Do you see MT and RS only as lead singers of the band, whose sole purpose is to deliver and communicate the lyrics as effectively as possible, or do you prefer to think of them as musicians who use their voices as instruments?
LL: I see them more of the latter. They all have the say in the lyrics and how and what vocals should be like. I consider my work done when the instruments are recorded so it’s more than ok to give them all the freedom they want. I do participate in the arrangements if needed ˗ we tend to bounce ideas around a lot and keep the vocal recording sessions semi-improvisational. It’s a big effort and would be easier if everything was arranged beforehand, but I’d rather let the inspiration take its course naturally. We did record most of the vocals in one long, long session while feasting and drinking, and I still hear the pain and frustration in some of the songs we recorded the day after.
Desolate Shrine is probably the only band around that has two people handling the vocals and only one taking care of everything else. Why do you feel that such an uneven distribution of responsibilities within the band makes for a winning combination?
LL: The configuration of the band, which many may think ˗ maybe deservingly so ˗ is quite bizarre, does not have much to do with a winning combination per se. I think we could have just as quality music in our hands by doing things a bit differently. So I don’t think of it as a necessity in any way, but that’s just how we wanted to do it. I’ve heard many times that they don’t necessarily even distinguish who’s doing which vocals. At times that’s intentional, as I don’t want any ok, it’s his turn now and this is clearly his part feel. Sometimes that works really well, but we like to stir the pot every now and then. For me, they do have a vastly different sound and the way they spit words out of their mouth.
Have you ever thought that the band could have benefited from adding a few more musicians to the line-up and that the chemistry between those musicians could have given birth to even more remarkable music? Do you see playing with other people as an opportunity or a hindrance to the purity of your vision?
LL: I’ve thought about it. It could elevate the music further but I choose not to go there anyway. I would need to find someone that would be exactly on the same page with my vision and that would be hard. I’d rather just form another band for that. Desolate Shrine will continue to be a band where I do all the music. That said, I see the benefits of playing with other people. Of course. If things click and many minds are aligned perfectly it can be really an inspirational experience. At times I do miss that kind of method and I probably should join some band to do it and try to give other songwriters the space they deserve.
Releasing albums the way you do, regularly and without any demos or EPs in between to help you catch a break and buy you some time, would it be fair to say that Desolate Shrine is much more than merely a creative outlet to you, that you see it as your life’s work, a personal mission that transcends the meaning and importance bands usually have for their members?
LL: Saying that would imply that I think my band is more special and important to me compared to how some other bands’ members feel towards their own work. I don’t like to define and guess how important things are to different people. But, if we generalise things a bit and compare Desolate Shrine to a basic five-piece death metal band, it might be so. There’s no social aspect, no let’s have fun mentality, there’s only the output and a lonely journey towards it. It’s not just a band that I can quit or just play in it. Being the sole composer and instrumentalist has made the band way more personal and while it’s definitely a creative outlet of a huge magnitude, it is at the same time more profound than that. Even if I never planned for that to happen, just the effort put into creating everything sans vocals and lyrics, writing, recording, mixing, and artwork ˗ it had to become something more. Otherwise, it would be crazy and too draining to continue, it would be madness.
There’s a feeling of uncertainty about your music that leaves a listener in the state of permanent suspense and makes the experience of listening to pretty much all of your albums almost cinematic, as if something overwhelmingly dramatic and terrifying is about to happen. Is that particular effect something that comes to you naturally when you write music or is it something you are consciously trying to create, something that demands effort?
LL: First of all ˗ good. That sounds like a description of music that I would like to listen to, which has been one of my big goals. I like all kinds of music, no matter the genre, that has drama and tension in it. That has always been my biggest gripe in lots of black, death, or doom metal. I do enjoy bands that are throwing fucking awesome riffs to your face, but I have always wished more bands would go a bit further. The lack of storytelling and tension bothers me at times. Tension means that you need lows, highs, different moods and emotions, rather than just nice riffs or groove. It can be, at best, the most immersive musical experience there is, if given time and attention to sink in properly. Nothing wrong with AC/DC’s of death metal, they have their place, but I do yearn and demand more from music nowadays. I like AC/DC. I’ve stated many times that my biggest inspiration is classical music, movies, series, and game soundtracks. Those that are able to convey emotions and build worlds in our heads. It’s visual music.
Regarding the competence and skill when it comes to playing instruments, do you see yourself as a guitarist first and a drummer second, or is it the other way around?
LL: Drummer first, guitarist second. Easily. Though that’s not that clear anymore compared to, let’s say, ten years ago. Guitar is way easier to pick up and start playing while drumming needs more time and dedication, which I do not always have. In a way, my drumming skills are in the maintenance mode (laughs). Maybe the most accurate way to describe it is to say that my drumming has been constantly good enough, and my guitar chops are catching up. I do love to play bass a lot, nowadays more than ever. I get a lot of kick out of it.
