Machine Music's Albums of the Decade: An Interview with Oranssi Pazuzu

This is the 15th installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]

Artist: Oranssi Pazuzu

Album: Muukalainen puhuu /Värähtelijä,

Year: 2009/2016

Label: Violent Journey Records/Svart Records

Favorite Song: Nope, not going to do that this time. No way.

The Bare Bones: Muukalainen puhuu is the debut album of Finnish psych/black metal outfit Oranssi Pazuzu, mixing elements of psychedelic rock, dub, and karutrock with the attitude, riffs, and productions style of Norwegian black metal. Värähtelijä is the band's fourth and most recent album (as of the publication of this article, they're working on a new one as we speak) and marked by the band's growing fascination with spacious sounds and post-rock/krautrock influences.

The Beating Heart: Oranssi Pazuzu's artistic arc, one that is still being shaped and will continue to evolve as more albums are released, is one of the most original and exciting stories in metal and experimental music in the last decade. Bringing together the most extreme of metal styles along with some of the more trance-inducing brands of rock, dub, doom and more, the Finnish outfit is not an easy creature to categorize. Which is the reason why, for the first time in this ongoing series, I have decided not to pick any one album. Not only because they're all great – and they are – but because the experience that Oranssi Pazuzu's music induces seems to go against a narrowing of the field to any one defining moment. As a result, I went ahead and chose to discuss two albums with cofounders Jun-His (vocals, guitar) and Ontto (bass): their debut, which exposes both the band's roots in nordic black metal as well as the beginning of their fascination with soundscapes, and the most advanced version of the exploration in their 2016 masterpiece. So, while these are indeed two out of the four albums in existence today, the point of the conversation was to treat them as artistic pole, the pull of which has affected much of the band's exploration in music up until the present day.

And as long as we're breaking molds here, a note on chronology. This series has been given the title "Albums of the Decade" mostly because of the convenient fact that the decade is indeed coming to an end. But, as I have mentioned in the introduction to this project, the series also marks the tenth year of this blog, which started in May 2010, and as a result I have taken a few liberties by way of focusing on those albums that inspired me to write about the kind of music that I do. Because of this this series includes a few albums that were released in 2009, such as one of the albums discussed here, ISIS's Wavering Radiant, and another album, the interview for which will be released in the coming weeks.

But, as always, before the wonderful conversation with Jun-His and Ontto I would like to encourage any who are interested to read the rest of this ongoing project, which will probably be running until the end of the year, with a lot more exciting conversations to be published. You can follow us on any one of our social media outlets (FacebookInstagramSpotify) and also, if so inclined, support us on Patreon. My aim has been to use whatever support we can get to produce interviews like these, focusing on the art and life of that art, as well as other projects supporting our local scene, such as the newly launched music compilation MILIM KASHOT VOL. 1 of amazing local metal. Thank you all for being here, and here's the talk with Jun-His and Ontto, which took place about two weeks after the release of the debut album by the Waste of Space Orchestra, a collaborative project including members of Oranssi Pazuzu and Finnish doom band Dark Buddha Rising. Enjoy.

Usually, what I do is I choose an album that sticks out to me in someone's catalog that I want to talk about and then we can talk and  and wax retrospectively about that album. But I've encountered somewhat of a problem with you guys, and we'll get to that problem later. But the problem is that I couldn't choose an album. But that’s, as I said, for later.

What I want to start with is, the questions I always kind of very interested to hear is if both of you could say if there was a moment in your life, maybe as a very young person, that you remember, a song coming on, or an album cover coming on something happening that shocked you and that changed how you thought about music, and maybe even made you want to become a musician yourself?

Ontto: Well, for me I can easily think of one album that comes to mind, and that’s Taantumus by Circle. I don't know if you're familiar with them, but it’s a Finnish band from Pori and they have been active since the 90s. They play this hypnotic, metallic, progressive music that is really very inspired by a krautrock. And when that album came out in 2001 it made a really big impact on my musical thinking and created a whole new world.

And how old were you when you heard it for the first time?

Jun-His: I was 20, so I was already active in music, I was making music and playing bands, but then that kind of changed my thinking about what you can do with minimalism, for example.

So how to do more with less, that kind of idea?

Ontto: Yeah. Really atmospheric stuff. And we have been taking inspiration from that kind of thing.

