Interview: Juho "Jun-His" Vanhanen of ORANSSI PAZUZU

Words/Interview by Alex Logan In recent years, the Finnish black metal scene has been highly regarded for leading the charge in developing and expanding a splinter sound of psychedelic black metal that features unique and obscure elements, producing a sound far exceeding the standard label that gets attributed to it. Along with close friends and fellow Tampere mind-benders Dark Buddha Rising, five-piece Oranssi Pazuzu have changed the game once more with new release, ‘Mestarin kynsi’. Receiving immediate success on album charts globally, the emotional experience evokes a combination of paranoia, the unknown and instability absorbing the air, engulfing every sense, while complementing the unique audible melting pot of experimental, mood-altering, blackened post metal fused with 70’s space rock, krautrock and progressive pop. Taking some time out of his lockdown schedule to unravel this mentally engaging art, I digitally connect with vocalist and guitarist Jun-His to talk ‘Mestarin kynsi’, album chart recognition, move to new label Nuclear Blast and versatile music influences. Welcome Jun-His. I’m Alex and thanks for speaking to Insert Review Here. Thanks, cool to be here.

First and foremost - we’ve seen the global success on album charts in your native Finland, Germany and the UK but reaching #24 on the official Australia ARIA Digital album chart is no easy feat for a Finnish band – let alone one playing dark and extreme sounds. A big congratulations to you. Why do you think Mestarin kynsi has had the immediate success so far?

Thanks. Yeah, I don't know. I think just in general, it’s the right time for underground music. I kind of feel like things on the mainstream side will get more and more blasting as we go, like for the next few years, you know, which is fine. At the same time, I think the underground will rise and the kind of underground that’s only interested about making music, making art, and more and more people will, you know, start caring about that again as a counter phenomenon to all the plastic shit going on in the mainstream. So I think that will go further and further like on both sides. So maybe, it's the right time in that sense as well.

The transition to new label Nuclear Blast. How's that been? And what are the main things you were hoping in the new relationship will improve for the band as a whole?

Yeah, it was quite surprising that we ended up there for us as well. But, you know, we were really happy also with Suave and Twenty Bucks Spin, the smaller labels. But at the same time now I think for us, was the right kind of time to also look outside of that in some of the ways that we could kind of exhibit our art for a wider audience. But I think Nuclear Blast had like a good plan and good idea on how to spread that. And also they respected like what the band is and what makes us tick and what should be done with this band and what should not be done with the band at the same time. So for us it's really important that we can do our thing in peace. And I know that like when we signed, there were a lot of people like thinking that ‘Okay, now they owe them a change their sound and all that’. But I think like a situation where the band wants to become bigger or something like that, they will change the sound themselves rather than some label always saying that you need to do this, you need to do that. So if something has changed in the sound, you can blame the band. But for me, I don't think we made any kind of, you know, commercial kind of what they call it, like commercial…”

….you’re not looking to sort of commercialise the band in any way. It's just in essence around Nuclear Blast being that big muscle for you to sort of expand out…

…Yeah, exactly. We didn't do any compromising in the music because of that. So they just had the best ideas on how to what to do with this band”.

Can give us some insight into the album artwork and how you feel the final product visually represents the audible output?

Yeah. So like, really often when we use outside artists for any kind of things in this band, we try to find people whose stuff we like and who we feel like that could contribute a lot to interpreting our music as well, meaning that we pretty much give them free hands after explaining, you know, some of the themes or something like that. That was the case here as well. We're not control freaks about our stuff but it should be the listener should have their own interpretation. And same with the artist that we work with. Tekla Valy, the photographer, she’s from Helsinki and we've been enjoying her artwork quite a bit, like for some time. And yeah, we asked her to do this thing. And then then we bounced around some ideas and she took some photos and then we commented on those.

