Mikko Aspa is a well known name to the connoisseurs of underground, raw black metal as well as noise afficionados. His work spreads into many bands and solo projects. This specific interview deals mostly with Clandestine Blaze, a greatly respected project, in the fields of today's black metal. Nevertheless, this conversation touches other subjects as well.
As expected some of Mikko's views might seem controversial, or even disturbing to some people. In that fashion, I need to state that we at Subexistance support freedom of speech,especially when it comes to artistic expression. Moreover, I would like to stress out that this in fact,is a very interesting text. Therefore, I would advise you to read it with an open mind. If, however, you feel that you are easily offended by controversial views, you can easily skip this interview. If not, be my guest and enjoy a very interesting conversation with one of the leading figures of the extreme black metal cult.
Greetings Mikko!Let's start with a question regarding Northern Heritage. Since your label has been operating for quite some time,do you think that you have achieved all goals that you had set back when you started? What should we expect of Northern Heritage in the near future?
-I did not set any goals, other than releasing good black metal with underground attitude and in that way, it was success. Also sometimes appears as if accidentally been drifting away from original perspective with growing pressings, more ambitious aims of "success" of some bands. Within recent years I have been aiming to get back to basics, so to say. There isn't any major changes or regrets, only adjusting direction to right way.
Clandestine Blaze is by now a well respected name in the black metal millieu. Do you feel a sense of evolution through all these years? Does experience count for you,in any possible way?
-Clandestine Blaze evolution is personal path. I'm not interested really in "popularity", since there is nothing band does what requires presence of vast audience. It has been very rewarding and enlightening experience on many levels. I do think works of art, literature or such will always have effect beyond its creator, but that is most of all secondary effect.
"Falling Monuments" is the latest Clandestine Blaze release.How do you feel about this recording?Are you satisfied by it as a result?
-Yes, I'm satisfied with it. Always few things one could do differently, but overall, I'm very pleased with results. Composing, writing and mixing was long and hard task, but actual recording/playing happened very quickly.
You manage to sound traditional,yet retain a unique personal touch of your own.In what ways do you achieve that?Are you proud of your influences?
-I think good way is to make things naturally. There is no point making "tribute" or "copy" bands, but also artificially trying to make something different and unique often fails. Tradition of good music was often build upon former achievements and this cumulation resulted the masterworks. Even when the vanguard position without doubt is the true protagonist of style, still most often even the exceptional bands can be directly linked to their influences. Very few things are born in total vacuum. In that sense, I firmly believe in respect of tradition. It must happen without changing it to kitchy version.
It is unfortunate that a lot of metal is not based on creative influences, but shallow copies of existing material. It is very thin line, but many times the current "cult bands" appear to me as calculated products or even kitch black metal, displaying nothing but vulgarly pretentious fake. It's not the metal of unexpected energies of wild current, but guys who produce specific kind of (side?)project to appeal specific part of scene. Sometimes from perspective of utter outsiders, sometimes pretension of utmost die hard cult.I can't say I'm proud of my influences, but at least range of influences are relatively wide range and those before all these modern day sub-genres and limitations.
Your vocal delivery is far off being the typical black metal howl,maintaining an almost death metal influenced type of growl,in my opinion.Is that a conscious choice?Do you feel influenced by any death metal bands in particular?
-Vocals have varied depending on what I do, but if you hear me talking, you might hear I do have quite deep voice. It is simply the natural choice, not something I though what should I do.
I don't think vocal style should be so much dominated by genre. When we look back in time, all the charismatic and best vocalist among black or death metal has been pretty unique. You put together Autopsy, Goatlord, Beherit, Bathory, Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, Death, Atheist, Morgoth, Entombed, Dismember, Graveland, Emperor, Obituary, and list could go on and on.. but most often remarkable bands had vocalist who wasn't THE most stereotypical to genre. I like the times when death metal vocals were diverse. Not just the basic growl assumed to be "death metal vocals". Same goes for BM. Nowadays it is almost ridiculous, when it's such a template music, that vocalist doesn't really do voice what he has, but imitates the subgenre expectation. That music has growls, that music has emo screams, etc..
As far as my knowledge goes,Clandestine Blaze has never performed in a live audience,so far.Did you ever think of re-cruting some more members in order to create a live unit?Or is this something that is simply out of the question?
