Oranssi Pazuzu: Leaving the castle of sound

After the collaborative project Waste of Space Orchestra, Oranssi Pazuzu needed to figure out themselves again. After signing a worldwide recording deal with metal giant Nuclear Blast, they are now ready to conquer the world on their own terms. “Mestarin kynsi”, the follow up to 2016's album “Värähtelijä”, is a challenging trip of horrific, cinematic and psychedelic black metal that offers no compromises. 

Not just a wall of sound, but a whole castle of sound. That's how Toni Hietamäki (also known by his alias Ontto), the bass player from Oranssi Pazuzu describes Waste of Space Orchestra. Waste of Space Orchestra was a commissioned collaboration with a fellow Tampere based band Dark Buddha Rising, that performed at Roadburn Festival in 2018 and recorded and released their opus titled "Syntheosis" the following year – which you can read more about in our article.

After the collaborative work, things didn't feel the same with Oranssi Pazuzu. Hietamäki says that the project made an huge impact on the band's creative ideology and process.

"The line-up of ten musicians created this massive, ponderous music with breathtaking scenery", Hietamäki depicts.

"And as the five Buddhas continued their journey after the project, we were left wondering what happened. Why do we sound so tiny, where's the low end?"

Oranssi Pazuzu made a choice to go the other way. Instead of trying to top the heaviness of Waste of Space Orchestra they stripped down their sound. They emphasized the sharp, proggy turns and focused on the tight intensity that they've build as a band over the years – which is also something that couldn't be done on their side project.

"A ship of that size doesn't turn so promptly", says singer and guitarist Juho Vanhanen (a.k.a. Jun-His) says and nails rather on point how their new album "Mestarin kynsi" (2020) differs from not only from Waste of Space Orchestra but even Oranssi Pazuzu's earlier work. 

Sophisticated aggression

If their previous album, the  Pitchfork-touted Nordic Music Prize nominee“Värähtelijä” (2016) built tension and summoned nightmarish moods, on “Mestarin kynsi” the band aggressively opens the doors and dives in head first without a clue what to expect next. 

"We've been trying to create an atmosphere that you can sense, before any visual aspect gets involved in it. For example, if you're watching the movie Once Upon a Time in the West, you can be set to a specific mood the exact second you hear that harmonica", Vanhanen describes.

Hietamäki names improvisation as a basic tool in Oranssi Pazuzu's repertoire. Usually their jams would develop into some direction and lead to a certain structure. But on this album they've scrapped the approach: the new songs start from the zone they previously would work their way into.

Think about 1970's Elton John and Fleetwood Mac. Even the seemingly tiniest detail has an enormous effect on how the song proceeds from that

The basic elements of Oranssi Pazuzu are still there. The band's foundation is the trance inducing repetitive riffs. There's layers of detailed worlds built upon them, but everything seems more mature and sophisticated than before. Even in the most cacophonous maelstroms every single note and sound seems to have its place and significance. I try to offer 2010's Swans as an aesthetic comparison, but Vanhanen has a more surprising viewpoint.

"Think about 1970's Elton John and Fleetwood Mac. Even the seemingly tiniest detail has an enormous effect on how the song proceeds from that", Vanhanen says.

Watch the album trailer for "Mestarin kynsi"

Deeper connections

Last fall Oranssi Pazuzu inked a worldwide record deal with Nuclear Blast, one of the biggest metal labels in the world. That meant a split with Svart Records, their home since 2013’s “Valonielu”. The small Finnish label, awarded with Music Finland’s Music Export Award last year, is a treasury of Finnish underground music. Svart has released acclaimed albums ranging from Hexvessel's occult folk to K-X-P's space rave and Beastmilk's post-punk to Death Hawks' eclectic psychedelic rock and Ghost World's indie rock.

"Svart was a good companion to us. We had complete artistic freedom and good relations with them. We weren't unhappy with the situation, but when the opportunity was presented to us, we were intrigued to see how the world would react to our art – we don't have anything to lose", Hietamäki says. 

Signing with a bigger label, which houses giants like Dimmu Borgir and Sabaton, can provide more "first impressions" among the metal community, but the rest is up to the band and their music. Just like in the underground world, there are no shortcuts.

When the opportunity was presented to us, we were intrigued to see how the world would react to our art

On the visual side, Oranssi Pazuzu decided to partner up with Zev Deans, the director best known from his stunning visual work for the band Ghost. Deans paired the album's lead single Uusi teknokratia with a cinematic video (scroll down to watch it) where Fritz Lange's Metropolis meets cosmic horror. The visual supported perfectly the track's story about controlling minds – albeit most of the listeners wouldn't have a clue about it as the lyrics are sung in Finnish.

 "Even though our lyrics are in Finnish, it seems that people who relate with our art can find deeper meanings and connections in it. In my interpretation, the world is moving towards the direction where an overall atmosphere is more meaningful than the language we use", Vanhanen reflects.

Not faking it

As record sales have plummeted since the glory days of the CD, most bands – pardon the exaggeration – have turned into touring T-shirt merchants. Oranssi Pazuzu makes an exception to that as well. They've been prudent on playing live and touring and that's not about to change.

"I believe we'll tour as seldom as before", Vanhanen grins.

"We like playing live and touring, but it needs to happen for strong reason: there must be something new and fresh to bring to the table. We are lousy at faking it, so we have to be actually excited about our material. That keeps us on our toes. I honestly believe that routine resonates in a bad way with us", Vanhanen confesses.

"We've taken a conscious philosophy about it. Our gigs need to be strong experiences. If we play too often, it devours our intensity and creativity. This is a thing that Nuclear Blast fully understood", Hietamäki adds.

This spring, Oranssi Pazuzu was supposed to play the respected underground metal festivals Roadburn and Copenhell but, as we all are aware, Covid-19 happened. Hopefully the pandemic clears before the fall as the band is ready to hit the road for an 18-date European tour. 

Photo by: Rainer Paananen

Fans in high places

Oranssi Pazuzu has also been scheduled to appear at Helsinki's Tuska Open Air Metal Festival this summer, sharing the stage with bands such as High on Fire and countless others. High on Fire’s frontman Matt Pike, also known from stoner metal pioneers Sleep, recently appeared on an episode of Amoeba Music's popular Youtube series What's in My Bag?. Pike praised Oranssi Pazuzu and announced on camera, that he would want to tour with the Finns. Oranssi Pazuzu are excited about the idea, no doubt.

"High on Fire is among the few modern metal bands that sound aggressive and dangerous. That's rare nowadays. Sleep on the other hand has significantly influenced the way we think about low frequencies, their ecstatic physical and spiritual levels", Vanhanen says.

Sleep has significantly influenced the way we think about low frequencies, their ecstatic physical and spiritual levels

"So, yeah, we could go on a journey with them", Hietamäki smirks. "...and there has been some talks about that."

Another distinguished Oranssi Pazuzu fan can be found in the Metallica camp. James Hetfield has seen sporting the band's shirt on a couple of occasions. This is the moment when it’s time for Hietamäki and Vanhanen to hit the brakes. All Oranssi Pazuzu listeners are equally valuable, the musicians emphasize.

"I think the essential point here is, that there's an artist, who has made a living from music for such a long time, and he is still interested in what's happening in music and arts currently. That's a positive thought and a desirable goal", Vanhanen closes.

Oranssi Pazuzu's "Mestarin kynsi" is out now on Nuclear Blast records. Read rave reviews of the album from Metal Hammer, Distorted Sound, Chicago Reader and Metal Wani.


Oranssi Pazuzu: Mestarin kynsi

(Nuclear Blast, 2020)