Considering the suffocating intensity and complexity of your songs, their carefully planned build-ups and multi-layered arrangements, is the process of writing a Desolate Shrine album ultimately a draining or fulfilling experience? When you finish writing an album, do you feel relieved or even more anxious?
LL: It’s really fulfilling, absolutely! The first phase, getting the idea, takes a long time and might be difficult. But once the basic idea, the seed, is done, it’s great from thereon. I might write a song in one sitting, two per few days. Of course, I revisit them often and polish them as long as needed, but the bulk of the work is done. It is the greatest thing on earth where there are no limits for creativity and everything just comes together better than expected. The last 85% to 100% usually is the hardest. There are a lot of almost there songs that just don’t work as intended and figuring out why and what to do about them is nerve-racking as hell. For example, the first riffs for Fires Of The Dying World were written in 2017 and the big bulk of them was written during a few months, but I needed a lot of time to perfect everything.
Have you ever had to surrender to pressure, despair, or some other negative or destructive influence in order to excel at songwriting? What is the preferred mindset you strive to be in when writing music?
LL: I don’t think so. Usually, I don’t need to get into the mood. The mood will come, I can conjure it by composing.
Is the album title Fires Of The Dying World perhaps a reference to the entropy of our current reality? Is this material world that dying world the title refers to?
LL: Initially I think it was more about metaphysical and spiritual, but today it might be both.
In terms of its symbolical connotations, what is the most important album you have written thus far? Which is the one that means the most to you?
LL: A hard one for sure. It’s difficult to rank your own albums but it might be The Sanctum Of Human Darkness. It defined me the most in terms of what I wanted to be as a musician. Not technically though, it was a struggle to say at least. Which one do I think is the best, that would be even harder to answer.
And what is the Desolate Shrine album that feels the least satisfying in hindsight? Is any of them written during some difficult period in your life, with you being in a particularly bad place mentally and emotionally while writing it?
LL: Many of them were written during a time period of two to three years, and I don’t recall any of those periods being constantly difficult. There are ups and downs in life all the time, and while sometimes there’s an adversary behind every corner, it is usually temporary.
Speaking of adversaries and battling your inner demons, is being in a bad place mentally and emotionally inversely proportional to the quality of the music in your case, in a sense that the worse you feel the better the music gets? Or is it vice versa?
LL: As long as I remain functional, with no crippling depression of sorts, it does not matter much. I do have the ability to go places whether I personally struggle or am the happiest I’ve ever been. I have even realised that the darker material I write the happier I am, so the process has to be some kind of cathartic purge of excess baggage.
Would you say that the evolution of the band’s music and visual identity go hand in hand and that the front cover of each of your albums has always been better than the one before, both in terms of symbolism and execution-wise?
LL: I think the technical quality and workflow, at least in my opinion, have gotten better during the years. I’ve recently gone through all of my bands’ vinyls and wanted to make sure I have all the special editions or whatever, coloured LPs, and put them into frames so that I don’t accidentally give them away. That made me realise that, sure, there has been some progress stylistically and the symbolism is better thought out, but I still found some of the older artwork really great and fitting. And the amount of work does not correlate with how good the artwork is. One of my favourite pieces is Convocation’s Scars Across which started out purely as an improvisation. Some others were really a long process even before doing a single brush stroke. Thinking about how to communicate the theme of the album is never easy and doing that in a visually striking way might be even harder. And then the actual painting might be painstaking too, because I am not a trained or especially good artist at all. I need to figure things out and learn as I progress. If the artwork needs humans, then so be it. But I fucking suck at drawing humans so it takes a lot of time to get it right for me.
Do you believe in the religious conception of an afterlife, with hell and heaven as places of eternal sin and eternal virtue, and do you feel that the common stance on this matter isn’t a foregone conclusion, in the sense that hell can also be heaven, depending on one’s attitude and perception?
LL: I do not. I have been quite allergic to any of the mainstream religious ideologies trying to make sense of the spiritual world. Most, though not all big ones, do emphasise the concept of literal good and bad place heavily for one reason only, and that’s control.
What is the key to staying driven as a musician and an artist? Is that something a person can even have control over, or is it a matter of god’s grace, for the lack of a better phrase?
LL: Creating things is essential for me to stay sane. Not necessarily music, but I need to create. And at times when there are no creative juices left for, let’s say, Desolate Shrine, I turn my attention to something else and ride that wave as long and hard as I can. It goes in waves for sure, and this has been the most important thing for me to realise that I will never be in a situation where there’s nothing to write, play, or paint. At times when mana potions are empty, I take a break and do something else for a month or so. Maybe just concentrate on playing drums, watch some series, or movies, go to museums, and so on. Then, after some time new ideas start to arise and bounce around in my head. Now, as I wrote that, it kind of sounds like I’m riding the waves of (un)divine inspiration but the truth is that I understand when I need a break, change something, or switch to another project and that comes from the experience of how my head works. We can think of that as the hard work I’ve done for myself to get into that kind of position. I’ve rehearsed, banged my head to the wall, and been frustrated a lot and that has nothing to do with magical inspiration. So it’s both.
