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SUCCUMB TO DARK: The Oral History of Demigod - Part III

SUCCUMB TO DARK: The Oral History of Demigod - Part III

Wasted Years

by Hippo Taatila


IX – The Masterpiece Arrives

After a hard day's work, it finally arrived.

It would not be an overstatement to say that the global death metal community had been expecting the arrival of Slumber of Sullen Eyes. While death metal was an underground phenomenon, Demigod was more than just a "bubbling under" band – the audience did not expect anything but a masterpiece.

When the long-awaited debut LP finally arrived with all the glory of Rob Smits' nightmare fueling cover art in late fall of 1992, the death metal community burst into thunderous applause. The album was everything they had expected and more. With only their first full-length album, these four kids from Loimaa, Finland instantly became celebrated members of their scene.

Esa Lindén: Once Dave had sent us the record packages, me and Tero spent countless hours mailing Slumber of Sullen Eyes CDs and cassette tapes everywhere. My doorbell rang several times a day for a couple of weeks when people drove to Loimaa from all over Finland to pick up their LPs and Demigod shirts and stickers.

Tero Laitinen: The zine community was still the main media for the circulation of death metal records. We basically received endless head from death metal zines. Everyone seemed to think Slumber was the best thing since sliced bread.

Seppo Taatila: Yeah, the zines were absolutely sold. They kept writing Slumber was the best record in the death metal genre and an instant classic and all that. As young kids who had been basically raised by the zines, we were just like "Is this really happening?"

Jussi Kiiski: While I do not remember singular reviews, I remember that things were bubbling. When these zines from Europe and the Americas kept giving 5/5 reviews for Slumber, it suddenly struck me: Goddamn, we are an actual band! And we are succeeding! What the fuck! I tried to be as humble as possible but then again, I was a 20-year-old guitar player and of course I enjoyed every last moment of attention.

The first demo tape Unholy Domain had introduced Demigod in its proto form: raw, brutal, highly distorted death metal. Slumber of Sullen Eyes was already a work of rather experienced musicians. While Slumber was in-your-face, it was in-your-face with a high sense of dignity. Even the most established members of the global death metal community paid attention to its merits.

Luxi Lahtinen: Demigod had developed a whole sound of their own. Many of their contemporaries in Finland leaned toward the Swedish type of death metal, but Demigod wanted to pay their tributes to the American pioneers of the genre. Slumber of Sullen Eyes was ultra-dark and murderously heavy sound-wise and filled with first-class songs. No wonder that many remarkable people in the genre spoke highly about Slumber.

I was in contact with pretty much all the best bands in the genre during the early 1990s and I remember how Slumber was met with enthusiasm everywhere. International bands such as Immolation, Deceased, Autopsy, Avulsed and Fleshcrawl immediately recognized Demigod's talent and Slumber's merits. Fleshcrawl actually covered Demigod's "Reincarnation" for their Impurity LP two years later, in 1994.

However, the LP was not totally without beauty flaws.

Of course the zine community kept ranting and raving. The zine community, with its sheer enthusiasm, had made death metal a thing in a first place. While the zinesphere was highly important, Slumber of Sullen Eyes also had to pass the test of bigger audiences.

In Finland, enthusiastic metal reporter Nalle Österman gave Slumber of Sullen Eyes three stars out of five in Rumba, the biggest music magazine in Finland. The same applied to several high-profile metal magazines from all over the world: good first act, we're looking forward for you guys to step your game up in the future.

After being marinated in the all the glory and celebration of the zinesphere for years, some of Demigod members were infuriated by what they thought were lukewarm reviews, despite the fact that some bands would kill for three-star reviews. At the same time, the young men of Demigod understood that while they would be met with enthusiasm in niche clubs of 200-300 people, they would be far away from the kind of success that would actually bring money to the table.

Nalle Österman (Editor/Critic, Rumba magazine): Demigod was not my cup of tea, music-wise. They somehow represented a reflection towards the school of American death metal such as Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Nile, and Hate Eternal. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the more primitive Swedish type of death metal such as Entombed, Dismember, Grave and Carnage, not to forget old-school American stuff like Obituary, Autopsy, Death, Possessed and Morbid Angel.

However, I noticed the band enjoyed some kind of respect in death metal circles: if not, I would have not written a piece about them for Rumba. While Demigod vocalist Esa Lindén looked like a namby-pamby in the band photos, his death growl shook the world like 10,000 Hiroshima A-bombs would have exploded in the arse.

Esa: Netherland's Metal Hammer wrote a full-page piece about us and gave Slumber good reviews, but other major magazines such as Kerrang, Soundi and Rumba gave us something like three out of five stars and we were kinda bummed by it.

Tero: Esa has been a perfectionist ever since he was a kid. Even back in school he was pissed if he did not get the trophy or first position in school track and field competitions. He took some of the lukewarm Slumber reviews really personally. At the same time, I did not pay too much attention to those.

