Tommi, Sami and Tapio tell a story about Survivors Zero
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
Finland´s rising death metal "super group", Survivors Zero, is slowly building a reputation for themselves as one of the most noteworthy new Finnish death metal acts. They have made an overwhelming first impression on metalheads from all around the world. Survivors Zero´s debut 2-song demo, EXTINCTION (which was mixed by Jonas Kjellgren, the owner of Black Lounge Studio in Sweden and of Scar Symmetry fame), has gained lots of very good responses for the band for their downright heavy, ruthless and lethal death metal on that output.
Survivors Zero are preparing to record their debut full-length album sometimes around the beginning of 2009, while writing hectically new songs all the time for it – carrying out their own musical vision for death metal, with all the ambition and determination they have within the band.
Tommi, Sami and Tapio from Survivors Zero tell us all about Survivors Zero, their plans regarding their forthcoming debut album, how they feel about the current state of the Finnish metal scene – and many other things as well.
SURVIVORS ZERO AIMING TO DIFFER FROM THE MASSES
While I was reading your official biography, I understood that the main reason why Survivors Zero was born, was because Sami – the owner of Studio Perkele, was somewhat totally fed up with the current state of the Finnish metal scene, having not enough brutal, but melodic death metal bands around these days? Could you be more specific about this issue of what kinds of metal bands Finland is currently lacking in your opinion?
Sami: In my opinion the Finnish scene has some certain problems. It seems that new bands try to innovate too much and end up sounding like like an unlistenable pile of shit. Most of this is the reason – in my opinion – because of the success of Nightwish. Everyone tries to be different from each other. And some metal bands too often try to shine on technical skills and not concentrate on making and playing good metal. And this has of course something to do with a ´guitar-her-mentality´ influence of Children of Bodom. We also have all kinds of swords & dragons, fairytale shit and all the other shit. And in addition to that, we have this really boring ´teenage bubblegum metal´ crap. These days there´re only a few decent metal bands that are true to the genre and are making killer music. There are only a few good bands out there that could be labelled death metal. But even most of those bands are still pretty unlistenable to me (sorry guys, he-he!!). There´s a really good underground death metal scene in Turku, fortunately. I really love the sounds of Panzerium, Torture Killer, Cannibal Accident, etc. from there.
Rotten: I agree somewhat what S(odom) Jämsen said. I´m proud to be a part of the Finnish metal scene because we have many good bands in different genres. But if you speak specific about death metal, I understand S(acrifice) Jämsen´s point of view. Stating Survivors Zero as a "melodic" death metal band, we don´t represent death metal in the most puritanic way. But we are concentrating on playing killer Metal music with lots of hooks to grap on to, and try not to forget the roots of death metal. I don´t want to point a finger to any specific band but a commercialized metal music has its down sides – I think you know what I mean.
Wilska: My problem with a modern sounding death metal is that there are too many followers and not innovators. Plus I really have a hard time getting into "instrument-porn" like Origin and the like which remind me of the worst examples of 70’s progressive rock, no content, just technique. I personally see the aim to be different from the mass as a great thing, although it sometimes yields unlistenable results.
The lineup of Survivors Zero features some relatively known metal musicians from a bunch of known Finnish metal bands like Reima (Impaled Nazarene), Rotten (ex-Deathchain), Tapio (ex-Finntroll, etc.), J-V (Machine Men) and you, who used to play in a deathrash act called Messiah Paratroops. Is Survivors Zero considered as a real, gigging band or merely a project band that basically records albums and might even do occasional gigs every now and then when everyone is around, and have no other commitments going on with their own bands?
Sami: Survivors Zero are getting into a gig rehearsing mode after the songs for the album are finished. This will happen in end of 2008, or early 2009. The guys have been around the scene pretty long so we are opting for fewer but bigger / better gigs. Also we need a full setlist, so when the album is done, we´ll hit the stage. But we really won´t do an extensive touring. In Finland for a relatively new band that would be a financial suicide.
Wilska: Well, never say never again. I definitely won’t call this a project, that conjures up images of guys just haphazardly slapping on some left-handed shit when there’s nothing else to do. As for gigs, personally I’m ready to go anywhere, anytime. Touring and doing gigs is the whole salt of this thing. When people in bands complain that tours are hard and they’d rather be home, boo-hoo. You’re in the wrong business. Back home to mom.
