Interview with bassist Janne Nuotio (additional commentary by vocalist Mika Luoma)
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 3, 2016
The Finnish underground scene for Speed and Thrash Metal flourished from the late eighties well into the nineties. It seemed like every guy who had long hair, a denim vest covered by band logos, patches, etc., a leather jacket, tight black/blue jeans and white sneakers could not resist the music of Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Kreator, Sodom, Megadeth and the likes. When the first Speed/Thrash Metal wave hit the Finnish shores in the middle of the eighties, it affected a lot of angst-filled and restless youngsters and many of these pimple-faced lads formed their own bands, following the footprints of their favorite bands.
Among the first Finnish Speed and Thrash Metal bands was the promising 5-piece act named Oppression, which came from the capital area of Finland, Vantaa. Oppression started out as a fast, aggressive and relatively technical sounding Thrash Metal outfit but soon evolved into a more progressive and complex sounding underground Metal act that wasn't afraid of adding a couple of extra minutes on to their unique songs in their later years. They had their chances to make it big but when the lucky stars aren't with you, they aren't with you. Oppression disbanded in 1992 for good.
Oppression's original bassist who has lived in Kent, England for years was kind enough to go back in time and reminisce about the history of Oppression when some questions were laid on the table by The Metal Crypt.
Luxi: How's life in London these days? When did you relocate from Vantaa, Finland, to your current home town of London, England?
Janne: Let's get the facts straight, Luxi. I moved from Helsinki to Kent, just outside London in 2001. Life's good.
Luxi: Information on the Internet indicates Oppression formed back in 1987. How did you find each other nearly 30 years ago? Were you schoolmates or kids from the same neighborhood?
Janne: Oppression was built on the remains of Make and Harri's previous band Distortion. Basically, I joined through an ad that Make and Harri had posted in a music mag. Santtu was a friend of a friend and Lare's previous band Dirty Damage rehearsed in the same building as us. I guess the rest of the band were pretty much from the same neighborhood and half-knew each other and I was the outsider!
Luxi: Would you say that each of you was on the same page when it comes to musical influences? Was it all about Metallica, Slayer, Testament, Kreator and the likes?
Janne: To be honest, in the very beginning we were just busy getting material ready for our first gigs. As you say the influences in the fore were Metallica, Slayer, Celtic Frost, Kreator, etc. We certainly had our disagreements and it took a while for the joint vision to form and the Oppression sound to surface. We're all quite strong-minded individuals and I can remember quite a few passionate debates regarding the direction the music should take! A few of us were also heavily into older stuff like Black Sabbath, Rush, Led Zeppelin and King Crimson, not that you could hear much of those influences until later.
Luxi: As I understand it was your guitarist Lare Nieminen who mainly wrote the songs for Oppression back in the day, even though the rest of you also contributed the songwriting process. Feel free to correct if I am mistaken...
Janne: Well, it was mainly Lare and Make who would bring songs and riffs (and they did bring some killer stuff!), especially in the beginning. As we matured as a group, the whole process of building tracks became fairly democratic; they'd bring songs and riffs and we'd decide as a group what was worth keeping and what not. We'd build the arrangements in rehearsals with everyone pitching in with ideas. Harri always had pretty wild ideas so we had to reign him in quite a bit!
Luxi: Now a compilation CD has finally been released on Spain's Xtreem Music, let's try to review its musical content piece by piece, shall we? First off, the Scars 1988-1990 compilation features Oppression's first official 4-song demo. I guess I won't go too deep into the forest by stating it was Slayer's ghost that took a comfortable position in the front seat of Oppression's pimped Trans Am back in the late 80s, offering a musical guideline for how you wanted to Oppression to sound, right? As long as it sounded fast and aggressive, that was pretty much all that counted. You may want to continue from this point...
Janne: Ah yes, I feel that the first demo was pretty much about getting some aggressive material out there quickly! Even though our first demo was an improvement from the material we played at the end of '87 and at our first gigs, it still felt like we were finding our way as a group. Yes, it had to be aggressive and heavy. I think we began to find our sound around the time of the second demo and kept on improving on that vision as our ambitions and skills grew.
