Finland, the land of the thousand lakes, had a great underground scene back in the late 80s / early 90s and it’s always good to listen to those old materials. This time we managed to get in touch with vocalist / guitarist Jukka Taskinen, who told us about the early days of DISGRACE…
Jukka, when looking back on the blossoming Death Metal scene of the late 80s / early 90s and indeed its global impact, the regional distinctions are / were rather clear (Florida, New York, England, The Netherlands, Sweden). Did the territorial essence of the genre spawn a rich and diverse metallic underworld?
“Sure. It was very interesting to check out different genres and how they developed and which direction. Like it is in many music underground, or even mainstream scenes. People still are talking about classic Gothenburg sound or so. Nowadays I’m pretty much out of the Metal scene, so I don’t know what happens and where. Unfortunately.”
How about the roots of Finnish Death Metal? How did it start to develop?
“Most of it happened naturally, like people listening first to Speed Metal, then to Thrash and after that to Death Metal, like it happened everywhere. Of course those days, at least in our circles in Finland, influences came from Punk, Hardcore, Noisecore, Classic Rock… whatsoever. Death Metal or Grindcore were not the only music types, where we spotted good vibes and used for composing. But of course fellas from FUNEBRE and XYSMA were helpful to find right bands and of course the local music store Comeback was a great spot to buy new records and demos all over the world. And of course shows were important to spread the word around.”
The Finnish Death Metal scene has been revered for years as one of the best around in the early 90s, do you agree with it?
“I have no skills to say which scene is the best. I got bored of the Death Metal scene very soon after the beginning of the 90s, too many bands appeared and most of them were not interesting at all for my taste. The scene started to lose originality very soon and musicwise it formed formats, like which bands are true Metal or not. We left the playground very very fast. In a way the beginning of the 90s was good and many bands were testing their limits. I don’t say, it didn’t happen later on, but somehow Death Metal started to become trend and business. Then I lost my interest totally.”
Was it a kind of goldmine, considering how many outfits were active around those times?
“I have no idea if it was a goldmine in the meaning of word. Financially we got nothing. But maybe culturally it was interesting and important a short moment in the history of Finnish music. Maybe people respect and understand those days more than we back then.”
Do you think, that the single most influential medium on the country’s burgeoning Death Metal scene was Klaus Flaming’s weekly radioshow Metallilitto (The Metal Union)?
“Maybe for younger generations. This program came after we did our first records, so we got no influence from there.”
At which point was DISGRACE formed? Did the line-up consist of you on vocals / guitars, Miska Koski on drums, Toni Christian Stranius on guitars (R. I. P.) and Jussi Selonen on bass right from the start?
“DISGRACE did first shows in 1987, playing METALLICA, STONE and SLAYER covers. 1988-1989 it was more like Thrash, until end of the 1989, when we started to mix Grindcore into Death Metal. Toni came in on guitar in 1988 and Jussi a bit later on bass.”
Were you involved in any other bands prior to DISGRACE, by the way?
“If I remember right, I came to the band when it was called SACRUM. I personally played in couple of smaller Metal bands before DISGRACE.”
How about your nicknames?
“Nicknames came later on. Maybe 1997 or so, while we were drunk and bored on tour.”
Did you start writing originals or were you mostly jamming on covers?
“We did covers only the first months in 1987. We started to compose own songs immediately in 1988.”
Three demos (“Demo 89”, “Beyond The Immortalized Existence”, “Inside The Labyrinth Of Depression” – both 1990) and a 7″ EP (“Debts Of God” – 1991) were released, can you give us a brief sum about them?
“We did demos in 1988 and 1989. Pretty boring SLAYER – influenced Thrash Metal with a hint of Death Metal in them. We were 16 and 17, so we were just learning how to play. In 1990 we did our Death Metal / Grindcore tracks on those mentioned demos and 7″. There were also influences from VOIVOD, which was and still is one of my / our favourite bands.”
Is it correct, that you released one demo before “Demo 89”?
“Yes. And one in 1988.”
Were these materials heavily spread around in the underground tapetrading circuit? Did they really represent what you wanted to achieve with DISGRACE?
