Niko Skorpio - Funeral's Patriarch
By: Alon Miasnikov
Interview With: Niko Skorpio, ex-Thergothon
Finnish musician Niko Scorpio is one of the forefathers of that unique form of extreme metal - the Funeral Doom genre. His former band - Thergothon released one demo and one full length - 1994's Stream From The Heavens that changed extreme metal though it the time it seemed it left barely a dent on it.
Since the band's demise Skorpio, their vocalist and keyboardist, has been constantly active with other, and quite different musical projects - from Free Noise, to Dark Ambient to Drones, it seems the man is forever busy in creating music that is generally perceived as difficult and extreme. We spoke to Skorpio about his current activities, his record label, and his past days with Therogothon.
Hey Niko, thanks for doing this interview! I'd like to start with your current activities, I understand there's a new album being completed, what can you tell us about it, and the concept it deals with?
Yes, it's called Half Born in Half Light, and subtitled “the Fourth and Final Appearance”. It's almost completed, I'm currently working on the final mix. I started working on a few tracks last summer, with no clear idea of what they would amount to, except for the title 'Half born...' hovering somewhere above them. I then decided to randomly send out CDRs with some of these tracks on them, just to see if there's a reaction that would guide me forward. Maybe not expecting the kind of "this is great, release it" or "it's crap, just drop it" direct feedback, but rather to let the dogs outside work a walk and see if they come back and what they bring along, if anything.
Anyway, now that I'm close to finishing the work, the vision and the concept appears quite clear to me. The album works on many levels, perhaps most obviously it explores liminal spaces and dwellers therein. It will be released in the summer, on Some Place Else as usual. I have quite a bit of material that won't fit on this album for thematic or other reasons, including a couple of tracks that are not finished yet but that I'm already very fond of. They will most likely appear somewhere else later on. But that's another story...
What about your other projects? Which of them are currently active?
Currently active is Haeretici 7o74, my duo project/band with Ovro. After a break of a year or so, due to other commitments, we're preparing material for future live performances and new releases. At the moment all other projects (Reptiljan, Kaaos in Eccentris, Rajapinta...) are on hold, whether to be reactivated in the future or not, time will tell.
How would you describe the musical differences between these projects, from a technical and philosophical point of view?
Haeretici 7o74 is first of all defined by the duo line-up of me & Ovro, although we may use collaborators or extra members if needed. It brings our interests and musical qualities together, and it expresses our mutual interest and research of certain (mostly Western) esoteric currents. Ritual music. We mostly aim for live performances, but there will be some studio releases in the future, we have plenty of exciting plans waiting to be realized in near future.
Reptiljan is/was(?) a very spontaneous and unpredictable entity expressing an alien radiating energy in various different forms. Reptiljan has explored noise, digital grindcore, cut-ups and other sonic extremities. Last summer I thought Reptiljan was dead, there hadn't been any activity in two years, but suddenly I found myself recording stuff that turned out as the Archaeodermophagia album. Reptiljan had shed its skin, it was different than before but coming from the same source of energy. I don't know whether it'll appear again in the future or not, no sight of it since the last summer...
Kaaos in Eccentris is a group with a fluctuating line-up (4-7 members) entirely dedicated to improvisation by using various instruments and sound sources. The results have varied from ambient soundscapes to free jazz, from metal to noise... there's hours of recorded material, none of which have been released (apart from one early track on a 7"). We haven't had a session in almost two years now and I have no idea whether there will be any the future. It seems each of us is too occupied with other projects. Hopefully some day we'll take the best bits of the recordings and let people hear them.
Rajapïnta is my duo with sound artist Ibrahim Terzic. Mostly defined by "put us two together and see what happens" attitude, resulting in various forms of extreme experimental electronics. We haven't been active together in quite a while, mostly due to other commitments, but I'm always looking forward to play with Ibro, he's a genius sound-sculptor and we've come up with some incredibly good stuff that however haven't really found its audience yet. Maybe twenty years into the future...
When you refer to "Metaorganism" in your blog, you say it was created through experimentation, begging the question - how much of your work is born through experimentation, and how much through deliberate and planned writing, and what's the difference in the end result from a listener point of view?