Okay, fantastic. And Jun-His what would be your moment?

Jun-His: Yeah, I guess that would be one of one of those ones for me as well. But also, a bit earlier on, I got into Emperor's two first albums. Before that I had been mainly listening to, let's say, rock music, and maybe a bit of metal type stuff and that sort of thing. So it was weird to hear something where the sound is so nasty that couldn't even hear any riffs there, at first. I just thought: “Yeah, this is noisy stuff.” But it had such a unique and strong atmosphere that I wanted to go back to it, and the more I did the more I could start to get past the soundscapes you had been used to before when listening to albums, or even bands play live, and you start to realize there's a really unique atmosphere behind all of that. And also, then you start to hear the complexity of the compositions, and how much stuff there actually is in there. But it was a whole new way of hearing stuff for me, getting to new soundscapes through noisier things and to start developing that yourself and get into a less conservative area of music.

So I had two questions to follow up what you just said. One is that Circle and Emperor are very two different things. And so if you're looking for minimalism, Emperor is not where you would look for that. And if you're looking for noisy, busy, 1000-riffs-a minute music Circle wouldn't be where you look for that. So the first question would be, to what extent do you think this combination helped build the sound of Oranssi Pazuzu – on one hand a fascination with noise, busy-ness, and maybe rawness, and on the other hand with space and minimalism?

Jun-His: Yeah, I guess this band, even if we didn’t know it or do it willingly or just by intuition, has always been about exploring minimalism and maximalism. The fascination about having these worlds fused together at times, has been, at least for me, a big part of my fascination with composing.

Ontto: Well, I agree. And I also think that when you mentioned bands, like Circle and Emperor, or say Darkthrone, there are always some aspects in there that we are intrigued by. It's not like we would want to sound like Emperor and make that kind of music but it's more that there are things in there that are interesting to us, for example, the nosiness, and in Circle’s music it's the repetition.

Yeah, so I want to ask about the repetition, because that seems to be a very important element for you. And I think, an element that ties in these two influences, though I’m not sure Emperor is very good example of that, but they have moments of very extreme repetition. Almost like bludgeoning you senseless with repetition. And I think Circle is more along the lines of, like you said, the krautrock kind of repetition that maybe I would associate in metal with doom metal, this slow pulsating repetition. And I wanted to ask you, why do you think repetition resonates, to use wordplay for a moment, so much with both of you? So what is it about repetition that you find interesting?

Ontto: I think it has something to do with the feeling you get when you repeat something to the point that you can kind of dissolve time, let go of the timing of the song. So you are kind of floating in a continuum, and there is no end or beginning, there is just the moment that is going on. And that’s really interesting to me.

Jun-His: Yeah, you can start hearing the same thing in different ways when you hear it like multiple times. And you start to kind of, let's say, meditate the rhythm or meditate the riff or whatever. And from the Emperor stuff, like you mentioned, there's some of the riffs can create a huge pictures in your head, like, say, something that sounds like a storm. And I think part of the kind of thing that is really interesting with repetition is that you have a massive imaginary atmosphere, and then you just force the listener or yourself to be in that eye of the storm, even if you don't want to be there. That's kind of how the extremity and the repetitive, meditative elements can work to benefit each other. But yeah, it's something that will twist your sense of time, like Ontto said. 

Yes, I'm interested in that idea of time. And this is just a thought: I'm very interested in stories as a person and I’m interested in stories in terms of time. And usually, the way you make it that a story has a sense of time is this idea of a beginning, a middle, and an end. So with every plot twist or something new there's a sense of time moving, because there is this illusion of progression. But if I try to think of a story that never progresses, that only stays in the same moment and repeats it again and again, then in a way that story would be almost a comment, I don't want to sound too out there, but a comment about how sense of time in stories is false? Or maybe how time is fake. Does this make sense to you?

Ontto: Yes, I can relate to that, yeah [laughs].

[Laughs] It’s OK, we can get back to it later. From my experience, both talking to bands, and from my own experience, people who have a wide range of musical tastes, and influences and try to kind of fuse those those influences together, normally don't feel very comfortable as part as a defined scene where they're from. So if you were just like an old school death metal band from Finland, I would assume that there was a very defined scene for that. And then what I would ask you is, you know, what was the scene like? And you would describe that scene quite, quite simply. Would it be safe to bet that maybe that's not the case with Oranssi Pazuzu? That you did not come up in a specific scene? Or was it the completely opposite? 

