Over the course of a single-minded, uncompromising descent into depravity spanning 23 years and counting, elevated by a refusal to partake of the common discourse or acquiesce with conventional norms, Clandestine Blaze has secured peerless, infamous status as the ultimate expression of authentic, antagonistic Black Metal. Dedicated deliverer of counter culture Mikko Aspa discusses the necessity of struggle, paradoxes and conflicts within Black Metal, ploughing a lone furrow, the non-existence of evil and the forthcoming eleventh Clandestine Blaze album.
As the world seemingly descends further into chaos with each passing day, does it even matter? Do we matter? Obviously, I’d rather exist than not exist but does humankind or superficially-structured society serve any purpose beyond forging perceptions and creating illusions / delusions of grandeur? Although each individual might deem himself to be important and relevant, collectively human beings are of no value or worth within the greater cosmos. Thus, in this period of global turmoil and tumult, are you inclined to celebrate the fall of man; are you indifferent to his plight; or is it enough just to focus on your own personal conservation and advancement whilst ignoring everything going on outside your window?
“If talking from perspective of Black Metal, relevant question is what exactly has changed and how much? In context of Black Metal, we can mainly see lack of festivals and live gigs. Effect for Black Metal itself is nearly non-existent.
“From personal perspective, I do have to acknowledge effects of location. Here in Finland, we have had barely restrictions. It is most of all the luxury of global travel, bars and restaurants, collective hobbies that are restricted. People losing jobs, having unstable future. I am old enough, and from a small enough city to remember when this was merely regular day to day life. Nothing unusual. This type of situation was fertile ground to spawn new things when the old world was crumbling down.”
Over the past twelve months, the mainstream media has proven itself to be useless – nothing but a propaganda tool for dispensing the official narrative and telling us what we should think. News is not news but propaganda and spin. It makes me wonder if we can even believe what we are taught about history. Are there any reliable sources of information; where can we find truth?
“It is nearly pointless to read ‘news’. Whether it is true and perfectly accurate would be beside the point. Whatever nugget of information you may have is useless unless you can put it into context. Instead of attempting to follow ‘news’ and ‘media’ to be ‘informed’ about what is supposedly going on, one should rather read good books. Random news of today tells pretty much nothing about the world we live in. Most of the information found from news is simply useless, no matter is it true or false.”
Considering how underwhelming and frankly disappointing the so-called pandemic has been in terms of the body count, the reaction to this virus has been nothing short of hysterical. An irrational fear of death has transfixed the masses. People are so scared of dying that they are incapable of thinking for themselves. But the grave awaits at the end of every journey, the ultimate destination.
‘Men yearned to the stars to find answers
Yet could only find cold hostile radiation of death
The hand of destiny leads you to the grave
Through a life of miserable ordeals’
As death promises eternal darkness, emptiness and blackness, while life will almost invariably bring trauma, strife and disappointment, perhaps it is life we should fear and not death?
“I don’t think we should fear it! We must embrace or at least accept it. This has been the underlying message of many of CB works for probably a decade – and the foundation of many relevant worldviews in general. One should not be crushed by a seemingly obvious lack of reason or purpose. Instead, be man enough to make the world be what it needs to be. The necessity and vital struggles of life – perhaps clearest forming the core of the ‘Harmony of Struggle’ album – describes the evolutionary force built within this process.
“This seems to be also a paradox within Black Metal: all the worship of death and plague, yet little hardships and small obstacles of life are mourned intensively. People or bands appear to seek acceptance and approval, both inside and outside the circles of Black Metal. Even approval from people they may be diametrically opposed to! What started as a revolutionary explosion of energy, a sinister and dark worldview of existence, and true counter culture, is often surprisingly weakly weeping when tiny obstacles of banal life emerge. Things that any grown man should be able to cope with, without the blink of an eye.”
Apart from some disruption to shipping, have you been largely unaffected by restrictions, etc.? Has it been business as usual for all your musical endeavours as well as both labels (Northern Heritage Records and Freak Animal Records) and your online and physical stores?
“Minor nuisances. My labels and activities are most of all idealistic pursuits, and whether a year is good for business is quite irrelevant. Operations continue in the form and pace they naturally flow forward.”
You operate with a very strong DIY aesthetic, in a completely independent and autonomous manner. For Clandestine Blaze, for example, you have the wherewithal and resources to write, record, mix and master all the music yourself as well as handling the artwork and releasing the albums on your own label. This grants you complete artistic / quality control and also means you are effectively unstoppable, as nothing and nobody can get in the way. How important is it to have such tight control of the entire process?
