Obsession is a double edged sword. Obviously, obsessions can drive you to get things done. That constant compulsion can prompt and prod you to get your music recorded, your short story written, your mile time down. It can be a wonderful tool to strive toward constant improvement and perfection. Of course, the dark side of obsessions are easy to see as well. It’d be hard to say that your average serial killer or fiend in the night is anything other than obsessed with the hunt for a victim and the creation of fresh corpses. Corpsessed, you might even say.
Formed in 2007, Finnish death metallers Corpsessed have been taking their enthusiastic infatuation with death metal to new heights with each album they release. Starting with the 2011 EP The Dagger and the Chalice, Corpsessed has sharpened their death metal credentials through a series of varied but always worthwhile full-lengths, culminating in the soon to be released (April 22) Succumb to Rot, the band’s fourth full-length record. I recently talked with guitarist Matti Mäkelä about his band’s history as well as what fans can expect when the new record drops.
First off, I always like to start by finding out a bit about how the band started so how did you guys meet and decide to form Corpsessed? I know you guys have had an incredibly consistent lineup, what has kept you guys going so strong as a group for so long?
Matti: Well… I had basically had the urge to start a death metal band already back in – I don’t know – late 90s, perhaps, when I was in my teenage years, but all of the bands I joined or started ended up becoming something else instead, mostly in the doom territory, so for a long time I didn’t have that right output to channel those rotting ideas into. I guess it was around ‘05 or ‘06 when I was asked to do some session bass-playing for a local band in Järvenpää (the small and somnolent city we live in near Helsinki) when I met (Jussi-Pekka Manner, drums) and later also (Niko Matilainen, vocals). We seemed to share a similar passion for extreme music and, in January 2007, decided to form a band of our own, which was to be a more serious one and purely death metal. I took over the guitars (which is my main instrument anyways) and we asked my friend (Jyri Lustig) to join as the other guitarist, as we felt this type of music needed the weight of two guitars. Us four are still the core of the band today. With bass players – we’ve had some changes within our ranks but (Tuomas Kulmala) has been with us now since 2015 so it’s been fairly consistent! What keeps us together? Above all, friendship, enjoying each other’s company and the love for the music. The achievements we’ve managed to accomplish this far with the band absolutely also motivate us and we have a strong belief in what we do and that there are still many many things out there yet to fulfill. Also the fact that we make the music for ourselves in the first place, and have an internal need to have this output where we can channel our ideas into and see them flourish – or rot…
How did you guys get into death metal and who are your influences within the genre? Outside of the genre, what do you guys like to listen to?
Matti: Like I said in the previous answer, the interest towards death metal grew on me already in the mid nineties at a very young age. I think it was roughly around ’95 (me being a 13-year old teenager) when I was completely drawn to the world of extreme music, even though I had dipped my toes into metal already some years earlier with your basic Metallica’s and Sepultura’s, which were huge in Finland back then. But by the mid ’90s I was ALL IN with the extreme side of metal with a great backlog of death metal classics to dive into (my favorite and perhaps even the first introductions to the genre being the debut albums by Deicide and Sentenced – which I still listen to this day) and I was also absolutely obsessed with black metal, and also by soundtrack music (contemporary neo-classic, etc.) to movies and dark ambient… basically anything with a tangible darkness to it. The seeds for my fascination were sown already much earlier in my childhood. At home I was subjected to various forms of music by my parents as a kid – with my mom constantly playing in the stereo some ’80s stuff like Genesis, Queen, Bon Jovi, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, etc. and my dad being more into Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, and some Black Sabbath. I was also absolutely hooked on MTV which I watched almost every day during the late ’80s, even though I didn’t understand that much English yet – but I knew I was obsessed with music. The influences today are still pretty much the same, the list of bands would be just too long but in a short general idea, the early ’90s Finnish death metal plays a huge role, also many American, British, and some Swedish death metal bands, too. The influence of ’90s black metal can not be denied either and the more extreme variants of doom. I still also have a constant hunger for new music regardless of the genre. I know the rest of the guys in the band also have very broad tastes in music from almost any genre as well.
