Interview with vocalist and guitarist Masi Hukari and bassist Pekka Johansson
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: February 17, 2022
The Grim Reaper is among us again. I am not talking about that fearsome and hooded scythe weilder who has had a very fruitful harvest these past two years nor to the semi-legendary British heavy metal band that released classic albums See You In Hell and Fear No Evil back in the eighties. We are close with this Finnish bunch who carry the name Noutaja, which roughly translates to The Grim Reaper.
Noutaja plays a '90s style of death metal with some minor black metal overtones here and there and such names as Deicide, Death, Pestilence, Morbid Angel and the like are no strangers to them.
Noutaja released their 5-track debut EP, Never Meant to Save Us, on the Finnish label Inverse Records in August 2021 which shook the foundations of the rock-hard headquarters of The Metal Crypt so much that we had no other option but to hold them accountable for their actions.
We reached out to the band, gently twisting their arms (while playing some Britney Spears in the background ) to get the following exciting confessions (to say the least) squeezed out of them. Read on...
First off, congratulations on your excellent 5-track EP, titled Never Meant to Save Us!
Masi: Hell yeah! Glad you enjoyed it! Super happy about how it turned out and proud that it got such a great response! Thank you to everyone who checked it out!
HARVESTING OLD-SCHOOL CLASSICS
I was impressed by its '90s-tinged death metal sound, which also has a nice blackened twist to it. Which bands have had the most influence on the sound of Noutaja?
Masi: Thank you! I think we all agree on classic death metal stuff like Death, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Sepultura, etc. In addition everyone has their unique tastes outside of metal that they bring to the table when the music requires it.
Pekka: Thanks! The US scene in the '90s was a big thing for us so it’s no wonder we have similar sound on our EP. The only addition that I need to make to Masi’s list is Pestilence. You can find similar arrangements of the EP’s solo parts to the Testimony of the Ancients album.
How did you end up choosing the name Noutaja? It’s clear for us Finns, but for non-Finnish speakers there’s some explanation needed, I suppose...
Pekka: I was spending my summer holidays in Berlin at my friend’s place. The name just came to my mind one night after "a few" beverages. It seemed to be a clever idea for a band name while I was drunk and it seemed to be a clever idea the day after so I suggested the name for the band. I wanted to have a one-word name because that is always more old school.
THEN CAME... NOUTAJA!
How did you guys find each other and form Noutaja? Did you feel that you were all on the same page when you started figuring out the musical direction this band should take, specifically old-school death metal but with some black metal flavors for good measure?
Masi: I think the flavors came together quite naturally once Noutaja formed. After Amoral Juffi, Pekka and I were together in a prog band that kind of ran its course and the three of us just felt a pull towards making music that was closer to our roots.
Pekka: The first idea was to play old school death metal, but after a few songs there were new elements popping up naturally. We are not purists so it was fun to add some black metal twist to the music and it sounded good.
How much does Chuck Schuldiner’s heritage mean to the band? If it wasn’t for Death, would Noutaja even exist?
Masi: Without Chuck, I would not be the musician I am today. He is a huge influence. I always loved extreme vocals where you could actually make sense of the lyrics and Chuck, along with Mille Petroza with their raspy high-end attack, very much defined the way I want vocals to sound. Of course he influenced me as a guitar player and a songwriter as well.
Pekka: It’s a tricky question because Death has always been one of the big bands in this scene. The whole scene would sound different without Schuldiner’s heritage and maybe it wouldn’t be as evolved as it is now. Who knows? We could have Noutaja, but it would definitely sound different.
Were your roles in the band clear right off the bat, who would be the main songwriters, who would take care of the lyrics, etc., or do you keep the doors open for everyone’s ideas, avoiding a dictatorship, so to speak?
Masi: All the music was written collectively in the rehearsal basement as a band, just like in the '90s. Everyone contributes. Pekka has a great ear for keeping the arrangements in balance, Juffi has a masterful sense for the template, tempo and dynamic arc of the song, Jonne has a keen producer’s ear for interesting harmonies and hooks. As for me? I just throw out ideas and hope something sticks. And occasionally remembering that I have to breathe too while putting the vocal parts together!
NO GORY AND DARK FANTASIES
From what I heard, due to Masi’s (Hukari, guitar/vocals) somewhat rough childhood in countries other than Finland, he’s probably the best candidate to write lyrics for the band, having some personal perspective from the uglier side of us humans. Your thoughts?
Masi: I initially wanted to write gore and dark fantasy lyrics, but they were all shit. I could not get even one song done that I was happy with. Writing the lyrics to "Taller Walls & Stronger Cages" was a bit of a personal breakthrough and I realized that I should write about stuff I know and feel strongly about instead of being a cheap Cannibal Corpse knock off.
I assume the feedback for your 5-track outing has been pretty overwhelming thus far. Were you prepared for all this positive response?
Masi: Honestly, no. Any response was totally unexpected and I feel grateful for the positivity! I never expected anyone to even give a shit.
