TTI: Is II: Morphosis just a bulk of emotions and ideas that you translated to sound, by squeezing out what was in your souls over the last four years, or an effort that should represent something deeper and more substantial to its listeners than merely 40 minutes of musical escapism?
Cruciatus: I guess that in the end, it’s just a bundle of emotions, a tightly compressed bulk of some kind of a dark matter I have dug out from inside over the last, not only four, but ten years. But then again, what do these emotions stand for? Do they represent matters fleeting and superficial, or something deeper and substantial? I think that the sentiments derived to music can reflect the deeper end, the darkest regions of my mind, my abstract inner realms, my philosophies and even my beliefs. There are things I cannot grasp or express through other means except music, which to me as a tool and a process is closer to chaos than something premeditated or calculated. I’d say it’s more like channeling visions from eldritch spheres rather than writing 40 minutes of music for the sake of writing 40 minutes of music.
But with our music being death metal, the escapism factor is also there. I mean the lyrics are rich with horror flavors, cultivating the occasional Lovecraft reference and preferring fiction and storytelling over quoting occult dictionaries and so forth. The music itself is the main vessel for speaking more profound languages, as it comes more directly from a more unexplainable source. Of course, our music has its external influences, as we didn’t invent the death (or black, or whatever) metal style, but I do try to keep my slate as clean as possible and avoid kneeling at traditions and unwritten rules. I really think this can be heard from Lantern’s music, as this approach gives the music its unique and otherworldly atmosphere, a profound aura even. So, the two aspects you mentioned can be connected, emphasizing that the emotions must be genuine. If they are genuine, they can live on and become something meaningful.
TTI: Can you say something about how that amazing, painstaking front cover picture by Zbigniew Bielak complements the mood and the intent of your music on this album? That being said, what exactly is the musical intent of this album? What were you hoping to accomplish with it, apart from making it bigger better and badder than your debut Below?
Cruciatus: As was the case with the Subterranean Effulgence and Below covers, the front piece for II: Morphosis is a collage of the album’s song titles and lyrical themes. Like the title indicates, the album itself is about a transformation process, in this case woven around topics such as dying, death, the afterlife. The cycle of life, death and existence in general are an enigma I seem to have become highly passionate about. Still, the album is not purely conceptual, as the songs manage to stand out as separate pieces. It also lacks an obvious plot, but the feeling of unity is there, binding the nine titles into one unearthly monolith. And this is what the cover represents, as well.
What did we wish to accomplish with it? Well, referring to my hints on the chaos topic, this end is usually left quite open when we start to write and then materialize a release. Milking II: Morphosis out was quite the leap into the unknown, like with the previous releases. I did try to keep things as Lantern-sounding as possible, even though the Lantern sound is something very mercurial ˗ it is about being constantly on the move, flickering like a flame, not staying the same (rhyme unintended). I think we pulled it off in this sense, casting some skin, but still being able to call ourselves Lantern.
TTI: My favorite moments on II: Morphosis are the part that starts at 2:29 mark of Transmigration and the middle section of the closing song Lucid Endlessness, that starts off with that delicate bass line and lasts for almost entire minute. How about you, do you also think that some smaller musical sequences have more appeal than the rest of the music on this album?
Cruciatus: I do have my own favorite parts and I find it awesome that yours are quite different from mine. I personally think the slower and even the more melancholic parts bordering the gruesomeness and pandemonium are crucial in our music. Like some tend to say, silence in music can be as important as the noise itself. However, the evil-oozing faster riffs can have the same effect just as easily, and some of my favorite parts from the record are more from that chaotic end. So it’s a question of contrast, really, a play of light and shadows.
Sure, almost every album has its highlights, and like you proved, everyone has their own according to their taste. When it comes to good records, these topmost highlights are just hooks to drag the listener further down into the depths of the record, so that they can discover new details and become enchanted and eventually fully devoured by them.
TTI: Considering that no sheets with lyrics were delivered together with the digital promo, the only way for me to wrap my head around subject matters these songs are dealing with was by contemplating their titles. That being said, some of them are really interesting. Lucid Endlessness for example, or Hosting Yellow Fungi. Can you please say something about those two songs, what are they about lyrically?
