Interview with Mikko Aspa of Clandestine Blaze
Conducted by Colonel Para Bellum of Blackdeath.
1. In 2016 you re-released on vinyl the Clandestine Blaze debut album “Fire Burns in Our Hearts” (1999). Before the press you probably had to listen to it. With what feelings did you listen to this work after so many years?
– Of course I have listened this recording during the years. I still like many of the songs and lyrics. Favorites from album would be “Anti-Christian Warfare” and “Icons of Torture”. Nowadays I would not make songs same to what they were. Originally intention was to be very monochrome, bleak and simple. Repetition beyond necessary level. Nothing entertaining happens in music. Of course still today Clandestine Blaze is not that “entertaining”, but there is perhaps less repetition and little bit consideration of music to work out also in theoretical live situation or listening for some sort of satisfaction. In early work, it was almost opposed to this idea. Especially not meant for collective experiences, but only for hearing it in right moment in solitude.
Sound is quite raw, yet none of CB recordings have been unnaturally raw. I never aimed to make “shitty sound”, but best possible sound according to my own taste. There are elements in these early albums what are returning to next Clandestine Blaze release. For example the more distorted and screeching guitar distortion.
2. Anyway, at long last Clandestine Blaze were honoured with live performances. When you were standing on stage, what did you dislike the most?
– Experiences was positive all in all. It is impossible to estimate what exactly is the method how it effects you, but as result about 90% of “City of Slaughter” was composed during two weeks before and after Clandestine Blaze gigs. There had been about two years of not making any riffs for CB and suddenly during preparations for gig, complete album emerges. It is same with next album.
As Clandestine Blaze doesn’t really rehearse as a “band”, it results being slightly unsure how the live gigs go. This seems very common within Black Metal, where exists clear distinction between “recording bands” and “live bands”. Without doubt, CB has always been about recordings. While music of later albums is more suitable for live music, to really transform this to stage is not so obvious. In all honesty, stages were of course way too big compared to level where I like to operate. Of course not sunshine of outdoor festivals, but nevertheless.
3. Listening to Clandestine Blaze’s latest album “City of Slaughter”, it’s safe to say that the sound of this one is not proverbial “Lo-Fi” (as on “Fire Burns in Our Hearts” as an example). At the same time you didn’t get into “polished sound”. So how would you describe the musical progress for Clandestine Blaze? And what do you generally think of “polished sound” in Black Metal?
– As explained above, music is less one-dimensional. It doesn’t have much gimmicks or special musicianship. In composition of songs, there are more focused ideas like how many times riffs or song structures can be repeated before they start to lose their power. In later albums, atmosphere of music dictates the lyrical content. Music itself radiates message, which is then captured into lyrics.
I do like some “well produced sound”. It is mostly question if songs benefit of specific kind of sound and atmosphere. Some music benefits from being clearly audible, but with interesting sound and mix. Other music starts to sound flat and soulless when people use clean production.
I think this can be generally observed as problem of generic metalheads: Their idea of good sound is that “everything can be heard clearly”. While that often results that all elements you hear clearly, sound shitty and soulless. Plastic drums. Synthetic sounding guitars…
I would hope for personality. Too many times for example guitar or drum sound nowadays is so generic. It’s like factory-line producing endless amount of regular faceless sound. If bands themselves don’t have any real identity, then we will witness exactly situation we often have now. Same drum and guitar sound used in Black Metal albums as in cleanest of modern radio rock.
4. And one more question about the sound. It’s like you prefer to stay away from the question, where exactly you record your albums – you specify only some blurry time of recording on the Clandestine Blaze’ releases. Why such anonymity? Well, caginess. Don’t you think this information is important? Further. Now there is a tendency when bands don’t record their stuff in the studio, but most often at their rehearsal places, after which they send their stuff for mixing to some eminent sound engineer. How do you think does it make sense to record an album in the garage and then send this material for mixing, for example, to Necromorbus Studio?
– All material is self-recorded at rehearsal place. Different recorders and methods are used that eventually lead to different sound. Almost none of albums are done with same gear, so things change naturally.
I think studios like Necromorbus are equivalent for Morrisound, Sunlight, Abyss Studio, etc. Meaning, as much as they originally contributed to the landmark albums of genres, they have become almost synonym for flat mass product. It is not perhaps their own fault, but the herd of bands who come in wanting to sound just like their favorite albums that were done there.
Same generally happens with cover artists who specialize on “metal”. It is unfortunate turn in history of metal, that a lot of bands who could create amazing albums in some random studio near by, no longer do it. Those studios had no idea of “metal”, but could come up with personality. Now when they go to specific studio where specific metal music sound is created by default, results are often horrible. Needless to say, the endless line of handful of same cover artists doing same style works for everybody.
It would be better to see bands with own vision, own taste and own ability to capture it, instead of turning too much “the same”, based on their need to fit into template of specific sound of their favorite albums. Perhaps submitting self recorded raw takes to studio still leaves some own sound, but I’m sure many people are nowadays so lazy that it’s pre-amp quitars and such what they submit and leave actual vision of sound to the “engineer”.
5. Well, you talk about the method “record an album in the garage and submit this material to Necromorbus”, paying attention to the individuality of the creator only. But what about the technical side of this question? In fact, this is a pathetic attempt to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Necromorbus aren’t wizards, shitty garage would still be heard.
– I think this is not a bad thing. Many times in old records this was the case. General sound manager not really a “metalhead”, who witnessed bunch of teenagers making mess, and trying to save what could be saved. Bad instruments, shitty amps, lousy drum kits and so on. That was a way to create good sounding albums. Now when it’s pre-amp guitars in glass cabinets and triggered drums, computer edited corrections to every mistake… That is the shitty way to do it.
