Maybe Opium Warlords isn’t a name attracting wide interest. Like maybe another dozen of monikers seeing Mr. Albert, Sami Albert Hynninen doing vocals, songwriting, music. Art. Great art. Probably most of you do remember Reverend Bizarre. Yes, they did split. But in a way they still exists, the spirit is there and the mastermind, the songwriter, the one who crafted that beautiful obscure concept is doing a lot of music. Even darker, even deeper. His actual main project is Opium Warlords, and it is his way to open up and show us all the decadence we live in, the sadness we sail upon, the filth we spread around. He is the prophet of this darkness, and Opium Warlords is the way to spread the prophecy. But I wanted more. I wanted go one level down, one level deeper into darkness. And Sami did let me in… (also Italian Version)
Hello Sami, thanks for your time. To me you are such an important artist, as you belonged or took part to a lot of projects I really love and feel inspired by. I take the chance to ask you some questions, spacing across all you’ve done. Let’s go: If one checks out, online, who you are it turns out you took part to well over 10 projects in the metal scene. They are all different, and even require different singings. How do you manage to be yourself in all these manifestations of your art? Where does the inspired artist ends and where does, if any, the performer starts?
All of those different aspects are part of what I am, and there really is no difference between my “everyday life” and artistic activities. It is an all the time on-going process, and a way of life. My work mirrors my life as it is. My work is my life. It is the real me there on each album. The idea of truth is very important thing to me. I give everything I have to my music, lyrics and drawings. There is no room for compromises. The content has to be pure!
You used several stage names: Ancient Fisherman, Albert Witchfinder, A (Hynninen), Magister Albert… to name some. That did lead me to some confusion, I admit. I ignored your actual project, Opium Warlords, and when I saw it and spotted your name it rang me a bell… mind that for my language your surname isn’t an easy thing to remember. I went out of my mind discovering, again, a great surprise! First time it happened when I found out that the singer of Reverend Bizarre was the same of Orne (a band I desperately love)… and when I realized that Opium Warlords was a project of Orne’s singer… I definitely locked the world outside and got deep into your album. And I loved it. I’ll ask about your singing later, but now… who are you? I mean, who do you feel you are? How do you switch between Witchfinder, Fisherman, A, and simply Sami? Is it just a nickname fitting the project or is it something going deeper?
All of those Albert-variations were in the end basically the same. At first it was Albert Magus, then Magister Albert, and finally Albert Witchfinder. Albert is a name I was born with, so using it had no other background. With the black metal bands I wanted to use something else, and so I became Ancient Fisherman, which had biblical connotations, but also connection to Albert Fish. I am also pisces in the zodiac. When using some other name it is just a name, not a role I play, but of course my expression changes depending on the music. Still, it is always what I have inside of me.
Let’s go to your singing. I cannot really define your voice. It’s atmospheric and full of intensity on Reverend Bizarre but still definitely rocking. On Orne it matches all those organs and it’s more poetic, spiritual. On Armanenschaft it’s raw growling. On Azrael Rising is again growl, but different. On Spiritus Mortis it’s doomish but on a more melodic way. On Opium Warlords it’s so wide… touching a little or everything. It’s skill, for sure. But it must also be passion and “feeling” it. Please describe -unveil- how you sing. How you express singing.
I simply sing the song as the composition and especially the lyrics demand. My job is to make the song such that the audience can really feel it. That is all I do. The work itself gives me the guidelines. There is only one real way to do everything. The pure way! So far I have reached it, but every project is a new challenge, and I am always humble in front of each challenge. If I fail I at least I fail after giving everything I can give. I am completely self-taught musician and artist, and I do many things in a wrong way, but it is MY wrong way. And yes, it is all about the feeling. Sometimes a song I sing sounds almost perfect in the studio, but if the feeling is not right I do it again, even if someone else would not notice a difference between the two takes. I have to LIVE the lyrics and the music.