You guys have a really awesome sound and I love that every album retains the core of what makes Corpsessed Corpsessed, while also managing to distinguish itself from the previous albums, such as Abysmal Thresholds having that reverb-heavy atmosphere and then being followed up with the cleaner Impetus of Death. How do you guys decide on the sound for each album and how would you describe the Corpsessed sound overall?
Matti: It’s usually really organic and represents the feeling we had at that given time of the creation of each album. Also, some of the “production choices” are not that conscious, really. We use the stuff and the skills we have available at each time and experiment with what we have. Perhaps our albums can be seen production-wise also as a trajectory of trying to get better and always just closer to the idea and the sound the band has live, and also upgrading our gear as we go along. All of our stuff has been self-recorded by me with some help here and there from within and outside of the band. But what I can say is that recording music, the production side of it and trying to figure out how to capture sounds and mix, it has always been one of my main interests. My first steps into creating music started somewhere in the mid ’90s as well (I seem to keep returning to that era! Hah!) with Trackers (Fast Tracker 2, Impulse Tracker, etc) on PC where the idea was to create and compose full songs with those primitive sample libraries. I did this before I even knew how to play any instrument, and basically the Trackers were my gateway into getting my first guitar, as I wanted to play those compositions I had made “for real.” I can see this dabbling and messing around with trying to create music on the PC Trackers as a precursor to starting to record music with real instruments in DAWs (or portable tape machines) and the idea behind it is pretty much the same, but learning to create those sounds yourself on actual instruments without the samples, and building music piece by piece to convey your ideas. This fascinates me endlessly even today and I’m always itching for a new project to record – to gain more experience and to get better at it, but mostly from just the enjoyment I get out of the process, which can at the same time be very consuming as well.
What is the writing process like for the music side of things? Do you have a primary songwriter or is it a collective effort? You guys always have interesting compositions that make each album feel like its own unique beast.
Matti: In the beginning the primary songwriter was me. I think all of the stuff on the first EP, The Dagger & The Chalice, was written by me, but with every album the rest of the members have chimed in more and more, which is great! Usually with the songs we create, there’s always a prime writer for the track who creates the bulk of the riffs and base skeleton of the ideas and then brings it to the rehearsals. The next step is us arranging the song to its final form together with the full band, everyone chiming in with ideas and arrangements, perhaps throwing in even new parts if the song calls for it. So in that sense all of it can be seen as a group effort. With every album, each track is first worked separately but then when we have enough material we also start looking at the whole picture, on how they would fit together to form an album which also would need to have elements and themes that tie everything together. That, I think, makes each album have an identity of its own.
What is the lyric writing process like and where do you draw your inspirations from? Your lyrics are always very heavy and thematic and frequently touch on occult subject matter. What appeals to you about the darker aspects of existence for your lyrics? One of my favorite things about death metal is that it doesn’t shy away from things that some people would rather not discuss. I personally always feel like life is richer if you take the darkness along with the light.
Matti: The lyrics were also handled solely by me in the beginning, but same as with the music – as we progressed and everyone felt more comfortable, the lyric writing duties are nowadays also spread to almost all members of the band. On the new album, I think I wrote the lyrics to four tracks, NM wrote two, and JL and J-PM each wrote one. We all have our different set of interests and the way we use language to convey our ideas. I tend to approach the lyrics always from a more occult angle, perhaps, but everything starts with a story you want to tell. The idea behind the story can come from anything, usually something from your regular life, a conversation or an idea you came across from literature, a movie or anything… something that peaked your interest, stuck into your mind and formed an arc or narrative. To make the words fit the concept, they of course need to be portrayed in a fitting manner and this is where the choice of language, vocabulary, and obscure analogies come to play. I never want to tell anything absolutely directly, and there will always be room for interpretation. One very important aspect are the rhythmical patterns as well. They need to go hand in hand with the music – as do the themes and imagery the words want to paint. And because the music is dark, blunt and savage – so are the words to it.
The new album is called Succumb to Rot and comes out pretty soon. What was the recording/writing process like for that one and can you tell me a little about what fans can expect from the newest record? Will this one have similar themes and concepts as the previous records or should we expect the unexpected?
