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Interviews Old Skull Productions

Interview with Bal√°zs

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: April 13, 2024


Hungarian underground metal label Old Skull Productions, established in 2011, has been concentrating on releasing rare, old-school death/thrash/doom metal demos on cassette and printing some T-shirts over the past several years. The label's head honcho, Balázs wants to keep it real, only doing what he loves most, i.e., bringing underground metal gems back to the daylight, with a reverence for the nostalgia factor because he grew up when the cassette was a regular format (along with vinyl) before CDs started cornering the music markets. After 13 years, he has released stuff from several underground metal bands from all over the world like Grim Legion, Putrid, Abhorrence, Lycanthropy, Aspiration, Sacred Crucifix, Mordicus, Funeralizer, Coprophilia, Obscured, Sarcofagus, Festerday, Transgressor, etc. and there's much more to come.

We contacted Balázs to get some information about his label, releases he has done, what's to come, what kind of things motivate him to keep the label going, and so on. Read on...!

So, how's life, buddy? Busy as always, eh?

Balázs: Hi, Luxi and The Metal Crypt! I apologize for the delay in getting back to you regarding the interview. I've been extremely busy these past few months. Last year, I made some important changes in my life and got rid of unnecessary people and hobbies. Recently, I moved to another country where I can live more freely and without any negative energy. I'm excited to share with you that my label has released its first Colombian death metal cassette, featuring the debut demo of Cemetery Rottenness. The release was launched last Saturday.

THE BEGINNING OF OLD SKULL PRODUCTIONS

You started Old Skull Productions around 2011. What made you start this label in the very first place?

Balázs: Yes, Old Skull Productions was started in 2011! I had run a fanzine and I wanted another channel to support underground bands. That was the main reason.

Did you see yourself running this label for more than 10 years? That truly is a respectable achievement, in my opinion...

Balázs: Kiitos for your kind words! Usually, I plan everything for the long term, but sometimes I fail, hahaha!! It was only on my third release that I started taking my label more seriously, which was the first demos of the American death metal band Grim Legion. Before and after that, I made some not-so-lucky choices, but I persevered. Now, I have reached the point where I am releasing music from the bands that best fit my label's profile. Through my label, I have made many friends. I have even met some of the people I met through my label personally. For example, I met Clara from the mighty Peruvian Tunjum, Kostas from the Greek death metal war machine Abyssus, Kena from the man-eater Festerday, and Jarkko from the Finnish death metal monolith Aspiration. In 2018, Kena hosted me for three days in his apartment when I attended Helsinki Death Fest. He is a very nice guy with many funny stories and a great sense of humor. I enjoyed every second I spent with him and the headbangers at the festival venue. All in all, I have gained a lot of good things from Old Skull Productions.

What keeps your interest up for doing all this? Have you ever asked yourself, "why the heck I am putting so much of my time and money into this?"

Balázs: I find running my record label the least stressful thing in my life. I have never had any doubts about my label activities, and if I ever do, I will stop immediately. I believe that all the exciting music in the world deserves to be released in physical format, and I try to find these musicians and bands. I will continue to run my label as long as I am physically, mentally, and financially able. Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly.

Which release are you most proud of on Old Skull Productions so far?

Balázs: That's a hard question. How can a mother decide which is her favorite child? I can consider myself lucky because I got to work with many old and legendary bands like Impetigo, Agonized, Sarcofagus, Festerday, Obscured, Putrid, Mordicus, Transgressor, Coprophilia, etc. I'm honored that these bands trusted and permitted me to re-release their old recordings and print T-shirts. I also feel the same way about the newer bands who are just starting and are fresh on the scene but are doing their thing with a serious attitude and tremendous vehemence. So, I cannot pick up one release, each one is important to me for a different reason. I understand that there are two sides to every story. The truth is, if I could go back in time, I wouldn't have released 95% of the Hungarian releases that I did. I was too naive and placed too much emphasis on "friendship" instead of promoting good music. As a result, those weaker bands ended up taking the place of more valuable and timeless releases. However, there is one exception - Parasite Crowd's ...Dead... demo from 1993. It is a true gem, and I am very proud to have released it through my label.

