Saturday, December 10, 2016

Band Interview: ILLUSIONS DEAD

Interview with Johannes Katajamäki of ILLUSIONS DEAD

Describe the origins of Illusions Dead and the shared influences of each band member. Does Finland have many musicians who are deep into the underground and seeking band situations?
The band was put together in 2009 to play a one-off gig. I had been jamming together with a friend, who is a guitarist, and knew some people from my school who played instruments and were more or less into similar music, and from there we started playing together. Early on, we just played whatever songs I had hacked together, but as we kept playing and went through some line-up changes, there was more musical synergy.
Where we started, it didn't seem like there were any people in the underground. There was no scene to speak of. The other metal musicians were jamming Metallica covers and stuff like that. Maybe in other cities or other schools, but we basically came out of nowhere, and I still feel like we're on our own, and not part of any underground scene. There are people trying to find bands to play in, but everyone wants to do their own thing, too. If you're a band trying to find members, it's not necessarily easy to find a good fit. The situation is definitely better than in many other countries, but everything is in the internet nowadays, so maybe people don't gather into the same places to enjoy underground music as much.

I remember Finland gave rise to Impaled Nazarene in the early 90s, so I assumed there was a sizable underground scene in Finland. Were you around during that time period?
We were toddlers when bands like Impaled Nazarene were up and coming! I discovered the band in 2003, and that definitely changed my world. Nowadays, there seems to be a healthy scene centered on a number of leading black metal bands like Horna, Behexen and Sargeist, as well as smaller bands like Korgonthurus, Blood Red Fog, Cosmic Church, etc. They play in Helsinki occasionally, but they seem to be more active elsewhere. We are a different generation, anyway.
I think in a small and sparsely populated country like Finland, you sometimes have to go a little above and beyond to find good bands to work with. We're playing with two bands in Oulu (way up north from here) this month, and we're hoping that everything will go well and we can make some friends.

Do you remember the impact Impaled Nazarene had on you the first time you heard them? Which of their albums was your introduction and how did it speak to you?
Impaled Nazarene had a huge impact, but I think the real baptism was when I was exposed to Dimmu Borgir a bit earlier. I was trying to get my hands on Impaled Nazarene's debut album, but I was only able to find All That You Fear immediately. When I heard that, of course I had to get more, so I got the debut and Ugra-Karma. I think Ugra-Karma was the one that had the greatest impact on me. What impressed me was that it's extremely aggressive music, obviously, but really catchy. It was quite a thing to me back then.

Through which mediums do music fans in Finland keep one another updated on the local metal scene?
I think the internet is very important. I do research on my own, but I'm also fortunate enough to have friends who let me know about bands they think I might like. When I talk to metalheads, it's basically either my bandmates or on the internet. Sometimes you meet interesting people at festivals and gigs. My opinion might differ from others because I'm geared towards using the internet a lot, but when something new and promising comes up, even if it's a local band, it seems just as likely to catch them warming up a bigger act at a gig I'm going to, as for the name to pop up somewhere in a metal-archives.com discussion thread.

How often do you refer to metal-archives.com for news on new bands and whatnot? Are there other sites you would suggest people check out to gather information?
I've been a regular user of metal-archives.com for almost ten years now, so that's my primary source. There are also some Youtube channels where I've discovered bands (I'd like to single out OdiumNostrum and Black Metal Promotion). Then there's No Clean Singing and Angry Metal Guy, although the information I get from them mostly comes second-hand, since I rarely read them myself. Having the right friends in Facebook might also result in some great stuff coming up.

How much information does metal-archives offer? Is it updated on a daily basis? How relevant is the news there?
Metal-archives is just a database of metal so they don't post news about bands (occasionally they might post about some bands on Facebook) but there's a huge community that discusses bands, shares recommendations and answers to requests. For example, you can ask about bands in a certain style, and other users will share bands that they think might fit your request. When you talk to those people on a daily basis, others get to know your taste, and they might recommend you something they've heard. Users tend to like sharing great bands that they've discovered, so in a way, it's a hub where the various sources of discovering new bands converge. It can be as simple as knowing someone who has a taste similar to yours, and checking out something that they said they're currently listening to.

