The Fire has returned - Interview with Tuomas Karhunen Part I
Despite some setup challenges (including headphones eaten by a cat), jack of all trades Tuomas Karhunen (Forgotten Horror, Deathchain, True Black Dawn, ex-Jess and the Ancient Ones) and myself finally managed to get together for a long overdue interview, talking about everything from the last interview on Forgotten Horror for Offense Zine in 2013, moving back to Finland, MMA, activism and becoming an author – basically what life has brought for Tuomas in the past years. Over the coming weeks, this interview series will dive into all these aspects, but on today's Walpurgis Night we talk about transitions, from changing countries to different mindsets, mind altering journeys and Tuomas as a musician.
The Metal Phenomenon: When I interviewed you last you were still in Sweden. In the meantime, you have moved back to Finland, to Kuopio, where you were born. Back to the roots so to say – could you tell me how that came about?
Tuomas: Yes, it was quite a few years ago when we did the previous interview. To put it short, my life began to change after I had two Ayahuasca ceremonies. I prepared the brew myself, and that experience was a complete game changer for me. It made me basically quit my day job and leave Sweden.
In 2014 with Jess and the Ancient Ones, where I still played back then, we had a one-month North American tour with King Diamond. I had those Ayahuasca experiences in late 2013, and one year after that, immediately after the King Diamond tour, when I returned from the States, I packed my bags and left to Finland. [Ed. Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew used for thousands of years in the shamanistic traditions of the Amazon, and the active ingredient, DMT, is the most powerful psychedelic found in nature.
The intention was to just stay here for a while, and do this “one-year MMA cage fighting challenge” thing [Ed. training and having one amateur MMA fight], and then maybe go backpacking in Asia and take it from there. But then all of a sudden, some other things popped up and here I am, still in Kuopio, Finland, but probably not for that long.
TMP: So, in Sweden you basically left everything behind?
T: Well, I wasn’t sure, and I still don’t know where I will settle down eventually. But I didn’t leave everything from Sweden behind. For example, I’ll now start visiting Stockholm and after a long break, I’ll continue training MMA over there at Allstars Training Center. That’s the best gym in Europe for that, by the way, but the reason no. 1 why I originally moved to Sweden was to be more active in Dragon Rouge and the occult, but that Ayahuasca thing changed that, too.
After the ceremonies I felt that Dragon Rouge had done its purpose for me; which was to give a basis for my own path and the tools to explore things and existence on my own. So, in an initiatory sense, the Ayahuasca thing was a true rite de passage and it just felt like a natural time to move on. There were no bad vibes with Dragon Rouge, I support that stuff and their philosophy, but for me it served its purpose and I am grateful for that.
TMP: Do you think that Ayahuasca basically found you at the time it was supposed to – you had already taken the first steps with Dragon Rouge and then Ayahuasca was the natural next step?
T: I haven’t thought about it in that sense but for sure; certain things or events pop up in one’s life when the time is right. The thing with psychedelics, the occult, ritual workings and so forth – is that they kind of dabble in the same realms, or occasionally they overlap. So, I think I got much more out of the Ayahuasca journey because I had been doing meditative work, rituals and work with my consciousness before. I am convinced it made my experience more profound and more extreme.
Tuomas Karhunen (Photo by Maija Lahtinen Photography)
TMP: You have taken it twice – do you feel those two times were enough for you to now get on this path, into this next phase in a way?
T: It was a very tough experience. First, I had one session and then one week after that I did another one. Both times it was very, very hardcore. After your first Ayahuasca trip, knowing how extremely horrible experience it can be, you really think twice before drinking the brew again.
The experience depends on what kind of setting you have, what kind of situation you have in your life, how well you know yourself, and what’s your capacity to sense energies and deal with things. I was going through a dark phase back then, and I would never recommend anyone to do such a psychologically profound and taxing journey – especially for the first time and without guidance – in a life situation like mine was.