Matti: If you are familiar with our previous works, there are no big surprises – it’s still very much a crushing death metal album so we’ve not changed styles or anything, but we hope people find the compositions interesting as we worked on them a lot! Also, to keep things interesting to ourselves, there are some new elements present too. We’ve had some synth passages on all of our albums to bring some atmosphere and effects to the music, but this time instead of doing them myself I asked my close friend (Lauri Lindqvis from Matti’s other band, Tyranny) if he could provide some analog synth parts to spice things up, and we dived deep into crafting soundscapes reminiscent of ’80s horror movies as they would fit this album perfectly. So that’s one small addition to the music. On top of that, this might be our fastest album to date – but we try to keep the songs quite varied in tempos and arrangements.
The writing process for this album started probably somewhere around 2018 or 2019. At least from what I remember, already in 2019 we had most of the stuff written. That year was mostly filled with gigs in Europe so the new material remained on the back-burner as we concentrated on the live sets. The year 2020 however brought everything to a halt with the COVID pandemic and this is when we started to really work on the new album. Midsummer 2020, we demoed all of the songs and then took some time to listen to these versions and made some final arrangements, and finally during the winter months of 2020-2021, we recorded again the final album versions of all of the tracks. The spring and summer of 2021 were used to complete the artwork and mastering.
After that we had to wait for an excruciatingly long time to get the album out due to the long lines at vinyl pressing plants and COVID affecting everything. But here we are now in 2022 with the album being released at the end of April on CD, digital and tape — vinyl will follow hopefully soon. As for the themes of the album – it in some sense is the conclusion to what was started with Impetus of Death. This is the inevitable closure and statement where everything is bound to die, rot, and disintegrate into nothingness by the relentless forces of entropy and chaos. But as always, the carnal side walks hand in hand with spiritual and themes of hauntings and demonic possession are very much present with the more nihilistic views on death as the inevitable part of life itself.
I imagine that being multiple albums deep into your careers now, recording and writing the latest is a much different experience than when you put out Abysmal Thresholds. How has the process changed for you all and do you know more exactly what you want when you step into the studio now?
Matti: In some regards a lot, but then again not that much. We still don’t use any professional studios but opt to do everything ourselves – most likely not a very wise decision? Hah! The gear we have has improved and maybe we have a lot of new tricks up our sleeve and are more in control/know better what it is that we are even doing, and not relying that much on pure luck and coincidence. But then again, the fundamentals behind it are still very much the same. We just practice, rehearse, rehearse and play together a lot until the songs are in a really tight form and then decide to record them, with the aim to capture the songs how they sound in the rehearsal room. Sometimes the production choices have been what they are (sketchy – to say the least), mostly due to us not really even knowing what we are doing but just forging ahead with pure enthusiasm, using only what we have currently available. Nowadays the gear for sure is better so it helps, and what we want can be achieved more easily. And of course, it’s a constant learning curve I wish to get better at. Recording and mixing are some of the most interesting aspects to music (next to playing live or composing) for me, and that’s also why I have always felt the need to also record everything we do myself.
As a band, you’ve always been pretty consistent with getting music out to the fans. Has the pandemic/lockdowns affected you at all with that, and how have you had to adjust to a very different world that seemingly changed overnight?
Matti: During the start of the pandemic we did not rehearse for a couple of months, (we were) just trying to avoid social contact, but luckily we’ve since then returned to the more stable routine of rehearsing and playing together. Of course the whole world closing down was a huge shock at first. All of the gigs that we had in our calendars were gone, rehearsals went on a halt for a while, everything just seemed to stop. It certainly knocked the wind from our sails for quite a while! The situation was frustrating, but as things moved along we just had to make some moves and do something – and this was when we started to prepare the upcoming album. So in that sense it was good to have a break from the constant rehearsing of a live set, and have the time to fine tune every little detail for the album. To alleviate the anxiety of not being able to play live, we also recorded one of our rehearsals (done live onto 16 audio tracks and three video angles) and titled it the Furnace Sessions – it’s on the band’s YouTube page, go check it out. Even though it will never feel the same as an actual live performance, it was something fun to do… so we might do another one later.
