Nazarenes Aren't the Only Fiends
CoC chats with Mika Luttinen from Impaled Nazarene
by: Paul Schwarz
I must confess, I have never been the most avid fan of Impaled Nazarene. And yet, ever since I was first exposed to them, they've stood out in my mind as individual: separated from any specific pack by something -- something hard to pin down and articulate. Impaled Nazarene are about the only band who have seemed to me like an utterly absurd yet somehow vitally necessary element of the extreme music scene in the Nineties, ever since I first heard of them back in 1996 when I was exposed to "Karmakeddon Warriors" -- from that year's _Latex Cult_ [CoC #10] album -- via 'Into the Pit' -- a half-hour of extreme metal music videos that used to follow Headbangers Ball on MTV Europe in better days. Back then, the raw-as-fuck white-noise of the 'nuclear punk' sound they were sporting at the time confused and amused me almost as much as the visuals of the song's video: a group of mad, mad Finns rocking out like lunatics while their singer pulled plastic sheeting over his face. And yet still, a seemingly indelible impression was left that just wouldn't shift -- even though it never prompted me to look deep into Impaled Nazarene's back-catalogue. The first Impaled Nazarene album I eventually checked out was _Rapture_ [CoC #32], but it left me cold -- and put me off concerning myself much more with Impaled Nazarene's music. Though I accept that that was a mistake, even today I haven't -bought- a single Impaled Nazarene album. However, I would still maintain there is something special and confusingly essential about the band. We need them. Not 'cause they are just some fun band, yet also not, in my opinion, because they are an amazing band. On one level, Impaled Nazarene are just a sterling example of doing what you want without stopping to consider -- or, for that matter, -care- -- what the consequences might be; however different Impaled Nazarene may have sounded on the surface of things on their different releases, on a more intangible -- maybe a 'deeper' -- level, each album caries their distinctive trademark. Today, Impaled Nazarene's attack takes the sonic form of what could crudely be described as a benzedrine-fueled combination of thrash metal and Iron Maiden. 2000's _Nihil_ [CoC #47] marked the beginning of this sound: a firm departure from their trip down the 'bad sound = good music' road which led to a dead end with _Rapture_. The change in direction was facilitated by then-lead guitarist Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom), and his influence stuck with the band in the form of a drive to become a more formidable, powerful group of musicians. Sonically, last year's _Absence of War Does Not Mean Peace_ proved that hard work pays off. _AoWDMP_ also gave the impression that a tight, fiercely-competent musical outfit was behind its creation -- which suggests that upcoming live shows should be much more worth witnessing than was their 1998 performance at the Milwaukee MetalFest [CoC #33]. After talking with Mika Luttinen as part of _AoWDMP_'s promotion, I finally realised what single thing Impaled Nazarene embody and epitomise that makes them such an individual, essential part of the Nineties extreme metal scene, in my eyes. Impaled Nazarene wear that attitude articulated by Overkill on their sleeves: "We don't care what you say... fuck you!" Mika Luttinen, the only surviving original member of the band, is forthright in his opinions -- whether about Impaled Nazarene, the metal scene, or events in the world -- yet he is not deluded. He implicitly recognises that in the big scheme of things Impaled Nazarene are just a small part of a huge, burgeoning scene. But he doesn't concern himself with such matters. He concerns himself with his band, with doing the best he and they can do in making music that they want to make, the way that they want to make it. Though on the surface Impaled Nazarene seem larger than life, this is all part of a form of presentation essential to rock music, as far as Mika is concerned. Impaled Nazarene don't believe their own hype, but they are a band who are unfalteringly confident with making music the way that they want to. When you come right down to it, Impaled Nazarene are bereft of pretension, as honest as they come. Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't really deny that they've earned an entry in the annals of extreme music -- even if that entry should just read: "fuck off and die!". I hope this interview with Mika Luttinen will interest both long-term fans and those as yet unexposed to Impaled Nazarene. Enjoy yourselves, and remember that I have, as always, tried to preserve as much of the original integrity of the conversation of which this a transcription as possible. Also worth bearing in mind is that this interview was conducted in mid-October.

CoC: The new Impaled Nazarene album, _Absence of War Does Not Mean Peace_: I recall getting the press release [announcing that the above would be the title of the forthcoming Impaled Nazarene album] ages ago, so I guess the title of the album had nothing (directly) to do with where the world currently is...

Mika Luttinen: Uh, no, but we kind of hit the jackpot with this one, didn't we?

