“Fuck man, you do not have to ask me twice,” – that was what I said when Nikos, the band manager/sound engineer for Finnish psychedelic experimentalists Oranssi Pazuzu asked if I could join the band for a couple of days during their appearance at Incineration Festival in London and their gig in Athens the following night. There was not much to think about, really, I was going to spend time with one of the most interesting bands in heavy music right now and get to see them performing live in a couple of occasions – something that I had failed to do this far – and just see what a tour (even a short one) would be like first hand.
The shows would not be officially part of the Valonielu tour, and would be more of a standalone occasion, something that was also shown by the setlist that the band chose, and also to showcase a couple of new songs from their upcoming album. London has also been really good for the band since their previous appearance at The Black Heart, and this time around they would be performing in a bigger venue, and they wanted to visit Greece for a show since they had not played there before.
So on the 9th of May, I got on the train to London, and more specifically to Camden, where Incineration was taking place. I was told that we would meet outside of the Electric Ballroom.
Note: it is usually a bad sign when you see the sound engineer of a band whose sound is as complex as needing at least an hour long soundcheck coming out of the underground station instead of the venue where the gig is taking place.
Oranssi Pazuzu were set for an appearance at 14.45, and due to the chaotic nature of organizing events, things seem to be going a bit differently. Nikos was stuck at the airport after some confusion and had to take matters into his own hands in order to get to the venue as fast as he could. I cannot even begin to fathom the difficulties of organizing a festival such as Incineration, with a big number of bands that are set to play and need to arrive at their scheduled times, and this was my first experience with how easily things could change.
But surprisingly enough, things seem to be sorted by Nikos’ persistence. The first guys I met from Oranssi Pazuzu were Jun-His and Eviil, guitarist/vocalist and keyboard player for the band, respectively. It was great to see how the guys would approach the impeding event, discussing the set with Nikos before they would go on stage and making sure of what was needed to be done. The most interesting part about the conversation was how the band insisted on keeping the set as it was agreed on a while ago, instead of adding another song. That did not make much sense at the time, but I soon understood the amount of planning that Oranssi Pazuzu need to go through in order to prepare for a set, and many things would need to be altered, including the lights for the specific show. Talking with Jun-His, I even found out that depending on the set that the band is playing, a lot of things can change. Not only will the sound and light engineering be different, but the setup for the band and even the members’ position on stage are dependent on the tracks they choose.
Since it was a festival, I was going around checking how the other bands were doing at that time, something that you can read HERE. After I caught the show that Oranssi Pazuzu gave, I thought that I had witnessed them at their best, but to my surprise, the band was not that happy with how they did. Jun-His mentioned that festivals are always more hectic with the changeover that needs to be done really fast and the technical difficulties that may arise in the process. In this case, a couple of Moit’s (guitarist) pedals were fucked, probably on the plane, and there was no time to find out which ones were working and which were not.
Note: when you need to reduce your pedal board from nine to two (!!) it is a challenge.
But Moit was still able to pull through, even though he had to improvise a bit and use only one delay pedal, leading to the band being quite happy that they started their set with “Kaaos Hallitsee,” since it was one of their angriest songs. But after a while, as Jun-His said, it was not such a serious problem, and it was more a result of the nerves being close to their breaking point with the preparation for the festival and unexpected mishaps occurring. But as Ontto and Jun-His explain, you need to do your best to pull through and you need to be able to do your art, no matter what else is going on. The band is looking back at the great acts of the ‘70s, which featured such great players that no matter what technical difficulties they might have encountered, they would still pull through and give a hell of a show, and that is where Oranssi Pazuzu draws inspiration from.
What was also very noticeable with the show that Oranssi Pazuzu gave in London was that there were not much of a break between their songs. The band would not address the audience or interact with them in that manner, but instead deliver a more free-flowing set. It is very important, as Jun-His mentions, to keep the intensity going between the songs. The drama curve that the band is able to produce in more condensed sets, as was the case with their performance at Incineration, is shorter but you can instead play around with the track order in order to make the event more unpredictable. That was something that I witnessed firsthand in their gig at London.
