Back in the day, thrash/speed metal flourished in every corner of the world. The thrash metal movement spread like wildfire throughout Finland as bands came out of nowhere and most of them got signed and released a few albums and disappeared. One of them was A.R.G. hailing from Northern Finland. The four piece thrashers conquered the catacombs of the underground with their brutal death/thrash metal and released two albums and then, surprise surprise, they split up. Starting a few years ago, the northernmost thrash metal veterans once again began taking to the stage and gigging effectively. In this interview, the guitarists shed more light on the past, the present and the future.
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Good mourning to the horde of A.R.G., how’s it going in the camp of the legendary thrashers ?
Jari: After the last club-tour, it´s nothing but trying to get back alive. It´s hard on the road!
Vesa : It´s always a little bit of mayhem going on in our lives. Right now we´re preparing ourselves for Tuska festival.
BACK TO THE PAST
Although the band is known more than well in Finland, your reputation and legacy has mostly remained unknown elsewhere. Let’s start the interview with typical questions. The band started out back in 1987 as Pestilence and lasted until 1993 when the Northernmost thrashers vanished from the maps – But going back in time, could you introduce briefly how everything started out in 1987?
Jari : When Pestilence split up I started new project with Pasi Takkula (drummer of Pestilence). After a few “not so seriously”- demos Tepa and Vesa joined and we started rehearsal as A.R.G. That´s how we started.
Vesa : Yeah, what Jari said. It was a natural step forward.
The demo tapes of A.R.G. were spread amongst the catacombs of the underground by tape traders and your demos ended up even to exotic countries of that time, what kind of feedback did you receive and from which countries did you receive orders and feedback? Did you manage to create contacts to other bands elsewhere by trading demos and albums?
Jari : Tepa is the best one to answer this one…
Vesa : There was some tape trading going on, but as Jari said, Tepa was on top of those things.
Those demos definitely presented the raw and brutal aggressive thrash. What kind process was the recording of those demos did you record them in one take or was the main attempt to reach raw and brutal sounds as possible on them ?!
Jari : Demo´s were recorded in Rauhala, Zero Nine´s studio. We recorded them piece by piece. We didn´t think the sound too much. Of course we wanted them to sound as good as we can….
Vesa : Mostly, it was all about the raw, violent thrashing and all the other so called technical stuff came along as we played our thing.
The EP titled Aggressive Confessor was a brutal slab for sure. The EP rose to the singles chart, but could you tell a little bit more about how it came about?
Jari : One day we were at the Rauhala (the recording place of the first real demo) and one pal told us that there’s this band competition in Oulu. He suggested us to go there and at least get to play a gig if nothing else. And there we went, then. Before this event we had visited some smaller competitions just to get to play anywhere at all, but with this band competition we got to play in Pudasjärvi and Oulu! This new band competition was called “Northern Finland’s band championship” and the winning band would get to record a single. We thought that we’ll get to play a gig at Kuusisaari, Oulu, get blasted afterwards and return home. It didn’t go exactly as we had planned. First there were preliminary rounds. We player the first set and then started drinking. At some point one mate came to tell us to stop drinking because it looks like you’ve qualified for the next round. We were like no shit; under the influence already and we will have be playing soon, again. So off we went and played the second round and managed to get through it. Then we returned into boozing and thought that what if we’d win at least the third prize which was some gift certificate into some music store. In the end they declared that we, A.R.G., won the championship title. We played a few songs this time very much under the influence and it was broadcasted to radio as live. Afterwards we weren’t exactly laughing about the matter. But as we had won, we would get to record a single.
Even thought A.R.G. presented aggressive and straightforward playing in your face thrash metal, however sense of humor hadn’t been forgotten or ignored. I assume it was the part of the game of A.R.G. after all ?
Jari : Life ain’t so serious, if you can’t laugh to yourself so…..
Vesa : Sure, it gives you a simple aspect of life and you get a little bit of relaxation within the harsh reality of brutality.
The debut album titled ENTRACE had been seriously waited amongst the metal head as EP and demos had already conquered the underground, even though the album stood for brutal thrash, but something went wrong, because of the sounds were confusing ?
Jari : The sound was what it was corse it was the first “digital”studio in finland and we didn´t have a change to be there all the time.
