Slumber of the Sullen Eyes
With Erik Parviainen gone, Demigod had to find another guitar player to fill his shoes after the looming post-Unholy Domain underground success. Once again, the era was quite right. The generation born at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s was filled with eager young musicians raised by punk rock, heavy metal, and thrash metal. Even the minuscule size of the town of Loimaa was, in a way, a strength: since everyone knew each other, Demigod members did not have to do anything else but spread the word: "We are the best band in town and we are looking for a new guitar overlord." Soon, Rantatie band premises were filled with Dave Mustaine hopefuls.
Seppo: We had several rather skilled guitar players at our tryouts. There was this one dude who was an extremely good player but his overall appearance... ugh. He was pretty much a Finnish equivalent of a deep south redneck. No matter how well he played, there was no chance we would have wanted him in the band.
Tero: Since Loimaa is a small town, we pretty soon heard about this punk rock guy called Jussi Kiiski.
Seppo: I remember Esa and Jussi first brought up that this Jussi fella would be a good fit for our band. There was some suspicion in the air since we knew Jussi had been playing in a punk band before. We doubted whether he would have the mindset to play death metal.
Esa: Me and Tero used to play in this Metallica-copycat thrash metal group called Nemesis. Our drummer, Seppo Kankare, used to jam with Jussi Kiiski in another band which had been rehearsing at Hirvikoski laundry house, a ten-minute drive from downtown Loimaa.
Jussi Kiiski (Guitar, Demigod 1990-2008, b. 1972): I do not know whether I consider myself a punk rocker at all. Naturally, I first started listening to music because of my big brother and he had a collection of these punk rock records with some Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. He played in a band and said I should, too. Then we went to buy a cheap guitar for me and after that, I was hooked, more or less.
The bands I used to play in... were not bands, really. Just groups of teenagers who had time to waste. We tried to play some Motörhead and some AC/DC but I seriously do not think I was a guitar player to begin with. I did not understand shit about death metal at the time Esa Lindén reached out to me, although I had already begun to listen to some thrash records such as Metal Church. I drank a couple of beers with Esa, then dropped by to Rantatie to listen to the guys play. It was far from love at first sight, but I decided to give it a try.
Esa: We immediately noticed the potential of Jussi Kiiski. Even though he could not play a single death metal riff, his icy self-containment slowly melted into excitement. Once everything was settled, Jussi began to practice and within weeks I think he mastered his instrument a hell of a lot better than any other member of the band.
Jussi: "You're welcome to drop by another time, punk rock boy!" they told me after first practice session (laughs). Yeah, I started to understand what death metal was all about. After I learned a couple of their songs, I began to realize that their ruckus was not that bad at all. They had composed some really fine riffs and melodies and they really could play together. I think we had a good group.
The year 1989 had pretty much been the year zero of death metal. Bands such as Entombed, Grave and Cannibal Corpse published their first demo tapes while American pioneers from Autopsy to Obituary and Morbid Angel released their debut albums. This was largely a question of a certain generation of musicians who had been raised by certain bands playing certain styles of music finding and harnessing their collective unconscious.
The European death metal scene followed very soon thereafter. Sweden was hailed as one of the European hotbeds of death metal ever since the beginning of the 1990s. Finland followed the trail blazed by Swedes. Soon, the land of the thousand lakes (and hundreds of thousands of men drowned in them) was filled with up-and-coming death metal bands – the most remarkable of which have been introduced here in this brilliant article by Santtu Reinikainen (only in Finnish).
Sentenced from the dark Mirkwoods of Ostrobothnia published two demo tapes in 1990-91 and signed a deal with French company Thrash Records. Demilich from Kuopio, known for their prog-ish approach to death metal and the surrealistically deep death growl of their vocalist Antti Boman, released Regurgitation of Blood and the Four Instructive Tales... of Decomposition in 1991.
Xysma, a tongue-in-cheek anarchy death grindcore metal band from the southwestern coast town of Naantali, released their debut album, Yeah, in 1990. Their crosstown rival Funebre from Turku published Children of the Scorn in 1991. From the ashes of the dark and brutal Abhorrence rose the folkish death metal phenom called Amorphis in 1991. At the same time, black metal was becoming a phenomenon in itself and one of the main figures of the scene was the eccentric figure of Mika Luttinen, the head of the infamous Impaled Nazarene, which released Shemhamforash and Taog Eht Fo Htao Eht in 1991.
Once again, all of these bands consisted of young men born in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. No matter where they lived, they had listened to the same demos and debuts, read the same zines, watched the same gigs, been awed by the same W.A.S.P. and Metallica and Megadeth music videos, drove around in their cars for countless hours while listening to new and dangerous bands with new and dangerous energies.