CoC: In a good way, or in a bad way? I was gonna ask you how you feel about being kind of plunged into...

ML: ...I don't personally care, it just proves that I was once again right.

CoC: <hearty laughs>

ML: And especially the song "Absence of War" itself. It was like, on BBC World there was this interview with one of these fundamentalist leaders of the Islam -- I think it was in May this year. I saw this interview where this guy just said like: "One day the whole world is going to obey Allah." That: "We are going to take over and there is nothing you guys can do about it, and those who disobey, we will kill them." And when I saw that damn interview, afterwards I was thinking like: who the fuck [do] these people actually think they are? Do they seriously believe that people will give up, you know, without a fight, that we will just surrender without a fight? Like, hello, wake up: there will be lots of people that will be fighting back and well, what d'you know? I kind of like... when that thing happened [the destruction of the World Trade Center -- Paul] it was a total disbelief for me. I mean, I just couldn't fucking believe what was going on. I woke up because I had been working and there was a message on my mobile phone from our soundman which said: open the fucking TV, you are not going to believe your eyes! And I opened the TV and I was like: what the hell is this, the Independence Day II trailer on the TV, or what?

CoC: Fuckin' right. I actually got in on the plane the day that that happened. I had a feeling of disbelief at first.

ML: Absolutely. And I mean, what kind of sick mind must be behind, to create that kind of plan?

CoC: Exactly, especially because it's not... there's not even anything very symbolic in it: it's all about killing civilians, it's not about property and it's not about, like, government-type military stuff.

ML: Yeah, and the World Trade Center was lots of peoples from different countries. I mean, it wasn't like that it's some kind of US corporation's headquarters, so it didn't make any sense... so, I kind of like... when I looked at my lyrics and I was seeing that I was like: okay.

CoC: Premonition.

ML: Yeah.

CoC: Was the beginning of "Stratagem" [_AoWDNMP_'s first track, a synthesiser-led intro] intended to have this sort of vaguely middle-eastern tint?

ML: Yeah, it's on purpose. It's kind of like [an] intro toe th "Absence of War" and because that song is very, very. anti-Islamic So, we wanted to have this kind of intro that would. give, kind of indication what's to come.

CoC: So is that one bit of the album but not all of it? I mean, it's not an entirely anti-Islamic album. Is it just the "Absence of War" song?

ML: It's that song, yes, and then you have -- let's say -- the typical anti-Christian songs like "The Lost Art of Goat Sacrificing".

CoC: I was gonna say: what is the whole Impaled Nazarene 'goat motif' about? You have _Goat Perversion_, you have "The Lost Art of Goat Sacrificing"...

ML: Well, it's been just like... From the very beginning it was that goats -had- to be there. I don't really know, I haven't really -analysed- it: why we have it. But, it's something that just needs to be there. You cannot have an Impaled album without the goat.

CoC: "The Goat" in the sense of "Satan" or just "the goat"?

ML: It's... it's... <laughs> I don't know, it's... -- what' the English word? -- it's a...

CoC: Trademark?

ML: It's a trademark, yes, exactly.

CoC: Alright: the goat thing is the kind of thing that, you know, gets people's hackles up -- maybe not people in the metal scene, but people outside it. If you had an album called _Goat Perversion_ -- instead of just a 7" -- that would get people, sort of, raised up. A lot Impaled Nazarene, in promotion and in some of the stuff you say is things like that. Like, one of the "cutlines" for this album is: Satan Wants You Dead! [the title of a song on _AoWDNMP_]. I'm just curious how much this is kind of making the band over the top to a purpose, or whether you're vaguely serious about it in any way?

ML: Well, it's let's say 50/50. I mean, fifty percent of it is just a pure rock 'n' roll game. That needs to have that; rock 'n' rollers always have catch-phrases and shit like this. But on the other hand, it also kind of sums up what we pretty much think of this world. And it's of course... I mean, we don't... We are not Satan worshippers or anything like this, but I just used the Satan lot as a metaphor, because it's a strong word and it still raises... You know, people are like: huh, what the hell is this guy saying?!

CoC: Exactly, yeah, and it catches your eye as well.

ML: Yeah, absolutely.

CoC: In the rock sense. Would you ascribe any particular political or religious position to the band, or would you just say you kind of avoid terms like "anarchist" or "atheist"?

ML: Well, we... Well, I call myself "nihilist". I mean, I'm pretty...

