Gorephilia: of death, blood and Finnish death metal
I’ve welcomed In The Eye Of Nothing, the third album by the Finnish death metal band Gorephilia, quite enthusiastically. After spinning it in my stereo for several weeks, I went on knocking on the band’s door to talk about this definitely turbulent period, ruled by loss and pandemic issues. Yet, the Vantaa-based group, and particularly guitarist Jukka and bassist Tami, gladly answered all my questions. The conversation lead us to discuss both the band and the Finnish death metal scene, nowadays more active and prolific than ever.
Let’s start from the beginning: how and when did In The Eye Of Nothing come to life?
Jukka: A lot of the riffs and ideas that would become the album were already floating around in 2017. We had some talk about how Severed Monolith was going to be our last “rock & roll” record and the next one was going to be something obscure. We were high on Karnarium’s second album, Morbus Chron’s Sweven, Voivod, all kinds of dissonant unpredictable metal. When the songs started to come together those weirder ideas mostly didn’t come together as anything substantial. So once again, there was a concept, but the songs took their own path. It’s a weird twist that while trying to make something very weird, you actually end up doing something I consider our most refined and well rounded effort ever.
I’m not the only one who felt that in the three years that passed between Severed Monolith and the new album you stepped up, both in terms of songwriting and “vibe”. It’s difficult for me to explain, but In The Eye Of Nothing sounds more confident and varied, even if I guess Morbid Angel is still your main influence. Would you agree?
Jukka: Thank you. I’d completely agree. I’d say that what you’re hearing is experience. Experience gives you confidence. Knowing better what you want and how to get it done. With experience also comes a greater sense of nuance. Especially as a songwriter I’ve learned better what levers to pull and how much. There’s a lot more tools in my arsenal now compared to even four years ago. Also I think a lot of it is just getting to know everybody’s sound, what to write to whom. Because I write music mostly at home on a computer, I need to be able to imagine what kind of musical ideas we as a band can actually pull off well.
I figure these last couple of years hasn’t been nice to the band: you lost your frontman and founding member and then had to live through a pandemic. How did 2020 impact on you, as an underground band, apart from the missed live shows and touring? I’m asking this because professional musicians have been hit very hard, some of them disbanded altogether, while from an underground perspective I saw a lot of interest in music these last few months, as if people forced to stay home had the time to go back to their records and to the pleasure of listening to music more thoughtfully. As musicians, what’s your point of view?
Tami: We’ve never been that active in the live front. We got a chance to play a couple of good shows in early 2020, and released a new record. So compared to earlier years, at least on paper, it wasn’t that bad. It is really a shame that you release a new album and won’t be able to promote and support it with gigs. But sooner you accept the situation and adapt to it you can find ways to be creative. What would be a better time to create new music? All this is of course easier for us to manage because music is our passion not our trade.
Finland has always been a cradle for death metal bands, but in the last ten years or so the local scene has definitely been living a second youth, both with older bands coming back to life (say Abhorrence, Convulse and Purtenance) and thanks to lots of fresh blood such as you, Krypts, Corpsessed, Solothus and many others (often delivering better tunes than your reborn forefathers). In your opinion, what do we owe the pleasure of this Finnish death scene to? I guess you all know each other, as often members are shared among different projects.
Tami: I think that in the mid 2000’s lots of people from different kinds of extreme metal backgrounds, a new generation so to speak, found classic death metal bands and albums again. I mean the more underground ones. People realized death metal could be very dark, ominous and obscure as it has been in the underground roots of the genres early days. Terms that would rather be affiliated with black metal at the time. As opposed to the more mainstream clean vocal driven bullshit that death metal had devolved in the late 90’s / early 2000’s. Of course there are some people and bands that never got fed up with the sound nor made themselves commercial and I think the release of Dead Congregation’s first album, the relentless death metal of Slugathor and Necros Christos stuff, Lie in Ruins demos and so on paved a way for the coming death metal storm from Finland that has passed by in last recent years. Time seems to fly because it’s like ages from Slugathor’s funeral or last Swallowed shows…
Funniest thing is, which I know to be fact, that when some reviewers compare some newer finnish bands to the older ones and say things like “this is very much like Convulse again” or “they sound like Demigod” is absolute bullshit. There are people in the scene composing new music that have never heard Convulse or whatever, so saying their band’s sound is the same is just pure accident. Or then it’s just enough that you are heavy and from the same country. Of course the originators of the genre created something completely new, and all the glory to them for that. But I don’t think the new bands are mere copies of them.