Besides the songs on the EP, how much material do you have ready at the moment, like half-made songs, riffs and/or ideas for the main structures of songs, etc. that you will most likely use for your next opus (another EP or a full-length release)?
Masi: We have almost everything musically prepared for our next release. The lyrical themes have been set and a lot of them have been written. Funny enough, it might be that we also have something fairly set as the basis of the artwork as well. So things are looking good.
How would you define a good, well-crafted song? Which elements must it contain so that it earns your respect and admiration at some level at least?
Masi: What a great question! I appreciate a song that is a unified statement which nods to tradition but is not confined by it. With lyrics, honesty and conviction are the main thing.
Pekka: In metal I think the first and most important thing is the catchy riffs. Without good riffs the song is dumpster-ready after the first minute. The second important thing is the dynamics of song structure: There should be some "counterweights" (that’s what I call them) between parts of the song that makes it easier to listen to and keeps the listener’s interest until the end.
When can we expect to see the band’s debut album unleashed to the world?
Masi: 2022. We have the studio booked and are really looking forward to getting our first full-length out there!
HEADBANGERS BALL WAS THE SHIT
You guys put out your first ever video in June 2021, which was shot for the song "Born unto Hawthorns". How important do you see this audio-visual stuff in today’s "fast-food metal world" as far as promotional things are concerned?
Masi: I have a weird connection to music and visuals. I almost never watch music videos. I’m hopelessly stuck in what MTV Headbangers Ball played in the nineties. But I love watching and making music documentary clips. Hopefully, I can engage in that a bit more with Noutaja in the future.
Pekka: Personally I find it uncomfortable posing in front of a camera and acting like I’m "playing" music. I’d rather play a live show. It is a necessary evil that you have to do promotion-wise because it’s still a thing to the fans. Blah! If you can do an entertaining video that has some unique approach, that’s great but these kinds of ideas are rare. Ninety percent of music videos are boring because they follow the same pattern.
Live gigs are naturally a very important part of getting your band known. How much do you enjoy playing in front of a supportive crowd or would you rather see yourself as a studio-only musician?
Masi: I love playing live and surprisingly singing too! On our first gig, I felt so free and connected that I could just let it flow and communicate with the audience in a present and unobstructed way that I had never felt in my 30 years of playing on stage. I think that speaks volumes to the kind of zone that the camaraderie in this band provides!
Pekka: I like it both ways. I get a lot of kicks when we’ve nailed down a song in the studio with a good groove and all the work rehearsing it is finally on tape. Nothing beats a well performed live shows either with adrenaline pumping in your body. These are different scenarios and both are reasons I love playing music.
THE VIRUS CAME, INFECTED, KILLED AND CONQUERED
As we are living in some weird times (once again, surprise! surprise!) due to this darn new virus variant, do you have faith in getting gigs booked soon, like in spring of 2022?
Masi: Zero... but hey! We revealed a new band in the beginning of a global pandemic! Either we are very optimistic or incredibly stupid. Or a little from column A and a little from column B.
Finland is, of corpse, a very well-known country for all kinds of metal bands, both known and less known, this including the Finnish Death Metal scene, which to me seems to be on as strong a foundation as it was back in the golden nineties, if not even stronger. How would you see Noutaja’s position among other Finnish Death Metal groups?
Masi: Hahaha! We’re the best band at the bottom of the barrel. As musicians we’ve all been around for quite some time, but we nave no delusions of grandeur that just because we have experience and are capable musicians that we will become the next Amorphis, Bodom on whatever. "Medium size longevity" would be a great way to go.
What are some of your favorite names from the past and present Finnish death metal scene and why?
Masi: I recently read the excellent Rotting Ways to Misery book and concurrently went down a pretty deep history of Finnish Death Metal rabbit hole. I was pretty blown away listening to how original and diverse those pioneers of the scene were and came away with huge respect for those guys as well as a sense of deeper connection to Finnish death metal in general. Demilich is so uniquely angular, guttural and totally uncopiable that I would have to give props that way. Convulse I like for their fearlessness in the face of change. Purtenance? Deathchain? Amorphis? I could go on and on about all the greats so I’ll stick to what I first said.
Do you have anything special you’d like to achieve with this band in the future?
Masi: The most important thing for me is to keep making music that we enjoy and find meaningful. Play some gigs. Play Tuska and Nummirock someday. I would love to do a Euro tour sometime in the not so virusy future if the guys are up to it.
Pekka: Like Masi said; playing music together is the most important thing. I don’t expect anything particular and I somehow believe that the best things can happen unexpectedly. I’m just happy with how things are now and I’m open-minded for the future.
I think that’s my part this time around, so I sincerely want to thank you for this fruitful conversation and wish you all the best with the band in the coming months/years. If you have anything in mind that you’d like to add to wrap up this "chat" properly enough, then by all means by my guest... ;o)
Masi: Thanks! Great talking to you! And thanks to everyone who read this far! Give the EP a spin and stay tuned for the next chapter!
Pekka: Thank you! Enjoy music, remember to take your vitamins on a daily basis and keep on working!
|Other information about Noutaja on this site|
|Review: Never Meant to Save Us|
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