(On July 31st Transcending Obscurity Records will release the debut album by the Finnish band Sepulchral Curse, and thus it seemed a good time for Comrade Aleks to get in touch with the band, and this discussion followed.)
NCS’ constant readers may remember the Finnish bands Solothus and Yawning Void. We spoke (here and here) with members of these extreme doom acts some time ago. I wasn’t surprised when I found Turku-based death metal band Sepulchral Curse with three members from Solothus / Yawning Void in its lineup. As both mentioned interviews were equally cool, and the preview of Sepulchral Curse’s debut Only Ashes Remain sounds promising, it was natural to get in contact with them. And this chat with two Ragnarock heralds Jaakko Riihimäki (guitars) and Tommi Ilmanen (drums, vocals) won’t disappoint fans of the good old death metal concept behind it.
Hail Sepulchral Curse! How is it on your side? Do you still feel the quarantine’s restrictions or does life turn out to be easier now?
Jaakko: Greetings! Life has mostly been going on as usual on a pretty basic level outside of the Capital area, at least for us, since our jobs didn’t get affected too drastically. The CV19 situation hasn’t been dire here, but we’ll see how things are in the next few weeks as the first pandemic restriction measures have been lifted.
So Sepulchral Curse was started in 2013, and as I understand it back then all of you already played in different bands. What gathered you together under this macabre banner?
Jaakko: We have been pretty busy in various bands and projects on our own for over a decade now, with me and Tommi playing together back in 2005 already. We all shared a drive to play death metal focusing on old-school darkness and brutality, and we had been longtime friends and able players back then, so after preparing a very short demo in 2013, we went all in.
What kind of ideas did you want to express through this band? Why couldn’t you do it just with your “main” bands?
Jaakko: In the very start the idea was to play straightforward old-school death metal with a possible blackened twist, while trying to stretch out the setup of one guitar and one bass as much as possible. That was pretty much it for the material on A Birth In Death, but while doing that Tommi joined in with his writing and mine started to shift as well, adding more experimental bits to the crude bludgeoning of the first release. We don’t really have something to call one single vision for our approach to the music, but the style and genre alone needed a new band as all our other bands and projects have been in varying other styles that are and were more or less well removed from our current music.
What attracts you to such extreme music? What does it offer you?
Tommi: As a child extreme music was my coping mechanism. I was able to defuse my anger and wrath through that kind of art. Even now it sometimes works the same way as it used to before, even though I’m not that full of negativity nowadays. Anyway, some years went by and I got involved in Black Metal. At first it served as a huge middle finger to everything and everyone, but ultimately it worked as a gateway to the Devil (as in Lucifer-Loki) and His endless wisdom. Nowadays the music we make acts as a way to express myself and the things dear to me. If you are going to dedicate your craft to the Kings and Queens in the Underworld, it should sound like that as well.
Jaakko: Like Tommi wrote, as a kid it was an outlet, but later when I got further in my own playing and understood a bit more of the musical side of it, extreme music whether metal, noise, etc., became a massive, basically limitless field of experimentation in ideas, production, musicianship and what have you. This experimentation may or may not translate into writing anything absurdly jagged, but having a broadened view of musical possibilities and alternative methods of production was greatly helpful as a teen.
Sepuchral Curse – Church Of Loss
Tommi, how did your attitude to extreme music (I mean your mentioning of “a gateway to the Devil”) influence the ways you work with Sepuchral Curse or your other bands? What’s the difference between an “anger-treatment course” and this sort of dedication?
Tommi: I wouldn’t prefer the term “attitude” myself but I catch your drift nonetheless. Anyway, as a youngster I was struggling with a lot of different social and mental issues so it was natural that my focus was on music I could identify myself with. Naturally, as I grew up I started to see farther and wider, that there is more than me and my problems and whatnot. And that’s how people work, they grow up or at least they should. That doesn’t mean I want to mitigate my past endeavors, they have been important steps on the path of life, but still it’s important to walk forward. But to say what is the difference you asked about, is that nowadays I’m more deliberate when composing and writing, polishing the details and so on.
As a side note I have to say that there is more than the Devil, or the fire god Loki as I call him. There is a plethora of gods, goddesses, spirits and beings down here in the North to work with. But I’ll leave that for another chat this time.
So, Sepulchral Curse is a band where my devotion is on the surface most clearly, considering the lyrics at least. I think that you can feel it in our overall soundscape as well. Like you were surrounded by this thick shroud of hostile darkness, knowing there is something or someone watching you… With Yawning Void the case is not that prominent. As Sepulchral Curse is a more straightforward in-your-face experience with death, Yawning Void is more like the blood-hungry spirits whispering somewhere in a forest, leading you astray. Finally, with Beyond the Below I’m building up an ongoing story, heavily influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, which is a little bit of a takeoff from my usual craft.
Do you feel your vision of Sepulchral Curse worked well on the EPs A Birth In Death (2014) and At The Onset Of Extinction (2016)?
Jaakko: I’d say we evolved quickly during the first two years, and when the material was getting more complex on the side of playing gigs for the first EP, we were joined by Aleksi and we heavily shifted towards a more blackened sound, fully utilizing two guitars, and Aleksi turned out to be a competent songwriter himself. The band’s sound is pretty much a union of three distinctly different writers. The vision for writing At The Onset Of Extinction carried over to the upcoming full-length as well, mostly due to some of the songs being written back in 2015 for a scrapped full-length we intended to do much earlier.
There have been two guitarists in the band since 2015 when Aleksi Luukka joined you. Did you feel the addition of an extra guitar is something you really searched for? Did this turn out to establish your working formula?