At the same time, the world was quite different. With no Internet or social media and the free market capitalism only just beginning to take control of Europe, even the rural areas were filled with active communities living their distinct lifestyles. While Loimaa was far from Berlin or London, it was filled with small stores and bars – not to mention small but charming concert venues built inside old warehouses and factories.
The Finnish death metal phenomenon of 1989-93 pretty much consisted of bands touring the country and meeting each other in front of small but enthusiastic crowds who were simply amazed by the fact that there actually happened something worth mentioning in their hometown.
Esa: Come to think of it, we shared the stage with many bands which eventually became pioneers in Finnish metal. We did several gigs with Sentenced and Amorphis.
Seppo: In the beginning, we did not think too much about the Sentenced guys. They seemed to think they were all that and more. But once we began talking shit to them, they cracked a few laughs and eventually opened up. Xysma was also one of the up-and-coming names back then, not to forget Disgrace – their guys were extraordinarily fun to hang around with. Then there were Cartilage from Vaasa and Convulse from Nokia. Oh yeah, and Phelegeton – these unsociable, silent guys who composed and played brilliant and WEIRD death metal. They were not beer drinking yokels like us, they were more like art school fellas. Berets and red wine.
Esa: We played with Sentenced in Kauhajoki and Joensuu. We were supposed to have two gigs with them in Turku but both times something went wrong. The first time we were going to play at Aura brewery, but the cops came and shut the place down before we got to play a single riff. There were way too many way too drunk people throwing up all over the place. A few months later in Turku, Seppo caught a stomach bug and we had to cancel the gig.
Tero: My first gig – and I do not mean first gig with Demigod, but first gig ever – was in Oulu with Demigod. It was "Death metal night" with Amorphis, Sentenced, Impaled Nazarene and a couple of other bands. I had this funny feeling that there was something in the air – that there was something really special about that setting. It was horrifying and wonderful. The crowd was really into it and everyone in the audience was drunk and batshit crazy. There was this epic home party in this big house in Oulu right afterwards and the level of hangover the next morning was indescribable.
The thing that really struck me in Oulu was getting to know Mika Luttinen. I mean, he took this whole "playing with blood" shit to whole another level. They used cow blood or pig blood, I do not know, as a makeup and goddamn those backstages looked heavy after Luttinen and his boys had prepared for their gig.
Tero: I would say we were good friends with the Sentenced guys. They visited Rantatie and then we showed them the infamous Loimaa nightlife. Their singer and bass player Taneli Jarva drank respectable amounts of booze and when he threw up in his pint at Bar Lintuparvi, he just sucked everything back in straight from the same pint. Disgrace, too; they also visited us in Loimaa and played a gig with us at the local community hall. Esa was a pen pal with Mika Luttinen. The Demilich guys, as well, were extremely fun to be around with. One time we decided to drive all the way to Kuopio to spend some time with them.
Esa: There was something about these bands from northern Finland... we just got along with them. Similar mindset or something. And yeah, Mika Luttinen. He was a character. After a night of heavy drinking, we headed up to Loimaa's legendary grease joint Salosen kioski ("Kiosk of Salonen"), which we used to call McSalonen's. Luttinen was hanging in the crowd outside McSalonen's in his full black metal makeup, dried blood all over his face and a wooden upside-down crucifix hanging on his neck, asking for a meat patty with ten frankfurters to go. The look on the face of McSalonen's owner was priceless.
Jussi Kiiski: Yeah, the metal community was something different back then. And back in those days, nightlife was not totally dead in smaller towns as it is nowadays, quite the opposite. We took all these bands from Sentenced to Demilich barhopping in Loimaa. Cars were driving around the central market square blasting metal from their speakers. People were drunk and puking and shouting and fighting and everybody was having a good time.
Demigod's contemporaries – men now in their mid-to-late 40s or early 50s – paint the same picture.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the "death metal generation" consisted of young men in their twenties, who had received their driver's license a year or two before and were just old enough to buy a flask of vodka from one of the stores of ALKO, the national alcoholic beverage retailing monopoly in Finland. Enthusiastic young men, a couple of years removed from moving away from their parents' house and with the whole world ahead of them, banged heads and got drunk with each other and traded ideas about their development as bands and musicians.
The whole country shrank into a tiny death metal family.
Vesa Ranta (Drums, Sentenced 1989-2005, b. 1973): While years have erased many details from my memory, Demigod was definitely one of our contemporaries. We were both from small towns, Demigod from the south and us from the north, but we had more similarities than differences. We visited Loimaa and they visited Oulu and crowds were really enthusiastic back then. There used to be a bigger death metal happening somewhere in Finland at least once a month and that is where we saw the guys from Demigod, Disgrace, Amorphis, etc., etc.