When surfing Youtube do you usually find more black metal, death metal, doom metal or which genres? How many bands have you discovered on OdiumNostrum and Black Metal Promotion?
Mostly black and death, because those styles seem to have the best hidden gems and underground bands. My latest discovery on Youtube is probably Devouring Star, a really good Finnish death/black metal band - really sinister, devastating stuff.

How much information can you relate to the readers about Devouring Star, going by what you found on the net?
Devouring Star - based on my listening to their album Through Lung And Heart - is a bit like Ulcerate or Deathspell Omega, but it has its own specific feeling, like a solemnity and profound darkness that Ulcerate's more hectic death metal style and Deathspell Omega's chaotic madness don't have. 2015 saw the release of a number of fantastic extreme metal releases, and still this one manages to stand out!

I am unfamiliar with Ulcerate and Deathspell Omega. How would you rate those bands and how strongly would you recommend them?
I would recommend them very warmly to fans of extreme metal who are looking for new things to discover. They're very technical, atmospheric and dark, and both are highly influential bands, I think. Earlier Deathspell Omega (the first two albums) are a bit more traditional black metal. Paracletus is my favourite Deathspell Omega album, although I haven't listened to the new one much yet. I don't know what my favourite Ulcerate album is, but the new album Shrines of Paralysis sounds great!

As more extreme metal bands are sharing their material on social media than ever, do you think there is still more musical ground for bands to cover today?
I think there's still much ground to cover. Even though the few new subgenres in the last fifteen years have been only fusions with other genres, and not always particularly good ones, there have still been a heap of great releases that managed to do things a little differently. I don't think bands always have to be completely unique and create albums entirely different to everything that has been before. It's enough that the band has its own voice, and creates something interesting with it.

How often do you refer to No Clean Singing and Angry Metal Guy to hear news and information about bands?
Pretty rarely. I give them a quick glance sometimes. Usually, I hear about stuff that was on No Clean Singing and Angry Metal Guy through other people who read might them more regularly.

If you were to start your own site for news in metal communities, how much information would you gather to run there?
If I was serious about starting a metal news site, I'd probably work out some kind of user submission system, same as metal-archives. The site could let users submit articles, and a small number of moderators could review them before admitting them to the site. Trusted users could bypass the review system, and so forth. I'd probably be more interested in coding and maintaining such a service than being a metal journalist, actually.

How often are you able to attend metal festivals in Finland? Is advertising good for spreading word about fests in your country? How many people have you met at those shows?
Several every year - this year about five, I'd say. Advertising is indeed the best way to reach customers, because there's no way people can keep track of hundreds of bands, and where they might be playing. You don't see the adverts in TV or at bus stops. It's mostly targeted advertising via internet or posters, flyers and even word of mouth. I can't really estimate how many people I've talked to at festivals, but I'd say that it happens at every festival, if it's not in some small, noisy venue. Finns aren't the most social people towards strangers, but people at festivals are drinking and there's a bit more relaxed atmosphere, because the music brings people together, and of course, it's easy to start a conversation, since people have gathered to listen to the same bands. As a maybe funny anecdote, in the mid-00s, when metal was at its commercial peak in Finland (at least during my lifetime), I remember seeing an advert for the latest Nightwish album and tour in the back cover of a Donald Duck comic. It's not quite that prominent in the mainstream anymore, though. Only the dinosaurs get big marketing campaigns.

Which fests did you attend this past year, and how sizable did you find the turnouts to be? Where in Finland were these festivals held?
The biggest one I went to was Steelfest, which is held about an hour away from Helsinki, in an old factory complex. There was also a brand new festival called Tampere Metal Meeting, which was in a dedicated open air event venue in Tampere. There was a good amount of people at both festivals. In December, I'm going to Helsinki Black Mass, which is held in a smaller music venue in the outskirts of Helsinki. The festival is a spin-off of an event in Tampere. Helsinki and Tampere are the biggest towns in Finland, so they probably get the majority of events. Espoo and Vantaa are basically just extensions of Helsinki, so even though they have a good population, they have fewer events of their own, since it's easier to reach bigger audiences if you can organize an event in Helsinki, but that said, we did play at a small event in Espoo this year, which had lots of really small bands (few were metal, though), and the event was entirely funded by the Espoo city, and organized by a group of young people, which is great!

