(Comrade Aleks brings us yet another fascinating interview, and this time a very detailed and in-depth one, with Lasse Pyykkö of Hooded Menace, whose new album will be released in January.)
This year Hooded Menace celebrate their tenth anniversary of spreading darkest death doom in the underground scene. Though some might not tag the band as an “underground” one when their albums have been released on such labels as Relapse Records, Profound Lore, and Season Of Mist.
The last of those labels proclaimed that the new Hooded Menace album, Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed, will be released on January 26, 2018. And if you take a look, you’ll find that the Hooded Menace lineup went through big changes once more, though Lasse Pyykkö remains, as always, its core.
Did these changes influence Hooded Menace’s recognizable sound? How many of the Blind Dead will return from their tombs in the new songs? Lasse gave me answers to these and others questions, I’d like to thank him again for this deep and detailed interview.
Hi Lasse! How are you? What’s going on in the Hooded Menace camp?
Hi, all good! Pumped for the upcoming shows – we’ve exciting stuff to announce soon – and obviously stoked about the new album out in January. We´ve been hard at work practicing the old and the new material with the fresh line-up.
Hooded Menace’s new album will be out on Season Of Mist in January 2018. Do you plan to spread the news of Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed with a tour?
Yes, we wish to tour Europe next year, but nothing´s set in stone yet. Our booking agent is working on it.
It seems that such death doom stuff as you play is more common in the States. Temple Of Void, Druid Lord, Asphyx, Wooden Stake are the first bands which came on my mind. How do you see your chance to do a tour in USA?
Obviously, Asphyx are not a US band if that’s what you are saying… Anyways, there’s some good death/doom coming out from the States right now such as Temple of Void and Druid Lord from the names you dropped. Sempiternal Dusk and Spectral Voice are cool also. Sadly, some of the best bands have split up, like Anhedonist and Ealdath. The funeral doomsters Asunder were awesome as well.
We’ve toured the US a couple of times and wish to do so sometime in the close future as well. It´s been really good for us over there.
Oh, yes, Asphyx… My error! What about Finland? With which bands do you usually play there?
Most of the time we play outside of Finland, actually. It´s been mainly festivals for us over here. There’re no certain bands we´d play with over and over again, therefore I’ve never felt like we are so much part of the scene. If my memory serves me right, our few clubs gigs in Finland have included Horse Latitudes (our vocalist´s band), Lurk, Solothus, Herem, Swallowed, and some others.
You’ve run Hooded Menace for ten years, and you’re the only constant member of the band. How much did other members put into your studio recordings?
I come up with the music and record a demo for every song, then everyone learns their parts based on the demos. Of course the drummer does his thing, but the beats and some of the essential fills are already arranged at the demo stages. Surely everyone has their own playing style, but other than that, the album versions are pretty much one-to-one to my demos. We are not a jam band at all. Everything is well-thought-out before we start to rehearse the songs together, not to mention when it´s time to enter the studio.
Of course, in the studio everyone discusses the sounds we´re looking for and the overall production, but what comes to the compositions, that part is already done when I introduce the songs to the other guys. I’m not saying it has be like this forever. We have new members in the band now and I’m open to any good ideas they may have.
So Antti Poutanen (bass) and Otso Ukkonen (drums) joined Hooded Menace in 2017. Did they join in time to add some ideas to Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed? Or did you compose the lion’s share of new material alone?
Antti and Otso joined the band AFTER we recorded the new album, so it is our old drummer Pekka playing on Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed. I handled the bass in addition to my guitar parts.
Did you record Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed in Skyhammer Studio as you did with Darkness Drips Forth? How did you describe the sound you wanted to get to the sound engineer?
No, we recorded it in Finland and Jaime Gomez Arellano (Cathedral, Paradise Lost, Ghost) mixed and mastered it at Orgone Studios in the UK.
We tell the engineer/producer what records we think sound good to us. We may pick up one album as a reference for the rhythm guitar sound, and the other for the snare drum sound, and so forth. We may have several references for some certain sound, but I think it´s just easier if you have references to throw in, because describing something that is abstract in its essence can be hard and easily misinterpreted.
