An Interview with A. Mikonmäki (Manharana, Astrum Malum, Vinoristi)

In the City of Helsinki resides Antti Mikonmäki. A husband and a father to one daughter, together they live in a small apartment in Finland’s capital. When Antti finds moments of solitude, an hour here or a couple hours there, he toils at his musical endeavors. Three active metal projects, Manharana, Astrum Malum, and Vinoristi, he produces music under, each of which exhibit a unique facet of Antti’s background and his fascination with music and the occult. Manharana features a multitude of Middle Eastern textures, Astrum Malum is blackened-doom harboring a strangely cosmic symphonic vibe, and Vinoristi is an unfettered assault of crust. Though there is much to absorb across these three projects, these only seem to scratch the surface of Antti’s musical capabilities—he also produces hip-hop, sample-based soul, drum and bass, and music in many other genres. His desire to explore sonic spectrums is without limit.

I found Antti on Bandcamp a month or so ago through his project Astrum Malum. He accepted my invitation to contribute and from there, we have been in frequent communication. I learned of his soon-to-be discontinued webzine, Adornments of the King, his fascination with the occult, and a slew of other interesting details. This interview captures a bit of Antti’s musical background, his metal projects, and where he will venture next in 2018.

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When did you begin creating music? Did you have monikers or musical experiments predating your current projects Astrum Malum, Manharana, and Vinoristi?

Growing up as a kid, I’ve had no musical training or activity, but we started making music with a friend of mine with a similar taste in music in the early/mid-nineties, after being introduced to the more underground vibes of (mostly) Black Metal. In other words, as soon as we realized we did not need for example actual drums or expensive studios to create music (in fact all we needed was a cheap guitar, distortion pedal, keyboard, mic, and a four-tracker), we started experimenting with various kinds of projects. Sometimes these projects were very much Black Metal oriented, sometimes more ambient and ritual-like acoustic stuff.

We were also into different kinds of electronic music from early on, so some of my early attempts to create music were completely done with some primitive PC-software/tracker, which were naturally totally different from the software that started to pop up in the late nineties.

This was also how all our friends, from let’s say the Black Metal scene, were making music, before morphing into “real” bands with rehearsal places and gigs and so on, but as my skills or possibilities were limited during that phase of progression, I stayed basically behind creating music mostly on a home computer, which I still do today.

Also, the very first projects I had in the nineties have never been released by any label or similar, as is the case with probably 90% of my projects during the years in general.

Where were you at in your life when you founded each of your projects?

I’ve had about 50 projects during the years, containing various musical styles, which have seemed totally thought out and “final” at the time of their creation, so apparently all these projects have been reflections of my current states of mind, which have been many. I am a being of many tastes and lots of colours on my palette.

What was your entry point into extreme music? How have your perceptions and tastes morphed over the years?

I was introduced into bands like Iron Maiden, KISS, W.A.S.P. and so on when I was a kid, I’m guessing ’85-’86, and growing up I was also totally into comics and role-playing-games and fantasy-literature and the usual stuff of that nature, so I would naturally listen to bands with some kick-ass audial atmospheres, plus lyrics and album covers revolving around these themes, and as it usually goes, Heavy Metal changed into Thrash Metal and Death Metal and finally into Black Metal, with all kinds of other “extreme” styles such as Grindcore or Hardcore tagging there along as well.

Luckily I grew up in a home where all kinds of great thought-provoking stuff like Leonard Cohen was played all the time, so I’ve always been into all kinds of music styles really, I’m not at all picky when it comes to art.

By the time I was maybe 19, I had basically totally skipped all the teenage mentalities of a “Black Metal dude”, and just decided to go wherever my interests took me, and I’ve been making music of many different styles ever since.

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Each project of yours harbors a distinct style—Astrum Malum is a blend of atmospheric doom and black metal, Manharana is an ethnic-infused blackened death project, and Vinoristi is mostly hardcore punk—yet they are all tied together by tendrils of neoclassical elements. Is this done to weave some consistency across your various sounds?

