Interview: Lasse Pyykkö – Hooded Menace

The great Hooded Menace, ladies and gentlemen, does not require an intricate introduction. Their latest album, “The Tritonus Bell,” is receiving well-deserved high praise from damn near anybody who comes within two feet of the thing. A fantastic record, which our very own PCO was lucky enough to chat with guitarist/bassist, Lasse Pyykkö about in depth. Might be a good idea to put on the new Hooded Menace while reading.

Progressive Cave Ogier (PCO): Hi Lasse and Hooded Menace! Thanks for having a chat with The Metal Wanderlust. You have your sixth Hooded Menace album out, entitled “The Tritonus Bell” (great title, by the way!) – congratulations!

When you were starting out the project in 2007, did you ever believe it would carry you this far and for this long? It sure has become a career for you. 

Lasse: No problem, thanks for having me! Glad to hear you like the album title. It’s a pretty interesting name, I think, but also memorable and catchy when compared to “Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed,” which was quite a mouthful. 

When I started the band in 2007 there were zero expectations. The only plan was to get an album out. No gigs, no promo pics… It was just another project of mine basically, but a project that I enjoyed writing music for very much. There was definitely a certain kind of special vibe to Hooded Menace right from the beginning. I was getting back to the game with Vacant Coffin and Hooded Menace after over a decade of absence from the scene. 

I wasn’t very well on the map with what was going on, so I didn’t know what to expect. I just drowned myself into writing this slow and grimy music, people caught on to it, and things started to develop. It’s pretty amazing actually how the band has sort of taken a life of its own.

PCO: Now, as an established name, there must be some pressure from the audience to deliver. To stay the same, to please the diehards, and renew the formula enough to keep the bangers interested. Which one do you consider to be the most important thing to Hooded Menace right now? To stay faithful to your legacy, or to keep exploring new ground?

Lasse: We hope to do both! I think we’ve refined our sound a bit on each album, and probably more than ever on the latest one. It’s good to keep things interesting and always evolving, yet at the same time we don’t want to drift too far away from our roots. It’s a fine line, I guess, and we just gotta trust our guts. What feels right, is right. So far so good, I suppose.

PCO: In this day and age, it is quite easy to underline the importance of Hooded Menace to the current Death Doom scene, simply by looking at the number of younger bands who have taken (sometimes quite direct) influence from your compositions. Let’s say the “Hooded Menace style and feel” to songwriting, or even sometimes a direct similarity in riffs. Out of all the bands who sound like Hooded Menace, which one is your personal favorite?

Lasse: I have come across a couple of younger bands that list Hooded Menace as an influence, which is the ultimate compliment, of course. Most names escape me, though. Druid Lord is not a young band, but I definitely hear old Hooded Menace vibes in their music, and I’m sure my friend Peter (the guitar player in Druid Lord) will kick my ass if I talk nonsense here! Sure, they have their own thing going on, but Peter has been a huge fan of Hooded Menace since the beginning, so I’m pretty sure we have inspired his band to some extent. Also Solothus comes to mind, another band that are friends of ours. Their take on Death/Doom doesn’t sound like us, but I’m quite certain we, if not influenced, but at least inspired them a bit when they were starting out. I mean, they even covered “Beauty and the Feast”... Again, Kari (the vocalist of Solothus) may set the record straight with his thundering voice, if I’m mistaken here. Hahah! I wouldn’t like to say one is better than the other. We all inspire each other, I guess. For example, out of modern Doom bands, who I also consider friends, Loss and Anhedonist have definitely influenced some of the Hooded Menace stuff.

PCO: Speaking of influences, there are some quite obvious nods towards the bands that have influenced YOU as a musician on the new album. Maybe more audible than ever before in Hooded Menace’s career. Was this intentional? Were you planning the album to come out like this, or was it merely an accident? I’m interested, as the results are very, very impressive indeed. There’s confidence and drive; a new kind of energy to the whole thing. Was wondering if the more obvious “tributes,” if you will, in the songwriting did somehow help the band to achieve such outstanding results while recording, via some new found extra enthusiasm, or something of that nature?