-I have once performed one song semi-public live situation. We also used to rehearse for a while with 3 member line-up for possible gigs, but eventually idea was cancelled. I don't completely rule out possibility to play, but I can guarantee I will not play outside Finland or in BM festival type of environment.
Since you are involved in a number of personal projects,while also participating as a member in some bands,which of the two would you say fits your character the most? Solo work or band activities,that is?
-In bands, I tend to stay as regular member. Rather doing what I'm told to do with no aim to "lead". In some I contribute as equal member. Most of bands I play, I will not and can not take credit for achievements of bands since my role is only fragment of results.
In solo works I control everything. It makes possible to do choices that with bands could be impossible. Band dynamic is often such a strong, it develops and progresses drastically while years go by. Very few have the will to continue on very basic level, especially where playing is not fun nor challenging. Majority of Clandestine Blaze songs would be probably very boring to play in rehearsals, since very little happen in them. But this approach is crucial to keep songs like they are. If there would be a drummer, who wants to show his skills with making mess with tiny splash- and china-cymbals or amazing complex drum rolls, it would be probably fun for him, yet utterly ruining the approach of music itself.
With band dynamics, and extensive rehearsals and live gigs, one may reach heights impossible for solo work. But solo work has definitive superiority what comes to minimalistic black metal stripped down from all what is nice, neat or talented in traditional sense.
Now, I would like to ask you something regarding yet another one project of yours: Stabat Mater. How did you decide to form this project? Do you have any interest in funeral doom as a genre?
-Basically my interest in doom has been as long as I have listened any metal music. Among the first doom bands I appreciated was Unholy, Cathedral, Skepticism, etc. Not to mentioned Drawing Down The Moon era slower Beherit or monumental tracks of Goatlord.
Stabat Mater was born out of accident. I was composing material as suggestions for band I was playing and recorded demo versions of some songs. At that time it was too dissonant and melodic for the band, so I decided that I won't waste my material, but just record it by myself. Originally materials were recorded without project name and given to few friends. Later on name was taken and most of tracks used on various vinyl versions. I didn't seek for deals, but Painiac heard the material and was interested. Project was so unintentional, that everything before debut LP/CD happened basically by accident, with high dosage of imperfection.
I'm not interested in contemporary "funeral doom", where nothing happens. Even if Stabat Mater shares the slowness and down tuned heaviness, influences are almost the same as for Clandestine Blaze. Which is also case with lyrical content and possibly also artwork. One could rather describe SM as slow black metal, since there is very little of "true doom metal" in it.
Most of the art accompanying your works is done in black and white. Do you feel a kind of special fascination towards black/white iconography? Is this something that will continue to be apparent in future days?
-Most of the time, black and white allows the questions enter the picture. You look almost any kind of photography, and most of "normal" color works or the amateurish "glamour" photoshopped styles are merely like lame advertising or tourist snapshot type photos. In my eyes they appear banal and void of any hidden emotion or spirit.
This is not the case with black and white. It almost automatically includes the hidden mysteries. Becomes like distant shadow of existing, but with more questions than answers. It is easy to see why the best works of photographic art appear to be black and white. Or bleak toned anyways. And filled with artifacts of unexpected elements.
With painting and illustrations, I merely follow my instinct related to photography, that black and white gives you more than it first appears.
Your lyrics manage to maintain the misanthropy fueled black metal spirit, while not following/copying the usual religiously inspired zylotry. What types of themes interest you the most,really?What are your inspirations/motivations when writing lyrics?
-I read and consume vast amounts of everything related to sex, politics, death, religion, etc. It's really too wide subject to describe almost entire spectrum of life and death in on answer. Most of the time my perspective is Seer Of Decay. Approaching all subject matter from certain perspective of anti-social realism. It is fueled with predatory mind of conqueror and very very distant radiation of illusion of new dawn.
Regarding the black metal scene of today: its latest sub-genres being suicidal/depressive bm, war metal and black/noise, respectively. Do you hold any interest on those? Would you fear that the black metal scene as a whole,has been overtagged,or even overflooded with trends?