Rotten: On my part I´m very eager to play our stuff on stage. I´m anxious to see people´s reaction and response. As mentioned before, we don´t have a complete setlist yet. We need to practice a lot, so that we could sound as tight in a live situation as we sound in our recorded efforts. Anyway, the reality is that everybody has their own projects and responsibilities in their lives.
As each of you have quite different backgrounds in metal bands in general, so would you see this as an advantage or disadvantage for Survivors Zero when it comes to the song writing process of the band? How much do your opinions differ from each other about what Survivors Zero should be all about music-wise, lyric-wise – or even imago-wise?
Sami: So far the the music is written by me and everyone´s been happy with that. I think that´s going to change a bit as we go on with the band. I’ve been a big fan on Rotten´s lyrics and I love the stuff he comes up with. We talk together about the themes and stuff like that, but he does the actual job himself. Actually we’ve been a big happy family so far, ha-ha!!
Rotten: S(inatra) Jämsen does a fucking awesome job in songwriting. He is a really talented and pro guy. On top of that, he has a lot of knowledge and knowhow in this type of music. When he played his stuff first time, I was blown away! I think everybody is a really professional guy in this band and has been boiled in different kind of soups – and that´s what brings the strenght to the music. We have been talking mostly with S(inister) Jämsen of different themes that involve with both a lyrical – and musical perspective as well.
Wilska: Since the beginning I have been 100% behind the musical and lyrical direction, no doubt about it. I fucken love what these guys come up with, and am happy to be playing with these talented individuals. As for image… errr, since when does a death metal band really need a thought-of image? With us, what you see is what you get.
GETTING THE EXTINCTION DEMO RECORDED
The band recorded a 2-song promotional demo titled EXTINCTION at two different studios here in Finland (at Jive Studio and Studio Perkele), but then the whole demo was mixed by Jonas Kjellgren at Black Lounge Studio in Sweden. What led you eventually this type of decision to use 3 different studios for this promotional demo?
Sami: Studio Perkele is my own studio, so it was logical to do the most time consuming stuff there. At Jive we did the drums because Jukka Varmo is famous for his studio magic on working with drums. When I heard The Abscence´s RIDERS OF THE PLAGUE album, I knew I had to work with the guy who did that album. So I contacted Jonas and that WAs it. And we really wanted our first demo to make a impression on people. So it was worth the trouble.
Wilska: J. Varmo is an old friend of mine, and his studio has a nice space for doing drums. As for using Jonas, he really has an amazing knack for creating sound for this music. And the cold hard fact is that when there are more than one guy in the band working in the field of "knob-twiddling", it pays to get an outside pair of ears. If we hadn’t used Jonas we’d probably still be fighting over if the third rhythm guitar should be 2db louder or not and the demo would be ready early in 2015.
Rotten: I didn´t have anything to do with the decisions of this part. I´m thanking Jack Tyger for recording the vocals and the after party. How the demo sounds now thinking of it afterwards, I think the decisions were truly all worthy.
What about Jonas’S input on that demo (the mixing process)? How happy are you with the mixing on those 2 songs? Is that the kind of sound you were looking for this release, or were there something on the demo sound-wise that would have needed some sort of improvement as far as the whole mixing is concerned (guitar tone too low/high, or drums not heavy enough, or vocals too thin, etc. – these as examples only!)?
Sami: I’m really satisfied with the result. For a demo, I think it can’t any better than that. Jonas loved the songs too so the whole mixing process went really smoothly. Actually I gave Jonas very free hands to do whatever he wanted with the songs – and he made a few little surprises there for us.
Rotten: I´m also really satisfied with this recording. ´nuff said, I think.
Since EXTINCTION meant to be a promotional demo, I suppose it isn’t available for sale for a bigger public at all, correct?
Sami: Yes. We are just giving it away for free and sending some copies to labels. We made a few hundred copies of it. You can get a free copy (if you are quick – almost all copies are gone now) at selected Record Shop Äx stores in Finland.
Rotten: Yeah, only for promotional use. Go and get your free copy from Record Shop Äx!
What I have heard so far, the response toward your 2-song demo has been pretty darn overwhelming – I guess even better than what you originally expected about the outcome of your demo; f.ex. Nuclear Blast showed some curiosity toward your band as well. Would you tell more about that, plus give us some sort of rundown about other labels with a potential interest toward Survivors Zero thus far?
Sami: My friend has some contacts there. He gave a hint about us to Nuclear Blast and we got some nice comments from them. Actually we are now negotiating one very potential offer from one certain label.
