Interview with drummer, guitarist, and vocalist Felix Pennanen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: January 10, 2024
Finnish death metal is doing really well these days. New bands pop up constantly like mushrooms in the forest after a hard rain, and this 4-piece unit named Disguised Malignance is one of the better and most promising new acts that have crossed my path recently. The band was formed in 2021, but within just a couple of years have built up such a reputation that no self-respecting death metal fan should ignore their timeless, old-school death metal sound that is a fitting mix of American and Finnish death metal influences.
These young lads' debut album, Entering the Gateways, released by Prosthetic Records in September 2023, beat the hell out of the staff of The Metal Crypt so much that we thought it would be a good idea to check on how they cook their death metal and which ingredients are crucial and so on.
Felix Pennanen stepped forth to answer our curious questions, so read on to find out what he had to say about his band...
Good day! What's going on in the Disguised Malignance camp? Are you feeling good about the fact that your debut album has been released, ready to serve all death metal-hungry crowds worldwide?
Felix: What's up! All good here. Lately we've been rehearsing and playing shows to promote our debut album, Entering the Gateways. The response to our debut has been excellent. We never expected it to be received this well, so thanks to everyone who has been listening, coming to shows or buying our merch! As for going worldwide, we'll have to take it slowly because we still have to juggle school and work as well as other bands besides Disguised Malignance, but one day it will happen. We just announced our first show overseas with Xorsist so we're getting out there!
THE BIRTH OF DISGUISED MALIGNANCE
Disguised Malignance is a relatively fresh incarnation of old-school death metal, formed in 2021. What made you start this band a couple of years ago?
Felix: At the time of the formation, Aatos and I were playing in another band with a more thrashy and contemporary sound, but we were simultaneously getting very into old-school death metal. We formed Disguised Malignance as a duo project with the intention of releasing a tape, maybe a shirt and perhaps even a local show. As it turns out, we quickly found ourselves wanting to achieve more with this band and after our first "demo" we started writing material for our debut full-length.
All five members of the band have a good amount of experience playing in different bands such as Azatoth, Apocrypth, Astral Frost, and so on. Where did you get the idea to put this band together?
Felix: I sort of answered this question earlier, but when it comes to our full lineup, which as a side note, didn't come together until after we had completely recorded and mixed Entering the Gateways as a duo, we just asked Juuso and Dani from Azatoth to join as they were our good friends and capable of playing this kind of music. We switched our second guitarist a couple of times, but our core lineup has been the same since early 2022.
As far as the band's sound is concerned, there is, of course, the obvious Finnish (what a surprise!) vibe to your sound, but also Immolation's and Deicide's names popped up a few times here and there while I was spinning some of your songs back and forth. Which bands do you consider your main musical inspirations and/or influences?
Felix: It's great that you said that because we were aiming for a sound which is quite US sounding, but with an underlaying Finnish stench of filth and grimness. Both Immolation and Deicide have definitely influenced us, but our main inspirations have always been Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, old Cryptopsy, Death and Gorguts, along with a bunch of other bands. During the writing process for this first album, we started incorporating some proggier and atmospheric elements as well, taking influence from Cynic, Nocturnus, Emperor, etc.
Are there certain themes that you are fascinated by lyrically?
Felix: Yes, pretty much all our lyrics deal with mysticism, philosophy, ontology, the human condition and experience, and all things profound and esoteric. On the first album, the lyrics include a recurring theme of an entity or a voice guiding the listener to different realms inside and outside the human vessel. This is mostly a product of my imagination and interest in mysticism and other realms of existence. There's also some Lovecraftian horror and societal commentary thrown in.
Your 8-track debut album was released on Prosthetic Records on September 28, 2023, and within just a short period upon its release, it has gotten a very good response overall so far. How satisfied are you with the outcome?
Felix: We are truly grateful for the response. We didn't expect it to be such an acclaimed album. Everything has been working well and Prosthetic has done a really good job for us. We're thankful for them making this happen.
Is there something on the album that you'd have done differently if you had more time on your hands?
Felix: There isn't really much I would change, since it captures the time period well and it was the best we could do with just Aatos and me. If anything, the guitar tracks could have been a bit more delicate and the solos perhaps slightly more diverse since apart from the shred on "Unearthly Extinction," I played all of them.
ENTERING THE GATEWAYS - ALBUM COVER ART
What can you tell us about the eye-catching cover artwork?