Seppo: What we really did not understand was that three or four stars out of five in magazines such as Kerrang or Metal Hammer is a fucking awesome accomplishment! It just was that as teenagers from Loimaa we were lacking a true sense of proportion. In Finnish death metal circles everyone thought we were the shit and of course we thought that these big international metal magazines would praise us immediately. Instead, we went like: "Three stars, what the fuck! We are so fucking awful! We failed big time."

What we failed to understand was that to get five out of five stars, we first of all should have practiced a hell lot more. We should have been better musicians individually as well and we should have actually practiced at Rantatie instead of talking shit and drinking beer. We did not really play together well enough and that was the thing Ahti Kortelainen told us while making Slumber of Sullen Eyes: "You guys have not really been practicing, am I right?"

Slumber of Sullen Eyes was kind of a scratch on the surface. When I listen to it, I know we had all the potential in the world. There were some awesome songs in that album and our enthusiasm can be heard from every track. If we could have played better both individually and as a band and added that to world-class production values, then a five-star review would have been in order.

X – Junior addition

When Slumber of Sullen Eyes came out, the band photo left some Demigod fans scratching their head. The original band members Tero Laitinen, Esa Lindén and Seppo Taatila were all there as well as the new guitar hero, Jussi Kiiski. But there also was a fifth member in the photo: a 16-year-old, long-haired chap called Mika Haapasalo.

In a way, Mika Haapasalo was a strategic addition. He was not a member of the band while the original foursome had been working on Slumber of Sullen Eyes in Kemi. During the year 1992, Esa Lindén had grown to understand the meaning of his voice for the band and understood that it would be wise for him to concentrate on his greatest asset.

To make room for Esa's death growl, Demigod once again needed another guitar player. At this point, everyone from the Loimaa area who knew how to play guitar wanted to be a member of this distinguished band who had been touring in Germany and recording for a Spanish label. The band handpicked Haapasalo, who had moved to Loimaa region from the outskirts of Turku only a few years before.

Mika Haapasalo (Guitar, Demigod 1992-93): At some point Esa decided he only wants to growl. They had noticed me playing some riffs at Rantatie and for some reason, they decided to give the kid a break. I do not think I had even practiced with the guys one single time when I joined them for the photoshoot at the banks of Loimijoki river, behind a bike repair shop right opposite the world-famous Hotel Seurahuone.

I also was not a death metal guy. As a kid I used to be a fan of "leather jackets and big hair" type of heavy metal bands like KISS, WASP, Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe. Later on, I got more into classics such as Dio, Metallica, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden. At the same time, some of my friends in Loimaa were really into death metal and especially the hometown heroes, Demigod. I had my favorites, too. I still occasionally listen to Morbid Angel's Domination.

Jussi: Haha, the band picture. At some point we got to know that Slumber would arrive a few weeks late and therefore we decided to include an up-to-date promo picture with Mika and all. The fact was that Mika was one hell of a player. He was what, 16 or 17 years old at the time, but as a guitarist, he was much more technical and intensive than me or Esa ever were.

Mika joined us for our first post-Slumber gigs, and I have to say we were in Class A Shape. We were stern and steady and excellent together. Mika's guitar skills took the pressure away from me and gave Esa the opportunity to shine as a vocalist. And in the end, he was not that much younger than we were. It just felt like that for a moment in the beginning, with his bare cheeks and all.

Nalle Österman: Come to think of it, that's a funny detail how a guitar player from a brutal death metal band such as Demigod eventually became one of the leading members of Finnish guitar pop band Happoradio, which couldn't have been musically farther away. By the way: Mika's name is not mentioned on Demigod's Finnish Wikipedia site, even though he is there on the English version.

The band performed its first post-Slumber gigs in the winter of 1992-93. Esa Lindén left the Finnish army after a one-year service and he immediately packed his bags and left for Oulu for the legendary Day of Darkness festival. There was still a lot of underground excitement in the air, when all the original Finnish death metal band toured and played together.

Esa: At Day of Darkness, the other performers were Amorphis, Sentenced and Impaled Nazarene. That was one hell of a line-up. It was fun hanging out with all these guys and to notice how the audience had welcomed Slumber with open arms.

Seppo: Me and Tero took the train from Loimaa to Oulu. Back in those days, the old-school CCCP type of train conductors did not take our antics lightly. We had bought a significant collection of different beers from the liquor store and because we were afraid that the conductor would seize them, Tero began to fit them in his bass guitar case. When Tero had problems fitting them in, Tero wondered if he should leave his bass guitar at Loimaa station and borrow one from someone in Oulu. First things first!

Tero: After the release of Slumber, things started to slow down a bit. We performed a few gigs here and there and we were invited to Eskilstuna with Demilich in the beginning of 1993, but that was kind of a letdown.

Esa: Your young virtuoso Mika Haapasalo played his first gig with Demigod in Eskilstuna. He was just a puppy, but he did fit right in.

Mika Haapasalo:Even though I considered myself quite a musician, I was still only 16 years old and felt like a baby compared to these old, grizzled Demigod guys with their facial hair and all. It would be too far-fetched to say they were father figures to me, but they were kind of big brothers, at least. And they were also a legendary group around Loimaa. If a new drummer appeared, he was always compared to Seppo Taatila. When they were sitting in local bars, someone immediately joined the conversation to pat their backs and buy them a few beers. It was uplifting to be around them.