BUILDING BLOCKS FOR A SOLID SHOW
What immediately strikes you when you see Oranssi Pazuzu performing live is their absolutely psychedelic set and their insane sound. Not only do they have their own sound engineer, but they also bring in their own lighting engineer in order to get the most out of their performances. When asked how important the psychedelic vibe is to the band’s show, Jun-His and Ontto specify that they are merely trying to get the right mood for themselves first, along with the intensity and the ritualistic presence. If those aspects are strong enough, then it will expand to the audience, and the crowd will be transferred to the same place the band is. If they enjoy their presence on stage, then that will make the audience enjoy the show so much more.
Yup, this was no joke. And that is why there was a fucking poster telling people that this was going to be loud – and it fucking was. In London they seemed to be playing a bit louder than the other bands, but in Athens, they were about to bring the whole building down. That was the one part of the complete Oranssi Pazuzu experience, with the other being the insane light show.
“Talking with someone about ideas might be cool, but in the end you want someone that might have a different kind of interpretation of your art, and that is what it is about.” That is what Jun-His and Ontto said when asked about how they work with their lighting engineer, Mikko Mannisto. They have complete trust in his ideas of how the show should be and let him work: “we want him to give his interpretation of what the show should be like.” While they might discuss technical aspects, such as what type of lights they need for some the parts, they mostly give him free reign over the performance.
“It is the same with any art collaboration” Jun-His mentions – you just need to find the right guys who understand the band but will also give something new to the performance. It seems that they have found them in Nikos and Mikko. And by the way, Mikko is a member of a sick Integrity-influenced hardcore band called Ravage Ritual, so make sure to check them out, and especially their latest album, Soul Eater, as well.
TRAVELLING TO ATHENS
After Incineration has finished, I got what being on a tour (albeit a short one) really meant. We had to leave Camden Town and head towards Gatwick airport in order to catch the next day flight to Athens.
Note: “See you tomorrow! Well, more like see you in a couple of hours…”
Getting to the hotel and we are all absolutely knackered, and we can get just a couple of hours sleep. Amazingly in those type of situations, two hours of rest can work wonders on you. So after a tedious and surprisingly challenging online check in, we leave in the middle of the night and get to Gatwick. We manage to check in all thirteen (I still remember the number) of the band’s items with all their gear and board the plane. That basically meant another few hours of sleep which were more than welcome at that point.
FINGERS IN MORE THAN ONE PIE
During the travel, I had some time to talk with Jun-His and Ontto about the other bands that they are currently involved in. I personally had some worry that these guys might be spreading themselves a bit too thin working with a number of different acts, but they were quick enough to discard that notion: “Creativity brings more creativity,” and the more music they get involved in, the more secure they feel and that is what they are enjoying doing at the end of the day.
Atomikyyla is one of the projects that the guys really seem to enjoy, since it has a similar feel to Oranssi Pazuzu, but without the same amount of philosophy, and it has a “children playing in a sandbox” type of vibe going on. There is not really much planned for the band, since the band started mostly based on a jam session that Jun-His and Ontto had with Vesa Ajomo and Jukka Ramanen of Dark Buddha Rising. All the guys seem to be happy with how the project is going at the moment, and they just want to have fun and see what they can come up with in terms of music.
Grave Pleasures (previously known as Beastmilk) have also enlisted Jun-His as a live/studio member of the band and he will be with them for the foreseeable future. The band had a situation and contacted Jun-His saying that they would need a guitarist for some live shows, as well as some recording sessions and it sort of “just happened,” as Jun-His said. His addition to Grave Pleasures does not mean that he is just going to be playing the guitar parts and filling in for the live shows, since he has also been involved in the songwriting process, making the prospect of the new album even more interesting.
Since all members of the band seem to be into many different genres of music that as a result sees them getting involved in quite a few side projects, but that according to them is a good thing in order to maintain focus as Ontto mentions: “If you stare at the one point for too long, you sort of lose the overall picture.”
Note: Shit! I Just realized I am in Athens now, and no matter how prepared you are, the most unexpected scenarios can still happen
Once in Athens, the promoters for the event, 3 Shades of Black, picked us up and drove us straight to the venue. The original plan was for us to go to the hotel first, but since there was a marathon going on in the city. Yeah, a fucking marathon with thousands of people running which resulted in traffic being a nightmare, and consequently us running a bit late. This is Athens after all. No problem, straight to the venue we go and there I witnessed just how meticulous the soundcheck and preparation for Oranssi Pazuzu had to be in order to get the right sound and right presence for the band.
Note: “What do you need a phaser for?”
