Interview with T. "Kannibalet" Hietomaa
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: January 21, 2024
Morbid Cellar Records & Distro in Finland is one of the most interesting underground cassette labels that have crossed my path in recent years. The label's head honcho, Toni "Kannibalet" Hietomaa is a true die-hard metalhead, who is also known among underground metal bands for his awesome illustration skills, and he exploits his skills very well and professionally both on his own label releases and on releases for other labels and bands as well.
We here at the ancient and rotten graveyard of The Metal Crypt wanted to dig deeper to get some of the slimiest, filthiest and most corpse-scented details from the maestro himself, so we invited him to join us in the same coffin and lots of blobby, black blood was regurgitated during this unholy, gore-soaked meeting...
Hey, Toni! How's life overall? Busy and freezing cold as hell, eh?
Toni: Hello, Luxi! Greetings from morbid cellar! Yes, it's record temperatures outside (-36°C) and I decided at the beginning of the week to slam the basement doors so that I could wrap the orders I received at the end of the year in peace and quiet without too much stress. The Demilich tape, released just a week ago, sold out in a couple of days and I've really been busy.
BREATHING LIFE INTO MORBID CELLAR RECORDS & DISTRO
What made you decide to form Morbid Cellar Records & Distro in late 2020?
Toni: I needed a channel to sell the music recordings I had done the cover and layout work for, so I decided to start a small distro. After coming up with a name for my distro, I created a page on Facebook in December 2020 and the first order went to Italy on the sixth day of January 2021 and included the Funeration/Anathema CD. A year and a half later, in June 2022, I expanded to the publishing side as well, after which I changed the name to Morbid Cellar Records & Distro.
You've done a lot in the name of true underground metal in the past 3+ years by re-releasing many classic tapes like Funebre's demos on one cassette, Sancnity's 1990 demo The Circle, Demilich's 1992 ...Somewhere Inside the Bowels... demo, etc. All these releases have been, more or less, very limited editions and were sold out almost immediately. Have you thought of making larger cassette runs, like 200-300 copies at a time, so that all the interested parties could get their hands on them?
Toni: I have wanted to keep the operation purely underground, and the first releases have been kind of trial-and-error experiences and finding my own style, and now even in retrospect it has been completely the right decision. I have done my job in the D.I.Y. spirit as much as possible.
Nothing is created by just pressing a few buttons or throwing money into the system. I've made mistakes and release after release I've been able to achieve better results. I also try to make sure that the releases are in some way unique, and the label has its own style. All this takes a lot of time for just one man. Of course, for some releases, I also have to think about the demand, in which case it is not necessary to publish very large volumes. I also have to take into account that I have other things in life, so it's also very much a question of the time I have been getting things done the way which is most appropriate for me. If it seems that there is more demand, then it is always possible to make additional editions, but it should also be noted that additional editions are not necessarily up to me alone, the band must, of course, also accept them first.
Is there any special release on your label so far that you could say makes you most proud of?
Toni: The latest Demilich cassette warms my heart, although there is this one flaw that kind of bugs me a bit. I never received the liner notes promised by Antti Boman, so I had to make my own decisions regarding the layout for this release. The fact that I got to do the first-ever cover for this cult Demilich release (remember the demo in question originally didn't have a cover at all) is a great honor for me and therefore very special also.
IN CASSETTE I TRUST
Speaking of special releases, what is it about the cassette format that makes you want to focus on them with your label and not CDs or vinyl?
Toni: My first contact with a physical music release was a cassette tape, and as a child I recorded anything on cassettes from the radio. When we talk about demos especially, I think the most natural format is cassette.
As you can see from Morbid Cellar's back catalogue, all releases are demos. Releasing a demo on CD or vinyl seems a bit strange. Vinyl releases are otherwise very difficult to make due to their high price and long wait times and I don't buy CDs myself anymore unless it's just the only option. Thus, the most natural format for me is definitely cassette.
Have you ever thought of expanding Morbid Cellar's releases to include CD/vinyl?
Toni: I prefer to leave CD and vinyl releases to the labels that are specialized in releasing them. For example, the Putriditium cassette that I originally released was later released as a CD by Divus Do Mortuus Records (USA), for which I also made a layout in addition to the cover.
As I already mentioned in the previous answer, the cassette is the most natural option for me, and I believe that I will stick to it. Of course, a vinyl release would be great, but there are no plans for any vinyl as I am writing this.
You are also distributing quite a lot of stuff from other underground metal labels. Could you give us a rundown of all the labels that you are carrying stuff from?
Toni: The main partner for me from the very beginning has been Old Skull Productions (Hungary), and that collaboration with Old Skull Productions basically gave birth to Morbid Cellar.
Other like-minded regular collaborators have included Into It Records (Holland), Unholy Domain Records (Italy) and in the Finnish style you can find real underground spirit on labels such as Against Audio Records, Bestial Burst, Iron Corpse, Korpituli Productions, Werewolf Records, The Sinister Flame (R.I.P.) and The Other Records (R.I.P.).