In Jaime´s case we sometimes told him to listen to some of his own works, especially what came to the drums. We were blown away by the drum sound he created for Paradise Lost´s The Plague Within. That was the main reason why we hooked him up actually, and it paid off.
The new song “Charnel Reflections” is already available for listening; can we already make an impression of the whole album by this single track? Looks like after ten years of being active and all these changes in the lineup, you have still kept all the core elements of Hooded Menace’s original sound in their places.
There’s stuff on the album bleaker than “Charnel Reflections”, which is one of the most melodic cuts. I’d say “Cathedral of Labyrinthine Darkness” is the most funereal one. It´s the album’s oldest tune and could very well be at home on our previous album Darkness Drips Forth, which was Hooded Menace at its slowest and most depressive.
Yeah, you are correct about us not having lost the core elements in our music, but just as every new Hooded Menace album, Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed also offers some new nuances and stuff. There´ll always be people to whom it might as well be just more of the same. I know our progression, if that´s what you want to call it, has always been rather moderate, but if you have truly listened to our albums, and understand this music, to begin with, it´s never been just more of the same.
What kind of nuances would you notice on Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed?
Melodies. Ok, its nothing new with us, but I’m more like referring to the quality of melodies here and there. For example, the ending of “In Eerie Deliverance”, and how the chord changes under the lead guitar pattern make this section sound a little bit unusual to us. Almost as if it was too nice, if you know what I mean. At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to use it, but it grew on me and now it´s one of the highlights for me, actually. It´s a very simple thing and nothing radical at all, really. Certainly most people won’t pay attention to it in the same manner as I do, but to me, that’s one of those nuances.
Also I think that some of the riffs and guitar solos have a more intensive and fiery feel to them than before, if that counts.
Harri´s vocals is one thing, obviously. This is the element a listener is going to pick up first, as Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed is our first full-length with someone else but me in the vocals. Harri´s sound isn’t as guttural as mine, which is a good thing if you ask me, and I think it fits really great to the songs. It suits well with the older material too, kinda gives it an extra boost as it´s a more aggressive and powerful tone than the one on the records. I´d place Harri´s voice somewhere between growling Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost) and John Alman (Winter), and to me, that’s pretty much a perfection.
I guess that Never Cross The Dead was already more melodic than Fulfill The Curse, but what do you see now as highlights in your songwriting? Hooded Menace isn’t just melodies, it’s rather bludgeoning riffs and absolutely dark atmosphere.
Yeah, I think every album has been more melodic than its predecessor. Never Cross the Dead includes some of our strongest material, and “The House of Hammer” is always a certain choice for our live set. In my opinion, it´s one of our best songs still. I feel it´s kin to the new album´s “Charnel Reflections” – another personal favourite. Both songs have a really cool melancholic vibe to them, but also nastier, very meaty sections – something to headbang to. I think they’re some of our most memorable songs.
Many other tracks from the new album could make this list now. Time will tell how much there is longevity to them. “Chasm of the Wraith” from the Labyrinth of Carrion Breeze EP is a great track with loads of emotion and good riffs. It was a cool idea to have Pia from Serpent Omega do some backing vocals for it. From Fulfill the Curse I´d bring up “Grasp of the Beastwoman”. The chorus is nicely lifted by the time-signature shift from the verse´s 3/4 to the chorus in 4/4. I like how the chorus takes off. Very simple but effective.
“Elysium of Dripping Death” off the album Darkness Drips Forth turned out really good. It reaches out to the realms of funeral doom, but has the same gripping feel as our more up-tempo tracks. Loads of catchy – dare I say entertaining – stuff in one of our bleakest songs ever. Effigies of Evil is a damn solid album, even though I wouldn’t say it´s our best. As for highlights, I´d pick “Crumbling Insanity”, which was chosen for our sole music video, “In the Dead We Dwell”, and “Vortex Macabre”. Especially the last one has so much to it. It´s like a collection of all kinds of riffs we played at the time (laughs). It´s a real song though, with a determined flow to it.
