Interview with vocalist and bassist Tepa Karjalainen and guitarist Jari Kelloniemi
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: March 16, 2012
Ancient Rotten Graveguards, or just A.R.G., were undoubtedly one of the most noteworthy Finnish Thrash Metal bands that really made things happening in the Finnish underground Metal scene back in the late 80's. A.R.G.'s own brand of Metal - so-called "Reindeer Metal" as they descriptively wanted to call it due to the band's northern location in Finland, took its influences both from the American (Slayer, Death) well as European (Sodom, Kreator) underground Metal scenes back in those days. It was something unlike anything people had heard in Finland before; more brutal and sinister, and faster-sounding than any other band back in those days.
A.R.G., who released two somewhat classic albums - "Entrance" and "One World Without the End" between the years 1989-91, are incontrovertibly one of the pioneers of the Finnish Thrash Metal sound. Vocalist and bassist Tepa Karjalainen brought his own distinctive, violent and more growling type of vocal element into the band's neck-snapping Thrash Metal. and when he decided to leave the band in the early 90's, it pretty much also meant an incipient downhill for the band. Eventually the remaining members decided to call it quits too. Tepa just was not replaceable.
Comebacks of once disbanded Thrash Metal bands were definitely a 2000's phenomenon. Heathen, Exodus, Forbidden, Onslaught, Sacrifice, Exumer, etc., the list is endless really - they all regrouped. A.R.G. put their troops together in 2011, just having the intention to play one-off gig. It lead to other things.
So a new story began from there, but let two of the founder members of A.R.G., vocalist and bassist Tepa Karjalainen and guitarist Jari Kelloniemi continue this storytelling from here...
Luxi: First off, welcome back A.R.G. – after being on hiatus for almost long 20 years. How does it feel to have A.R.G. back together again, almost with the original lineup (R.I.P. Pasi)?
Tepa: Thanx a lot! Of course it feels great. I believed that it could never happen.
Jari: Thank you and it feels great to play with these farts after such a long time.
Luxi: Could you tell us next what was (or were) the main reason (-s) for bringing the rotten graveguards back to life again in 2011?
Tepa: The main reason was that the time was right. Sometimes in the early 2000 we talked about a possible comeback, but every time the result of these talks turned into just laughs. However, little by little my interest to play again kept on growing. One day at Club Teatria, where I was watching some bands, Järkkä suddenly asked me, what should happen if A.R.G played at Jalometalli festival's 10 years Anniversary in 2011. I wondered if he was serious, but it seemed that he was. So, next day I phoned Vesa and Jari and told them about this. After a few hours A.R.G was back to life, but without a drummer.
Jari: And so the snowball started rolling from there....
Luxi: You have 75% of the original members left in the current A.R.G. ranks from the times when the band recorded the first two albums. Your original drummer Pasi Takkula sadly passed away in 2004, and therefore you hired Timo Hanhijoki for the drummer position. How did you find Timo to play drums in A.R.G. anyway? Did you have to go through several different candidates before you found the right man to sit behind the drum artillery in A.R.G.?
Jari: I know Timo because he plays drums in my other band Corpset. I asked whether he could join us and Timo said yes. At first we were just talking about playing this one-off gig at Jalometalli but when we started to rehearse together for the first time for ages, it all sounded good - and then Tepa and Vesa asked Timo to join as a full member. It was also an easy decision to make because we had to think where we can rehearse for gigs without any difficulties, having also our new drummer with us and so on. Our rehearsal place is located in Tampere, btw.
Tepa: In the first band rehearsal we heard his true skills behind the drums. Right after just a couple of minutes, it was clear that it's not even worth considering some other guys for the drummer position any more.
Luxi: As said, it's been ‘a good while' since the uncrowned heroes of ‘Reindeer Metal' were back on their feet last time. Ancient Rotten Graveguards called it quits in 1994, but you actually left the band after your second album, "One World without the End" , which came out in 1991. If you can recall back in those days, what were the main reasons for leaving A.R.G.? Did it have lots of to do with you wanting to concentrate more on your family life and career, leaving A.R.G. no other choice but quitting the band eventually?
Tepa: Of course one of the main reasons were those matters you mentioned there already. But we had relatively actively toured in Finland for the last couple of years at that time, plus got two albums out. My passion to play music was somehow lost. I felt that part of my life was already seen and experienced. We had a rehearsal place in Jääli (a small municipality next to Oulu in the northern part of Finland) and it was hard to find time for all of us back then because we all lived in different directions so it made it really hard to arrange rehearsals for the band. Jari lived in Kuusamo, Tappi (our drummer after Pasi) in Pudasjärvi and Vesa in Raahe -and me in Oulu. There were quite a few concerning key factors for me that were pushing me away from the band at that time - and in that frustrating situation I made my decision and eventually decided to quit A.R.G.
