Hello Markus & Jaakko from ASTRAL SLEEP ! Getting along well these days?
Markus: Hello! Yes, things are very good these days. Been a bit busy with various projects I am involved in, but fortunately I’ve had a little time to enjoy this hot summer that’s been roaming through Finland now.
Could you introduce your band? What does the band´s name stand for? ASTRAL SLEEP… What’s TIAMAT album („The Astral Sleep“?)
Markus: ASTRAL SLEEP is a four member band from Finland. Line up: Markus Heinonen – Guitars & Vocals, Rolle Heinonen – Lead guitars & Backing vocals, Jaakko Oksanen – Bass and Jiri Pyörälä – Drums. The Band’s music is a Doom Metal based combination of heavy metal, progressive rock, black metal, and all various other styles of music. Our songs are lyrically and sonically mostly about cosmic worlds and experiences seen in dreams, thus the name „Astral Sleep“. It was found from the TIAMAT album with the same name.
Jaakko: We compose our music each member of the band from our own perspectives and we combine all those artistic visions together and make the music that sounds like Astral Sleep. The band’s name has the colour of our music and our music is ASTRAL SLEEP coloured.
Your album „Visions“ came out as far back as in the last year. When you look at the release with such time distance, are you satisfied with what you made? What kind of feedbacks are you getting from your fans and, possibly, reviewers?
Markus: The album sounds very good even today. By far it is definitely the best work I have done during my career as a musician. Some vocal parts are not as good as they could have been since I lost my voice before all the vocals were completely recorded, but it’s ok. When making an album, it never turns out to be exactly like it was planned and it is part of the magic of making records, because in some cases the final form of the album is much better than expected. Such was the case with the „Visions“.
The feedback we have received has been very positive both from fans and from the media. It is nice to see that even this controversial and difficult album has some people who can dive into it, although many reviewers have said that the album is very hard to listen as a whole, but it is also very rewarding. It is just the way we wanted, because we don’t want to hold back on any musical ideas just to make our music more easy to listen.
The title of the last CD is „Visions“ ? What does it mean? Does the title stand for some sort of a conceptual bridge above the songs?
Markus: The album title is about the Visions we see during dreams. It is not a concept album, but all the lyrical themes circle around the meaning of dreams, world of dreams and dimmed vision of reality when we are half dreaming, half awake or when it is not possible to say for sure if we are dreaming or not.
Jaakko: I would say that it also represents all the musical and other artistic visions we had during the process of creating this album. Our visions continue to soar on higher and higher…
If I compare “Visions“ to your previous album, it seems you’re even more focused on melody. You can shift from slow to faster tempo, but everything is still incredibly compact, harmonic and melodic. What do you think about it ?
Markus: I think you are right, because with debut album, „Unawakening“, we were concentrating more on doing weird music and bringing forth the craziest ideas we could come up with. With „Visions“ we decided to focus more on the melodies, riffs and songs in general. But the main reason for our evolving is probably musical studies that me and our bass player Jaakko have gone through. It has helped us to become better composers and producers.
Could you disclose to us the lyrical part of the album tracks? My opinion is that your lyrics are very unusual. For Example lyric of „Channel Sleep“….very interesting…
Markus: „Channel Sleep“ is a very good example, because the song is about sleep paralysis, which was originally going be the theme for the whole album. One track that we dropped off the album, called „Carbon“, had some lyrical similarities with „Channel Sleep“, namely the mentioning of the „faceless man“. But for various reasons sleep paralysis theme was used only on these two songs. We thought of it when our lead guitarist Rolle experienced one. I have also experienced it, so the lyrics include those experiences, as well as some other peoples experiences and common feelings felt during sleep paralysis.
„The Towers“ is a description of the dream world the way I see it. There is also a part where I meet my idol, haha.
„Visions“ is a description of things one can see in dreams, and speculation of what do they mean and what to think about them.
„…They all await me when I break the shackles of flesh“ has the only lyrics in ASTRAL SLEEP history written by Jaakko Oksanen. It is the only song based on the awake world, although the protagonist lives in a mental state where his vision of reality is twisted and he is not aware of who he really is.
Jaakko: I might add that the song has some themes concerning the inevitable change and mental progress everyone has to go through. Whether it is a struggle from the depths of severe mental imbalance or some other ordeal on our pursuit for finding deeper understanding and a state of balance in this world, we all must face it.
Quite often, the story and the atmosphere of an album get mentioned, yet for example the message that the album bears is often being forgotten. Is it the same with „Visions“?
Markus: It does happen sometimes, mainly because making a full-lenght album takes a lot of time and during that time lots of ideas come and go. It took almost two years to make „Visions“ ready after the songs were written. As I said before, „Visions“ was supposed to be a theme album, but after we had the songs and the lyrics ready, it was clear that the songs differ from each other too much to make the whole album circle around one narrow theme.
Jaakko: There are still broad collective themes like dreams and different worlds than the one we physically live in. All that we experience on our journeys affects our creations, like this album.
Recently many “funeral black metal” bands appeared, but I would classify ASTRAL SLEEP somewhere else. I feel melancholy from your music but it´s not so desperate… But, do you personally feel as a negative person? Or do you enjoy the company of friends, love?
Markus: I would definitely classify ASTRAL SLEEP to have influences from Funeral Doom and Black Metal, but overall we are something else… I agree, our music is filled with melancholy, but it does not lack hope. One big reason for this is that our music is filled with escapism: it has very little to do with everyday problems and life in general, and it concentrates more on issues outside our reality and the world we people live in. We ask lots of questions and ponder the meaning of things but are aware that those questions can not be answered, at least not in this existence.
