Northern Genocide is an industrial melodic death metal band from Lahti/Finland. Tommi, Pyry and Rainer opened up to let us have a deep insight into their band’s heart and soul, tormented by the “shitty condition of the world” but fuelled by mutually inspired creative energy.
Meet Northern Genocide
Pyry Pohjanpalo gives us a brief tour through the history of Northern Genocide: “Well, me and Rainer started gathering a live group to our music project in 2011 when we both moved to Lahti after studies. Tommi joined the band in 2012 and ever since we have slowly developed our music and we have had several rhythm guitarists or bassists whom wasn’t suitable for the band. The latest member, Leo, our drummer is so fresh adding that we have not had time to even play any gigs with him or take a new promo picture with him. But the first rehearsals we had together early this year was instant success and we all knew that this just works now and that really inspires every one of us.”
A band of super heroes
Lead guitarist (co-founder and composer) Pyry Pohjanpalo can rely on the help of the others, naturally. He is The Architect, tries to push them forward and plans how to achieve that. The Engineer is master at the keys of the synths and computer [programming], however, producer (co-founder and composer) Rainer Pekkinen also musically holds the keys of the band. Vocalist Tommi Salonen (joined in 2012) is The Knife. His sharp tongue cuts with nasty jokes and forms gloomy harsh, blackish vocals. With a sharp pen writes the lion share of their meaningful lyrics, while casting keen eye on the band imago.
Mr Flexible joined the band as a bass player (in 2019). But rhythm guitarst Jussi Pulliainen is proofing his exceptional adaptability on the guitar strings nowadays. Arto Viitanen succeeded Jussi (in 2020) wielding the bass and has become The Blood of the band. He seems to be everywhere, chipping in backing vocals, as well as excellent ideas for the new songs and is writing lyrics for the new album. He has even brought band closer together. When long-time drummer Markku Tuuri left Northern Genocide, drummer Leo Korhonen stood in at the instance (2022). The Spark is amazingly receptive and inspires the band to push on harder.
THE ESSENCE OF TIME
Apparently Arto and Leo have contributed essentially to the band dynamics. Can you describe how you have grown together or how your synergies have emerged? What is the most important feature or tool here?
Pyry begins: “The answer is time. This project was started 12 years ago and me and Rainer and Tommi have been in this band for over ten years already. And by having different players in the band we finally found the right members for the bass, rhythm guitar and drums. Now we have a very good group that are able to communicate, to throw ideas and are motivated and wants to take this band further.”– ”Learning to know a person is really important”, Rainer adds, “when making music together. The communication gets easier and you are able to reach flow-state a lot easier. That’s why the long history of this band has benefited us in the recent years a lot.”
“we like to listen different genres of metal, old and new” (Pyry Pohjanpalo)
Connecting might be easier on common grounds. What is the background of the band members music-wise? How does that affect Northern Genocide?
Tommi: “Some of us have other active bands besides NG. I personally think it’s a good thing to have more than one musical outlet to express oneself musically and try different kind of things. So far, everything has gone smoothly.”- “We all have played our instruments since we were kids”, Pyry highlights. “We all also have a metal music background but we like to listen different genres of metal, old and new. So when adding those elements from here and there to our music makes it unique and hard to put in any genre.” – “I myself have worked a lot with electronic music, so it’s an intriguing challenge to combine that experience with metal music. It feels like we are able to create something unique when we clash all ideas together” Rainer says. Thus, the next question might be obsolete.
Diversity makes their unique sound
“Could you explain the role of diversity and external influences on NG’s music?”
“We all love metal”, opens Pyry his response, “in general but many of us likes to listen or take influences from different genres of metal and this really makes our unique sound. We have more blackish vocals on the top of more melodic or synth-driven stuff and that is not very common in this “genre” if you can even point out one genre that describes us perfectly. We also like to mix different genres in our music by taking influences here and there from other music – not just metal.” Rainer, however, sees space for some experimental ideas: ”I am also interested in sound design in all genres. Sometimes I hear a sound in a random song and think: Could this work in a NG song too?” I dare say, yes and wonder to which end this might lead.