I read once that the Darkness Drips Forth artwork fits the best to describe the Hooded Menace essence, and that the new record has artwork of absolutely another kind. Why did you change your mind and choose this time a “more friendly” cover?
Adam Burke did a beyond awesome job on the latest Loss album cover, so we wanted to see what he could do for us, and he certainly delivered. We’re so happy with the result. As much as I love our older cover art works, I simply cannot see us having something as cartoonish as that on the new record. Music changes, and the cover art should reflect the current sound and vibe. I think Adam Burke´s painting is gloomy but beautiful, and the same can be said about the music. Still, it´s not like we have a bouquet of roses on the cover, or something. We´re not there yet! (laughs)
Can you tell us whether the new songs’ lyrics are close to the concept of previous albums? How would you sum up this concept?
Well, we´re still inspired by old horror movies even if that´s not all we are about. The writing style has changed a lot from the early days, that is for sure. The lyrics on the new album are very much in the same way as on Darkness Drips Forth. That was when we began to come up with dreamier, more surrealist and metaphorical stuff.
It´s still very much rooted in all things nightmarish and gloomy, but we’re not telling stories directly based on someone else’s ideas, like taking some certain horror movie and writing down the story. We have been guilty of it for sure, but nowadays that kind of approach feels a bit lazy to us. Instead, when and if we draw inspiration from movies, we use them only as a starting point, an inspiration for something original where the origin gets veiled, or totally vanished for the more compelling ideas. It can go anywhere, basically, as long as there´s the right kind of feel to it. I think it´s an interesting and unchained way to approach the writing process.
All this being said, the lyrics are always the last thing we do. It´s something that just has to be done. And because there´s no way around it, let´s at least put some effort to it and hopefully a touch of originality too.
How many songs based on the Blind Dead movie do you actually have? And why did you choose these particular dead as Hooded Menace’s mascots? What was the first in your life – this movie or Cathedral?
There’s four movies in the Blind Dead series, and I counted that we’ve seven songs about them plus three instrumentals (laughs). But let me explain… The first four songs, which appear on the first two albums, handle each movie from the series in a more story-telling form, while the newer ones dig deeper into the atmosphere, and are written from a more personal perspective, so to speak. It´s wilder and hazier, but also more matured than the early stuff.
The Blind Dead movies just go so well with the type of music we play. We’ve this slow and sludgy, ominous, creepy vibe in our music and those films are just the same. It makes perfect sense.
I didn’t discover the movies ages ago actually, so I must say that first there was Cathedral for me. First and foremost I am a music fan anyway. Other interests, such as horror movies, painting, etc., come after it.
How often do people ask you about the lyrics you write in Hooded Menace? As I understand from your words, the music comes first, so can you imagine your songs with different lyrics?
Not too often, but people seem to know it´s about horror and stuff. I’m not sure if many noticed the new direction the lyrics took on Darkness Drips Forth though. At least we didn’t get much feedback about it. But its okay, I rather discuss the music anyway.
Its utterly hard for me to imagine us singing about anything else, because horror and the supernatural is such a big part of this band. You know, even the band´s name refers to the Blind Dead movies. I don’t find it restrictive though, because there’s so many ways to approach it. Mundane stuff is a total no-go. Ideally, we´d like to take a listener on a trip away from the everyday world, just like a movie can do, instead of reminding them how much life sucks (laughs). There’re a ton of great bands who do that better than us anyway. With us, it´s about escapism.
How do you see the roots of this brutal form of death doom that Hooded Menace and a few other bands play? It seems that originally this genre was represented by the bands who rather tended to depressive poetry, not to massacre and nightmares. Though Visceral Evisceration appeared almost in the same time as those three big Peaceville bands. Or are you just more into death metal?
Autopsy was there too, and still is, and they have had a huge impact on death metal and death/doom bands, Hooded Menace included. They were one of the first bands to mix Trouble, Candlemass, and Black Sabbath influences into death metal, and their lyrics dealt with all things sick and horrifying. And we must not forget Asphyx and Winter. So, it´s really not just the Peaveville Three stuff where the roots are.