“For the hihat!”
The band set their gear on stage and Nikos started placing the microphones. In terms of organization, everything that the band had asked for was followed to the letter by 3 Shades of Black. The only minor issue was the bass amp, which had to be brought in a bit later on, but no real problems arose from that. Probably the funniest moment was when Nikos was asked what he would use the phaser (asked by the band in their rider) for, and he calmly replied he was going to use it for the hihat. The blank expressions in our faces found the response: “You will know when you hear it.” And so we did!
The pedals that did not work on Moit’s board were identified, so now seven of them were operational, so that was also resolved. And then started one of the longest soundchecks that I had seen in a long time, with Ontto even coming up to me and saying: “You can come to the backstage if you want, because this will take some time.” Soon I understood why, with Korjak behind the drum kit; stoically following Nikos’ requests in order to get the drum sound right. At the same time Mikko was trying to get the lights right for the stage, switching the different colors in order to get the desired result.
Note: Like kids in a candy store.
In the meantime, I had some time to check the gear that Oranssi Pazuzu had with them. A plethora of pedals was in view in order to get the most out of their sound and to create the best possible final product. More interestingly, I got into a conversation with their keyboard player, about how the sounds are produced. A mixer, couple of Kaoss pads, Monotribe and couple of Monotrons were included in Eviil’s signal chain, based around one of the newer Roland Juno. Even though, as he mentioned, the newer Juno models have a bit of a plastic sound to them and are not as good as their older counterparts, that aspect of them has in turn become a feature of the sound of Oranssi Pazuzu.
What was even more exciting to find out was the philosophy that the band followed. Eviil was saying that instead of switching between sounds until he gets an appropriate one, he would try to work with whatever he got from his instrument, even if it is annoying and not as “pretty,” he will try to mold it into something that is useable and can work within their music. The example that he brings is the sound of the synth in “Vino Verso” from the band’s latest album – to my surprise, since I thought it was a really cool sound – and states that the sound was not much liked, but kept manipulating it until it would fit in the song.
Jun-His mentions that their philosophy of sticking with the sounds, experimenting and going into more depth with them is more suitable for them as a band. Moit and Eviil are the space team of the band as Jun-His states and they are in a large part responsible for the psychedelic sound that Oranssi Pazuzu can achieve. Acts in the ‘60s and ‘70s would approach music in that respect and would not discard anything, even though it seems like today this approach is not taken by many, and is even considered a risk, to Jun-His’ surprise: “Why? Playing music should be an adventure of sorts and you should let your imagination flow.” There is no need for precision alone and there are no dangers in experimenting, as it might lead to something interesting, and if it does not, “it is not like climbing mountains; you cannot really fuck up with music, it is up to you to do anything you can imagine.”
Ontto further explains that they go after their own intuition when they try to get new sounds, and you need to trust your own instinct and not be scared if something does not immediately click; in the end, “it is the mood that counts.” Jun-His will even continue to play with a guitar sound that might seem silly, even if it is just “to annoy the rest of the band,” and there is always the chance that you might hear back something later on and realize that it is actually quite cool.
The band finally played a couple of songs to finish off the soundcheck, but by that point they were really tired and everyone was fucking exhausted, so we went back to the hotel for a couple of hours before the gig. Good thing that we did, because what was going to follow was fucking epic!
ORANSSI PAZUZU LIVE AT AN CLUB
Back to the venue at about the time the doors were opening, and 3 Shades of Black were already at work in order to get the right mood for the audience. So I basically walk into the venue with incense overflowing, getting you all nice and hazy with each breath you took.
The first band to take the stage was Mogg, whom I had not heard of before the event, and were just insane. With their setup including three guitarists, a drummer and a vocalist, they even positioned themselves in a bizarre fashion with the three guitarists at the center and left, drummer in the back and the vocalist on the right. Things started off in a ritualistic drone fashion, with a huge “wall of sound” type of approach as the heavy riffs were pummeling down. The band would travel quite easily between different modes, from drone to sludge outbreaks, and even to blackened assaults that took you by surprise as sudden blasts and screams from the beyond appeared. The closing lines of their show were also quite prophetic, with the singer saying (loosely translated): “The black darkness will devour you” – and he was on point with that one.
