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Survivors Zero: A great day to die

Do you think that anything resembling piano- or synthesizer sounds, anything vaguely expressing the idea of “soft” or “atmospheric” is totally redundant in a music genre labelled “Metal” - well, then you will definitely enjoy this band which only recently appeared on the Finnish Metal canopy . However young in existence, this act can refer to many years of experience when it comes to the band members, recruited from e.g. Scourger, Deathchain or Finntroll: Tommi Virranta – voc, Seppo Tarvainen – dr, Sami Jämsén – git, Jani Luttinen – git and Tapio Wilska - bass+voc. The latter of those Metal veterans found time to satisfy STALKERs curiosity...

An Austrian friend was excited that there is finally a Finnish band which does NOT use keyboards and, as he put it, plays “real Metal”. So would you say that your style is indeed “untypical” for the Finnish Metal scene?
Not really, no. It is true that the most internationally recognized Finnish bands do have a more keyboard-oriented sound, but they do by no means represent all of the Finnish scene or what it might really be out there. There are a few good bands here, thrashing it out without noodling synths or even accordions and elf-ears. But it’s all up to the listener to decide whether we sound like COB or Ensiferum or stand out as ourselves. We just write music that feels relevant and good to us and try to concentrate on making our music to sound like us and playing what comes out naturally.

The band was formed because mastermind Sami Jämsen was sick of the Finnish music scene, what’s exactly wrong with it? Who’s to blame?
I personally have no need for any blame game. Sami I guess was unhappy stylistically and quality-wise with the majority of the stuff coming from Finland at that point in time, maybe still is. He’s a strict and tough dude, outspoken to the point of brutality. To me the Finnish scene is actually pretty damn good at the moment, diverse and some absolutely great bands do come from here. But still, Sami had his vision for what this band should bring to the table and I think we are getting there as time passes on.

As some band members are not exactly nobodies in the metal scene, the band got a lot of attention from the beginning on. Did it actually put more pressure on you or did it make things easier?
In this business you are just as good as the last thing you did. Obviously it helped us a lot that there was a lot of know how in the band for recording and such, and that all have been around the block a few times, so we could get around a lot of the bullshit bands step in in the beginning. And that there was a pre-existing web of contacts. But if you go to the bottom of it, it does not matter that much what you have done in previous lives, it’s only the material you are doing that counts.

Your debut album CMXCIX war recently released, the Roman numerals translate to 999 – is it as obvious as the reversed number of the beast or is there something else behind?
The most important meaning behind the name is a nice piece of history behind the album concept. The year 999 was the first year there was a panic all through the Christian world that the Armageddon was coming. Needless to say, it didn’t happen. All religions, especially Christianity has since offered multiple possible times for the end of the world, Harmageddon, the rapture, interpreted from vague scripture passages like the Revelations. This tied well into the lyrical theme of the man-made religions and the modern end-time religious sects. Let’s just say I’m not holding breath waiting 2012. Or maybe I’m wrong and the Annunaki from the planet Nibiru WILL conquer the earth or the Rapture will take all the Texan bible-wielding nutjobs or hardline Islamists and we’ll be left behind.

The lyrics are pretty much revolving around Satan, what is it inspired by?
Ass. Well, not really... It might seem the texts are satanic on the first glance, but if you read into them a bit more, you begin to understand a bit more where we are coming from. I am a definite atheist, but as an artist the left had path imagery captures a lot of what I want to say and convey. In this sense the texts are not really satanic but anti-religious and anti-dogmatic thinking. The symbolism of the character Satan the dissident, the fallen star, the adversary fascinates me, always has. A large chunk of the lyrics on this album are like my and Tommi’s personal manifesto on the world. You can find even political stuff there if you read into it a bit more…But to keep the death metal tradition alive, there’s the one obligatory serial killer song in there, as an homage to classic stuff like Macabre or Obituary…but still with my writing style ie. bit more abstract. More “Henry Lee” than “Fucked With A Knife”.

Do you believe that there’s a hell already waiting for you after you die?
Obviously not. Nor will there be any invisible sky-daddy up above. The point I haven’t still figured out in it’s entirety is if any energy will continue existing after death. The most likely option is that I will join the grand circle of nature and life, and after the life-sustaining processes stop, react with oxygen and fade away. As an avid naturalist I find this thought rather soothing and marvellous. But the ideas of personal deities I find a bit depressive really, how after all this history we have not been able to evolve beyond the need for spiritual crutches. The whole influence of these Abrahamic desert religions on our western culture is quite frankly sickening and sad. I just think we should have developed beyond these patriarchal, misogynist, anti-life, anti-human, sad traditions-

What influence did booze have on the record? There were a lot of alcohol appreciation remarks in the liner notes of the album...
We drink to relax, to wind down from the playing part. We definitely weren’t all shitfaced in the studio, this album would not be like this if it were played in all fucked up. But alcohol definitely is a great relaxant, when the work is done.