The trip to Eskilstuna was my first tour abroad as a member of a band and meant a whole lot to me. It felt massive when Jussi Kiiski picked up a few beers for me at a liquor store in Stockholm. We were also invited to meet the guys of Entombed and I was absolutely awestruck at the presence of these global metal heroes. I was also baptized into death metal culture during my first gig: I was not accustomed to banging my head at all and I woke up the next day with a terrible headache and neck and shoulder pain.

Esa: The Eskilstuna crowd was extremely icy. A couple dozen people leaned to the wall with their arms crossed and an occasional drunk Finn rampaged up front, but otherwise, it was far from what we had experienced in Illertissen and Cottbus.

Tero: The crowd was absolutely dead. If he had had any kind of daydreams about conquering Europe, the Eskilstuna gig was a sobering moment.

Mika Haapasalo: Yeah, it was not what the guys had expected. I did not complain. It was a big enough thing for me to be abroad and drink booze with the big boys.

XI – Rust and corrosion: End of the era of death metal

While the members of Demigod expected huge things from their post-Slumber of Sullen Eyes era, instead they noticed some kind of a fatigue creeping up on them.

In the mid to late 1980s, death metal had struck Tero Laitinen, Esa Lindén and Seppo Taatila like lightning. They listened to music 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They read every possible zine and kept in touch with like-minded people from all over the globe, learning how to play riffs and drum comps and to growl. They had been living the death metal life to the fullest for years.

But at the same time, the turn of 20 years is also cruel. While some people reach their absolute apex at that point, for the majority, 20 is only the beginning. That is the age when they have begun their life as independent human beings and starting to find out what to do. And that is the age when clashes happen in the groups of old chums: when some want to stay put and the others want to take the next step.

Esa Lindén: I have this tendency to go from zero the one hundred kilometres per hour in a second. This was even more true as a kid and a teenager. Anyway, at some point, my gasoline runs out and after refilling the tank, I take a whole another direction. This is what happened to me after Unholy Domain and Slumber of Sullen Eyes. I was tired of death metal and I started to find more joy in thrash metal. The more I thought of it, the less I wanted to hang around in the death metal scene.

Tero Laitinen: From around early 1990 to late 1992 I had listened to every single death metal record I could find – death metal and almost nothing but death metal. That makes roughly 720 days of death metal. Even while we were still waiting for Dave to send us our copies of Slumber, I felt my interest vanishing. The spectrum of music I listened to had begun to widen. I even began to start to understand all this mellow, acoustic stuff.

Esa: We had these minor altercations between me and Tero. I shouted at him and he shouted at me. I mean, it was nothing serious – we had known each other since we were small kids and we both had a temper – but since we had been in the same band for years, these flare-ups started to happen in the context of Demigod.

Seppo: We grew tired of death metal and hanging out at Rantatie and we all wanted to make different kinds of music. The question was that what would the right direction be. We did not want to turn from death metal to rock the way Xysma and Disgrace did. I think Esa was the catalyst of the transformation, his taste in music took a full 180-degree turn.

Esa: At the same point, my girlfriend Rilja was accepted to school, so I moved to Huittinen, a one-hour drive from Loimaa, with her.

Jussi: We all wanted to make music, but we had been looking at each other's ugly faces so long that everything became clotted. And once we could not instantly make things happen, nobody had any interest in being the "team captain" who would get everybody's spirits high. We would have been smart if we had just taken a break and then gotten back with new ideas – I mean, we already had literally ten thousand fans to begin with. I guess we just did not have the will or the experience. We thought some major record label would pick us up from Rantatie.

Seppo: Tero, Esa and Jussi also found girlfriends. Somewhere around 1994 we went back to Viiala to try to record a demo tape. Esa and Rilja were supposed to drive to Huittinen once we were finished and Rilja just leaned at the door with the kind of a "won't this suffering ever end" look on her face. At the same time, Esa just wanted to rush the day through. At that point it was easy to tell that the tale of Demigod would be soon over.

Meanwhile, the gods of death metal were about to give one last chance to Demigod.

The band received a message that the legendary Coventry-based death metal/grindcore group Bolt Thrower was planning a European tour in 1993 and they were interested in having Demigod as their warm-up. While Demigod was going through the winter of their despair, they suddenly were in the position of seriously ponder the offer.

Seppo: Hell yes, I was excited. I was just about to begin the last year of my high school studies and I actually went to see the study counselor to tailor myself an independent curriculum so that I could be able to go on a tour and still finish my studies on time.

Tero: It would be too far-fetched to say we were super-excited, but the offer definitely got our interest. All of us tried to get few weeks off from school and work. However, eventually it did not work out.

Jussi: I do not really remember why we did not go. I presume we just did not have the necessary courage to be away from home for six weeks or so. Now to think of it many years later, I should have quit my damn job at the same instant and go on tour with those guys (laughs).

