- Review by Faye Coulman
DARK REFLECTIONS: An interview with Wrathrone's Matti Vehmas and Mikael Ruoho
Photo by Juuso Hirvonen
On listening to the battering, madly accelerating ultra-violence and ghoulish multitude of gargling, grave-scented horrors that underline Wrathrone’s blackly expansive sound, it’s hard to conceive of this monstrous collective having started life as little more than a casual distraction among friends. And with vicious new opus ‘Reflections of Torment’ displaying fresh and unprecedented levels of stunning musicianship and deathly vision, Dark Matter discovers how this “fun project” soon came to mean so much more.
“As I recall, at first we were just entertaining ourselves,” comes vocalist and founder Matti Vehmas’ charmingly understated assessment of Wrathrone’s strikingly casual, non-committal origins. Having first been established by Vehmas with the help of guitarist Lauri Holm back in 2008 after an extended period of musical inactivity, it wasn’t long before the pair’s casual dabbling evolved into something altogether more inspiring. Finding his passion for musical composition fully rekindled and flourishing following a string of early performances in 2010, Vehmas soon began seeking out skilled and like-minded talent from which to forge a complete and seamlessly cohesive line-up. With the breakneck, percussive talents of drummer Mikael Ruoho and guitarist Vili Mäkinen comprising the final integral pieces of this delectably dark puzzle, relentless writing and performing in the years that followed saw the Finns establish electrifying and fluidly instinctive band chemistry. Culminating in the release of breakthrough debut ‘Born Beneath’ in 2016, this period of unprecedented activity and international interest in the band left its members in no doubt about Wrathrone’s rapidly advancing musical potential.
“One turning point has to be our first gig in 2010” Matti expands. “For me that first show already proved that we can do it, that it’s fun and feels amazing, so we should do more live shows. The first full-length album released a few years ago was an important event also. At this point, we are certainly serious with Wrathrone and try to aim a bit higher every time.”
“Routakehä, my main band at the moment was put on hold in 2012 and after that I started to put more effort into Wrathrone,” Mikael recalls. “For example, our first tour abroad was booked around that time. Another big change in a more professional direction was when Vili joined the band. Shortly after that we released our first album and during those tours and times the band started to become quite an important thing for all of us. And it still is.”
From the classic, incandescent aggression of At The Gates and the guttural horrors of Dismember through to the churning, luxuriantly expansive groove of Vallenfyre, there’s no mistaking the rich variety of influences from which 2016 opus ‘Born Beneath’ was spawned. But having since dramatically upped the blistering speed, complexity and atmospheric range that underpins their darkly expansive sound, it’s 2018 epic ‘Reflections of Torment’ that elevates these respective influences into a formula that’s unmistakably, and quite assuredly, their own. “I think that although the songs on “Reflections…’ are clearly more complex and challenging than those on ‘Born Beneath’, to my ears nothing strikes me as forced or overcomplicated,” Matti adds. “That proves that all the players in the band have stepped up their game.”
Spanning everything from bracing fits of pure, pummelling aggression and tautly muscular, energised riffing to coldly melancholic lines of doom-laden fretwork, the inevitable process of bringing these richly layered and complex pieces to fruition in the studio proved to be no easily achievable task. Compounded by the added pressure of opting for a live recording process, countless hours spent endlessly rehearsing and arranging each meticulously penned track saw the band encounter their greatest test of creativity and endurance yet. Mikael elaborates, “We are really not the most technical band or technical players so the faster songs that Vili brought for the album - ‘End of your Sanity’ and ‘Through Desolate Passage’ - were quite difficult to execute in the studio, but the result turned out quite well.”
With its frenetic, restlessly shifting flurries of knife-edged tremolo and madly accelerative energy displaying breathlessly suspenseful placement within a turbulent wealth of distortion-laden atmospherics, bloodcurdling standout ‘Dead Inside Me’ unsurprisingly ranks among one of the Finns’ greatest compositional challenges to date. “You are absolutely right on that one,” Mikael agrees. “That is one of the most complex songs we have ever written. It was actually one of the first songs we wrote for the album and we played it live already on the ‘Born Beneath’ release shows. It took a lot of time to get that track grooving, especially the odd time signature in the verses, but in the studio we managed to record it quite easily.”
As richly steeped in graphic, gore-laden imagery as it is drenched in sonic darkness and brutality, ‘Dead Inside Me’ also forms a richly illustrative example of the Finns’ profound collective love of old school death metal. Intermingling these more atypical genre trappings with a pitch-black smattering of altogether more thought-provoking lyrical themes, artist Pierre Perichaud’s stunning cover imagery in many respects perfectly captures the darkness and complexity that so strongly defines this meticulously realised record. “We most definitely agree!” Mikael remarks. “After finishing the lyrics and deciding on the album title, we had an idea about a head split open revealing all the demons inside one’s mind. We threw that idea to Pierre Perichaud and the result just blew our minds!”
“This time we had a more clear idea what we wanted than with our debut,” Matti adds. “From the start it was clear that we wanted to go old school, with lots of details. Then we looked through some candidates with cool art and decided to go with Pierre, impressed by his previous works. The final result is dead-on gorgeous!”
With a host of new material already in development in the wake of this year’s blistering ‘Reflections…’ the remaining portion of 2018 looks set to be one positively crammed with productivity and fresh prospects for this exceptionally talented collective. “We are already writing new songs, so hopefully the next album will come out soon enough,” Mikael assures. “Before that we are planning to tour as much as possible. So see you on the shows!”
'Reflections of Torment' is out now on Satanath Records
Order your copy now www.satanath.bandcamp.com