Rotten Sound on the Future of Metal, Grindcore Vs. Crust Punk, and the Joys of Napalm Death

Categories: Metal, Q&A
RottenSoundbyMiraBorn.jpg
Mira Born
Probably not the most comfy angle from which to have a bunch of grindcore dudes looking at you.
According to a Google search I did about a minute ago, Finland's primary exports include timber, paper products, and meteorological equipment. Assuming that there's some validity to that list, the country's higher-ups should consider publicly championing a weirder, less tangible commodity: metal. This Thursday, the Finnish Metal Tour II comes to the DNA Lounge, continuing a thread that started last year with tour sets from Finntroll, Moonsorrow, Swallow the Sun, and Survivors Zero. 

In this year's incarnation, three of the bands come from their homeland's capital of Helsinki. Finntroll, whose brand of folk/black metal was last captured on last year's Nifelvind, is headlining again. Joining them are Ensiferum, another folk metal-leaning act, and the kitchen-sink styles of Barren Earth, a supergroup-esque outfit whose sound shows shades of stoner metal, folk metal, death metal, and a half-dozen other variations. Finally, there's Rotten Sound, the four-piece from the city of Vassa (Population: about 60,000) that plays damaged, unstoppable grindcore. After releasing their first full-length in the late '90s, the band went from a side project to a long-term investment. Cursed, the band's latest release on Relapse, does hold some nuance, but in sum, the band's approach is still bitter as it has ever been. Before the show on Thursday, All Shook Down caught up with Rotten Sound vocalist Keijo Niinimaa for an early morning chat about crust, time, and the joys of Napalm Death, the kings of grind.

Around 2000, Rotten Sound shifted from being a side project to something that you would pour a lot of touring and work into. What caused that change?
We just noticed that there was some kind of demand for us outside of Finland. We started to get offers from abroad. Maybe it had something to do with the Internet getting more active. We kind of realized that, 'Wow, if we do put some more effort into this, maybe we can try and see where we can go with the band and what we can do with grind ourselves.' It feels like the most important thing for us was to go out there and then make these albums, which are excuses to play over and over again.

Do you still think about singing and playing grindcore in the same way you did when Rotten Sound started?
We are more uptight about compositions and lyrics and everything. I don't know if that uptightness has done us any better. I'm hearing very often from crusties and friends in Finland, 'Your first EP is still the best thing you've ever released.' I think that applies to many bands--really hardcore bands--but then I think that we have just wanted to write [to our] quality standards. Being around [the material] for a long time, we don't think the old releases really stand out as well as the new stuff. [We're] just putting more effort in songwriting. Nowadays, when there's someone technical to help us, we're doing more pre-production instead of having just the tape recorder in the corner of the rehearsal place. We usually record every song twice before it's on the album, and the second recording is the album recording. We also end up rejecting stuff that we could have kept before.

In a review of Cycles, your LP from 2008, the reviewer noted hearing a lot of crust punk within your sound--sometimes enough to rival the interest in grindcore. How would you compare Rotten Sound's connection to grind versus crust?
That's a hard question because we started out as a crust band--crust-grind--and we turned into grind-crust. It's never been that important to think which genre we belong in. It's more important for us that we be happy with the songs in general. Basically, it just depends on the songwriters' preference--what they happen to do.

A sense of anxiety is intrinsic to Rotten Sound's music. Where do you think that comes from? Moreover, why play something like grind in the first place over any other style of metal or hardcore?
We are adding some more influence in there. There's some definite speed and death metal influence. One of the songs on Cursed has some doom on it, really, so we like really many different styles on music, but grindcore is the thing that ties everything together for us. Somehow, we go from [one song] to another, and it has to go through blasting to make it sound like us. That needs to be really natural for us to play fast. It's been like that all the time. We really enjoy playing live so we can do the same thing: start off with fast songs and then have some slow ones but then go back to blasting and try to have an [as] intense and aggressive feel as possible. Intensity and aggression are the things that we like in grind. I could say that hardcore has some of it [and] metal has some of it, but somehow grindcore is combining the extremes of both.

In 2010, Rotten Sound released an EP called Napalm, which included four Napalm Death covers. What does the band enjoy about Napalm Death so much that they dedicated the majority of an EP to the band?
I think that we wouldn't sound the same without them. We'd be something else. They've been probably the biggest influence in the beginning, together with Extreme Noise Terror, but we ended up leaning more toward Napalm Death. Another reason is that they have a really good attitude. I don't think that there has been one single rock star in the band ever in Napalm Death. All of them are rock stars, but they don't have the rock star attitude. They're down-to-earth guys doing their stuff. That's something we like. We've always liked the lyrics and message, and they're one of the pioneers. There were other bands around that time [they formed], but it's so great that they're still doing their own thing. I really hope that if we do an interview 10 years from now, I would still be here doing it. I'm looking up to those guys for making it work for them. And when we met Napalm Death, they seemed to enjoy what they do, and that's most important for us. They have a lot of great songs in their back catalog, too, and I could imagine that their new album is going to be great again, so that's also a difference from many of the older bands: they're still doing good songs year after year.

Napalm Death aside, who else has heavily colored Rotten Sound's style?
Entombed were a really big influence to us later in the '90s. Early Brutal Truth--they're still great. Slayer was a big influence to me personally when I started off listening to extreme music in the '80s. They are coming through in some way. Then, when I think of the other members, the drummer [Sami Latva]--he's one of the biggest Meshuggah fans in the world.

Considering that you've been producing extreme music for almost 20 years, is it hard to maintain the same level of aggression and intensity for so long? Do you ever want to slow it down?
I think we want to speed it up. Like I said, there's more diverse elements and every now and then, we end up doing faster recordings. When we think of the faster [songs], we want to find the way to make them really sound fast. It's not all about BPMs, really. You can really think of the vocal patterns, the guitars, what kind of drumming you have. I don't think that we really want to go slower. I'd rather say that the faster parts are even more aggressive than before. I guess we're just speed junkies.

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DNA Lounge

375 11th St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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