Vesa : Album was recorded in Helsinki and we lived in Kuusamo, you do the math? We didn´t have the chance to be around, when alterations were made. Still, it was kind of a statement thru´ our style of metal.
The second album ONE WORLD WITHOUT THE END had the magnificent improved sound quality and tight played thrash metal. Were you under the pressure when working on the songs for the second album as they had to sound as brutal as the previous material or was the song writing an easy going process however ?
Jari : We wanted to do the OWWTE album in Oulu near Kuusamo. Of course we wanted to be there when mixing etc. happened. I had some kind of pressure about the studio work but the writing was easy. Some of the OWWTE song´s were ready and we played them live when ENTRANCE hit the stores.
Vesa : Again, it was natural next step and all the songs had a certain fire in them. They came out quite easily at that time. Little bit of progressive approach and of course the influences, at that time, played some kind of part within the writing process.
Do you have any idea now how many copies were sold outside of Finland, because as far as I am able to remember, your albums were released by some foreign label under license deals? Am I mistaken?
Jari : OWWTE was released in Benelux-countries by BLACK MARK. I heard a rumour it sold better there than here in Finland, hehee.
Vesa : Really? And those bastards from Black Mark didn´t tell us anything about it? No really, personally, I don´t have a clue how it sold out there?
Did you ever trade your album with other bands to have more difficult albums?
Jari : No.
A.R.G. got put out two albums, ENTRANCE in 1989 and THE ONE WORLD WITHOUT THE END in 1991; both of them have been re-issued by Spinefarm. Both the reissued albums included the bonus material. As a matter of fact could you unveil a little bit more about the bonus stuff, were the albums re-mixed and finally how did Spinefarm get interested in doing a such act of culture by releasing them ?
Jari : I don’t know but I heard that Teemu Suominen was the father of the re-issue idea.
Vesa : They were remixed, yes. I think it´s all about this comeback idea and Teemu, of course.
The band has always flagged for the Reindeer metal, all right, tell to all the readers what it came from?
Jari : We are from Northern Finland and southern Finlanders call Northern Finlanders as reindeers. That´s it.
Vesa : First, it was kind of a “piss off” from the southern representatives, but we took it as “what the hell?” this is a good one. Because, already in those days, there were increasingly revealing new gategories of metal, we kind of wanted to be something of our own.
A.R.G. ceased to exist around 1993, what exactly led to the demise?
Jari : Tepa got tired and we all moved around the Finland so it was a natural…. disease?
Vesa : Growth? Tired? Fed up? Hard to say, maybe it was what Jari said.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
A.R.G. congealed in the early of the 90s. After spending 20 years in the slumber the band made the triumphanant comeback in 2011. When the drummer Pasi Takkula sadly passed away, it was more than sure A.R.G. will never return. Seriously what made you change your minds and were you truly convinced A.R.G. would never get on the stage again after dismissing?
Jari : I thought that never… But when Tepa called me and ask that can we do Jalometalli gig i thought first that why not? Of course we were a little bit nervous but after few rehearsal´s it
sounded better and better…So let´s go all the way.
Vesa : When Tepa called, I thought about it like five seconds. Hell yeah, I´m ready to do this. AAAAAND, here we go!
You had been asked to return to the stage several times since you broke up and you had constantly declined offers and request . Did you ever talk to each other about doing something together as A.R.G. or did you lose the contacts with each other after the split up? Did you still have any interest left toward A.R.G. in the 90s or ’00s or just lost interest toward the metal thing entirely ?!
Jari : The only dude to whom I kept the contact in the end of the 90´s was Pasi and Tepa, when I lived in Oulu. When I moved out, Pasi and I kept the contact. I thought that let the dead dog rest in peace, no interest at all about A.R.G.
Vesa : Hell no, I AM METAL. Sometimes I and Jari called each other and I played In Pain Confessor 2002-2009 and I´ve never lost interest in Metal. When I toured with Pain C. there were questions all the time when A.R.G. will come back and play. So, there you go.
Was it an easy decision from each guy of A.R.G. to start doing A.R.G. again cos the whole thing fell apart quite bitterly in the early 90s and in general the whole line-up of that time underwent radical changes ?
