To discuss the album reissues of Finnish black metal band Oranssi Pazuzu, I’m joined by Funky Donny Fred, veteran of a thousand psychic wars.
LN: As I live and breathe, it’s Funky Donny Fred! Say, is that a new tattoo on your neck?
FDF: Yes it is: “I walk the left hand path”.
LN: Hmm, you sure that’s what it says? It looks like a bunch of gnarled twigs to me.
FDF: Well, I let the tattoo artist freestyle his own black metal font.
LN: FD, with your reputation as a psychedelic lifer, I forget you hold a place in your heart for black metal. But now I can see why you swear by Oranssi Pazuzu — they’re the intersection of that particular Venn diagram.
FDF: I know, right? Psychedelic black metal!
LN: Oranssi Pazuzu’s legend is growing with their very first North American appearance at Maryland Death Fest next month, but let’s talk about these new reissues of the band’s first recordings, starting with their 2009 debut, Muukalainen Puhuu.
Notwithstanding its famously zealous fanbase, black metal has always been quite receptive to absorbing diverse musical sources, from folk and classical to ambient and electronic. But still, I can only imagine the reception when Oranssi Pazuzu dropped Muukalainen Puhuu, which has to be the first black metal album I’ve ever heard with a credible post-punk influence. Oranssi Pazuzu show serious taste in how they leverage the trashcan dirge of Nick Cave’s Birthday Party and the dub excursions of Jah Wobble-era Public Image for their own cryptic aesthetic.
FDF: They’re space metal, man! I’d recognize those lonely interstellar flights anywhere.
LN: Agreed, you can also hear the yawning kosmiche of Popul Vuh, Tangerine Dream, and other German groups of the freaky 1970s. Really, this album is almost too expansive and innovative for me to wrap my head around.
FDF: They still have the Gollum vocals to keep it black metal. But yeah, you just have to let Oranssi Pazuzu wash over you.
LN: It’s also striking how intelligently this band reprograms black metal’s code, slowing down to recognizably rock tempos, substituting the usual blistering guitar attack with tremoloed arpeggios, opening up room for eerie synthesizer tones, and overall letting the voids in their sound convey a sinister mood.
FDF: In space no one can hear you scream, man.
LN: Considering how radically Oranssi Pazuzu’s debut album tweaked the genre’s template, maybe that’s why they used their second release — one half of a 2010 split album with a fellow Finnish group (Candy Cane), now reissued as Farmakologinen — to consolidate their black metal bona fides. These four tracks sustain the genre’s high energy and furious blasts of sound more consistently than the first album, making it maybe the easiest point of entry for traditionalist listeners. Can we play “Unihämähäkki”? To me, this song captures all that is distinctive and radical about Oranssi Pazuzu.
FDF: Like three umlauts!
LN: By the way, this might be a good time to note that I don’t speak Finnish, so I have no idea what these song titles or even their band name means.
FDF: Me neither, though I can guess what might be in their system with an album called Farmakologinen.
LN: This brings us to Kosmonument, Oranssi Pazuzu’s third album, originally released in 2011: a confident and even spacier album than their debut. The musical experiments of the earlier recordings pay off on Kosmonument, which presents a singular style across the album’s contrasts in dynamic and mood.
FDF: It’s like by this point they’re becoming Oranssi Pazuzu.
LN: Yes, at least in regards to what they sound like in 2017: a highly original and fearsome band, but one whose most recent recordings conceal the traces and sutures of the early genre fusions. I may actually prefer the Frankstein quality of the first record, where the musical touchstones are still audible and unexpected. But as a cohesive thematic work, Kosmonument is arguably the superior album. Some songs convey the adrenaline rush of G-forces peeling your skin off during a jump to warp speed, while others like “Andromeda” evoke an endless drift in space. Right, FD? Funky Donny?
FDF: Huh? Dude, did you see the freakin’ triple gatefold sleeve on this Kosmonument record?!
LN: To be sure, the U.S.-based distributor 20 Buck Spin has provided a real service by bringing these early Oranssi Pazuzu albums back into print with stunning packaging and colored vinyl. Listeners can stream or download these albums, of course, but for adventurous audiophiles looking to dive deep into a unique sonic, visual, and tactile experience, ordering the albums via the always reliable 20 Buck Spin is a very worthwhile investment. At the very least, buying the vinyl for all three albums won’t put you back as much as a new neck tattoo.
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.