Sami Albert Hynninen: Sandy Williamson Quizzes The Opium Warlord

For many, he was discovered as the iconic voice of the mighty Reverend Bizarre, but Sami Albert Hynninen’s other work is just as essential and affecting as the titanic slabs of doom laid down by the Reverend. Work on Opium Warlord records were completed in and amongst his other work, but newest record ‘Taste My Sword Of Understanding’ is a new high (low?) of musical expression. As a fan, I jumped at the chance to interview him, and found what makes the Opium Warlord himself tick, and what we can expect in the future…

Opium Warlords

Hey man, thanks for giving us the time to speak to you, and personally I’m honoured to interview you as I was and still am a huge Reverend Bizarre fan! First off, what are Opium Warlords up to at the moment?

Hello Sandy! Thanks for having me here! At the moment I am still doing the promotional work – meaning these interviews – for Taste My Sword Of Understanding, but the next album is constantly in my thoughts.

Is there new material in the pipeline after this new record, or will there be a break? I know some bands can be hyper productive!

We have already been working on the next Opium Warlords album, but because of all the other things, which have kept me occupied, it has been ”sleeping” for a while. I hope to return to it when the winter comes, and when I am, at least partially, done with some other projects; Spiritus Mortis album, Tähtiportti album, and Azrael Rising compilation.

I know exactly how the next SIX Opium Warlords albums will be. All the music, and lyrics have been written, and also sleeve designs are clear in my mind. Actually, even after these six records, I have many others ready to go. So, there will be no time for breaks! But, as I suffered from severe burn out for many years, I now try to learn to take some things bit more easy, and to get some rest when ever I can. I was very close to being institutionalized, but that was also because of some other troubles.

If it sounds strange that I have so many albums just waiting to be recorded, I would like to point out, that it was like this with Reverend Bizarre also. I have never been in a situation of ”what will I do now?”.

Your newest release ‘Taste My Sword of Understanding’ is almost the most accessible record that Opium Warlords have done, the term being relative of course. Did that come naturally or was it a deliberate direction?

I agree! This is almost as soft and smooth, and conventional, as it will get with Opium Warlords.

Already when we did the debut album in 2009, I knew that Taste My Sword Of Understanding would follow it – and it was recorded in 2010! – but then, because of certain things, We Meditate Under The Pussy In The Sky came out of the blue in between. Otherwise I have been following the original plan. I have in my mind a much longer continuation of records, which together build a larger creation – so there is an exact place for each record to appear.

This may sound like a deliberate business type of thing, but actually it is all very natural, and strictly bound to the artistic construction. I just happen to have all of this material, and very clear vision of everything. It won’t follow any easy to listen – hard to get – easy to listen – hard to get -pattern, but I do try to help the audience a little bit to go through all of this music, so these more listener-friendly records will be placed every now and then to the discography. I do not have any motivation to try to make things as hard as possible for the audience, like I maybe sometimes did with some other bands.

Of  course during these past long years, some of the songs, and records, have shifted places, and some material has been added or dropped out, but basically the plan is rather strict.

Opium Warlords

Taste My Sword… is very different from what you’ve done with Reverend Bizarre in the past, was that a conscious decision to step away from what you were known for, to break out of a comfort zone?

This ”different” material existed already before Reverend Bizarre. It has been with me all these years, but Reverend Bizarre – which originally was just a side-project, to all the avantgarde and crossover stuff I was doing in general, – became so big, that it took over everything else, consuming all of my time. Not until I started The Puritan in 2006, I was able to do these different things again. Now with Opium Warlords I have, in many ways, returned to what I started in the early 90’s.

But I am never on a comfort zone! I always go forward with everything. It was like this also with Reverend Bizarre. We did not make the things easy for us.

Opium Warlords seem to take influence from so many places; be it epic doom, ambient or noise, even elements of black metal. Which bands have cast the longest shadow over ‘Taste My Sword’?

I do not think that Opium Warlords is clearly connected to anything. It is just music that I have kept hearing inside of my mind. It goes deeply into my own life; especially memories of my childhood, and things like that. Of course you can hear elements of black metal, ambient, and so on, but I do not have any particular artists that I would really try to follow when working with Opium Warlords. Quite opposite! Sometimes I wish we would have some references in the studio, to make few things bit easier, but we have none.