You touch an interesting point here: “People realized death metal could be very dark, ominous and obscure”. In recent years we’ve seen a lot of experimenting with death metal. It used to be black metal was the genre for people pushing the boundaries, while death metal stood inside its established borders: American, Swedish, melodic, a bit of prog and that was about it. Now we have bands spanning from Sweven to Black Curse to Ulcerate: dissonant, atmospheric, raw, there are a lot of additional “flavours” to death. In your opinion what do you think we owe this to?
Tami: I think that the first death metal generation in the ’90s was so short-lived because of commercialism. Some bands just stagnated and are basically the same album again and again. Others grew out of the heavy sound, and changed their style to more acceptable, bigger audiences. Which is not wrong by any means. For instance I think all three first Amorphis albums are on the same level with each other. It’s better to evolve to something different than to stay the same if you don’t have anything to offer anymore. A lot of new metal genres and styles had risen up by the half of 2000’s. The newer generation had a massive pool of bands and sounds to be influenced from, it was almost inevitable that new bands would incorporate different traits from other genres to their death metal sound. The darkness and rawness of black metal, the slow heaviness of the funeral doom and drone, old school aggressiveness from classic thrash metal, the list goes on. All “new” finnish death metal musicians from the last 15 years, hands up if your first band wasn’t death metal. I think there would be shitloads of hands in the air. And all of them will bring something different to the table, something they have picked up along the way.
Dark Descent is having a relevant role in distributing many of these names, and you’re label mates with Krypts, Corpsessed, Lantern and probably others who are currently slipping my mind. What’s your relationship with DDR and with your European label, Me Saco Un Ojo and how relevant do you think it is to be supported by a renowned record label, in 2020?
Tami: I think our relationship has been and is good and I’m very happy to work with both Dark Descent and Me Saco Un Ojo who has released everything we have done so far. A good and well known label is one of those kinds of things you easily forget when you’re on one. Things go on so smoothly that you don’t really think about it most of the time. What could I even say? May it remain so in the future as well.
I’ve always thought cover illustrations to be a huge part of metal music, and death metal in particular. I really like Raúl González’s style, loved him since Morbus Chron’s debut, and I am curious as to how he created those artworks for you. What’s the idea behind them? (And has In The Eye Of Nothing anything to do with Berserk, the manga?)
Jukka: It was exactly Morbus Chron’s debut that brought him to our attention as well! Both of the covers he has meticulously crafted for us were commissions. In both cases I actually drew him a very crude pen-on-paper sketch that tried to illustrate the general composition. Then he’d give his own sketch back and we’d do some feedback on that and he’d do the real deal afterwards. Both times it was a great pleasure working with him. For In the Eye Of Nothing we actually had a different idea at first, but we couldn’t get the idea to translate well into an image. For the second and final idea I sent a few different reference images and a crude post-it sketch. None of those reference images were Berserk, but when people first mentioned that, I figured the eclipse and behelits must have been in the back of my head somewhere. The cover reflects the two strong motifs in the album’s lyrics: eyes and blood.
Do you ever think of going back to some wild west-themed music? I remember that was the original concept behind the first version of Gorephilia, when you went by the name GoretexX.
Tami: I don’t think that will happen. If you have a strong concept, like we did with GoretexX, you can easily come up with ideas for music and lyrics quickly, but it also gets dull very fast too. You’re kind of going to be a prisoner of your own concept and at some point you’re running out of ideas to keep things interesting. That’s why I wouldn’t restrict, so to say, the band anymore to any that specified concept. Death has far more interesting aspects to be written about, than imagined bloodsheds of some historical times. That being said, it was really fun to do “Merciless Slaughterer” from the GoretexX demo in Helsinki Death Fest 2019, as a tribute to Henu.
Now that the album is out and that you will not be able to promote it live most likely for the whole 2021, what are your plans for the immediate and more distant future?
We have some things we are working on now. More of them later so I won’t be making any false promises here. But we got ourselves recording equipment for our rehearsal place, so who knows where the fuck we’ll end up.