Considering that all your releases are essentially snapshots in time that clearly showcase a band that’s constantly evolving, could you at least vaguely foresee the general direction in which your sound will continue to develop? How would you hope the 9th Desolate Shrine album to sound like, hopefully not too far down the line?
LL: First time in my life I can not. Right now I have zero idea where to go with the band. I see two or three possible roads but those are still unexplored. The first one is more death metal and riffs. This would be a natural progression from Fires Of The Dying World. The second one is to step back to a doomier and thicker, unfriendly atmosphere. And the third is ˗ something else. Right now I’m thinking the third option is the most interesting one, but the problem is that I do not know what it means yet.
Do you feel that now, with five albums under the belt, the band has finally found its own identity, that you know who you are, where you came from, and where you are heading, or is every new album always a new quest in terms of finding that answer?
LL: I think we’ve found that during The Heart Of The Netherworld. Hearing or reading comparisons of what we sound like is really weird to me as I rarely agree with those opinions at all. And all those sounds like bands are usually, from my perspective, way off and really diverse. That might be an indication that we actually do have our own sound and finding comparisons is not easy. I’d like to say that it’s also a result of us taking only insignificant inspiration from metal music and way more from soundtracks and classical music. Of course, there are familiar sounding things going on. I’d be an asshole to deny that. On the new album, there’s one song that I actually wanted to be a homage to a certain Norwegian album from 1991. And, of course, there are traces of old Finnish death masters, Morbid Angel, and so on. I can’t nor want to dismiss the fact that I’ve been listening to black and death metal for most of my life and that it has shaped my songwriting and playing style.
Is it fair to say that the satisfaction and the sense of fulfillment and personal accomplishment that you get from working on Convocation and Desolate Shrine’s music are substantially different? If so, could you elaborate on those differences?
LL: I’d say they are different enough for me. Sure, they have similarities but it’s just because of my guitar playing and songwriting style. I wanted to make a bigger difference between these bands before and during the whole process of working on Fires Of The Dying World, so that Convocation would not be slower Desolate Shrine with more synths. There were some ground rules set which I’ve been following ever since. It has crystallised the purpose of both bands and affected the music too, as it’s way easier to get into the needed mindset when composing. Desolate Shrine is and shall remain a more savage, primal outlet of more violent impulses, whereas Convocation scratches my urge to go full-on grandiose, melodic, and overly dramatic. I wrote a five minute choir piece in the vein of Henry Purcell for Convocation just because I wanted to. That might not see the light of day though (laughs).
Speaking of Convocation, how would you compare the MN’s performance on Ashes Coalesce to the vocals of MT and RS on Fires Of The Dying World? It feels that something new was brought to the table by each of them on those two respective albums, in songs like The Absence Of Grief or My Undivided Blood for example. In which way do their vocal styles and energies differ in your opinion?
LL: All of the vocalists have a really different way of approaching music which makes things really interesting. How, for example, me and Marko work in Convocation ˗ he has a totally free reign to do whatever he wants. So do Desolate Shrine guys too, but the difference is that in Desolate Shrine we record them together and arrange them during those sessions. In Convocation, Marko does the arrangements by himself, records demos, and that’s it. This is how it will be. Both approaches have a lot of room for surprises for sure, but in a different way. All of the vocalists have slightly different backgrounds which I think shows. And, of course, these differences are within the context of extreme metal. If I’d ask my mother, I’m sure she wouldn’t notice (laughs). Marko has more tendencies toward more experimental vocals and the guy loves some Queen, David Bowie, etc. Desolate Shrine duo are more straight on death/black metal vocalists.
The songs on Ashes Coalesce have a fairly different vibe between them, it seems that each of them paints a different picture with different colours, whereas Desolate Shrine material in general feels more streamlined and monolithic. Does that mean that you see Convocation as an outlet that is more suitable for experimentation and exploration of different possibilities in terms of style, aesthetics, and sensibility?
LL: Exactly just that. I felt a bit constrained, by my own rules, in Desolate Shrine for awhile so I needed an outlet for different kinds of melodies and ideas. What was initially really hard was to figure out what Convocation is. How much experimentation I want to allow for myself, how it differs from other bands that I’m involved in, and so on. Basically, what’s the reason for its existence. Nowadays, I have a good picture of what I want the band to evolve into. I do not want to restrict myself too much, yet I want the band to have a feel of its own which means it has to be internally cohesive.
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