But when it comes to my love for minimalism and repetition – two key elements in my music – I am able to give you a few names. Those who, one at a time, introduced me deeper and deeper to that world, were Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Death Trip, Circle, Godflesh, Arvo Pärt, Helmet, The Wedding Present, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Tony Conrad, Saint Vitus, NON, and also the Sisters of Mercy. Bit later my passion became more full with Burzum, Skullflower, The Ramones, The Fall, Suicide, DAF, Ildjarn, The Stooges, Loop and Von.

Maybe I forgot something crucial, but here they basically are, and I guess I do somehow ”associate” with these, even when my own music, with its bombastic, or ”epic” – as you say – qualities, and psychedelic rock softness, is quite far from any of them.

Mahavishnu Orchestra, with their repetitive structures, and this certain sound, comes quite close to some of my works, but then again, their very complex solo elements are very far from my slugpaced compositions. One album that also has to be mentioned  here is Coroner’s experimental masterpiece Mental Vortex. Back in 1991, it had a huge impact on my future music to take the turn towards unconventional forms.

When it comes to slowness, which many seem to think to be another main element in my works – I do not necessarily agree, as it is not about slowness, but intensity – I had this taste for slower music already years before I, in the early 90’s, found about the genre ”doom metal”. So, the  idea of slowness did not come to my music originally from actual doom metal, even when it became stronger because of that, but quite contrary, this fascination of mine was the reason for me to get interested in the doom-tradition in the first place.

The whole idea of a genre of bands intentionally playing really slow music, was – especially in the prime years of some really fast stuff – something so surreal and ”fucked up”, that it hit me really hard, while at the same time matching with my taste for  low-speed moments. For similar reasons of ”surrealism” I, much later, got into primitive black metal.

Basically, almost everything that forces me to ask the question ”WHY?”, has something interesting in it. It was already there in my first serious initiations to the music; the cold, almost hostile atmosphere in the pop music of The Human League and Kim Wilde, and the arrogance of W.A.S.P., Venom, Motörhead and  Alice Cooper Group.

Opium Warlords 'Taste My Sword Of Understanding' Cover

‘Taste My Sword…’ is an uncomfortable album in many ways, both in atmosphere and in lyrical content. It comes across as very melancholic in places. What inspired you during the writing?

It is bit hard to say, as I have had this album with me for so long time, and it is already four years since it was recorded.

Almost all of the compositions existed, together as an album, already in 2002, and the lyrics came before and after it, one by one. The only answer I can give, is that the life itself inspired me. Everything in this album is real and true, even when veiled in symbolism and metaphors. I do not write pure fiction. Everything is connected to what I feel, or experience, or see around me. I live a very solitary life, without many social activities, almost completely isolated from the human world. In this solitude I inhabit my own inner world. All my music and lyrics, and art, already exists there. My job is to make it exist to others too, as it is the only way for me to become free of all of this material, which often feels like a burden to me.

The record has many standout moments, particularly the crush of ‘Mount Meru’ and the ritualistic ambience of ‘The Solar Burial’. Is there any song on the album that you particularly enjoy more than the others?

I don’t think it is fair to lift up any song from the entirety they together build, and I do not particularly ”enjoy” my own music – as I never listen to it after the hard work of mixing and mastering is over – but In Melancholy Moonless Acheron is perhaps the ”heaviest” of all of those songs, when it comes to the subject matter, and the essence. It is so ”private” and real that it is almost unbearable to me. I am happy I was able to record it. But then again, I am happy that we were able to finish this whole album!

You haven’t played live for a number of years, but will we get to see Opium Warlords as a live entity someday? Perhaps at something like Roadburn?

We were asked to play at Roadburn after the first album came out, and for sure it would be the best place for Opium Warlords to do the first ever show, but I am afraid my days as a live-musician are over. It is already hard enough for me to deal with all the everyday things, like going out to buy some food. I can’t see myself standing in front of an audience anymore. I do not have any self-confidence left – execept when producing my music, which is something I KNOW I can do!

Then again the last gigs I ever did, were so chaotic, that it almost became dangerous to me, and to all the others too. I am happy I was able to go through them without ending up in a hospital or a jail. Well, actually I kind of ended up in a hospital though, as I had to go and get several anti-rabies injections, and go through electrocardiography tests, and get some new medication, after the last ever trip I made with a band. My health just collapsed!

Because of all of this I had to make  a conscious decision to give up playing gigs. Not that I would be missing those times.

However, I have NOT made a decision of not bringing Opium Warlords ever to the stage though. Maybe some miracle happens, and I become bit better, and find time and money, and interest to put together a live show, but when thinking about it right now, I do not really see it coming. I am happy with forgetting the songs after they have been recorded, and I do not miss playing with other people again.

