Interview and intro by Hilary Saunders
Kohti Tuhoa’s debut album Rutiinin Orja is definitely an LP—it does boast 10 tracks after all—but they polish off the whole thing in less than 20 minutes long. That just goes to show how quickly the Finnish hardcore punk/speed metal band flies through its highly combustible songs. Vocalist Helena Hiltunen viciously scream-sings in her native tongue, which sounds onomatopoeia-like in its delivery. Meanwhile, the rest of the band sprints on with ferocious drumming and squealing guitars; sometimes almost diverging away of the vocals, yet ultimately finding their ways back to each other with clattering resoluteness.
Although released in the Helsinki-based band’s home country last fall, Rutiinin Orja finally found its way Stateside last month via Southern Lord, the metal imprint founded by Sunn O))) member Greg Anderson. We caught up with Hiltunen and guitarist Ville Valavuo after a brief tour through Sweden and Denmark to talk about the band’s American introduction, the globalization of the genre, and the role of women in punk and metal.
How and when did the band form?
VV: It must’ve been around August 2013 when Helena wanted to start a Sacrilege (UK) type of band. Some of our previous bands were either on hiatus or kind of falling apart so we thought we’d give it a shot. Everyone in the band already knew each other since we’d been playing shows together with our other bands before, so getting the lineup together was really easy. I think it only took a couple phone calls. Eventually the music turned out a bit different than Sacrilege, but I suppose that’s the case with a lot of bands. You gotta start somewhere, right?
Your debut album came out last year at home, right? How do you feel about this international re-release in the U.S.?
VV: Svart Records released the album in late October 2015, yeah. I think it’s great to finally have a U.S. pressing out since a lot of people from the U.S. and Canada have been asking us for a copy. The shipping rates from Finland to the U.S. are insane, so it’s cool that people from overseas can now pick up a copy at local record store for a reasonable price.
Your music is often compared to others’ from Japan, Chile, and other far-flung places. What do you think makes this kind of hardcore music so universal?
VV: Nowadays it’s pretty easy to pick up influences from all over the world, but I don’t think it was intentional for us. It just kind of happened, since everyone in the band has been listening to a lot of different punk records for the past 20 years or so. I think one of the reasons for punk being so universal is the way the whole DIY scene works in general. You book everything yourself, trade records with people from all over the world and meet them in person when you’re on tour, so it’s a lot different than “professional” touring, and usually has a different kind of impact on people, as well.
On the contrary, Helena sings in Finnish, which is understood even less universally! What’s the translation of the album title? What are some of the major themes on the record?
VV: The title translates to “a slave to routine.” I know translating Finnish might be kind of tricky since it’s a pretty complex language in many ways. Mostly the lyrics on the album are about personal struggles and views on different topics. All in all it’s a very negative album, but that’s what you get if you’re aware of what’s going on.
The entire album is only about 20-minutes long! How do you manage to communicate so much in so little time? What is it about punk/metal that makes it possible?
VV: I think a lot of records are way too long just because people thought they needed to be. If you can squeeze everything into 20 minutes, do it! Usually hardcore songs get better when you strip them of all that’s unnecessary. Of course the speed and aggression make it possible, as well; a doom metal album might not work if every song was a noisy 40-second burst.
How did you get involved with Southern Lord Records?
VV: I was looking for a U.S. label because of the crazy shipping rates. Actually I wrote several distributors and labels, and only one of ‘em wrote me back. And when they did, they told me they wouldn’t be able to do anything about the release until 2017. I remembered Southern Lord had recently released some cool punk stuff, so I thought I’d ask ‘em if they were interested. To be honest I thought it might be a long shot, but surprisingly it worked out and they were really into the album. So far everything’s been working really well with them, would be cool to work with them on some future releases, as well.
Helena, how do you keep your voice intact?!
HH: Smoking cigarettes (I’m trying to quit) and drinking alcohol.
Here in the U.S., many more women have been sharing their experiences of facing sexism in the music industry. As the voice and face of a hardcore group, why do you think your role is important? What do you hope to show or prove?
HH: I don’t have anything to show or prove. I just want to make and enjoy music. We are equal band so no one is the “voice and the face.” But of course, I have been having some very shitty moments in the past just because I’m “the girl in the band.” Now I’m a 36-year-old woman and have been around many years. I don’t take any bullshit from no one.