I have collaborated with several other labels such as Extremely Rotten Productions (Denmark), Rotten Tomb Records (Poland), Repulsive Echo (Greece), Nuclear Winter Records (Greece), Nihilistic Holocaust (France), Desiccated Productions (Denmark), etc.
How many separate items do you carry in your distro currently, including both Morbid Cellar Records and other labels' releases?
Toni: Right now, the distro's supply is exceptionally low, because at the end of December and beginning of January, there was a clear spike in purchases related to the Demilich tape and a lot of goods were sold even during the pre-sale.
But stocks have never been very large, and cassettes usually fit in a few drawers and the supply of CDs and LPs is always smaller compared to cassettes. My own releases don't take up much space at the moment, either, because everything is essentially sold out!
How do you normally select your label partners?
Toni: Primarily on the basis of the releases themselves. If I see a release that pleases me and I would like to have it on my own shelf, I'll probably contact a label to ask if it would be possible to buy some copies at wholesale prices for my distro.
THE SAME SOUL IN OLD SKULL PRODUCTIONS
As you have already told me, you have a pretty deep cooperation with Old Skull Productions. Would you enlighten us as to who's responsible and for what?
Toni: Although we are completely different publishers in practice, without Old Skull Productions Morbid Cellar Records & Distro would never have come into existence.
Originally, I was going to do a few cover photos for Old Skull Productions and soon I found myself responsible for most of the layouts of Old Skull's releases and even helping to arrange deals for the Finnish bands on Old Skull Productions.
The collaboration with Old Skull Productions has given rise to many re-releases of Finnish demos, like Agonized, Anathema/Funeration, Aspiration, Ater, Caricature, Coprophilia, D.I.E., Disinter, Sacred Crucifix, Monstrosity, Lycantrophy, Cryptic, Putrid, Necrobiosis, Thromdarr, Rectum, etc. A lot of times I get an idea for a release and normally ask Old Skull if they would be interested in releasing it and if the answer is yes, I ask permission from the band and act as an arbitrator between the band and Old Skull.
There are many forgotten gems in Finnish metal history that deserve to be heard, and instead of being forgotten, both Old Skull Productions and I want to bring these releases back to the daylight. I would say that we have succeeded extremely well with this goal; it has even happened that bands have reactivated along with these releases, and it has been a win-win situation for all of us.
As many people know you as great and truly skilled artist, does creating artwork take the lion's share of your weekly schedule, or does it depend on other things like feeling inspired to create new art?
Toni: Thank you very much for your words! For me, making art is divided into three parts, commissioned works, self-motivated sales work, and my own personal visual art series. Making art is indeed a time-consuming activity and I always have some work going on, that's for sure.
If I don't do a commissioned job, it just means that I have some other work going on for some other purpose. I have a lot of ideas and I already know that I will never have time to do everything I would like to. Making art has always been the thing for me.
What are your driving forces behind the label?
Toni: All this distro and label hustle has progressed almost by itself and unnoticed, and I've only slowly noticed that it has taken over my work more and more. Label hustle is indeed a big waste of time and despite all the time spent, it is by no means a financially profitable endeavor, and sometimes I have wondered why I am doing all this. However, I see that I have already accomplished something that I sometimes couldn't dream of when I was ordering cassettes from small distros. Suddenly it's me from whom people order obscure death metal cassettes, which are hard to find anywhere else. Underground distros have always been the best way to get to know and find great publications and of course I want to offer the same feeling to others. And of course, each label and distro has its creator's look and character, and it's great when you can make everything look and feel exactly the way you want. I want, through a label and a distro, to convey a feeling that may have been lost or is about to disappear. I do a lot of old-school stuff that other people don't do. I write order lists by hand on paper, I design and print flyers as Xerox copies as in the old days (using the services of the municipal library, of course) and for every subscriber there is always a small "Morbid surprise" with every order. For example, for the first 100 orders, I made a drawing for each one. It was really time-consuming job, but it was done, and that's good. For the next hundred orders that are currently rotating, order no. #301-400 will contain a random "Surprise Morbid Candy" heh!
How do you generally choose releases for your label? Is it based on rarity or does it mostly have to do with your own musical tastes, both past and present?
Toni: Today, Morbid Cellar Records is mainly focused on publishing death metal demos. It could be a reissue, a demo collection, or even a newer death metal demo, but only if it hits my Old School taste buds.
It's especially great if I can add something special to the release, like recently with the reissue of the Demilich demo, it was released for the first time with a cover. In other words, not having a cover is not a disadvantage, just the opposite.
What on earth happened to your other Facebook page named "In Old School I Trust"? I mean, this site is nowhere to be found, so obviously a few unfortunate setbacks came your way, correct?
Toni: Facebook deleted my page completely, the root cause of which I never found out. The page already had more than 60,000 followers and all my hard work over five years went down the drain in an instant. Here's what I wrote on my art site as soon as my 90-day Facebook jail was over:
"Facebook deleted my 'In Old School I Trust' music page September 4, 2019. All this because of some cover art?? What makes this TOTALLY insane is that all those cover artworks (Sextrash, Devourment...) were censored just like it should be done. Facebook also blocked me from using all other pages (including my artist page) for 90 days which caused some more problems and harm for me personally. All I wanted was to support some of my favorite old school bands, music and art and all that I got was shit.