Do local bands mostly appear at the festivals you have attended, or are there more prominent bands appearing there?
Festivals like these generally have bigger and more well-known bands. Local bands usually play one-off gigs at smaller venues. Some smaller bands get to play at bigger festivals earlier on in the day, but the attendance can be a bit low. If you have a festival with expensive drinks and rubbish food, and if the rules don't allow visitors to come back to the area after they've left once, not many people want to go to see Malicious play at two o'clock in the afternoon, if Gorgoroth will be playing after midnight, for example.

Which of the metal fests in Finland are arranged and booked with the most professionalism?
The bigger and more mainstream it is, the more professional it is, I think. There are some that I've never attended, like Jalometalli and Nummirock (will have to fix that), but I'd say Tuska is the most professional from the ones I have experience from. There's also Ankkarock that has had a decent number of metal bands in the past, although it overlaps with the mainstream rock festival stencil, but it's a very professional one too - at least on Tuska's level in professionalism. If I had to go out on a limb, I'd pick those four, although I have an awful feeling that I'm forgetting something...

Divulge some more about this fest you played in Espoo this past year. What bands were on the bill with you and how many people showed up for the event?
There were some bands that I've never heard of. One of them was called Ilmaista Kaljaa, which is Finnish for free beer. We were the only metal band on the bill, as far as I know. Unfortunately I didn't have the time to stay to hang out and listen to the other bands, though. During our set, there were maybe 20 to 30 people, but not too many people showed tremendous interest in the music we were playing, haha. They were sitting on the grass like fifty metres away from the stage. But it was fun to play, for sure!

Do you know of publications that give worldwide attention to Finlandian metal fests in any way?
There are so many festivals elsewhere in Europe. Being a bit far away from there, Finland probably doesn't attract as much metal tourism as some countries in the Central Europe.

Are there metal fests you have heard of outside Finland where you would want to perform at some point?
It would be like a dream come true to play at festivals abroad. Akseli (our drummer) and I went to a German fest called Kings of Black Metal this year. It would be great to play at a festival like that, for example.

What bands played this year’s Kings of Black Metal fest in Germany? How many merch tables did you see while you were there? Did you pick up anything or meet any local bands?
The best bands in my opinion were Primordial (by far!), Taake, The Ruins of Beverast, Misþyrming and Archgoat. There were some other really good shows too; for example Acherontas took me by surprise. Nargaroth and Desaster also played, but I don't care for them that much. There were lots of little merch stands; I think three or four sold albums, and there were ones with clothing and apparel only. I didn't pick up anything, because I was broke at the time, hehe...

Regarding the internet, do you prefer reading webzines or print zines to keep up with what’s happening? It was said the internet will replace print media yet there are still printed zines circulating.
I don't read too many zines, but honestly, I think I'd prefer a print zine. I just prefer reading something like that on paper. I wouldn't pay for an internet zine, but I might just pay for a really good print one. The strength of the internet, in my opinion, is that it can create communities. Inside those communities, it's easy and quick to share information about music. With the internet, perhaps the whole format of zine as a media is becoming slightly obsolete. Zines have a certain cultural value to the metal scene, though, so I'd say they'll live on nevertheless, just like vinyl (and CD).

Do you think the increased activity of web zines has generated more bands in recent years?
There's probably some synergy, too. Zines may help smaller bands get recognition, and a healthy scene of young underground bands provide fertile grounds for zines to operate, I reckon. I definitely like the idea that zines pick up new, unknown bands and present them to a larger public. There should be more of that.

In the US and other countries there are independent web radio stations that help unsigned bands get publicity. Do you have any of those in Finland?
I'm sure there are some, but I don't listen to any, and none have been in contact with us. Incidentally, we have been contacted by (I think) an American station asking to play our stuff, and asking us to make a "you're listening to" message for them. It was nice, but I forgot what the station was called.