I love the album art for your releases and, if I’m being totally honest, the cover of Impetus of Death was what initially made me pick up one of your records. Who does your artwork and how much direction do you give them? Back to Impetus of Death, what is the story behind that cover? The creature on it is a real Lovecraftian nightmare that’s insanely striking. Staying with the artwork, could you explain to me the themes behind the latest cover? Again, it’s a brutal piece of art that really makes me ready to hear the record that it’s representing!
Matti: Thank you for the compliments. Back when Impetus of Death was released, the cover art really split people’s opinions – some absolutely hated it, and then again the others were fascinated by it. We even still today hear comments about it, with or against it.The cover is indeed very haunting and Lovecraftian, painted with oil on canvas by Mattias Frisk (also from the band Vanhelgd). The way we work with artists is pretty much the same every time. We give them the full music (or the demo versions if the music is not ready yet) to listen to, the lyrics, and the themes of what the album is about as guidelines and then give them free reign to produce their vision of what will be on the cover art. With smaller pieces, we usually have more specific demands, but the cover images are always from the imagination of the artists themselves based on the feelings they got from our album. It’s the exact same method we used also on the new album Succumb to Rot but this time with a different artist, Vladimir ‘Smerdulak’ Chebakov. The cover is his impression of our music and the themes of the album, which I think I already touched on.
Finland has always produced a ton of quality death metal bands. What has the scene been like for you guys and what do you think it is about your home country that makes it such a fertile breeding ground for death bands?
Matti: I don’t know what makes it a fertile breeding ground really… back in my youth we had loads of possibilities to grab instruments at school, and even the city we lived in offered cheap rehearsal places for kids – it was encouraged to start hobbies like playing music. Don’t know if it really is like this these days, my experience dates back more than 20 years. But for sure, there has always been a strong culture of music within the Finnish youth and metal has had its place in the hearts of many, be it due to our cultural leanings, the environment we are in, the darkness, nature, or heritage or whatever… I really don’t know. For us, the scene has been quite welcoming from the start ever since we started playing live – be it the audience or other bands especially. There are many bands who we have formed great friendships with over the years. (When it) comes to quality … yes, I agree – Finnish bands have always been very skillful. There’s a bit of a double edged thing I have observed which may cause this. On the positive side, I can note that bands support each other and that can benefit everyone giving them more opportunities, and also in improving. Then again on the negative side – there has also always been this mentality that you need to prove yourself and your worth and “shitty” bands aren’t really revered that much within the circles inside Finland. In my youth you could also observe a somewhat bullying mentality when it came to extreme metal, where the weaker bands were either shunned out or forced to step up their game due to the pressure. So you could say there was a certain competitive mentality amongst the bands – be it between genres, regionally or even within the same circles. Not sure if this is happening today – I’ve noticed a cultural shift with younger generations who seem more positive and tolerant than the older ones. Perhaps even the old grumps are more friendly these days amongst peers than in decades prior.
All three of your records have been released through Dark Descent Records, which has been a great home to a variety of death metal bands over the years. What has their support meant to you?
Matti: Dark Descent certainly has helped showing the band to the world, especially in the beginning and we’ve had a personal relationship with the label-head Matt (Calvert) over the years, meeting him multiple times in person. I know the label is still to this day a passion project for him and he just does what he likes. So the resources we work with are limited in that sense as he does not really feel the need or want to make the label any bigger than it is, but the music he puts out speaks for itself and I have been pleased that it has been able to find an audience and the people who are really into this kind of stuff, which can be very niche in the end.
Lastly, what’s next for the band after Succumb to Rot? Do you have touring plans for the record and what are your goals for the future of the band?
Matti: Let’s see… At the moment we are already writing new material but the process will take time as usual. We of course hope people will discover the new album, as we spent great amounts of time and effort crafting it and hope it will not go unnoticed. We have not made any touring plans for this year, COVID and the constant uncertainty of everything has not really allowed us, and there will be some additions to some of our band members’ families this year, so tours are not really that doable. But the intention is to hit the stages back again when it’s again more feasible. We have a couple of European festivals lined up for 2022, and we’ll probably try to squeeze in a couple of more weekend gigs. So keep your eyes peeled, we’ll be back!