Luxi: How did the other guys feel when you told them you unfortunately didn't have any time for this band anymore? Were they somewhat mentally devastated about your announcement to step aside from A.R.G.?
Jari: It wasn't that great of day when Tepa told us that he was leaving the band. But we thought that we'd still try to carry on without him. Speaking honestly I didn't know what to do without A.R.G....
Tepa: I think that the guys sort of anticipated my final decision. However, they did understand my decision to leave the band very well and wished me good luck with my future endeavors by waffling some other shit behind my back, of course, ha-ha!
Luxi: What's your opinion about the post-A.R.G. time when they hired Jarkko Poussu to replace you for vocals? As you may be aware, A.R.G. did record a couple of demos during 1993-94, before disbanding for good...
Tepa: Actually Jarkko was just a bassist; Vesa was the singer after I quit. Jarkko was a very good bassist and surely was the right choice to replace me as a new bassist of the band too. I really didn't listen to the demos they made after I left. As a matter of fact it wasn't so keen on this new A.R.G. stuff. If I remember correctly, at that point I wasn't even that interested in music in general in the first place.
Luxi: Have you ever regretted your decision to leave your troops in the first half of 90s? I guess it was't an easy decision for you to do after all when thinking of all those circumstances that forced you to leave the band.
Tepa: There was nothing that dramatic in my leaving of the band.
Luxi: Both A.R.G. albums are ranked some of the most classic Finnish Thrash Metal albums of all times – at least amongst the Finnish Thrash Metal loving legions (I am fully 100% with them). Do you think these two albums have withstood the test of time? Are you still proud of both of these recordings and what they represent in regard to both songwriting and delivery of the songs on both of them?
Jari: I do stand behind those records. Of course some of the songs sound a little bit "one-tracked" but it was what we did at that time. Some of our old songs sound relatively good to me even these days.
Tepa: Of course "Entrance" was some kind of disappointment because of the lousy and not heavy enough production on that record. Hell, I didn't listen to this very album until 2000 once it was released. The songs are mainly very good and I'm still very satisfied with the songs on it. Naturally there's some stuff on "Entrance" that we would do in some other way today if there was a chance for that. But hey, it was the 80's, and we were young and more into playing fast than thinking a bit further whether we should also slow down a little bit, ha-ha!! In my honest opinion "O.W.W.T.E." is still a very good album... well, with some exceptions though. There are a couple of songs on that record that we could have improved with more time on our hands. The sound, however, is rough enough on this record for my taste and I'm quite pleased with my vocal parts on it too.
Luxi: How much did it bug you afterwards when your debut album "Entrance" was released, Did it have the kind of production in it that you were hoping to get for it? If I can ask straight from you, what went wrong down the line when this whole recording was left in the hands of the album's co-producers, Mara Mäntyniemi (also in Zero Nine) and Ilari Niemelä? Did the guys turn the buttons to the opposite direction in the studio when you were looking for a heavier sound for this record?
Jari: I think that the main reason for a poor production on "Entrance" was that we didn't have a chance to be there when the final mixing was done, and it was also the first digital studio in Finland where the mixing took place. After all we can't blame on anyone else but ourselves about the lightness of "Entrance".
Luxi: In my honest opinion A.R.G.'s true songwriting skills basically culminated on the band's second album, "One World without the End", which was far more mature, refined, catchier and simply better than its predecessor – just proving everyone that the band had improved a lot in every area as far as your technical and songwriting skills, etc. were concerned. This was also the A.R.G. album that might well have brought the band on the next step of success, but that was never meant to happen. Do you believe that one of the main reasons for that was labels started pretty much ignoring Thrash Metal bands at that time because Thrash Metal wasn't that popular form of music anymore, and it didn't sell – while at the same time, more extreme forms of Metal - I mean Death Metal, started becoming more and more popular amongst Metal diggers around the world?
Jari: You said it there already. I think that more extreme sounding Metal was getting popular during those days and everybody was looking for the next "more extreme sounding band" back then. The more extreme sounding - the better.
Luxi: I remember every time A.R.G. played live, you always seemed to draw a lot of people to your shows and people were really into your aggressive live shows, the air being filled with some relentless banging and the smell of sweat. I bet one of your memorable shows must have happened in the "Giants of Rock" festival in Finland when you shared the same stage together with one of the German Thrash pioneers, Sodom. Are there possibly any other shows that you will always remember for some reason or the other? Would you mind sharing some of your best (and most juicy, ha-ha!!) memories from those days when A.R.G. invaded the lands all over your home ground?
