(Comrade Aleks has brought us his interview with Eero Pöyry from the Finnish funeral-doom lords Skepticism.)
Skepticism has been a funeral-style standard for 30 years. Founded in Riihimäki, Kanta-Häme, in 1991, the band personifies an integral element of the funeral doom scene, its sound essential, its image flawless. And I see no problem regarding the relatively short Skepticism discography. Their latest album Companion (released by Svart Records in September 2021) is the sixth full-length in their list, but look – I have a feeling that they are always here.
The band’s presence is constant. You know what to expect from them, yes, and it… soothes. Each of their albums is like a part of a journey through a forest: You can walk this or another path listening to different albums, but “the forest” is the same and yet different. But I don’t see a reason to further waste our time with metaphors. Here’s the interview we started with Eero Pöyry (keyboards), let’s say, some time ago. It took some time to complete it, but it’s now a good, actual thing. Here we meet in shadow of (our pale) Companion.
Hi Eero! Thanks for your time and accept my congratulations on the band’s 30th anniversary and the release of the new album. It’s good to know that there are some constant, unbreakable things in this world and Skepticism seems to be one of these. With what kind of feeling do you now see this date and the fact of Companion‘s release?
The anniversary year has been interesting in many ways. For one, we’ve got the time to reflect on the important events that have happened within these three decades. Stopping to think is a good thing to do every now and then. It gives you a wider perspective of things. We’ve shared some of the great moments we’ve had on Instagram and Facebook and got to share some memories with people who went to the shows for example.
For me personally it has been important to remember again the great bands we’ve got to share the stage with on the shows and the responses of the people. Of course there is consistency within the genre from one point of view, but on a smaller scale there has been consistency for the band members. As we’ve had the same line-up for practically the entire lifetime of the band it is also the most consistent thing in our lives. I tend to call the band a lifestyle for us. I am deeply grateful for the journey so far. This year and the reflection leading to the release of Companion underlined that for me very strongly.
You performed the entire Companion album on the 25th of September (2021) at the Apollo Nightclub. How was this show organized? What kind of restrictions did you have due to the quarantine? And did you think about canceling the show in order to avoid unnecessary troubles?
It was actually a two-day indoor festival that was postponed once or twice already. It was organized by an organization called Metallihelvetti – a group of people putting together metal shows in Turku. Curiously, the mastermind behind it was a man called Jussi Helenius – the very same fellow who kept calling me up for a Skepticism live show until we finally agreed that we’d do one back in 2001.
In Finland the restrictions are pretty straightforward: the officials state how many people you can have in a nightclub, and until when, and you simply go by that. We did not really need to consider our stance – either it is allowed to have a show or it is not. In late September 2021 the pandemic situation was beginning to be pretty good in Finland already, and the whole country is likely to lift most of the restrictions in October. I added that detail as it may be hard to get the picture on what was going on if someone reads this in 2025 for example.
Do you plan to play live somewhere else in 2021?
Due to the pandemic, booking shows has been really slow, as you cannot really know when the restrictions will be lifted. No further dates for 2021 have been booked. Hopefully we’;; get to return to the stages properly in 2022.
You reviewed some of Skepticism old gigs in the band’s Facebook through the last months. How would you sum up your touring experience for these 30 years? What was the furthest location you played? And did you ever get an invitation from the USA for example?
Yes. We started those views in the rearview mirror at the beginning of the year. For the first decade of the band we did not practically play live at all. We started doing that again in 2001. Roughly with the releases of the Farmakon and Alloy albums we did small-scale tours with Pantheist. Other than that we’ve done shows at metal festivals, the amount of shows ranging between one and fifteen a year.
I see returning to live shows as a very important step for the band. I initially thought that this music would not work live, but after those few early shows and especially the first tour I completely reversed my opinion. I also think that playing live helped us further refine our sound from the form in which we had it around that time. We’ve mostly played in Europe. So far we’ve gone to the US once – the Maryland Deathfest in 2015. [Editor’s intrusion: we provided our commentary and photos from that magnificent MDF performance here.]
As Skepticism keeps on performing funeral doom, a genre with a limited number of colours for its artists’ palettes, you have to rely on symbols and images already known by the band’s followers. The first Companion song you revealed last June was ‘Calla’, and as far as I understand, you were referring to calla flowers. What does calla personify for you? Does this image play the same role for you as white (Avalanche?) roses from the Ordeal artwork?