Jari : It was easy cos we never ended ARG in hate.
Vesa : As I said, it was easy and we never fell apart with any bitterness or any other shit like that.
Did it feel odd to gather into the same rehearsal room with old guys to start jamming old tunes from the past, did everything go as smoothly as twenty years ago or was the playing of old thrash hymns in kind of rust?
Jari : Of course it was rusty but that´s why we went to rehearsal old songs. For me and Vesa and Timo it wasn´t so hard corse we play in our own band´s all the time. Tepa is the working class hero in this case, hahaha. How did the lyrics go in Pesticide? Don´t look at me, I don´t know! hahhaaaa!
Vesa : Sure, songs were somewhat lost at first, but the atmosphere was the same. I was surprised that it was so relaxed and it felt as nothing had happened in between. Nice!
How did the current drummer Timo Hanhijoki come into the picture ? Did you approach the second drummer named Tappi or possibly even consider other candidates behind the drum stool?!
Jari : It was just one phone call and after half an our Timo called me back and said ok. I didn´t think anyone else behind the drums, why? I didn´t know any other drummer! And I know that Tappi doesn´t play the drums anymore, so I didn´t even ask Tappi.
Vesa : Timo “Dinke” Hanhijoki plays In Corpset , the other Jari´s band, and Jari told us he´s the master behind the kit. Then, I realised that he also plays in Crystalic. What the hell, let´s go for it and he IS a remarkable metal drummer and a brother.
On the eve of the demise of A.R.G all of the guys used to live in different places, making rehearsals quite difficult. Apparently most of you live in other places than in one certain place, how do you coordinate the rehearsals now and how are the things different than 20 years ago?
Jari : We re-group for rehearsals to Tampere when we can. Nowadays you can send file`s via email so you can play the riffs in your own home. We do homeworks and then we play as a band.
RETURN TO THE LIMELIGHT
A.R.G. has gigged around Finland quite effectively, what kind of reception have you received from both young and older generation of the Finnish metalheads ?
Jari : Good feedback from youngsters and oldsters. Amazing nutcases!!
Vesa : It´s the age of the second generation of reindeer-metallists. Back then it was great and now it´s getting better towards mayhemic thrash celebration!
However you will be doing gigs by appearing at a couple of festival dates like Tuska, do you feel enchanting to have great opportunities of getting on the stage at various metal festivals around and show the old school thrash metal lives and well do you feel the age is just a number and there is no boundaries for raging on the stage ?
Jari : You said it. Age is just a number for me. It`s great to play in Tuska as well as Steelfest.
Vesa : What do you mean? You say that I´m old? Heh, let´s f**k shit up and worry later!
A.R.G. mainly gigged with other Finnish metal and even rock bands. Touring with Stone and Airdash, playing gigs in all kinds of clubs and hellholes and without forgetting several festival appearances were definitely unforgettable over 20 years ago. Apparently shows were pretty wild and insane ?
Jari : The good old days! You never knew what is gonna happen next. In these days it´s more shaking your hair, not so much stagediving.
Vesa : Those were the days. Well, it would be fun to play some kind of remembrance tour with those guys. Then again, maybe not. We´re concentrating on our own future right now.
How did you get along with Stone being the leading name on the Finnish metal map back in day (included the current Children Of Bodom guitarist) when touring with them ?
Jari : Stone and Airdash dudes were great. I didn´t have any fuss touring with them.
Vesa : Great guys. Great musicians. It was fun and educating ( what? ). Some of them didn´t hold their booze that well, hah.
I still remember your gigs in the early days were extremely wild, do you miss the insane looking stage diving and pure chaos and mayhem like in the late 80s ?
Jari : Of course I miss it, but it´s nice when people don´t smash your gear when running throw the stage ……
Vesa : What Jari said.
A.R.G. supported Death and Loudblast and the domestic death metal Convulse shared the stage as well. What kind of memories do you still treasure on your mind about the gig and meeting Chuck Schuldiner?
Jari : I only saw Chuck on the stage so I can’t say anything about that. But it was great to warm up one of my favorite bands.
Vesa : Actually, Chuck wandered accidentally into our backstage and left immediately. Death´s tour manager interrupted our soundcheck. Still, we trashed the place and got good reviews.