“I do most things myself, but I have taken growingly more creative criticism from some close associates during the process of making albums. It does not mean I would necessarily follow advice, but I have used other people to be the outsider perspective. To comment on the mix of an album or last stages of lay-out. Sometimes being so deeply immersed with something makes you blind to obvious weaknesses.
“Having all control on albums and recordings makes things more personal, and also pace is usually faster. I get things done. The more people are involved, the longer it takes to get something completed. My work with Clandestine Blaze and Grunt is directly focused on my own worldview and lifestyle in general, so they are less of ‘band’, more just the thing I do.”
Strong anti-religious views have been a constant from the earliest Clandestine Blaze records (‘Anti-Christian Warfare’ and ‘Children of God’ from debut full-length ‘Fire Burns in Our Hearts’ right through to the most recent LP (‘Tranquility of Death’ opening with the delightfully acrimonious ‘God on the Cross’). Abrahamic religion and the notion of any god, salvation or afterlife are so absurd that they merit only mockery and ridicule. Are there particular aspects of (or strains of) religion that repulse you or do you despise everything about it?
“This has changed during the years. While as a youngster I used to oppose ‘religion’ as a concept, for many years I have not opposed religion or religiousness as a mentality per se. I oppose the worldview, morality and subhuman element of for example abrahamic religions. For me it presents the foundation for making man less than it could be:
‘When feeble men ruled a paradox was born
No longer enthralled in front of power and might,
but wanting to kneel for the weakness:
God as a representative of the lowest of men!’
“This mentality can be seen, not only in religion, but also in Christianity-based western morality. We see the concepts of sin, forgiveness, the dream of paradise, and so on. Utterly clear in current society, where glorification of weakness blossoms and empathy has reached pathological obsessive stages – equal to self-destruction.”
Could religion be the ultimate inversion? With holy wars, religious persecutions, sectarianism, pervert priests, guilty consciences, fanaticism and radical terrorism, the suppression of natural instincts and the general weakening and watering down of man, one could argue that religion is more evil than evil itself? Having said that, surely there is no such (tangible) thing as good or evil, right or wrong, the just or the unjust (merely energies that transcend human comprehension, perceptions that go way beyond what the senses can perceive)?
“These things you describe, are not ‘more evil’, nor are they somehow separable from religion. It is the dark reverse side that enables the seemingly good side. Without them, one could doubt whether that particular religion would be in the position it is now – even whether it would exist at all. Perverse priests are the logical result of the system of priesthood; guilty conscience the direct result of religious beliefs of the original sin, that could not exist without each other. And so on.
“This is not a question of whether it is ‘evil’. It is rather a question of what is good and what is weak and shitty. There is no evil in it, but flaws and weaknesses. In this system that advocates and promotes weakness and revolves in guilt, shame and hope, the result is what it is.”
Creatively, you have so much going on simultaneously all of the time that if must be difficult to keep yourself sane. How do you remain disciplined, organised and focussed, keep all the projects separate from one another and avoid becoming fragmented / disjointed / overstretched? Are you in creative mode all the time or can you switch it on and off? It seems quite remarkable to me that you can juggle all of this activity without going mad. As Grunt and Clandestine Blaze represent your worldview, is this art the result of a vocation or compulsion as opposed to a task or bothersome undertaking?
“It is not totally conscious methodology, rather simply a state of how things tend to happen. Mostly I have no strict plan, nor schedule. I do what emerges on its own, when time seems right. I don’t really need to form a concept or make an overly-focused plan of what to do. Most of the time it is regurgitating out what has been stuffed in, so to say. A compilation of things that I see, hear, experience, study, regardless of whether it is originally meant to provide substance for ‘songs’ or ‘art’.
“Making material is a bit slower now mostly due to increased standards I created for myself. Not only for material itself, but also to answer the question why release something in the first place. Things like the upcoming Clandestine Blaze album is perhaps fairly raw and dirty, but the task and length of time it took to become ‘like meant to be’ was the longest and most bothersome so far.”