Jaakko: The presence of two guitars gives much more options for writing and playing live without added backing tracks, and many of our influences have that element present. The material me and Tommi started writing shortly after the tracks for the first EP were done really called for a second guitarist and we’ve been using that more and more now. Works fine for me as I’ve basically always played with a second guitarist in bands, besides the short period of this band’s earlier outings. We’ve established our sound and style around two guitars and wouldn’t go back to just using one.
You were talking about your intention to play old-school death metal, and it seems that back then in the “good old days” the atmosphere inside the underground was quite different as far as I can judge from magazines from the ’90s and the ways things work now. What does “old school” mean for you besides the sound’s settings or… I don’t know…
Tommi: I don’t personally care that much to define what is Old School or New School or what fucking ever School. But if I have to come up with something I’d say it’s probably a matter of how the instruments sound, how an album is produced (analog vs. digital), and so on.
What kind of lyrical themes did you see as suitable for Sepulchral Curse? Do you take care about the lyrics or the band’s energy, which vibe is more important?
Tommi: My writings are more or less tied to the night side of ancient Scandinavian and Finnish mythos. To put it simply, on our full-length I wanted to bring up my own interpretation of Ragna Rök. There are some twists and turns along the way, but I hope our listeners would read the lyrics with care and find the deeper meanings themselves. Lyrics are the most important aspects in music for me. I love to write them, I love to read them, and I love to discuss them. Considering our future material Kari and Jaakko are willing to write lyrics for a song or two. I’d never expect them to write about the same topics as I do, just because they are not walking the same path as I am, so to speak, and that is more than fine with me. I don’t know what they have in mind but we shall see. Still, I dare to hope they avoid the most basic Death Metal themes, haha!
Jaakko: The first songs were much on the side of your “typical” Death Metal topics variety, but after Tommi took over lyrical responsibilities, the focus was more on the abstract and spiritual, which had a more unique and unifying effect to the overall tone and feel. Can’t speak much for the upcoming lyrical work just yet, but it most likely won’t be spent hovering over a book of medical terms.
We know some interpretations of the Bible’s Book Of Revelation and the comparison of the horrible disasters mentioned there and modern situations, which is just shit most of the time. Tommi, how do you see the connection of the Ragna Rök concept with the modern world?
Tommi: Ragna Rök, Apocalypse, the end of the world is already here and it is happening slowly. So slowly that we barely even see it, and in truth most of us won’t. The climate crisis is real and our biosphere is getting fucked every day in the worst ways possible. There is the mass extinction of wildlife and practically no one gives a rat’s ass. People are getting lazier and dumber every single day, numbing their brains with disgustingly superfluous pop- and tv-culture. At the same time politicians and corporations are soing their best to widen the gap between social classes; “feed us lies from the tablecloth”. Ragna Rök is here and we brought it up. We don’t need the gods to blow up this planet. I bet they are watching us fucking around and raising bets on who is the one that will start WW3.
Even though you had these EPs, it looks like the way to the first full-length album wasn’t short. Only Ashes Remain will be released in July — was it just occupation with other bands that slowed you down?
Jaakko: We had a fair amount of material done for 2016 but after our first full-length plans got scrapped due to a label closing down, we did the second EP and rewrote almost everything. We had to wait for a fair while for this release, as the recordings took place two years ago. We’ve had other responsibilities on the side but nothing that has really had a delaying effect on Sepulchral Curse.
Sepulchral Curse – Into The Depths Unknown
You recorded the album with Harri Hyytiäinen who previously recorded Solothus and Yawning Void albums. How did you work with him? Did you have enough time at the studio and were you satisfied after all?
Tommi: The sessions with Sepulchral Curse didn’t differ from the previous ones at all. Although this time I felt I wasn’t prepared properly. I hate to admit it, but I’m not 100% happy with my drum lines and that is totally my own fault. I know that the listener can’t hear it, but there sure are some frustration and feelings of disappointment in the drums. But believe me, I’ve learned my lesson. That being said, we are probably going to record our upcoming material somewhere else, preferably closer to our home town.
This time we recorded the vocals at my home studio, Sounds From Below, and it was an absolutely satisfying experience. We had no sense of rush whatsoever, and we were able to work whenever we felt like it. I think it was really relaxing and inspiring at the same time, and I hope we could work more independently in the future.
Jaakko: Our two studio stints with Harri were short and worked well enough with what we wanted at the time, though much more thorough base sound tweaking could have been in order. For the next release, we’ll take a more patient approach to prepare for, so as to not blaze through the tracks and cut corners in execution. For this upcoming album, sure some details could have been heaps better but I don’t find any major hindrances or downfalls in the overall product.
Well, will you focus on the new Sepulchral Curse album this year or do you plan to return to your other bands?
Tommi: We are actively writing new material as I’m typing this. We even have an album concept in mind and it is going to be big. Most importantly we are now aiming to hit stages, if this virus hullabaloo let’s us, that is. Besides that we are going to work on the new Yawning Void record as well. I was hoping to release my first album under my own name this year, but the thing is I’m rather fed up with Dark Ambient at the moment, so… hah!
Jaakko: Yeah, after the virus ordeal subsides, we’ll get back to doing gigs in support of the new album, and whatever musical projects we have coexist on the side as business as usual. Me and Niilas also may or may not have something new on the side but we’ll see when it turns up.
Okay, thanks for the interview gentlemen. So if you feel we need to sum up what Sepulchral Curse is about, then bring it on!
Tommi: Nihil Verum Nisi Mors.