Hanging Garden’s Toni Hatakka: “We Are Flirting in New Directions Stylistically” on Upcoming Album “Skeleton Lake”

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Finland’s Hanging Garden recently announced Skeleton Lake, their seventh full-length opus, scheduled for a May 21st release via Lifeforce Records. “Winter’s Kiss” will be the first single released tomorrow, March 12th, introducing listeners to the latest creative efforts of lead vocalist Toni Hatakka, guitarist Mikko Kolari, guitarist/vocalist Jussi Hämäläinen, female vocalist Riikka Hatakka, keyboardist Nino Hynninen, bassist Jussi Kirves, and drummer Sami Forsstén.

In an interview with Metal Solstice, Toni Hatakka explained how the current pause on live shows has expedited the new album, and how the band selected the content for Skeleton Lake from a wealth of newly composed material.

He also shared insight into the evolution of Hanging Garden’s sound, such as the inclusion of more progressive and pop elements; Hatakka hinted that listeners shouldn’t expect a full album of doom, but rather an updated blend of styles. Lastly, he provided a rare window into Hanging Garden’s group dynamic as well as his personal life beyond the band.

Metal Solstice: You recently announced Skeleton Lake’s upcoming release in May 2021; can you share the inspiration behind choosing this album name? Is it based on the real skeleton lake (Roopkund) in India for example, or a fictional place?

Toni Hatakka: The lyrics for the title song were written by Riikka, but I’ve been wanting to make a reference to Roopkund for a while now, and the underwater crushing pressure feel of the song and the lyrics made me suggest the title. I think the story behind the name is good metaphor for how we seem to be destined to end up as a species. In the end I liked the name so much, it ended up as the album title as well.

MS: Did you plan to release a new full-length on this timeline, or were your creative processes expedited by the pandemic downtime? Did you have to make any modifications during the creative process due to Covid-19 restrictions?

Hatakka: Well yes, I guess we started writing the next album a bit early. This time people were writing stuff left and right, so we had a ton of material to pick songs from. We used the recipe we have for a while now: we record our parts separately, at various locations. The drums were recorded at Klaukkala’s D-studio by Jarno Hänninen, and the rest at our home studios.

MS: The Hanging Garden social media accounts have promised forthcoming details. What can you share about future singles from Skeleton Lake, lyrical content, or any special guests? Also, if the February 12 Facebook post was a hint, will some of the album be sung in Finnish?

Hatakka: The first single will feature some guest vocals from Jaani Peuhu (Swallow the Sun, Mercury Circle, Iconcrash) who actually did the vocal production the song. Winter is a central concept on the whole album, setting the mood and the scene for almost all of the songs. The album will present one track in Finnish, which I wrote as an “in memoriam” for a friend. Said track will also feature some domra, played by Pentti Yrjänäinen of the Helsinki Balalaika Orchestra.

MS: You thoughtfully blended doom, death, and other atmospheric metal elements on Into That Good Night, and subsequently reimagined them on last year’s EP. Which of those elements do you plan to carry forward most strongly into Skeleton Lake, or will it again be a balance? What will be something new, musically, that you’ll explore in this release?

Hatakka: I think there are many new musical ideas on Skeleton Lake, and a slight step further away from doom. The EP’s machines are mostly absent from the album, but there are quite a bit of experimental textures in the production. I feel we are flirting in new directions stylistically: foremost pop, prog rock and even a slight flavor of some blacker stuff.

MS: You’ve had a longtime home at Lifeforce Records; why are they the right partner to continue releasing Hanging Garden’s music?

Hatakka: Mostly it’s just an effortless collaboration that has become routine. Stefan is always available for questions and ideas, and I think we have a nice synergy.

MS: How do you plan to support the Skeleton Lake album release, either through later-year touring, a livestream show, or other ways?

Hatakka: We have plans to make some sort of an online show with Q&A and such. We were supposed to play at least one big festival abroad, but I’m not too confident about it coming to any kind of fruition…

Photo by Metal Solstice. Hanging Garden’s 2020 performance at Vernissa, Vantaa, Finland.

MS: Your performance at Vernissa in early 2020 with Throes of Dawn was the last performance I saw live in Helsinki prior to the pandemic. Do you have any memories from this gig?

Hatakka: I guess this was the gig where ToD played Quicksilver Clouds in its entirety. The album meant a great deal to me some fifteen years back, when I was going through some rough phases in my life. It was awesome to hear them play the songs live, and great to hang out with them on backstage afterwards. A great night all in all.

MS: Lastly, a “fun” question- what is something that would surprise fans about Hanging Garden, or about you specifically, if they knew?

Hatakka: Well, about the band: because some of the members live far from one another, we practice very seldom. It is usual that we play songs from a new album together for the first time well after the album is released, and many times that is only a few weeks before a live show where we are supposed to play them. There are many, many songs we have never played together at all.

I think there are many things about me that would surprise people. I bet most don’t know that I am a youth worker by profession, and compose game music as a side gig. I am a nerd: my oldest hobbies are drawing and tabletop RPGs. I have dozens of board games on my book shelf. Currently I play a lot of computer games (mostly PUBG) and started bodybuilding a while back. I’ve done different martial arts all my life: from old-school karate and kobujutsu to MMA and some traditional kenjutsu. Never been very diligent at any of them, though…

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