Antti Boman (Vocals/guitar, Demilich 1990-93, 2005-06): We were into tape-trading with Esa. I had found his address from the cover of Unholy Domain and while Tero's address was there as well, naturally I wanted to trade ideas with the guitarist/vocalist. After first meeting him and making friends, I sent him a letter and wrote on the envelope: To Esa "Puolijumala" (Finnish for "Demigod") Lindén. The next time we were in contact Esa asked me to never do such a thing again, because his mother had angrily demanded to know why on earth someone would call his good 20-something year old boy a "Demigod". Esa definitely did not want to admit to his mother what their band was called!
Another thing that crosses my mind is our visit to Demigod's training premises in Loimaa. We ate lunch downtown and drank beer and vodka at their dungeon. It rained the whole time. However, the next morning the skies were clear and our drummer Mikko sighed: "Onpa hyvä, ettei saa" (Savonian dialect for "It's good that it doesn't rain"). However, Demigod drummer Seppo got angry, demanding to know what his colleague means by saying "we're not getting any" ("ettei saa" in Finnish = "not getting any", "ettei sada" in Finnish = "doesn't rain").
Luxi Lahtinen:One of the most remarkable qualities in Finnish death metal was that almost every single Finnish death metal band wanted to create a unique sound instead of just going "monkey see, monkey do". Sound-wise, many Swedish contemporaries were almost clones of each other – and by saying this I do not mean to diss several high-profile high-quality Swedish death metal bands from 1989-92. I mean that Finnish death metal bands had a distinctive Finnish death metal sound which helped them get record deals and respect from all over the world.
There used to be numerous gatherings between bubbling under death metal groups back in those days. Some were held at Lepakko in Helsinki, others at Aura brewery in Turku. Some of the biggest names in the scene such as Entombed, Therion, Death, Cadaver, etc. used to play at Lepakko while Aura brewery was visited by Dismember, Disharmonic Orchestra, Disastrous Murmur, and many others – not to forget Teje Caldén's ComeBack Records, truly a Mecca of death metal in the early 1990s.
All these low-profile gigs and happenings and gatherings between enthusiastic 20-year-old musicians acted as kind of a springboard for many of these bands, which eventually became world-class performers.
After all the tape-trading and pen-paling and other formalities, Finnish death metal bands had finally found each other and got the opportunity to perform in front of enthusiastic audiences in all the dark and foul-smelling metal dungeons in the country.
Meanwhile, the Cold War was over, and the European nations were starting to reach out to each other. The Swedish and Finnish pioneers of death metal probably did not understand it, but while they were rehearsing their death growls and double bass blitzkriegs in their garages, their fans from other European nations had begun to look up to Finland and Sweden as the mystical Thule of old tales; the dark, frigid north of savages and snowstorms and wolves and pagan rituals which had the distinctive geographical and mental qualities to perform one-of-a-kind death metal sound.
Because of this exoticizing approach, the young boys of Demigod received their first possibility to tour Europe in a very early stage in their careers.
Tero:We had been trading tapes with this South German band called Fleshcrawl. They hopped into their car and drove from Germany through Denmark and Sweden to Stockholm and hoped onto a Finnish ferry just so that they could see us play. Once they left Loimaa, they said we would be welcome to Germany whenever we wanted. We small-town boys just thought there were only being polite. But then, things started to happen. Stefan Hanus of Fleshcrawl sent us a formal invitation to play in Illertissen. Meanwhile, a guy named Olof who was running Morbid Records, wanted us to play in Cottbus. He told us: "The Berlin Wall has been down for two years now; you're welcome to come and go as you like."
Esa: When we were leaving Loimaa for Helsinki-Vantaa airport, Seppo's mother told me: "Esa, since you have already turned twenty, please take care of Seppo, he's just a small boy." I could not help but try to contain my laughter. I mean, I saw Seppo the first time when he was nine years old or so, and even back then he was already the size of a truck driver.
Seppo: We bought Finnair flights to Berlin. They had some kind of a youth ticket system back then and we got some much-needed discount, since flying was really expensive back then. This was way before Norwegian or Ryanair. They had sent some guy from Cottbus to Berlin to pick us up with his van. Right when he was about to exit airport parking area, he crashed the back of the car ahead of us.
Esa:Yeah, he bumped into this car ahead of us right when we were about to depart the airport premises. He also carried a pistol in his glove compartment. He told us it was the name of the game in East Germany back then. You needed to be prepared.
Tero: He drove this old-ass car and its floor was so rusty and full of holes that I could not literally stop staring at the glimpses of autobahn asphalt under us. We also saw pileup accidents every ten kilometers. When we asked our driver what is up with them, he told us that East German people have only just gotten accustomed to western automobiles and are not yet accustomed to their behavior.
Esa: First we headed ninety minutes southeast to town of Cottbus. The town itself was pretty much as East European as we expected.
