Finnish legend PHLEGETHON never got the recognition they deserved. Their meticulous work
should have gained them worldwide respect and support and made them a leading force
of the first finnish metal wave in the late 80’s. It’d be just unimaginable to say they didn’t work
hard for it if you listened to their music; the ‘Fresco Lungs’ full lenght definitely proved it by
showing an astonishing maturity for a band that young (at the time of its release). I think most
of bands should follow that way instead of plagiarizing their elders.....In the middle of their
career they burned up for various reasons, which certainly rose questions about a potential
reunion in the future. After years of gloomy silence that seemed as long as a walk through
the darkest and most desolated forests of Finland, they are back for a thundering return with
a different musical style, less original but focused to its prime elements. The last two demos
seriously kicked my butt with their impressive and unique old school sounding thrash metal
a realm they look determined to rule over. So I had a grip with Lasse, conductor of this
orchestra, to remind us of PHLEGETHON’s history and announce us their most recent news.
Read on and you’ll know everything about this cultest band with this unholy interview.
01 - Hello Lasse ! Aren’t you too drunk to answer my questions after a crazy night spent on booze with friends in your flat, listening to old classic thrash metal records ? I am telling you that because one of my friends studied for one year in Finland and keeps good memories of how he was welcomed by (and often got drunk with) several musicians and music fans. It seems the alcohol consumption of Finnish is beyond average.
Haha..I..m ok. It..s true that Finnish people drink a lot of alcohol. Too much I think, honestly. It causes quite a lot of problems but sure it..s nice way to relax with a bottle (or three!) of red wine and listen to some of your old fave metal vinyls! The booze is very expensive here in Finland but that doesn..t seem to lower the consumption.
02 - Well, so what’s new with Phlegethon lately ?
Well, there are some line-up chances. Saku is out of the band (motivation problems etc.) and somebody will take his place very soon, I hope. If we don..t find anyone, then I..ll have to do all the guitars. Juha is our bassist now. For the newest 2 demos he wrote the lyrics only but now he..s quite into doing the bass also. We are going to start recording the new album as soon as we..ll know which label we are going to get signed on. There are a few labels interested so let..s see… I just composed the latest new song for the album so we should have enough killer material for the full lenght now. We don..t want the album to be too long. I hate long albums! Somewhere around 30-45 minutes is just perfect.
03 - So, I think the main question to start this interview deals with Phlegethon beginning. The band having been founded in the late 80s, you can be considered as precursors of the finnish extreme underground scene along with Xysma, Funebre, Interment... who unfortunately perished and fell into oblivion. But you honourably perpetuate the memory of Phlegethon. How did you consider Phlegethon regarding the rest of the scene at that time ? Could you tell me about the very first days, when you met Teemu and Juha ? You were extremely young, weren’t you ? How old were you then ? Did your parents accept that you spent so much time playing music, because I suppose you were still in junior high school ? Over that all, what do you think about Phlegethon notoriety until today ? Did you get support from other finnish bands ?
Ooooh, this is going to be a long one… I met Teemu in ..85 when I moved from a school to another when I was 11 years old. We were on the same class and soon figured out that we both were into heavy metal and had an interest to play in a band. We just did..t know any local kids who could play and who would play the stuff we wanted, so we ended up jamming (actually learning how to play, heh!) on guitars by ourselves. I met Juha in ..87 as he and his bass player friend asked me to play drums in their band. Soon I and Juha realized that the bass player wasn..t that good so he had to go. I told Juha that I knew someone who can play guitar and digs metal so I introduced Teemu to Juha. We played punk, hc , crossover and some metal covers from Iron Maiden to Slayer. Then in ..88 we formed Phlegethon being 14-15 years old back then. Our parents were always very supportive. Maybe that was because we were very good at school except for me, haha! I was a mediocre student. Anyway, we even rehearsed at Juha..s parents..s house. At first in Juha..s room but as I bought a bigger drum set we had to conquer the living room. When we did the first gigs we were underaged so any of us didn..t have a driver..s licence , so Teemu..s dad drove us to the gigs. Or at least once, I think… So yes, our parents supported us from the beginning but of course they couldn..t understand the mess we played. When we started we didn..t know many bands in Finland who were playing same kinda stuff as we did. The first bands in the Finnish underground metal scene I remember we were aware of must have been Sacred Crucifix, Maple Cross, Protected Illusion, Mengele, Terrific Verdict etc. I remember liking ecspecially Sacred Crucifix, Mengele and Terrific Verdict quite a lot in those days. The extreme metal scene was just developing back then. We started to get more attention after our second demo "Neutral Forest" in ..90 and that..s partly because Teemu did very good job in promoting it. I remember Olli from Xysma saying at our first gig to us that :"You guys are on all the zines!". So, the demo and the word spread around the globe pretty effectively. I don..t know about the notoriety but sure we were in the first wave of Finnish death metal bands with the likes of Abhorrence, Xysma, Funebre and a few others. I think we..d have done even better if we had played so called brutal death metal with low-tuned guitars but we had that strong thrash influence so we were a bit different. Maybe even too different and not brutal enough for some kids. But whatta heck! We are only proud of that! Did we get support from other bands? Oh, yes! Everyone spread each others flyers and mentioned other bands names here and there every once in a while and so the word got around.
