Possession Is the Law for Psychedelic Black Metallers Oranssi Pazuzu
Back in 2009, Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu presented their first album, Muukalainen Puhuu. The cover depicted a vaguely sinister astronaut, partially obscured in shadows, standing in front of a tapestry of stars. The band’s logo, stylized in the form of a bird — a common motif utilized by ancient civilization — is emblazoned in the upper right hand corner. Some may remember Pazuzu as the name of the demon that possessed the young Regan MacNeil in William Friedkin’s iconic film, The Exorcist. Pazuzu is also the Assyrian demon of the south wind, bringing pestilence and drought. Indeed, the moniker is an interesting amalgamation of dark, cosmic imagery.
Black metal was largely responsible for moving metal forward in the 90’s. The Scandinavians put the subgenre on the map and challenged tedious routines by adding a truly threatening visage. Black metal was dangerous, unpredictable and confrontational, embracing ultimate freedom. Ironically, in later years, its adherence to orthodoxy and tradition prevented supporters from seeing beyond certain tropes that indicated whether or not a band was “cvlt” or "true." Oranssi Pazuzu, in stark contrast, have embraced cross-pollination, incorporating a multitude of different genres and influences. Musically, they bring to mind an evil version of Tangerine Dream, building a complex soundtrack of darkly beautiful compositions.
Back in 2012, Oranssi Pazuzu performed live at Tilburg’s Roadburn Festival. It was a magical moment, as the band sparingly tours Europe. And fans were once again treated to a live Roadburn performance this past April. Oranssi Pazuzu’s Jun-His (real name: Juho Vanhanen) shared some thoughts on the the essence of the band, their most recent full-length, Värähtelijä, and their second appearance at Roadburn.
You're a former member of Kuolleet Intiaanit. Was forming Oranssi Pazuzu a reaction to that band, or a continuation? Both bands are very different, but I can hear similarities, especially in the psychedelic, Hawkwind-esque vibe.
It’s both. When we started Kuolleet Intiaanit, we were living in an area where people were mostly into mainstream music and wanted to imitate stuff that was happening in Helsinki or London. We made a decision to do something new; we wanted to break out from our environment. When Kuolleet Intiaanit stopped, we already had plans of executing something with more atmosphere and harmony, with influences found in black metal, but in a more King Crimson way. When we started Oranssi Pazuzu, we wanted to mix the more hypnotic side of black metal with psychedelic music. We wanted it to be hypnotic and ominous; we wanted to bring it to a more tribal level.
When did the band form, in what city?
We formed in Seinäjoki. Our bass player, Ontto, was living in Tampere at that time, but we had our first rehearsal in Seinäjoki. At the end of that rehearsal, we had the song "Korppi," which is the first song off of the first album. It had the hypnotic and ominous sound that we were after. After that, Moit joined the band to play guitar and keyboard. We felt he would be the guy to take it to the next level, psychedelia-wise. He really completed the lineup, in a sense. Moit also lived in Tampere, so we moved our practice place to there. Now most of us live in Tampere.
Black metal often has an ideology associated with it: paganism, the occult, Satanism. Are any of those concepts present with Oranssi Pazuzu?
We are a fusion band. Part of the ideology is that we take influences from stuff that we find that is important or that we identify with. We are way too hippie to be part of the Satanic Black Metal thing as a whole, but on the other hand, I’m personally into finding my own path and not just follow[ing] the herd like a sheep. That is the influence I take from the Satanic side of things. Musically and ideologically, we draw influence from wherever we want. We don’t want to limit ourselves. We are interested in each other’s philosophies and thoughts on life; how we want to perceive it, how we want to live it and how we want to explore it. Everyone can make up their own mind about things. We are in no way part of Satanic Black Metal, though we have some influences from the ideology.
What is the nature of the name Oranssi Pazuzu?
We wanted to create a name that was ominous, and “Pazuzu” came about. We knew there was a band with that name already. “Black Pazuzu” wouldn’t really describe our psychedelic side, the more hippie side to the music. “Orange,” which is “Oranssi” in Finnish, is more of a psychedelic color; plus, it is said to be the first color of the Big Bang, which is connected to the cosmic side of our music. We wanted the name to describe the duality of the band — the psychedelic influence with the cold, dark side of black metal.
What are the lyrical themes in general and on the new record?
The lyrics come from our atheistic point of view. They explore the psychology of the human mind, fear of dying, fear of diving into the unknown. The lyrics also cover individuality, but also being part of [a] tribal kind of thinking. We draw a lot of influences from evolution and transformation. All of our lyrics, even the fanciful ones, have a basis in scientific reality. Ontto writes the lyrics, so I am only giving you my interpretation of them. We share a lot of the same of ideas and philosophies on existence — how we can uniquely experience existence, but can still have a very collective experience at the same time. We are together as living organisms, something that is unique versus the hostile cosmos.
Do you think that human life in the universe is unique, or do you think that there might be other life forms in the universe or in different dimensions?
I think it is very much possible when you consider how vast the universe is, but life is still an anomaly in the universe. Everything is hostile around living organisms and it’s just our ego talking when we think that the universe somehow cares about us. Of course we are part of the universe as well, but we are an anomaly. It’s beautiful, melancholic and sad, all at the same time.
Oranssi Pazuzu are referred to as psychedelic black metal. What are the influences?
It’s a fusion; nothing is excluded. It’s about the freedom of exploring. I want the music to be ponderous; it should awake thoughts for the listener the same way it evokes ideas in us. I want the music to work as a mirror. I think our music is mostly about taking everything around you and creating something that will resonate with people. It may be chance or luck, but I feel like we have ended up with something fairly unique.
Were there any differences in the creative process or the production?
This time was the first time we had a chance to demo everything. We have a collective of bands playing in the same rehearsal place. It’s called Wastement and Dark Buddha Rising, Atomikylä, Mr. Peter Hayden Band and Abyssion are all part of it. Everything is mic'ed up and ready. We can just roll the computer and have very high-class demos and work on the sound. We had been jamming a long time before we started to put together the album. We wanted to go more with the jam side of our music, have free-flowing stuff along with the compositions. But at the same time, we wanted the compositions to be kind of strict. As a result of all of the preparation and demo recording, I didn’t feel as much pressure. We already had a sound in mind and the right guy, Julius Mauranen, mixing it.
This year was your second appearance at Roadburn. Did you enjoy the festival?
I think it was even nicer than the first time. It was more relaxed, despite the fact that we arrived only and hour before the set! The audience was really into the whole vibe. Definitely that’s one of the places in the world that feels like these are our friends, our kind of people that want to dive deep into where we are taking them musically.
Does Oranssi Pazuzu tour extensively in Europe? What are your touring activities like?
We are the kind of band that likes to do maybe two weeks of touring, and then some festivals, and maybe another two weeks of touring. I like the idea that when we play, we are kind of on our toes a bit. We don’t want to get too comfortable with the set or I think it loses the intensity, which for us is the most important thing: atmosphere and intensity. For the intensity to stay the same, we kind of need to not play too many shows, bring in new jams — even a 10-minute free jam into the set at some point, or a new song. We can’t stay still for too long; otherwise the shows would be boring. I like the feeling of when I go onstage not knowing everything about the set. It might go horribly wrong or it might be really good. I like the sense of danger when playing live.