“The early demos in 1988 – 89 were mostly like for our own use. We sold some via local music magazines. But the “Beyond…” demo opened us a whole world. Suddenly we got hundreds and hundreds demo orders all over the world. And after that we got record deal offers almost on daily basis, all written letters. No internet those days!”
Was the “Inside The Labyrinth Of Depression” demo a unique offering of signature, down-tuned Finnish Death Metal?
“I don’t really know. We already had a record deal with Modern Primitive, but we still wanted to release the demo, which we actually sold like 2000 copies. The sound was the result of our demands vs. the studio technician, who had never heard Death Metal or Grindcore in his life. We were 10 hours in the studio, recorded all tracks and mixed them in one day.”
In 1991 you appeared on the Seraphic Decay Records CD sampler (along with ABHORRENCE, ACROSTICHON, GOREAPHOBIA, TOXAEMIA and MINCH) and on “Miasmes 3” (Strangulation Distribution), what can you tell us about it?
“Seraphic Decay was the first label to contact with us in the beginning of 1990 for a 7″ deal. We did it. Also in these sessions the sound engineer’s only experience with Metal was FUNEBRE’s demo tape. He just let the reel rolling on and we played all 4 songs plus a couple of extras (like JIMI HENDRIX’ ‘Foxy Lady’) with one take on it. He drank coffee with his mother upstairs and we recorded all with one take. The vocals we did later on. And this was done also in 8 or 10 hours, mixing included.”
Did these releases (the demos and the EP too) help DISGRACE’s popularity in any way?
“Of course they did, but at the time we didn’t feel like we are popular anywhere.”
Were you a promising Death Metal band?
“Nope. We had our minds out of Death Metal in 1990 already.”
When did you start working on your debut album “Grey Misery”?
“We had everything ready already in late 1990, but we had to do our civil service duty, so we couldn’t practice or go to a studio. Finally in the Fall 1991 it was over and we all got time to go into a studio.”
It was recorded and mixed in September 1991 at TTT Studios in Helsinki by Timo Tolkki and the band, what do you recall of the recording sessions? Were you prepared to cut the album, when you entered the studio?
“We were ready, practised well and recorded and mixed the whole album in three days. Would not be possible nowadays. Tolkki was a really good studio engineer, innovative and he knew what he was doing. Good times.”
Did you have to finance the recordings on your own?
“The demos and 7” we did with our demo and t-shirt sale money. For “Grey Misery” we got 6000 Finnish marks for recording. We used 2800 marks and for the rest of it we bought beer.”
How did Timo Tolkki end up becoming the producer? Did he have a lot of experience regarding this job?
“He was fantastic and a really good and professional sound engineer. No bad word to tell about him. A bit sad to read and hear bad things about him later on, but those days he was very good at what he did.”
On “Grey Misery” there were six new songs and it featured the tunes of the “Labyrinth…” demo, what made you use / put them on the record? Are they the original versions or did you change anything on them?
“They were mostlikely the same. Maybe a bit better played.”
Are the new songs still filled with plenty of dark, mid-tempo Death Metal riffs and pulverizing blast parts?
“I don’t know what to say on this. Maybe? Hehehe.”
Did all of the songs have the potential to be great?
“I like how they are and they were not meant to be mainstream or anything. Just music what we loved to do. So in our minds all of them had great potential. How good they are, well, listeners can decide. I haven’t listened to “Grey Misery” too many times in the last 30 years.”
How do you view, that the material is mostly rooted in Doom, but the band is equally able to lay down sick Grind blasts and eerie melodies as well?
“Yeah, there’s some Doom Metal influences in the early material, we listened a lot to CANDLEMASS, PARADISE LOST, TROUBLE and BLACK SABBATH of course, which was the main influence on the “Vol. 2″ album from 1993. But all these influences mixed good in our minds. It was also testing our skills and capacity to understand music and musical structures. VOIVOD is also the key here. Their ideas of composing music can be heard in early DISGRACE material since 1988.”
Did you have an already matured style back in 1992?