Seppo: There was a lot of anxiety in the air when we drove the autobahn from Berlin to Cottbus. As small-town kids from Finland we were extremely uncertain to the point of timorousness. We actually started asking each other – in Finnish – whether we were going to get our money or get back home at all. But once we got to Cottbus, tides turned. They were extremely polite and eager and even awestruck; how could they get an internationally well-known band such as Demigod to play in their small town. They had formed Morbid Records a year or two before and now that the Berlin Wall had collapsed, they were fantasizing about business with western European death metal bands as well as organizing several European tours.
Jussi: I was dumbfounded. I mean, I could not believe it. I was this hillbilly from Buttfuck, Northern Europe, who had played a gig or two in his life and suddenly I found myself hopping out of a van with my guitar case somewhere in Germany with all these foreign metalheads patting me in the back, telling me how honored they were that I had the time to visit them. I mean, it could be that I had not even been abroad before that, with the exception of a couple of obligatory ferry rides from Turku to Stockholm.
Tero: Our hosts took really good care of us. They showed us around town, made sure we got to eat and offered us plenty of beer and spirits. Yeah, we naturally had a few beers and a shot or two of vodka, but I think we were really focused. We had talked about not fucking this up since this was our first time abroad as a band and this could open us new doors.
Jussi: They had kind of a backstage one floor above the stage. Actually, it was a meeting cabinet or some kind, where we tuned our instruments and drank some beers and just asked each other which songs we should play. I mean, we seriously had like six or seven songs, which was not enough for a whole gig. A couple of bands performed before us and I remember taking a sneak peek and noticing how the air was so hot and humid that it felt like walking into a sauna. There were so many people packed in this tiny space. It was unbelievable.
Seppo: Oh man, the noise. We could really hear the crowd were into the stuff. Once our gig approached and the crowd heard the keyboard intro of Unholy Domain, they went berserk. They totally lost it. We were waiting for our turn behind the door just staring at each other silently, asking what the hell was going on. We had not experienced anything like it in Finland.
Jussi: I do not think we could play at all. We just tried to be as loud, as distorted, as noisy as possible. Not that we could have heard ourselves play at all, anyway. The crowd was fanatic. They acted like we were gods of some kind. In the end, I just went with the flow and tried to enjoy the experience. Once I tried to dry up my guitar after the gig, it stayed moist because of all the humidity in the air. Man, it was something else.
Seppo: After the gig, our driver asked us to hop into his Trabant so he could drive us to the bar. There were two guys in the front, three in the back, one across the laps of the three in the back and poor fucker Tero Laitinen in the trunk. It was way past midnight and we were driving through these high-rises when our driver started to slow down. Then he suddenly shouted something in German really intensely. We saw figures of like a dozen people running to our direction.
Esa: Our driver clutched reverse, took a 180-degree turn and started yelling: "neo-Nazis, neo-Nazis". We heard these loud thumps and saw neo-Nazis throwing rocks and bottles at our car and running towards us. We were this close from getting caught.
Seppo: After barely escaping the Nazi ambush, we met Morbid Records fellas and some enthusiastic metalheads at a local bar. They filled our table with beer and vodka, and we sat there, shaking, and clutching our pints with shit still peeking from between our butt cheeks, trying to calm ourselves down.
The next day the good ole boys of Demigod left Cottbus and their blossoming metalhead community behind. The band drove southwest through war-historically remarkable cities of Dresden and Nürnberg to the armpit of blossoming city of Ulm; to Illertissen, right next to the borders of Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
Tero: It was a two-band evening. Fleshcrawl played before us and just like two days before, the stage felt like a Turkish hamam. It was also funny to see how Fleshcrawl took the stage like they were Metallica, posing and jumping and banging their heads in front of their home audiences. At the same time, we approached our art as Finnish minimalists, barely moving on stage at all.
Seppo: The crowd was just like in Cottbus. I mean, every inch of the floor was filled with people. We could not understand how there were so many people who were so into our music.
Jussi: Let us say that if the local law enforcement or fire department had had any idea of the number of people packed into that joint, they would have closed the shit down immediately. Every single possible safety rule was violated, and no fucks were given that evening.
Esa: The problem was that the gig started two hours or so late and the joint was supposed to close at midnight. Once it was our time to hit the stage, we had like twenty minutes left.
Jussi: It was actually better for us, for two nights before we had to play, I think, all of our songs twice since we did not have enough material. Once we got to the stage, Esa sheepishly told the audience that we are sorry, but we only have the time to play five songs or so.
Esa: We had one totally new yet unfinished song, "Embrace the Darkness / Blood of the Perished," in our set. The problem was that we still had not written the lyrics for the song. I just had to improvise something on the mic. It felt like freestyle rapping: I took a line from other song and another from another, and just tried to death-growl some gibberish. The gig can still be found on YouTube and I am pretty certain that some hardcore fan somewhere has listened to it and asked to himself what is up with the lyrics.