I use both methods and often combine the results, depending on the nature and needs of the work in question. I use notebooks to write down ideas, lyrics, etc. as potential guidelines for composing and sculpting the sound. On the other hand, I also do a lot of improvisation and experiments in the studio, with no predetermined plans or such. I attempt to keep the door to the subconscious open at all times, one might call it a surrealist approach.
It often happens that some of the improvised stuff reminds me of something I have written down previously, and a kind of bridge between these "two worlds" - planned and unplanned - appears. At this point may appear also some very interesting or enlightening correspondences to other written work, and that assures me I'm onto something important. What the final difference is, I think that's up to each listener's perception.
As for Metaorganism, it appeared kind of separately from anything else I was working on at the time. As if some channel had been opened and a transmission had begun... There's an album called "I - Baphomet" which was recorded late last year, and I think there will be more, maybe one or two more albums. It is different from my usual work in that I have no creative input in it, other than recording and mixing it. The composer is the network of mixers, effects and software playing itself. Or rather, something "from beyond" (excuse the cliché) transmitting... something.
Creating such emotive, dark - and frankly - hard to decipher music as you do, does that stem from a philosophical stance regarding music and it's form, adhering to a minimalist and stripped-down approach, or from a purely aesthetic point of view - you like the way these compositions sound?
I attempt to make the kind of music I would like to listen to. I may hear it in my mind, but I cannot find it elsewhere so I have to make it myself. I do not strive for minimalism, on the contrary, but then again some pieces just end up better after stripping away everything but the fundamental core. I attempt to make music that sounds rich, emotive, colorful (black is a color among others). I like to weave layers upon layers of both sounds and ideas in the way that the end result is a kind of matrix of its core components.
Similar to the Lament Configuration (see Hellraiser), it sometimes appears simple on the outside but if you give it some time and deep listening, it will begin to unfold and reveal its secrets. I might want to add that some forms of "minimalism" are very effective for triggering and reprogramming the mind, and in that way certain kinds of constant tones and drones are useful.
Now back in time for a bit, you're considered, along with other Thergothon members, to be among the forefathers of Funeral doom. Going back to that point in time, what was the logic behind creating the music that you did? What were your influences?
I guess the logic was simply that we were totally sick and tired of the death metal wave that had been on steady rise those days, and decided to distance from that as much as possible. At the same time we were very impressed by other music like Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Paradise Lost, Dead Can Dance, Joy Division etc. and that probably influenced our creations more or less.
The slowed tempos the band used, and the overall sonic landscape it portrayed, painted a very gloomy picture, was that because of a depressive state of mind when writing the material, or purely as a musical direction for the band?
In retrospect, I would say it was a musical direction dictated by the increasingly depressive states of mind all of us seemed to dwell in at the time. The slow tempo came very naturally and served well as a kind of vacuum container for negative emotions.
What caused the HP Lovercraft fascination? Do you still use his writing and ideas as a source of inspiration?
Back in the day I had recently discovered H.P. Lovecraft's work and the so-called Cthulhu mythos, and evidently found it incredibly inspiring. His descriptions of the otherworldly struck some power chords within me. Although he haven't been a direct inspiration to me in a long time now, I think the particular "vibe" in some of his stories made such a profound effect on me that it keeps on guiding my aesthetic choices on some level.
Why did you drift away from heavy metal as Thergothon died out? Was it a complete and total separation or was it a gradual move into more the music you create today?
At certain point, in early 1993 I think, it was a total separation on some level, in the sense that I felt the whole metal scene and events therein were suffocating me and I seriously needed to get out. I had previously found other kinds of music (like Coil, Dead Can Dance, Joy Division, Fields of the Nephilim, Lustmord, Sigillum S etc.) that at this point served as the key to opening myself up to a new reality altogether.
It had started already in the times of Thergothon, though. By the time we were recording Stream from the Heavens, we had grown sick & tired of most things metal. I think for a moment there was even an idea to replace all the distorted guitars and growling vocals with clean sounds! In retrospect, remembering the circumstances and our (lack of) experience, I think that would have been a disaster. In a bad way. Why did I drift away? Well, I had been listening to almost exclusively heavy rock and metal since the age of 8 or so, starting with Kiss and Iron Maiden (like most of the kids at the time) and from thereon always trying to find something more extreme.
