IN 1987, Finnish city Vaasa was not the best place to establish an internationally successful rock band. However, this was the dream of guitarist Mikael Vehkaoja. He had played music since he was six years old at a music school and switched from violin and piano to guitar in high school. He had already met guitarist Juha Leino in primary school, and soon the friends started their first band projects.
Mikael was determined to play from the beginning. He heard that there was a guitar maker named Jussi Ala-Kuha near Vaasa in South Ostrobothnia, whom Mikael drove to meet as soon as he got his driver's license. Mikael showed Ala-Kuha his sketch of a guitar shaped like a bird, and when whe graduated, Mikael got the money he needed to have the guitar made. This "eagle guitar" became Mikael's long-time number one guitar and the instrument that many contemporaries remember him and Kyyria for.
The atmosphere of Vaasa and Finland as a whole felt depressive. They began to dream of moving abroad, where they could seriously pursue their musical careers.
Friends decided to apply to a Canadian university in Regina, Saskatchewan. The following year, they were lucky, and they moved to Canada. Mikael brought his eagle guitar, Juha Leino came up with the name Kyyria, demos were made, and some gigs were played.
After spending two years in Canada, Mikael realized that if he wanted to pursue musical career seriously, it wouldn't happen while studying journalism in a remote small town surrounded by Indian reserves and uranium mines.
When the friends came to Finland for the summer, Mikael decided that he would not return to Canada. Juha, on the other hand, wanted to continue his studies, so when he left for Canada in the fall, Mikael found himself once again in Vaasa without any bandmates.
JENS CARP was a Vaasa-based drummer whom Mikael teamed up with next. This time, Mikael decided to take his band to Copenhagen, where they set out to find musicians and establish a new Kyyria. After a few months of struggling, they had to admit that they could not find any players for their band.
King Diamond, whom Mikael was a fan of, performed at an outdoor event in the city center, and after the show, Mikael and drummer Jens ended up in the same bar with the band's guitarists, Andy LaRoque and Pete Blakk. To his surprise, Mikael heard that there were hardly any metal musicians in Denmark. LaRoque and Blakk were Swedish, and if he was looking for players and a scene, Gothenburg would be the right place.
Jens and Mikael packed their backpacks the same evening and headed for Gothenburg, where they eventually lived for a year. In late 1990, Kyyria's first more permanent lineup was born.
Peder Jansson was found for the second guitar. Hans Johansson was recruited for bass. He was an experienced musician who had already recorded with his band Biscaya. Hans Berggren, a classical music enthusiast, was chosen as the vocalist, and his theatrical singing style, reminiscent of Candlemass's Messiah Marcolin, appealed to Mikael's taste.
Stylistically, the band was still searching for its sound. With Berggren's singing, some songs were slow and doomy, while others incorporated influences from Mercyful Fate and Mekong Delta's progressive metal, featuring complex rhythms.
At that time, the heavy metal scene was plaques by a division into very specific subgenres. Mikael disliked this kind of categorization and, for the sake of mischief, coined the term "porn metal". Through it, he wanted to emphasize that they didn't represent any metal subgenre. Mikael thought the term was so ridiculous that no one could take it seriously. Little did he know.
Unfortunately, Kyyria didn't take off in Gothenburg, and the city's atmosphere wasn't as international as Mikael had hoped. Guitarist Peder had to tell Mikael that the "Finnish" band would never gain a foothold in Gothenburg. Gradually, everything fell apart.
Mikael returned to Vaasa with Jens, but the remaining band members who stayed in Sweden wanted to record and document their joint efforts. Martin Kantola, the owner of Skog Studio in Vaasa who later gained worldwide fame as a microphone designer, lent the studio equipment, which the band used to make their first more official demo recording.
Mikael and Jens recorded their parts in Vaasa, and bassist Johansson also came to play on site. However, singer Hans Berggren recorded his parts in Gothenburg, and thus Kyyria's first demo was complete.
ESSENCE OF DUST demo oozes Greek mythology, including the beautiful Kyyria logo. Tape was soundwise relatively amateurish. A-side contains the songs "Avalanche Anthem," "Hallucinogetic Toreador," and "Anchorite."
The B-side was dedicated to the ambitious work "The Sleeper Awakens," whose long instrumental parts sound like very non-commercial art-heavy prog in the 2020s.
The most striking feature of the 1991 demo tape is the distinctive singing style of vocalist Berggren, and of course the complex songs composed by Mikael. The tape's opening track "Avalanche Anthem" would later be heard on Kyyria's debut album, but the song had already taken shape on the demo, complete with lyrics, melodies, and the song structure.
Mikael's ambition grew, and he felt he needed more talented musicians around him. Meanwhile, drummer Jens Carpi's motivation began to wane. The duo had been living for a year in a room above a junk shop that had no kitchen or even a shower. Jens wanted to stay in Vaasa.
In the fall of 1991, Mikael was at a crossroads. Should he return to Canada to study with Juha Leino or continue his career as a musician? The latter option interested the young man more, so Mikael set off alone this time with a handfull of demo tapes in his bag and Helsinki as his destination.
THE SPANDAU CLUB, held on Thursdays upstairs at the Ostrobotnia restaurant in Töölö, was the place in early 90s Helsinki where heavy musicians could meet like-minded people. It was also the only regular club dedicated to heavier music.
All the possible scene figures of that time, such as Antidote, Waltari, Corporal Punishment, Hybrid Children, and Amorphis' musicians, met and bonded in the low and narrow cave-like club. Mika "Kaasu" Karppinen was also a regular visitor at Spandau, who sang and played guitar in thrash metal band Dementia and played drums in hardcore band Valvontakomissio.
Mikael also discovered the heavy metal nights at Spandau and met Kaasu there. The two hit it off immediately. Kaasu, who had also lived in Sweden, was particularly impressed by Mikael's melodic songs, and soon the two were jamming together.
Their playing and synergy worked well, but they needed more musicians around them. Mikael still didn't know anyone in Helsinki, but drummer Kaasu knew the metal scene of the capital region like the back of his hand. (Pictured: Mika Karppinen in 2013)
Competent heavy metal singers were hard to come by in Helsinki in the early 90s. Kannelmäki resident Ville Tuomi, who had sung in the band Tales, had impressed Kaasu with his voice, and he suggested Tuomi to Mikael as a singer. When the trio got together for the first time in a rehearsal space, Mikael was impressed by Tuomi's singing voice. Ville Tuomi was an internationally top-class singer, and his powerful tenor voice was something unheard of in Finland in the early 90s. Ville's singing voice seemed to be able to handle anything. In addition, he was full of enthusiasm and open to all of Mikael's ideas. (Image: Encyclopaedia Metallum)
Next, they recruited Tero Lampikari, a talented guitarist from Kirkkonummi and Kaasu's old bandmate. Then my phone rang. I had known Kaasu since upper secondary school and played in the same bands. In the fall of 1991, I received an invitation to come to Kyyria's rehearsals in Jorvas. I was actually a guitarist and had only played bass for a couple of years, but because I handled the complex time signatures of Kyyria's songs and learned the riffs quickly, I got the gig.
Mikael's song repertoire seemed endless, and his charisma and vision were strong and clear. Mikael, who had seen the world, was like a Renaissance man who knew culture extensively. His lyrics were more imaginative than average, and Ville Tuomi's bold singing did them justice.
We rehearsed intensively throughout the rest of 1991. Everyone was motivated, and the gig set was quickly put together. We wanted to be closer to the Helsinki music scene, so we changed our rehearsal space from Jorvas to Pitäjänmäki. I was sure this band would go far.
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