Sticking to your singing: ok, I love it all, appreciate the range, but there is one song on the newest “Taste My Sword Of Understanding” that hit me. It hit me hard. The way you express, sing… act! In there it is outstanding. I am talking of “The God In Ruins”. I cannot stop thinking of the sick feeling I get from Nattramn of swedish depressive black metal act Silencer. Tell me how you did it. Where you wanted to take it. What inspired you for such a tragic singing and lyrics.
I was thinking of a spiritually massive entity, that has fallen down to this Earth, lying among the ruins and all the filth and sickness. It was probably done with just one take. I WAS that God fallen to disgrace, and I was able to feel its desperation, BUT also the desperation of all of those people who had tried to reach this entity throughout all the time and history. It is an apocalyptic song. Of course my own suffering and pain was also part of the inspiration, but it went much further than that; to something we all share here on this Earth. There is this silent desperation in all of us. What if there is no meaning for our lives here, and we just reach the shadows, instead of the true reality of mind and body? This, I think, can be felt in all apocalyptic art, and in all existentialism. Sadness that lives in our hearts. I am happy to be compared to Silencer’s vocalist. He had a nice touch in his expression! But all of that folklore surrounding him makes me bit uneasy.
You aren’t just a singer. You play a wide range of instruments. On Opium Warlords you’re credited to cover them all. So…. if I had to tell a friend who Sami Hynninen is, shall I say “a singer”? “a guitar player”?. Reveal what you are, or what you want to be and what you must be.
I am in the first place composer, lyricist, arranger and a producer, and after that bass player, then vocalist, and after that comes everything else… percussions, guitar and so on. But only on the debut album of Opium Warlords I did everything by myself. I had to do it that way! Since then I have always worked with other people, but for some reason it has got stuck to Opium Warlords, that it is me alone, playing everything. This is not the case. It is true that I play most of the tracks, but that is just because only I KNOW how they have to be. It would be impossible to show someone else how to play the guitars or certain percussions. It would demand complete mind control.
Anyway on this album you have Laura Länsimäki (drummer of Armanenschaft) and Erkki Virta (drummer of Protected Illusion). Just some help with drumming? Some Friends helping out? Did they take part composing the album, songwriting?
Laura played some keyboards on both “We Meditate Under The Pussy In The Sky” and “Taste My Sword Of Understanding”, and Erkki played most of the drums on these two. When it comes to production I did it with Jouni Leppikangas. All the compositions and lyrics, and also arrangements were written by me. This is how I already worked in Reverend Bizarre and The Puritan. I wrote most of the songs, and always in complete solitude. Only exception is “Cirith Ungol” (the very long closing track of “In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend” album, by Reverend Bizarre – editor’s note), which has lyrical ideas of both me and Kimi. In Azrael Rising , Tähtiportti and Spiritus Mortis, the music already exists, but I do my own part, lyrics and vocals, including vocal arrangements and melodies, just as I wish.
Finland is famous worldwide for several reasons, but it is still a closed country, mysterious in a way. Few people around, wide forests, a language not spoken anywhere, uncommon habits, mostly frozen. But it really deliver some great music. It always did. If the rest of Scandinavia might be badged, within metal, as the land of black metal and hard rock, Finland isn’t limited to one or few music genres. You are a living proof of this. How’s being a musician up there, mostly in the extreme music genre (metal in all its forms)?
Well, I am mostly unknown here. No-one spots me on the street, and my albums do not even get so many reviews or anything. I guess I am part of certain underground scene, but basically I live very solitary life, outside of any circles. If I would have to think about some particularly Finnish metal scene I would say it is that of Unholy, Skepticism, Unburied, Rippikoulu and Thergothon. They did something no-one else did anywhere in the world. Maybe in some ways I continue their work, even though I am not influenced by them, and do not want to be labelled in any way, not even as “metal”.