Rotten: Almost all the responses have been really awesome. We truly believe in our music. So the response thus far, has been heart-warming as hell. I remember how we were waiting for our demo to be played by DJ at the Corner Bar, drinking beer and talking how it´s gonna sound like (and the hype was pretty high – and so was the permille levels too, I can tell, ha-ha!). When the demo was finally played there, and we heard the first chords – fuck, it was just awesome! Of course we listened to it all night at least hundreds of times, and praised each other how good was this and that part, you know ha-ha!!
MARRIAGE BETWEEN MELODIES AND NECK-BREAKING HEAVINESS
It’s been said that Survivors Zero sound a bit like Arch Enemy – and especially their BLACK EARTH album era (a-hem… quilty as charged). Do you feel any comfortable with that comparison?
Sami: I am big fan of early Arch Enemy and that comparison doesn’t disturb me. We have some similarities – yes, but I don’t think we are that overly ‘melodic’ as Arch Enemy are sometimes. I’d like to label us as ‘heavy death metal’, because we pick things from heavy metal and death metal to make our own sound. I think Arch Enemy has a similar approach, so that could be the connection. I’ve heard a lot of Arch Enemy comparisons to our songs, but I think those comments will stop when the album’s out and you hear the material on it as a whole.
Rotten: I´m also a fan of early Arch Enemy and I like some their new stuff also. I´m not really into a lot of melodic or soloing parts. I´m a big fan of Swedish death metal from the late ´80s to this date. Entombed, Dismember and Bloodbath are some of my very favorites. I hope that you can hear those influences in our music, too.
Wilska: Cannot say, as I am the least death metal oriented of these guys. But for me this is just a perfect blend of what I like; death metal, thrash metal, traditional heavy stuff… Fuck labels anyway.
You are currently working with new songs for a debut full-length album. How’s your new material coming together, by the way?
Sami: Last time I checked, we had almost seven songs ready. We have four more to come that we are working with right now.
Wilska: This Jämsen guy keeps coming up with funky ass shit like every single day. The new material will kick some serious arse. Seriously. Would I lie to you?
Rotten: S(chwein) Jämsen is writing the material at his house. Then he sends the files to me and I start to write the lyrics to the songs. Usually we have some kind of an idea for the lyrics before I start to write them. After everything is almost done, we practise with the song and record it. For me, recording is important ´cause I can listen to my vocals at home and practise with my vocal parts to make them sound better for a final result.
Are your newer songs basically similar to the songs on your EXTINCTION promo musically, or have you possibly expanded your sound toward some direction from those two songs style-wise?
Sami: They’re pretty much in the same vein. Maybe a bit more technical with more variation, but mainly feature catchy choruses and a brutal riff work as on our EXTINCTION demo.
Do you have any further plans to record any cover song(-s) for your forth-coming full-length album, like showing your own tribute to your roots, or something like that?
Sami: Yes. Some tribute – some much more original. We have only A few up for consideration yet.
Rotten: Yeah, sure we have to do some cover. It´s always fun to practise and play cover songs.
(For Sami only): As you are the owner of Studio Perkele, I assume it’s only logical that Survivors Zero will be using that studio mostly for the recordings of your debut album in order to keep the studio costs as low as possible – also having no fear that you would run out the booked studio time, whatsoever. Is that the plan to record your debut at your own studio, and then probably take care of the mixing and mastering by using some other studio for that (Black Lounge Studio in Avesta, Sweden perhaps?)?
Sami: We are doing demos of all the songs at Studio Perkele. And for the final studio work, we have other plans. Black Lounge is on the top of the list of course.
PRO TOOLS… TURNING SHIT INTO GOLD?
What’s Survivors Zero’s relationship with pro tools? Against, or for it?
Sami: It’s a tool as any other. I don’t think a certain software itself makes good albums or music – certain people do.
Wilska: Now here’s the thing… People who do not really understand what a digital recording is, talk about "oh, you fixed it in Pro Tools this and that – blah, blah, blaah…". The programs in themselves are not some magic tricks that automatically turn shit into gold. They are the same tools as used in time of analog machines and tape, but they make some things easier and faster to realize. I personally do not use Pro Tools, as other audio editors have had faster advances. But as I said, the use of software is just a means to an end… something that allows you to focus in the essential in a studio setting.