“Could this work in a NG song too?” (Rainer Pekkinen)
So I suppose Northern Genocide’s style is thriving, developing? Do you follow a certain strategy? Or do you have a set of tools allowed and others you excluded?
Pyry replies: “Musically we are moving to more melodic and symphonic material. We have been using more guest singers and instruments outside of our band to be able to do exactly what we want and because we don’t want to be restricted in any ways. The difficult part is to stop adding additional elements to the songs and decide that this is it, it is done and ready for mixing and mastering.”
This is a not too surprising development. Finland is home of an abundance of all kinds of melodic metal bands which makes a strong external, perhaps rather subconscious inspiration and of course again, time is of essence as Rainer explains: “Also I think we have finally started to find our own sound. It feels great when you are able to achieve exactly what you are looking for in a synth sound or in an arrangement. Also our sound develops simply because we have achieved a greater level of skill in composing, arrangement, sound design etc.”
Why so drastic?
It is time to speak of the band name. “Northern Genocide” is quite a statement or is a message? Is it only one more as drastic as can be band name to attract attention like Impaled Rektum? Northern Genocide transfers strong even disturbing images and associations. Why so drastic? Because metal bands tend to overdo in their band names?
Pyry replies: When we started the band – or project at the time – it was just about finding a cool sounding band name that does not exist already -not an easy task in 21st century. But later on when Tommi joined the band and we started thinking about our image and message we figured out that “Northern” represents “North” and “Finland” where we live and “Genocide” is more about people in general that intentionally or unintentionally destroys nations and this world we live in.
In regards to “Northern”, mind, Finland is often wrongly thought to be Scandinavian. But Scandinavia is most of all the mighty peninsula of Norway and Sweden plus perhaps Denmark. Politically, Swedish kings ruled over Finland for approximately 800 years. Finland then was under Russian reign for about one century before achieving independence in World War I. But before we speak of war – as very realistic precursor for (post)apocalyptic settings and as a topic of their songs, I wonder about their personal attitude towards their bands concept.
Beyond the point of no return?
Are we beyond the point of no return or could a revolution still work? Genocide suggests that less violent ways would not work in general to save the world?
“Our upcoming album has many lyrics about the point of no return in different situations” vocalist Tommi explains. “For example massive forest fires, melting of glaciers, pandemics etc. Yeah, things do look bad now, but I hope mankind can make a change to the better. There’s lyrics about that too. It takes time and effort but I hope we can make it.”
So you’re fighting for a better world. Apart from your music what does each of you do to a) make the world a better place and b) help that we might have a condition worth living in? Who do you think is to blame for the situation we are in? Each of us or very few? Like imagine the lives of the superrich people wasting so much more energy than each of us and that again compared to traditionally living substantial farmers? Or reflect it about war drivers, of course.
“All of us have different backgrounds so all do different things. Personally, I use public transport a lot, use only renewable energy at home, try to cut down my meat consumption and have a career in a company that provides solutions for the industry to cut down CO2 emissions”, says Tommi and goes on: “Who is to blame? It would be fun if we could find the real criminals of the climate change etc. problems and lock them up and save the world. But this is not a crime movie.” His laughing fades.
A job for Spider Man?!
“Over population, industrial revolution, irresponsible consumption and not paying enough attention to the effects on nature are the key criminals here. And all has happened in a long period of time. I think we are past the point of finding who is to blame. We, all mankind, should try our best now to fix the climate change if we still want to survive couple more centuries. We worked so well with the ozone depletion problem and I hope we can fix this too.”
He pauses only one second and adds:” In general, I think that those who can do something about the shitty condition of the World, should do more than those who can’t. I mean, wealthy and rich people can do so much more than poor people who are just trying to survive every day. Like the main theme in Spider Man is: Great power brings great responsibility.”
Unfortunately only very few people with great power really use this for the better of all of us. Primarily it seems they submit to the corruptive greed for even more power sooner or later. Examples can be found all over the world, be it in politics, economy or culture and sports. Their Russian neighbours’ president longing to establish his idea of the Tsar realm on a geographical and political level on whatever it takes costs may have put their previous song “Para Bellum” in a new light.
The Real World’s Impact On Northern Genocide
… in times of war
How do you feel about your war song that was written about before February 24th 2022 or other topics that might have come true since writing?