Cruciatus: In Hosting Yellow Fungi, track number three, death is portrayed in its carnal and grotesque form. The lyrics attempt to grasp how it would feel to observe one’s own rotting. Here’s an excerpt:
Beneath the coffin’s lid
Within the skull
Trapped in the ribcage
In worm-eaten sockets
And maggot-gnawed fingertips
In the dirt under toenails
An essence still perseveres
Lucid Endlessness is the album’s Bardo Thodol inspired epilogue, with its lyrics sheet spanning two A4′s, for which our vocalist sent endless curses my way upon first receiving them (laughs). On the album’s timeline, Lucid Endlessness is located in the very apex of the cycle, where it is either supposed to break or become launched again. The setting of this song is the verge of some parallel dimension, with but grey, white and black all around:
Dark matter from timeless streams
This flux of souls redeemed
Through black holes woven
In between the wake and the dream
Amorphous in silver seas
Coalescent in surreal
Like mercury, my essence slowly dispersing
Here I gaze upon the deep, enormous outer reach
Whence projected lay demons born within
Here I face my suffering
My fears, my mortal grief
My prospects, hopes and dreams
All drowned as callously
TTI: While writing this album, your mindset was obviously to have zero tolerance for mediocre, filler riffs, which in the end resulted in interesting ideas being very evenly divided among all of the eight songs, as each of them has its own personality and is able to stand alone on its own, outside the context of the album as a whole. Was that the initial plan, to make a collection of songs that would be individual and separate musical journeys rather than somewhat forgettable stations of a much longer one that this album could have easily turned out to be, had your ambitions and efforts been any less considerable?
Cruciatus: The individual songs had to pass my ultra-tight screen, be able to amalgamate into the big picture of the album and still stand out as separate pieces. So I didn’t want to do it either way, I wanted to approach all directions at once (laughs). Similarly to Below, II: Morphosis should work either as separate songs but also as a 40 minute long trip. But guess that’s relative to how the listener hears it. I’m happy either way, whether people enjoy some individual songs or the effect brought by the whole slab.
The absence of mediocre, filler riffs came in quite naturally, as the package just rolled into one extremely tight entity with its own weight. Our vocalist keeps banging on about this all the time, saying that II: Morphosis is more solid, more furious and more in-your-face than Below, and I cannot argue with him. There’s just not much extra air and too many loose ends in the mix. Also, I think that our debut (which I still am satisfied with, by the way) set the bar so high that we simply couldn’t have delivered anything lazy or half-baked just to get an album out before people forget us. This is our vision of taking the darkness we stirred with Below one step further and I think we did more than well.
TTI: Dan Lowndes has become very prominent figure in death metal community as of late, thanks first and foremost to the impact he and his bandmates in Cruciamentum make with their music, but also due to his reputation of one of the busiest and most wanted mixing and mastering engineers in the business today. That being said, Lantern used his services for both of your full-lengths and Subterranean Effulgence EP. Can you say something about that cooperation and the reasons that make you keep coming back to his Resonance Sound Studio?
Cruciatus: I’ve been in interaction with Dan since the Virgin Taste Of Damnation/Doom-Scrawls demo days. That was still when MySpace reigned supreme, so it’s been a while already (laughs). Thus, working with him equals working with a friend (and the same goes with our label boss at the Dark Descent HQ), with no stuck-up attitudes or tensions between us. Having some years of friendship behind us and also a rather similar taste in music means that he knows how we sound, or should sound, the same way I know how his abilities can be harnessed for the best of our music. Audio truly is his passion and I’m not exaggerating when I say he is ready to pull out at all the stops. He has the gear, the taste, the vision and even opinions as well as the sense of humor. What else do you need?
At first, we hired Dan for a couple of mastering jobs, the Subterranean Effulgence vinyl and both versions of Below, but as I found myself running out of time to do everything in this band myself, we also decided to try working together on mixing jobs. The postponed/in-the-works 7” concept was the first of his full jobs for us, a good chance for us to get more acquainted professionally and break the ice before the album project. Now it wouldn’t feel right to use anyone else, I just feel he really has gotten into the zone regarding our sound and also the way to work around our personalities. He has been the most logical choice for people from outside our core group, well, maybe except for our good friend Mr Ischanius, although he might be even busier than Mr Lowndes, thanks to him being passionate about his own non-studio sound engineering job and the bustle caused by well earned rise of their heavy metal output Mausoleum Gate.