Seppo: Esa was the first guy to raise his hand and admit that he was not interested. Naturally, it was the only right thing to do. Esa is a smart, goal-oriented fellow and he definitely did not want to bet his future on being a metal musician. He just had moved away from Loimaa with his fiancée, he was only 23 years old and he had also just earned a promotion at the post office. I cannot blame him for selecting money, relationship, and stability instead of a liquor-filled European tour with old grindcore scoundrels.

Tero: Esa was so used to hanging out in Loimaa bars drinking Apple Koskenkorva that it would have been a shellshock for him to try to be abroad for such a long time (laughter). No, but seriously: several Finnish death metal bands underwent a major transformation in 1993. I mean, just listen to 1993-94 records of bands such as Xysma, Disgrace and Amorphis – they were totally different from what they used to be. I guess death metal was kind of a preschool for them and now they had to diversify their music.

Jussi: Sentenced, too. They could no longer be recognized after 1993-94. The metamorphosis also formed a kind of a pressure chamber: what would we need to do to change? And what would our music be like if we abandoned death metal?

Seppo: At that point, Esa left the band. His life went to whole another direction. There was nothing death metal could give him anymore.

Jussi: Esa's departure was a kiss of death for us. While the rest of us wanted to keep the band going, I think we all knew we were as good as gone. Both Unholy Domain and Slumber of Sullen Eyes were based on Esa's riffs and songs. We returned to Rantatie to rehearse and wanted to make more music, but it felt like trying to kick a dead horse back alive. There was this growing sense of apathy and frustration.

Then again, it was just a natural thing to happen. We were 20 years old and just beginning our adult lives. At that point, rehearsing together started to feel like going to work. Drinking beer and playing hardcore riffs was no longer the most important thing in life for any of us.

XII – The latter years: Neverborn, Shadow Mechanics and Let Chaos Prevail

Eventually, 1993 became the year of truth for Demigod.

While the departure of Esa Lindén meant that Demigod could no longer be what they used to be, the sheer will of playing music could not be plucked away with a move of the wrist. The whole lifestyle of hanging out in cold garages and dusty warehouses, dreaming of shiny new guitars and double bass drums, daydreaming about huge crowds and roadies and all-night parties, waiting for new LPs to arrive and listening to them while getting drunk with friends – that lifestyle still had its glamor.

Seppo Taatila and Jussi Kiiski partially solved the problem by forming a rival band, Adramelech. At the same time, Esa Lindén led Demigod members Seppo Taatila and Jussi Kiiski to a new project called Neverborn, with a young, promising musician Sami Vesanto replacing Tero Laitinen on bass guitar. A glimmer of home was still glistening on the horizon.

Esa: At some point after Slumber of Sullen Eyes, Luxi Lahtinen invented the name Neverborn. The old Demigod crew with Sami Vesanto gathered occasionally to compose new songs.

Seppo: We got a huge reinforcement in Sami Vesanto, who was this rather young but brilliant Loimaa-based musician who could compose with the best of them. While we others were somewhat battle weary after Esa's departure, Sami wanted to keep the band alive. And Sami also brought as a breath of fresh air.

Sami Vesanto (b. 1975, bass guitar, Demigod 1993-94, 1997-2008, 2010-): Demigod had factually broken up once I joined the band. I mean, it was already official: everyone in Loimaa and around the death metal community knew that. At the same time, I thought they were brilliant musicians and as a Loimaa kid I had grown to look up to them as small-town kings. When I got to know other metalheads all over Finland and told them I was from Loimaa, everyone went like: "Yeah! Demigod!"

When Demigod split apart for the first time in 1993, Esa asked me to play bass guitar in a short-lived project where Mika Haapasalo was the lead singer, Jussi Kiiski and Esa Lindén played guitars and Seppo was on drums. Meanwhile, the guys were running a death/thrash metal combination project called Neverborn, where Esa unleashed his world-famous aggressive death growl. They sounded like a thrashier version of Demigod and I was really interested by it. They, too, lacked a bass player and I got the opportunity to hop in. Death metal was never really my thing, I was more of a Metallica guy.

We actually recorded a couple of promo tapes with this Neverborn crew, although we changed our name back to Demigod at some point in 1994. Tero Laitinen joined us again while recording the latter tape. However, after that, Esa left the band for good and Demigod was as good as gone at that point.

Seppo: Even though we continued playing together, we did not publish anything or perform any gigs. As months passed, it seemed more and more far-fetched that we could ever release another album.

Mika Haapasalo: I graduated from high school and was accepted into the polytechnic studio recording institute to learn the ropes. I practiced with Demigod whenever I had the time for it although I mostly concentrated on my studies. After receiving my undergraduate degree in 1998, I considered myself more than ready to start my own recording studio in Loimaa. In fact, I did not know jack shit (laughs). Anyway, my studio turned out to be a major factor in Demigod's comeback.

Seppo: Somewhere in late 1997 I lived in Espoo right next to Helsinki. One evening I was visiting Loimaa to have a couple of beers with Sami Vesanto. We both thought that enough time had passed for Demigod to rise from the ashes. We composed a new demo and sent it to newly established Finnish metal label Spikefarm Records who gave us the green light that instant.