This has to do with the way I create music, which is mostly with software, so I would label myself more as a composer/producer than a guy playing some instrument. And being a huge fan of sounds of classical orchestration, all that “symphonic” material comes out naturally. Also these three projects just happen to be thematically of the similar majestic, spiritual and mystical nature, where sounds of horns, strings and some ethnic instruments fit perfectly.

These three projects are the Metal-related projects of mine which are currently active, but I am also constantly creating other kinds of music as well, such as different kinds Hip Hop, Drum & Bass, Techno, Dub or whatever may arouse my spirit.

The meaning behind each project name seems to relate closely to the atmosphere exuding from the compositions of the respective project—Astrum Malum translates to Evil Star, Manharana relates to a Hindu royal title, and Vinoristi is Finnish for saltire. What do each of these projects represent for you? Do they embody different parts of your being/psyche, a general interest, a state of mind?

Astrum Malum is definitely Latin for “Evil Star”, and this my Doom-oriented and slightly Industrial influenced Blackened band, with lyrics dealing with the pitfalls of Western civilization on a personal and societal level, with themes of philosophy, psychology, religions and myths in there as well. The lyrics are translated from my English into classical Latin by my good Polish friend Andy, who also does some of the vocals. We are currently working on a new and yet unnamed project with him, which is going to be of a more European Middle Ages themed Metal.

Manharana is actually Mandaic (the language of the Mandaeans, the oldest surviving original Gnostic religion today) for “Bright”, which suits perfectly for all my Middle Eastern vibes. I am planning on taking this project musically into more classical ethnic realms inspired by that particular part of the world, without eliminating the heavier Metal elements.

Vinoristi translates indeed as St. Andrew’s Cross, and deals mostly with sadomasochistic, nihilistic and rebellious themes with a strong nod to Christian mysticism. This is also my channel for all my Hardcore and Crust related feelings, done often in that Black Thrash way which I personally love.

I am planning on taking a break from these three projects at least for the duration of 2018, but I’m sure I will return to these bands at some point.

When did you first discover classical music? Who are some of your major influences that inspire the neoclassical textures you employ in your compositions?

Although I have indeed been into classical music since a kid, and obtaining records of certain composers and so on, the neoclassical elements of my music are inspired by albums such as Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun by Dead Can Dance, a band/project which has been highly influential to me since my early teens. Also certain film soundtracks such as Gladiator by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard (of the before-mentioned Dead Can Dance) must be mentioned in this regard, although my favourite film soundtrack is definitely Blade Runner by Vangelis, which has inspired me greatly in my more electronic musical projects.

What compelled you to incorporate neoclassical so deeply into the dark and crusty domains of metal music?

I would say that this was not at all uncommon growing up with the underground streams of extreme Metal in the mid-nineties, so the mentality has most likely just stuck from those times. But while many artists went perhaps too over-the-top and overproduced with their orchestrations and overall sound, and others naturally went to the other direction which is total skeletal asceticism, my personal tastes seem to have stayed somewhere there in the middle.

There have been bands (mostly) outside the Metal world, which have built their sometimes extremely heavy sound on top of classical or ethnic music, which continue to inspired me a lot, such as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Secret Chiefs 3.

How about the Middle Eastern sounds integral to Manharana’s sound? From where does your fascination or interest stem with this music?

Besides just loving the audial and visual (not forgetting other senses as well) atmosphere of the area we call these days the Middle East, I see the ancient civilizations of the area as sources of many later important and influential spiritual/religious systems, especially the many currents of the so called Western Esotericism, which I study and practice, among other mystical and spiritual traditions.