TTI: If I was to allow myself just a tiny bit of criticism with regard to his work, I would say that, both on Below and Morphosis, Dan kind of drowned the sound of drums in the mix, by depraving them of depth and power. Sometimes I feel they sound too flat, especially the cymbals. But if I’m completely honest, I barely notice that, it’s far from being a prevalent impression, merely a insignificant imperfection. Do you yourself have any minor criticism about his work or are you 100% satisfied with it?
Cruciatus: I don’t want to look back too much or ponder about things that cannot be changed anymore. All those decisions we made during those six or so months we spent on mixing and mastering II: Morphosis were done due to good reasons, and we should stick with them. Our music is both complex and noisy, meaning compromises are inevitable to keep the atmosphere right and everything crucial audible. Dan did a great job catering to our needs from the tracks we managed to record for him with our skills and know-how. The drum issue is mostly due to Lantern being guitar-driven over everything else, so we usually tend to make them stand out more and maybe overpower the drums just slightly.
The only thing I was really fretting about earlier on was the top notch production. It’s just that I’m not accustomed with having such a professional sound, but I feel this is a positive problem only (laughs). Degrading a good quality sound should be much easier for the listener than trying to clear up a muddy, messy production. Some people might think Lantern is about sounding somewhat lo-fi, but the more or less necro production of everything prior to II: Morphosis is only due to me being incapable for the job, or maybe just having unorthodox ways. To be honest, I think I am just about to start catching the drift on how recording and mixing should be done properly. Knowing I’ve recorded and/or produced over ten releases from demos to rather well known EPs and full-length albums over these years, I could say that’s an achievement (laughs).
TTI: Long gone are the days when every household had a lantern and unfortunately, in these ugly modern times that cater to men’s laziness, we have more convenient ways of getting the light that we need, by simply flipping the switch on the wall. That being said, I remember that my late grandad had a very old, worn-out lantern. He rarely used it, at least when I was around, but he treated that thing with immense respect, like something that was of great value, and never ever let us even hold it, let alone play with it. After he died, it mysteriously disappeared and I have never seen it again. Which is kind of sad, as now I would be really grateful and truly happy if I had it in my house, if not for any practical purpose, than at least as a historical artifact and something to remind me of my late grandpa. How about you, do you maybe own some old, worn-out lantern yourself? If so, do you keep it on a shelf as a decoration or do you maybe tend to see it as a valuable companion when walking through those thick, dark Finnish nights? What kind of personal relation do you have with that thing and what made you name the band after it?
Cruciatus: This primary spark for the name was the Mortuary Drape song with that name combined with reminiscing some lyrics from a song by my old band. It also had this simplistic, nifty clang to it, which I find important. Goat this, Bestial that, Morbid whatchamacallit ˗ that stuff is not for me. All of this was followed by toying the philosophical and metaphorical aspects of the moniker. My standard answer goes that Lantern is a tool for illuminating darker regions, and its dim light makes the horrors along the path appear in a fashion even more ghastly. This, of course, suits our style of music more than well. The fire metaphors are also relevant ˗ even a measly lantern can contain such a destructive/creative/maintaining force.
You mentioning the old artifact metaphor aroused new thoughts in my grey brain cells… Or is it the fire, the timeless element? The same goes to our music ˗ are we old school, outdated, modern, ahead or behind our time? Shadows on the wall. You could also think of confined flame as a symbol of focus. It’s one of the most important things you need to prosper and succeed. Really.
I think I don’t own any actual lanterns, but there might be a couple on our balcony, thanks to my spouse who is more into collecting stuff than me, except for musical gear, of course (laughs). I’m not obsessed by the type item, but I did just get a distant glimpse of a lantern we had on an island cabin in Saimaa when I was a kid. It’s just an image on my retinas, reminding me of the shady lake, the relatively primitive conditions, the sensations from that time… Your story also reminded me of the lantern that you can see in the Subterranean Effulgence band photo. I bought it from a market place during my travels in Lugano, Switzerland in 2009. The object got mysteriously misplaced not long after the photo session, which is a shame.