ONLY TAPE IS REAL

You are mostly specialized in releasing cassettes and T-shirts from some obscure but not forgotten underground bands. What makes the cassette format so special for you as it's probably the least practical format to digest your music these days?

Balázs: I grew up in the '80s/'90s and cassettes were the first thing I started listening to metal music on, and it's still my favorite. During that time, I used to tape songs off the radio, make mixtapes, and buy pirate cassettes from Metal Bunker, a music shop in Budapest. As official cassette releases were not available much at that time, I could buy only pirate cassettes. I used to swap tapes with a childhood friend as well. However, back then, the authorities didn't look kindly on metalheads and metal music, as the country was still under Russian occupation. Police harassment and brutality were common, especially at concerts. I love the cassette format for its warm sound, portability, and cute look. My label focuses exclusively on cassette tapes, and I have never had and will never have a CD release. For me, only tape is real!

T-SHIRTS ARE COOL

Why do you also want to print T-shirts? Do you want to offer something a bit "extra" to die-hard metal fans?

Balázs: In the case of most of the bands I have reissued, they never had T-shirts. I love T-shirts and I have a lot of respect for the old bands. I'm infinitely grateful that these guys permitted me to print T-shirts with their band logo and old/new designs. I know that real fans love these T-shirts because I'm also a fan. It's extra support for the bands. I'm sure the band members and old/new fans wear these T-shirts with pride. I read a survey that if you go on a date wearing a Coprophilia T-shirt, success is guaranteed. It's the same if you wear an IMPETIGO T-shirt for a job interview. Think about it, if you were the HR person, wouldn't you hire that person immediately?

I have quite a large official merch collection, 90% of which is T-shirts. My first two T-shirts were "Master of Puppets" and "Slaytanic Wehrmacht." Both were bootlegs, of course, because official merch was not available in Hungary back in those days. My first official T-shirt was a Moby Dick "Kegyetlen évek" T-shirt, which I bought in 1991. When I started OSP, I wanted to release only cassettes. I changed my mind when Toni Hietomaa made a fantastic T-shirt design for the Anathema (Fin)/Funeration (Fin) demo reissue in 2015. That was my first T-shirt release. So far, I have 25 different T-shirt releases, licensed from bands like Abhorrence (Fin), Transgressor (Jpn), Wombbath (Swe), Obscured (Est), Impetigo (USA), Illapa (Pe), and Agonized (Fin). I am most proud of the ComeBack Records design, for which I got permission directly from the owner Teje Caldén. Teje Caldén started ComeBack Records in 1984. It was a store and also a record label. The whole early Finnish death metal scene was known personally by Teje. Unfortunately, shortly after the T-shirt was released, Teje passed away. The front design is drawn by Annika Isomaa, Teje's wife. R.I.P. Teje!

Over the years, I released Toni Hietomaa's "Old School Finnish Death Metal" T-shirt series. This "Old School Finnish Death Metal" T-shirt series is all about making a tribute to old great bands. What makes the series special is that all are very limited editions and are made only with this series in mind. Naturally, the designs have always been made in the old-school style and often there are hidden details from an old publication. A good example is Funebre's T-shirt design, where death rings bells up in the tower and that's not all. If you take a closer look, you can see that the view from the window is the landscape you can see on the cover of Funebre's album Children of the Scorn. Thus, you can imagine that that vision is just like a picture taken from a different perspective. So far, the T-shirt series includes designs for Finnish death metal bands such as Abhorrence, Convulse, Funebre, Mordicus, Monstrosity, Putrid, etc. We strive to have a new design published once a year and they stay a very special design and if you manage to get it, then you know that it will also be rare someday.