Luxi: Just about a year later, Oppression went to the studio again to record 3 new songs but without original vocalist Santtu Laakso. Was there anything dramatic about Santtu's departure from the band? I remember reading somewhere he simply got fired from the band, for what reason I have no clue. Can you open up this topic a little bit?
Janne: Nothing dramatic, it was a question of exploring different paths and I think it turned out well for both Santtu and Oppression. After all, Santtu's exit (no pun intended!) spawned the group Exitus and later on the impressive Dark Sun.
Luxi: When Mika Luoma joined on vocals (he used to be a vocalist in Altars of Destruction) did it have an effect on Oppression's even more complex, heavier and let's say, "doomier" musical style on the third demo? Mika's vocal style was very different from Santtu's; deeper, darker and more grunting. Did you have to create material that would fit better to Mika's vocal style or had it already taken this heavier and more complex form prior to Mika's involvement with the band?
Janne: Oppression's music had already grown deeper and heavier. Actually, the track "Alone" was written when Santtu was still in the band (although it had different lyrics and title). Mika's vocal style fitted that heavier sound perfectly and his lyrics were brilliantly warped which complemented the schizophrenic arrangements!
Luxi: What made Oppression's third demo such a wild journey was definitely its lengthy and super-complex song structures, making it one of the most praised and admired underground demos from the Finnish underground scene back in the day. How often did you send this 3-track demo out to record companies, gig organizers, etc. when it was released? Do you believe you could have worked a bit harder with the promotion and got it out to more of the right people so to speak?
Janne: Yes, the third demo had quite an impact. It's somewhat amazing looking back at that session in particular; as usual we were all broke and could only afford half a day in the studio and that included all the setting up and final mixing as well, so apart from the guitar solos and vocals the tracks were all played in live in one take (no pressure when you're 9 minutes into a 10 min track!). We sent the demo around a bit and got some great reviews, but don't think we were commercially minded enough to really push it with the record labels; I wouldn't call it lazy, it's just that we detested the commercial aspect.
Luxi: It was pretty tough for people to put Oppression into a musical category after this demo because you had elements from Thrash Metal, Death Metal and even Doom Metal in the songs. Was it intentional that you wanted to come up with this type of sound for Oppression, one that would separate the band from the rest of the pack back in the days?
Janne: We weren't into labeling our music. We had a strong vision and desire to create something heavy and challenging. I think we succeeded in this?
Luxi: It was a big shame that Oppression didn't get all the attention for this demo (the third demo) that would have lifted Oppression up to the next level and get the band signed to a label. Do you think that your ultimate musical ambitiousness with Oppression - to make the band sound like no other band - sort of turned against you eventually? You can say that Oppression followed no musical trends and made a different sound from your everyday Slayer, Metallica, Kreator, etc. clone acts. Is that true?
Janne: Well, to be fair, the Finnish labels didn't see much of a market for the kind of stuff we were putting out and, on the other hand, we weren't going to compromise or bow to any trends. Honestly, if you were expecting to sell lots of records you wouldn't have been in a band like Oppression!
Mika: I stepped into the band at this point and, if I understood correctly, the band had just been turned down by a Finnish record company. My guess was that the zenith of the Metal scene was slowing down since a lot of bands were released in a short time span and the market for domestic Metal was quite limited back then. The mighty Grunge and Funk music was taking a toll and a few years later Metal was again an underground scene compared to the mainstream. I was personally bewildered by these guys' talent and felt privileged to play with them. I was completely awed by their new songs when I joined (third demo material).
Even today I can't really categorize what this music is about and was quite disappointed when the time finally came to set it aside. Oppression never actually died; it transcended, the music started to shift to a sort of Rock and Funk type of Metal blend. The band was dropping out all the real cool rallies I liked and started experimenting with the new style they ended up playing in the end. I just stopped going to rehearsals because I felt there was nothing for me to give the band anymore and they also decided to let Lare leave because of his heavier and more aggressive style just a few months earlier. Eventually they found a singer who fit into the new genre, and they changed their name to Sexual Family?!? Funk...
Luxi: Oppression's final official release was a 2-song 7-inch single titled Alone which featured the title track and a completely new song, "Majesty, A Joker." You released it independently and it was obviously your last shot to get some attention for this fine band. Unfortunately, Lady Fortune had abandoned the band and nothing came of this release. How much do you blame your own laziness and ignorance regarding the promotional aspects of being in a band for why such a skilled act like Oppression died without a bigger response from record labels? Do you think that being in the right place at the right time would have made a difference?