Seppo: The next day, to our relief, it was our time to head back home. The gentlemen of Fleshcrawl drove us to Stuttgart airport and kept raving about all the collaboration possibilities ahead of us. While we had already started to recover from our neo-Nazi ambush jitters, the clerk at the Finnair desk gave us another scare, noting that as a 21-year-old, Esa was too old to travel with a youth pass. We tried to put our money together to get Esa back home, but we were hundreds of Finnish marks short. In the end, the flight captain was reasonable enough to loan Esa enough money so that he could buy himself a suitable adult ticket. He photocopied a picture of Esa's driver's license as a deposit and Esa had to transfer the flight captain the same amount of money back in fourteen days.
In early 1992 Demigod received a phone call from the United States, the motherland of death metal. The caller was a representative of Seraphic Decay record company in Cleveland, Ohio, who had published several EPs from such up-and-coming death metal bands as Abhorrence, Xysma and Disgrace.
During this time, the European music market was opening up and new, small recording companies specialized in death metal popped up from every corner. Certainly, Unholy Domain had gathered quite a lot of attention as a world-class death metal demo tape, but the majority of the international metal music community had never heard of Demigod and while the second or third generation copies of the tape were certainly rustic and plausible, their quality was not top notch.
Very aware of this fact, the representative of Seraphic Decay suggested that Unholy Domain and the new demo tape by Necropsy from the Finnish town of Lahti could be published as a split-LP for both the American and European markets.
Seppo: We were damn excited. We thought that if Unholy Domain were published by an American record company, our tape would end up in the hands of death metal forefathers of Florida. We even got some references from fellow bands: come on guys, do it, this might be once in a lifetime.
Tero: We had heard rumors that even though Seraphic Decay published a lot of music, there had been bands that did not get what was promised. But we brushed all that away. We just went like: "Wow, America."
Esa: We sent the Unholy Domain master tape to Cleveland. The dude at Seraphic Decay thanked us and promised to send us a whole box of split-LPs once everything was ready. So we waited and waited. I sent a couple of letters just to ask him what is up, but I never got the answer. The split-LP was published but we did not get a single copy. And we never got our master tape back.
Tero: Eventually we found out we were not the only band that got fooled by them.
Esa: Yeah, I was fuming like hell, but in the end, I considered it was a positive experience. While we did not get our master tape back or a single LP or any money, Seraphic Decay spread our music all over North and South America. Maybe that was also a helpful lesson for us. Our Finnish gullibility smacked the shit out of us and we should not do that mistake again.
While Demigod was still making rookie mistakes, their next opportunity was waiting right around the corner.
David Sánchez González – or, to his friends, Dave Rotten – had founded his own record company, Drowned Productions, in 1990 to help Spanish death metal bands get recognition abroad. Dave Rotten was also a name well known to readers of death metal zines since he seemed to be in contact with everyone in the scene. His interviews and reviews were well cited across both Europe and the Americas.
Tero: Dave Rotten from Spain had founded Drowned Productions after his interrail tours in Europe. He had gone through all these obscure record stores in European towns and found out about bubbling under death metal bands and wanted to give Spanish bands the possibility to let their music be heard in other corners of Europe. But eventually, Dave got to know more and more metal enthusiasts from several countries, and he wanted to expand his business.
Dave Rotten himself has explained his decision to publish bands from outside Spain as a practicality. Due to the fact that most Spanish people could not speak any English at all, local death metal bands did not care too much about sending their demos outside and he wanted to offer them a chance to get their demos released with pro-duplicated tapes and full color printed covers. In the beginning, Dave was spreading hundreds of tapes across the globe. Some of the Spanish bands were ambitious, the others mainly wanted to stay local. And while Mr. Rotten's original idea was not to become pan-European, the opening borders and dozens of tape-trading friendships led towards the inexorable.
Dave Rotten: After one year of releasing demos, when I finished my three-year volunteer military service I went to work at a metal record shop in Madrid and we teamed together to put Drowned Production on a higher level by releasing 7" EPs and then full albums. Since I was doing a fanzine called Spain is Different in 1990 and then Drowned Magazine in 1991, I was very much in contact with tons of bands across the globe – Demigod, of course, was one of them and I fell in love with Unholy Domain immediately.
I got to know Esa Lindén better and we quickly formed a really cool friendship that led us to talk about signing the band to release their debut album. I supported them big time and they trusted me. I can't remember very well what the deal was, but basically we paid for the studio recording and artwork and sent them a bunch of copies.