At that point, me and Sami decided we should gather all the guys who have officially been part of Demigod since Unholy Domain and tell them that we would have enough demo material from 1994 to 1997 to make a new album. Esa declined politely and Mika told us he would no longer play any instrument, but that we would be welcome to record the album at his studio in Loimaa. The rest of the guys were super excited.

Jussi: Seppo called me and asked if I wanted to play. I was in two minds but decided to join anyway, for old times' sake.

Tero: I had never said anything like it would be a principle for me that I would not play in Demigod ever again. I had just said that in the right circumstances it could be fine. I was glad when Seppo and Sami came up with the idea of Demigod's return.

However, the return took more time than Taatila and Vesanto probably had expected.

The whole year 1998 was spent by following the model of Blues Brothers: "We need to put the band back together." The members of the band were no longer teenagers or even 20-year-olds – they were between the ages of 23 and 30, almost everyone had a full-time job, some of them were married with children. Finding rehearse time suitable for all was a drag, especially when half of the band no longer lived in Loimaa.

Somewhere in mid-1999 it began to look like Demigod's comeback would happen. They had been practicing individually and together, a couple of new songs were in the making and the band stayed in contact with "Growlfather" Esa Lindén who was keen to know what was going on with the band he used to call his own.

Esa: Once they signed the deal with Spikefarm, I told Seppo and Sami that they should publish the upcoming album with a whole other name. Neverborn would have been better than Demigod, since the material was so far away from the original stuff and the old fans would only want to hear Unholy Domain and Slumber of Sullen Eyes. Despite my warning they stuck to the old name.

Tero: I actually concur with Esa with this one. Even though we included some songs which Esa had composed, it was not the same music anymore. We should have changed the name of our band.

Esa: I actually joined the guys for a couple weeks in the late1990s but gave up pretty soon. It is not that I would not have wanted to be a member of the band, but I had been away for more than five years and I was not the musician I once was. I kept cursing to myself how fucking difficult it was to compose a few riffs! I mean, as an 18-19-year old I did not even have to stop to think. All the riffs just popped to my head. Now I was 30 and miserable (laughs).

Sami: The lyrics of the songs of Shadow Mechanics had been originally written by Esa and Jussi but there also were some compositions with no lyrics at all. Tero finished the unfinished ones and wrote new lyrics for the ones that had one. Later, Tero wrote the majority of the lyrics for the Let Chaos Prevail album while Jussi also penned down a few.

Seppo: Tuomas Ala-Nissilä and Ali Leiniö, two local Loimaa metalheads, replaced Esa as vocalists on the album Shadow Mechanics.

Sam: Tuomas played the role of Demigod's lead vocalist successfully in the 'aughts.

The comeback of Demigod was postponed from 1998 to 1999 and eventually from 2000 to 2001. The sense of momentum seemed to be slipping out of their reach. Meanwhile, Seppo Taatila and Sami Vesanto did not want to let this whopper escape their fishing net. They motivated all the remaining band members by giving them a possibility to come forward with their ideas. Meanwhile, Mika Haapasalo's Popstudio became an ultra-valuable melting pot for the second coming of Demigod, thanks to Haapasalo's will to learn and unlimited patience.

Mika: Yeah, I guess at that point I found out I really did not know anything about studio work (laughs). I guess the process gave me opportunity to learn. I think it is the same with a driver's license: the license gives you permit to drive but you are still far away from knowing how to. My studies were my driver's license.

Seppo: It was a tough process, and nothing would have come out of it without Sami's eagerness. He really wanted to bring Demigod back and I cannot help but to respect his touch. Mika Haapasalo was also an important character. He probably was deep down shaking his head and thinking that this shit makes no sense at all, but towards us he was extremely friendly and encouraging.

Mika: No, it was not Slumber of Sullen Eyes Demigod, but I still considered that Demigod music. Same guys, same players, same composers. Yet, they were approaching their thirties instead of being these rowdy teenagers from Rantatie.

Sami Vesanto: I consider Seppo the driving force behind Shadow Mechanics. He had this frenzy to release the best of the unfinished 1990s songs for metalheads everywhere to hear. It was his willpower that drove the album. I also have to thank Tero for penning majority of lyrics of the album.

Seppo: In my opinion, the finished album had a few really good songs: My Blood Your Blood, Trail of Guilt, Gates of Lamentation, Crimson Tears. I think they all are brilliant and definitely Demigod material.

The new album, the long-awaited Shadow Mechanics, was released in early 2002. At this time, Finland was going through a huge mainstream metal boom: Nightwish, Children of Bodom, Stratovarius, Sentenced and Amorphis were key examples of Finnish metal knowhow in international circles. At the domestic level, Finnish-speaking bands such as Kotiteollisuus, Timo Rautainen & Trio Niskalaukaus as well as Viikate were crowd favorites in the biggest festivals in the country.

In a sense, the table could not have been better set for the second coming of Demigod, but at the same time, the new, easy-listening Demigod kind of drowned in the flood of new metal releases. Even the record label Spikefarm Productions had released albums from some remarkable bands such as Entwine, Finntroll and Lullacry – poor old Demigod was just another brick in the wall.

