Hooded Menace’s Piercing Death-Doom Rings “The Tritonus Bell” (Interview with Lasse Pyykkö)
Hooded Menace are a death/doom machine—an institution in the modern scene in and of themselves. Six albums in, they’re still going shockingly strong and have never succumbed to heavy repetition or any sort of big-label slump despite a string of regular albums every two or three years via labels like Relapse and Season of Mist.
Keeping the streak going of each album having some sort of change, the band’s upcoming album The Tritonus Bell simultaneously goes back to the band’s roots by dialing up the tempo and aggression while also throwing in a fair amount of traditional heavy metal influence. The combination is as deadly as it is unique; Hooded Menace has long had a very distinctive sound, and the addition of ‘80s heavy metal rhythm and lead parts complements their Candlemass-gone-death-metal sound perfectly. Huge choruses collide with galloping rhythms in a way that feels like the natural next step for an always-great band, and as much as I’ve been a big fan for years and love each album, this is the most excited I’ve been about a new Hooded Menace record in a long time.
Hooded Menace’s main man is Lasse Pyykkö, and he has at various times in the band’s history played every role in the band (including vocals, guitar, bass, and synthesizer) sans drums. Read below for an interview with him about the new album.
To start off, thank you for doing this interview with Invisible Oranges! Since you have the new album coming and we’re mostly here to talk about that, tell me why now was the right time to interject more heavy metal influence into Hooded Menace.
I think that’s mainly because I come from the early ‘80s when I was a kid. The first heavy bands I listened to were KISS and WASP and Maiden, the usual suspects. For the last, I don’t know how many years, maybe six or seven, I’ve been listening mostly to music from the ‘80s, those heavy metal albums. Of course I listen to death metal and doom metal and whatever, but ‘80s heavy metal is actually what I’ve been listening to mostly.
It’s not like I found this again or anything like that. It just happened. You know, you have phases in your life when you are listening more to this or to that, sort of like periods when you get excited about this and that style, but I think that basic, classic, traditional heavy metal is the foundation of all that I like. It stays there. It’s like every time when I was listening to something and didn’t know what to put on, I’d just put on KISS or Maiden, something basic, and it always feels right. I guess it stems from there, that it’s just there. This is our sixth album; I guess I don’t know if it’s right to say that I’m not as excited about death or doom metal, death/doom, anymore, but maybe it’s something unconscious? Trying to seek for new ways to express myself, and since ‘80s traditional heavy metal has always been in my life it’s just natural for it to creep into my songs.
It’s hard to explain. It’s not like I planned it like, this is what we’re going to do, this is what’s going to happen. Frankly that music is what I’ve been listening to most for the last six years, and since the ‘80s also, so maybe that’s the best explanation in short.
You’ve always had a significant amount of side-projects, and even some one off single albums that you’ve done. Can you see yourself ever doing just outright heavy metal outside of Hooded Menace?
Sure. Actually, it’s been in our thoughts. I’ve been wanting to form a band that plays just heavy metal with melodic vocals. So far it has stayed just on this level, just thinking about it, and I don’t have any songs. I have a couple of riffs actually! But it’s really not much to talk about yet. I’d love to do that, though. You know, Accept’s “Balls to the Wall” riff, that’s the stuff I do the most when I play guitar. If I could write songs like that I’d definitely do it.
I’ll be the first one to call you back up for an interview if you ever do! When did you kind of first realize that sort of riffing was entering Hooded Menace’s songwriting?
The ‘80s style riffing, the heavy metal stuff?
Well, I think we had some of that even on our previous album, or maybe it was more like the Maiden-esque stuff, the twin guitar stuff. There’s actually one melody that has this Maiden vibe on the Ossuarium album, and even on “The Eyeless Horde” song. But as for strictly heavy metal riffs, I think yeah, it’s the first time maybe on this album that we are introducing them.
I dunno. The first song I wrote for this album was “Corpses Asunder” and there’s this one kind of King Diamond-ish riff, and that was the first one. I figured that this could be a kind of good idea to try and incorporate more, some of this stuff, because it seems to work and it’s fun to play and sounds good to my ears. But yeah, this album is the first one with clear traditional heavy metal riffs. They are still in the minority, it’s still more doom and death metal on this album, so fear not if you’re not into the heavy metal stuff, there’s still plenty of good old death/doom stuff.
Speaking of the good old death/doom stuff, I noticed that this album didn’t have nearly as much of the melancholy Peaceville kind of stuff that’s heavy on the last two albums. Was that an intentional decision to scale back on that as you increase the speed again, or did it just sort of happen?
Yeah, it sort of happened, I think. There are still some of those elements in my opinion but not so much as on the previous records. It just happened that way. I guess that stuff just had to make way for these other influences.
This is probably your most aggressive album since even Effigies of Evil. Is there a conscious decision to make Hooded Menace more aggressive?
No. But I think some of that stems from that it’s simply more fun to play a little bit more mid-tempo stuff. Usually in our case it’s a little more aggressive when you speed it up a little bit. I think it stems from there, but it was not intentional to make it more aggressive or anything. It just usually happens when you speed it up a little bit.
Coming back to the new album, there’s some pretty huge choruses on this one, like on “Scattered into Dark.” These huge vocal hooks and choruses- do you write all of those yourself, and then bring in the vocalist, or work together on it?
I do those. I arrange things. I make demos for each song with a drum machine doing the basic drum stuff that will be there, and Pekka will of course add some of his fills, but the main rhythms are there, and also the vocals are there. Harri may change something just a little bit, but only very little bit. As a songwriter I think it’s very important to also arrange the vocals, even if it’s not melodic vocals. It’s still a very important rhythmic element, almost like drums, so I tend to arrange those also very carefully.
