story presented in the album and the boardgame, in video game format. Development is still in an early phase and I have yet to discover what the game will be like.

Astral Sleep has awoken and here we have the band's third full-length, 'Astral Doom Musick'. What are your plans considering promotion, due to all the current restrictions? Do you plan an online presentation or... or well... are there any other opportunities possible at all?

Markus: Yes, we are planning to do a live stream concert when the time is right. It is also likely that we start booking some new, real-life live shows soon, in hopes of things starting to settle. Jiri: Other than that, we have planned to do a live play-through of the Board Game that is part of the gatefold vinyl edition. Obviously, the game has sparked a lot of questions, so we think it would be worthwhile to demonstrate the game-play for our listeners. Using a video stream should be good way to do it.

Astral Sleep - 'Subconsciousnesslesskoe' (Full EP, 2015):

Astral Sleep's previous studio work - the EP 'Subconsciousnesslesskoe' - saw the light of day in 2015: what distracted you from work on new material? How much time did you actually spend on 'Astral Doom Musick'?

Markus: It really depends on how you look at it. The basic idea and title for the album have been around since 2005 and the concept was invented somewhere around 2013. The first riff for the album (Opening riff of "Vril") came about in summer 2016 and the last things on the album were done in March 2020. Making music takes a lot of energy, time and money. Life is a constant battle of trying to make ends meet, so albums take a long time to do.

Jiri: Main recordings, mixing and mastering of the final tracks took place between July 2019 and March 2020. That makes it 3 years of composing and preproduction, and 9 months in final album production.

And there are eight years between previous full-length 'Visions' and 'Astral Doom Musick'. How far did you go from that point?

Markus: Between these albums we basically reinvented ourselves as a band, since we never had put much emphasis on live playing and the sound of the band as a whole. Up until Visions we wrote songs and learned to play them. With Astral Doom Musick we focused on playing live as much as possible and let the songs come to life that way.

Jiri: Being an improvised jamming album, Subconsciousnesslesskoe was an important stepping stone between the two full-lengths. On Astral Doom Musick, we combined all our old methods with the new principles acquired from live playing.

And another retrospective question: originally the band was known for its grimmer, tougher and more sinister sound, and for almost a decade you coherently developed your own, quite original, Space/Doom/Death sound. How much of the original Astral Sleep left?

Markus: Actually Astral Doom Musick is the embodiment of the original Astral Sleep vision and sound. The title of the album is the definition of the type of music we were aiming to perform right from the start. Listening back to the first demo, the elements were already there. Obviously we have experimented with different things throughout the years and releases.

Jiri: On Astral Doom Musick, all those previous teachings and experiences are utilized, and developed. For example, I believe that "more sinister sound" you mentioned is still part of the whole, but it has perhaps matured a little, same as we (to an extent).

By the way, who first mixed these psychedelic elements with the band's initial sound?

Markus: After Visions, we started to play and jam together openly and freely a lot. These elements found their way into our sound that way, since our jams ended up being very psychedelic most of the times.

Jiri: So they came about quite naturally, and perhaps unintentionally.

Do you feel that Astral Sleep's place in the Doom scene is not the same now as it was during the 'Unawakening' period? 'Astral Doom Musick' is like a new start for the band, in the end...

Markus: Yes, we feel like the band is reborn on this album. Our vision is as clear as ever, but years of experimenting and finding ourselves, we've developed better means to express our music the way it is supposed to be.

Jiri: Many reviewers have pointed out that the baseline of our songs is in death doom, and has always been. If it is true, then the answer is no. Yes, it's a new start, and also a closure of one phase in our story. That's how it is maybe with all our albums, because we have always changed/shifted our approaches, concepts etc between albums.

The band's lineup has been the same since 2007: what's held Astral Sleep's crew together, despite all the changes in the band's sound over the passing years?

Markus: Actually the new album introduced a new guitar player, Aaro Haverinen. Rolle Heinonen participated on the album a bit, and will possibly participate in new albums in the future. From the start we wanted to keep things interesting and fresh both to the band and the listeners. This means we always try to do all the albums a bit differently, not follow many set rules and leave some room for experimenting. This means that being a member of, or listeners to, Astral Sleep is supposed to be exciting and fun, which definitely helps to keep the line-up intact for years.

Jiri: We have managed to create our own way of working as a band. Everyone has room to express and channel their creativity, as well as use their other strengths required to keep the band going. Everyone feels they are important parts of the band.

How do you share duties inside the band nowadays? And do you have a chief generator of the main creative ideas?

Markus: Each of us have some responsibilities which correlate with the strong points of each member, such as composing and arranging, creating visual art, contacting media, booking gigs etc.. The album was written mostly by me, but almost none of the music was made in solitude, all the compositions and lyrics were done in cooperation with the whole band.