TTI: If you don’t mind, I would like to dwell just a little bit longer on that fire metaphor you’ve just brought out, given its very indicative implications and the way it translates to your sound. The way I see it, the most magical thing about lanterns is how effectively they tame and control flame that burns within their glass prison, whose dangerous, untamable and unpredictable nature is precisely its most dominant trait. Having said that, I feel that your music embodies that same dichotomy, as you also constantly balance on a thin line between anger and articulation, intensity and patience, bursts of raw energy and well contemplated songwriting. How difficult is it to come up with music that incarnates so many different qualities at the same time? Would you say that your creativity gets triggered by different plethora of moods or do you have to be in a specific mindset in order to write a decent Lantern song?
Cruciatus: I guess choosing this name was a fruit of intuition, as it does represent the nature of our music pretty well. Like you said, it’s about balancing on a thin line, being unpredictable, subtle and intense at the same time. Our vocalist once summed our music up perfectly ˗ it can be quite the saber dance at best. I could not attempt creating something like this in a calculated manner, you know, booking an hour or a half each day to sit down and farm riffs. Everything comes through intuition, on the hour it wants to.
The best mood for reaching that inspiration is this certain state of non-being, where your mind is as empty as possible and you don’t think about the past, present or the future nor contemplate on your own standards or works done by others. You just play, sometimes close to a trance, even. That’s when the abyss starts staring back and the most innovative ideas are born. The key is to listen to your intuition and just go with it, without worrying about what others think. Next up, quality control/screening can be harnessed to keep some kind of discipline around, but it shouldn’t restrict the actual creative process. In this phase the few overly chaotic or unfitting ideas are filtered out from the pool, or better still, reshaped into forms that make things fall into place.
TTI: I’ve read a headline recently, for the interview with a musician whose name I’m not going to reveal as it doesn’t have any relevance to the point I’m trying to make by quoting that headline, and it read: I’ve sacrificed family for music. What I’m going to reveal though, is that he’s relatively old and fairly successful musician, whose love and fanatical dedication to music prevented him from ever getting married or even engaging in some deeper, more meaningful and more time-consuming relationship with a woman. When it comes to level of your own dedication and musical fanaticism, can you relate to that kind of attitude? Do you think that your love for music will get looser or more intense as years go by?
Cruciatus: Actually, I have found myself mulling over this topic every once in a while. I think it’s strongly related to a cycle of causes and consequences ˗ does one write music because they are depressed, anxious or suffering, to purge the darkness from their system? When the grit is eliminated, does one consciously or subconsciously seek to bring more distress, depression and suffering into their lives, just to be able to write more music for a feeling of relief or even an ecstatic rush? It can happen. This cycle can be destructive, if you can’t spot it from a distance and realize how to break it. Or unless you want to be destroyed, as I know some people say they find satisfaction in their own suffering and ruin.
I don’t believe in that particular destroy yourself for the void doctrine. Call me boring, but balance plays a key role in how I see the world, really, and I am constantly trying to keep myself from not being caught in that vortex (lame Abhorrence pun, I know). I am not being judgmental towards the ways of light nor the ways of darkness. What I am saying is that being balanced demands embracing both sides and occasionally succumbing to one way or the other if a taking plunge is necessary. Putting your emotions and even your soul on the line is vital in order to creating music that really speaks to people, but also knowing how to close the door behind you can also be a handy mental/spiritual trait. I wouldn’t say this less radical view has diminished up my love for music, maybe on the contrary ˗ I have more discipline and focus to really do what I want nowadays, which can result in unleashing wilder ideas and better music, if I only manage to keep some of that fire, that youth’s rage smoldering.
Also, feeding one’s inspiration with emotions higher than depression and anxiety could be effective. This could even be seen as an esoteric process ˗ to conjure such otherworldly thoughts and visions that you don’t need your mortal agony as kindling to light up the inner flame. Just a thought.