Tommi faces brightens to wide but cynical smile: “Well, war as a theme, is very characteristic to mankind and you can write lyrics about war forever. Just ask Sabaton.” More serious he continues: “I had written the lyrics to “Para Bellum” years ago to another song. The song was never released and I taught they were good and wanted to use them again. With little modification, I used them again to the new song. When looking now to the war in Ukraine, the topic is as relevant as always. Unfortunately.” After a break he adds: “Sometimes I think I should start writing lyrics about money, fame and rock and roll lifestyle. Maybe they too will come true.” Tommi’s frown has grown into a laughing. A brilliant idea, indeed. No doubt we all would love to see those songs come true rather than those apocalyptic themes.
… of the good people?!
Perhaps he could also write a song about the good people saving the world from the man-made apocalypse he described previously, too? From this image, it is a small step to question the existence of good in people generally. How many good people are walking the earth?
This cynicism in purity arouses the guys. Pyry begins: “How do you define “good people”? I think there is some good and some bad in every people.” Tommi points out firmly: “I still believe there are more good people than bad.” – “I think every man and woman on earth can be “bad” or cruel when it comes down to survival. As long as the civilization can support its members, I hope we don’t have to fight for survival”, Rainer sums up his hopes
Figuratively at this point in our conversation, the ‘cynicism of age’ meets the ‘Finnish sisu’. Sisu is the magical well of power and mental strength that let the Finns win in hopeless situations such as in the winter war [perhaps check out the interview with Tuomas Saukkonen to learn more this topic]. Anyway we all (have) had our share of the “shitty condition of the world” as Tommi put it earlier in the pandemic period lately.
Creativity in a real apocalypse
Undeniably this period affected each of us in one way or another. Creativity is often a fragile thing as it can be destructive force. So how did the pandemic with forced isolation affect your creative energy?
Pyry illustrates his experience: “At first it was great because spending more time in home rather than going to an office working every day allowed more time to play and compose. After a while it got more depressive because having distance to other band members and hardly no gigs.”
“It was a rollercoaster for me too”, Rainer admits. “Sometimes you enjoy the time that you are given, but in the long run, it felt lonely. About five of the songs on the new album were made during this time, and I’m proud of them. They remind me of the era and that we were able to overcome it.” This gives some hints on the band dynamics too and how they as group made it together through a hardship.
Apocalypse as leading motif
“the music felt like it needed lyrics that deal topics of the dark future” (Tommi Salonen)
The question remains why they make political statements to their leading motif at all. It might be the most discussed question in metal. So I ask Tommi: Some people avoid politics in (metal) music for example because they don’t want to be taught how to be better people or simply due to escapism. On the other hand metal often is the result of what wants to get out of our minds, some creative flow that cannot be stopped. Where and why do you see your motivation to come up with your type of political lyrics?
He replies: “At first, I didn’t think that much of the political side of the lyrics. When I joined the band, the music felt like it needed lyrics that deal topics of the dark future. Something like in the Terminator, Mad Max and Blade Runner movies. I didn’t want to write pure science fiction though, and so I started writing about climate change and totalitarism. What’s more dystopian than mankind burning and ruining our own planet, right? Writing this kind of dystopian scenarios came in naturally for me. And now, when years have passed, these topics are more relevant and reality than ever.”
Practise to turn mental images into lyrics
Tommi refers to movies which is symbolic to all the images we all have in mind. However none of us have identical images in mind. Putting them into words is all but easy to most of us. Tommi, how do you translate your thoughts into words that will be understood by others? The perceptions of words is so highly individual? And how do you then even translate your emotions into a foreign language?
“Well, it takes a lot of practise and now days it comes quite easy”, Tommi admits. “I don’t even think that much of the writing anymore… it just happens. When I don’t have a writer’s block going on.” He laughs in an excusing manner before he continues.
“English comes quite naturally for me, since I use it at work every day… Actually a completely new thing for me, is writing lyrics in Finnish. I tried that on our last album and the track “Ikiruoste” became quite a big hit. It was actually the first lyrics I’ve ever written completely in Finnish. For the upcoming album I wrote two lyrics in Finnish and I’m super excited to see how people react to them.”