CoC: In the Nietzschean sense? [I'm not sure if Mika heard this question at this juncture. -- Paul]

ML: I mean, I used to be... I mean, I used to study occult and all that shit, but it absolutely gave nothing to me in the end. I think I was like twenty-six or something when I kind of like realised that: I am gaining absolutely nothing from this; I am just fucking losing money on this! So, for me lots of this occult shit is pretty much the same as some kind of Christian idea: it's just believing in something stupid that doesn't exist. I mean, at least to me it didn't give anything, so I became very cynical about lots of things. And so, what I believe in is that, well, I know for a fact that one day I'm going to die. And so, it's the only certain thing in life.

CoC: But you didn't move from, like, occultism into, say, philosophy, or anything like that?

ML: No.

CoC: Right, so the nihilism thing isn't the true Nietzschean sense of nihilism?

ML: No, not really. I mean, I agree [with] some of it, yes, but not like I can say that I follow it. I just call myself nihilist because I don't really believe in nothing.

CoC: Right, I see what you mean: you don't believe in any particular values or a particular set of rules...?

ML: No, well, uh... actually, I'm lying to you, because I do believe in alcohol and I do believe in the power of the pussy, so...

CoC: <laughs> Excellent! And possibly that huge combat knife you're sporting rather fashionably <Mika laughs> on the back of the album cover. <laughs>

ML: <deadpanned> Well at least it will give you street credibility, doesn't it?

CoC: I've gotta say, man: really, really fucking good pictures you've got done. Did you get them digitally edited or something?

ML: Yeah, it was taken with the digital camera and I just added some light in the end. It came, actually, up because we were always unhappy with our pictures but we never got any kind of budget from Osmose. And they were always saying: your pictures suck. And we said that of course they suck because we are just giving our cameras to a friend of ours. Like: okay, we are standing here, just start taking the pictures. So we said this time that we really want to use a good photographer and got in touch with this guy who got his prize and just said to Osmose that we are going to do it and they said: okay. And when they saw the pictures they were like: okay, this looks really great!

CoC: I think it definitely brings out the whole beer-swilling, middle-finger-up kind of thing.

ML: Yeah, well, that photograph basically just sums up the whole spirit of the band. I mean, you have the beer bottle and knife and it's... I mean it looks [like] a bunch of lunatics who have just escaped from the mental house.

CoC: Exactly, escaped from the mental house, headed straight down the bar...

ML: Abso... <breaks up laughing> absolutely.

CoC: ...and now they're coming for you. <laughs> It's kinda cool, though, because just the way that picture has got a new sheen to it, the sound you've got on the album is very clear. I mean, it's still very powerful, but you've really moved on in a very odd sort of leaping forward, leaping back, leaping forward again [way]. When you started with _Tol Compt Norz Norz Norz_ it was all kind of really distorted and sounded like it was probably recorded on tape and things. And you kind of moved away from that a bit by the time you got to _Suomi Finland Perkele_. Then there was _Latex Cult_ and then _Rapture_. And then recently with _Nihil_ and _AoWDNMP_ you've sort of gained a melodic angle, a more concertedly -metal- sound in a lot of ways. I'm just wondering how you brought Impaled Nazarene to this point.

ML: It's kind of like -- especially with _Latex Cult_ and _Rapture_ -- I mean, of course we were happy at that time when they were being recorded, but if I look back over our back-catalogue it's easy to say that _Rapture_, especially, is the weakest link of the whole thing.

CoC: I agree.

ML: The songs are not really that good and the actual production is absolutely horrible. And when we did it, of course, it sounded good, but if you play it after this album it's like: what fucking demo tape is this? It's like a demo production.

CoC: It's funny, because I get the impression that maybe you realised on _Rapture_ that, kind of like, not having a good sound didn't work because, _Latex Cult_ -- and _TCNNN_, which is probably the shittiest sounding album -- they actually kind of work. There's something about them that works.

ML: I think that's true.

CoC: Whereas with _Rapture_ it kind of lost it, you know what I mean?

ML: Yeah, absolutely: I think the production killed lots of the power on that record. And then, when we started doing _Nihil_ and when we started writing these songs we had added finally the lead guitarist [Alex Laiho, at that point -- Paul] to the band. And so it was clear that now that we had finally two guitar players that we kind of like wanted to get away from that punky kind of writing style and started just wanting to get more back to the metal feeling. And with _Nihil_ it was still... the thing was that it was personally, for me, a really dark period of time which I think you can see on my lyrics. But this new album, when we started writing this -- it was summer 2000, basically, when we started writing the material for this one -- and we just didn't set any limits to ourselves. We said: let's just write whatever comes up, and let's see that if it still sounds Impaled; let's keep it, and let's just do what the fuck we have been doing. And that's what we did and, especially our drummer came up with, like, the song "The Lost Art of Goat Sacrificing", "Never Forgive", "Via Dolorosa": these are his tracks and he's studying music at the university, in Helsinki. So I think it's a lot to do with the fact that he has also been studying music and he has become a much better musician so that he can actually understand core melodies and stuff like this. And we rehearsed like hell for this album; we have never been rehearsing so much. So, I think it shows and it paid off in the end, definitely.