You’ve been part of many bands over the years, which holds the fondest memories for you? I know for me, I first heard Reverend Bizarre on ‘II: Crush the Insects’ and I was spellbound. ‘The Devil Rides Out’ is still one of my favourite songs.

I am glad to hear that it is your favourite! It is one of  my own favourites in Reverend Bizarre material.

I guess the fondest memories I have of some of the better times with The Candles Burning Blue, Reverend Bizarre’s strange trip to USA, and the final gigs in Europe and Finland, the earliest times with The Puritan, Werwolf Lodge gigs, and now, the studio work with Taste My Sword Of Understanding. There have been great studiosessions with all of the bands I have been in – especially the purifying outbursts with Armanenschaft, Azrael Rising and March 15 – but the good atmosphere of the latest Opium Warlords sessions is completely new thing to me, who have been used to rather rough situations. I am still in control, but my dictatorship, and sadism has become lesser.

Opium Warlords

Was it surreal getting a number one record in your homeland with a 16 minute track? That would never happen in the UK!

It was surreal to get that number two with Slave of Satan first. I got the phone call of its chart position while walking alone in the woods, close to my mother’s house, checking out the horrible disaster the approaching motorway project had caused to the environment. Hearing those unexpected, unbelievable news, surrounded by that sad landscape of destruction and rape, was like being in a strange dream. It felt really surreal! Slave of Satan is probably the longest top 5 single ever – being exactly as long as a record can officially be to still fall into the category of ”single” – and should have been reported to that Guinness book. I would love to be there with Napalm Death and Manowar!

When Teutonic Witch hit the number one, it did not feel so strange anymore. We were almost used to that, and after those, we started to have chart position with all of our last records. Each of the splits where there in top 10, and So Long Suckers was number six on the album chart, I think, but Finland is a very small country, so the sales were still minimal, and we got no money from all of this extravaganza.

But, yes, it was surreal and funny! For that brief moment we were a poisoned  arrow in the world of the record business, among those household mainstream names.

Does living in Finland or being Finnish bring anything unique to how you write music? There are so many excellent Finnish metal musicians, there must be something in the water!

I am unable to say as I have nothing to compare it with; I have always been a Finnish, living here, but sometimes I wonder how it would have been, if I had been born in New York, or San Francisco, or London, or English countryside, or Berlin, or Tokyo, or living in any of these places right now. If I would have been living in some big city, many things would have been easier for me, as I really do not fit in too well with a small town atmosphere. In a bigger place there would have been more ways for me to fit in, but maybe I would have also become more similar to all the others. Now here in Finland, in this shithole town, I never felt to fit in to anything, and my own inner world grew stonger and stronger. I have always been a loner, and I have been beaten up here many times. I know I am hated, and laughed at. All of this can be heard in my music. My music resonates Lohja.

Now when I am getting bit older, I often feel this strange longing to some other life; why did I end up here, into this life? Why could not I live the life of David Bowie, or Jimmy Page, or Mike Patton. Why can’t I live like Sting, somewhere there in Highgate? I am tired with all of the hardship, and depression, and minimal record sales, and paranoia, and OCD, and everything. But obviously my destiny was to become this sub-marginal underground musician; with those few records once there in the Finnish top ten hah hah! I will never see the places I wanted to see.

Talking about Finland; the cliché is that because of the short summer, and very long, and dark winter – fortunately for me as I am not a summer man –  we would have all of these angry and depressed metal musicians, but then again, most of the Finnish musicians just follow what bands in USA, UK, or Germany have done before them, so I am not sure what is the truth behind all of these myths, and I am not even convinced about the excellency of the Finnish metal musicians. However, we DO have some bands here that really have done something special, something ”Finnish”… Terveet Kädet, Sielun Veljet, Mana Mana, Radiopuhelimet, Circle, early Unholy, Beherit, Noitalinna Huraa!, Nekro-Torso, Tasavallan Presidentti, Smack, Panasonic… and Hurriganes!

Thank you for your time, do you have any final words for our readers?

Thank you for this chance to be here, and greetings to the readers too!!! I hope some of you  out there got curious enough to check out some of my records! In 2014 records have come out with Opium Warlords, Azrael Rising, March 15, Tähtiportti. And more will follow! Take it easy, and take care!

Taste My Sword of Understanding is out now on Svart Records, you can purchase copies from their webstore and also read Sandy’s review here.

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Interviewed by: Sandy Williamson