What I see and hear in semi-pro level, is that people have tech and technical know-how for the basics, but no real ideas how album could sound beyond “hearing instruments”. Lack of personality or lack of knowing what they really want, and ending up sounding just like all contemporary metal sounds like.
6. Let’s return to the mentioned topic of anonymity. Do you think anonymity of the author (which is quite common in Black Metal) contributes to the better adoption of the proposed music? On the one hand, the creator seems to be alienated from his creation — the listener get only music without any personality of the author. On the other hand, there is a certain catch: who does palm off to me his music?
– This is paradox what has no answer. At the same time, I believe level of anonymity is good, but it reflects more the lack of presence of mundane life rather than ideas presented within art. Completely anonymous project, what has no other means than sound, may appear equally useless, if there is no possibility to actually feel the true creativity or even assumed connection to why and by who material was created. Experience of material might remain superficial unless listener himself is able to make it “more than it actually is”. This is of course reality with most of music (or art) in general.
7. Does this mean that one day the line-up of the project, whose name I don’t call, but which everyone knows very well, will be officially unveil?
– No. In case of such project, anonymity is merely semantics. One can find actual personality from creations of arts, what speaks more than having musicians “face” or “name”.
What I meant above, was reference to projects, what follow template of “true black metal”, without input of personality of character. In their bleak anonymity, we have no idea whether their Blasphemy or Watain copycat music and artwork is true expression of them or reflects their personality. Or merely replication to fit in aesthetics.
In case of some others bands, music and lyrics itself has the personality, build inside, to some degree. We do not need their birth-names or pictures of faces, as if that would tell about true essence of person. In real works of art, the work itself presents view to personality – not the picture of someones face.
All music is build upon echoes of previous. There is always tradition and history in it, but it’s good creator has some actual input what adds his presence into work.
8. Now let’s talk about the ideological component of Black Metal. You came to the Black Metal scene from another music — punk and electronic...
– My involvement in underground started in various “scenes” at the same time. Before I had been exposed to industrial-noise and before I was involved in punk related things, I was listening to metal and also editing ’zine focused more on underground metal.
9. This information is taken from the book: “Nowadays, Aspa is best known for his activities in the black metal subculture, but his roots are in punk and electronic music.” (Tero Ikäheimonen The Devil’s Cradle: The Story of Finnish Black Metal. Svart Publishing, 2017. P. 380.)
– It is always up to debate – of course I was known for my industrial-noise work before Clandestine Blaze, as Grunt had been active for years before first CB demo. But this reflects my published work, rather than “roots”.
10. Ok. So, how did you react then to the satanic pathos of many Black Metal bands? Did you believe in the sincerity of satanic proclamations? And now, when you’re a business man, wise with life experience, how do you perceive the satanic pathos of Black Metal bands?
I rejected organized religion very early on. My view on “satanic pathos” of Black Metal bands can be only be answered based on individual bands or records. I don’t think genre itself presents one specific satanic element. Some may have great effect, while others are as dull as one can imagine insincere art be.
If one wants to appeal to true feelings and emotions, there should be actual substance. I was not convinced then, nor I am convinced now with usage of word or term, but ability to convey idea. I’m not so much interested in tales of horror where theme is devil. Nor I’m interested in satanism as substitute for liberal world view.
To me, satanic pathos is directly linked to world view and search for knowledge and transformation of existence. Re-evaluation of existence, life and death and mans role in it. It has very little to do with how many times one regurgitates man made names in their lyrics without saying anything.
11. Now many Black Metal bands claim that their message is directed against religions. Let’s consider such a logical chain. Riot against religion is a social phenomenon. The rebellion against god is a religious one. To rebel against god, you have to believe in him. So, to rebel against religion, you need to be a part of society. How then to be with the asocial (antisocial) essence of Black Metal?
– To quote Nietzsche: “I mistrust all systematizers and avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity.”
It is quite self-betrayal to consider Black Metal predominantly asocial in essence. Compared to the many true asocial misfits, as opposite Black Metal people are often the most interested in creations of man, communication with like-minded, taking part of cultural phenomena, making impact on surroundings and interaction in general. This is to far bigger magnitude than those “normal folks” who live in seemingly regular social life.
How I see it, is that in context of Black Metal, social uninterestedness is directed toward what one may call “banal life”. It is about search to elevate to different level from generic banality.
Those who have unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs, present religious state of mind. It doesn’t matter whether this would relate to existence of “god” or for example existence of “human rights”.
Act of man, what could be seemingly seen as “social life”, can be as easily his path to reject clearly false foundations that were based on feebleness of the fellow man. It is not act made for benefit of the same feeble men. Not in the terms of the typical “positively portrayed socially awareness”. It may be pure hostility towards the scum, instead of mere disinterest of asocial person. It’s hard to measure which would be more “essence of black metal”.
12. Anyway, Black Metal is a very specific subculture, which is little consistent with the “banal life”. Imagine that a young son of your neighbors (steeped to the lips in this “banal life”) decided to start his own Black Metal band and came to you for advice. What would you tell him?
– It is surprising how many people actually ask me for advice in such matters. My advice is basically: stop hesitations and act. Follow instinct, and cultivate process. Do not set any “goals”. There is no route to success so to say. Anyone who looks up to legends of the Black Metal and wants to be like specific group or person in past, is going to fail. There is no glory in “popularity”. There is no reason to make detailed plans to gain visibility and success.
One must operate in way, that the process is what one wants to do – even without rewards. Not behaving like christians who wait for paradise unable to see importance of current moment.
Note: This Interview was conducted by Colonel Para Bellum for his Russian language zine Sotsirh Susii. It is published in English exclusively through The Metal Observer with his kind permission.