04 - Were the first rehearsals spent covering other bands’ songs ? Did you already know what kind of metal you wanted to play ? I’d also like to know where did you take inspiration from ? In what year exactly did you buy your first metal record, the one that pushed you to run your own band later ?
At the first rehearsals we probably played Iron Maiden, Death Angel, Stone (an early Finnish speed metal band) and Slayer but soon we wanted to compose own material. As we formed Phlegethon in ..88 we knew exactly what kinda music we wanted to play. Being huge fans of Slayer, Dark Angel, Sacrifice, Sepultura, Kreator and Bathory we took influences (sometimes too arrogantly, hehe!) and made our own soup out of them. Usually Teemu was the active one buying records all the time and me and Juha copied them on c-cassettes. I have to say that Slayer..s "Reign in blood" must be the first ones that pushed us forward to form our own metal band but actually none of us had the original album, just a cassette copy. It must have been ..87 or something… This is a hard question as I have a very bad memory! But definitely "Reign in blood" was the main reason why we started the band.
05 - You were lacking a bass player, where did that fuckin’ problem originate from ?
We just didn..t knew anybody who..d be able or like to play our kinda stuff. So Juha and Teemu split the bass duties on our first demo. Then later we were lucky to find Jussi for the bass.
06 - After an endless period of missing, Phlegethon bewitched our spirits again in 2006, just like a ghost coming out of the woods, at a time when nobody expected it. So what is the clue behind these 11 years of silence ? Please light my lantern, for I have been waiting for so long for a reunion !
We just didn..t feel like doing it anymore, you know. We had enough. We just got tired of playing death metal in ..92 and got into other forms of music. It really took all these years to get the shivers from metal again. I can..t explain it any better than that. This is absolutely not something we planned to happen. Life is full of surprises…
07- Jussi Nyblom joined the band later, couls you tell me how you recruited him ? Why hasn’t he took back his position in Phlegethon when you returned ? Can you introduce the new member ?
We knew that the guy named Jussi played guitar in the local hc/noise group. We heard their rehearsal tape and thought that the guitarist can actually play his instrument apart from his bandmates, haha! So we simply asked him to join Phlegethon as a bassist. Nowadays he is too busy with his family-life to get involved in Phlegethon. He definitely would love to be in the band but unfortunately he has no time for that. The lead guitarist, Saku, who we just kicked out (or you could say he faded out for his own will) played on our "Promo ..95" and on the latest 2 demos (guitar solos only). He has been into the ug metal scene for a long time. As I mentioned we..re looking for someone to fill his shoes
08 - Okay, it’s just about time to talk about your discography. In winter 1989, "Viseo Dei Beatifica" was your first recording with a mediocre but listenable sound production, and a mythical cover showing spectres... Well, the writing of these tracks demonstrated a dark atmosphere influenced by the first Bathory and Slayer releases. How much money did you spend for that recording ? What equipment did you use ? Was it difficult for you to record that first demo, for I suppose you weren’t exactly mature judging from your young age ? Do you remember under what evil empire you composed it ? How were the reactions like when it was released ? Do you still have the same opinion about it as you had at that time when you listen to these old titles again ? Would you modify some details about it now, maybe some aspects were treated a bit lightly ? Why having chosen a latin title since all of the tracks were sung in english ?
The recording of the first demo did not cost much. I dont..t remember the price. We rented the microphones, the mixer and the 4-tracker and recorded it in Juha..s home. It was the first time we recorded anything with a multitracker and that shows off. We didn..t knew much about recording. So it..s very amateurish and homemade demo but I kinda like the atmosphere there which is very dark. The response was pretty positive when we unleashed the demo. It was sold about 100 copies. I recall we didn..t put any ads to the biggest Finnish music papers because we felt like people here were only into speed metal at the time. Actually the first letter we ever got came from Sweden, hehe… Soundwise we weren..t satisfied with the demo but it was a good start. I..d rather listen to "Visio…" than "Neutral…" or "Fresco…" these days. As it..s our first product and since we were so young and unexperienced, it..s easier to forgive and laugh at the all the things that we fucked up there. I don..t remember exactly why we chose a latin title. It just felt right. Phlegethon is a latin word as well so why not? Actually the shortest answer to your question would be: "Epicus Doomicus Metallicus" and "Malleus Maleficarum".
