Oranssi Pazuzu have been on a journey of sonic exploration since their inception. Through the years, their sound has evolved, breaking the boundaries of black metal and psychedelia, and spiralling into other experimental domains. Ontto (the bassist of the band) discusses the various aspects of the new record, Varahtelija, including the production and composition of the tracks, finding the balance between free-form music and precise song-writing, what the future holds for the Oranssi Pazuzu sound, their recent tours, and other projects that members of the band participate in.
Hey Ontto! It’s been a while! Thanks for finding the time to do this interview, as always it is much appreciated.
Ontto: Hey, of course man, nice to hear from you.
So, last time we met, you had just finished touring for Valonielu and were about to enter the studio for Varahtelija. Did you make use of the recording space, Wastement, you share with Dark Buddha Rising to get the first demos for the new album? Which studio did you end up going to? How was the production process of the album in general?
Ontto: Yeah, we used a lot of time recording jams and song ideas at Wastement, stuff we just happened to come up with. The spoken main idea was to dive deeper into the hypnotic side of the music, and at the same time, keep things more free than in the past. We used to hang out in there, relaxing and listening to the demo recordings, and talking about what direction we should take each thing. We ended up having so much material that we decided we should definitely make this one a double LP.
We wanted a very psychedelic and organic sound for the album, so it was essential to use a room where we could capture a live take of us playing and have a good, roomy drum sound. That was the most important thing, we didn’t want “the regular metal” drum sound. We had heard some works by Juppu Mauranen, who had been doing these Finnish indie/shoegaze bands among other things, especially Murmanski, and thought that he had a good sense of how to make the record sound widescreen and organic without sacrificing the power. Also, we were into the idea that he had no previous experience about music this heavy, and he might bring in some fresh perspective sound-wise. We headed to Mankku studio and did the live takes and some extra guitars with him, then we continued with more guitars, vocals, synths and other stuff with Tom Brooke at his Tonehaven studio, that is an absolutely great atmospheric place in the countryside. After the recordings, I drew some maps for Juppu and he mixed them using those and our suggestions.
We discussed previously about your plan to make the new album have a natural feel, but still feature the element of precise songwriting. Do you feel that you have achieved this goal with Varahtelija?
Ontto: I think so, yeah. We combined lots of jammy, free-flowing parts to more precisely structured parts, like doomy riffs or chords, and also made room for more improvisation. There is a lot of repetitive “hypno” riffing, which allows the spacious things in there to evolve more freely beside the riffs, and through that, the two are less separated and affect your mind simultaneously.
Looking back now, how would you compare Varahtelija to Valonielu? What can you tell us about the evolution of the band through this album?
Ontto: I think while doing Valonielu, we discovered some new musical ground we can pull off with this band, and Värähtelijä is us using those discoveries to more freeform explorations. We thought that there were interesting ideas in the previous album, but the atmospheric darkness and especially the hypnotic side was still somehow underdeveloped. Also, me and Jun-His jamming with the Dark Buddha Rising guys in Atomikylä had some impact on our thinking. Probably we have learned to respect freedom of improvisation more.
Apologies, but I have not yet learned Finnish. So, can you explain a bit the concept that you follow in Varahtelija? What are the underlying themes in the album? Are they connected with your earlier works?
Ontto: Well, I wouldn’t call this exactly a theme album. In my thinking, it’s a long trip and each song is like a vision on that trip that represents a different kind of mirage or idea in front of you. There is no story, but an abstract journey inside your consciousness. There are themes like sacrificing your ego, relating to corrupted society, and accepting your mind’s demise and the return to nature. The thing with the lyrics that might surprise some people is that there is no “space” or “sci-fi” theme, the album is actually more about existence and consciousness.
You again have some space themes with “Valveavaruus,” and a very black metal title with “Vasemman käden hierarkia,” a contrast that is apparent in your very name. Do you, however, feel that the lines between the two have blurred even more with this album?
Ontto: Yes, but like I mentioned, the themes are actually not simply about space, but more about this cosmic reality we exist in. Definitely blurring the line between heavier stuff and more atmospheric stuff was one of the main things we always wanted to do. We didn’t want to have one and then another, but both at the same time. Kind of like ascending beyond binary thinking and finding a new reality behind those individual things.
In the past, you have stated that you draw inspiration from other sources outside music, such as art and films – for instance, Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist reference in Kosmonument (“Kaaos Hallitsee” which translates to “Chaos Reigns”). Was there a particular source that inspired the material (or part of) in Varahtelija?
Ontto: Actually, one thing that impacted at least me a lot, was the photograph that is now on the front cover of the album. The rest of the guys could probably give you an endless list of influences, but for me that was the most important thing. I thought it would be awesome if our new songs would sound like that photo looked. It’s got this dark, hairy tunnel that’s leading to ecstasy. Or death. Many times I felt like that, when we were jamming these new repetitions over and over again, and that picture worked somehow like a visual anchor for the music.