The role is related but not entirely similar. Calla is based on a vision by our guitarist. He was looking at how the stars reflected from ponds of water while having a walk and it made him think of longing for a loved one. Waiting for them, and when they eventually arrive – crossing a valley of calla lilies with them. In Finland calla lilies are often used in funeral wreaths. It had the feel of longing and completion in it. This is the metaphor we wrote the sound around.
For the live shows we’ve worn and handed out white roses at shows for roughly two decades now. Initially they suited the formal attire and the general “black and white” aesthetic of our shows very well. The part where our singer uses them as a part of the show emerged organically as we went on. Avalanche has been our preferred variety so far. At the Turku show we tried a new one called Moonstone but my personal preference is still Avalanche. They seem to fit the style better.
Do I get the Companion artwork right — are there iron bars depicted? That reminds me of the Alloy cover, is there a connection too? Or is it the trunks of trees?
Actually the connection is mostly coincidental. The vision the Companion cover is based on the realization that walking through a forest of aspen trees is a bit like walking through a giant division of a pipe organ with massive pipes laid out over the landscape. I’ve found myself stopping to think of that while in such scenery and thinking of how it would sound and feel. The cover has a forest of these organic organ pipes – also the video for the song utilises the same concept. The trees like the pipes are individual, but their full potential only emerges from the connection to others. This is one way of thinking of the concept of a companion.
What are other important Skepticism symbols / features that you would mention? Organ? The raven? The forest?
At least the mentioned themes seem to be something we tend to return to.
I’ve read the story of how Lasse based the main theme of ‘Passage’ on a riff he played in a dream. How often do things like this happen in Skepticism’s life? Do you feel a kind of spiritual tie with this creature?
Yes – the entire opening part of the song is directly from his dream – the guitar and the drums. We had completed the mixing and mastering of the song when in early 2021 we ended up still changing it a bit. Our singer was singing some low notes at the beginning of a rehearsal. Lasse encouraged him to carry on and try different voices as well and concluded that this was exactly the kind of singing that the beginning of the song was still lacking. In the next rehearsal we recorded those vocals at the rehearsal room – several takes and combinations. As a result we needed to return to the mix of the song and have it remastered as well – along with the entire side of the vinyl. I think it went right still, as the whole song was so strongly based on Lasse’s vision.
I would not say this would be typical for us. Many of the stories behind the songs are much more down to earth, like the one with ‘Calla’ that I mentioned. I could say our relation to the spiritual as a band is present but implicit. We practically do not discuss these matters in depth – just their consequences.
Skepticism is a kind of funeral doom pillar, a thing that is carved in stone, and yet you manage to catch the wave and all of your albums are available on digital platforms. Do you see this as a better and more effective solution than re-releasing your back catalogue?
We are partially doing both. We went through some effort to get the entire back catalogue on digital platforms in 2021. I personally prefer to have all the music available for anyone who is interested in it. We are also working on getting all the albums available as physical copies as well, with the same rationale – for anyone who wants one. Some people might see value in the music being rare and hard to find but I see no benefit in it. Skepticism is a lifestyle for me and the most important thing is to keep the train moving. For new people, discovering the music on digital platforms is the way these days. By this I do not mean that we would seek to massively expand the audience – we are just trying to make it easy to find for people who try to.
So you have kept Skepticism alive for 30 years… how much of its original image – as it was back then – is left now? How much did your vision of the band change over these years?
I would say that most of the original vision still remains. We have refined our expression, but still the building blocks are as they were in the ’90s. A good example of this were a couple of passages on the Companion album. In the end of ‘The Swan and the Raven’ there is a part we refer to as the ‘being in flight’ part. There is also such a part in ‘The Gallant Crow’. Both express the same emotion but the expression is a bit more detailed on the latter one. There is a bit more harmony for example. Still the most important part – how it feels – is identical.
Also the essence of the band – why do we do this – is still identical. We have musical ambitions. Not all of them are identical between different members of the band but they are aligned enough. We want to create music that feels deeply our own and that feels progressing. We would not want to repeatedly write more songs exactly like those on the first album, for example. We change as people and the music must evolve as well. Thinking of myself as a 20-year-old listening to Companion I believe I would have been satisfied. Not only for how it sounds but for the fact that I can honestly say we made it to the best of our ability to convey what we thought was important towards the end of the third decade of the band.