Jari: Supporting Death in Helsinki is my coolest memory with A.R.G. RIP Chuck!
Tepa: Most of our gigs happened in quite small places where the atmosphere was pretty wild; with all this stage diving, overall craziness and shit. Every time when we played at these places, there was lots of crowd on the stage too. We had to constantly push them away from the stage back into the crowd while performing our songs. It was tough sometimes; a real struggle to keep your own space on the stage. Especially in Helsinki the crowd was totally insane and crazy, huh! Some of the festivals were of course real special cases for us. The Giants of Rock festival (R.I.P.) was definitely one of the highlights back in those days. Sodom were one of our idols and we played at same festival with them... that was beyond awesomeness. This circle closed last summer when we played again with Sodom at Jalometalli festival in Oulu. The other great memory is from Nummirock festival where we played probably in 1990 (cannot recall the year any more)? There were also lots of crazy people at that festival and they even knew all the words for our songs - shouting them out loud, which gave us a really really great feeling. And of course New Year's Eve 1989 in Oulu, playing together with Bat and Ryyd (hah!) and Statue was absolutely fantastic... again with lots of people and having such a great time.
Luxi: The times during the late 80s and early 90s were completely different Metal scene-wise compared to the current times. Things have indeed radically changed from the days of tape trading, and when people kept in touch with each other via letter writing and stuff. How much do miss those times, and what kind of things from those days in particular when we all were 20 years younger, full of sheer high-octane energy and determination to find each of our own tiny places in the Metal scene?
Jari: Personally I don't miss those times at all. I hold them as are good memories and times for myself though. These days people want they music to be free so they just download their music. In my opinion they overall kind of kill the music industry too because they don't buy the real thing anymore. And people don't go to gigs as much as back in the old days. These lazy fucks simply stick close to their internets, music channels, etc. - just being able to move their lazy butts to gigs any more. Now that's sad and pathetic, I think.
Tepa: On the other hand I do miss those times a bit sometimes. It was great to send some stuff to friends and find packages from my own postbox. It was something special to get demos, vinyls and letters - and all that from people in the past. I ran a small, independent fanzine named "Epitaph" and that was very interesting to do. The only disadvantage doing it was whenever I did an interview with a band via letters, all the information in them got outdated way too soon - and nobody was really interested in reading these old interviews due to this aspect. But it was fun to do nevertheless. Of course everything is way easier nowadays when getting in touch with people. You have got emails, Facebooks, Youtubes and many other social media too.
Luxi: How did you see A.R.G. as a part of the Finnish Metal scene back in early 90's anyway? Many have looked at those times by saying if it was bands like Stone and Airdash from the southern part of Finland that carried proudly the biggest flags for the Finnish-made Speed and Thrash Metal in the early 90's – then it certainly was bands like A.R.G. and N.N.S. (stand for National Napalm Syndicate) that were keeping their flags high in the northern part of Finland, sounding way rawer and more harsh than their partners-in-crime down in any cities in Southern Finland. What's your own point of view about all?
Jari: Well, back in those days when we played in Southern Finland, we were somewhat astounded because the crowd knew us so well. In Northern Finland people knew us because we had played so many gigs there in some underground places. But then again, we started to play gigs in the underground places in Southern Finland too. I do agree when Janne from Stone said to me in the end of 80's that both Stone and Airdash ruled the underground fields in the capital area of Finland, Helsinki - but in Northern Finland people used to like more brutal sounding shit, especially when it comes to Metal music. Within certain time cycles more brutal sounding bands tend to come from the Northern Finland like... for example Sentenced (that was just the beginning of Sentenced's whole career - Luxi wants to add).
Luxi: Now talking about playing live a bit more, A.R.G. made its comeback show at Winterfest in Oulu, Finland on 25th March 2011, playing together with Eternal Tears of Sorrow, Sacred Crucifix and a couple of other bands as well. So, how did it feel to front A.R.G. after almost two decades? Didn't you feel nervous or unsecure as to how your show would go, or were you confident and in a good spirit about both yourself and the band that it feels very good to be back, and play in front of all A.R.G. fans again?
Jari: I was a little bit nervous of course because it was our first live gig with this lineup but I didn't shit on my pants though, ha-ha!!. It was great to see youngsters in front of the audience - and old farts in the back of the bar. I just went on stage and delivered my goods as well as possible. After 7 gigs I can say that we sound much tighter now than what we did when we played our 1st gig since the reunion of the band.
Tepa: The other guys have played gigs with their other bands during these past years. My only gig was in early 2000 with Human X at some private party. I played bass in this band, Pasi Takkula was a drummer. I had't even touched a bass after that. So, you can clearly imagine that I was quite nervous just before the show at Winterfest. But since then we have played in 7 shows all in all - and of course it gets better every time. The band sounds and looks better on stage.