Since 2020, I have released a special three-piece T-shirt series. The design series was made 13 years ago by T. Kannibalet Hietomaa but was not released until 2020-2023. The reason for the series' late release is that it was originally supposed to come out through Svart Records, but their promises were never true, so Old Skull Productions released it after all the waiting. The very first design was called "Remember Send Back My Stamp," the second one was "Some Music Was Meant To Stay Underground," and the third and final part of the series was called "I Love Old School Death Metal." The whole idea for the series has, of course, come from the true appreciation of the old league and also from the fact that sometimes, if you wish, you can put on a metal shirt other than just a single band shirt. The very first design is sold out, but you can still find a few copies of the last two.

"YES" TO OLD-SCHOOL METAL

How do you choose your releases for your label? Do they all have to have that old-school metal vibe to end up on the label?

Balázs: Yes, the old-school metal vibe is my main criterion. I prefer old death, thrash and (funeral) doom metal demos and albums, especially the old Finnish, Estonian, and lately Lithuanian releases. I enthusiastically support Bolivian bands. My father was born in Uyuni, Bolivia, so I consider all Bolivians as brothers and sisters. I get quite a lot of recommendations from my Finnish brother Toni Hietomaa. A few years ago, we started a special reissue series called "The Late '80s & early '90s Finnish Death/Thrash Metal." The series' first release was Sacred Crucifix's Realms of Darkness demo. I also printed limited edition T-shirts for this release. Since then, four more releases in the series have been released, featuring bands like Lycantrophy, Cryptic, D.I.E., and Crashed. More bands will be joining the series this year, so keep your eyes peeled! I also place great emphasis on Estonian death metal reissues. I had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the legendary bands from the early Estonian death metal scene such as Forgotten Sunrise, Discrucior, Obscured, and Nekropol. Recently, I released my first Lithuanian reissue which is a demo compilation from the death/doom metal band Regredior. These three demos came out first in 1992 and 1993. Last year I also started releasing old Japanese demos, the first band being Transgressor. I released their first demo (Transmigration) and 7" single Morbid Brochus on cassette. I have printed a limited number of T-shirts for the reissue. The next Japanese demo reissue is coming soon!

Time management is something you need to consider when running a label. How do you split your time between the label and all your other activities in your life? Is it like dancing on a thin wire?

Balázs: Running a record label is one of my passions, and it takes only a small part of my time. I enjoy every moment of it, whether it's packing orders, going to the post office, or capturing photos of the latest releases. I have plenty of time to pursue my other interests. It's like being on the front line for a brief but intense period, after which I return to the rear with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Have there been any releases you have badly tried to get on your label, but the plans fell through?

Balázs: No, it has never happened before.

LABEL MADE FOR NOSTALGIA

Old Skull Productions is more or less a hobby and not a money-making investment with which you could make your living from. Have you ever thought of expanding your label activities so much that you could make a decent living out of it?

Balázs: No, I never thought about it. I couldn't do it; it would take a lot of money. I would also need a lot of permits, a warehouse, an office, and a lot of customers, hahaha!! I'm not doing this for the money at all. My label is dedicated to those who appreciate the nostalgia of cassettes and enjoy the raw, often unrefined sound of demos.

What's your take on the old-school metal sound compared to many of today's overly clean and overproduced metal releases?

Balázs: Only old-school metal sound is real! No triggers, no trendy pop riffs, no clean sound. Many bands make the mistake of trying to use the HM-2 pedal as a kind of magic tool but without good riffs, you're weak and fucked. Left Hand Path is a significant album not only for its HM-2 sound but for the millions of fucking great riffs they put into the songs (R.I.P. Lars-Göran Petrov). If you listen to Hell Awaits, you'll discover how a thinner sound can be scary, hellish, groovy, and musically top-notch simultaneously. Nowadays, it's challenging to find such music.

Are there some new bands (formed after 2020) that understand the value of the real old-school metal sound, and if so, could you name some of your favorites?

Balázs: Morbific. They are killer on the stage and albums also. I shared the stage with Morbific, my old band, two times. Hail Morbific!! I would also mention these bands (all formed after 2020), who I think are good: Sadistic Drive (Fin), Deterioro (Bol), Gravavgrav (Jap), Sufferance (Australia), Casket Dweller (Gre), and Self Doomed (Bul).