Second to the stage were doom/death Lovecraftian spawn DreamLongDead. The band had released a few months their second full-length, AriseHowlingDarkness, the follow up to their insane 2013 debut MadnessDeadGrave. On stage they were unbelievable, and following a short intro they unleash their monolithic, misanthropic riffs, as the whole venue seemed to be crumbling with each passing drum hit. Unfortunately, a problem with the drum pedal in the middle of their first – very long – song put a sudden break to an otherwise great performance. The band remained quite cool on stage despite the unexpected problem, and kept the feedback from the amps going until the pedal was replaced, at which point they resumed the track with fucking rage. It was a shame that they chose to stop after that instead of throwing a second song in the set, but despite the issues I was still pleased with how they played and how they carried themselves through the difficulties.
Note: Lesson learned! Be careful whose name you invoke.
I had already seen Oranssi Pazuzu play just the previous day, so I thought I knew what to expect from them, but what I saw was absolutely beyond this world. They started their set in the same manner they did at Incineration, with “Kaaos Hallitsee” kicking off through some piercing guitar shrieks. After the initial shock had passed, I started to realize that this was not the same performance I saw the past day.
The band was much better on stage than at Incineration, with the sound even more impressive and the light show more psychedelic than I ever thought possible. The show continued with the band playing back to back their two new songs, with the ambiance taking a turn for the more ceremonial-like and ritualistic with each second that passed. Their music seemed to be flowing freely in a natural manner and with such ease that it was impossible not to enter the trance that the band was inducing. The set continued with “Olen Aukaissut Uuden Silman,” with the band more energetic and a stronger dose of paranoia as the track was being unleashed.
A trip further back in time with the opening song, “Korppi” from their 2009 debut album, Muukalainen Puhuu, sees them paying tribute to their past in the most appropriate way possible before returning to the present with – my personal favorite – “Ympyra On Viiva Tomussa.” The performance of the band on this song in particular was insane, completely on another level as they unveiled the fifteen minute long opus. At that point they left the stage, but after further demand, they would return to play one more track from their debut album. This time around it was “Kerettilainen Vuohi” closing their set and in turn giving an end to this wonderful acid trip.
A couple of things that I found very interesting and entertaining during the show were firstly, the amount of people that were noticing how loud the sound was from the get-go. Yeah, the sign put outside of the venue was not a joke; it was one of the loudest shows you would get to see. The second was how many people were completely overwhelmed with the performance of Oranssi Pazuzu that evening; it was much more than just another show for them. And since that was the first time the band played in Greece, it really seemed that the audience was sold on what the band is doing.
REFLECTING ON THE SHOW
I was quite curious to see what reaction the band had from the show and their performance, also compared with their gig at Incineration the previous day. The band this time around seemed to be very happy with how they did and how the event went. Jun-His explains that the two shows were very different for them, with Ontto agreeing and mentioning that in smaller venues it is easier for them to get the right feeling, while the audience “can’t escape the show, you have to be there.” There is a degree of familiarity as well playing on a smaller stage, since when they rehearse they also do so in a small place. That of course does not mean that they do not enjoy playing at festivals, and Jun-His remarks that he likes the changes between small venues and bigger stages.
Back in Londonn I was taken aback by the way the band approached their set, without many breaks in between, and when I asked what they would do with a longer set, Jun-His indicates that they would need to have some breaks in between in order to release the pressure. But, that was quite different to what I saw them do in Athens. Jun-His clarifies that when the show is longer, there is more room for them to build up and they can have various stages of intensity. The show had a longer drama curve, picking up little by little from their heavy and slow start until the crushing finale.
Note: “Man, you are a real badass”
Something that escaped me completely before the show was that Moit was not feeling so well. By the time the two supporting acts had finished, the band was thinking that he had problems with acid reflux, but the case was quite worse since it looked more like food poisoning. I cannot even begin to imagine how it would feel to get on stage when you are dealing with such issues, but Moit was able to once again pull through like the badass that he is. Given the situation, he gave his all and his performance was impeccable.
OK, so that is what I have been waiting to talk with the band about since their appearance in London. They fucking played some new songs! Apart from the fact that their new songs took my fucking head off, I wanted to know what else could we expect from the new Oranssi Pazuzu album, and the band inclined to give me quite a descriptive summary of what was in store.