And then the end result was the cover you see. I think it's like they are photographs, but I'm not sure how the end result came. It looks almost like it's been like some photos have been placed under water and then there's a photo of that. But I'm not really sure how she did it. It's good to leave mystery for us as well.

In the very first instance, the album themes really well, which is something that Ontto our bass player and lyricist talked quite a bit with Tekla. So yeah, it came up pretty good.

A key feature throughout but particularly on ‘Illmestys’ and ‘Uusu teknokratia’ was the consistent eerie and unsettling synth and sample throughout that kind of leaves the listener on constant edge. Was this the intention during the songwriting process or did this evolve throughout?

Yeah, we usually work quite a lot with you know, tension and how to build up pressure into songs and then, of course, at some point releasing them. But we tend to think quite a lot about dramatic curves inside the songs and of course the whole album as well, like where are the right places to kind of build-up tension and where it should explode and to carefully think about those sorts of things.

So, yeah, definitely we wanted to achieve some of that, especially in ‘Uusu teknokratia’ there's a feeling of, you know, almost like you're being watched somehow and also for me, the atmosphere has something to do with the old kind of ancient movies and, you know, that sort of sneaking around feeling. On the other hand, ‘Illmestys’, for me, it's like more of someone strangling you really slowly. Like, so, yeah, for sure we work quite a lot with build ups and tensions and that kind of suffocating feeling almost.

That's a great point. The music video for ‘Uusu teknokratia’ is as obscure as it is meaningful. Did you find it more visually powerful to have a video that didn't feature any clips of the band playing?

Yeah, we've only done one official video before that and, you know, it feels like the right thing to do with this band. On the other hand, we did this kind of video where we actually play from Finnish national TV that is on the Internet right now as well. It's not some kind of official, let's say, video, but when we do a video like that, it shouldn't be like plain, which that is. And we feel like that when it's not like playing, it should be about something else rather than a band pretending to be playing. It's not really maybe suitable for us to kind of pretend to play because if we do a video like that, it should be us actually playing live like a live video. So, yeah, we definitely want to get there to be like something that tells the story from a different angle or something that will go deeper into that kind of theme we have in the song, which is exactly what Zev Deans did on ‘Uusu teknokratia’, he took it even further into visual art.

Some of the listed instruments used on the new album appear fresh compared to previous releases. One that stood out for me was your credit for the Saz. Can you elaborate on how this icon of the Ottoman Empire and Turkish folk music was appropriate for this release’s sound?

Yeah, it's actually used in ‘Illmestys’, the first song for the entire song together with acoustic guitar. We really wanted like something to kind of drone around with the notes, meaning that I don't even play the whole riff with this saz, It’s kind of meant to be a droney kind of Eastern instrument there that is kind of more mantra like. I wanted to kind of take that mantra idea a bit further and use that sort of the instrument there. Something that we've kind of resonate more in the mix.

Yeah, it definitely does. It certainly paid off. Was there a specific sub-genre or style of music you were personally listening to during the writing process for Mestarin kynsi? What are you listening to currently?

Yeah, quite of a lot of electronic music. Like not necessarily everything was meant for, you know, that I'm listening to something to study that, or anything like that. I usually or we usually as a band also listen to stuff, we try to, you know, not to steal from their front, but rather to have self-consciousness working with what we what we are into in the current state.

For example, for me, like older Chemical Brothers stuff was something I listened to quite a lot. But that's something I've been listening to for 10 years at least. But also this Finnish electro artist called Pan Sonic was something I was really into. And Portishead’s third album - those come to mind like immediately.

And then now I'm listening to (chuckles) quite a variety of things, like the lockdown, you kind of have more time to go deeper into stuff. This new FOF, this kind of this folky stuff I've been listening to. Then there's been this French black metal band called Trusters.

I try to have a variety of things going on. I usually have phases where I listen to heavier stuff for few weeks and then I go to something else. You know, trying to have a wide spectrum. Oh, yeah. This Yugen Blakrock, this hip-hop artist is also something I've been listening to.

