INTERVIEW: Lantern on debut LP “Below”, Finnish DM, and the new northern darkness

Lantern are a two-man death metal band from Kuopio, Finland, whose debut LP, Below, is the sort of warped and twisted 40-minute head-trip that should be mother’s milk to all those Decibangers who were weaned on the impenetrable darkness of bands such as Demilich and Demigod. Formed by a surprisingly mellow dude with a a reassuringly brutal nom de guerre , Cruciatus, with Necrophilos on vocals, Lantern are old-school in ethos, with the necro atmosphere always trumping the brutality of the jam. But don’t mistake Lantern for some by-the-numbers NWOSDM revivalist act.
Taking cues from ’70s prog, Cruciatus isn’t afraid to take Lantern off-piste, with weird atonal passages and half-riffs that mutate over the course of a seven-minute song. There are hooks, then moments where Below sounds like the haunted cousin of Deicide’s Legion. Below is released on June 25th through Dark Descent. Check it out below.

Here is the Lantern’s keeper of the flame, creator-in-chief Cruciatus on the making of Below.

This is your first full-length record, and judging from your Subterranean Effulgence EP, Lantern’s sound has become more epic and more abstract.
I know! Subterranean Effulgence was more like this compilation of so-called neat tracks but this is like all greenery and rambling, like you said, very epic, almost like one 40-minute long song. I don’t know—it just turned out like that, naturally, and I thought that people might think that it is too weird for an album but so far the response has been pretty nice.

Better being too weird than too normal. But the name, Lantern, is abstract in itself: How did you come up with it?
I dislike all those very brutal names, and I wanted to give the listener something to think about; Lantern has all these different philosophical meanings, like illuminating the darkness and all that. It just sounded right, at the start when I cam up with that name, and at the moment that I came up with the name I came up with the logo and everything just clicked.

The name can be as weird as you like so long as it looks good as a logo, right? But the philosophical meanings behind it, do they allude to the fact that lanterns are only used in the darkness and even then hardly light things up that much—there is plenty that is left in the darkness. Is that alluding to the music itself, that a lot of it leaves something to the imagination.
Yeah, you understood it correctly. It’s not like showing everything immediately; it’s about shedding the horror slowly and what’s half-hidden in the darkness.

Cruciatus and Necrophilus’ pre-Lantern DM band, Cacodaemon:

How would you put Lantern into context with Cacodaemon? Does this feel like it’s completely a different beast, musically and thematically?
Yeah, I think of Cacodaemon as an apprenticeship of sorts. It was much more chaotic than Lantern. Lantern is more subtle . . . Or you could even say sophisticated. I don’t know, maybe it is more controlled nowadays; it is not as rowdy. When I ended Cacodaemon and started with Lantern I didn’t actually know what sort of music would come out of this. We jammed out the first demo in the studio, and I didn’t know how our vocalist would sound with all of this. You know the fourth song on the album, “Manifesting Shambolic Aura”? That was the first Lantern song ever written, and that was literally chanted out; I just had a few ideas, everything came together naturally.

Does that one have special significance to you?
Yeah, I guess so. The name Lantern is mentioned in the lyrics, and it started it all. It was a manifesto for my musical continuation, uhh, so to say.

It sounds like genres outside of metal have as much of an influence on Lantern as traditional death metal.
Yeah, strangely enough, ‘70s progressive rock started to creep in to my composing when I started with Lantern. That’s one of the notable influences. And with Lantern, I let all these maybe stranger influences run a bit more freely than before. I didn’t really Cacodaemon was more old-school and traditional; Lantern isn’t bound to anything. I do whatever I want, and that’s where the Lantern sound comes from.

Which bands in particular were influencing you?
Mercyful Fate have always been important, and from the progressive side, you could say that Camel, even Yes, and bands like that—usually, the influence is compositional, like how you can do things differently. It’s not like it’s a direct progressive rock influence but more about how you can compose it . . .

What’s the writing process like?
Usually it’s very slow. I write some riffs and take it from there. I’ll return to them and decide what’s good, what’s bad, and usually I’ll write the lyrics at the end. I write it all myself, at least for now. Our rhythm guitarist who plays at our gigs [St. Belial] offered to give me some riffs but maybe that’s a project for the future, I don’t know. I’m such a dictator; I like doing things by myself, and Necrophilus let’s me do all the work for him! Before this interview, I was writing some new riffs, and usually I have these song titles or themes that I write in my notebook, and build the atmosphere around them, sometimes just a couple of words that inspire me, and usually Lantern songs take about half a year to be completed but some of these songs came together in a day, like “Demons in my Room”. I have been recording everything myself but I have been thinking about getting some help [with the production] because it is a pain in the ass to compose, record and mix everything yourself.

It might start with a riff, or those ideas—the themes, key words—that you put down in your notebook, but with Lantern, is the emphasis more on the atmosphere of the song than the actual physical riff?
Yeah, I’ve said on many occasions that atmosphere comes first and foremost to me in music, sometimes at the expense of the riffs. To create the proper atmosphere is the key thing to Lantern’s music.