Esa: We were eager to sign with this legendary English metal label called Peaceville (Candlemass, Paradise Lost, Darkthrone), but they either were too slow to respond or they just simply were not interested in us. Meanwhile, Dave Rotten was shaking from enthusiasm – he even visited Finland to see us. After heading back to Spain, he faxed us a draft agreement and I remember it was Seppo who showed the papers to someone who understood these things better than us. We just wanted to make sure that we would not get fucked like we did with Seraphic Decay. However, Dave's papers turned out to be valid and we signed the deal.
Seppo: Dave was extremely lavish. I think he offered us a thousand-dollar budget which was more than enough for our studio needs.
Esa: Jussi and Tero were rooting for a 7" record, but me and Seppo abruptly demanded to release a full LP.
However, there were some difficulties which made the process more complex than expected.
Right after Unholy Domain was released, Esa Lindén entered his mandatory military service in Säkylä where he honed his anti-tank fighting skills for 362 long days. Since Esa could not take his guitar to the quarters, he had to train whenever it was possible; on weekend leaves around every second weekend.
While military service became somewhat a wall between Esa and his passion towards music, his head was still bubbling with ideas. He wrote lyrics around campfires and thought of new riffs at the shooting range. At the same time, a certain sentence from an Unholy Domain review in a death metal zine really grinded his gears.
Seppo: Some death metal zine really ranted and raved about Unholy Domain: this is awesome shit, this is the most promising death metal band right now, we need more. However, in the same review, the writer stated that Unholy Domain has a Swedish death metal sound. Now, Esa used to have a lot of temper back then. He ripped the zine and screamed that there is no fucking way we sound like fucking Swedish sissy metal, what the fuck.
Esa: Yeah, well, I was not a particular fan of Swedish death metal, but... I really liked this Danish band called Invocator. At the same time we listened to a lot of Dark Angel since Seppo was really into their drummer's style of play.
Seppo: I really, really liked Invocator's drummer. Immolation's drummer as well, somehow.
Esa: I think that in the end, the comparison to Swedish death metal turned us towards a more melodic and even faster style of play. Suddenly new songs began to pile up: "Transmigration," "Darkened", "Deadsoul", "Embrace", "Blood of the Perished." After we had composed the five of these into a demo form, we took a rapid turn away from the European school of death metal and instead paid closer attention to old school death/thrash metal hybrids such as Slayer, Infernal Majesty and Dark Angel as well as heavy doom bands such as Candlemass. You can really hear the influence of Solitude Aeternus in the opening riff of Tears of God. I also remember how we invited our old chum Erik Parviainen to listen to this newly finished track called "Slumber of Sullen Eyes." Erik asked if it was wise to cram all possible influences into one song. The more I listened to it, more definitely I could scream: "Yes, it is!"
Seppo: Jussi went through a manic training period in 1992. He really took it to a whole other level and became a true death metal guitarist. Once his skills increased, he dared to suggest his own riffs into our songs. He also paid attention to the fact that my drum patterns and his and Esa's riffs were in totally different time signatures and he started to arrange the songs with me.
Jussi: Yeah, well, I had never been the most enthusiastic guy to practice. I rather talked shit and drank beer. But at that point, I really felt like I need to step my game up as a guitarist. I wanted us to sound much sturdier. I was also interested in all the things we could do with two interoperating guitars, so I occasionally suggested a riff here and another there just to spice things up – a few lines of lyrics as well. I have to tip my hat off to my band members since even though they had a lot of shit ready once I entered the band, they never told me to just shut up and play. They wanted me to be active and I did my best.
Esa: The new songs had a lot of stuff which was either gently suggested by Seppo or determinedly enforced by him. Compared to other death metal drummers, Seppo really had a distinctive style of play. He was also good enough to occasionally tell his bandmates to sharpen up and get their shit together.
Seppo: I do not recall any pressure. All the new songs were finished in a flow. Only thing I remember worrying about was that if these new songs were good enough for the album.
Esa: the beginning Tero did not have any suggestions for the music, but once we composed the last songs for the upcoming album, he wanted to contribute. He wrote us some lines of lyrics and asked whether they could fit somewhere; then we sat together and pieced the lyrics together like a puzzle. I know that many people consider the lyrics to be the most important part of the songs, but to me personally I do not care whether we would have sung about milking cows and shearing sheep in Romanian. I find vocals are an instrument like the others. And if the lyrics are good, that is a bonus.
It was the summer of 1992 – the summer of the Barcelona Olympic games, the summer of the U.S. presidential elections between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush and the summer of the Iraq disarmament crisis.
Esa Lindén had finished his mandatory military service several months before, the new songs were ready to go, the band played smoothly together, they had performed together in front of live audiences several times and Dave Rotten had transferred them the token payment needed to book the studio.
At the same time, expectations were sky high. Death metal community in Finland knew that Demigod was about to record their first full-length album.