Ontto: Yeah, we were outsiders in most every scene when we started to make music. We wanted to create something that was our own thing, and I think that the old-school Finnish black metal scene is really exclusive and that was definitely something that we would be interested in being a part of.

Jun-His: I consider it a benefit that we come from an area in Finland that didn’t have a strong experimental or extreme music scenes. It mainly had pop and pop-rock bands. So I guess we really felt that we wanted to present an experimental take and we were really fed up of all the bands in our area just trying to copy other things. We wanted to go and do our own thing, and there wasn't a specific scene or anything like that. So we were just listening to albums, like kids listening to albums, and we didn’t care about genre the albums were, just wanted to kind of experience the music. And that's how we just started doing it. And not being a part of a scene, I think, was a benefit when you combine music that feels natural to you, without thinking: “Let's mix this with that.” We didn't have scenes. So it was kind of easy that way.

So I have a question about that. Were there moments of frustration with that? Say, maybe after the first album came out, maybe touring or trying to get gigs or album to sell. Were there moments where you were like, “Why the fuck did I choose this krautrock/black thing? No one wants this! Why didn't I just put on my bullet belt and some corpse paint?” I mean, it didn’t have to be that specific thought, but were there moments where bringing something new to the table was frustrating for you?

Jun-His: We never even thought we were going to do a lot of shows. We just thought: “Yeah let’s do an album and maybe one show and let’s see maybe we’ll release it ourselves or maybe if we’re lucky someone releases it." So, there wasn’t any pressures on [how we made] the music. And there still isn't any pressure in that way [laughs].  

Ontto: Yeah, we just wanted to play some things that would be interesting and do a few gigs in Finland and hopefully make an album. But we weren't planning on making a career or something like that.

Did that frame of thought change once people started noticing you? 

Ontto: Well, it was pretty slow, things moved along pretty slowly. So, we did two albums before we got much recognition outside Finland. And we started with tours that weren’t as long, so the progression was pretty easy and natural, I think. There wasn't a big explosion at any point.

Jun-His: Yeah, it was like that. And also when thinking about the music, I don’t think it's very healthy to put too much on the expectations of others, especially with experimental stuff. You need your time to let everything grow naturally and to make music that is important to you and to your progress as an artist and a human being. There are enough bands making careers out of things. So for us, with the music, we need to take what comes along. We don't need to say: “Look at that, look at our music, listen to our music!” Of course you want to promote the album and all of that stuff. But in the end, with making music, it's not healthy to think about other people's expectations of your art. At that point, it kind of narrows the art’s focus. Art reflects your world and your surroundings and kind of make image out of that. You can’t use other people to do that, basically just trying to fulfill other peoples’ expectations  So it's kind of an easy choice in that respect, we just take what comes along with the music.

So, returning to the problem at the center of this Albums of the Decade interview, which is that I couldn't pick an album. I couldn't decide between  albums because I was sure I was going to talk to you about Muukalainen puhuu. And then I listened to it. And I was like, yeah, this is a great album. But I maybe I want to talk about the latest one Värähtelijä, and I couldn't decide. And usually when I can't decide, it's because they're both great, and this is the case here as well. But the reason why I'm raising all this is that they feel like opposites. They seem like a ying yang of your musical career in a way. So the first album feels very aggressive when you compare it to your later things. Very aggressive, raw, and even something menacing about it. So the repetition is there already, there’s that wonderful introduction to dub, which is another form of repetitious music. But then, when you go to the last album, it's almost the opposite. It's spacey, the production is almost perfect and has that audiophile sheen to it, and the menacing stuff is there, it's still there. But it's almost like a devil crouching in the background. 

So after saying all that, my first question would be, how do you see your relationship with your first album? Do you even feel like you recognize who you were when you wrote those songs? Or is that still something that's in your DNA?

Ontto: Well, I think it definitely was something that was part of our progress, it was kind of the first explosion of the concept that we had. You can still hear the main elements of our music today, but in a rawer format. So you still have a feel of that enthusiasm about black metal bands like Darkthrone, and we were trying to combine that with the more hypnotic stuff. But because we haven't done that before, and I don’t think we had any bands we could use as a reference, we had to figure it out. And it's kind of a learning record for us. In my mind, at least we are trying to do something, and we don’t know how to do it. And then we came up with that, like, accidentally [laughs]. I think it’s pretty fine album, it just kind of came together pretty much by accident.