They now have a different practice place that they share with the guys from Dark Buddha Rising, with the poetically sick name Wastement. Dark Buddha Rising even recorded their new album there, and the space helps Oranssi Pazuzu prepare better for when they play live. So with the new songs, they could record their ideas and get a better picture of what was going on with them. That was quite different with their previous album, since as Jun-His says, they had only sketches, which would in turn change a fair bit when they would enter the studio. This time around they are even more prepared.
The goal is to get as many layers of sound as possible, with the rhythm section recorded live and then dropping more elements on top. The album needs to have a live feeling, Jun-His states, but there are no absolutes for the band in terms of recording techniques: “it is an album; we want to do a good album, no matter if it requires one hundred tracks.” For Valonielu, the band made use of overdubs in the recording process, while previously they would just play the songs live. For the upcoming album, they are looking to have a combination of the two.
What is very intriguing is that the band at the moment has a lot of material, about two hours of it actually, and they will need to decide which they are going to leave out and which to include in the new record. Jun-His mentions that they are trying to give each song its own character and see whether they will fit together, and at the present time they have a good idea of which songs are going to fit in the new album. Oranssi Pazuzu have all the material, but there is still work that needs to be done on some of them, in order to get the right kind of structure, length and groove and Jun-His and Ontto are looking forward to working with them in more detail. They still do not exclude anything, as Jun-His laughingly states, not even a two-hour long record.
The goal for the new album is for the music to be even more crossover, genre-wise. Jun-His describes Oranssi Pazuzu as not even strictly speaking a metal band, but more of a fusion act, and they will try to get a more smooth and spacious sound for their upcoming album, with a fair bit of a rocking attitude as well as unearthing a ‘70s vibe from their music. The two new songs that the band has are going to be key tracks for the upcoming album, and were the most prepared from the new record. At this point they seem to be happy with the two tracks but they do not rule out the possibility of any further improvements.
Note: “It is going to get darker!?”
While they were composing the material for their upcoming release, the band wanted to create the ultimate dark space album, and they spend a lot of time jamming. They are trying to get a combination between the energy of a jamming session and the very intense and precise songwriting process. The objective is to blend these aspects together without the mixture sounding too rough. Jun-His and Ontto state that it is a necessity that the songs feel completely natural but still have that element of precise songwriting to them. That was a concept that was in the band’s scope since the moment they finished recording Valonielu. Ontto mentions that the new album will have more circling patterns, and feature a more hypnotic and trippy state, while Jun-His adds that melodies will still have their place in the record.
Even though it is fairly soon to talk about a specific concept, Ontto is working on the lyrics of the album and he has some sort of grand scheme of what the record will be about. Valonielu has some positive aspects, but it is still quite dark, so I can only imagine what the next one will be like. Question is: will it be as pitch-black as Kosmonument was? The new songs, according to Jun-His, definitely have a darker vibe lyrically, while in terms of music there is a certain ritualistic atmosphere and some elements of witchcult going on.
FUTURE / CONCLUSION
These couple of shows concluded the band’s live performances for a while, even though there were talks for a US tour that might take place at some point. Oranssi Pazuzu will now focus on the material for their new album and its recording, which should take place during the summer. In the meantime, the band’s first, long out of print, album, Muukalainen Puhuu, will be re-released.
But that was enough with the talking, and at that point we had to go out and do some drinking, which I cannot say I remember that much from, so it must have been one hell of night. Somewhere between the eleventh round of drinks, a few strange arguments that I cannot recall (could not read between the lines), some talks about the future gigs that 3 Shades of Black had going on, with a Tim Hecker show just one day after I would leave (shit!) and Eviil’s socializing – it was quite a night!
Again, after one hour’s sleep (I think I am getting the hang of it now) and another beer (hair of the dog), the band gathered all their stuff and we drove to the airport, where they would catch their flight back home.
All in all, I had one hell of a time with Oranssi Pazuzu, hanging out with them for a couple of days and seeing them give some awesome shows. I would like to thank the band, Mikko and Nikos, for putting up with me for that time. Also I would like to thank the guys from Incineration Festival for doing their best to make us feel at home, as well as the dudes from 3 Shades of Black, Stathis, Stamos and Manos, for taking care of everything in such a professional manner.
Now I just need to wait for when I get my hands on the new Oranssi Pazuzu album…
Live photos by John Hiotellis
Video footage by Stamos Abatis
[The video does not include the two new songs, at the moment we are keeping them on the hush-hush]