Ever since, I haven’t felt any need to do Ayahuasca again. It’s an organic process for me; the feeling of wanting to do a psychedelic comes naturally, you kind of know if you have that specific inner need for answers. I have had some psychedelic experiences with mushrooms and LSD after that, but they are very mild in comparison.
I’ve been playing with the thought of going to Meso- and/or South America and having those experiences in the Amazon, in the plants’ original environment. This could be one thing to consider, but as said, it was so hardcore that I really need to have this inner urge for it. And I don’t have it at the moment, so I’m cool for now.
TMP: Was that also the time you decided to step away from almost all your musical endeavours?
T: Not immediately after that. It’s now been a bit over four years since those experiences and during this time, there have been a lot of eye-opening revelations about myself and it has just been a natural renewal process.
I feel that it’s good to have regular situation checks in all areas of your life, in order or evaluate what you are doing, where you are putting your energy and the people you hang around with. And I have been doing a lot of that. Intentionally breaking all possible inner and outer structures, so naturally there is a lot of closing of circles and starting anew. That means also that you say goodbye to some things.
So, I did step back from all music for a while and it certainly was a result of those psychedelic ventures. But I didn’t have any revelation about the band stuff, while tripping my balls off, you know? Things just happened.
TMP: And then with Deathchain, you left, and later you went back and decided to stay after all.
T: Yeah… soap opera (laughs). I left Jess and the Ancient Ones in early 2016, and then it was a couple of months after that I decided to leave Deathchain also.
But when I played what I thought was the last gig for me [Ed. Saarihelvetti 2016 in Tampere, Finland], I talked with the guys and I realized that in this urge to destroy all structures in my life, there were some things that I didn’t want to destroy or leave behind. Deathchain was definitely one of those things. The guys didn’t want me to leave either, so I was like “Hey, can I take it back?” (laughs).
So, everything’s cool with Deathchain and we’re going to start rehearsing new material in the spring, but I don’t think I’ll be making music or writing lyrics for any other bands other than my own projects anymore. Most likely from now on, I will play in the studio and play live gigs, but no more composing for any other band than Forgotten Horror and my new side project.
The gig at Saarihelvetti was a very good one, and I felt like I’d missed doing DC gigs, because it had been a couple of years since we had done anything with Deathchain. Then I also remembered that when I moved from Spain to Finland to join Deathchain, at the end of 2007, we all agreed that this is the final line-up, we wouldn’t change it again. This is the final line-up. And I remembered that, and I will keep that oath.
With Jess and the Ancient Ones live at Jalometalli 2015, Oulu, Finland (Photo by Maija Lahtinen Photography)
TMP: Some things are just part of your life forever even in times of change, ending and beginning things.
T: Yes, the Deathchain guys are my brothers and I love them, so we have this very good connection and we are like some silly cartoon family. I would miss the guys too much.
TMP: It must have also been nice to hear that they feel the same.
T: Yes, definitely. That really got me all emotional, actually.
TMP: So, Forgotten Horror is still alive and kicking as well?
T: Yes, and with a lot of changes! I’ve been thinking about the future a lot and I’ve also been thinking a lot about my identity as a musician, since I’ve been questioning and re-evaluating everything I do. After the Ayahuasca journeys I took a long break from heavier music, because afterwards I started having a lot of… you could say “hippie” thoughts.
I was questioning my need to do extreme or aggressive music, because the experience made me feel like this anger inside my heart had kind of died. But lately I have noticed that there is still stuff there, that the fire has returned, so to speak.
Forgotten Horror is definitely my priority no. 1 with music now. It’s my fault that Forgotten Horror has suffered a bit because of my other musical duties, and that is just how things have gone. But everything has its purpose and now it’s time to focus on my own things.
I listened to the new album [Ed. 'Aeon of the Shadow Goddess'] a couple of months ago and I really liked it. I was surprised that I liked it so much.
Forgotten Horror: "Aeon of the Shadow Goddess" album cover.