Most death metal bands champion the riff over everything else, and you’re kind of the opposite. Are you comfortable with being labelled a death metal band?
Hmm, yeah, it’s mostly death metal. But it has so many black metal elements as well, so it’s hard to tell. But I guess it’s okay to label us a death metal band, most of the time. It’s a tough one . . .

But it doesn’t matter so much anyway. Do you find that with extreme music the boundaries are coming down?
Yeah. Actually, someone said a huge compliment on Facebook, just a few weeks ago, saying that Lantern sounds like some of the bands from the early ‘90s, like when the boundaries were really thin and you didn’t care if you were black metal or death metal, you just played good music and that was all that counted. I think that was a really good compliment, to say that we were returning to the age where it doesn’t matter which category you belonged to. I guess it doesn’t matter as much any more.

Who has been exciting you lately in metal?
Desolate Shrine are absolutely fucking great. Finnish friends’ bands, you get to follow them really closely. But I’ve been listening to Aesoth and Ascension, and some of these black metal acts are really exciting. I’ve discovered black metal again. I’m trying to think who else—Horrendous, their album, The Chills was absolutely brilliant. Black metal has shown more potential for me recently than say a few years ago. I was on hiatus from black metal for some time, and concentrated on death metal more. I don’t know if there is a renaissance going on but there are a shit-load of good bands. The scene is definitely not dying.

You’ve played a few live shows now, how does it feel to bring Lantern to the stage?
It’s really great, actually, and we want to play much more, and maybe outside Finland if that is possible. We’ve played four times now and it’s progressing. I think we’re becoming a really good live band, like some songs are much better live than on the recording, especially with the EP songs, like “Revert the Living into Death”, you really want to start banging your head in rehearsals when you are playing that end part. When we started I had no opinion on whether we should play live or not, but after a few years we just started having this idea that we should play live. We didn’t originally design Lantern to be a live band; we just wanted to record something and try some things out.

Has it helped you that it’s taken you a bit of time to get this album out? Has it helped you develop your sound?
Yeah, it’s been very important. Like I say, the first demo was almost half improvised—that was like a testing ground—and the EP was maybe closer to our sound on Below but the album’s sound determined what Lantern was going to be. We wouldn’t have been Lantern if we had recorded an album in the first two years, I guess. We had to have those four years before we started to record the album. It was vital, I’d say.

Lantern sound like a band who will change with each release. What would you like to add to your sound?
The thing with Lantern’s music, and hopefully the listener will think so too, is that we haven’t repeated ourselves. The songs are different, and I’d like to continue that. I’d like each song to be different, and it feels like that trend is continuing with the new stuff and with the new writing. It will be different but still Lantern.

The way you finish the album, with the epic “From the Ruins”, suggests that you’re going to open it up and go even more epic in the future.
Yeah, I have some seven-minute songs coming up, so I think that is going to be a standard length for Lantern’s music. But still, “From the Ruins” is on a different level. That is a very special Lantern song. I like to give the songs a bit of air, and I still improvise in the studio. I let them grow once I’ve finished the drum tracks, when I’ve finished the guitar tracks, and I may not have a complete song when I enter the studio so there is always the space for jamming out.

What is it that binds Finnish death metal together? If there is one quality consistent with Finnish DM bands is that, more or less, they’ve got their own sound.
There’s something in that drinking water, and Demilich come from the same town as us, and Antti is a brilliant friend of ours. Everyone says Lantern sound quite different but the same on other levels. We’re doing things our own way, and that’s the key element of Finnish death metal, at least for the old bands and the new old-school bands, like Desolate Shrine and all of these bands.

There is a lot of mysticism in the lyrics—what themes did you want to express?
Well in death metal, usually people write lyrics about killing and all this gore, but I think death and dying and killing are three different things. What inspires me most is my near-death experience from 1999. I almost died of hyperthermia, and that’s a really personal experience for me and I started to think about death differently. And I dunno, I’m trying to express that through music. But it’s not all serious pondering about death. Some of the lyrics are like old Italo horror writing, or H.P. Lovecraft-type horror.

How near was near death?
I’d say I was an inch before from being ready to die. My body temperature was at the limit for surviving. But, yeah, I was young back then and you can get a little bit [stupid] . . . It had something to do with alcohol. We were just hanging out with some friends and I passed out, and they didn’t help me as much as I should have, and luckily I survived . . . And hopefully learned my lesson.

Do you have any theories about what happens after death?
I believe that it doesn’t end here, like life is something that the human doesn’t understand, all of theses planes of existence. I think that death is more than just the decaying. But I don’t know what that is, like I say the human mind can’t comprehend everything.

Did it change your perspective on life?
I guess so, it is one of those things that I cannot express in words directly, but I think that I have been thinking quite differently about existence after that. I think spirituality in the music is important because it is a grounding for yourself to contemplate things, and think about life and death and even understand somethings about yourself through writing your own music. That happens to me occasionally, like I’ll write some strange lyrics and then understand the meaning of them a few years later.

**Order Lantern’s Below here.
**Order Lantern’s Subterranean Effulgence here.