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Two Finnish Death Metal guys in a pub in Helsinki; a scenario that seems quite natural. Yet the conversation turned out slightly different to any expectations... If you want to know what Tommi Havo and Vesa Kääpä from Khert-Neter told STALKER about music therapy, Metal philosophy, their debut album "Images of Khepri" and drinking beer, just continue reading...
The band started as a side project of Finnish Battlelore/Horna-musicians in the late 90´s, named Kalmisto. Now with the new line-up Tommi Havo (git + voc), Vesa Kääpä (git), Anssi Mäkinen (b), Lars Holm (voc) and Enrico Huovinen (drums) they changed the name to Khert-Neter.
First question seems logical: why this bandname? Tommi: The old name was Kalmisto, it means “grave”, and Khert-Neter is basically the same thing but with a wider meaning, like the afterworld, grave or mystical place. I think it fits our musical and philosophical way of thought, my thought actually, but ... well... I ran into a translation of Kalmisto, it´s like Khert-Neter – “that which is beneath god”, so I started thinking: beneath God, what´s God? I think man is god, I am god, Vesa is a guitar god (laughter) What´s beneath god? Basically it´s everything, and nothing, hence Khert-Neter.
Not only the bandname, also the album title “Images of Khepri” refers to ancient Egypt. What is your connection with Egyptian culture? Tommi: It´s not such a big issue, just stuff that I like to read. They have those gods with animal heads, and when I was a kid it was really fascinating.
You are not the only one, also the Finnish author Mika Waltari ... his most famous book is “Sinuhe the Egyptian”... Tommi: I actually never read it (laughs) Vesa: Me neither... Tommi: I like to read encyclopedias, I deal with all the information myself and form my own ideas and ... it´s not about religion, I am in denial of all religions.
I assume there´s a general philosophy about the band, why you do what you do, what your lyrics deal with and what you would like to achieve with your music, except having fun playing it? Tommi: The images of Khepri, that´s about transformation. Khepri is the rising sun, so it´s like a state of our band, rising. Therefore all lyrics are about transformation. Anssi and Lars helped me writing them, I told them they should deal with transformation and what´s after transformation.
That sounds very philosophical to me... but let´s talk about the music. For me it´s more like traditional Death Metal, so why that? Tommi: I am a Black Metal veteran, so I transformed from Black to Death Metal, and this is from that part of my life...and it´s fun to play Death Metal, we just enjoy it very much. Vesa: It´s kind of normal to play some kind of Metal in Finland ... I like playing hard music like Death Metal, because it´s challenging.
Okay, so how come you play Metal music? Vesa: I think the reason why to choose Metal is changing negative aggression into positive things. Tommi: Yeah, definitely. For me it was Metallica´s “Master of Puppets”, I was a kid and it wasn´t Kirk Hammet but James Hetfield´s stuff that inspired me to pick up the guitar... usually the Black Metal guys say it´s Venom, and it should be one of these bands, but for me it was Metallica. But also that is not a big issue anymore... I was like 13 or 14 when I started playing, and the first band, I think, was some kind of Black Metal... Vesa: (laughs) Actually I started playing because of the bad influences of alcohol and things like that... Then my friend played guitar, and I so started to play, too, and the bad things were gone, and guitar and music took me ...
Sounds like music as therapy? You feel better after playing? Vesa: Yeah, of course, it´s a way of life and of getting to know yourself better, and to understand the world, things like that: in a kind of Japanese way, like the way of Karate – the way of music. Tommi: We had a moment on our last rehearsal, it was really great: we just close our eyes and play, it´s magnificent. The lyrics are also a kind of therapy, it´s not just the Egyptian theme...