Everybody seems to have a view of what Black Metal is and isn’t, what it should be and should not be. Is it counterproductive, however, to even get involved in this debate? No point cringing about the feeble attempts of contemporary, uplifting ‘artists’ of dubious ideological inclinations to hijack and dilute Black Metal and claim it as their own when they are utterly irrelevant. The core dark, dangerous, destructive and adversarial spirit of Black Metal remains untouched by this. Does the appearance of shit Black Metal – and shit music and culture in general – irritate you or is this precisely the kind of abomination that Clandestine Blaze stands as the antidote to?
“I do not think it is counterproductive at all. It remains to create a firm division that is a source of creative force. I am most often not influenced by bands who I want to imitate (there isn’t really such motivation), but influenced by bands I want to be as distant as possible from!
“If we observe history, some of the very best Black Metal emerged from the conflict within scene, so to say. Black Metal born of opposition to the ‘other metal’ and furthermore, blades sharpened in opposition to false black metal. If this seems like juvenile games now, I can easily understand why someone feels that way. Yet, another thing that I can understand equally easily, is the moment where bands claim they are well above such petty conflicts, this laid back and ‘adult’ attitude correlates strongly with lack of fanaticism in general. In more crucial topics.
“One does not have to waste too much energy or time pondering the existence and ridiculousness of bands or people you despise. It may be healthy to isolate into the darker corners, and simply ignore the rest. At the same time, one may also be openly hostile towards what these days apparently qualifies as Black Metal. It is blatantly clear that dialogue of what and why, the firm manifests and strong intent, has transformed into postmodern lukewarm garbage.
“My vision about Black Metal, or what Clandestine Blaze is, is of course not the only way to manifest BM. It is so diverse in music, sound and content, but one should not foolishly think it means boundaries would not exist. Spiritless guide-book-BM may be one of the worst forms of Black Metal. Exhibiting all that is supposedly right, yet unable to capture or say anything through the art.”
Clandestine Blaze has undergone a very gradual and subtle transformation over the decades, becoming infinitesimally more expansive with each new release whilst retaining a quintessentially primal nature. It’s almost like a paradox as the leaps have been so small that one can barely notice them. Is this progression something that happened naturally or was it planned? Is it the result of you becoming more accomplished as a musician and acquiring better gear, learning improved recording techniques?
“Each album has both intentional compositional, visual and technological changes combined to being a logical continuation of what was done before. Each time I intended to do a drastically different album, it became very much ‘the same’, if you want to describe it that way. Next album may have unusually many formerly unheard elements. That said, it has intentional and utterly clear direct lines towards many songs and concepts of basically all former albums. I am not a very skilled musician, and my songs are based on things I can do. At the same time, I can do pretty much all things I want to do.”
What does 2021 have in store for Clandestine Blaze? I believe the eleventh full-length was recorded last year and is in a period of gestation? Are you hoping to unleash this one soon or – as has become something of a tradition – will it appear unexpectedly without forewarning? Can we expect a further element of slight progression?
“The music of the album was written in late 2019, recorded in 2020. It is probably coming out before summer 2021. Everything in the album has progressed, but it remains unpleasant and cruel.”
Northern Heritage focussed exclusively on reissues in 2020 but you have some new releases lined up for the current year (as well as further, in-demand reissues from the back catalogue) Can you disclose any information on the identity or possible timeline of any of these releases? New Stabat Mater material would be welcome… By the way, regarding reissues, how do you decide what to repress? Most label owners would choose the releases that are more likely to sell out fastest, but this doesn’t seem to be the case with Northern Heritage as there are numerous much-sought-after historical releases that you have so far resisted the urge to make available again…
“Stabat Mater recorded new stuff in 2020. As usual, I do not have exact schedule when it will be published. There will be new releases of Diaboli, Phlegein, probably old but unheard Bloodhammer. A couple of new signings are bending too. Re-pressings will be done for some old albums – most notably the Satanic Warmaster debut on vinyl with original cover.
“I think there aren’t that many labels who are committed to their own roster. Bands and people who are working under the label banner for long periods of time. I mostly see both labels and bands hustling here and there, seemingly randomly teaming up with whichever sellable or somehow promising publisher. I would rather see long term loyalty, not just quick pop-up labels and bands jumping from one label to another with every album.
“I am also surprised about the lack of labels who keep their back catalogue available year after year. Not everything needs to be but, at worst, it leads even notable labels into joining the retarded ‘pre-order to be sold out’ consumption vortex. This has nothing to do with exclusiveness or ‘cult’. Rather, mass production and consumption, and most often reeking of cheap opportunism and quick and safe business methods. I prefer to stay on a different path and hope more would do so as well.”