Who was the guitarist friend you formed Illusions Dead with? What musical tastes did you and he have in common?
He's called Victor Slätis. Back then he was into bands like W.A.S.P., and anything to do with nuclear weapons! He was fired quite early on for lack of motivation, so I reckon there wasn't enough overlap taste-wise. Afterwards I continued to work with him on his own material, and I got him heavily into Anathema, which is a band I think we both love deeply. Incidentally, he's currently playing in a black metal band of his own. I don't know the name, and I'm not sure if they quite have one.

How extensively did you and Victor Slätis work together after he left the band?
We played songs that he had written for a couple of years, just the two of us. We used to live quite nearby, so it was convenient. After I moved, we played together less, and he got in touch with an old friend, who is an absolute black metal fanatic and a drummer, and they started playing together.

Do Victor and his new band intend to release anything official, such as a demo or an EP?
Nothing's in the works, but if he asks me to play or do vocals for something, I'll probably agree to do it! He's currently living in a different city quite a distance away. In the meantime, I've been doing vocals for an international project, where all the members come from a different country! The magic of internet, really. It's a death/doom band called Gloaming.

How was Gloaming formed via the internet and how does this band go about writing material?
It's basically the brainchild of one J.C. who writes all the music and lyrics. He plays guitar, and he needed to recruit a drummer, a bassist and a vocalist to realize his vision. I knew him beforehand, and he had been talking about his project, and I just went ahead and asked him if he needed a vocalist. It's wonderful that something like this can be created thanks to internet, but it's also a shame that we can't jam together or play live.

How long did it take you and your guitarist to find musicians to work with and establish a full band? How often did you have to change members before the lineup stabilized?
When the early line-up settled, we found a proper bassist, and the guy who had played bass previously moved on to playing guitar, which had really been his instrument all along. At this point, none of us had enough equipment to set up a rehearsal space, nor could we afford to rent one. We rehearsed simple songs in our gymnasium's music class after school. I think it was in 2012 that we found our most stable line-up yet, when Jake Lastujoki joined as a guitarist. At the same time, we had found a dedicated rehearsal room, started finding our style, and rapidly improved as players as well. We started doing this in 2009, but maybe it was really 2011 or 2012 that Illusions Dead was truly born.
In Finland, men have compulsory military service (6 to 12 months at the time), which can really throw a spanner in the works if you're trying to play in a band. We were lucky to be about the same age, so it didn't take a huge amount of time until we were all done. In 2013, we recorded a demo with this line-up, and the following year, we recorded Celestial Decadedence.
Last year, our long-time bassist Mikael left, and this year, Jake left as well. We found a replacement to Mikael in Aksel Kaya, and we're still on the lookout for another guitarist to fill in Jake's shoes.

What is the intended meaning of the name Illusions Dead? How many names were considered before choosing that one?
It refers to disillusionment, or having no illusions or self-deceit. It has very negative connotations, and it was painfully appropriate at the time. Some other names were considered, but I recall that we needed to pick one that wasn't a joke in some hurry.

What did you and the band see around you that made the name Illusions Dead appropriate?
Let's just say that playing, writing, performing and recording music as a band maybe wasn't quite as easy as we might've initially thought, haha! It's just not enough to have a smattering of talent, and a great need to express oneself. It also takes some hard work.

What lyrical content has the band covered since they began releasing their material?
Our lyrics can be quite diverse, but not very unlike many bands in this kind of music. Opposition to mindless extremism, criticism of religious bigotry, death, and existential terror. Some of them are accounts of senseless acts of violence by people blinded by faith or ideology, for example. They're always stories, in a way.

Discuss the earliest releases by Illusions Dead and explain how they represented the band at the time.
Our first release was the self-titled demo in 2013. The process of recording that was somewhat complicated as none of us were very good at what we were doing at the time, including the sound man. I was also suffering from a cold during the vocal recordings, which affected the results. We were hoping to record an entire album, but we were dissatisfied with some of the material, so two songs were left unreleased, and the rest was released as a demo instead. That recording represents us quite accurately in 2013, amateurism and all, and the style on the demo is certainly the one we developed further with our first album proper.
There is an earlier recording that we made, which certainly doesn't represent us as a band at this stage, and I hope that nobody will ever hear it, haha! It's unreleased for a reason. Everything that we've released we were satisfied with, and it represented us at the time. It's possible that some day in the future, when we've grown and matured as musicians and people, we may feel that our earliest releases like the demo or Celestial Decadence don't represent the band at its later stages, but it's still a part of our narrative, and our development as a band and as musicians. The same could be said of the unreleased "high school tapes", but I definitely stand by our decision to not release them ever, nevertheless.

