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An Interview with I. of Totalselfhatred

In the realm of depressive black metal, there are very few (if any) who do it better than Finland’s Totalselfhatred. Formed in Helsinki in 2005 by vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist A. and vocalist/guitarist C., who were also both in Horna at the time, their approach to the genre has tended more towards what Victorian poet and essayist Matthew Arnold called ‘sweetness and light’–i.e. beauty and intelligence–than the harrowing darkness and…well, total self-hatred evinced by most other DSBM bands.

Seven years after their last full-length, 2011’s Apocalypse in Your Heart, Totalselfhatred have finally returned with what is easily their most gorgeous album to date, Solitude. Augmenting their trademark brand of delicately melancholy black metal with softer elements like acoustic guitar and piano, the album’s five songs are some of the lushest, loveliest black metal I’ve heard in a very long time. However, all was apparently not quite as harmonious among the members of Totalselfhatred as the music they created, and C. left the band shortly after its completion.

I had the chance to talk recently to Totalselfhatred drummer I. about the album and the current state of the band. Check it out after the appropriately moody promo pic below. You can also snag a copy of Solitude on CD or LP from Osmose Productions.

Indy Metal Vault: First off, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview. I’m a longtime Totalselfhatred fan, so I was beyond thrilled when the promo for Solitude landed in my inbox. It’s been seven years since Apocalypse in Your Heart– was there any worry on the band’s part as to how the album would be received by fans after so long a layoff, or that they might have forgotten about Totalselfhatred over that span? I know that most musicians will say that they primarily make music for themselves, but I’m guessing that no one really wants to release music that no one listens to, either.

I: We decided to let the music dwell within itself and be prepared, like a wine needs to mature in a cask before it can be let out for the world to enjoy. It took its steps to develop, as this album was mostly developed in the rehearsal room in action between members of the band taking their own ambitions into a larger preparation.

IMV: Was the seven-year layoff by design, or were there other factors that kept you from being able to complete Solitude sooner? I ask mostly for two reasons. First, Korgonthurus was active during the period between Totalselfhatred albums, releasing a split and a full-length. Second, and perhaps more significantly, not long after the band announced that Solitude was complete, founding member C. left Totalselfhatred and any members of Totalselfhatred who were in Korgonthurus left that band as well. Was all not well in the Totalselfhatred camp during that seven-year gap?

I: It was a rough physical and mental journey through the years to make an album with so many members placing their own piece into the puzzle, so not all can get back together into making another effort afterwards. During this time we have had many shows around Europe, so Totalselfhatred has never been on an stage of hiatus. We all develop every day as individuals, and sometimes in life these sort of break-ups can occur.

IMV: Solitude is absolutely gorgeous record. Richly textured, emotionally evocative – everything a Totalselfhatred fan could want and then some. In fact, it seems to harken back to the style of your self-titled debut more than it does Apocalypse in Your Heart. And I don’t know if it’s because of the production or something different in the songwriting approach, but some of those textures, like the piano and acoustic guitar at the beginning of “Solitude MMXIII,” feel like new additions to the band’s sound. Did you approach the songwriting process any differently this time around? And when did that process start? For example, does “Solitude MMXIII” actually date back to 2013?

I: These are the same elements that have been dwelling beneath for the past thirteen years already. We just decided to get them more out into the open and let the instruments breathe, to be more bold in these decisions and not to go where it is safe to go.

IMV: Along those same lines, Totalselfhatred’s sound has always struck me as a remarkably uplifting given your Depressive/Suicidal Black Metal tag. Unlike a band like Silencer, for example, that seemed to revel in negativity, there’s something that feels redemptive about the suffering in Totalselfhatred’s music. It doesn’t feel depressing simply for the sake of being depressing, if that makes any sense – instead, it somehow seems life affirming in the end. Assuming I’m reading the band correctly, where does that ultimately positive note in your music originate?

I: Surely the name gives the impression we’d ride alongside with these bands and their ideologies…but that’s not really the big picture in the idea of Totalselfhatred. You need to unlock the all-seeing-eye and clear out the mirage of your safe illusion you call life. See through the mirror reflecting your image and untame what unravels inside the self. That’s pretty much what we preach.

IMV: As I mentioned, the production on Solitude is much cleaner than it is on any of your previous albums, the textures in your songwriting come through much more clearly than they ever have before. You worked with Impaled Nazarene’s soundman Tero Kostermaa on the recording/mixing/mastering for this album. Aside from having someone different behind the mixing board, were there any other changes in terms of how you approached the recording of Solitude?

I: The whole ordeal was totally different, and we worked more together to make the end results as they are. It’s as close to the sound we’re aiming for as we could get at this time. Surely it also makes a difference if you’re working with someone new behind the knobs.

IMV:  The cover art for Solitudeis also seems very different. While your first two albums featured rather expressionistic artwork, Silere Omnia’s composite photo/photo collage (I can’t tell which) offers a much more realistic image of urban isolation. How did you hook up with Silere Omnia to do the cover, and how closely did the band work with him on the concept for the art?

I: As the music was created by us all, we also thought it would be good to shed some light onto the background where we’re from and that which inspires us to make music as we make it. It was our aim to show the urban despondency we face every day of our lives. Totalselfhatred provided all the images and it was compiled in co-operation with Silere Omnia.

IMV: Have you had the opportunity yet to give much though to the future of Totalselfhatred? Will you carry on without C. in the band? Are there any plans to play any live dates in support of Solitude?

I: Yes. The flame will carry on.

IMV: Totalselfhatred is from Finland, which I tend to forget. When I think of Finnish black metal, I generally think of Archgoat or old Beherit, and you don’t sound anything like either of those bands. If anything, you seem to have more in common with Finnish doom bands like Swallow the Sun. Are there any Finnish bands with whom you feel a musical kinship? Or are you kind of loners in terms of Finnish metal?

I: I personally tend to not listen to that much Finnish music in general. Naturally I’m aware of all these bands mentioned here, but I’m not really seeking any new acts from Finland or digging into the past and its shadows. It’s hard to label a band as being from where they are from, and to have them fit together with their fellow countrymen. All of us have played in numerous bands, so we’ve been around. Surely there is fellowship inside our genre, and in general musicians in a country this small tend to keep together. But to name a band from Finland I would love to go tour with would not go in ranks of genre. That being said, it would make more sense to do shows with Swallow the Sun in compared with Archgoat.

IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I like to leave the last word to the artists – anything else you’d like to add?

I: I thank you for your questions. They raised thoughts in my head that I’d never get around to thinking without them. Enjoy the future. Do not delve in the past.

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