by Niklas Göransson
Metal on metal – a conversation with Finnish underground veteran Jerry Kurunen. He talks about his recently resurrected black metal band Annihilatus as well as Rauta, a popular online metal show for which he serves as host.
– There was no particular reason for our hiatus, I suppose one could simply say that ‘life happened’. We had some disagreements and took a break; things were left to their natural course and many years passed by, but the band was never put to rest. Curiously enough, a three-way split between ANNIHILATUS, MUSTA SURMA, and BLOODHAMMER was supposed to come out soon after our debut album, but it didn’t. So, even that was postponed for over ten years, making it seem as if we just vanished. I suppose these kinds of stories happen to many bands that just disappear from the face of the earth – some re-emerge, some don’t. We came back because we reconnected and, suddenly, there was this urge to play and see if we could pick up where we left off. It worked out for us and the music came naturally, as if we never had this long period of inactivity in the first place. Perhaps we needed an extended separation for everything to come together. It wasn’t planned at all, that’s the least I can say.
In 2019, seventeen years after their debut, “Blood and War”, ANNIHILATUS returned with “Death from Above”. The second album was released by Bestial Burst and offers lo-fi and minimalistic black metal in the spirit of ILDJARN and DARKTHRONE, but with a heavier and clearer production. Jerry previously made a comparison to BOLT THROWER, whom I suspect acted as somewhat of a lodestar in terms of lyrics.
– BOLT THROWER were a huge influence for both lyrics and aesthetics, but maybe even more so on a conceptual and thematic level. Also, the mood was always right there, even though they were a death metal band. Musically, bands like CELTIC FROST, DARKTHRONE, ILDJARN, and JUDAS ISCARIOT surely inspired me in writing those riffs. As for sound, it all comes down to our drummer who records, mixes, and masters everything. We wanted the music to sound raw, simple, and barbaric yet still powerful. Some bands intentionally go for the ‘filthy’ approach, hoping for a more primitive sound, and that’s okay if the music is good but oftentimes it’s just an excuse to cover up poor song-writing. Why go for a shitty production if you can have both power and clarity? Just let the bass, drums, guitars and what-have-you sound right! If the actual music is savage, this will come across even if the mix is ‘clear’. It’s all about the dynamics, not just ‘clean’ versus ‘dirty’.
What’s up with the lack of ANNIHILATUS photos, I wonder. There are none on their social media or Bandcamp platforms. I even used the Wayback Machine to inspect their old website and it only had a handful of tiny live photos from the year 2000. I typically get suspicious when bands singing about battle and warfare refrain from showing themselves. More often than not, they turn out looking as if they’re unfit to conquer a flight of stairs – let alone rival armies.
– There’s a simple reason for this: we never felt the desire or need to portray ANNIHILATUS through photography. We don’t need to sell ourselves to bookers, fests, or labels. Generally speaking, how we look shouldn’t really matter but I know people are curious – it’s all natural. We’ve never taken any promo shots, so all there is are a few live photos from our only gig so far.
I’m told there’s now a third album in the making. Jerry describes the material as being ‘a bit more old-school’, though I cannot quite fathom how that’s even possible.
– Well, different people define old-school in different ways, as I’m sure you’re aware, and for me, old-school in black metal means the 80s sound – the very first wave. So, if much of “Death from Above” was inspired by the 90s, in some ways the third album might be more about the 80s. But there are of course elements which are very much of this millennium too, there’s no denying that.
That’s quite the increase in productivity pace?
– The album was already in process when “Death from Above” was recorded. There’s neither a clear beginning nor an end when it comes to creative moods. Had we started recording only after a certain era had ended, who knows how many years it would’ve taken and how many songs we’d have ready? You see, it’s different for touring bands who have their natural cycle – record an album, tour to promote it, and then come back to write and record the next one. But things are different for bands like us. We don’t tour, so we can focus on creating our tracks at any time. When a certain ‘batch’ of songs is ready, it’s time to start recording. It’s like taking an exam after studying something, going on a date after a while of talking, or eating the dinner after preparing and cooking it; whatever metaphor works. You create something, then you record it and move on. In essence, recording is only storing the creativity in one format or another, like writing down some stuff. Then you kinda forget about it and move on. To me, there’s no deeper magic in that.
Jerry adds that an album from his past, the 2001 “The End of Christianity” by NIGHTSIDE – a melodic black metal band he joined in 1996 – is about to get the full vinyl treatment.
– The LP is supposed to come out in 2020, but who knows now with all this coronavirus going on? We’ll just have to wait and see. NIGHTSIDE wasn’t my first metal band but it was my first black metal band, and also the first project that actually accomplished anything worthwhile. We recorded our 1997 demo in Tico-Tico Studio, famous for material from bands like IMPALED NAZARENE. We had a good thing going but there were too many line-up changes and, at some point after the album, all that made me feel as if it was time to move on. ANNIHILATUS was becoming increasingly active around that time too. So, I left the band and never looked back. Soon after my departure, they recorded a second album that never came out and then broke up. Last year, a label guy who’d figured out that I was the ex-vocalist of NIGHTSIDE contacted me through my Rauta channel and, since I had the contacts, we made things roll.
Jerry is probably far more recognisable from his YouTube show, Rauta. What began as a form of experimental hobby in his garage gym has now morphed into an active channel with 8,500 subscribers, a Patreon account, regular crew, proper press credentials, and so forth.