I think in the beginning of the 90's the evolution towards the "extreme" reached its zenith (or nadir, if you prefer) with death metal and black metal, at which point it seemed like there were a million bands doing exactly the same. No evolution, it's all been heard before, and then comes in the "philosophy" that it's not even supposed to evolve, let's instead act like a retarded inbred family playing the same riffs and repeating the same stupid slogans all over again. Add to that the nationalist / fascist ideas that some of the rising black metal scene started expressing, and I found myself totally alienated from those surroundings. So I moved on and found greater and different kinds of 'extremities' on many other kinds of music.
Anyway, in practice the move was somewhat more gradual, I was still editing the Hammer of Damnation fanzine and there were demos and stuff coming in daily, and out of the remains of respect and loyalty left I just had to keep on dealing with it for a while. Unfortunately some bands probably got poor and unfair reviews simply because I was sick & tired of clichés in their possibly otherwise faultless work.
How much did you continue to keep track of the musical genre you helped conceive? Funeral doom in it's current forms? What are your views about it?
The term "funeral doom" appeared some years later, at the time it was called "doom/death" or something, and obviously there was no scene for it, but a few bands alongside the huge death metal scene. I'm aware of some bands like Skepticism, Esoteric and Evoken but I haven't really followed the scene at all. I may listen to the stuff if it comes my way, and I've enjoyed listening to Corrupted and Nortt for example, but other than that my interests are elsewhere.
In what ways are Funeral Doom and your current work similar, or dissimilar?
I don't like to label my music, I think it's up to the listeners to decide.
Apart from creating your own music, you also own a label, how did that come to be, and what kind of artists do you sign? What would you say is that thing you seek in one's music that will convince you to sign and support his work?
Some Place Else acts primarily as a channel for my own music and related works, such as collaborative efforts and music from like-minded friends. We occasionally release music from other artists, like last year Moljebka Pvlse, Bardoseneticcube + Noises of Russia, Gelsomina + no Xivic, who each have become like-minded friends more or less...
What makes me sign an artist for a release? Well, I need to like the music of course. I remember a conversation with a journalist who said there's a distinct "Some Place Else" stamp on everything the label has released, despite the rather wide scope of music styles covered. I agree with him, even though I cannot just put my finger on what exactly this quality is. But I think it has to do with the music being personal, adventurous and possibly genre-hopping, too.
This often conflicts with the traditional aim of record label as a profitable business, and admittedly we're not making any money, just enough to keep on going and financing the next releases. This may also explain why bigger distributors shun us, the unpredictability factor and the fact that most of our releases are hard or impossible to pigeonhole (ie. "sell"), perhaps just aren't financially motivating. But to me, it's all about Art, not business. Of course I don't mind if art attracts money as long as it's not compromised. I'd love to get loads of money from my releases, it'd enable us to do things we cannot otherwise afford, but I'm not going to change the art just because of that.
I want to add that we're not looking for new artists, instead we want to concentrate on our own projects at this time. There are several albums planned for the next year or so, and as our time and resources are limited, we prefer to concentrate on those instead to trying to do more than we can.
You're also an artist and a graphic designer, at what stage did you in that rout, and do you have a certain theme that you think is typical of your work, a signature of some sort?
I used to draw and paint since a little kid, way before I made any music, so its roots lie in the very early days. So I was "the guy who can draw", thus was constantly asked to do demo covers, posters and other such stuff. Later on I studied a bit on graphic design and related techniques, then worked in advertising business and other such stuff, and after getting sick of 9-to-5 sitting in an office lifestyle, I started my own business to run things the way I prefer. I don't make a great deal of money, enough to survive, but I enjoy the freedom I've gained since.
When painting I tend to be drawn more towards the rough, earthy and spontaneous work where certain elemental qualities are present. On the other hand I used to do these very detailed and time-consuming ink drawings, and I still do that sometimes, but I prefer the more spontaneous route nowadays. With graphic design, it depends a lot on the needs of each project, for example album covers should relate to the music inside so it may vary from smooth and polished to rough and dirty, whatever serves the project best. I think typical for me would be thoughtful use of color and typography, but after all it's up to the viewers to decide whether there's a 'signature' or not...
Do you think music and other forms of art share the same philosophies and aesthetics? Should they?
I think they do, they're just different ways of expression.
Finally, any advice for young artists considering walking the same paths you do?
I would suggest being honest to yourself when pursuing your true desires (once you've found out what they are). Being intent and patient is a virtue, as the results may not appear overnight.