MEETING TONI HIETOMAA

I've been told that you have been doing a lot of cooperation with Toni Hietomaa from Morbid Cellar Records & Distro. Would you mind telling us something about that?

Balázs: In 2012, someone offered me the chance to reissue the only demo of Faltomy. He was in touch with the band members, and I was granted the necessary permission. As a long-time admirer of Finnish underground metal, especially of the funeral doom subgenre, I immediately accepted the offer, and the demo was released in 2014. Later, I discovered the "Finnish Death Metal" Facebook page run by Toni. With some hesitation, I asked him if I could send him one of the demo tapes. That's how our friendship started. Our shared passion for music brought us together as online friends. In 2015, Toni mentioned that he would be visiting his cousin in Budapest, and we decided to meet. At the time, I frequented a local metal bar, where I eventually started working. We met there and spent the night drinking and telling stories. It was a wild and fantastic evening. Toni is a kind-hearted person who is not full of himself like many artists I have encountered. He doesn't have any star allure but is instead a genuine fan of Finnish and international old-school metal, and art, and he often loses his bike (but that's another story), haha! Toni is my Finnish brother. Although we have different mothers, we are brothers by the grace of God.

THE FUTURE PLANS OF OLD SKULL PRODUCTIONS

What do you believe you will still accomplish with the label, and what are you dreaming of doing in the coming months/years, release-wise? What about pricy cassette boxed sets?

Balázs: The first Finnish metal band I ever listened to was Lubricant. I was at a camp around 1991-92 and I heard someone listening to a demo of Lubricant. Despite the Iron Curtain being lifted, it was still difficult to legally purchase records by major metal bands in Hungary at that time. I am unsure how Lubricant's demo made it there. Lubricant is on my bucket list as I would like to re-release their first two demos with a special T-shirt. If anyone from Lubricant reads this, please contact me immediately, hahaha! Boxed sets are not my cup of tea. It's expensive to produce, expensive to post, and expensive for fans.

So many old demos and albums deserve reissues. Here are some releases I plan to release this year: Necrophile (Jpn) - Terminal Truth demo compilation, Begravet i Skogen (Nor) - demo, Aspiration (Fin) - Necrophilosophy... Extremely Festered Demo Tapes 1990-1993 (2nd press), Putrid (Fin) - The Forgotten Tapes of Lovely Corpses 1991 (2nd press), Tyranny (Fin) - Bleak Vistae EP (first time on cassette), N.O.T. (Fin) - Demo compilation. These are expected T-shirts: "The True Old Skull Productions: Mr. Hunger" T-shirt, a (still secret) new chapter of the "Old School Finnish Death Metal" T-shirt series. I have some plans for new releases, but they are still under discussion. If it's up to my label, I can guarantee that old music lovers won't be bored this year.

So, in answer to the question of what the future holds, I say: I'm going to keep doing it. Release great music and T-shirts.

What about distributing other labels' stuff? It obviously would bring a bit of revenue in, which would benefit the releases on your label financially...

Balázs: Due to high taxes on overseas shipments in the European Union, I have had to stop doing trades with non-EU labels. My preferred trade partners are Caligary Records, Unholy Domain, Extremely Rotten, Necrolatry Records, and Atomic Vision Productions. If you're interested in trading with Old Skull Productions, drop me an email: oldskullproductions@hotmail.com

I would like to thank you, Balázs, for your time and wish you all the best with all of your comings and goings with the label. Let the closing comments be yours...

Balázs: Thank you for the interview, brother. Long Live The Metal Crypt! A huge thank you to everyone who supports Old Skull Productions! Support the real underground and music, not rumors. Save the animals and support your local rescues and animal shelters. Adopt don't shop! Viene una tormenta...

Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheTrueOldSkullProductions

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the_true_old_skull_productions

Webshop: https://old-skull-productions.soldigo.com




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