Shadow Mechanics was not laughed or frowned upon. It gathered a few reviews, from two to three stars out of five. Some old school death metal heads probably smirked when the reviewer of early-2000s Finnish punk-rock-metal-zine SUE pretty much asked what is this new band called "Demigod" and why have they released this record to begin with, since they bring nothing new to the table.

The unofficial release party of Shadow Mechanics was a daytime gig at a minor stage at the annual Tuska Metal Festival in Helsinki in July 2002. At this time, 28-year-old Seppo Taatila had already handed over his drumsticks to 19-year old drummer-to-be Tuomo Latvala.

Seppo: I mean, I was happy with the album. But at no point did we become a band the way we were during the recording of Slumber of Sullen Eyes. We could not practice together well enough and I guess you can hear that the album was pretty much a best of collection of demo songs from six years. The legendary producer Mikko Karmila gave us hell when Shadow Mechanics was mastered at Finnvox Studios: "How is it possible that you fuckers have come to the studio without the decency to actually practice your shit beforehand!"

Tuomo Latvala (b. 1983, drums, Demigod 2002-2008, 2010-): A mutual friend of mine and the guys in Demigod (Jari Laine, Torture Killer/Adramelech) suggested that I give it a try when he heard that Demigod was looking for a drummer. I had been listening to death and black metal since I was 14 years old and, naturally, I knew about Unholy Domain and Slumber of Sullen Eyes.

I was invited to Loimaa for trials. I think it was Jussi Kiiski's 30th birthday and I came in as a snot-nosed 19-year old. He probably looked me like "who the fuck is this kid trying to be" when I sat on the drum stool but I could see it from his face that he was convinced, just like the rest of the guys. Eventually, we became good friends with Jussi and the other guys, too.

The gig at Tuska Festival in 2002 was the first time I played in front of an audience bigger than thirty members or so. I still get flashbacks from that euphoric sense of fear and excitement. Even if it was a side stage, it meant everything to me. It is a metal drummer's dream to perform at Tuska.

Shadow Mechanics sold a few hundred copies but did not leave a lasting impression. Meanwhile, another original band member in the form of Seppo Taatila had left the building. However, Shadow Mechanics increased the appetite of Jussi Kiiski, who suddenly had a sense of inspiration.

Jussi: Shadow Mechanics had me thinking like: could we do more? Should we? I mean, I looked around and I was kind of shocked that the rest of the guys did not take initiatives in their own hands. One night I was sitting at Sami Vesanto's house drinking his world-famous house wine and wanking with my guitars, when I suddenly had the courage to stutter that I would actually like to make more Demigod music. Sami went like: "Yeah! Let's roll!"

Sami: Shadow Mechanics was a kiss of life after years and years of hibernation. Jussi entered a flow which carried on for weeks. We composed new demo material together and once we thought the quality was good enough, we sent them to the other guys via email. They went like: "We could work with this."

Tero: Jussi Kiiski and Sami Vesanto were the driving forces behind the third Demigod album, Let Chaos Prevail, which came out in 2006. I like the album, I really do, but just like Shadow Mechanics, I do not think it was Demigod music at all.

Seppo: I also enjoyed Let Chaos Prevail. That album is Jussi Kiiski's love child. He wanted to show he still had all this stuff inside him, and he delivered.

Tuomo Latvala: I had fun making Let Chaos Prevail and I got the chance to get creative with the drum parts. They were good songs and at that point I still learned a lot from these older guys.

Tero: Despite publishing two new albums in early-to-mid 'aughts, we had difficulties finding new listeners. We only performed a few gigs and even then the fans consisted mostly of the fans of Unholy Domain and Slumber who were let down since we did not play old material.

Sami: I was also rather satisfied with Let Chaos Prevail, but there also was a sense of anticlimax in its reception. We considered ourselves old farts and thought that it would be better for younger, hungrier guys and girls to step up and let Demigod rest in peace.

Finally, in early 2008, the gloomy bells of Kanta-Loimaa Church tolled for the last time. Demigod, the death metal phenomenon of Loimaa, was laid to rest.

XIII – Post Mortem: The Legacy of Demigod

The members of Demigod carried on with their lives.

Some got married, some had kids. The majority of them stayed in Loimaa region or returned there after a few years in bigger cities in Southern Finland. From the 2000s to the 2010s, metal music became more or less a pastime for middle-aging men, who every summer gathered their old posse to go see Iron Maiden, AC/DC or Metallica perform their best-of potpourri in Helsinki. Rap replaced metal music as the embodiment of rebellion and anger – before becoming mainstream in itself.

Tuomo Latvala became an established metal drummer as a member of bands such as Hateform, Torture Killer and Omnium Gatherum. Mika Haapasalo also became a well-known musician in Finland: his band, Happoradio, took the #1 spot on the Finnish charts on Seppo Taatila's 34th birthday on August 20, 2008.

At the turn of the second decade of the 21st century, however, old metalheads began to turn 40 or 50. They were in the position where they had money and time to spend, which in itself led to a nostalgia boom of sorts. The doors began to open up for the performers and bands that used to be huge in the childhood and youth of the people born in 1960s and 1970s.