Good to hear that song brought up, because I was just thinking when I did that chorus for “Scattered into Dark” that it’s really simple. It’s super simple, just repeating the song title, and nothing else. It’s really striking. Thanks for noting that!
Yeah, I really like that one. I thought it really stood out on the album. So, to go back a bit earlier in the band, you guys used to do a significant amount of split releases and EPs but it’s been a few years since you’ve done any, and after Darkness Drips Forth they mostly stopped. Why did you guys take that step away from splits and EPs?
I guess the simplest explanation is that when you’re at your sixth album you might want to save your shit for the albums. Personally, even if we have done a lot of splits, I’m not a big fan of splits. I don’t buy splits, not at all. Of course there are some really great splits, like Asunder / Graves at Sea split LP comes to mind, but it’s not my favorite format.
I dunno. I’d rather just save the songs for an EP or LP. Never say never, of course. We have had a lot of requests for many years to do this and that split, some of them being tempting opportunities. I guess we’d just rather save the songs for the albums, and maybe our own EPs or something. Frankly, I think some bands do way too many splits. It sometimes feels like it’s a waste of songs, but then again, I haven’t heard much of them at all. I don’t know. For us, it’s really hard to make a really good song. It’s not that easy, takes time.
When you have released this many albums it kind of feels like a waste to put that on a split, if it’s a really great song that feels like an album song. Of course if I happen to write a song that feels like it’s not album stuff but it’s still good, which is very important because we don’t want to do splits just to do more stuff, then we can do it. The problem is it has to be good stuff but it must not be as good stuff as album stuff. [Laughs]
When the band started did you have that same attitude or did it come later?
It came later. When we started, there was this creativity, my head was exploding from ideas because I hadn’t been doing much music since Phlegethon broke up in 1992. There was of course Vacant Coffin right before Hooded Menace was formed, but that was totally different kind of beast, totally different kind of music, so when Hooded Menace was formed the songs were just coming out of me.
Actually when we were recording Never Cross the Dead we had two extra songs. Usually I have only the songs that are going to the album, but we had two extra songs and were wondering which ones to cut out. Those went to the Asphyx split and the Coffins split. I was more productive back then, which is also pretty natural since I hadn’t done so many of this stuff.
So no, it takes more time now. The songs for the new album came up actually surprisingly easily but the start is always a little bit hard. It’s harder these days. I don’t think splits are that important to us anyways, just something extra, and albums should be the main work for sure. I always thought like that, even in the early days of Hooded Menace when we did way more splits, but still I was always thinking that albums are the main thing.
You mentioned that long break in between the Phlegethon stuff and Hooded Menace being a reason for the inspiration you had in those early days. You also had full lengths for Vacant Coffin and did vocals on the first Acid Witch album, and all three debut albums came out in 2008. Was that huge productivity, being on three albums in the same years, the result of that big burst of creativity?
It was a burst of creativity in some ways. I also did Claws’ album somewhere between Fulfill the Curse and Never Cross the Dead, I’m not sure, but it was not too far from Acid Witch. You have to remember though that with Acid Witch I only had to do the vocals, I didn’t do any of the music. I arranged my vocal parts but that’s the easy part, that was just some little extra there.
But yeah, you could definitely say that. We were releasing a lot of splits, there was Vacant Coffin, Hooded Menace albums, Claws, and I don’t know what else. It was productive, a productive time for sure.
Can we ever expect to hear more from some of those bands like Vacant Coffin or Claws?
I don’t know. It’s like, there’s always been talk about Claws, it’s my solo project, I’m thinking of maybe doing more but so far nothing. As for Vacant Coffin we actually had like four new songs but then it really didn’t take off. We didn’t even get to rehearse and I guess I just lost interest. As of now there are no plans for those. I have some other projects in mind.
I guess I can say this- I have two songs for a new death metal project with Jussi from the original Phlegethon on vocals and bass, and me on guitar, and Pekka from Hooded Menace on guitar. At this point I’m not sure if Teemu from Hooded Menace wants to be involved, but anyways, we have this project called Utter Dark, the name of course from an Unleashed demo tape, but the music is not like Swedish death metal. It’s something like Pestilence meets Death meets Morbid Angel meets Demigod, stuff like that. That kind of comes in the way of other death metal projects like Claws. It just didn’t sound like Claws so it’s a new project, a little bit more technical, but it’s too early to talk about it. We have plans to record those two songs when we get to jam and rehearse them and see how Jussi’s voice sounds on them. That’s actually a new thing for me.
That’s something to look forward to! As some concluding thoughts, you guys have consistently put out an album every two or three years since the start. Do you think you can sustain that forever?
You never know. I won’t put any pressure on myself because of that. It’s impossible to answer. So far so good! I mean, we are at our sixth album, and I honestly think this is our best. I know I’m supposed to say that because it’s our new album, but I don’t remember when I’ve been this excited about a new album, production wise and music wise and everything. It leaves little to complain about for me, which is quite unusual.
When I think about my own favorite bands, without naming anyone because I don’t want to compare, it feels like the first three albums are great and then it goes down the drain. I’m just happy that we have six albums and I still feel like we are on top of our game and meet the standards we have set for ourselves. But maybe that’s the same with those old bands I’d rather not mention? I don’t know. You know what I mean. In the ‘80s and early ‘90s you had all these big names and they put out a couple of really good albums and then changed to not so good, and I feel like we’ve been really consistent. I hope it stays this way but you never know when you’ll run out of ideas or when the ideas start to become a little bit too lame, but you just have to trust your gut and so far trusting our gut has been successful.
The Tritonus Bell releases August 27th, 2021 via Season of Mist.