Jun-His: Yeah, I think none of us analyzed the thing very much at that point at all. Like Ontto said, we wanted to try something, and we just did it without thinking too much. But now, at this point, when I look back at that I kind of feel that it's pretty typical in some bands’ timelines. Not typical perhaps music wise, but typical in the sense that we lay something there that we kind of want to do and took bits from there and there and then presented it. But then after that, with the other albums, I guess we kind of took some part of the of the star map wanted to go deeper there, into that direction and explore it more profoundly than maybe we do it on the first album. So we wanted to explore certain elements more profoundly in an album. And I think that's kind of what we're still still doing, in a way, to go further into some things. And we do represent that sense of scale, in a way I think, in the first album. But like I said, it's weird to think about it because we just did it. I don't actually remember that much from doing that album, I remember we made it in a cabin.

Ontto: Yeah, we had pretty dogmatic ideas about making the album. We were really into, for example, Darkthrone was a very big influence going into that, and we wanted to make a raw album that is played almost entirely live. So there is a minimal amount of overdubbing. I think, for the most part only the vocals have been overdubbed over the live tracks. And we were recording in a cabin with live takes, and it was like, really about capturing the raw energy of a band play. On later albums we that go of that dogma because we wanted to explore more spacious soundscapes. I think that's the main reason that first and maybe also the second album sound rawer than the later ones. They were done in a different manner.

So I was about to ask about space, because when you said that…. Actually, I will get to space in a moment, I have a different question. It seems like the mode with which you progress from album to album, or move from idea to idea, is set up in a way where failure is not a very dangerous thing for you. Because there is no failure really, since you could always salvage something that's good, even if the whole thing as a whole doesn't please do that much. It was worth the effort in a way, because there's always something good or one good idea you can latch on to and work with. Is that pretty much how it works?

Jun-His: Well, failure, you shouldn’t be afraid of that in art in general. So, maybe it’s like you said. I think we're really good at kind of finding the good qualities even in shittier ideas. What I mean by that is that when you kind of circle them around, you find out there's something good in this and we can maybe use it later or, or even transfer it to something else. I think we've always done stuff like. Just going to get my charger really quick.

Ontto: I think we were also interested in failing, in some sense, because we wanted to keep, for instance, mistakes on that first album, we intentionally left some mistakes on the first couple of albums, we didn’t want them to be too perfect or too finessed.

But that's interesting, because when you said you approached the first album very dogmatically and maybe part of that dogma was “make it imperfect.” But the result was something that you looked at and said, yeah, that's not the interesting part. The interesting part is not the lack of perfection, it's actually something else. So the dogmatic aspect lead you one way, but eventually, you went another way with it. 

Ontto: Yeah, I think we grew more interested in soundscapes. I mean, there is soundscaping in the first two albums, but we figured out that that is something that we can’t do if we don’t change our method.

So I thought that one of the things that you latched on to and expanded as time went o was space. And that's one of the major changes from the first album to the last album, which seems to be almost completely an exploration of space, while not rejecting, you know, the metal roots of some of the ideas you're interested in, or influences, but you're much more interested in space. So I wanted to ask, whether or not when you became interested with repetition was space one of the results of that. Also in reference to something that was said earlier about how space appears when you fuck with time.

Ontto: Yeah, so this is something that developed slowly. So, on first album we have places that we have repetition and space, for example, in the first track, there’s that guitar solo that is pretty spacious. And it's, I can't remember if it's how long it is, but it's got that repetition and then it doesn't really go anywhere, it just flows in there. And when we did more songs in that manner we kind of wanted to make them deeper in that aspect. And that made us more interested in this space-like quality. 

Jun-His: Yeah, and also with the normal, let's say, band instruments, to create soundscapes that still have massive amounts of space for the more ambient sounds. So that if you have this sense of space you can feel that there's a lot of other stuff going on there than just the band, just feel the whole thing, even if it's played live.Like capturing things differently. I Yeah, I agree that that's one of the biggest differences. And that came about through playing more live shows as well, really getting to jam more, and just the band getting better at what it does, and what it can do. I think the live shows have been very important for the growth in the latest albums as well, and their direction. 