Esa: We wanted to work with a studio host who actually understood what we were doing. Someone told us to record our shit at SoundLight Studio and we also were told to go to Stockholm and record at Tomas Skogberg's Sunlight Studio but I shot that down – I did not want us to sound like sissy Swedes (laughter).
Seppo: Someone told us about this guy called Ahti Kortelainen who had been running his small Tico Tico Studio in Kemi, Lapland, for a couple years. We called Ahti, told him about our plans and offered him five thousand Finnish marks. He showed us his calendar, shook his head, and said that "yeah, I guess I'll have to find a spot for you guys."
Tero: We hopped onto a train in Loimaa and took a full-day ride up north to Kemi. We lived in some kind of a wooden cottage in Kemi's old town for five days. I had received a seven-day leave from my military service for studio sessions. While Ahti's studio did not look like much, he had all the top-notch equipment a studio host could have back in 1992. We were dumbfounded with all these computers and monitors and shit. After a few minutes of looking around in bewilderment, we told Ahti that he should tell us what to do. He said, "all right" and yeah, he knew what to do.
Seppo: Ahti's way of motivating us was to play Mötley Crüe and Unholy Domain in turns. Mötley Crüe sounded like metal gods and we sounded like wankers – he said this needs to be fixed. He also compared us to Sentenced all the time. I mean, Sentenced had recorded something at Tico Tico a few months back and whenever we messed something up, Ahti shook his head: "Boys, boys... you know, when Sentenced comes here, they have practiced all their songs, they all know how to play, all I need to do is flip the switch." He really knew how to grind our gears. Naturally, we were pissed off and wanted to shut his mouth with our skills.
Esa: I played some American death metal records to Ahti and asked him whether he could give our record a similar sound. But the thing was that creating a sound was easier said than done in early-1990s conditions. That turned out to be a huge problem for us. Me and Tero asked each other whether we should get back to Ypäjä to pick up our old Asa radio since we thought the guitars sounded lame. The same problem appeared with the bass guitar since the bass wire was somehow malfunctioning and there was this kind of a quiver all over the track. And at the same time we were far from professional musicians. We were just four guys from Loimaa.
Jussi: I was cramping from anxiety. I seriously remember nothing from the studio sessions. I only remember how we were at our premises watching the Barcelona Olympic games and eating French toast with tuna.
Tero: Seppo began by playing drum tracks and I guess it was my turn right after that. The guitars were recorded on days three and four and the last day was reserved for vocals. That was a hell of an efficient five-day session. We barely had any breaks at all, we worked for 10-12 hours a day, excluding lunch and cigarette breaks and sleep.
After five days of intense work, the Loimaa boys packed their instruments and gym bags in Esa's Toyota Corolla. Seppo and Tero hopped onto the train for a full-day ride back to Loimaa. Meanwhile, Esa and Jussi drove the infamous Corolla back south and immediately noticed that something was wrong.
Jussi: We were barely pulling away from Kemi and beginning our 10-hour drive towards Loimaa and jubilantly put the tape into the cassette player. We expected to hear something truly epic and remarkable and once we heard the first melodies of "Apocryphal," we were like what the fuck is going on. The record seriously sounded like shit. It sounded like we could not play at all and that the album was mixed and mastered by some 12-year-old who had never used studio equipment before.
Esa: It was fucking awful. It was this numb, boring drive from Kemi to Loimaa and all our work seemed to have been drained into the earth's crust. Me and Jussi could not believe how bad we sounded. (The next line cannot be translated into English, but it is funny in Finnish, so for Finnish readers only): Tiellä tuli koko ajan vastaan Paunun liikenteen linja-autoja ja kun oltiin katseltu niitä aikamme, pahantuulinen Jussi huusi: " Noikin vois Paunua vittuun pikkuhiljaa."
Seppo: We had agreed to meet at Rantatie late that evening. Once we stepped out to the yard to see Esa and Jussi, we could see from their expression that something was wrong. They told us that they had been listening to the record for whole day and told us we were fucked up.
Tero: Heikki Peltonen – the legend – had told us at his studios in Viiala that the litmus test of a new record is to listen to it with shitty car stereos. If it sounds good in car stereos, it sounds good anywhere. Our record did not pass the shitty car stereo litmus test.
Seppo: The next morning, me and Jussi decided to take money out of our own pockets and head back to Kemi to straighten things out. It was August 1992 and Mikko Kolehmainen was competing for the gold medal in the men's canoe sprint in Barcelona. Ahti saw us approaching and sincerely asked us why the fuck are we there. First, we listened on the radio how Kolehmainen won gold and then went back to work. Ahti drank a couple of cups of coffee, smoked a couple of cigarettes, did a few cosmetic changes, listened to the whole LP and then told us: "This actually sounds better than I remembered. This is all I can do. It doesn't get any better than this."
