Kohti Tuhoa Is a Crucial New Voice in Finnish Hardcore
Stream the rising Helsinki punks' killer new album and read an interview with guitarist Ville Valavuo on black metal, health care, and how to get a record deal.
Photo by Jaakko Heitakangas
Screaming out of Helsinki with the velocity and force of a perfectly teed-up Patrik Laine slapshot, comes the latest, and probably best, addition to the pantheon of Finnish hardcore punk: Kohti Tuhoa. Cut from the cloth of Discharge, Framtid, and Nausea, as well as influential homegrown miscreants like Tampere SS, Appendix, Mellakka, and Kaaos (from whom Kohti Tuhoa lifted their band name), the quartet delivers an acerbic old-school punch with enough of an angular edge to keep things sounding violently fresh.
November 24 sees the release of Kohti Tuhoa's second full-length, Pelon Neljäs Valtakunta [translation: "Fourth Kingdom of Fear"] which follows on the heels of their 2015 debut, Rutiinin Orja [translation: "Slaves to Routine"]. Both albums have been issued by Svart Records in the band's Lapland home and via Southern Lord on this side of the Atlantic (preorders for the digital and LP versionsof the new joint are now available). With these two underground powerhouses behind the band, expect to see and hear a lot more from them; as of press time, they've already run rampant over half of North America.
For ten days last month, the band quickly raged around the northeast U.S. and along the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River, leaving the mouths of copious battle-weary and alcohol-hardened punk rockers agape in their wake. Guitarist Ville Valavuo had been home a mere handful of days and was still working on conquering jet lag when I got him on the phone to talk about Kohtu Tuhoa's first U.S. tour and their origins—as well as the healthy past and healthier present of Finnish hardcore punk and how easy it is to get record deal these days.
Noisey: Band history questions are boring, but unavoidable. So, let me ask about what your particular goals were when you formed Kohti Tuhoa?
Ville Valavuo: Actually, it was [vocalist] Helena [Hiltunen]'s idea. She had been playing in bands before, doing backup vocals and stuff, but she wanted to try lead vocals for once and start a band that sounded like Sacrilege, the old UK band. She asked if I wanted to join and after I did, it happened pretty quickly with the drummer [Markus Hietamies] and bass player [Aleksi Nurminen]. Within a week, we had our first practice. It was pretty easy. We all knew each other beforehand from playing in bands. Some of us have been playing in extreme bands for the past twelve years or something and we all had been in punk bands before and played and toured together. So, that helped make it easy in that sense.
Other than wanting to sound like Sacrilege—which, by the way, is something I fully endorse—was there anything else notable about your original motivations?
We started doing longer tracks with more riffs, like Sacrilege, but it's turned out pretty different. It's always good when you can come across something different instead of just sounding exactly like something that's been done before and with Sacrilege, they did it before us and did it better than we would have, so it's better it turned out this way. But I guess that's the same thing with bands everywhere; you have to start somewhere and that was the starting point for us. And now with the new album, it's going into a more punk direction and it's not as heavy sounding anymore.
I was going to mention the differences between albums. Was that something that was planned or something that just happened when you were writing Pelon Neljäs Valtakunta?
Yeah, I think it just happened by itself because we didn't plan to do anything that was more punk. I think the biggest reason for the difference is the studio we used. The studio we recorded in before was more like a basement home studio in a small town in the middle of Finland. It was a friend of mine who owned that studio and it was also one of those things where we didn't really know what we were doing. With the new record and the studio we used, we kind of knew what we wanted to do and how to produce the sound we wanted. It was kind of a lucky coincidence.
I've always been a big fan of Finnish punk/hardcore bands like Terveet Kädet, Rattus, Riistetyt and others I can't pronounce properly. When you think about how the Finnish hardcore scene was thriving in the early 80s, what do you think was going on to create all these fast, angry, aggressive bands?
Well, I wasn't there at the time, I'm only 29, but I know that tape trading was already a thing back then. I can imagine people finding out about Discharge when they first came out as there must have been a lot of tape trading to the UK. But when you listen to the early Finnish hardcore, it's basically punk rock except a bit faster and rawer-sounding. I think the guys in bands like Kaaos were 15 or 16 at the time they did their first records and they probably just wanted to sound as angry and aggressive as possible. I don't know if the climate affected it either; it's kind of dark, cold and depressing here when you compare it to southern California and the punk bands there who sound a lot happier with more melodies and stuff. From what I know, it was a pretty big scene. I mean, I wasn't there so I don't know exactly, but the 80s is always pointed out as a good time for Finnish punk and hardcore, but it went by pretty fast. When you look at the history of it, it really existed from 1980-1985 and after that, that was about it and only a handful of bands were left.
What's the scene like these days?