What was once unforeseen became reality when no one expected it.

Tero: In early 2010, one metalhead from Raisio asked me if we could bring the original Demigod together and play one gig, just one, no bullshit: Slumber of Sullen Eyes from Apocryphal to Perpetual Ascent.

Esa: Tero called me: "Listen, Esa. I know what you are thinking, but we have been offered 1000€ for one gig." I told Tero I had been thinking the same thing. After that, Tero went like: "Have you been googling Demigod lately?" I had never been an Internet guy and I did not know there were literally a dozen new Slumber reviews online until Tero told me.

I was astonished. All these young metalheads wrote about the importance of Demigod for death metal. They told how we were an innovative band and one of the grandfathers of death metal and that Slumber of Sullen Eyes is a Top 10 death metal classic in the world. I mean, I had just assumed that no one knew who we were anymore. I found out it was the total opposite.

Tero: Next up I called Seppo. He was glad to hear about the offer, but he instantly told me he had not picked up drumsticks in five years and that he was in no shape to play. Meanwhile, Tuomo Latvala was interested.

Seppo: My life had become so different. I had a wife, a house and two small kids and a lot of other stuff on my mind. Shadow Mechanics was my testament to metal music. I did not want to go back there but I was happy that the guys got the opportunity.

Sami Vesanto: I guess the original idea was to bring back the old foursome, but Tero asked me to join as well. Of course, I joined, I think Slumber is one of the original death metal classics.

Dante's Highlight bar – appropriately in the premises of an old church in Kamppi in Helsinki – hosted Black Mass Ritual III festival in September of 2010. For both the band and the Demigod fans, it was 45 minutes of total death metal euphoria. Apparently, the decision to concentrate on Slumber of Sullen Eyes was the best possible strategy, since that was the exact record everyone had wanted to hear.

Thanks to social media, global Demigod fans heard about the special gigs in Finland. Then, things began to escalate.

Back in 1992 when Demigod performed in Cottbus and Illertissen in Germany, they could only dream of being remarkable enough to get invited to the United States. Suddenly, in early 2011, a proposition reached the mailbox of Demigod members: The Rites of Darkness festival in San Antonio wanted to sponsor the band all the way to Texas to play just one gig – Slumber of Sullen Eyes, nothing more, nothing less.

Eventually, Demigod performed on North American soil twice in six months: December 2011 in San Antonio, Texas, and May 2012 at Maryland Death Fest. Only a few weeks after returning from the States, Demigod took the same concept to the Tuska Festival in Helsinki: Slumber of Sullen Eyes plus Reincarnation from Unholy Domain. One more Slumber gig followed in November 2013 at the Wolf Throne Festival in Saint-Germain in France.

Esa: During these gigs I finally understood how long people had been awaiting to hear these old killers. While I think Shadow Mechanics and Let Chaos Prevail both were quality records, Slumber of Sullen Eyes had been released at exactly the right time. These gigs also proved to me that Demigod had originally created good enough music to stand the test of time.

The whole experience in San Antonio, Maryland and France was surreal. We had printed fifty Demigod t-shirts for Maryland Death Fest, and we ran out of stock in less than an hour. These American metalheads were pissed off, we could have sold a thousand! And the crowds went apeshit. It was just mind-boggling to see these 50-60-year old accountants and lawyers approach us after our gig, telling us that we were their favorite band and they had waited the last twenty years to see us live even once.

Tero: Sami took my spot in San Antonio since my firstborn was expected the same day.

Jussi: I skipped Maryland and Tuska, but I played in San Antonio and Saint-Germain. Even though I had not been thinking about Demigod in ages, playing in the United States had been a lifelong dream and I could not say no once I got the possibility.

It was also enjoyable to see Esa Lindén back on the mic. Nothing against Ali Leiniö and Tuomas Ala-Nissilä, but Esa had the original Demigod death growl and after a little practice it came back with a vengeance. We distorted our guitars like a motherfucker and the audience went berserk.

Sami Vesanto: I think we had the door open a crack for a while. I mean, even though we only played a few gigs and performed no new music at all, we had activated our followers and there was absolutely no pressure at all. For some time, we thought that we could actually make some new music, but this time it would be take-no-prisoners old school death metal and nothing else. However, we were not able to capture the momentum and then things just died down.

Tuomo Latvala: I do not think anyone had expected Demigod to climb back on stage anymore before 2010 happened. I mean, back when Slumber was released in 1992 the guys were young, fierce metalheads and the whole idea of 40-year-old family men trying to play death metal classic 20 years after its first release might have sounded ridiculous to some people, but we were really up to the task. No one could say that we were just milking it since we were in top shape and really eager to perform. And the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. It is also cool that these international metal festivals took the time to track us and opened their wallet enough to fly us to the States and France to perform just one gig!

But now when it is all said and done, what is the legacy of Demigod?

The 2020s has tipped off in the most dreadful manner with authoritarian leaders wreaking havoc all over the world and the coronavirus locking people down in all continents. A new edition of Unholy Domain was published in early fall and a re-release of Slumber of Sullen Eyes has been talked about.