09- I strongly suppose that you wanted to craft your own musical style that would be different from other finnish bands, mainly based on strange surrealistic visions coming from terrifying dreams... Let me reach the hidden side of your sub-consciousness...
We just have an active imagination and our natural interest towards surrealism feeds it even more. The dreams we dream are often the most bizarre and perfect source for lyrics. Juha writes all the lyrics for Phlegethon now and I can tell you he tries to sleep a lot, hahaha!!!
10 - I don’t want to lick your ass, but « Viseo… » seriously kicked my butt and the next one caused my fall into darkness. You entered the studio in june 1990 to record the second demo, "Neutral Forest", with a great improvement with compositions and a clearer production, focused on ultra heavy guitars and melodious parts and soli, but also with less blackened vocals. Did you want to part from your older compositions for new musical direction and influences ? That said, the Slayer tag was still present, some of your riffs sounding very close to theirs, do you agree ? Did that new path you walked lead you to more success and recognition from fanzines, labels, fans ? How many copies did you press and sell ? How much did it cost you to print the professional glossy colour jacket ? Where did you find the money for that all ?
It was only natural progression from "Visio…" to "Neutral…". We will always have the old Slayer influence in our sound. Yeah, I..m aware of the fact that some of our riffs are even too close to theirs but as long as it..s not exactly the same riff we let it go. Anyway, the influences on "Neutral…" are still from the same old farts as they were on "Visio…" and the same goes to our newest material. With "Neutral.." we got the recognition of the scene and to be honest we..ve always been quite upset about how much people praise it. I mean, I love the compositions but the sound and the playing could have been so much better. In that sense "Neutral…" was a big disappointment to us. But then again it made us well known in the ug metal scene so…I quess we did something right. I don..t remember how many copies we pressed the tape but it was sold about 700 copies and I think we repressed it 2 times at least. We had saved some money to be able to print a cool cover but I don..t remember the price.
11 - On that tape an atmospheric intro creates a natural touch fitting the lyrics, but the unexpected cut before the second track and erasing that brilliant inspiration makes for a brutal transition... What happened ?
The so called "producer/recorder/mixer" (Jukka Timonen) screwed up. That..s what happened.
12 - The title reveals your love for clean nature. Are you ecologists ? What are your ideas for its preserving, when you see states like China and USA acting like kings of pollution over the world and sacrificing their eco-systems for financial profits ? The result is alarming, for instance in Antarctic with the melting of glaciers, disappearing of animal species, global warming... Aren’t you afraid to see your own country landscapes deteriorating in a few years ?
The title has nothing to do with ecologic aspects! No way! It..s more a place that just…is! It..s neutral, you know. Sure we like clean nature just as every normal and rational human does. It..d be hypocrite to say that we are extreme ecological. We don..t throw batteries to the nature etc. I mean all the people could do more. Things have gone too far already and for sure I don..t see the future bright for the planet Earth.
13 - Like majority of black metal bands, your photo sessions are parallel to natural elements and in communion with invisible forces passing from light to obscurity. Describe me those uncommon places ? The energies coming from these mystical places probably influence the way you think and help you chasing away your inner demons ? In those moments, are you in a meditational state or rather in a melancholic mood ?
Heh, I don..t want to bullshit you making our photo sessions sound like some ultra mystic event though that would be quite tempting, haha! Of course we choose carefully the places where we shoot pictures to get the right atmosphere but mostly it..s more everyday job than you may think. Anyway, I can remember "Neutral Forest" photo sessions when we wandered almost all the night in the woods taking pictures and there was a place called "Kirkkokallio" (translates "Churchrock" in English) and on the top of it somekinda old altar made of stone. That felt kinda special. Once we climbed up there to see the eclipse. Walking in the woods and all the places where you won..t crash into another human being is pretty relaxing and inspiring. I think I should do that more often.