Jaakko: Other worlds and places have always fascinated me, and I want to bring some of this “otherness” and mystery to this music we do. Our music indeed includes slow crushing walls of distorted rumbling among other elements, but for me this music does not sound depressing at all. Heavy, ponderous and purposeful crushing just sounds good to me. And it also brings strange and intriguing visions to my mind, like enormous cyclopean black monoliths falling from the sky, weighing ten thousand tons and slowly but inevitably descending from the heavens. I actually draw a gig poster about this vision once…
Markus: Personally, I don’t hate people in general, but I am very selective. I do like to be in solitude, but I enjoy more being with the people I love and there are very few people that I can say that about. Through the years I have learned that even though the world is full of suffering, there is no need for an individual to suffer because of it. My negativeness has grown weaker during this lifetime: although I know this world is very wrong, I try not to care and make the best out of this life as it is.
Jaakko: I could say that love is among the most important things in my life. I also think that it is an important factor in the universe, maybe even a force of nature we haven’t comprehended yet. Who knows?
How do you see today’s evolution of death/ doom metal? Is it possible to come up with something new and avoid “burning out” of ideas?
Markus: Considering how original and innovative Death/Doom bands were back in the days (Thergothon, Skepticism, Unholy, dISEMBOWELMENT, Paradise Lost), it could be easily said that there has not been any evolution at all! Well that is not entirely true, there has always been some bands who do more than just copy the old masters. But I think that the audience is more keen on listening to something familiar, so bands that have “too much” originality tend to stay deep in the underground. I think it is always possible to come up with something new. Even with ASTRAL SLEEP we have used lots of ideas that have never been used before (at least not that I know of), and there are still lots of more crazy stuff coming up! Many of those ideas are so simple that it makes me wonder: “How come no one else has thought of this before?” So I am sure that the Death/Doom genre is not going to be burning out of ideas for a long time, if ever. In fact I hope more and more bands try out something completely new and weird without hesitating and fearing they might “slip out of the genre” or be “too hard to listen to”. If your music is honest, it is all that matters. Not everyone will like it, but some people will like it a lot.
I have to confess, that I as a Czech love Finnish bands like SWALLOW THE SUN, SHAPE OF DESPAIR, COLOSSEUM… How it is possible, that Finland is full of perfect melancholic groups? Did you think about it? With which Finnish band do you have closest relations?
Markus: I am very sure that it is because of the state of mind that we Finns live in. It is a mixture of sadness, despair and depression, that probably is caused by constant coldness, darkness and isolation. And other thing is that in Finland metal groups tend to be very ambitious and they have a sense of style, which is probably caused by the fact that the Metal scene is small but strong. So if there is a band that lacks style out there, they will know it very soon. Even the big and successful Metal groups are criticized in much stronger way than in anywhere else in the world. This is also very frustrating, but it makes even the smallest bands just try harder. You know those Spanish or Italian Power Metal bands that suck ass very bad? The ones with awful production, weak songs, irritating vocalist, sloppy playing and disgusting lyrics? Such material never gets released in Finland, because the threshold here is so high. We don’t have a close relation to any bands, we pretty much stand on our own. All I can say that the only related bands to ASTRAL SLEEP are my other bands Kausalgia, Stone Ship & Night of Suicide and Jaakko’s other band Reveries End.
Finland has a huge underground scene and it is growing during the last years. I was asking these more than million times, but I am still interesting in it. What do you think are the most important positives of this power? Do you feel like a part of Finnish scene?
Markus: As a Metal fan, I am very pleased that I am able to see many of my favorite bands live because there are lots of good shows booked and many metal festivals organized every year. As a musician in Astral Sleep, we have not seen any advantage in being a Finnish band and touring Finland, since we are very unknown band around here. So for that matter, I don’t feel like being a part of any scene.
What about you and live performances? Are you planning some tour? With a possible stop in the Czech Republic?
Markus: Hopefully we will be able to return to the stages next year. It will be our 10th anniversary year, which will probably mean something special. I would love to tour Czech Republic, so I hope it can be done!
Jaakko: Our goal is to perform our songs also live. I hope we can bring out new, interesting layers from the songs for the audience while playing them live. When we are ready to rehearse our asses off once again, we will return to all the clubs and venues, maybe even abroad.
What do you think about underground scene and pure metal community?
Markus: This is so wide question that I can only say that as long as there are people who like to dig deeper into the world of strange music, there is a chance that someone might hear our music. We make this music mainly for ourselves but it is an awesome thing if someone can get deep emotions out of our music as well.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have some new songs ready which might appear on the next album or is it a bit too soon to ask that? May listeners expect some change to unforeseen ways?
Markus: As I said before, next year will be 10th anniversary. We are also planning to release our 3rd album in 2014. And as always with Astral Sleep, unforeseen changes are to be expected, haha!
Jaakko: Once we get the rusty wheels and cogs running and grinding again, the slumbering beast known as Astral Sleep will shake off the dust and cobwebs and rise again. I have no doubt, that our next album will be even better than ”Visions”.
Thank you so much for this interview, nice to ask you some question. I wish to you and to ASTRAL SLEEP everything great to the future! Bye! ALLeš from R.U.M. zine!
Thanks for having us, it was a pleasure! Check out our latest album “Visions” from and contact us via Facebook to buy it!