Q&A: Mikko Rissanen & Aleksis Laakso (Totalselfhatred) Talk Motivation, Vices, And Verses


Back in April, Decibel premiered all songs from Totalselfhatred’s new album, Solitude. The world died a little that day. Now, many months later, we’ve unearthed the a full interview with Totalselfhatred’s N. (aka Mikko Rissanen) and I. (aka Aleksis Laakso) to better understand the dark corner that the Finns currently call home. Solitude remains on the playlist, especially as summer is officially dead now. The album’s five-song slow-motion blast of melancholy and self-loathing is perfect as the leaves change color, the wind cools, and the night starts to conquer day.

Now Totalselfhatred aren’t the most public of bands. They quietly and diligently work in the shadows — it took the Finns seven years to follow-up Apocalypse in Your Heart — releasing albums of absolute despair on labels appreciative of Totalselfhatred’s doleful din. As for new album Solitude, the five songs on offer are soul-crushing, overcast dirges that meet at the nexus of black metal, doom metal, and death metal. The result is both depressive and savage, a pairing of traits that aren’t commonly executed with tact, musical skill, and reverence. Tracks like “Solitude MMXIII,” “Cold Numbness,” “Black Infinity,” and “Hollow” are the soundtrack to the events leading up to death and what happens after, all at the hands of urban invention and coldness.

Read on as Aleksis Laakso and Mikko Rissanen talk the riveting elements that comprise Solitude and Totalselfhatred’s antipathetic world view.

Seven years separate Apocalypse in Your Heart from Solitude. What took so long?
Aleksis Laakso: At first, there was a lot of shows from 2011-2013, then a little reforming as a person left the group. Working on new songs with three guitars in the rehearsal room isn’t so fast and easily explained.

The development, however, between albums was significant. Musically, where do you think Apocalypse in Your Heart from Solitude?
Aleksis Laakso: Solitude was spawned by the entire group, so it forms an bigger platform of ideas put together as an single unit.
Mikko Rissanen: Originally, the composing for the debut album was done by A. (aka Saturnus) and on the Apocalypse In Your Heart many other members started to participate in the composing. All of the members have put their spoon into the soup, so to say, on Solitude.

What were the primary motivators this time around? Music, Helsinki, isolation, humanity (or lack thereof), world events, etc.
Aleksis Laakso: None of the motives nor the lack of them have changed that radically.
Mikko Rissanen: Indeed, the motivator has been the life itself. The world we live in. As always.

Musically, how would you describe Totalselfhatred? I see a lot of genres used to describe the group’s music.
Aleksis Laakso: It’s a still beating heart of black metal with strong sense of our surroundings.
Mikko Rissanen: I would not locker Totalselfhatred into any genre. As you mention in your question that we have loads of influences in our music, which come from each members’ musical taste. What all of us have in common is that the roots are in black metal. What I am trying to say is that don’t think of us in any genre. Let the music speak for itself.

There’s an undercurrent of something non-metal as well. Dark classical perhaps?
Aleksis Laakso: I’ve been listening to a lot of other music as well as you can easily get fed up with the same thing over and over again for decades. Might be a sensation in the music as well. For the Apocalypse in Your Heart era, I was basically just listening to Joy Division and Velvet Underground.

Would you define the music as centered around specific themes? For example, blast beats and other death metal/black metal-like tenets are ignored in favor of funeral doom-like tempi and feel. Just wondering what makes a Totalselfhatred song work internally.
Aleksis Laakso: There are no words to describe how to build a song for Totalselfhatred. It can really start from feedback from the guitar or an distant beat of the drum, etc. And I don’t feel the need to describe everything as an absolute one-point-to-point-out-all-of-all ideologies.
Mikko Rissanen: Yes, the inspiration can indeed come from anywhere, as Aleksis mentions in his comment that it can be the feedback of the guitar. The main idea in all of our songs is the atmosphere, the trance-like feeling that the listener can achieve when he/she listens to our music.

How do Totalselfhatred write music? What are those rehearsals like?
Aleksis Laakso: It is as we say it: strength thru pain. We start with a bunch of ideas and roll them around, feeding off one other.
Mikko Rissanen: At one point, it was quite chaotic since there are more composers in the band compared to the debut material. Nowadays, we try to communicate more so that it won’t be as chaotic as it was.

How much of Finland is in Totalselfhatred’s music and atmosphere? The cover art to Solitude would indicate not nature but man as the reason for your frustration.
Aleksis Laakso: It is a major influence. Vices and verses.
Mikko Rissanen: As we Finns are known from the suicide charts and alcohol abuse the atmosphere is perfect for this kind of melancholic material.

Lyrically, where are your hearts? Judging by the titles, this isn’t joyful stuff.
Aleksis Laakso: Dwelling in the cold numbness of the modern world.
Mikko Rissanen: Well said.

Often Finns don’t have much to say. Maybe more economy of words is more apt. Would you say this is also true for Totalselfhatred? Let the music talk instead of the band members…
Aleksis Laakso: You are absolutely right about that.

What are Totalselfhatred up to for the rest of 2018?
Aleksis Laakso: [Let’s] see how this world reacts to our latest creation. Play a few concerts and perhaps start working on something fresh and new…

** Totalselfhatred’s new album, Solitude, is out April 27th on Osmose Productions. Pre-orders are HERE for digital, HERE for CD, HERE for cassette, and HERE for vinyl.