TTI: While being on tour, bands can’t afford the luxury of taking the night off just because they don’t feel like playing on a certain night. In order to please their fans and fulfill everyone’s expectations and wishes but their own, they sometimes must force themselves to perform and really put extra mental and physical effort to get through the entire set. That being said, do you think that some of the sentimental value songs have for artists who wrote them disappears and gets lost in touring circumstances, when bands play them over and over and over again, night after night, just because they are obliged to?
Cruciatus: Even though we haven’t toured that much per se, none of that has happened to us, at least not yet. The live environs have even been able to breathe new life into some songs, making them withstand time better and even renew the way we see them. This list includes Revenant and Those Long Perished, which are among our most well known, must-play songs. However, some songs just never seem to attain that developing quality on stage, but are still excellent tunes when listened to from record. We just tend to stick with songs that work live and that’s that. Some of the tracks discarded from the setlist have been requested from the audience every now and then, but we just most likely won’t play them, if we can’t enjoy them to the fullest ourselves. Because in the end, the live situation is about interaction, meaning both the audience and the band should feel it 100% to make the experience count.
TTI: If death is the only desirable state of (non)being as many newer death metal bands who glorify it tend to claim, the only and the ultimate purpose of everything, if nothingness that death brings is the only thing they crave, no reasonable person that acknowledged these deep existential truths would willingly suffer the unbearableness of life. Great thing about death is that it always lurks behind every corner, it is always within a grasp and each person can easily arrange the meeting with death at any given moment, if felt irresistible desire to do so. Yet, everybody decides to take a rain check on that meeting. Have you ever thought about that and do you also feel there is something deeply hypocritical about bands that have similar death-revering disposition?
Cruciatus: One’s view toward death is always highly personal and I’m in no position to point any fingers at anyone. Personally, I can’t really accept the concept of appreciating death without appreciating life, or vice versa. I don’t see death as a target of worship or an ultimate goal, I see it as an enigma. My own fascination towards death was stirred already in my childhood and came fortified after a near-death experience I had in 2000. Overconsumption of alcohol and extremely cold weather are a bad combo. While hospitalized by hypothermia, with just an inch distance between me and death, I was floating in a sea of darkness, in a tunnel of light, until an old man in that dream advised me to go back for some time. And here I am, still persisting.
Before that, my teenager brain had been quite sure I would not live to see the age of 25. But that view changed then, I decided to be alive as long as I live and undergo death after dying. In the meantime, I’ve used music to unravel the enigma and view life, death and dying from various angles. The idea of us using but a small percentage of our brain capacity intrigues me greatly. The remaining percentage, the vast entities we don’t understand, probably hold keys to wonders literally unimaginable. Information from this, what, 85-90% could most likely answer many questions about death and the beyond, as well. Maybe what I saw in 2000 was a glimpse of the hereafter, or maybe it was just some psychophysical phenomenon, electricity passing through my brain. Maybe it was the sensation of my body and my system preparing to withdraw back into the nature? Who am I to say?
As a transition, maybe the overall fascination of death, for some, is another way to try reduce fear towards it, which I think similar to how secular religions and cultures work. Someone smarter than me wrote that the concept of heaven and hell would have a lot to do with calming people’s fear towards the end of the I, another phenomenon at the gates of death that’s really beyond comprehension. The festivities in different religious and cultural communities also dance around the fear of death, this reflecting to rituals, traditions and such in the field of darker occult and thus even metal.
TTI: Desolate Shrine, Gorephilia, Desecresy, Swallowed, Krypts, Corpsessed, Solothus or Decaying are just some of the Finnish bands that have left their mark on the scene over the last couple of years. Do you like any of that stuff?
Cruciatus: I do like all of the ones you mentioned. Desecrecy must be the least familiar one, though, but they’re pretty solid from what I remember. We’ve played together with Corpsessed, Solothus, Decaying and Krypts quite a few times too, so beside them being dynamite bands, they also make great company to hang out with.
TTI: What are your three favorite albums released by Dark Descent Records?
Cruciatus: Unending Degradation by Krypts, The Sanctum Of Human Darkness by Desolate Shrine and Netherwards by Anhedonist.