I got a question going back to Reverend Bizarre: there’s nothing new I want to ask about that band, but I cannot stop seeing that you’re “always the same guys” around. Orne is Reverend Bizarre in a way. On KLV there was you and Jari Pohjonen. Jari and Kimi Kärki do other things together, be it official or session. How’s that circle? Can you reveal the cultural underground that spawned all this wide range of great artist (you and Kimi included)? I feel I want to know the essence of it. That energy that put you all around delivering so great music.
The answer is very simple: I was not that successful or well-liked guy, and there were no musicians wanting to play with me. I had to use what I had close to me (he laughs – editor’s note). First it was Jari in KLV, and then Kimi and Juippi in Reverend Bizarre and Path Called Penis, and then a bit later Jari also in Reverend Bizarre. When KLV and Reverend Bizarre started, none of us could play anything. It grew from that onwards. I was never part of any cultural underground. I was just a habitant of a little shitty town, with no friends. KLV and Reverend Bizarre and Path Called Penis were mostly based on my inner visions. Orne of course was all Kimi’s vision.
Why you singing for Orne without being an official member? I don’t want Orne with another voice!!!!
At first I was a real member, but I left the band quite soon. Then they could not find another as suitable vocalist for the album, and I returned, but did not want to become a member of the band anymore. After the first album I was more or less done with Orne. Then came the second album, and I did it, and after that I was again done with Orne, and now I am curious to see will I be asked to sing again, IF Orne does the third album. But I am very busy with many other things, so I do not know what the answer would be.
Back to Opium. Explain the pictures showing you with that mask. And those puppets. I love those pictures, really well done. So mysterious. What do they mean?
They are something that is inside of me. Bit like if I had turned my skin upside down. You can see parts of my soul in those pictures. I live in that world.
“In Melancholy Moonless Acheron” got a folk component. And it feels you’re more acting than singing. I imagine you on a dark stage, with candles, dressing the way of the promo pictures, and acting with ….this lyric. Can you explain this song?
It is about my father’s long sickness and death. I can understand what you mean by acting, but it is not acting to me. I used that style of vocals already ten years earlier with The Candles Burning Blue. Actually that style may be the closest you can get to my most closed and hidden parts of the soul and mind. It is VERY pure and real. This special song needed that voice again! It is bit like Rozz Williams of Christian Death, or Tom G. Warrior on Into the Pandemonium, but it is my real voice the same time!
This is the third Opium album. On another interview I found around you said (I quote queensofsteel.com): ”Basically Opium Warlords was something I HAD to do, in order to survive with the conditions and situations I was in, but same time it dragged me even deeper into the darkness, and I literally sacrificed my health for this project.”. Well. Does this still apply after the third album? I mean, I dare to think that if it wouldn’t give you some kind of satisfaction you would stop it, or start another project. Right?
I am recovering, slowly! The satisfaction I get is that of feeling bit lighter after each album. I have so much material waiting to be recorded that it is a heavy burden. I do not do this for the sake of having a nice hobby. I take it as a lifework; something I have to do!
Is it possible for an underground artist, far from the fashion main stream, not touring or doing live, to live with his own music, his own art?
It is possible, but you have to be prepared to asceticism. No weekends, or vacations, or trips to foreign lands, or any other hobbies than walking in the woods.
”Taste My Sword of Understanding” appears (from press notes) to have been composed between 1994 an 2009. But in 2009 you released “Live at Colonia Dignidad”, and in 2012 “We Meditate Under the Pussy in the Sky”. Why “Taste…” took the form of a release just now, some five years after you composed it, ten years after you started it?
Because I had so much trouble and pressure in my life, including things like Reverend Bizarre. “Pussy” then again was recorded the same time with “Sword”, in 2010. I have LOTS of unrecorded material since 1994 onwards. Only time will tell how much of it I will be able to record. I need label to back me up, and with poor sales it can be hard. I wish I can go on with Svart Records.