Jiri: In this too, we have found our own ways to combine the variable talents into a synergy. Everyone brings their ideas to the table and we work on them together. Many go to garbage, but the best ideas survive. At some point, it becomes impossible to distinguish what was whose idea, because the ideas have lived and shifted in the hands of all members. It goes most naturally in the music, but also in other aspect, like the visual art, the board game, etc…

Astral Sleep - 'Intergratron' (2020):

The album was recorded at Lammaskallion Audio and Saarni Studio, if I'm not mistaken the band was there for the first time. How do you like this experience?

Markus: Both of the studios are places where I work frequently. Saarni Studio is my own studio and part of my business, Saarni Music, and Lammaskallion Audio is a new studio that I helped to build and what I use for the most high-class studio sessions.

Working on the album in the best possible places with the freedom to use as much time necessary is essential for an album as huge as this.

Did you use any new equipment during this session?

Markus: Considering that our previous albums had been recorded in a now shut down studio, and after that I've build two new studios used on this album, all the equipment was new.

Jiri: The ensemble playing of the base tracks live to all members and the amplifiers live in the recording room was a new way of equipping the soundscape for us. We used our experiences from Subconsciousnesslesskoe's recordings, but did many things better this time. On the instrumental side, on this album especially we used some time to create rich backgrounds for the songs using a variety of percussion, some of which were self-made.

Would you say 'Astral Doom Musick' is a spiritual album? How has your approach to lyrics changed since 'Visions'?

Markus: Visions was about the dream world, Astral Doom Musick is about the real world, so they are complete opposites. Astral Doom Musick can be seen as a spiritual album, since the all the songs have otherwordly themes in them. The story on the album is very similar to the spiritual enlightment process I went through during writing the album and it starts from the lack of knowledge and ends in excess of knowledge. I hope that with this album, the listeners will be able to go through that process too.

Jiri: The artwork, lyrics and game board contents use various metaphors and other elements from many traditions from different ages, and many of those have spiritual roots. We combine those elements into an astral quest that can be understood as spiritual, but also as a psychological journey, or just an epic adventure in the real-world.

How do you see the stronger sides of 'Astral Doom Musick'? Which features did you want to fulfill with these compositions, and do you feel you've succeeded?

Markus: We wanted to tell an epic story and I feel we succeeded. Story- and atmosphere-wise all the parts of the album serve the purpose they were intended to.

Jaakko: The album can be seen as an evolution which took us musically through new wider (and stranger) landscapes. Many new ways of production were used, and the whole process felt more organic. Written parts of the music were now more carefully orchestrated and we experimented further with free improvised sections. We brought millions of ideas together to bring a whole new world into life.

Ah, yeah... epic story... There are songs with lyrics written in German and Japanese, how did you decide to put them in the album?

Markus: Lyrics in 'Aurinko ja Kuu' are actually in Finnish. We used the languages that are widely spoken on the geographical location of the songs. The music was written to support the timbre of those languages. For example the sound of German language itself is perfect for a slow and heavy Funeral Doom track. None of us are fluent with the language but we felt like taking on the challenge of implementing it into our music is neccessary. Different languages are used by all kinds of musicians all over the world and not every time they are fluent with the language, but it is always a chance to create something interesting.

Jiri: We felt that writing massive doom metal song staged on German soil was just too good an opportunity to miss for exploiting this great language. The song is like our tribute to the language.

Hah... sorry for my misunderstanding with 'Aurinko ja Kuu', I needed to be smarter with that suggestion, though I couldn't find the lyrics at the time I was writing the questions. Okay, I hope that little problem is solved now : ) Markus, how has your feeling for Doom changed through the years? Astral Sleep was started 16 years ago, the scene isn't the same, and trends come and disappear.

Markus: I feel Doom Metal is much more timeless than many genres and that the scene now is very similar to what it was 16 years ago. There probably have been some trends during this time, but most of them have indeed disappeared and been forgotten, making all the past and current trends pretty much obsolete. What has changed is everything else around and the music scene in general. 16 years ago it was possible to release albums and sell them and unlimited free legal music was not yet available in the internet. We see these changes as both new opportunities and challenges.

Thank you for the interview gentlemen. Did we miss anything?

Thanks for the interview! For the readers, please check out our new album and come see us live!

Next live shows:
12.09.2020 Hard Rock House, Helsinki Finland w/ Alabama Kush, Earthbound Machine
14.11.2020 Bar Rock Bear, Vantaa Finland w/ Grave Siesta +1

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Astral Sleep bandpage.

Interviewed on 2020-08-03 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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