Finnish grindcore band Rotten Sound have been consistently offering up intense slabs of visceral, doom-tinged grind for over two decades and their latest album, Abuse to Suffer, gloriously continues the tradition. The new album, which was recently released on March 25, is their second release for Season of Mist, following their 2013 EP, Species at War, and marks the act’s first new full-length in five years, since 2011’s Cursed. But it’s been well-worth the wait, as Abuse to Suffer is a stunning force of modern grind, featuring 16 harsh tracks that combine Rotten Sound’s iconic blistering speed and aggression with dark, pulverizing heaviness. In this recent interview with Svbterranean, vocalist Keijo Niinimaa took some time out while on tour in Europe with Abigail Williams and Cult Leader to discuss Abuse to Suffer. He talks about their writing process, working with Season of Mist and the album’s thought-provoking themes, as well as what keeps the band motivated after 20 years and more.
How are you feeling about the new release, Abuse to Suffer?
It feels alright, I guess. It’s still too early to say how it ranks in our discography, but right now it feels like the album we wanted to do: diverse, but still very aggressive. It’s been also really fun to play the new songs live during this spring.
Other than 2013 EP, Species at War, this is the band’s first new full-length since 2011’s Cursed. Why the long gap?
The main reason is that we decided to have no deadline and everyone was also quite busy with other stuff. It was also good to take three years of a touring break to be motivated to tour again with the new album(s).
What was the writing and recording process like for Abuse to Suffer?
We actually ended up writing almost 50 songs and Sami [Latva] played drums at Sound Supreme Studios for 35 songs and we chose 25 of them as the ones that seem to fit together for an album. After that Mika [Aalto], Sami and Kristian [Toivainen] played guitars into their own songs and Kristian also played bass to his. It would have been more fun to take a week in a studio to record them right away, but it was easier to schedule just one weekend for re-amping. Sami did re-amp some the guitars again because the first round didn’t really meet our expectations. I started vocals after the first re-amps were done and did a relaxed ten to 15 nights over a few weeks with my own recording gear, which I’ve been enhancing for [side-project] Morbid Evils. I did vocals for 22 songs, which Sami mixed and we picked the best, fitting 18 songs for the album. Two of them became bonuses because they were quite difficult to include into the song order. Sami finished the mixes and mastered the album after that and the rest of us (who all live in different cities) listened the mixes on a daily basis until we agreed that it’s a killer album.
Did you go into the making of this album with any ideas of the musical direction or how you wanted this one to sound?
I can’t speak on behalf of others, but we always do discuss it a little bit. This time we wanted to get a lot of variation into the songs without forgetting that we’re playing grind and I think that worked out fine. Boundaries are obviously needed to keep the album consistent, but barriers that are too tight would have killed the creativity.
How has it been working with Season of Mist for this album and the previous EP?
We have liked it a lot. Some of the paperwork, like French ASCAP, is really too much paperwork, but that’s pretty much the only complaint we have. They’ve been really supportive in everything including the US visa process, which really requires help and attention from the label. We’ve also done a lot more press than with Relapse because SOM has better coverage in European countries. I still don’t want to say that Relapse was bad or anything like that; actually it’s the opposite, we got back to the North American scene with them. But SOM is a lot better for European bands.
Rotten Sound has gone through quite a few changes over the years. How do you feel the band has evolved?
Actually I don’t feel we have changed that much. It’s been just a natural evolution in the music since we also listen to different music than we did earlier. Everyone seems to be a bit more into heavier and slower stuff, but we still do listen to good, fast stuff when we get it. Lineups do change in almost every band (even Metallica in the beginning) and labels also change over time. Even the touring is as chaotic as it was before. Or maybe not every day, but we party whenever there’s a good chance for that, to take a break from the van-venue-hotel routine.
Although a grindcore band, your sound features some diverse, groove/doom elements. Is that intentional or something that just comes naturally to the band?
It’s been really natural evolution and we’ve actually always mixed different styles that we like into our music.
Lyrically, is there a specific theme behind Abuse to Suffer? Where does your lyrical inspiration come from?
Each song is a story about a person/being in distress in the world of today. There are stories about caged animals, drug dealers, miners, poor people living off trash (or is it thrash? haha), drug-lab workers, suicide bombers, etc. It’s all fiction-based about the world we live in. I also wanted to do the same thing as on [2002 album] Murderworks and just printed one punchline or main line from the lyrics into the album layout. If someone wants to know what the song is about, he or she should listen to the song and put the title and punchline into the audio context and create a story of their own.
