SKEPTICISM "Companion To Solitude"
By Octopi Mills
Finland is known for its dark forests and darker bands. Among the latter is SKEPTICISM, one of the very first bands to push the idea of “how slow can you go?”. With their glacial tempos, grinding vocals and sad melodies, they were one of the pioneers of what would come to be known as funeral doom metal.
Since 1993, they have been as dependable as an atomic clock, releasing new epics of long, slow and depressing tunes on a regular basis. The latest is “Companion” and this may be the most cinematic and overwhelming of all SKEPTICISM’s output. That being said, the time was ripe to connect with longtime keyboardist Eero Pöyry and delve into the mind of SKEPTICISM. Fortunately Eero replied to us much quicker than you’d think, given the speed of his band.
Here, now, is a dose of SKEPTICISM...
WW: Welcome to Wormwood Chronicles. Skepticism has released a new album, and one I found to be vital and fresh. What was entailed this time on the creation of this epic album?
EERO PÖYRY: In a way we did what we always do: wrote six songs and released them as an album. As usual - it tends to take us roughly five to seven years to do so. The process is simultaneously familiar and also new every time around. This time we had different visions and stories to base the songs on that originated from different band members. Also the 30th anniversary played a role - we decided a couple of years ago that the album should come out on the anniversary year which guided our actions through the last years of the process. We’ve also got to reflect our thoughts on the past decades due to this which has been very healthy. Things get a bit deeper meaning when you set them into the perspective of the 30 years. How significant was a certain decision on the instrumentation and so forth. All in all it has been an enjoyable process.
WW: SKEPTICISM has been around for quite a while at this point. How do you feel the music has changed? How has it remained the same in the matter of retaining the legacy of such?
EP: I think of it as the essence of the music staying the same but the detailed expression we use has evolved. Or in another wording: the emotions we convey are pretty much the same but the means we use to convey them are slightly different. We could for example have had “Pouring” on the latest album but if we did we would probably have a bit more texture to some of the parts. Or we could have had “The Intertwined” on the first or the second album but probably the arrangement would have been a bit simpler. When it comes to a legacy - we do not really think of that. The new album has been a bit of a surprise to some people - specifically people who’d expect us to repeat things from the earlier albums. There would be nothing wrong with that but that is simply not our way. We are not trying to repeat something or stay away from repeating something - we simply want to write music that inspires us and we enjoy performing. I believe this is a good approach for specifically our group of people to keep the band going for another three decades.
WW: Are there any plans for a live performance this time around?
EP: We just played a release concert for “Companion” in Turku, Finland on September 25th, 2021. We have a few other dates booked yet but hopefully the venues would soon re-open after the pandemic.
WW: Can you tell us a bit of the old days; how you got this going and what inspired you to make this original brand of music?
EP: How we originally got it going was Brutal Death Metal. It was going strong in the late 80’s and early 90’s in the underground. There were a lot of bands, demos being recorded and sold via landmail and flyers, gigs going on at small local venues and so on. For a bunch of young guys seeing that happen - both that the scene exists and that you can get into a situation where you can make a demo and get on stage rather quickly was good inspiration. We were lucky to live in Riihimäki where the underground gigs happened regularly.
After learning the ropes on song writing and acting as a band we made the first release in the form of a 7” vinyl with a basic Death Metal line-up. After that our bassist left and we had two problems to solve - whether to replace him and how do we find our own sound in general. That was somewhere in late 1992 or early 1993 I think. The solution was to go for keyboards instead of the second guitar and partially bass as well and make it prominent in the sound.
One could say that style we ended up with is a morph from the flavors of metal that were out at that time - Death Metal, Death / Doom, etc. Perhaps we brought in a bit of cinematic or classical music feel as well.
WW: If you were to name any films, authors or books, or music that has inspired you or that you hold to be great, what would you mention?
EP: We did watch a lot of horror movies from copied VHS-cassettes in the early days of the band but I doubt that really influenced the style that much. What probably did more was the fact that we spent quite some time in the woods with the band members in the early days. Many of the lyrics especially on the early albums were nature inspired. As said ,cinematic and classical music had certain kind of an experience and also personally my interest in the sound of the pipe organ.
WW: What does Finland mean to you, in regards to your musical style, if any? Is there ever an inspiration your country gives you while you are in the creation process or writing or is this something that is not really of great importance?