Creative band dynamics
Team work against writer’s block
It is quite common that vocalists bear the responsibility for the lyrics of a band. It is a responsibility indeed. Tommy, do you write your lyrics all on your own?
“Mainly yes”, he begins. “At the same time I think a lot about the arrangements too. However, for the upcoming album I got some help from Pyry and Arto since I had a huge writer’s block. This was a nice addition to my lyric writing and gave me some new ideas and perspective to my own writing.”
Again the band stands together and solves situations as a team. How do the others approach such situations? Interestingly, the situation is mostly managed individually.
How do you cope with writer’s block?
Pyry begins: “When composing we either move to another song or take a longer break and then try again.”– “Yeah, that works sometimes with lyrics too. But sometimes the block becomes so big that I have to discard the old lyrics and write completely new ones. The new lyrics are always much better than the old ones”, adds Tommi to his previous and Pyry’s statement while Rainer explains: “I have had multiple writer’s blocks during my career. But luckily, it has always passed. Sometimes it lasts a few days, sometimes months. But it has always passed. That’s how I cope: I just trust that it will end when it wants to end.” The guys, however, give a good overview over common strategies to deal with writer’s block. Even without channeling the creative energy may be a challenge or require a specific setting:
Jamming together the Apocalypse
Which are the moments when composing happens?
Pyry says: “Either bouncing ideas forth and back via computer or arranging a composing session or weekend or week in a nice and inspiring environment.” Rainer adds: “Also when scrolling through interesting sound banks might trigger an idea. Sometimes even a ‘misclick’ or incorrect note can lead to wonders.”
Very Finnish Moments: Composing Sessions in the Mökki
Let’s dive a little deeper. How much do you channel your emotions into your music? Is there any filter or do you just open the gates and let it flow? Is there a setting in which you can write best or even compose at will or do you rely on it to just happen whenever that may be.
Pyry begins: “It’s all about emotions in our composing sessions. We do not force music to come out. Me and Rainer like to sit down in a nice place, like a summer cabin and just start jamming and see what comes or start looking for a cool sounding synth samples and see if anything sparks and inspires us to compose a cool riff with it. Sometimes we get nothing out and sometimes we might be able to create a whole new song very fast. Sometimes we also compose smaller parts individually like some melody or aggressive riff and send it to other and see if that would make to a new song. There are no filters but we kind of know what sounds right in our ears and what doesn’t. But we do not think too much how we should sound like or what fans are expecting from us. This have led to our music to develop more towards melodic and symphonic death metal rather than industrial metal what we started with.”
“Due to the pandemic we had to learn a new working method, since we were not able to meet face to face as much during the process”, Rainer explains. “Me and Pyry would work on a song and put in some ideas and then send the file to the other person to review. This method created a lot of new variations to the album compared to the previous. Our thoughts were able to flow even more free than before.”
The automatic and unexplainable ‘something’
Still, the idea to transform images or thought or emotions into sounds seems difficult to really grasp when you do not play an instrument. So how do you translate your emotions into music – please think of all those who do not play any instrument.
Once more Pyry begins to illustrate his approach: “For me it’s more like certain notes or parts of music – intentionally or accidentally created – brings emotions and evokes images inside my head. For example some beautiful melodies might bring endorphin and good feelings and then again some darker stuff might cause slight anxiety – usually in a good way though” he says laughing.
If only it was easy to explain, I can read in Rainer’s eyes: ”Sometimes it’s just automatic, unexplainable. Something happens in your head and you are able to play a melody that came out of nowhere. Sometimes I see a dream about a melody. I wake up and try to remember it – usually it doesn’t sound good in real world. Understanding music theory and listening to other bands’ music also gives you emotions and ideas. Sometimes you are able to transfer those emotions to your own songs too.” This triggers two more questions:
A channel for all emotions
Some musicians channel mostly their negative emotions into their music, one even said he had no need to process good experience at all. How about you guys?
“For me it is the exact opposite”, Pyry says before any of the others can word his thoughts. Then Tommi says: “I think I channel all kinds of emotions from good to bad. It depends a lot of the track in question, what it needs. For me, it would be quite hard to channel only the negative emotions.” – “For me it’s all about positivity, energy”, Rainer replies. “And the feeling to be able to transfer this energy to someone else with music. It’s about the opposites as well: if you have been in a dark place for some time, the bright light feels even brighter afterwards.”