Producers of albums can either do some miracles – or simply destroy certain album’s material totally by their unfortunate attempts to bless the albums by a killer enough production (the history has way too many examples about this matter, unfortunately). So, are there some producers of albums around these days that would be ideal persons to produce a band like Survivors Zero? Would f.ex. any of the following producers fit to produce Survivors Zero: Andy Sneap (Arch Enemy, Exodus, Kreator, Machine Head, etc.)? Scott Burns (Pestilence, Death, Exhorder, Deicide, etc.), Thomas Skogsberg (Entombed, Grave, Amorphis, Dismember, etc.), Andy LaRocque (Evergrey, Melechesh, Runemagick, Lord Belial, etc.)?
Sami: I was thinking about Tue Madsen (The Haunted, Hatesphere) a while, but I think he’s immensely busy guy nowadays. I would love to work with Fredrik Nordstrom (In Flames, At the Gates) some day. Also Howard Benson (Papa Roach, Sepultura) is a guy I would like to work with some day, because of his old-school mixing methods. Jonas Kjellgren also is a rising star in the producer field and working with him a again would be a pleasure. All producers seem to have certain sound & methods and that’s why you opt for a certain guy.
Rotten: I love the Sunlight sound. Would be awesome to record something with Thomas Skogsberg at the Sunlight Studio. At Studio Fredman has been recorded one of the best albums ever in my opinion: At the Gates´ SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL. To work with Fredrik Nordstrom at Studio Fredman would be a dream-come-true thing for me personally. Would be cool to work with Scott Burns and Rick Rubin also but unfortunatelly I don´t think we are that lucky… yet! ;o)
Wilska: Of course there are people that I would love to work with. Andy Sneap, Flemming Rasmussen, Andy LaRocque – just to mention a few. But for this band…? I think the biggest mistake would be taking on a producer that has a "signature sound", like Burns or Skogsberg – a sound that has been heard on dozens of albums before, because I think we go for our own sound, and truly want that to develope and grow.
What would be an ideal time for you guys to get your debut album out then? Have you been giving any thought to this matter thus far?
Sami: Spring or fall 2009 are our current plans. Let’s see how these plans will work out for us…
Do you have any plans to bring Survivors Zero on road some day, at least by the time when your album hits the streets? Getting some slots at some summer festivals would be cool to reach as much people and possible – and raise interest among the masses toward Survivors Zero that way… ;o)
Sami: Summer 2009 looks good so far. I think our main plans are there.
Wilska: I’m like SO stoked to go out with these guys. The quicker we get out to do some serious slamming – the better.
THE EARLY TIMES… THE FINNS RULED IN DEATH AND METAL
Now going back in time for a couple of questions, when you are looking back to the late’80s – and early´90s Finnish underground death metal scene with bands like Xysma, Disgrace, Funebre, Demilich, Belial, Demigod, Mythos, Cartilage, Mordicus, Convulse, etc. in it. Do you believe most of the Finnish death metal bands back then, had more identity and originality of their own in their sounds than many Finnish death metal bands nowadays? To me, there’s only one possible correct answer to this question… ;o)
Sami: The Finnish death metal in those days had a certain sound – yes, and shorter five alphabetical names, ha-hah!! Loved the death metal scene in those days. It’s a really different world now.
Wilska: Fucken loved a lot of those bands, even tho at that particular time in history I dabbled more in thrash metal, hardcore punk and such. I mean, there were great personalities and bands that could have gotten huge, given half a chance… Demilich with one of the best DM vocalists of all times, Antti "Stormdrain" Boman, Xysma who were so totally an entity of their own… and one of the best live bands I have had the pleasure of seeing on stage (many, many times). But the DM masses opted for the third Napalm Death or Cannibal Corpse copycat from the left. Their loss.
Rotten: It´s great that death metal scene have this "back to the roots" -attitude. It gives respect to the bands that originally started the whole thing. It´s sad but true also that these "mainstream acts" give a somewhat "bad name" for the Finnish metal scene. But I´m not concerned about it. There are a lot of true metalheads out there who don´t give a shit about these trends and they´ll surely find the bands they like.
The Finnish underground death metal scene during the late eighties and early nineties, was overall much respected and loved – and gained much recognition from underground metal fans from all over the world. But nowadays, it’s bands like Nightwish, C.o.B., H.I.M., Lordi, Stratovarius and bands with more of this ‘mainstream sound’ that seem to get all the recognition, and giving a name to what the Finnish metal scene is all about these days. Do you find this fact somehow kind of sad and unfortunate that the Finnish metal scene isn’t known for its quality death metal as much as it used to be some 15 years ago?