Luxi: How was the response after that show? I don't have to be any Nostradamus or anything like that to guess you were offered a few extra beers by some die-hard A.R.G. fans after the show, weren't you?
Jari: Eh, I don't actually remember much of it at all. Before the show some old rednecks from Kuusamo tried to get me drunk but it was a total failure from them. I survived! Ha-ha-ha!!!
Luxi: A.R.G. was also booked to Jalometalli festival last year. I guess it must have felt good to play at the same festival together with such names as Sepultura, Sodom, Entombed, Cathedral, Exhumed, OZ and many other sort of ‘cult-ish' names as well. What did you personally expect from your slot at that festival in the very first place – expect those few extra free beers again, he-he!! ;o)
Tepa: Jalometalli has taken its place among the other Metal festivals in Finland - and has mostly offered very interesting and more known and already established band names during those 10 years they have organized this festival. The original and only aim for our comeback was to play at Jalometalli in 2011. It of course was very cool that there were also bands like Sodom and Sepultura when we played there. Our show was at 3:30pm; not so optimal time to play but the gig was quite okay anyway. After our gig we basically concentrated on the essentials if you know what I exactly mean by this, ha! ;o)
Luxi: As said, since your appearance at Jalometalli festival last year, A.R.G. have done some other shows as well. As far as the response from the fans is concerned, I bet you can proudly say now it was all worth it when looking back – I mean, bringing back the old and rotten reindeer from its cold grave again...
Tepa: For me it has been a big surprise that people still remember A.R.G.'s name so well; know our songs and shit. Especially it has been amazing that even younger people have been familiar with our band too. We have had a very great time together so far, we're enthusiastic about doing this as in the beginning - and surely I can assure you that it has been all worth it. Definitely!
Luxi: A.R.G.'s two studio albums were re-released through Spinefarm Records at the end of February 2012, with lots of bonuses - including some comments from some "scene people of those days". Would you like to tell something more about them?
Tepa: We all were in that thought that all of our tapes for the original recordings would have disappeared for good, until one day Teemu Suominen from Spinefarm Records told us that he has got those tapes. Both "Entrance" and "One World..." are out already, which is great. These two re-releases include all of A.R.G's recorded material (except demos). "Entrance" includes also the "Aggressive Confessor" 7-inch EP and "Prevailing Sickness" 7" as bonuses - and the reissue of "One World..." has got the "Back to Life" 12" EP as bonus.
Luxi: How important do you see it for the fans – both old and new, to have a chance to obtain the past gems of A.R.G. once again? Without question there's obviously a great number of people out there who will get a possibility to hear A.R.G. for the first time in their life...
Tepa: It's very important for us. As you said right there, there really seem to be lots of curious people out there who have never heard of A.R.G. before - and now when these reissues are finally out and available, those people have a nice chance to get familiar with our "Reindeer Metal" for very first time in their life. And I tell you it's much more rewarding for people to watch our band live, if they know our songs in advance.
Luxi: I also happen to know that at some point one of your original guitarists Vesa Säkkinen, went through some talks about getting A.R.G.'s second album, "One World without the End", released on one unnamed Finnish label, but obviously something went wrong because the re-release of that album never saw the light of day. Well, do you know more about this, what actually happened as far as the re-release of "One World..." is concerned?
Tepa: I know nothing about this. Sorry.
Luxi: Has that type of idea ever crossed in your mind that you even might even record some new songs with A.R.G.?
Jari: Of course, but we don't have any rush so we take our time and do it if we want to.
Tepa: We shall release something new someday if, or when we have got good songs enough. The thing for us is that the bar is quite high now.
Luxi: Is it completely out of question that A.R.G. even might enter studio to record the band's third full-length studio album some day?
Tepa: Time shall tell, but it's possible.
Luxi: What are you personally hoping to get accomplished with A.R.G. within a year or two?
Jari: Have some fun and do it like we used to do it back in the day... with a true passion to do our own thing without any regrets.
Tepa: Just keep on going from day to day. At this moment playing is very great and fine - and we have a great time together. We will play more gigs and maybe record new material and that's enough. I don't have to think about the future that much yet.
Luxi: I guess that's all I had in my mind to cover this sort of ‘new coming of A.R.G.'. Last but not least, I want to thank you for this great decision to wake up the old reindeer corpse back from the dead, and wish you all the best with your future endeavors with the band. Let the last comments be yours now – just go ahead Tepa...
Tepa: Woah... just buy our oldies. Welcome to the shows to enjoy our "Reindeer Metal"!
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