Well, what you mentioned, Japanese philosophy and all that is basically about discipline, yet Rock´n´Roll is associated with no discipline at all ... so is discipline a big issue for your band or your life? Vesa: It´s really big issue, we are not so...(laughs) we like to do it right. Tommi: Mmmm ....well ... if you have a new song and we start rehearsing, we do it with discipline, and we should do it right, without mistakes. Of course there are always some but... well, this Japanese thing like Zen, it´s relaxed ... Vesa: Real feelings come from discipline. If you take alcohol and play you could get that feeling easily, but when you do it sober, it´s not so easy anymore... so I think that´s the biggest issue in playing music. Tommi: It feels good playing when you´re drunk, but you make mistakes very easily Vesa: Well, just to mention, while we are talking here we´re drinking beer... (laughter)
Back to music: how would you describe the development of the band, your style, the Finnish scene... Finland is rather known for melodic Death Metal that even reaches European charts nowadays. You sound much more Old School to me... Vesa: Because this is inside of us, we cannot decide what comes out – it just comes. But you also should use the head making music (laughs) Tommi: I don´t like those melodic Death Metal bands, I like the old At The Gates but I don´t think it´s too melodic. I like Morbid Angel very much, maybe that´s some kind of influence. And there is something about this Old School stuff – maybe it sounds too nice with all the melodies, we like it low and crushing. Vesa: And often melodic DM is missing something – balls (laughter). I think musicians are developing and playing better, because of Kai Hahto (Ex-Rotten Sound) and Alexi Laiho and all the Children of Bodom guys. It´s really good that people who start to play also start to think about what they play; you have to do it right to be understood by the audience. If you play lousy I think you cannot get your message across. Tommi: I don´t actually know too much about the scene in Finland. It took me a year to realize that Pantera is no more. I think it´s good that bands reach the charts, just because there are so many people who are into Metal they buy those records, so it´s kind of natural. It makes people who play Metal better, they have to do it right, if they think they can go to charts they should play perfect. Vesa: There is some kind of competition, you cannot deny that. It´s human nature. Tommi: So much for the Metal brothers (laughter)
Did the situation change for you, e. g. is it now easier to play gigs, more money? Tommi: It has been very difficult for us to get gigs. We are from the underground, maybe it´s not the same thing for the bigger bands, I guess they can get gigs very easily Vesa: And there is also quite an amount of bad luck (laughs) Tommi: Cancellation of some gigs, even the release party for this album, with a live appearance Vesa: It was cancelled... Tommi: All the guys are working, it´s difficult to get a time schedule for gigs or rehearsals.
But you still dream of becoming professional musicians? Tommi: It´s not about that, about money or fame, to get fans... making music is in our hearts, we just enjoy ourselves, all guys in the band are good friends ... it´s just our lives, basically. Vesa: There is two ways of playing music: playing for your account or playing for your life. It´s a combination of these – we all do it because playing is fun, and of course... well, I think all musicians are a bit into the media...
Your debut album was recorded last year in the small Studio Äänikäpälä, without computers or digital manipulation. You produced and financed your debut album yourselves... Why did you decide to record it analogue style? Vesa: The idea for doing the record that way was: we wanted to do a root thing, captured live on the record. The next step was to choose the way to do it. We came up with two options: to go to summer cottage and renting the equipment – we found it too difficult to do, so we went to a studio, because equipment was there already. Tommi: We rented the studio, and it was very clear for us to do it that way. Well, basically because of the financial issues. It´s not very cheap to go to the real studios. Vesa: The recording process altogether took about one month, stretched onto half a year... Tommi: Some days recording, some days off... that was fun to do, we had a great time, we went to studio, made some coffee, sausages in the fireplace and slowly developing the sounds...
So you never had big arguments? Tommi: No never, just go with the flow Vesa: Yeah, we are adult people. It wasn´t so rough... well, except for me, I almost burned out (laughs) Tommi: He was always in the studio... Vesa: ... 24/7 or something like that (laughs) Tommi: I´ve known him for ten years or something, I don´t think it affected our friendship in any way. Vesa: We are basically the same – well, in a way all people are... we don´t demand so much from each other, I think that is the main reason we don´t argue much. Tommi: We demand from ourselves so much that ... Vesa: ... the other doesn´t have to demand. (laughter)
Finally, what do you think about Lordi playing at the European Song Contest?
Both: AAAAH (laughter) Vesa: Really interesting, because what´s the big issue? It´ just having fun, nothing really evil, just art and music. And it´s the Finnish peoples´ choice, so what´s the reason to complain? Finland always sucks at Eurovision so they have to try everything ... but Lordi is good.
Photo by Klaudia Weber (all others: T. Hokanen)
Could you imagine, ever, that you would do the same, if you got invited? Vesa: I think Finland is not so desperate (laughs) Tommi: I don´t think they ever invite us... Vesa: If Death Metal ever becomes popular and we are invited, what would be the reason not to go there? Tommi: Well, perhaps we should sell some records first ... (laughter)