-There might be some artists which appear to be interesting, at least for a while, but most often in long run prove to be shallow. Black metal is versatile and full of energy to use. If someone decides that instead of playing "black metal", he will follow some very narrow and very cliche dominated small subgenre created by other people, it often become weak. As example you can see pretty much all the suicidal bands. Or "religious bm", where it doesn't appear to be religious really, but explicit and cheap copying the sounds and visuals of bands who were "originators".
While content itself wouldn't be tied to any particular sound or riff, but could be used in chosen approach, many choose to adapt a complete ready made template to join. It is beyond my understanding what would be the gain of playing in mere copycat band? It makes me very annoyed to get spam mails about yet another "Watain style religious bm band from Sweden". And one can say without doubt they do not follow the call of satan, but call of trend oriented rock business.
In my opinion, Hellas had, and in fact still has, a very strong scene when it comes to the extreme forms of metal. Are there any specific hellenic bands that you enjoy? Even more so, would you say that some of these bands have been important for the evolution of the scene, worldwide speaking?
-Rotting Christ, Varathron, Necromantia etc obviously have their legacy among international black metal history. Early recordings of each are still inspiring works, even for some modern bands. From later bands I was into Nocternity, Der Sturmer and some more. I think Der Sturmer has been very important for contemporary NSBM movement and even with being extremely simple and provocative, it set standards and gained international fame. Including some live shows in Finland and being released over here. Even if big number of Finnish BM labels, it appears to be relatively rare that anyone releases foreign bands, while Finnish bands constantly release material on foreign labels.
The Finnish BM scene has been attributed as being one of the finest among the world. Which do you think are the main factors that characterize this scene alltogether? What are the differences of the Finns when compared, for example, to their norwegian peers?
-In Finland everything is smaller, dirtier and less ambitious (concerning rock standards). Very little amount of bands appear to be interested to become famous or join the international metal game. Even smaller bands from Norway or Sweden often appear to be highly concerned about image & presentation as well as certain type of success. Of course there are exceptions everywhere, but often it appears that after certain number of years, people decide that "there's nothing wrong with aiming mainstream". And there isn't. But I think there are big differences about methods and level of compromises how it is achieved.
Nowadays even some of the most respected legends of black metal suddenly appear as substitutes of KISS. Rock show with hardly other value. It doesn't appeal to me and I don't see it as strength or power worth to aim for.
Besides your activities in the realms of metal, you have been quite prolific when working within the noise camp. Do you think that there is a connection between noise and extreme metal? or are these two separate worlds,in your opinion?
-In Finland there is big cross-over within basically all underground activity. There is very little of "purity". Mostly the guys that appear to promote the purity of black metal as opposed to death metal, punk or such, appear to be the fags with beard jewelry and latex pants. Which is the BM crew I have least similarities.
I have very little to do with the normal metal scene, which includes the press, metal bars, metal festivals, etc etc. In Finland metal is so big, in most bigger cities you can walk into bar dedicated metal music or go to shops with intense amount of even hardest black metal in shelves. You can walk into shop dedicated to "underground" clothes and purchase all the usual bulletbelts and spikegear...
I don't feel much common with regular "metalheads", even if I do listen some traditional metal bands as well. Even less there is common with contemporary metal youth. My interest in metal is focused in specific approach, which has some common links with for example power electronics/industrial noise.
I don't aim to cross-over, for me it is simply matters of interest which I work with. Some people know me from noise, some from metal, some from both. Or even from some other field of activity. I do my best not to use my name to boost interest of my "lesser known" activities. Therefore majority of people remain clueless what all I may be involved with. There is nobody besides myself who knows all bands/projects that I've been in and released stuff with. Not even my closest friends.
Fanzines have obviously been vital in the field of preserving the underground black metal flame alive, through all those years. Which ones would you choose to recommend to us, honestly?
-Currently I don't know THAT many international black metal fanzines. Number of zines has decreased greatly. In Finland you can find good ones such as Kaleidoscope, Serpent Bearer and few others. One of the absolute best is Dark Moon. New issues appear very rarely, but still active in scene since mid 90's. History of this magazine includes some of the best interviews done within underground black metal. I would hope return of the old style small 'zines. Just focusing on couple bands per issue, with good definitive interviews etc. I'm bored with fanzines that are like regular rock magazines. Glossy, advertisement filled and including everybody who just happened to send promos.
We have come to an end.Finish it off,in any way that you wish..
-Thank you for the interview.