A little bit of everything! The album title translates to ‘The Master’s Claw’ and listening throughout, I can’t shake a feeling of paranoid, religious undertone in an apocalyptic descent evoking throughout – culminating in concluding colossus ‘Taivaan portti’. In English, the song title translates to ‘Heaven’s Gate’. Talk us through some of the important themes and ideals explored throughout the album.

Yeah, I think you are really spot on with the theme there. Like we kind of always like to have a theme already early on, even if something quite abstract. For example, on this one, when we started working on the first ideas, we wanted them to start feeling and sounding to us. The kind of abstract goal was to make them kind of curses or spells or these kind of parcels or locks that are somehow mysterious and magical. And from that, we went to take the theme a bit further into kind of having this religious cult rising and this religious brainwashing leader and establishing of its totalitarian society where that is kind of meant to be a dystopian nightmare where we're like you said, there's a lot of paranoia and, you know, surveillance going on, influencing of the mind. And then in the end, the ‘Heaven's Gate’ song, everyone is taken to the white light. For me, the theme is about like, you know, humans want to belong to something, and then when there's some charismatic leader who will, you know, offer answers - there are a lot of people who want to follow that sort of persona.

But on the other hand, it's not about any current political character. For me. It's more like something like ‘Tools of Doom’ from the Conan the Barbarian or something Lovecraftian. But yeah, that was basically theme we worked on.

I've heard you say before, ‘a live performance is like an exhibition of art’. Once back on the road, how do you plan to ensure your delivery and output fairly reflects your unique sound? I can imagine the intricacies of tracks such as ‘Oikeamielisten Sali’ can be difficult to ideally reproduce in unfamiliar environments.

Yeah, let's say, the easy thing with our live performances is that we already work as a live band before the studio, meaning that we always played the album through and it's supposed to sound already like the album when we go in the studio and we always record live, even if we do some overdubs later, it's already there. So when we go on stage, for me personally, is the reason why we also have the stage name - is that you go there as yourself but a bit more theatrical version of yourself. And then, you know, when it’s at its best, it feels like, you know, you're going to forget everything that's going on outside and kind of make the atmosphere on the stage first. And if that's successful, then it will spread out to the audience as well. Then hopefully everyone is cut off at the same mystical cloud in the end - the band and the audience - but everything kind of begins with the stuff we do live on the stage and that's something we are familiar already from even before going into a studio. And it's really important for us for it to go that way.

You have upcoming European tour, in which I’ll be looking forward to seeing you at the Underworld in London early October. Is there any ambition and likelihood of spreading your wings to shores farther afield when the touring climate returns to normality? Yeah, I'm sure there is. Like, once things get more or less back to normal, we try to visit places we haven't before.

Is that something that you think Nuclear Blast will be able to assist with as well?

Umm yeah, kind of. All kind of depends on like where the people want to see us live in the end. So if everything goes well, I think there will be way more places we should visit. When always go on touring, we kind of relied on if it seems that there's enough audience somewhere, we try to go there at some point and tried to go with that.

Finally – if there was one thing you would ask a listener of ‘Mestarin kynsi’ to focus on throughout and to take away - what would it be?

I guess just get sucked on the atmosphere and the idea of the album is also that when you like, just let it take you, it will take you and the route has been planned ahead. The seeds have been planted there for it to take you places. But on the other hand, the interpretation of that is yours. So you can kind of travel in your own head, hopefully with the album to places that your sub-consciousness will take you. And those places like it varies from person to person - just let it take you - so you might get new ideas, new thoughts from that, hopefully.

Perfect. On behalf of Insert Review here and myself, thanks for speaking with us today Jun-His. Thank you very much Alex.

Watch the official video for "Uusi teknokratia" below:

Mestarin kynsi is out now via Nuclear Blast Records. Also available on iTunes & Spotify. Oranssi Pazuzu Bandcamp:

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