– In 2016, I had a video project with this local network called MoonTV. We did some interviews but, beside the international bands, it was all in Finnish. While we did get some nice feedback, we decided to restart everything from scratch and do it in English. I named the channel Rauta, which means ‘iron’ in Finnish, after my two main passions: powerlifting and metal. It’s also somewhat of a homage to ANVIL‘s “Metal on Metal” song, especially since I did indeed make my first videos in my home gym. I started out with interviews, which were – and still are – the main dish. Since those are not happening every week, I figured that I’d feature reviews and opinion videos, too. I’ve always been a social and talkative person, so it all came very naturally. Also, seeing as how I’ve been writing about metal music since 2002, reviews were a no-brainer. I just had to learn the basics of video editing and take it from there, then go to fests and do more interviews. Rinse and repeat, basically. Slowly but surely, the audience started growing and I think we have a pretty solid follower-base by now.
There are an ungodly number of metal channel hopefuls on YouTube, most of whom draw little to no views whatsoever. Clearly, Jerry must be doing something right.
– I think the thing is my face-to-face interviews – they are the deal-breaker. Reviews? Not so much, everybody does them. Everyone wants to talk about certain albums or bands, all competing for coverage, so it’s really hard to stand out from the rest. In my case, it would’ve been interviews with black metal bands that never before appeared on video. The SATANIC WARMASTER interview, which got over a hundred thousand views, was one specific video that made a huge difference for me. Also, curiously enough, my MESHUGGAH feature from Tuska 2018 got a lot of attention after some news articles quoting our exchange were published. Sometimes I don’t understand why certain videos just go viral like that and why others don’t really ‘fly’. Among the top-twenty videos on the channel, about eighty to eighty-five percent are interviews. The rest? Certain opinion videos, like my takes on the Lord of Chaos movie preview, RAMMSTEIN video symbolism, and NSBM in general. Sometimes, if the subject I’m talking about turns out to be some ‘hot topic’, they bring a lot of new followers to the channel.
Why do you think you’ve been able to get interviews with musicians who’ve never been on camera before?
– I’m pretty sure my own history with metal bands, and black metal in particular, has been a great help. I’ve known quite a few of these people since the 90s. I’m talking about the Finnish bands now, such as SATANIC WARMASTER and HORNA. I got to know many black metal people back in the mid to late 90s already, and others in the early 2000s. Also, since 2002 I’ve been writing for various metal websites – like Imperiumi and Inferno Magazine – so people have come to know me as the regular album, demo, gig review guy, as well as someone who also did interviews back in the day. I think this helped getting these videos done. As for musicians who don’t know me or my channel previously, it’s of course a different story. Sometimes I have to convince them to give me an interview, but usually it’s pretty straightforward: bands either do it because they want to, or they won’t do it even with someone they know and trust. Some individuals are just not comfortable with the video format, which I can totally understand, especially in a black metal context. Still, it’s a shame because I’m often asked about such acts… you know, MGŁA, CLANDESTINE BLAZE, BEHEXEN and so forth.
Judging from Rauta videos, Jerry seems to establish a personal connection with his interviewees which, in turn, makes for more relaxed and natural conversations. Many metal journalists are really awkward around bands, which leads to more of a reporter-artist dynamic and impersonal standard interviews.
– I agree, and this usually goes two ways: either they worship the bands so blatantly that they’re almost literally drooling after their idols. Or the second one, which might be even worse, is when they act like ‘cool guys’ – trying to pull some stupid macho poser act and behaving like celebrities themselves, just because they hang out with these artists. I mean, what’s wrong with being your actual self? All this posing and crawling like worms makes one look really stupid and, as you put it, awkward. I’m a firm believer in ‘honesty is the best policy’, I want to have this casual and relaxed thing going. That way, I hope to discourage all kind of poserism on the artist side as well; I think the NARGAROTH interview I did reflects this very well.
Considering this new social distancing world of ours, Jerry might not be able to do many in-person interviews for a while. Bereft of his proverbial bread and butter, perhaps it’s time to consider alternate formats.
– I have, in fact, recently been thinking about new formats, but I’m not yet satisfied with any of the ideas. Actually, a while back I released a video about how the coronavirus will affect Rauta. Some people suggested Skype interviews, but I don’t know… while I’m sure it would be possible with many bands, I doubt it would be the same thing. As I love metaphors, allegories, and so on: one could say it’s like sex versus porn, where the real face-to-face interview is the former and the online chat the latter. Maybe it’s the same pair of tits either way for the audience but, for me – the one doing the interview – the latter lacks the presence offered by the former. But, given the current times, I might have to adapt. For the moment, I think I’ll wait and see how things develop in the coming months. It’s not like I’m gonna do any interviews before the summer anyway, so we’ll have to see how things change then.
Please be advised though, if there ever surfaces any ‘Rauta reacts to…’ videos – meaning, where Jerry films himself listening to a record for the first time – there will be no mercy shown.
– None needed! Should I ever start making reaction videos, I will punch myself in the face. They are awful and fucking useless, I hate them. I think they’re a waste of everybody’s time. I have pondered doing them in a different way, like an opinion piece akin to those RAMMSTEIN and Lord of Chaos videos, but not in the sense that I’d be videoing myself listening to music and reacting to it. That would be really stupid
Reviews that are watched by, say, two-three hundred people – do they really warrant the time invested in producing them? Granted, certain Rauta reviews are more popular than some interviews, but only those of prolific bands such as MARDUK, BATUSHKA, and MGLA.
– The answer could be either ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the same time. A Schrödinger’s cat, in a way. For bands and smaller labels: sure, because they could sell a few more albums thanks to my review. Or people might check out the band at gigs and festivals. But, then again, those view counts are relatively low because most of these acts are rather obscure and people prefer hearing about bands they already know. So, I kinda think smaller acts deserve more attention than the bigger ones. Obviously, it doesn’t make much sense from a commercial point of view but, luckily for smaller bands, I’m not overly concerned about commercial points. My goal with reviews is reached if even ONE person checks out this new band and maybe buys a record. Then my work is done.