TTI: Please put Nespithe, World Without God and Slumber Of Sullen Eyes in chronological order, according to your taste.
Cruciatus: Just move World Without God to the back of the list and you’ve got it. Not that it would be a bad album, on the contrary, the other two are just my two favorite Finnish death metal pieces.
TTI: Amorphis or Sentenced?
Cruciatus: Definitely Sentenced. Amorphis are okay too, but I prefer Kingston Wall (laughs).
TTI: What is the thing about Finland that makes Finnish death metal bands so uncompromisingly filthy and insane?
Cruciatus: This is a hard one. Guess we still live with one foot in an age of soot, horses and smoky cottages (laughs). And I’m not saying this with a negative tone. Bleakness and suffering have been integral to our nation through ages, some of it being inherited to our grandfathers, fathers, then to us, thanks to wars, depressions, etc. On the flipside, we haven’t had the abilities to express ourselves and alleviate the burden enough, except maybe until now. We’re still quite the cavemen emotionally, compared to the high context cultures of the world. We are a nation with a bit somber but definitely one of a kind personality, as well as a language spoken nowhere else. I’m sure all this reflects into the style of music our country spits out, too.
On a serious note, the small size of the early scene must’ve also bore an impact. This could’ve given birth to traditions, influences, silent bonds, etc. being formed and integrated to the circle of bands and personnel. The environs especially the older bands endured were far from today’s tolerant metal is for everyone jibber jabber. It must have taken some northern insanity to cope and prosper in some more or less backwater, even religiously driven surroundings. That mentality is still alive, and it will be, as long as our nation stays a bit rough around the edges. Until them fine rainbow city folks finally manage to convert us into civilized world people (laughs).
TTI: What would you say are the most negative aspects of Finnish mentality?
Cruciatus: People here can be very impolite. I know I can seem impolite at times as well, but there are a plenty of Finns whose impoliteness annoys even me. Customer service here can really suck big time. Guess there are more stuck-up and overly elusive personnel in certain Finnish tribes than there are in a few others, say, the joyous and comfortably twisted Savolax tribe, whom I represent (laughs). As a nation, we also have a relatively low self-esteem and always compare ourselves (read: look up) to Sweden especially. That should stop.
TTI: When you feel depressed or sad, do you have certain records that serve the purpose of a medicine in such situations, that you reach for every time in order to make yourself feel better?
Cruciatus: Bloodied Yet Unbowed by Primordial is among my top power songs. Listening to extremely well done, freely flowing and almost out of control music like my all time faves old Genesis and Yes also picks me up, reminding me of the power of innovativeness and really letting things go. Then again, Tropical Hot Dog Night by Captain Beefheart will also probably do the trick.
TTI: People who don’t read newspapers or watch news are considered uninformed. On the other hand, people who do all those things are in most cases misinformed. Would you agree with that reasoning? In addition, what do you think is the long term effect of being exposed to and absorbing too much information?
Cruciatus: I can agree with your reasoning. Like with music, trying to keep a blank canvas is vital, even though it’s hard. To quote Nick Cave, we live in a world where everybody fucks everybody else over, and this reflects to the news, politics, etc. as far as I see it. I honestly think every medium, every political party and every instance representing some cause on the face of this earth has reasons to misinform or alter the truth for their own profit. I tend to say I am afraid of people who think they have got it right, or people who think the cause, ism or whatever they stand for is the correct one and doesn’t feed them lies every now and then. I’d say just say stay wary, but don’t fall into nihilism. It might seem like a hard combination, for sure, but then again, life can be hard, if you take it that way.
In the news the other day, there was talk about future technology allowing us to manipulate media in beyond imagination. Soon we can alter video footage in ways that the modifications will be impossible or at least extremely difficult to trace. Maybe one day we can alter how this material reality appears in our eyes? Nothing seems to be impossible, as the past century has proven. I’m not completely against technology, but huge development also casts huge shadows over us and we should be aware of that. Sometimes I do feel that I should just leave the city, buy some land, cultivate it, fish, hunt… You know, stick to lanterns and shit.
Originally published on 19th February 2017.
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