I can’t speak for the others, but when we started to play death/doom, it was not so much about the Peaceville Three, actually, except for Paradise Lost, who I like the best of the three, but more about the epic doom metal of Candlemass as well as the doomier side of Autopsy. And of course early Cathedral. It was kind of a hard line back then, and later on our musical palette widened a bit, as more influences crept in.
Lasse, your first album as Hooded Menace, Fulfill The Curse, was released in 2008. How do you find these songs now? How far have you gone from this album?
Yeah, 10 years…. time flies. I still like all those songs a lot. I´m quite proud of the album actually, and I can remember people´s reactions very well at the time of its release. I knew it was a pretty good record, but I didn´t expect such a great reception. At the time there wasn’t as much death/doom around as there is now, so I guess the album kinda stood out.
As discussed in this interview previously, I can definitely find the same core elements on Fulfill the Curse and in our music today, but I can also hear improvement in the song-writing and performance. After ten years I should be worried if I didn’t, right? I wouldn’t call Fulfill the Curse one-dimensional, or our new slab multi-dimensional, but when comparing the two it´s easy to recognize more colors and flavours in the newer stuff. Along ten years time, more melodies, harmonies, and melancholy have crept into the music, but not too much, if you ask me.
I remember how disappointed and angry I was when some of my favourite bands changed too much, in my opinion. Maybe on some subconscious level this trauma prevents me from tearing off the sound of Hooded Menace too far from its roots (laughs). Seriously speaking, of course you have to have balls to enter new territories if that is where you truly want to go, but at the same it’s good to remember where you’re coming from. Some things are best left for side-projects.
How do you understand the motivation that makes you write and perform this utterly dark and nihilistic music?
Even if it´s dark and nihilistic, as you suggest, I can’t write if I’m depressed or mentally in a bad place. I can be happy or melancholic, but never depressed or utterly mad. That is not to say there’s no anger or anxiety put into the music, as I’m sure a wide range of emotions leak in when writing. Finnish people are often considered as being inclined to melancholia, and I must say I recognize this quality in me, so maybe something emanates from there.
For me, there´s something uplifting and cathartic even in the bleakest doom, as long as it´s good stuff, that is. Bands like Iron Maiden, Accept, Dio, Ozzy, and then the harder stuff, such as Metallica and Slayer, eventually leading to Bathory, Napalm Death, Candlemass, Cathedral, and so forth, was the soundtrack for me when growing up. This music gave me pleasure, it inspired me, and simply made life more exciting. It´s still the same, and I guess, as long as this feeling stays with me, I’m going to tune down and play slow, and smile while doing it.
Did you ever notice how your music influenced you on a physical or mental level? Is it a therapy? How long can you live without playing or writing such music?
I think I partly answered this in the previous question/answer, but let me say this…. Actually, there was a long-ish period in my life when I wasn’t writing music much at all, and everything I did sucked, or so I thought. It was a pretty frustrating time. I felt like something was missing, almost as if I wasn’t a whole person. Fine arts, painting especially, filled the void a bit, as I was studying fine arts at the time. When I found the spark for music again, I felt better about myself. And I mean about being able to write music in particular, as mere playing and listening was not enough. So, I wouldn’t underestimate the power of music and creativity.
I can take a break from writing though, like I’m doing now, as we have a new album coming out, and other things related to the band, and life in general, will keep me busy for the moment. Breaks are good actually, because while you’re holding back, you accumulate a huge urge to spill out all the ideas that have been boiling inside of you. It´s a good place to be when it´s time to write again. It works for me, anyway.
Okay, Lasse, thank you for your detailed answers – I really appreciate it! So I wish you all the best with spreading the work of Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed further, and have a nice tour whenever you’re ready for that!
Thanks for having us! Buy our new album and come to see us play live. Cheers!!
Personally one of my favorite bands out there. Everything they have released it top of the line death-doom. Hoping to see them come to the US in the near future.
Will miss Lasse’s incredibly unique vocals.