14 - Could you inform me about the local shows you did between 1991 and 1992 in Joensuu, Nokia, Kuopio, Rahaee, Kauajoki with support from Putrid (pre-God Forsaken), Xysma, Funebre, Amorphis, Demigod, Convulse, Disgrace, Mordicus, Sentenced, Lubricant, Afflicted, Old Funeral, Beherit, Corporal Punishment, Demilich and so on ? Was there one show in particular about which you keep an unforgettable memory ? How was the atmosphere like when it was your turn to go on stage ? Which audience was the wildest you met when you crossed all those cities ? I presume you had good relations with some of those, which ones ? To talk about the mythical live in Joensuu 08/02/1992, the band list was kind of an immense meeting of cult finnish bands in my opinion, I even have a video bootleg of the evil live of Beherit and their apocalyptical set reaching the apex of musical barbarity devoted to evil forces... with all die-hard fans in a state of possession. Do you remember their violent and inhumane attitude during that night ? As a fan of from the first hour, I am astonished of seeing Holocausto having turned into a crappy techno music DJ, what do you think about ?
Yeah, we did a couple of shows and it was not really our thing. It was very stressful and uncomfortable so we have decided not to do that again. We hated all that waiting and playing on the equipment whatever happened to be there and the sound on the stage (and probably outside of it as well) always sucked. I..m proud that we get to share the stages with acts like Funebre, Beherit, Afflicted, Demigod, Xysma etc. and it was cool to see them live but I..ve always prefer enjoying my metal at my home on the records. The audience was ok almost everywhere we played. Well, Kuopio was a disappointment with only 50 heads there but somehow we actually enjoyed plaiyng there. I recall it as our less irritating gig but of course the first gig is something you won..t forget! We were so frightened that we almost crapped our pants, haha! Yeah, I also remember Beherit in 8/2/1992 in Joensuu. They did this hammering of a pig..s head -spectacle on the stage. Before their gig I was sitting in front of the sink at the backstage and in the corner of my eye I saw something pink and bloodred behind me so I turned around to see what the heck..s in there…Beherit guys held the pigs head in the sink before they hit the stage. I think Holocausto..s electronic music is ok (actually I..m listening Beherit "Electric Doom Synthesis" right now!) but usually I rather pick their older stuff when I feel like listening to the true Beherit sound.
15- What is the true meaning of Phlegethon ?
To spread the lava of subconscious by deathrashing our asses off!
16 - Wonderful news in 1991 as you found a letter from Jeager of Witchunt Records (RIP) in your mailbox, proposing you a deal for a full-lenght, but unfortunately you had not enough tracks so you asked for recording the « Fresco Lungs » MCD instead. Did you expect getting a deal so quickly after the release of "Neutral Forest" ? What was Jeager’s reaction when he heard you didn’t have enough tracks ? Why not having waited for a few months to record some more ? Were you in a hurry to have your last efforts released officially ? Were you satisfied with its distribution ? Did it make it with the press ?
Actually we had enough material (1st & 2nd demos together would make easily a full-leght album + the new tracks) but we didn..t want to record too many old tracks and we were hoping to do a full-leght on some bigger label in the near future. So, we were kinda like holding ourselves with the Witchhunt records and ended up doing just a mini lp/cd. Jaeger was just fine with that. In that time the deal with Witchhunt was ok to us and we don..t have a bad word to say about anything.
17 - Why did you move toward a new musical direction, with some more rocking passages ? Honestly, do you think you were on for a new and original musical approach never done before, except for the Lubricant MCD later ? What kind of music were you listening to at that time ? Fuck, "Encapsulation of the Ark of the Covenant" could be played on dancefloors, hah ! Do I have to take that song seriously ?
First I..d like to correct that the songlist on the MCD is screwed up! The "dancefloor"-track you are talking about is "Without Tea-Waters", not "Encapsulation…". "Encapsulation…" is very old song and the first time we recorded it was in ..89 for "Visio Dei Beatifica". So there..s not a chance that this track would have potential for the dancefloors, haha! Anyway, at the time we recorded "Without Tea-Waters" and "Stone Me" as bonus tracks for the MCD we weren..t that much into death metal anymore. We wanted to explore new things from techno to funk and even jazz and that was the stuff we listened at the time. The whole death metal scene had reached its climax in ..92 and we got so bored with the whole thing. Lyric-wise "Without Tea-Waters" is an inside joke that I am not going explain here but musically we did it seriously. We had plenty of songs like that and that was to be our new musical direction, hehe! Afterwards it..s easy to say that we were so lost!!!
18 – What was your main inspiration for that strange cover ? For sure it is from a fresco but excuse me Lasse I see no connection with the lyrics; there must be lots of controversy and irony inthere... On the back cover you pose in a garden shed, another detail I don’t get...