”Live at Colonia Dignidad” is named after a place in Chile (aka Villa Baviera). Have you been there? What is your feeling about South America? I ask because, for personal reason, I am pretty much connected to those wide and somehow mysterious places…
I have not been there, but I know a person in Chile who has done that. I have read a little bit about ancient cultures and certain subterranean mysteries of South America. I would love to visit especially Peru and Chile, but basically all the countries there interest me a lot. However, as I said, I can’t do any travelling.
Your lyrics are dark. Or connected to dark arts. Satanic too. Extreme in several ways. What is your view of humanity, religion and… religionS, future, life. Spirituality. Occultism.
My view is quite apocalyptic. I try to reach towards spiritual light, but it is very hard. There is much of black powers inside of me, and inside of most of us. I have been interested in religions and occultism since I was just a child. It is something that stays in me even if I have long breaks of studying those things. Life is all I own. I try to stick to it, but future to me is darkness, with only a little spot of light somewhere there in distance. I might be dead tomorrow. Who knows?
”Taste My Swords Of Understanding”. Amazing title. It tells me a lot of things. But what’s really behind? What did you mean?
I am pretty sure I meant many of those things it already told to you. I do not want to explain it any further. It has to remain like that. Open to different ideas.
When I buy an album, and I buy it physical (mostly vinyls… cd otherwise), the first impact is the cover. When I got Orne’s second album I loved it. And found out it’s a painting by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908). I am no painting expert at all, but Kimi Kärki had used the same painter -or something very very similar- on his last year “The Bone Of My Bones”… and now you again with the same painter on the cover. Why? What is attracting you to his wonderful art, and why all of you guys … on separate project, do stick to the same inspiration?
It is coinsidence. I had chosen that cover already around 2002 when most of the album was with me, written and ready to go. I wanted to use this kind of painting on this album, as the album itself is softer and easier. I find that kind of style of art easy to access, and it matches with the title too.
Ok, going to the end. On another recent interview you claimed you know already how the next six Opium Warlords will be. Wow. So, where are we going?
I know how the next ten albums will be, covers and song lists and all, but naturally I won’t spoil it for the audience by revealing the contents. But I can say that the next album will be much harder and darker than “…Sword…”, and then again the album after that will be bit more “rocking”, but in the Opium Warlords way!
And a question you can ignore if you want: you, Kimi and Jari. Any future project upcoming? Not as each other guest musician or something, I mean like a real band.
Well, I have talked with Kimi about one-off comeback album of Path Called Penis! I would like to do it.
Finland and Italy are so far apart, but also connected somehow. Italy is famous for a wide range of arts, including the not-classic ones, such as modern music, movies…Do you get any inspiration from Italian art? If so, mind naming your favorite Italian arts (any art!) and how they might be found on your own creations, eventually?
I am big fan of Italian cinema. Federico Fellini’s Satyricon and Roma are one of my favorite films of all , but I also like Pier Paolo Pasolini’s work, Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice”, and basically everything by Sergio Leone. Of course I also like Martino’s “Mannaja” and Corbucci’s “The Great Silence”, and some of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, but they present bit different style of cinema. You have also had some exceptional musicians and bands there. I am admirer of Sanctis Ghoram and Paul Chain and early Death SS, but also Dark Quarterer, Black Hole, Mortuary Drape, and Doris Norton. In literature and art I am interested in very contradictional characters of Gabriele D’Annunzio, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, and modernist and futurism movements, especially Umberto Boccioni. There is strange and uplifting quality of occult and necrophilia in much of Italian art! I guess we can thank Catholic church for that!
Sami, I could go on asking you stuff forever. Questions keep coming. It must be like you music. It already exist in you, doesn’t matter if you know or not. Because your music is you. Would you please close this interesting interview with a message to your past, present and future fans… to the reader of Metalhead.it, and to any creature belonging to darkness somehow. Like me and you.
All I can say is that I am very happy to appear here! I have had far too little connections to Italy, the land of fantastic occult music and cinema. Thank you for having me. I hope some of the readers will check out my albums… all of them! Take care!