Lasse: I guess it’s fair to say that I was more willing to embrace a wider range of influences than before when writing the music for “The Tritonus Bell.” I knew Harri (vocalist since 2016) could handle the dynamics, so I didn’t have to hold back if I wanted to come up with a bit more up-tempo stuff than usual. It was liberating. You know, this album would have never happened with me on vocals, because my voice is so guttural and one-dimensional. It goes well with the slow stuff, but if we speed up, I’m in trouble. 

It is no secret that the writing process was heavily inspired by classic 80’s Heavy Metal. That’s the music I grew up on and that’s my main jam these days, too. This explains the slightly faster tempos, a more vivid lead guitar work, and a punchier sound on the new album. Personally, I’m a sucker for 80´s style heavy and hard rock guitar sounds and playing – even the cheesy guitar graphics – and of course this is the golden era of guitar heroes, for better or worse. 

Anyways, I got a lot of energy and inspiration from all that, and it pushed me to play better, and write a bit catchier and more ripping stuff. It was just a very inspiring process. I’m not saying it was easy, but I loved the challenge of it, and I enjoyed the euphoria when things clicked. We’ve never tried to hide our influences, because we’re confident that the end result sounds like Hooded Menace. If we happen to pay a little tribute to some of our heroes along the way, that’s totally fine. This time we dug deeper into the past, beyond all things slow and brutal, hence the expanded sound and new energy.

PCO: Well, it seems to have worked, because while doing this interview we heard that Hooded Menace has landed third (3rd!!!!) on Finnish official album chart on physical release sales. That is some damn fine going for a music as marginal as this. Hooded Menace has never been the dirtiest of bands, but never any easy-access In Flamesian bollocks either. Yes, you mentioned the euphoria within the band when things clicked with this particular album, but did you never really expect it to do this well? What is your career goal with Hooded Menace? What would be the optimal scenario for the band, at least as far as the success and album sales go?

Lasse: Hitting the Finnish album chart was a nice surprise, indeed. Of course we see extreme Metal bands on these charts sometimes, because Finnish people are crazy for Metal and Metal fans still care about getting a physical copy. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by me how well “The Tritonus Bell” has been received. The reviews have been awesome, and we’ve got pretty good media coverage. Also the previous full-length was considered our best by many, so people were really looking forward to the new record, I suppose.

But seeing the album debuting as high as 3rd on physical releases was quite unexpected. It’s funny how I almost have a guilty conscience about it. Hah! It’s not like we dream about success such as this, but as long as we can stand 100% behind our music, I’ll take it. I don’t think we are the most ambitious band when it comes to gaining popularity. I mean, we don’t even tour much! I don’t think anyone in the band is into adopting that kind of lifestyle fully. Personally, I’d be happy if we managed to continue releasing solid albums on solid labels. I don’t think it’s a very healthy idea to build scenarios much bigger than that. This is not the pre-internet days when albums were actually selling.

PCO: One of the big improvements for the new album, at least to my ears, was the production. It somehow managed to renew the audioscape for Hooded Menace to something completely new AND also more unique. Punchy, but clear. Like Hooded Menace vol.2, in a way. How was it like to work with Andy LaRoque, a teenage hero of yours? Any pressure, hahaha? Was he the only producer you were thinking of for the album?

Lasse: Of course, it was a bit strange to work with someone you have looked up to since you were a kid, and it didn’t make things any less surreal when he ran our guitars through his old custom cabinet that he used on King Diamond´s “Abigail” tour in the 80’s! Andy made everything easy. He was patient and flexible, and he really listened to what we had to say – and we can be persnickety bastards! He was willing to make the kinda album that we wanted to make. There’s zero egoism to that guy. It was a really satisfying experience.