How would the album sound like if you only had “limsa” (= limonade)?
We more or less did. It’s a romantic idea that sensory chaos brings out better art, sadly it usually brings out boring , talentless music and hippie bullshit. The Burroughses, Bukowskis and Rimbauds are few and far between. Playing music like this is a physically demanding thing, so the alcohol consumption has to be limited outside the creative process. But I do think I wrote one lyric on this album quite messed up. I was very, very drunk at the moment…

Why is it that booze plays such a big role in the life of Finns anyway?
Genetics, cultural burden, how we were raised. You have to remember that until the 80’s and 90’s Finland was a very closed society with strict Lutheran values, and alcohol was a kind of a taboo. On the other we have a huge Slavic influence in our culture. We drink when we are happy, we drink when we are sad.

The music is maybe best described as old school Death Thrash Metal – does it feel like music-wise you’re rather taking 2 steps back than going forward, developing something new, never heard before?
Not really no. I see it as using my musical roots, which are firmly in the 80’s, and to mix it with the death metal tradition to bring something if not totally, completely new, but at least something that comes from the heart. And really, I think we have a recognizable sound within this scene.

What happened to good ol` Thrash anyway? Some dinosaurs-still-kickin` (Megadeth, Anthrax, Kreator), several re-unions/re-releases maybe - but then there´s this huge black void… so are you planning to fill this void?
Funny how a lot of the best albums in recent years have come from those old bands that either never quit or have reformed again, despite of never achieving the huge rock stardom or piles of money…referring to the likes of Sacrifice, Death Angel, Testament, Exodus…But I still find a lot of great bands holding that banner, they are just underground outside the lazy eye of the mainstream press or the people who are “metal” for this week only. We do not consider ourselves a thrash band, even if we have our roots there. We are mainly concerned in making good music, forgetting the labels. But I do have a lot of passion for old, dirty, fast and messy speed and thrash metal…

Live you’re covering Kreator’s “People of the Lie”, why this song?
For the love for old school metal. Being a die-hard since the first half of the 80’s, this is the stuff I (and the rest of the guys) really love. This particular gem from Mille has such a great riff, cool lyrics and an awesome feel…the song is straight up made to be played live. We were at first thinking of doing a great Testament number, but this just clicked in the studio. Jonas Kjällgren, our producer, was the one who suddenly came up with the idea that this was definitely the one. But we’ll see…the next cover we do might be something totally different. Or not. I have no idea. (Actually I do know, but it’s still a secret…you’ll see…)

At Tuska the host mentioned sth about a US tour that didn´t work out – what happened?
We were supposed to do a US tour with Finntroll, Moonsorrow and Swallow The Sun in April, but an anonymous bureaucrat at US Homeland Security decided we were not famous or successful enough to play in their precious country. So a few weeks before the start it was cancelled. Visas would have been ok, but we didn’t get work permits, so this killed this tour for us. Tough shit, but it (shit) happens. Let’s see how it goes in the future.

How was Tuska for you this year? There were a couple of bands that proved a certain Thrash revival feeling... so many kids with Megadeth T shirts, like not even BORN yet when the band´s major albums came out... does that give you some hope?
Tuska for us was awesome. We had an amazing slot to play and a lot of people came to see us. Lots of fun was had by all. Gigs and festivals like this always give me hope. But I believe that metal will always be there, independent of the trends or fashions. 90’s was bad for metal but it re-surfaced anyway. I have to admit that seeing Motörhead and AC/DC –shirts sold at H&M for teenagers who have never heard of those bands makes me a bit sick, but then again there always be the kids who find the old classics and get into it. Looking at kids like my godson gives me tremendous pride as they are keeping the underground roots of metal alive and well.

What was the worst thing you’ve survived?
Dunno…a couple of nearly fatal car accidents, getting beat up within an inch of my life, a few VERY drunken tours ending in severe sickness…let’s just say that the main point is to survive and not lose your self or your spirit. You should always acknowledge that today is a great day to die, without any regrets, but that every day above the ground is also a great day.


Author: Kathleen Gransalke/Klaudia Weber, photos: Surivors Zero, Klaudia Weber
Date: 2010-09-27

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