CoC: Yeah, I know what you mean. I mean it's like: in a sense Impaled Nazarene is the kind of band you wouldn't... I mean the impression that you gave, especially around the time of _Latex Cult_ and the kind of impression people got of you from then... You know, from, sort of, _SFP_, more or less, you've started to gradually gain more and more of a profile but the impression people got of you is of a band, almost, that doesn't practice. You know what I mean? The sloppiness [was] almost inherent. But, I think what you say about the way you wrote this album naturally really comes out but at the same time it's like an album written naturally by people that can play better. So if you were just coming out with ideas, you'd just come out with better ideas and better arrangements.

ML: Yeah, absolutely, and I think lots of thanks go to Alexi Laiho who played on _Nihil_, because he's so -damn-, -fucking-, -good- guitar player. So that was the moment when the rest of us had to start practising as well. I mean, that we could keep up with him at least on some level; of course, it will be impossible to reach -his- level, for us. But still it was kick in the ass like: OK, that guy is so damn good that we have to at least -try- to get better. And so it was a good thing that we had him in the band. I think it was the kick in the ass that we needed.

CoC: Yeah, totally. It really beefed up the sound, I thought, having all the melodies in it, 'cause I think with a lot of bands there is only a certain place you can get to without varying the formula a bit. And what's interesting is that this album does sound very distinct, but to me it still sounds like Impaled Nazarene. I mean, to you, what binds together Impaled Nazarene all the way from _TCNNN_ all the way to now? I mean, there's quite a lot of sound shift, and there's quite a lot of, like, members coming and going and things...

ML: Well, I think the main importance is the fact that we know how we must sound; that if your band name is Impaled Nazarene, it means that when you hear the band name, you know that it's going to be brutal music. It's not going to be some Bon Jovi shit or whatever. And so, of course there has been line-up changes -- people leaving or people being kicked out of the band for whatever reasons -- but we have always managed to find people who replace these people who went away that we all share the same influences. In the long-run it's been always people who were definitely into Venom, into Sodom, Kreator... We all grew up with this Eighties thrash metal shit and that, I think, still shows in our music, definitely.

CoC: So it's people you could almost mould to the Impaled Nazarene 'idea'?

ML: But I hope that this line-up will last now because I think that we are starting to run out of the members who are influenced by all these bands. I mean, it's kind of hard to find, nowadays, people, you know: the younger people have grown up with the fucking Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, this symphonic black metal stuff. So, these are persons that definitely don't want to play Impaled kind of music.

CoC: Right, right, right. I mean, it's funny as well because originally Impaled Nazarene was like the black metal band who certain people didn't wanna call a black metal band. I suppose most of them would be some of the people in the Norwegian scene, although not all of them: I remember Impaled Nazarene being surprisingly accepted but I think because you sounded -- for want of a better word -- pretty fucking necro. But it's funny 'cause now black metal has gone so many different ways and Impaled Nazarene are more Impaled Nazarene than anything else, if you know what I mean, which is a good thing.

ML: Ja...

CoC: Would you say you try, or try not to, associate yourself with that, sort of, 'tag' and that, sort of, 'scene', if that scene even exists?

ML: Well, I don't actually think that exists anymore. I mean, it was in the beginning of the Nineties and we were part of that at that time but, you know, then it became so huge trend and... But, if you look at it, most of these bands have either changed into completely different directions, or then they have split up -- and we are still here. So I feel that we are doing something right here. And there is one band that I look up to completely and that's Motorhead, of course, because this is a band that has proven, at least to me, that you can do your own thing. And there's been times when they have been selling like hell, there have been times when their sales have been a bit lower, but have they given up? No, absolutely not. They have been continuing doing the records, they have been touring, they have done their own shit, and it earns them, in the long-run, the respect they deserve.

CoC: Motorhead: they're just that special band where even though some of their songs seem -- when you kind of try and analyse it too much -- to sound the same, every song is great when they play it. All the old stuff is great. And when you go and see Motorhead live it's that thing where they come on stage, the show begins, and three seconds after they take the stage, Lemmy just goes: we're Motorhead, and we're gonna kick your ass!