As for other options for a producer, we were actually in touch with Arthur Rizk, but then we went with Andy eventually. Personally, I was also quite interested in working with Jaime Gomez Arellano again, because we could have built on the experience we had with him in making “Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed,” but then again, it felt like a good idea to try something new. Also, my main intention was to improve the guitar sound, and Andy seemed like the right guy for it.

PCO: Musicians often have a single favourite spot on each album they make. It can be, and often is, something rather trivial even. What would be your moment of joy on this particular album?

Lasse: The drum fill with the reversed echo in “Blood Ornaments” is pretty cool. It’s right after the first chorus. That’s something I had in mind at the pre-production stages already. It’s an old trick that I don’t think we’ve used before.

PCO: What many people do not know, is the fact you had a Death Doom concept in mind – already in late 80s – with your previous band Phlegethon. If you had gone on that route, instead of the Death Thrash you chose, the band would have most likely been the first band of its kind in the scene. Can you tell us more about this?

Lasse: That’s right. When we were forming Phlegethon, we were just as much into Candlemass as we were into Death and Sepultura and the likes. There was this dark elegance and mournfulness to Candlemass that appealed to us heavily. It was something we hadn’t heard before. I was quite insecure about my drumming skills. I had problems playing fast fills and fast double kick drums and everything. I simply thought I could pull off the slow stuff better. If we had known anyone who could do good, clean vocals we would have gone Doom Metal, probably. But, since that wasn’t the case, we considered the idea of Doom Metal with Death Metal vocals. That was unheard at the time, at least to us. We ditched the idea though, because it seemed a bit too strange and humorous even. You know, our ears were used to hearing growling vocals on fast, aggressive and quite complex music. There wasn’t enough of a pioneering attitude in us, I suppose, and so we went with Death/Thrash Metal, but at least we were able to put our own stamp on it.

PCO: Wes Benscoter. He is a legend, without a doubt. How was it like to work with him? What do you think would be the ultimate cover art he has done and which would be the bigger influence on the idea behind “The Tritonus Bell” artwork in your opinion: “Scream Bloody Gore” by Death, or a Masters of the Universe cartoon?

Lasse: Wes was very easy to work with. I explained to him what I had in mind, and he took it from there and delivered. The art is inspired by “Scream Bloody Gore,” indeed, and of course by The Blind Dead movies too, as you can see from that figure ringing the bell. Masters of the Universe stuff means nothing to me, I don’t even know much about it at all, actually, so it’s easy to say it didn’t serve as an inspiration. From the artworks of Wes, I really like Autopsy´s “Skull Grinder.” It’s such a crazy idea, and executed to perfection.

PCO: Time for the last question… As we are 21 years down the new Millenium already (what the fuck happened?!), what would be your favourite album from these past 21 years and why?

Lasse: Hmm, I guess it’s either “Sorrow and Extinction” by Pallbearer, or “The Ruins of Fading Light” by Crypt Sermon. I think I will go with Pallbearer though, but just by a hair. “Sorrow and Extinction” is such an emotionally charged album. There’s just something to it that moves me deeply. The songwriting is clever and memorable, and I dig the vocals a lot. Maybe his voice isn’t for everyone, but I think it fits perfectly. I can’t blame the band for not being able to top the debut album to this day. Well, that’s just my opinion, of course. It’s just a very beautiful and soulful Doom album, and utterly heavy, too. A modern classic, really.

PCO: Thank you for your time Lasse!

Now folks, go check out “The Tritonus Bell” by Hooded Menace, if you have not and get ready to be blown away by the sheer magnificence of it. Also, you might like to check out these Hooded Menace related releases: 

Claws Absorbed in the Nethervoid (2009)

RuinebellDemise in Disgrace EP (2011) 

Vacant CoffinSewer Skullpture (2008) 

PhlegethonNeutral Forest demo (1990) 

EmulgatorGrinding Sessions (2000) 

Horse Latitudes Black Soil (2013) 

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