Janne: Releasing Alone independently was about our music having reached a new level and us feeling that it would be nice to have a record or a snapshot of where we were. Being on a label wasn't the be all and end all.
You're right, we didn't worry too much about promotional aspects as commercial success was never the raison d'être. Of course it would have been nice to get a full album out back in the day, but I don't think it would have affected the lifespan of the band significantly. Let me reiterate; Oppression wasn't the vehicle to explore any trendy or commercial ideas. Shit like that was out the door before you could say "kaupallista paskaa."
Mika: Read between the lines of the previous answer!
Luxi: Oppression did play a bunch of shows during the most active years, not only around Finland but also Estonia. Do you have any recollections from those early days when you shared the stage with such names as Protected Illusion, Terrific Verdict, Dirty Damage and other native Speed/Thrash Metal heroes and Hardcore punks back in 1987-92? How easy was it for Oppression to get gigs 25 years ago? I imagine quite a few youth houses became pretty familiar to you guys back then.
Janne: Well, there's the usual stories of travelling to gigs in the back of a van drinking warm beer while trying to avoid getting crushed by falling gear, always good fun! One trip which was rather memorable was when we played a few gigs in Tallinn, Estonia. This was back in the good old days of the Soviet Union so it was a bit of a culture shock. We had fans following us for the whole duration of the trip and people were trying to buy our clothes off us! We spent the money we got paid for the gigs in the best restaurants in town which generally served nothing to eat, but the cognac was good...
Luxi: I remember this detail very well having witnessed Oppression live a few times. Every time you guys came on stage people paid attention to your actual playing because everyone believed you were better and more talented than the average band. Did you notice that people basically just stared at you guys, watching you perform without taking part in any stage diving and shit?
Janne: The crowds at Oppression gigs were a good mix of stage-diving moshers and fellow musicians. I think we enjoyed the interest and knowing that we had players and critics scrutinizing our playing helped us concentrate that bit harder.
Luxi: How hard of a decision was it when Oppression officially (and sadly) broke up in 1992? Did the band break up because your main guitarist and songwriter Lare decided he was not willing to carry the torch anymore as it wasn't as bright and hot as it was for him in the very beginning when the band was started?
Janne: Actually, Oppression did not break up when Lare left. As his replacement we brought in Janne T from a group called Hammerhead, a very talented musician (he could actually read music and play all sorts of different styles, which was quite amusing!) and a very different personality to Lare. This changed the group dynamics and brought in a fresh perspective. We carried on with Janne for about a year or so, did a few gigs in Helsinki and southern Finland, and wrote some killer new material. Not sure how or why, but we didn't rush in to make another demo and no material from rehearsals survive, so we don't have any record of the new material with Janne, which is a shame as I remember that it was pretty decent! I guess in the end Oppression imploded from its own complexity. We felt that we had explored everything possible within the limit of Oppression and wanted to try different things to stretch ourselves.
Luxi: Did you ever talk about collecting the troops back again for some shows and even making some new stuff with the band?
Janne: No, really, nothing serious.
Luxi: How do you see the musical heritage that Oppression left for younger generations? Do you feel you created something worth cherishing even though you never got a change to record an actual full-length studio album during the heydays of the band?
Janne: First and foremost, we made the music for ourselves. We were ambitious and had a strong vision regarding what Oppression stood for. I think we created what we set out to do and it sounded like Oppression. So yes, I'm happy about what we achieved, and if other people dig it then that's a bonus!
Luxi: Is there anything that you'd like to reveal about Oppression that no one knew before this interview? Do you dare to reveal some of the band's "hidden secrets"?
Janne: Well, not a big secret really, but the name Oppression was plucked from an old Rush song.
Luxi: Congratz Janne! I mean, that was the last question. Glad you made it this far and thank you so much for taking your time with this question marathon. If there's still anything in your mind that you'd like to add or say to conclude this chat a proper way, then by all means be my guest... The last words belong rightfully to you sir...
Janne: Really, just thanks for your hard work in helping to get the CD out, and thanks to Dave at Xtreem Music, cheers!
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