Esa Lindén is turning 50 this year, Tero Laitinen and Jussi Kiiski are soon to follow. Death metal has gone a long way from its golden years at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, but the genre is still alive and kicking and the influence of Demigod can be heard in the songs of new bands – bands formed by musicians who were not even born back when Slumber of Sullen Eyes was released.

Jussi: I really do not believe that any band would be invited to the United States to play their first full-length album twenty years after its release and would be met with huge enthusiasm and excitement. That tells something about our cult following.

Seppo: For some years now, I have been receiving Facebook messages from old hardcore Demigod fans. I am not always in the mood to start talking back, but I always tell them I appreciate their enthusiasm and that I am glad our music means a lot to them. In the summer of 2019, I actually took my time to host a couple of American death metal enthusiasts in Loimaa. I drove them around and showed them Kanta-Loimaa church, Rantatie band premises and all these other important places.

Tero: It still warms my mind when someone from the Philippines or Brazil or wherever contacts me on Facebook and tells me how Slumber of Sullen Eyes is the greatest death metal album of all time. It tells me that we did our stuff pretty well.

Esa: It is maybe too far-fetched to say but I say it anyway: Slumber was a totally different death metal release. It does not sound like a copy of any death metal record of its time. It is totally original. No death metal record sounded like Slumber at the time of its release.

Sami Vesanto: Slumber of Sullen Eyes was the right record at the right time. If it had been released a year later, it would have happened a year after the absolute peak of global popularity of death metal, but the timing was absolutely perfect with Slumber. To me, I also find Shadow Mechanics and Let Chaos Prevail extremely important. They followed the legacy of Slumber. While they were not as popular, they showed we were still capable and versatile musicians in our early thirties.

Erik Parviainen: Slumber of Sullen Eyes is still a fucking great album in its genre! As I Behold I Despise! Fucking great!

Mika Haapasalo: Every once in a while, when I compose new riffs, I notice that Slumber's legacy lives and does well inside me... I guess I cannot shake the former death metal musician in me. Meanwhile, I also get these Facebook message requests from Demigod fans from all over the world. I do not respond on social media to people I do not know but yeah, the guys made an impact and only a few bands in Finland can say that.

Jussi Kiiski: Even though years have passed, Demigod crosses my mind more often than not. Even though I do not have any extra space to spare in my studio apartment and I have not practiced in years, I still have my guitar and guitar case. It is difficult to get rid of them once you are accustomed to being a musician. I guess I have to build a bonfire to get rid of all that shit (laughs).

I do not know what the fuck is going on, but I rarely listen to any music anymore. I am kind of a heavy metal hermit: I am well aware of my past, but I just like to be alone. Occasionally, if I am having a good day, I like to reminisce this Demigod shit, but more often I do not.

Luxi Lahtinen: Both Unholy Domain and especially Slumber of Sullen Eyes are top-grade Finnish death metal recordings. We could speculate infinitely with where Demigod could have been three, five or ten years after their debut LP, but the fact is that marginal music such as death metal is unfortunately not enough for musicians to feed their families and pay their mortgages. And even if they would have been dedicated to their vision in the years after the release of Slumber, they would also have needed a good dose of luck and the right people behind them to become a world-class metal band.

Also, the guys would have needed a gentle but firm kick in their butt; something to encourage them to work with their vision a lot firmer and with more determination. They did many things right, but they could have done many things a whole lot better.

Rob Smits: I was a bit bummed out when Demigod just kinda dropped off the edge of the world. I liked their music quite a lot as well as many of their fans. They brought a definite barrage or catchy riffs to the table and were effectively able to capture that atmosphere of spiritual darkness they tried to purvey. Finland was a hotbed of musical talent back in those days and Demigod were just one of many great bands from that era.

Dave Rotten: After 28 years, Slumber... is still my absolute favorite death metal album ever! To me this album has it all, it is perfection... dark, heavy, brutal, melodic, intense, technical, epic, atmospheric... it has the perfect combination and the songs are just impeccable. As for the rest of death metal circles... I think that it has the perfect cult status. Cult does not mean famous or popular. For that, they should have been released by a major label, then they would belong to the mainstream, but being on an underground label, they belong to the real fans, not the trendy ones. Any real lover of death metal loves Demigod!

Esa: The latest Demigod influence I noticed was on In Cauda Venenum (2019) by Opeth. A friend of mine has told me this legend that, when Opeth played in Finland many years ago, Mikael Åkerfeldt himself had said that: "Finland has not produced many death metal bands – with the exception of Demigod." While listening to In Cauda Venenum, I could clearly hear a demigodean minor-barre electric guitar grip. I mean, I am not saying that Demigod invented that grip, but I believe we were the ones responsible for the persistence of that sound in global death metal.

I mean, I even played In Cauda Venenum to my wife and even she said that there were a couple spots which could have been straight outta Slumber of Sullen Eyes.


Hippo Taatila

THE AUTHOR
Hippo Taatila (b. 1981)
is a Finnish author and freelance writer who used to play with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy figures and pick boogers out of his nose back when Demigod was the shit.





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