Well, we..ve always wanted to do things in our own original way. There..s no story behind the front cover of "Fresco…" or a straight connection to the lyrics. The only connection is weirdness! We were browsing through art books to find a cool pic for the cover and we found it. We thought that it had a mystic and twisted atmosphere just like our music so we picked it up. As almost everybody else had paintings on their covers at the time, we decided to have a photograph. In the back cover of the MCD (the vinyl version has a diffent back cover! The better one!) we really pose in a garden shed and that reflects our feelings towards the extreme metal underground scene in ..92. We wanted to go the opposite way, we wanted to say:"Fuck off! Go to the forest! We had our forest-period and now we are shallow as a fart and as plain as we want to!" That tired we were…
19 - 4 years later 3 new titles were recorded for a promo before you splitted again. Do you think people should forget about that promo ? Because you weren’t very motivated to give me a recording, please express yourself about that ? What was the trouble within the band between 1991 and 1995 ? What was that tape made for ? Musically it’s pretty in the same vein as the MCD, do you agree ?
I don..t mind if people listen to it but I don..t regard "Promo 1995" as a true Phlegethon product but what..s done is done. We could have done it under some other name. Anyway, I think there are a few good riffs and it..s pretty good in its own genre, whatever that is… We done it only because I happened to compose a couple of songs that I wanted to get documented. It was not that serious attempt to get back on the field. We did nothing else with Phlegethon during 92-95 except for this one session. Despite its title "Promo 1995", we did a minimum promotion. Maybe 2 or 3 copies were sent somewhere. I strongly disagree that it was musically in the same vein as "Fresco Lungs"! The difference from "Fresco…" to "Promo..95" is as huge as it..s for Entombed from "Clandestine" to "Wolverine Blues"!
20 - Sometimes old revenants regain the surface and unite their never forgotten craftmanship. I make reference to Phlegethon’s reunion in 2006 of course (the third one, never seen that before) with "Totem Withing". New recording/sound/music, I notice radical changes but the shadow of Slayer is still over your heads ! Well, what triggered the practice of that old school feeling pretty far away from the oldest stuffs ? Do you think you’ve found a direction that fits more your expectations ? How many copies have been sold for the moment ? Could you tell me about the responses from the old fans, as well as from the new ones ?
Yes, the shadow of Slayer will always be there and that..s how it should be! Composing of the new tunes was very natural and they just came out the way they did. I never planned to came up with something as thrashy as that but I think there..s good death metal riffing also. If I..ve sung the tracks with a deeper voice and tuned the guitars low, like on the follow-up demo "Lava Poetry", people might say it..s death metal, haha! Well, whatever…thrash rules! The demo is mainly for promotion so we have sold it only a few copies. The old "fans" love the demo! Very good response really!
21 - You recently made « Lava Poetry », your last recording to date. I am forced to say that you used the same elements as for "Totem Within", so there was no surprise, however the tracks really beat the shit out of anyone. Is it becoming more and more difficult to make new songs that keep the band at their highest potential and live up to the reputation of the early material ? I think you have become more professional, haven’t you ?
Yeah, I quess you could say we are more professional though we still have a lot to learn as we haven..t been musically active for years. So far making music has been quite easy but of course you end up repeating yourself in some point. We..ll stop immediately when we start sounding like tired old farts. I hear from time to time that the material from "Neutral Forest" –era is the best we have achieved but right now I really feel that the best stuff is still to come.
22 - One last thing before ending, Dave Rotten of Xtreemmusic Records lately re-released the first two demos from the glorious days with « Totem Within » as a bonus and titled the whole "Visions from the Forestsides", thus demonstrating his total respect for your music. Do you think it was a prime necessity to repress that material ? The idea was yours or his ? Were you lucky enough to get some copies to sell ? Tell me if you appreciate some of his killer releases ?
The idea of the re-release came from Dave. It could have happened earlier but he couldn..t reach us until we opened the Phlegethon myspace. Of course we digged the idea though we find it a less comfortable to listen to that early stuff, haha! Anyway, people keep asking about the availability of these demos so know they can have them in a cool packet with a cool booklet! It..ll be released somewhere in 2007. Yeah, I appreciate Daves releases like Demigod and Deathevocation.
23 - What are the next plans in the future ?
To get a good record deal and record our first full length album during this summer.
24 - Thanks for the answers bro, if you have something more to say, do it now or burn in heaven...
Thanks for the interview! Support Nerlich (Fin) and Eroded (Ita) !!!
Interview : Kanz-Noz