“I wouldn’t call it mature or so. We got bored with the limits of Death Metal around those days. We just tried to expand. We were 100% sure that we are not going to be old fucks playing same shit 30 year later – and that’s what happened, and I don’t mind about that. But I’m not ashamed of what we did back then. We got pretty bothered when every small village had its own Death Metal band, so we decided to find new ways to express ourselves.”
The tracks were very groovy, enriched by good ideas and the CARCASS touch fitted pretty well into your sound…
“Yeah, the main idea was to have some kind of good groove in the songs on “Grey Misery”. And of course CARCASS gave us ideas. Music was like an empty canvas, where we could play as much as we wanted. Mixing groovy Rock / Metal with Grindcore was a good way to test the limits.”
In your opinion, was the previous stuff (the demos and the EP) far rawer than the stuff on the debut? It also showed the huge development the band went through in a short time…
“We had a lots of shows those days and practised a lot weekly. But that raw sound was only an accident: shitty studios with engineers, who had no idea how to record Metal – so that was the result. Some people love it, and I don’t mind that at all. With a better production the demos and 7″ might have not been so interesting to people like they are now.”
Would you say, that many of the songs feature strange, up-beat Rock’n’Roll type riffing? Was that a sign of what was to come / expect in the future?
“Yes they were. We were on the run those days. And I’m there still.”
Would you say that the sound is very raw and brutal, yet clear enough to reflect the band’s big potentional?
“I don’t really know. When “Grey Misery” finally came out, we had new ideas of making music and where we were going. It felt like a burden in those days.”
“Grey Misery” was released by French Modern Primitive (a sublabel of Intellectual Convulsion), how did you hook up with them? Were they the first / only company to offer you a contract?
“There were plenty of record labels, but somehow we were tricked by this Dominique Minchelli to be in his team. There was supposed to be a huge European tour with IMMOLATION and SUFFOCATION, a merch deal with a big English manufacturer etc. None of that happened. He never paid us a dime for the sales.”
Weren’t bigger labels interested in the band at this point?
“Yeah, but deals on paper were worse.”
Would have the album received more attention on another label?
“Probably. He said he sold out the first 10.000 in a couple of months and pressed another one. And then disappeared. If those were the sales, they were pretty good.”
How do you judge your co-operation with them in retrospect?
“Well, that guy was a cheating bastard. But who gives a fuck. We might have done one more album with some Death Metallish influences and after that we would had a different way anyway.”
Did you manage to do any live shows (or tour) in support of the album?
“Nah, not really. The album was delayed for about a year. And Toni left the band and I dived into my BLACK SABBATH fixation and we already recorded the second album when the first came out.”
Why did you turn into the Rock’n’Roll / Punk Rock direction after the release of “Grey Misery”? Was it a natural, logical development / step or a conscious decision?
“Bands like THE STOOGES, UNION CARBIDE PRODUCTIONS etc. were much cooler than any of those Death Metal bands those days. And we also got interested in cheap booze and drugs. Death Metal people those days were only nerds. We wanted to party and get wasted.”
How would you musically describe the other DISGRACE releases and how satisfied are you with them?
“In my opinion there is a lifeline that we followed. Some of them were not so good, but I’m very proud of the releases that came later on. Especially “Born Tired” was and still is important to me, ’cos I almost drunk myself dead – and that record writing was a healing process to me. I went to my parents cabin in the middle of Finland alone and only had an acoustic guitar with me. I wrote six out of ten songs that week and went to the studio.”
Unfortunately Toni passed away 15 years ago, how do you want him to be remembered?
“He was my best friend around 1988 – 1991. He was a merry drunkard and we had a lot of good times back then. Actually he returned to DISGRACE later on, maybe 1998, but his mental state and drug problems pretty soon caused, that we did not come to our shows and he quit. We also had a really good other band in the mid 90s with him. HYPNOCOSMICS. Maybe some day I record some of those songs for the world to hear.
Jukka, thanks a lot for the interview, what are your closing words / thoughts?
“Thanks. I hope Metalheads do not get angry on me about this interview. But I try to be honest here. Those Death Metal years of DISGRACE were very short time on my musical history or span. But it’s great that people like and love that older material as well.”