ML: Yeah, exactly.

CoC: And every time you know that he's going to be right.

ML: Yeah, absolutely. <laughs>

CoC: It's that Motorhead vibe. It's weird though, 'cause a band like Motorhead -- and even a band like Venom -- in their day, made a lot more money and sold a lot more records than Impaled Nazarene and black metal bands did. Do you think the spirit is the same even though the actual amount of commercial success is completely different?

ML: Yeah, I think so. I mean, of course you must also remember that when the bands like Motorhead started they were one of the, basically -the- forefathers of the whole movement. So, of course, it was easier for them to break commercially. But, I mean, when we started it already started to be fucking hundreds or thousands of bands and shitloads of little record companies and of course when there is too much product on the market it's going to eat from everybody, from everybody's sales it's going to affect.

CoC: Absolutely.

ML: And things have changed also, you know: everybody is burning CD-Rs and shit, at home. And so we cannot estimate how much we actually sell because how many illegal copies are there?

CoC: How much would you say the CD-R burning thing bugs you personally considering that when you guys started there was a big tape-trading network and that was a big thing as well?

ML: Yeah, but the tape-trading was still different, you know: with these computers you can do even the covers and stuff.

CoC: Yeah, totally, but I would still contend that at the moment the actual market for people buying burnt CDs is small. So it's still a case of home copying. The difference might be whether people bother to buy the albums now, but I don't know. Personally, I do feel that what Osmose has done with their CDs in making them non-computer-readable -- you know about this, right?

ML: I don't... They have done this, or not?

CoC: Yeah, they have done it. They've been doing it since about June when the Absu album came out.

ML: Well, it's about time, if you ask me.

CoC: On one level I can agree with you in the sense that it can take money away from bands, but what I've found in my experience is that people -- like in my case, for example -- whether it be taping albums or copying them, if I actually like the album...

ML: ...You'll go out and buy it, yes.

CoC: And the amount of people you can expose to a form of music by distributing it I think generally tends to increase bands' profiles rather than lower them. So I think it's one of those weird things where it's really difficult for a record company to tell -- or difficult for a band to tell. The problem is that in the end it all looks like lost sales. And I agree with you that you can't tell how many you sell, but you also maybe can't tell how many more you might not have sold if people hadn't been able to trade with each other.

ML: No, well... You have a valid point, I must say.

CoC: You were saying earlier about worshipping beer and pussy and things. And in the back of the album cover, and just generally, there's this sort of ethos, this continuous thing with Impaled Nazarene with having beers and middle fingers. Is that just directly from the Motorhead ethos or is that even further back, like punk?

ML: No, it's not really a punk thing. I mean, it's always been, I think, our attitude from the very beginning -- even if in the very beginning it was more like the Satanic kind of shit. But even still we were showing the middle fingers on the photos, and it's basically the "fuck off and die!" attitude. This is a band that doesn't give a fuck about anybody else because we have been doing our own shit. And we have been ripped off, lots of people have been talking shit of us, but in the end you ignore it, and you just say: "Fuck off and die!" And that's something that I just understood: because I was going through all our CDs, I understood that we haven't done a song called "Fuck Off and Die!". So we are going to rectify this situation. We are going to do a 7" EP, probably recorded in January. The EP is called _Fuck Off and Die!_. There will be a song called "Fuck Off and Die!" which will be our original song, and then we are covering on the flipside the Voivod "Fuck Off and Die!", then we are doing the Broken Bones' "Fuck Off and Die!". We haven't [yet] chosen, 'cause there are shitloads of "Fuck Off and Die!" songs around. So, it will be like the ultimate statement from us.

(article submitted 14/1/2002)

4/9/1997 S Hoeltzel Impaled Nazarene: Nazarene With a Fax Machine
1/14/2008 J Ulrey 7 Impaled Nazarene - Manifest
12/13/2004 Q Kalis 7.5 Impaled Nazarene - All That You Fear
4/12/2002 A Wee 9 Impaled Nazarene - Absence of War Does Not Mean Peace
5/25/2000 P Schwarz 8 Impaled Nazarene - Nihil
7/8/1998 A Wasylyk 5 Impaled Nazarene - Rapture
5/10/1996 G Filicetti 8 Impaled Nazarene - Motorpenis
5/10/1996 S Hoeltzel 9 Impaled Nazarene - Latex Cult
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