How much had the band improved as a unit and as musicians when you started releasing full length CDs? Tell the readers about Celestial Decadence the first full length you recorded and how far you have come.
Since early 2014, when we recorded our first full-length album, we've improved our playing and songwriting substantially. Two members who played then are gone, but Akseli and I have grown together as musicians much since then, and our current bassist has also assumed his role very well. For example, back when we recorded that album, I had no idea what kind of guitar gear I should use to get the sound that I want, and the rehearsal space we played and recorded in had a pretty horrible sound. I've found a guitar that makes playing easier and more fun for me, where I used to struggle a bit. Akseli has also upgraded his kit, so in terms of equipment and sound, we've definitely got better, and having a better-sounding room to play in has allowed us to become better at playing as a band as well. Back when we recorded the first full-length, we didn't have pre-production demos of anything except the two tracks off our demo release that we re-recorded for the album. Hearing recordings of your own music definitely helps you understand better what works, and what needs to be developed, and with demos you can notice early on what parts need to be practiced more. One of the problems we've had with recording in the past has been actually getting takes that we're satisfied with. Now I believe that we have some tools to help with that. In short, we've definitely improved quite a bit since then, and I'm definitely looking forward to making our second full-length!

Name all the songs appearing on Celestial Decadence and what inspired the lyrics. How long has it been available and how much favorable press has it received?
We put the album out in February this year. The reviews have been pretty good, although I'm the most proud of having received a pretentious negative review from deathmetal.org, haha! These are the songs, and what their lyrics are roughly about.
Incursion - This song is a story about a religious fanatic of a more Satanic persuasion. Nothing too deep, just a story from the perspective of a quite seriously insane person.
Devoured By Hatred - This song is about times when dictatorship, fascism and mass-psychosis take over and people are destroyed by the masses for insane reasons.
Shadow and Flame - It's about Balrogs!
Hour of the Raven - A more philosophical one, I suppose. Existentialism and contemplations from the darker side.
Revolution (Of Celestial Spheres) - Same as above.
Tormentor of the Weak - These lyrics were written by our drummer Akseli about a Grand Inquisitor, Tomás de Torquemada as I recall.
The Way of the Deceiver - This song is about the preposterous human sacrifices demanded by the hardline authorities and extremer scriptures of particularly the latter two branches of Abrahamic religion. The road to heaven is paved with corpses.
Illusions Dead - I suppose this song could've been named Celestial Decadence, because it's about the same things that the album cover represents: theism losing its meaning, and its once majestic facades crumbling away.

Tell the readers about your 2016 single Immortal Domain and how it’s an improvement from Celestial Decadence.
Stylistically, Immortal Domain is more of a black metal song than anything on Celestial Decadence, I suppose. We're really happy with the song, and while I wouldn't say it's necessarily better than anything we've done before, it's certainly a favourite to ourselves. One could say that the way the two guitars are employed in the song is an improvement over the arrangements on the debut album, and we managed to get a cleaner recording this time.

Is the band working on or planning to work on another full length? What ideas if any have you come up with?
We have all the songs written for the next album. Two of the songs are on our demo from 2013 that we've improved a bit, and obviously they will be re-recorded. It will also have Immortal Domain re-recorded, and a couple of songs that we haven't recorded before. There will also be two songs on the album that are a bit longer and more epic. There will also be more lead guitar. We're planning to record some pre-production/promotional demos of some of the songs early next year, just to see if anything needs to be improved or changed, and perhaps try to attract some label's attention. It might be optimistic to think it will be released during 2017, but we're at least aiming to make the final recordings during next year. I'm excited about it, and it will most certainly be our best work up to that point!

-Dave Wolff

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