Other than improving as musicians, what makes a live show into a different learning experience than, say, rehearsal or a jam?

Ontto: Maybe it's not really that different, but live, there's this kind of energy that you channel, and maybe you are a little bit more focused in the moment than you would be like jamming in a rehearsal space after a couple of beers. Yeah, I think it has kind of this electricity going on that keeps you on your toes.

Jun-His: Yeah, I agree with that. I kind of realized that there's some sense of danger in it and it makes you really focused. You can bring that focus back to the rehearsal space after the live shows, but I think, for me, at least, I learned that that kind of focus is unique to the live situation. And I realized a couple of weeks ago, actually…. I go and do some snowboarding once a year. And when you go really fast you can't think about anything else other than going downhill really fast and concentrating on seeing all the lumps in the snow, so you don't fall. Once you start thinking about something else you lose your focus. And so it became kind of clear to me that that situation is exactly how it is when jamming live.

Ontto: Yeah, that’s a really good analogy [laughs]. You have to keep it together.

Jun-His: Yeah, I kind of realized: What is this feeling during snowboarding? What does this remind me of? Like? Yeah, it’s fucking jamming live [laughs]. 

I’d like to offer an idea or maybe a question that maybe the fascination with space and its relation to the live show Is that when you explore these kind of spacious soundscapes, that is also a situation where you must be on your toes, and focus because every note resonates. And if you kind of go awry, when you're doing a blazing solo, then you miss a note, no one really notices, you know, the general feeling is the same. But when you keep it like a pulsating repetition type thing, when you fuck up, or when you do something that's off, it's immediately apparent. Maybe that's also part of the relationship?

Jun-His: You mean by “something being off” that the concentration and the atmosphere goes off?

Yeah, kills the mood. 

Jun-His: Yeah, you feel as if the focus has been lost. 

One of the main reasons I love music as much as I do is because I can't really think without music. And some music is natural for people to concentrate with, like if I give you like Slint, or Explosions in the Sky,  a lot of people could concentrate with that music. But sometimes I concentrate with very, very loud music. And when you listen to very, very loud music, like grindcore or something like that, then they can fuck up all they want the kind of the essence of that genre is the fuck up. But when you listen to something like Shadows of the Sun, say, by Ulver, if suddenly, something feels off, and by “off” I mean ambience-killing, came in, then the song is over. And I raise Ulver for a reason because while Ulver’s career and yours isn’t the same, to me they are a good example of a band that showed an interest in space quite soon. And I think that was a very shocking transition for a lot of people, when they just dropped the black metal and went into almost ambient music. So I wanted to ask: Would you ever consider, if that's the direction for you as well, that maybe at some point you'll be exploring space to such a degree that even the foundation of rock instrumentation won't appeal to you anymore?

Jun-His: It’s totally possible.

Ontto: Yeah, I think that's possible. And well, you know, I'm not really sure what direction we are going next, but definitely we are not going into more conservative rock and metal direction. That's not really something that appeals to us. I listen to that kind of music and I like it, but it’s not something that I would like to play with this band. I think this band’s strengths is in different directions

Jun-His: You know, but still, maybe we could at some point do an album that uses a different sort of space, or different sorts of aesthetics all together, like just go somewhere and do a live album in a studio or something like that, that is really noisy without any space or something like that. I don't know, everything is possible, where we're going next. It's always something that happens because of what we just did. We want to keep moving on, there’s no point in making the same album over and over again. I mean, we could do it, and we could probably make okay albums with songs like that. But the fire of the band is not that, it's about moving on and everything affecting everything. 

Like for example, we just did the Waste of Space Orchestra album and the next Pazuzu album is going to be different because of that [album] as well. So everything is kind of a natural charity or whatever you want to call it. We are we are putting out next.

Ontto: Yeah, I agree. I think that almost everything that we have done, almost every, actually every album that we have done is in some way a reaction to the previous one.

Jun-His: Yes.

I was just thinking, by the way, when you mentioned the Waste of Space Orchestra about how funny it is that we're talking about space all this time, and that you're playing in the Waste of Space Orchestra and you have the Waste of Space studio. That's almost like a negative space. Anyway, I really enjoyed talking to you. Thanks guys.