Re-identifying emotions in songs
Can you tell which emotion was channelled into a particular passage you composed? I thought it natural but I heard it is not that simple. Positivity might not automatically result in bright sounds or rising tunes for example.
They sort of mumble some ‘naturally’ as Pyry begins why: “I do not like to play guitar when I am upset or anything. It is a way to relax for me and even coming up an aggressive, cool sounding riff would bring me happiness and endorphin. One of the greatest feeling ever is when me and Rainer find a mutual understanding when composing a new song and when all the parts just sound right and goes well together without any forcing and we both think it is the best song we have ever created so far.” Rainer adds: “Greatest driving force for me is feeling energized. Many of the songs and ideas are made in a blink of an eye while feeling the rush that originates from creating something new and special.”
The tricky thing: How to finish a songs?
How do you know a song is finished? Deciding, ‘it’s done now’ is all but easy with any project for many of us. Which role in really finalizing a song do recording and mixing play?
“That’s a very tricky question and I have no direct answer for that”, Pyry admits. “Me and Rainer usually compose the song instrumentally as complete as possible, including guitars, synths and samples and machine drums and then we bring it to the other band members and start rehearsing them together and everyone brings ideas to the table. It’s a long process when the songs evolve to the final phase of mixing etc.” This is where Rainer’s passion sets in: “The hardest part of a song is always letting it go, even if it’s not ‘perfect’. During the years I have tried to learn a healthy way of finalizing a song and accepting that it is what it is. It is very common among musicians that you see just the flaws but forget the good parts of the song. It is better to finish songs and move on to work on some new music.”
Northern Genocide On Stage
Time flies. Two more questions, however, I need to ask still as we haven’t spoken of their stage experience and attitude at all yet.
Backing Tracks And Guitar-Driven Music
Thinking about the 1980’s and early 1990’s when (and if) a metal band made it into one of the major music programs they suddenly had to perform with often 100 % playback. Many were let’s say all but amused about it. Back then was on stage at least in Rock & Metal: what you see is what you get. Nowadays backing tracks are nearly omnipresent. The attitude has changed as an incredible share of the crowd expects the live performs to be reproduce exactly the studio version. Naturally multi-layered genres and styles such as yours rely on backing tracks to bring their very studio-like version on stage. Live arrangements as entirely independent versions have become rare. How is the situation for Northern Genocide?
“We like to keep some things old school” (Pyry Pohjanpalo)
“We do rely on backing tracks”, Pyry points out. “… because the synths and samples but that’s it. We still have very guitar driven music and that`s why it is always unique and authentic to play live and not to do every single note on guitar or singing as they are on the album. We like to keep some things old school and leave some room for live arrangements.”
Rainer has a focus on the production side, naturally: “I feel like trying to recreate the music live on stage would limit us too much. Many of our songs have fast arpeggios and at the same time lush string pads and choirs. Playing all this would be quite impossible in a live situation. Also I want to be able to focus on practicing my production skills rather than instrument skills. I feel like in today’s world it’s not uncommon to have this kind of live setup. If an epic keyboard player wanted to join us for live shows, I think it would be great!” Rainer does not join the rest on stage. It is not his piece of cake, he replies later. For the rest of the band, however, it is quite the opposite.
“Best you can do with your trousers on!” (Pyry Pohjanpalo)
“How does it feel to be on stages?”
“Best you can do with your trousers on!”, Pyry bursts out. “Especially when there is enough audience and the place is on fire. Tommi agrees: ”Yes, definitely what Pyry said. I love the feeling just before our show starts. I still feel a bit terrified in the beginning, you know, how many people are there, how much lyrics I fail to remember, will I screw something up… but when I see people headbanging to our songs…. it’s just the best feeling ever. Pure euphoria.”
Thank you Pyry, Rainer and Tommi for this journey into the core of Northern Genocide. Let’s just hope your optimism will have been justified when we accidentally run into each other after your sensational headliner show at Tuska 2033.
Check out Northern Genocide online.