Published Feb 20, 2013Having formed in 1993, Finnish grindcore act Rotten Sound have been churning out unrelentingly fast, visceral extreme metal with a doom twist for 20 years. Their latest EP, Species at War, is no exception, featuring six tracks in eight minutes that encompass chaotic, rapid-fire drum blasts and indecipherable guitar dissonance, as well as groove-laden riffs. Following vocalist Keijo Niinimaa's stint with Nasum last year, performing the late Mieszko Talarczyk's vocals for their 20th anniversary/farewell tour, Species at War marks Rotten Sound's first set of highly anticipated new material since 2011's acclaimed Cursed. Niinimaa recently took some time out while on tour in Finland to discuss his experience with Nasum, as well as the new EP, the concept behind it and how the band's sound has progressed over the years. He also talked about what fans can expect from their next full-length, which may incorporate some new elements into their classic grind sound.
You were on the road last year performing vocals for Nasum. What was that experience like?
It was a really amazing tour in all possible ways! The response was very positive; we played all kinds of shows — from sweaty, true grind shows to big festival arenas — and got to see a lot of places in just four months. The coolest thing is that we're following that tour with Rotten Sound, except for the festivals in Europe.
How has the transition been, getting back to performing your own band's material?
Pretty easy, because we have been touring all the time and Rotten Sound and the other guys were also playing together when they finalized the EP and started writing the next album. We also did a tour right before Nasum's tour, played two shows in Russia in the summer and did a festival right after Nasum. There really wasn't more than three to four months in a row of no shows for us.
What was the writing and recording process like for the new EP, Species at War?
The songs were in the works already in 2010 when we wrote and recorded Cursed, but when the Cursed content was complete, we decided to put these six songs aside for a while. Then, we toured quite a lot around Cursed's release and didn't really think about these songs at all. But when Mika [Aalto, guitar], Sami [Latva, drums] and Kristian [Toivainen, bass] started to put together material for the next album, they realized that these songs don't really fit so well with what's coming up next and as a result we decided to finalize this one. All the music was recorded, the song order was done and I took it from there on one free week from the Nasum tour, when I wrote all the lyrics and also recorded the vocals. Sami mixed and mastered the EP and we even got the artwork really easily when our friend had made it for a Finnish mini tour we just had. In another words, much easier and relaxed than most of the releases we've done.
Is this EP release a way to fill the gap between 2011's Cursed and the next full-length?
Well, not really. As said, we wanted to put this out because the songs do not fit the other new songs we have. Also, we wanted to see how this kind of recording process works for us. Everyone basically recorded themselves and when Sami's in the band, mixing was also very straight-forward. I'm pretty sure we'll take some of this to the next album, although we will obviously put some more money in the studios and maybe also do mastering elsewhere. Having said that, I think that this EP is way more balanced than any of our older releases.
With six songs in eight minutes, it is very short, which leaves the listener wanting more. Was that intentional?
Yes and no, to be honest. But then, at the same time, we have always liked to make pretty short releases and the idea was to make almost like one epic song with six parts. Mika and Sami also thought of the order in a way that the last track fits with the first track, which makes you want to re-play the EP. I recall auditing to the final master twice almost accidentally when my CD player had repeat on. I'm getting quite amused from the reviews now when every single one of them says that the EP is too short and most of them can't find anything else to complain about. We really think that it's better to leave listeners wanting more instead of getting bored.
Lyrically, is there a specific theme or concept behind the EP?
Yes, it has. Cursed was about features, or curses, of humanity and I consider Species at War as the final chapter for that album. Maybe that's what it is in all other means too. Species at War is handling the most evil consequences caused by our curses: wars caused by religious and other cultural differences. Everyone knows that none of the religious or political systems were originally meant to spread violence, but people interpret them in this way all the time and it really makes me wonder if they're just an excuse to destroy. The songs, or parts, are starting from the cause definition, moves through conflict into war, defines the solution. The winning religion/culture/system applies the salvation and then enters into a bitter peace.
What is the meaning of the title Species at War?
I'm referring to people, who are unable to be humane enough to stay in peace. Humanity is generally thought as a good thing in our behaviour, but homo sapiens as a species is far from that.
Musically, this EP has Rotten Sound's distinct grindcore sound. Is that sound something the band strive to maintain when you are writing or does it just come naturally?
The sound has evolved over the years into what it is now. We started as a crust/grind band with a quite basic Marshall guitar tone. We did that until our first full-length, when we started to incorporate more death metal into our sound and music. Drain [from 1998] was recorded at Sunlight Studios and we picked up the Peavey Bandit as recording, or at least supporting, amplifier from there. Strangely, Mika was still using Metal-Zone at the time instead of HM-2, but that was changed on [2002 album] Murderworks, when we went to Soundlab Studios to record with Mieszko [Talarczyk]. Mieszko was able to give us more aggression in the drums and he also convinced us to keep the guitars quite dirty. That sometimes makes it a bit difficult to hear the riffs on the first listen, but it also makes the songs grow on you when you get into them. I think that Nasum's [2000 album] Human 2.0 has a lot of that in the sound. Then, when we could not record with Mieszko anymore, we ended up learning how to get the guitar tone more into what it is now and started to record at Finnish studios to save time and money. So, quite a long evolution through many different producers, but I guess that it has been worth it, because we're also able to produce a pretty similar sound when we play live.
There are also some very groove-heavy doom parts. Where does that influence come from?
Well, all of us have always listened to a lot of doom, stoner and sludge, so it probably comes from there. Entombed's death rock albums were also a big influence at one point, and still are, and they did affect us in a way that we still sound like them at times although that's not really intentional.
There has been a lot of positive feedback on this EP. Do you think Rotten Sound are becoming more of a popular band in extreme metal? Or will it always be an underground thing?
We're getting more popular in North America at the moment, but I think that it's quite difficult for a Finnish extreme metal band to become really that big over there. We should probably tour a lot more and do even more diverse packages, but we also want to keep a relaxed mentality about whatever we do; we don't want to over-do things. That has kept us motivated over the years and has made us keep going for these 20 years.
Is the response better in Finland/Europe than it is in North America?
I think that the responses in all these territories are getting pretty similar. Or we will know that in few months when the Euro tour, US/Canada tour and Finnish tour are over. The Finnish tour is actually going on right now and it seems that we're drawing a bit more now than right after Cursed.
What's next for Rotten Sound? Are there any plans for a full-length follow-up?
We haven't done any schedules yet, but hopefully we will finish writing during this year and record early next year. But this time we really want to have a master and cover in our hands before we start to plan the release date, because Cursed and Species at War were getting really tight with the release schedules and Cursed even came out right after our North American tour in 2011.
What can fans expect from your next release?
It's going to be grindcore, but a little bit more diverse again. I think we're done now with most of the stuff we can do with blast-dbeat-groove, which will probably remain, but we also want to find some new elements to use without losing our sound or main direction. The demos I've heard sound really interesting and the coolest thing is that we have three riff/songwriters again, since Kristian has also started to write songs.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Keep following us on Facebook and rottensound.com to find out when we play. Rotten Sound have always been a live band and we try our best to bring ourselves to different places. Some Canadian dates are already booked and we hope to do at least the obvious ones next spring, before Maryland Deathfest.