Esa: Okay, so. Eventually things were not that bad. First of all, me and Tero noticed that we had piled all our shit in front of the loudspeakers of my car, which created this kind of a "cave sound". Also, one of the wires of my car stereo had been accidentally unplugged, so me and Jussi had been listening to the LP with mono sound all the way from Kemi to Loimaa. Once we noticed all this, Seppo and Jussi were already on their way to Kemi. Since there were no cell phones, we could not reach them.
Seppo: Well, we got another master tape and it was slightly better than the original one, so the trip was not totally wasted. Also, I understood later on that no matter what a human being does, whether it is music or carpentering or coaching basketball, every human act is followed by self-criticism. You think you are full of shit and even if your stuff is objectively good, you do not believe it. I mean, come on: Esa and Jussi had been sitting in the studio for five days straight and then they crammed into this tiny Toyota Corolla, sleep-depraved, probably a little hungover and after eating nothing but French fries for a week and now they had to listen to themselves play from a sorry-ass car stereo in mono sound... no wonder it sounded awful.
After the five intense days in Ahti Kortelainen's chambers Kemi and the horrifying aftermath with its mono-sound scare – which the band, by the way, did not consider to be funny at all to begin with – there was still some of that Dave Rotten money left to invest to make the upcoming album even more remarkable as a whole. As a result of careful consideration, they thought it would be wise to invest the remaining dollars into the cover art for their first full-length album.
While band members had been happy with Turkka Rantanen's cover art for Unholy Domain, they wanted to take a quantum leap. And just like they had gotten to know Dave Rotten through the zine-o-sphere, they turned to a young Canadian artist named Rob Smits from Surrey, British Columbia, who used to do all his own AD artwork for his personal zine called Sonik Fallout.
Rob Smits: Somewhere along the line I became chummy with Dave Rotten. It was through him that I heard Demigod's Unholy Domain demo. If memory serves me, Dave mentioned something about them looking for an artist and Dave, being impressed with the artwork I was doing for my 'zine, encouraged me to get in touch with them, so I began writing to Demigod's vocalist Esa Lindén. After some correspondence by snail mail and a phone call or two, Esa and I got the details of what they wanted hammered out.
Esa: We had some kind of an oral agreement with Turkka Rantanen that he would want to make the cover art for Slumber of Sullen Eyes. At the same time, I was in touch with this Rob Smits guy who raved about Unholy Domain and sent me some of his zines where I could see his artwork. I thought it was really good stuff and my bandmates liked it as well. We loved the idea that somewhere out there was a professional artist who wanted to collaborate with us.
Rob Smits: They wanted something dark and kind of spiritual but nothing Satanic. It took me a while, but eventually I came up with the artwork that became the cover for Slumber of Sullen Eyes – a great album that, much to my delight, became an underground death metal classic over time.
As an artist, I was almost solely self-taught. Never went to art school (which is why my grasp on perspective sometimes sucks, HAHA!!) or had an apprenticeship or anything. I basically learned by trying to mimic the artists I thought were killer: Frank Frazetta, Tim Vigil and H.R. Giger, but also tons more. Vincent Locke, Bernie Wrightson, Tim Tyler, John Romita, Neal Adams, Wes Benscoter, Dan Seagrave...
I was a big comics fan. Especially the really morbid, ultra-violent stuff. Horror comics and lots of death metal music and imagery were my main sources of inspiration. Horror movies too. I was a huge fan of Fangoria magazine.
There was no Facebook or LinkedIn to check things out from so the Demigod guys pretty much hired Rob Smits based on his previous experience. While Mr. Smits was, indeed, a Canadian artist, at the same time he was 20-something years old and only done artwork as a hobby so far.
Rob Smits: Being that this was my very first full album cover (before that I had done a couple a demo tape covers), I was completely unprepared for the whole experience. Especially as far as deadlines were concerned. I was so overwhelmed by everything, there was at least one instance where I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I was not sure I would be able to pull it off.
I wanted to make something cool enough to stand amongst my peers. Near the end, I finally got my shit together and did it. Being that I am not a painter (not then anyway), all I had to use for color were coloring pencils and inks. Aside from them wanting it kind of dark and spiritual, that was pretty much all I had to go on as far as ideas. I came up with the weird psychic tripped-out space with horrible demonic-looking entities lurking in the background. They really seemed to like it.
Seppo: Yeah, Rob's artwork served its purpose. At the same time, the final cover art was somewhat different from the first sketches Rob showed us. I do not know whether it was that the print did not have the correct tints or what was up, but Rob actually told us afterwards that if we at some point publish another edition of the album, he wants to make the cover art the way he intended it in the beginning.
Rob Smits: I am still proud of the end result; a lot of people have really come to love Slumber of Sullen Eyes over the years. However, there have been many instances where I wish I could do it over again because I have progressed a great deal over the past 28 years. MAN, I am old! HAHAA!!
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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