It's actually doing better than ever. There are a lot of bands, new bands popping up all the time and always a lot of shows. There might be three punk shows in Helsinki on a Wednesday night, which might be a bit too much, actually [laughs]. There are a couple of punk festivals that happen every year that are pretty good and have international bands from Japan and the U.S. playing every year. Things are going pretty good now, but in the early and mid 90s, it was pretty depressing. There were like five bands and five shows a year and that was it. It's way better now.
Finland is most well known asa very metal country; is there crossover between fanbases?
It used to be more divided, like if you had a mohawk you'd get beat up, but now there have been a lot of shows with both metal and punk bands on them. But I think the biggest problem with the metal scene here, especially in black metal, is that it can be a pretty redneck, racist scene and I don't want to be a part of it. Even though I like the music, I just can't stand the image. But there are a lot of metal bands that play with a lot of punk bands and I kind of like watching mixed line-ups. Like if there was a show with four grindcore bands playing, I'd probably leave halfway through. As far as bands go, there's a band called Foreseen, they're pretty good. They're kind of like a Slayer/Cro-Mags hybrid; we share a rehearsal room with them and they are good friends.
So, I typed some of your titles and lyrics into Google Translate and the gist of Helena's lyrics seems to be standard punk/hardcore fare: social ills, war is hell, politics suck, fuck the government. Is that a fair estimation?
Yeah, there's some of that especially because the political climate in Finland is getting worse, like in a lot of other places. The right wing government is cutting funding and benefits for old people, poor people and unemployed people, and it's also getting worse when it comes to the extreme right wing. They even killed a guy in Finland a year ago. So, there's some of that in her lyrics. I guess the new government in Finland is kind of what Ronald Reagan was to the U.S. in the 80s. It produces some good music, but it's bad in every other way.
How did Southern Lord come into the picture?
We did our first record for Svart and a lot of people were asking if, or how, they could get the record in the U.S. because Svart is a Finnish label and it's really expensive to get it in the States. The shipping alone is just as much as the record, if not more. So, I just emailed a bunch of labels and asked them if any of them wanted to do a U.S. release of the album. I asked several punk labels and small distros and stuff but none of them were really into it or said they didn't have the money or time to do it. Then, I remembered that Southern Lord did a bunch of punk records like Poison Idea and stuff so I thought I'd give it a shot. I emailed them and they were really into it. It was actually pretty simple. It's funny because people in Finland ask us a lot of the time about how we got signed to Southern Lord and how it was even possible. I just tell them, 'I emailed them and asked.'
Did signing to a label that scored you a North American release change your plans with regard to the amount of time and energy you were going to dedicate to the band?
I guess we got a little more attention with the Southern Lord deal, including the U.S. tour we just did. Actually, Greg [Anderson] from Southern Lord wanted us to play the Power of the Riff Festival, the Southern Lord festival in L.A. last year, but we couldn't make it because it was on really short notice. But I don't think it's changed any plans for us, but it definitely got us a lot more shows and different shows and it's been a good thing. Like, we'll be touring Australia in February and we've never been there. At the same time, a lot of the shows we've been playing are still DIY shows. The tour we did in the U.S. and Canada, there were still house shows; it's not just clubs and bars.
How was the tour you just finished? Was there anything that really stood out for you as different?
Well, we've played in the U.S. before, but in different bands. So, it wasn't our very first time over, but I'd never been to Canada before and I really liked it. It's kind of funny how people are really into it even though they probably can't understand a single word of what we're saying; I guess the aggression and music speaks for itself. But it was a good tour, I felt like people were really into it and I'm really looking forward to going back.
There are a lot of things that are completely different, though, like social health care which is basically non-existent in the U.S. and a standard thing in Finland. It's kind of funny when you meet people and they're walking funny or they're a bit fucked up and when you talk to them you find out they got run over by a car but couldn't afford to go to a doctor. That would never happen in Finland and that's a huge difference. When we compare touring in the U.S. to touring in Europe and playing squat shows in Germany, in Europe they always get you food and a place to sleep, but in the U.S. that's not a standard thing. But I don't know if it's fair comparing American club and house shows to the big German squats that have been doing this for years.
In mentioning people not being able to understand what you're saying, with two North American releases, is the temptation there to start singing in English?
No, probably not. I think it works way better in Finnish and there's a lot that would probably get lost in the translation, so it's better to just stick with Finnish and what we know. And to be honest, I like hardcore bands that use their own language. I love Brazilian hardcore punk, and Italian and Spanish stuff. It works so much better than if they had lyrics in broken English.
What do you have planned once the album is out?
We have a few shows in Finland coming up and we actually just got asked to play with Discharge, but we'll see if that actually happens. We're playing a festival in Germany in the spring and another one in Sweden and I think we're going to do a tour around that in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. It's actually a cool festival in Stockholm called Dead Rhythm with a pretty cool line up; Infest is playing, Death Side from Japan is playing and we're pretty excited about it. It'll be good to tour Europe again as we haven't done a proper European tour for a couple of years, it'll be nice to go to Germany and southern Europe again.
Kevin Stewart-Panko is not a Twitter kind of guy.