Sami: Yeah, there’s some incredible action going on in death metal scene internationally as new bands have been hugely influenced by the sound of the nineties and the classic bands of the genre. Sadly, I don’t see this trend here in Finland. The Finnish metal is known only by those huge acts and that’s a sad fact. The whole underground tape trading scene from those days in death metal is gone, though black metal still has a good underground movement with all those 7-inch records and even C-tapes.
Rotten: You´re quite right. In the late ´80s – and early ´90s, the Finnish death metal had a more original approach than today´s death metal bands. I think back then bands were seeking for their own unique sound. In my opinion the Finnish death metal had a lot of influences from the Swedish death metal – like from Carnage, Nihilist and Grave for example. I like very much some of the today´s Finnish death metal bands like Torture Killer, Sotajumala and of course Deathchain to a mention a few.
What are – in your opinion, some of the best carries of quality death metal out from the Finnish metal scene nowadays – and for what reason(-s) from your point of view?
Sami: Deathchain’s new album DEATH ETERNAL is pretty nasty. Torture Killer has a brutal sound also. Sotajumala are getting a good international recognition. I’ve heard decent stuff from new bands like Embreach for example. But maybe the times are changing and we will have real new death metal stars in few years.
Wilska: I love Deathchain. Not many people know this, but Corpse is actually my son. Torture Killer are great and I await great things from Demolisher.
Back to Survivors Zero again for the last couple of questions though. Do you see – at least somehow, Survivors Zero as some sort of an oddball in the Finnish death metal scene these days as you do sound quite different compared to many other death metal bands from the current Finnish death metal scene that have adopted a more brutal, less melodic and blast-beat orientated direction for themselves musically (Kataplexia, Sotajumala, Torture Killer, Scent of Flesh and so on)?
Sami: I think we are different from the other Finnish death metal bands. Most bands are into brutal death/grind, we are for a much wider audience.
Rotten: Yes, we are a little bit different from the Finnish death metal scene, I guess. We are playing the kind of music I would like to hear at Corner Bar (which is a metal bar located in the downtown of Helsinki ~ Luxi informs) – or any other metal bar for that matter. Brutal stuff, but would still have lots of groove and a great chorus in it, so that you could shout and mosh with the music while you could get your alcohol- and adrenaline on the top level, ha-ha-ha!!!
Wilska: Yup, total attention whores and sell-outs… :oD Plus we are obviously too old to be able to play that extreme grind stuff even if we wanted. Seriously, I sort of think melody is an integral part of music, at least the kind of music I want to make.
What kind of message would you like to send out to all death metal fans out there that are curious to check Survivors Zero out, but haven’t done so yet for some reason or the other?
Sami: Be sure sure to check out our Myspace site and our demo. If you love it (you will!), then throw us a hail and spread the word!
Rotten: Check us out! You won´t be disappointed!
ABOUT DRUNKEN WANKFESTS, FAKE TITS, FINDING JESUS
What do you hope to achieve within 2009 with Survivors Zero – besides fame, fortune, lotsa free booze and hot’n’ willing chicks, of course, ha-ha!
Sami: Incredibly excellent album, some killer gigs and having a great time doing all this.
Wilska: "2009?" An excellent album, fast huge sales, some great gigs which soon deteriorate into drunken wankfests, a budding alcohol- and drug problem, quick marriage and divorce with some tabloid airhead with fake tits and an IQ of a squirrell, a few arrests for public lewdness… then I’ll find Jesus. In my closet. Specific enough for you? (Ha-ha, I guess that´s enough for now, Mr. Wilska ~ Luxi comments back)
Rotten: All this what you and S(laughter) Jämsen said – and we´ll be the rulers of the world, ha-ha!!
Thanks a lot for your precious time with my questions, and I wanna wish all the best for the recordings of your debut album. Let the year 2009 be the year of Survivors Zero’s world domination (any last words, or anything you’d still like to add to conclude this interview?)!
Sami: Thanks for featuring us for Metal-Rules.com. Stay metal!
Rotten: Thanks… Rot n´ roll!
Wilska: Thank you brother. And to all of you shiny happy people holding entrails in your hands, keep the metal underground alive. If you like a band, buy their album, go see them live. Don’t just bitch about stuff over the internet. In it for life, bitches!