The future looks bright for Adelaide Melodic Death Metal practitioners Universum. They’ve released two albums (both released internationally), shared stages with such important international bands as Soilwork, Children of Bodom, Cradle of Filth and Dragonforce, and both of their guitarists became the first Australians listed on the international roster of endorsees of guitar manufacturers Ibanez. We spoke to one of those guitarists, Stephen Murphy, about their past, present and future.
“…we’d rather people get a chance to hear our music by means of illegal download than not at all.”
Universum have a definite futuristic feel to their lyrics and accompanying artwork. “‘Mortuus Machina’ is somewhat of a concept album”, says Murphy. “‘Mortuus Machina’ is an approximate Latin translation for ‘the dead machine’ which was the basic concept on which the lyrics and the album were loosely based around. The application of the ‘dead machine’ concept on ‘Mortuus Machina’ varies from our world and societies as a dying organic machine, to extinction from futuristic cyber controlled intelligent life forms, to internal conflicts and emotions of the human machine.”
Murphy says of working with vocalist Christian Älvestam (of Scar Symmetry/Solution .45 notoriety), “Universum are long time fans of many of Christian Älvestam’s projects so when we started work on ‘Mortuus Machina’ we asked him if he would like to be involved, and thankfully he accepted. Working with Christian was a great experience, his performances were exceptional and really contribute positively to the album. Michael Soininen (guitarist) and I wrote the lyrics and music for Christian’s parts but Christian wrote the actual vocals melodies he performed.”
It’s obvious to those who know a little about Universum that they clearly have one eye on their homeland, and one on the European continent, in terms of influence, musicianship and work ethic. Their 2008 debut album ‘Leto Destinatus’ and their 2011 follow-up ‘Mortuus Machina’ were both mixed and mastered at Black Lounge Studios by experienced Swede Jens Bogren (who has also worked with Opeth, Soilwork and Amon Amarth amongst others). ‘Mortuus Machina’ also features appearances by Ola Frenning (guitars – ex-Soilwork), Marios Iliopoulos and Olof Mörck (guitars – Nightrage) and Tommy Tuovinen (vocals – My Grain), as well as Älvestam.
Murphy says of the artwork for the album, it “…was created by Seth [Anton Siro] from Septic Flesh. Seth read some lyrics from the album and then he basically developed the artwork concept from his own interpretations of the lyrical meanings. Each page of the booklet features different pieces of art with a similar concept and theme throughout.”
Of the noted European (specifically Scandinavian) flavour of the band, he explains “We are inspired by many European and Scandinavian metal bands and we have utilised Swedish metal production techniques on both albums, which contributes to that sound like that of those mentioned, but our biggest influences are probably from older metal bands such as Pantera, Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Dream Theater etc. Other genres that influence the band varies considerabl[y] from member to member, however I could say that we are inspired by acts from most genres including metal (all kinds including death metal, power metal, prog metal, black metal, etc), rock, classical, jazz and electronic styles.”
Murphy’s and fellow guitarist Soininen’s endorsement signing by international guitar giants Ibanez is explained, “Both Michael and I have played Ibanez guitars for nearly as long as we have been playing guitar, and whilst we own guitars from other manufacturers, our Ibanez axes are our go-to instruments for all Universum recordings and live performances. The endorsement deal with Ibanez was secured upon the release of our debut album ‘Leto Destinatus’ when we contacted Ibanez and sent them a copy of our album. Fortunately Ibanez replied favourably with a nice contract!”
The signing of such ‘nice contracts’ has helped the band advance to their current point, but they’re hoping that their own hard-work will bring them their long-term goals. They “…currently have bookings and plans for some more international supports and national mini tours in 2012. These dates and other artists will be announced by the tour promoters, probably in early 2012.”
Murphy goes on, “The ultimate goal would be for Universum to become a full-time international touring act and to have the income and resources available to enable us to be writing and recording or rehearsing and touring all year, every year. With each album release we gain more exposure and generate a bigger fan base so hopefully one day maybe we will be able achieve this goal, hopefully before we are all over 50!”, he says with a laugh.
Of getting that exposure, Murphy tells us his views on downloading: “It is a bit disappointing that 98% of the people who have our music have downloaded it illegally but we’d rather people get a chance to hear our music by means of illegal download than not at all. The big downside to illegal downloading of music is the financial impact it has on bands. If the majority of our listeners paid for our albums we would be able to tour more extensively and spend more time on writing and recording new music. We sincerely thank all the fans who have purchased our music to date; your support enables us to continue as a viable entity and to write, produce and perform better and better music.”
One can only hope that the band receive that support, because it could take them to the heights they’re planning for.
Adam Soininen – vocals
Michael Soininen – guitars
Stephen Murphy – guitars
Doug Clark – bass
Rachael Madden – keyboards
Jaron Soininen – drums