Back in 1990 A.R.G. shared the stage with Sodom and Running Wild at the huge outdoor festival named Giants Of Rock, did you manage to talk to Angel Ripper as A.R.G. was labeled as the Finnish answer to Sodom back in the day?
Jari : I was busy to get some lemonade with Roope Latvala (of Stone/COB) and after that I was busy trying to save Pasi from the local cops. So I didn´t talk to Angel Ripper but I saw them on the stage!
Vesa : I and Tepa met Angelripper and Witchhunter in the backstage and got autographs and took pictures. I met Uriah Heep also, nice
Did you ever try to get gigs outside of Finland like Stone, Airdash and Prestige played some gigs here and there ?!
Jari : Once upon the time there was talk about playing in RockSummer Tallinn. It ended as talk.
Vesa : And tour with Kreator, but Airdash went for it, for some reason?
What is the biggest difference playing gigs nowadays compared to the heyday? How do you avoid getting inner conflicts within the bands? And back in the day the alcohol definitely played a big role in the band, but what about nowadays?
Jari : Nowadays it doesn´t make a different versus old days when your playing. We don’t fight cos we are too old for that shit. And we get along with alcohol these days too.
Vesa : Inner conflicts? You assume we have those, right? Well, we are more experienced in that sense that we don´t get into those. Yet, hah!
Besides A.R.G. all the members of A.R.G. are involved in other bands; Hmm…you could tell a little bit more by introducing these other bands, like what you have got out, what kind of stuff they play?!
Jari : Corpset has released one album called RUINS. We play twisted metal or we love to call it that. We will starting recording a new album in April.
Vesa : I play in Anger Cell and we just finished the recordings of our first album. In fact, we released our first single “Constant Collision” from the album. Style – melodic thrash/death metal. Kind of?
As A.R.G is really activate and gains more attention, so what are the current status of these other bands ?
Jari : As important as A.R.G.
Vesa : What Jari said.
How do you then share the time between personal issues, and all these bands and above all A.R.G. and is A.R.G. the priority at the moment ?
Jari : A.R.G and Corpset are both important to me, and it´s not my job to play so i give both bands as much my free time as the bands need.
Vesa : It´s easy, you take the calendar and make it happen. Sometimes, there can be some difficulties to adjust the dates, but you just negotiate about the situation and it will be sorted.
Did the legacy of A.R.G loom on your shoulders all the time when playing in these newer bands as people kept asking about the return of A.R.G or playing some A.R.G tunes live ?!
Jari : I don’t think so, no-one ever asked anything about A.R.G at Corpset gigs. Hahaha!
Vesa : No, it didn´t do anything on my shoulders, even though they kept asking about A.R.G. when I played in Pain Confessor.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Back in the day the thrash scene was vital and absolutely tremendous in Finland. Each village and town used to have the thrash scene of their own and of course bands coming from the north sounded intensive and brutal and tight. How do you view the speed/thrash/death metal of Northern Finland?
Vesa: It has definitely some kind of vibe on it´s own. Maybe more gloomy, aggressive and harder approach to it.
I can’t help ask, regarding the new material, cos I am sure you may have a riff or two stored, could you unveil a bit about possible new songs?
Jari : Two songs almost ready, old school thrash metal.
Vesa : More to come.
Do you view thet the old school thrash crowd might be a bit critical towards the new stuff or is there a risk of failing in coming up lethal thrash hymns?
Jari : I do songs and if they are ok with rest of the band….that´s it. I don´t waste my time thinking what people think about new A.R.G.
Vesa : As long as the band thrashes on, other things aren´t that important. I mean, as long as we´re having fun doing this.
Before concluding the interview I gotta inquire what you have been listening to lately, so spit it out…
Jari : The latest Meshuggah album.
Vesa : Carnal Demise: S/T, Anthrax: Worship music, Evocation: Apocalyptic, Faithfull Breath: Gold´n Glory, The National: High Violet, and so on..
All right time to conclude the interview I for one thank you for this interview and wish nothing, but the great success for A.R.G. Of course it is your chance to give the last famous words …
Jari : Cheers and see you in gigs!
Vesa : Thrash on!
The official A.R.G site