Felix: The artwork was done by the Finnish artist Markus Hiltunen, whom we chose because his cosmodelic style that incorporates retro scifi and mysticism fit our taste perfectly. We told him to make something that depicts the album's progression and sound. Kind of like the album is musically, it starts super brutal and grotesque and slowly starts drifting into more atmospheric synth passages, prog parts and transcendental lyrics that start pulling the listener deeper into the Gateways. I think the artwork looks quite a bit like that, so shoutout to Mara for nailing it. There's a very big possibility we'll use his stuff later, too. For the influences, we sent him a ton of old Seagrave covers, notably Carnage's Dark Recollections. We also wanted it to have some similarities to Demigod's Slumber of Sullen Eyes because that cover art is sick and deals with similar themes as our album.
How do you choose which stuff fits Disguised Malignace's sound and which suits your other bands?
Felix: It just comes naturally. We don't even have to think about it really. Aatos and I write pretty much all of the music, and we just know when a riff is fit for this band. Sometimes we might take a riff from another project and that can expand our palette nicely. For example, I was playing a new Astral Frost song to Aatos a while ago and there was a 1992 style Darkthrone riff at one point. Aatos heard it and said this sounds pretty cool, we should use it for Disguised, which is funny because I definitely didn't think of it as a Disguised riff. Usually, we just know which kind of sounds, rhythms and atmospheres are for Disguised.
How do you share the songwriting process with all the band members?
Felix: Up until this point, pretty much all of the music has been written by Aatos and I. This is because a lot of this material comes very naturally from both of us, and we want the band to match our vision very precisely. Aatos and I compose the vast majority of the riffs and songs, but we usually arrange songs together as a band in our practice space.
Putting out audiovisual stuff seems to be crucial in the digital age these days, just to promote your band and to get more visibility. About four months ago, you released a video for the song "Confined" off the album, so my question is how much did it help you to win more ground for the band in terms of traffic on your social platforms?
Felix: It definitely helped, because people got to see what we looked like, and the video worked as an extension of our vibe. Of course, because it was our first ever video and second ever single, the traffic it got was nothing too crazy but I'm sure it brought awareness of us to a good amount of people, and they seemed to like it!
The video was directed by Dimitrios Valsamas-Rallis, Felix Pennanen, and Ethan Gensurowsky. Would you mind telling us more about the making of the video itself?
Felix: It was quite simple. We just got together at a Helsinki youth center to film the stage clips. We choose that place because we knew the personnel due to the fact that we rehearsed and played some of our first metal shows there, and the stage is big enough and looks good on camera. Dimitrios was an acquaintance of Juuso's and he knows how to film, so he was an easy choice for us. We just directed it as we filmed, apart from the core ideas we had prior. After we had the stage and graveyard footage filmed, I sent the materials to Ethan who is the bass player for the band Enforced. He had edited some of their videos and we really liked how they looked, so we just asked him if he would be down with editing it and he agreed. He did some sick VHS magic on it and added some structure, and it turned out really cool! Our goal was to make it look like something that could've been on an early '90s VHS compilation or Headbangers Ball, and I think we succeeded.
What are some of your future plans for audiovisual stuff? Do you have some plans for this on your "to-do" list?
Felix: We're certainly interested in visuals being combined with our music, but we don't have any specific plans regarding that yet. We've been thinking about some ideas for our live shows to make them more intense and atmospheric, though.
What kind of plans do you have for 2024?
Felix: We'll just play as many shows as we can, and in between shows we'll be working on new music.
I must believe that if the stars align for Disguised Malignance, you are aiming to gain ground over the borders of Finland and trying to get the band booked at some festivals abroad that would bring more visibility for you guys. Is there already something you can reveal on that front?
Felix: Right now, there isn't much I can tell you, but we are working on getting the band out there and hopefully doing some festivals and touring, for sure!
As far as long-term plans are concerned, what would you like to realistically achieve with the band?
Felix: Well, right now our focus is moving upwards, slowly growing a stable following and helping put the current Finnish underground even more out there. We would like to go on actual tours overseas and try to be more than another local metal band. As for music, we will try and make the best extreme metal music that we possibly can until we feel that we don't have anything valuable to offer, if that's ever even gonna happen!
The future is, of course, very hard to predict, but how do you see the time ahead of you within the next 2-3 years?
Felix: Within that time frame we'll hopefully have grown a bit in the underground metal scene and have released our second studio album. We'll just try to make moves until my military service, which will be a bit of a quieter time period for the band, at least when it comes to live shows.
Thanks for making it this far because you reached the final question. Thank you so much for taking your time with this "talk" and in the very same breath I'd like to wish you all the best in the future, both with the band and outside of the band activities. If you have any closing comments, or curses, or whatsoever, be my quest...
Felix: Thank you very much Luxi, it's an honor to be featured at The Metal Crypt! To all the readers, just go and give a spin to our album and take a peaceful walk outside if you can!
The Metal Crypt - Crushing Posers Since 1999
Copyright © 1999-2024, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt. All Rights Reserved.