With the lyrics, I drew most of the inspiration from the demo recordings that we did, with Jun-His screaming a ritual vocal on top of the demos. I was listening to that stuff and figuring out what he was feeling. Usually, it was something painful… hahaha. So in a way, the lyrics are an attempt to interpret those feelings into a human language.
From my experience, I considered Valonielu to have a very strong psychedelic quality. Even though that is still strong in Varahtelija, I found that the album leans more towards a hypnotic and ritualistic aspect. Can you tell us how this part of your sound emerged?
Ontto: The ritualistic and hypnotic mood has always been something we’ve been into, but we never fully immersed on it on a whole album level. This was our first proper attempt to do so, as before Värähtelijä we mainly did that with individual songs like “Korppi” or “Vino verso.” In my opinion, learning how to play more with polyrhythms was a new key to the hypnotic side for us. Another thing was that we wanted to destroy the pop song structure and easily predictable drama arcs.
Can you discuss a bit the closing track of the album, “Valveavaruus.” Personally, I found it one of the most interesting moments in the album, diving into electronic and dark ambient territory. What is your perception of that track, and is this a first taste of what the future might hold for Oranssi Pazuzu? Also, what about the riff from “Saturaatio” that appears midway through the closing track? Did you want to give the impression of the album as a cyclic event? A continuous oscillation?
Ontto: Yes, the riff from “Saturaatio” was added to give the end a feeling of returning to the beginning, or closure, as we knew it had to be the final track on the album. From our point of view, “Valveavaruus” is probably the most experimental track we have done so far, the way we did it was completely different from our usual. The first section is live take, and after that it’s all overdubs and electronic experimentation. The majority of the song was written by Jun-His, and I think he wanted to make it a bit more symphonic than the rest of the album. We thought it would be cool if the ending of the album felt like it was reaching for the unknown. Samuli Huttunen, who did also the cover layout and the inside artwork, put his blueprint into the track with his Berlin minimal techno beats. I have to give credit to Juppu also here, his mixing on this track is amazing, I mean how he handled all those psychedelic sounds we were pouring into the track. Try it with headphones and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The album totals about 70 minutes, which makes it your longest work so far. You have told me that the material you had clocked about two hours. Did you tailor the parts to shorten the album, or there is a chance that we might hear the remaining material in some other form? Maybe an EP or a split release?
Ontto: We had more songs that we worked on, but we dropped them out before going into studio, because they felt somehow different from the rest of the material. We knew where we wanted the focus to be on with the album – you know, the hypnotic repetition and the psychedelic journeys, weird structures etc. – instead of just making it a collection of individual songs, it had to have a sense of direction. We might go back to some of those ideas, but I really can’t say… We’re usually not that much into reworking old songs. Basically, everything we recorded ended up on the album, so I don’t think we’re going to do any splits or EPs in some while.
You are one of the bands that steadily evolves their sound, and I know that it is very early to ask, but where do you see Oranssi Pazuzu heading in the future sonically?
Ontto: I like the feeling that right now we are in a tabula rasa situation; you know, we have all the freedom to go any direction we like. Having said that though, right now I don’t think we are going to go towards more traditional songwriting or the sound of our early albums. I hope we will find a new perspective to our music. We have recorded four albums now, so it’s starting to feel like we are going to need a bit different angle next time, because we don’t want to just repeat the same idea over and over again. It will take some time to figure it all out.
You also just completed a European tour promoting the new album. How did it go? What was the reaction of the audience to the new material? Do you have any more upcoming tour dates in support of Varahtelija?
Ontto: Tour was great! Also we just played Roadburn, where we had amazing time, not only playing, but also because we had a total Tampere takeover with our friends’ bands like DBR, PH, Abyssion and Hexvessel playing something like seven shows altogether. Next, we’re doing Desertfest in London, and a couple of Finnish festivals this summer. We have had surprisingly good reactions from people, and I think we have also played many of our greatest shows just now during this tour.
Photo by Pauliina Lindel
You guys also participate in a number of other bands, Atomikylä and Grave Pleasures among more. Are there any more bands that have been added to the list? I heard something about a group called Three Pound Trigger.
Ontto: Yeah, Jun-His has been playing death metal with Three Pound Trigger for many years now. I think they used to be called ‘Critical Continent,’ but they had some lineup changes and so they decided to change their name. I think they just released an EP. Also he’s been touring with Grave Pleasures as a second guitarist and played on their first album too. I’m not sure if he’s also planning to join the band full time.
Atomikylä, of course, is our Wastement Brotherhood Ceremonial Freedoom Band with Jun-His, me and the Dark Buddha Rising guys Vesa and Jukka. We are just about to release our second album Keräily through Svart Records on April 29th, so check that out if you’re into some blackened psychedelics and krautrock madness. I think the album captures the spirit of Atomikylä very nicely.
Alright guys! Thanks again very much for finding the time to answer my questions. New album is amazing! Till next time!
Ontto: Thanks Spyros, and all the best!