Oranssi Pazuzu and the Beauty of Escapism in a World Gone Mad

Giving music air to breathe isn’t something that we as a consumer are used to doing in this day and age. In an era where streaming platforms are king and new music is so disposable, the idea of sitting down with an album, really taking it in and building a relationship with the material seems like a bit of a foreign process these days. At the time of writing, however, the whole world is in a strange, bleak scenario of a global pandemic and people are spending a lot more time indoors. 

When Finnish psychedelic black metal band Oranssi Pazuzu dropped their new record, the idea of it being put out into a world in which most are stuck at home was not something they could have planned for. But clocking in at just under an hour, Mestarin Kynsi is an album which requires some dedication from the listener.

It is a further expansion of the unique world the band have created. Throughout their back catalogue the band have invited listeners to delve deep into the black chambers of the cosmos, both inner and outer. Though their latest offering is not strictly a direct continuation of their 2016 release Värähtelijä, they are nevertheless both part of the same larger picture, with intriguing themes that they seemingly want the listener to take something away from.

“On this record we still remain on the idea of mind structure,” vocalist and guitarist Jun-His tells us. “But this time we are looking more at the idea of brainwashing and the idea of power of control.” 

Oranssi Pazuzu are a group of musicians who have never been afraid of pushing boundaries within the black metal tag in which they find themselves, adding a truly psychedelic feel to what they are producing. This isn’t something that the quintet shy away from and Jun-His openly admits that the band have always been a fusion band rather than a traditional black metal outfit: “We are not metal musicians and that is not our background. But we wanted to create that raw atmosphere that is associated with the traditional black metal sound, but we wanted to do it on our own terms and not imitate the styles of people who have come from the second-wave of black metal or what people associate with the Scandinavian black metal scene.”

So when it comes to crafting something as grand as Mestarin Kynsi, the guitarist explains that the five members want to stir up a sense of bringing abstract thoughts into reality for the listener. “When we go into the writing process we try to have a new mark or goal that we want to achieve each time we go somewhere,” he reveals. “So that we don’t come up with the same ideas, and as a group we actively encourage the idea of bringing abstract thought into our music and once that happens we make sure that we are all working towards the same idea.”

“For us the trigger in the imagination is really important in our process, not just for us, but to spark that in our audience as well,” he continues. “No ideas are left unexplored. We usually try and find something new out of these ideas. It ends up being a combination of rational mind and intuitive mind and these things coming together helps us create the world we have made for ourselves. It is important that you need to get into that world when we are in the rehearsal space, otherwise what we create won’t feel like a Oranssi Pazuzu record.”

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With the new album being the first the band has released since signing to Nuclear Blast, there was a sense of trepidatious anticipation surrounding what the end result would provide. “We wanted to exhibit our art to a wider audience,” Jun-His admits. “But it isn’t something we overly think about because if we do this band will go to shit.”

The band’s roots lie in surrealist rock, with both Jun-His and drummer Korjak previously playing in the band Kuolleet Intiaanit, and this past has inspired their output since, bleeding into the work of Oranssi Pazuzu. This surrealist sound can be, at times, difficult to consume, and it would be fair to say that Oranssi Pazuzu may not be the most easily digestible of bands to the Joe Bloggs metal fan. So with Mestarin Kynsi being released on a label known for putting out albums from big names like Immortal, King Diamond and Nightwish, you could be forgiven for expecting a watered-down version of their previous material in an attempt to appeal to the wider metal audience.

Instead, the result is a subtly altered version of Oranssi Pazuzu, allowing audiences to be welcomed into their world and then left to their own devices to really explore it. “We are capable of thinking that we want to reach a bigger audience with our music,” Jun-His explains. “But it isn’t something this band is thriving on and it wasn’t something we thought about before signing to Nuclear Blast.”

“We wanted to be catchier on this album,” he agrees. “We wanted to introduce something that would catch your attention but then introduce you to a different atmosphere that can be more shocking. I think if you have something that is a bit more catchy it is easy to have that as a tool to guide you through the space, and that is something that we really thought about when it came to this record… We wanted to give the listener something to follow, but then when you start looking around you will realise there is a lot going on.”

From the get-go, space travel has been a key theme in the band’s take on black metal, from the astronaut donning the cover of 2009 debut Muukalainen Puhuu to the loose cosmic narrative of 2011’s Kosmonument. And even though this most recent offering from the band still, in parts, follows this narrative it is a lot more open-ended than some of their previous work. There has always been a core sense of hopelessness in the face of the universe when it comes to Oranssi Pazuzu’s stargazing sounds, but despite the darkness in the band’s output, there is beauty to be found in the bleakness – Mestarin Kynsi acquires its audience before opening them up to such themes.

As Jun-His states, the five members of the band just act as a guiding hand through the record, whatever thoughts and conclusions are made from the music are truly down to the listener and what feelings they take away from it. However, whatever conclusions can be made about the album don’t just impact the fans consuming it, but also the band members creating it. With so much going into the process of writing the records, Jun-His tells us there has to be something that the band can find in it for themselves, otherwise it is not worth putting the piece of music together. 

“We show a path to the consumer,” he says. “But it is down to the listener how it is interpreted and for us the process is quite psychological, and we hope that our audience have that same psychological journey. For us it is about finding something new about ourselves as well, and we hope that the listener has a similar experience. Even though there are themes which run throughout the record the whole thing is open to interpretation.”

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Oranssi Pazuzu act as the guiding hand through their music, but the consumer also has to do their part to appreciate the album’s full experience. The world is currently in a situation where no one really knows exactly what is going on or when things may return to some state of normality, but the Finnish five-piece have created a piece of escapism, though what form that takes is down to the individual listener. 

Like with any band once an album is released, Jun-His is in the midst of promoting the record when we speak, but due to lockdown procedures he’s having to take a slightly different, tour-less approach. That being said, the vocalist does believe that people having more time on their hands has likely helped them dive into Mestarin Kynsi on a deeper level. “There is nothing anyone can do in this situation,” he tells us. “We had to think, ‘Okay we have the album out. Let’s concentrate on that, do what we can and release something special and start thinking things through a little differently than we would when we usually promote a record.’ At the moment people have more time on their hands and our music is something that requires people’s attention, so maybe they can dive a little deeper into this record because people are staying at home and listening to music a lot more. So we are trying to find a silver lining in that sense.” 

Indeed, different interpretations of the band’s new album have been made, as reading an array of reviews will tell you. Regardless of any differing opinions on the themes, though, there’s certainly a consensus on the remarkably high quality of the album, with most pointing out the cinematic scope and atmosphere. John Carpenter comparisons have run amok, but this much is not surprising. The band have gone on record saying they are big film fans, and Jun-His admits that the members of the band consciously put a lot of thought into what visuals their music may muster when it is being listened to. 

“We think a lot about the dramatic curve of the music and when to set the tense of what we are playing or when to dismantle it or provide some closure,” the vocalist tells us. “We think about how that curve plays out throughout the record but also on each song. But for us, it also needs to conjure some cinematic or psychedelic vision so that we can visualise what we are doing. If we don’t have that we probably won’t use it.”

Right now, the band are unable to share this vision with fans in the flesh. But by releasing Mestarin Kynsi in a time of uncertainty, the record has given the metal world a piece of art that walks the fine line between bleak and beautiful, providing listeners with a piece of escapism desperately needed in the world right now.

Mestarin Kynsi is out now on Nuclear Blast. Order here.

Words: Tim Birkbeck

Pics: Tekla Valy