The colors and poses on display in your promo photos are interesting; Vinoristi has this maroonish background with your arms stretched outward toward the sun or some other bright light. Astrum Malum features a deep majestic violet with your face wrapped, elbows bent, and wrists curled forward as if you’re casting a spell. And Manharana reveals your face, deep in meditation, with an off-white cloak draped over your head. Do the color-pose pairings ground each project in a particular theme or realm of occult/esoteric thought?

You are right in that these three different projects do indeed give me three different color-vibes which I like to present as sort of Red, Blue/Violet and Orange/Yellow. Also visually (these days) I like to place Astrum Malum in some psychedelic ancient Greek or Roman temple, mural or painting, Vinoristi inside a Catholic or Orthodox church lit with candles, and Manharana in a desert cave or a tent under the scorching sun and the bright stars.

What concepts, ideas, thoughts, and/or themes do your lyrics grapple with in each project? From where does your fascination with the occult stem?

When it comes to these three projects, lately I’ve been inclined to write philosophical and heavily spiritual lyrics with (of course) strong mystical, religious, mythical and magical overtones, and divide the many finished lyrics between these three bands. When it comes to other styles of music, I am not a stranger for writing for example Rap-lyrics or more poem-like stuff either.

My fascination with the occult started when I was a kid, I’m not sure exactly when, since I’ve always viewed different kinds of art (may it be music, paintings, comics, films, literature, or whatnot) as “magical” and psychedelic / transforming. But my fascination has most definitely grown during my lifetime, and I have spent years studying and practicing various schools and techniques of self-development, magick, expanding consciousness, and general mysticism.

How do you split your time between your music, your day job, and your family?

I do have a day job, a necessary evil at this moment in my life, in this Finnish society I happened to be born in, and I live in a small apartment with my wife and daughter, which naturally limits my possibilities when it comes to creating art, but I seem to find an hour here and two there just for myself, which I divide usually between spiritual and musical work. Other than that, I work pretty fast, and I could release multiple releases per project a year if I would want to, but the older I’ve become I’ve also learned to give my musical creations some time to breath and evolve.

What do you want listeners to experience when they listen to your music?

I create music mostly for myself, meaning it is a form of therapeutic practice, making the material highly personal. Besides that, I pretty much want to do stuff that I would like to listen to myself (as being made by others). As I listen to very very little Metal music these days, these projects of mine have stayed as channels of releasing aggression and/or worshipping those Metallic vibes.

I would like the listener to experience the same uplifting, spiritual and magical sensations I personally get when creating the music. When a project is ready, I rarely listen to it ever again, but if someone gets their kicks out of my stuff, then the therapeutic process has possibly been useful for more people than just myself, which is of course positive.

With all the time and effort you’ve poured into your musical projects, what have they taught you about life?

I would create music regardless if anyone hears it, for personal reasons of self-development, but if I have learned something from the whole “business”-side of music, is that it is of very little interest for me. Some of my projects have been released in different kinds of physical formats, yet this has had virtually no impact in the life of my projects or my personal life for that matter, so exposure like that is certainly not a reason for me to make music.

Also, having had to deal with certain musical “scenes” due to some of my projects, I have realized people are extremely sheeplike in the underground, with hordes of ass-kissers copying a few trend-riding artists, with releases being released mostly because the artists enjoy a certain reputation in the scenes, not because they are musically good, creative, or original.

Besides, needless to say, for example extreme Metal appeals to all kinds of political and religious ideologies (of the fundamental and close-minded nature) which I personally detest, so I have learned it is better to stay away from all those hordes of close-minded people not willing to think for themselves. One of the strongest causes of narrow reality-tunnels are strong personal tastes in things like music.

But that is how it will probably always be, in the scenes of most music styles. So I do what I always do, stay home and work on my thing.

Thanks for your support man!

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Thank you so much, Antti, for answering my questions. And thank you folks for reading a bit more about Antti’s background. He’ll be contributing a couple new tracks to the upcoming compilation. In the meantime, you can check out each of his projects at the respective Bandcamp links: Manaharana; Astrum Malum; Vinoristi.

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