EP: It is kind of hard to say as we’ve grown into the Finnish culture and everything about it feels “normal” to us. It is a know fact that Finns like their music more on the minor scales than most other cultures. There is also a certain melancholy to the mindset of the people as seen in books and stories. That probably has a subconscious effect to what we’ve done as well. I wouldn’t say that Finland by itself would have inspired us to write music but the environment probably has affected what the music became like.
WW: How do you see or view things happening in the world today, if this is even relevant. Does mankind seem doomed to you? And does that relate to your massive sound?
EP: Not really. If you think of some doomed-sounding classical pieces from centuries ago they still feel as relevant.
WW: Are there any bands in Finland or abroad you have a kinship with or simply care to mention at this time that people would do well to observe? I always have had an appreciation for Finnish metal, myself, as it seems to have it's own feel. You certainly stand apart in terms of style and sound, and always have...
EP: Bands I think highly of:
PANTHEIST - we’ve toured with them twice and had a few amazing other shows with them like one in a church in London back in 2012. On top of sharing the stage they’ve also organised many of these events and tours. Great partners in crime to have. It is also great to see that their wagon is still moving as well - new album in the pipeline.
ESOTERIC - another long term band from the UK. They have a particularly strong vision to their music and admirable passion to pursue it. We’ve had a couple of shows with them in Finland and the atmosphere has always been great. Perhaps the combination of them, us and possibly a third band makes up a crowd the presence of whom you can feel on the stage really well. Hopefully more of these shows will happen in the future.
OPHIS - also our partners in crime from a tour. Nice guys to hang around with and great dedication to their music.
EVOKEN - another long term band from the US. We’ve only met them once on the road but it kind of felt like meeting a bunch of old friends as we’ve been in the same genre for so long. Hope to bump into them again as well.
And last but not least:
SHAPE OF DESPAIR - rather surprisingly we’ve only run into them once on the road as well in the past 3 decades. They master their own flavor of the style and I like the way they execute it. As a pure coincidence we have also had synchronized release years for the past two albums.
WW: The vocals on the new album have another dimension this time around. What sort of themes or concepts are at play in the lyrics on the new album? There seems to be a powerful element at play in the whole sound on this one..
EP: There is a bit of a different vision for all of the songs. “Calla” is based on the vision of the guitarist where you are longing for a loved one and are finally reunited and walk through a valley of calla lilies. “The Intertwined” is about solitude and togetherness - the presence of the companion. “The March of the Four” is partially about loss and partially about a journey. “The Passage” is based on a dream the drummer had - the starting riff is what he memorized from the dream. “The Inevitable” is about accepting and understanding. Finally “The Swan and the Raven” is about essence and perception.
As always the lyrics are pretty open. There is not a single way to read them. For example, in the case of “The March of the Four” I wrote them from the perspective of loss but our singer sang them from the perspective of four travellers. In a sense he sang it as if he was there on the journey. This is probably a part of why you felt the vocals to be a powerful element. I think our singer really put himself to a test in the studio sessions and really got deep into the songs.
WW: One thing that is always asked by myself here by all who pass is the matter of the supernatural or paranormal. Have you ever had any experiences on this matter or would you perhaps share a tale at this time if it is duly applicable to do so?
EP: I’ve thought of that quite a bit. Throughout the history of mankind there seems to have been a longing for there to be something greater than us or something we could not explain by the means of reason. I wonder which is more interesting - the longing or what humans are longing for. It appears that every culture has their own views of sanctity and also their view of why death is significant. I haven’t yet come to any real conclusion on all this. The human longing for something greater is fascinating. I’ve experienced my own share of it but don’t have any really interesting stories. unfortunately.
WW: What does the future hold for SKEPTICISM? What do you foresee ahead in terms of plans or activities?
EP: If I got to decide the future would be exactly like the past: a new album every five years and a handful of good live shows every year until the 60th anniversary. Making our first music video last summer was a great experience and I hope we will make more. I also believe we will stick to the album format in some sense as it gives our actions a nice cadence. We’ll probably keep it going at least as long as it makes sense to make physical copies of the albums. So - hopefully - more decades for the band. More albums and shows.
WW: Thank you, very much for your time, lest we should never meet again here or afar...Do you have any last words for our readers or anything in parting you would add or like to mention?
EP: Thanks for the interview! Now that the world is hopefully moving to the new normal after the pandemic do go to your local metal shows and support your favorite bands!