Thank you so much, dear Facebook! 'In Old School I Trust' (Jan 23, 2014 - Sep 4, 2019) R.I.P."
All this is gone now, but on the other hand, it made room for Morbid Cellar, because there was no way I would have had enough time for both. Of course, it's a lesson not to trust Facebook too much, as anything is possible and they can drop you like a fly with one blow.
FUTURE RELEASES ON MORBID CELLAR
What kind of plans do you have for releases on Morbid Cellar Records in the future? Are there still some "Holy Grails" in the underground scene that you'd love to put out someday?
Toni: My original plan was to have a little break, but now it seems that I simply can't pass up the opportunities offered to me.
This means that the next releases have already started and next on the release list is one of the hardest death metal demos I've heard in a while and that is Purulency's debut demo Transcendent Unveiling of Dimensions. Their influences include bands such as Abhorrence, Demilich, Grave, Amorphis, Demigod, Convulse, etc. so it goes without saying what it's all about. The band comes from the USA and is therefore the first US deal for Morbid Cellar Records. To top it all off, that the cover art was made by a legendary Finnish underground influencer named Mr. Luxi Lahtinen! Does the name sound familiar? Hahahaha!! But seriously, everything about this publication is what I want for Morbid Cellar and it's an honor to publish this release.
Thank you, Luxi, for the amazing cover art!!! The US version of the demo will be released by Caligari Records in January. And that's not all, more news coming later, maybe some "Holy Grails" too, since there's so much stuff that deserves a second chance for sure!
How much further do you believe you will be able to increase the activities of Morbid Cellar Records release-wise, or since this is basically a hobby for you, do you really want to keep control over things so that you avoid getting burned out doing this label thing?
Toni: You never know what the future will bring, but with these prospects we will see 3-5 publications per year on the publishing front. I don't start thinking about the number of active years in advance, but usually when I start doing something, I get stuck easily and it only stops when I come across something I can't do and I simply have to press Stop.
I'm very good at developing several different projects for myself, so sometimes a project is dropped out of necessity due to lack of time, but I don't think that Morbid Cellar will drop, at least not in the next few years. However, I want to keep the label underground and small-scale in order to be active and continue to be manageable and meaningful. So, I don't want to give it too much power so that I can implement the art side at least. I would see it in terms of the label that I prefer high-quality releases in small quantities and the art side must not suffer, but it must have its own time as always before, then I think everything is in a suitable balance.
What are you hoping to achieve with the label within the next 2-3 years or so, that would be realistic and reachable even?
Toni: A moderate pace of 2-5 publications per year is enough for me. With these prospects, everything will continue as it has been until now, but more purposefully.
WHAT'S BEEN IN TONI'S JUKEBOX LATELY?
OK, time for the last question. What are your top three releases from the last month and why?
Toni: I listen to new music every day and the selection is relatively wide, but from the death metal side, one of the most played is Stenched's Gorging on Mephitic Rot EP. It's a one-man band from Mexico, where a guy named Adrian takes care of everything. When I saw the cover and the logo, I knew right off the bat that things were done right.
And yes, the content itself was exactly what it was supposed to be. Great underground death metal! On top of that, I later found out that I am currently carrying the EP of Adrian's other band Impending Rot in my distro! You could say that you can smell the authentic old school sense of style in both.
Next, I could mention the USA death/doom metal band Sorrow and their album Death of Sorrow that came out last year. The album was written 30 years ago but was released in August 2023. This album is brilliant and the band sounds exactly the same to me as they did back in the day. What a fuckin' great comeback record! It has been spinning steadily in my player. It's probably even the best record of 2023 for me!
The third album is a death metal band named Dripping Decay from the USA and their debut full-length album Festering Grotesqueries. The band features a fellow known as Neil Smith (Frightmare, ex-Blood Freak, ex-Maniac Killer, ex-Lord Gore, etc.), so everyone who's aware of his past doings certainly knows how it should be done.
And the crowning glory for me is, of course, the fact that I had the great honor of making the front and back covers for the album, and I think everything turned out better than I hoped. I warmly recommend it to you true death metal fans out there!
I would like to thank you Toni for speaking about your label among other things to The Metal Crypt, and I'd also like to wish you all the be(a)st with your future comings and goings with all label-related matters. May your road be rewarding and full of sweet surprises. Any fitting closing comments to wrap up this conversation?
Toni: This was the first interview for Morbid Cellar Records and the fact that I got to do it with you for The Metal Crypt is really meaningful on many levels.
Next, I'm going to ask one of the last few bands I mentioned about their interest in collaborating with Morbid Cellar and continuing to make Morbid Cellar's "cover image" every year. If anything, I think it's always a very meaningful task.
Big thanks to you, Luxi, and my congratulations on The Metal Crypt's 25th anniversary. Keep the site alive, rotting and going for many years to come!
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