Digital painting by Tuomas Karhunen, model: Nea Petäsnoro
TMP: Have you been writing new music? Is there already something in the making?
T: There is now a preliminary, partially new line-up for Forgotten Horror. I don’t have any new material recorded yet which is good. With the last album, I spent the last remaining, old riffs I had in my computer that I recorded ages ago, but never used them. Now composing starts from a clean slate.
I really want to make the next release and the continuation with Forgotten Horror like it’s supposed to be done. Not just sending files and click tracks back and forth via the Internet. I’ve been doing that with music a bit too much, I think, and now I want to be at the rehearsal place again and do it the old-fashioned way, rehearsing together with the band.
Of course, I’ll record new ideas and riffs on a computer, and play around with them. But I try to keep this to a minimum, especially now that I’m in Finland and I’m my own boss regarding the so-called “day job” part of life. I can arrange traveling, band stuff and work simultaneously so it’s a good opportunity to do it like that now. Really just spending time at the rehearsal place and also trying to evolve technically.
I’ll probably release the next Forgotten Horror release independently and do all the marketing etc. myself as well. I’m sick and tired of record labels not doing their job with promotion, and in my current life situation I think I can do a good job with marketing, promoting and managing things myself.
TMP: Do you already have any kind of grasp how the music from this clean slate might be different or similar to the previous album, what is the vibe that you think will come out of this? Also, you mentioned that recently you started a new project?
T: Yes, I have recorded some songs for my “solo project”, as you would call it. Some of those are unreleased tracks originally made for Jess and the Ancient Ones, which I’ve been rearranging a lot. But most of the material is not JATAO stuff.
My band situation now is that I have Forgotten Horror, then this upcoming solo project, and then the other bands – namely Deathchain and True Black Dawn. Regarding the solo project, I have absolutely no idea how it will turn out to sound. Some material is not metal, some is not even rock music. It’s a very different kind of mixture of genres and when it comes to arranging it, I’m having a lot of fun playing around with new and exotic ideas.
With Forgotten Horror, however, I have no need to drift away from our bread and butter, meaning extreme metal. So FH won’t go hippie, no way (laughs)! But I don’t want to say anything about how it will sound because I want to keep it as a surprise to myself as well. I do know that it’s going to deal with very violent and aggressive themes. Perhaps related to war history from the mid and late 19th and early 20th century.
I would guess that at times it’ll be as fast or even faster and more aggressive than before. I know I cannot escape the melodic aspect, but it is definitely going to be extreme metal. It’s actually very important for me that I keep that aggressive metal style of FH. I miss playing that kind of stuff. So the inner fire to make some violent riffs is definitely there.
With True Black Dawn live at Hellfest 2017, Clisson, France (Photo by Cat Photographie)
TMP: From the themes, the topics the music touches on, do you see Forgotten Horror as having a more conceptual approach again while your solo project is more personal, or do you see it mixing together, influencing each other?
T: That’s a good question. It just comes as it is. I just make music and then you notice for which project it is, you know which band’s song it is from the atmosphere. Of course, you can rearrange things to suit different atmospheres or a different band, but sometimes you just play a riff and it’s a metal riff and there’s no way around it.
I’ve definitely learned from the past flaws in my working methods and my workflow, and now being a bit wiser perhaps, I want to keep things as fresh as possible. Not getting locked up with unrealistic schedules etc. just for the sake of it, and not falling in love with initial ideas too much.
There are a lot of ideas, a lot of different historical events and esoteric traditions where I want to go with music and the lyrics, but this time I want to keep it as a surprise to myself. I’ll just see what’s on the surface at the time of the recordings. But when you look below the surface, all the music I write is always dealing with the same fundamental themes. All the music and lyrics that I make are pointing to the same direction, they just have different arrangements and different kind of outlets, you know?
Everything comes from the same source and is talking about the same stuff. It’s simply a matter of changing one’s perspective and approach.