The thing I hate about the world today is the “us and them” mentality, where people just blame and point at each other instead of talking and solving the problems. So when I finished the lyrics, I realized that some of my rants can be misunderstood if you’re, for example, afraid of migrants or have not been enlightened by the concept of human equality in full. Here’s an example: some of us still think that western countries can exploit and over-consume the resources in the south and west, but we still can’t cope with the potential future where the power is shifted to where the people are. China and India will need their cheap labour sooner or later when their economy grows.
The song “Machine” is about people being used as machines to make cheaper stuff that we don’t really need to keep the economy inflating before we can’t fool ourselves anymore. Now there’s a lot of people who would disagree and they might want to think about something else while listening to the song. Also the fictive song about a drug dealer owing his boss and is being extorted and blackmailed may seem quite harsh when you think of weed, for example, which isn’t “that illegal” everywhere and we really don’t want to moralize about the drugs either. They’re just stories and if we move into a parallel universe where grindcore is the biggest thing in music, we would probably make an Abuse to Suffer movie with Quentin Tarantino and connect the people/animals in the songs to each other somehow.
Rotten Sound has been active for over 20 years now. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced? What has kept you motivated to keep going all this time?
Long drives and the short time to sleep on tour. I’m not even kidding. Sometimes it feels like “why the hell do we still cope with this?” But that’s always forgotten when we get to the venue and meet the local bands and the people working at the venue to make us comfortable. Being a touring musician is simply a lifestyle, which you either like or not, and all of us in the band enjoy this very much as long as we don’t do too much of touring. The other difficult things have been the lineup changes, but they’ve all been quite easy to solve because there’s always a good and talented friend around the corner who can take the place and does an as good, or even a better, job at it. I’m actually really happy that we’ve had the same lineup for over six years now, when Kristian joined the band as our bass player.
There seems to be a resurgence in the grind scene recently. What are your thoughts on the current scene?
Lots of new great bands coming through right now! I’m seeing that the fourth generation is building-up and I’m sure that again there will be a few Insect Warfares, Pig Destroyers, Napalm Deaths, Magrudergrinds, Wormrots, Marutas, Rotten Sounds and more. I’m also noticing that heavy music is going through a revolution again when the majority of people listen to something else. Bands really need to invent something new to stand out and when the old bands seem to just go on as long as they can, every new operation needs to really find their own thing to get recognized.
We actually made a competition to find the best local band for each night of this European tour [with Abigail Williams and Cult Leader] and we’ve found tons of good, new music like this. There was around 75 applications for 16 shows, which was a lot more than we expected for such a last-minute “let’s give grey hair to promoters and booking agents” stunt. Everyone (including the promoters and Avocado Booking) has been really supportive with this competition and we also managed to find awesome new bands like Razor Eater in London, Rorcal in Sion, Teethgrinder in Tilburg, Deathrite in Leipzig and God Mother in Gothenburg, to name a few. I’m actually a bit bummed that there was one misunderstanding: Daggers were submitted to Antwerp by their friend and would have loved to play the show, but their drummer had anther show for that night.
What’s next for Rotten Sound?
We keep on grinding in the free world during this year and next year. We have 17 unreleased songs with drums and some of them have even guitars and vocals already. I’m not sure what will happen to them, but most likely we’re making one EP/mini and some splits. All of the songs were already pre-selected from the 50 we had done, but they may need to be re-recorded to make them sound fresh again. Or maybe not; another mix and master may do the trick because we are really happy with ATS production. But no concrete plans in that area yet.
Personally, I hope that we start to write the next album quite soon as well, but you can’t rush nature. We always need to have enough time in between the albums to avoid doing the same album twice. That has been the guideline through our entire discography, except for some EPs which tend to be more like the predecessor albums. I can hear a lot of [2008 album] Cycles on the  Napalm EP and [2011 album] Cursed on [2013 EP] Species at War. They both were just kind of enhanced and are still very different from other releases.  EP Consume to Contaminate is something different though; Sami joined the band in 2006 and we really wanted to put out a release from new songs to show the world that he’s THE man (and more) for the job when Kai [Hahto, drummer] left the band.
Thanks for the interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
See you at the shows in June!
Abuse to Suffer is out now via Season of Mist. Rotten Sound are currently finishing up the remaining dates on their European trek with Abigail Williams and Cult Leader, and will be embarking on a North American tour, starting May 25 in Brooklyn, NY. See the full list of dates and stream Abuse to Suffer below.
05/03 Leipzig, Germany @ Conne Island
05/04 Berlin, Germany @ Cassiopeia
05/05 Hamburg, Germany @ Hafenklang
05/06 Rostock, Germany @ Atle Zuckerfabrik
05/07 Gothenburg, Sweden @ Truckstop Alaska
5/25 Brooklyn, NY @ Acheron
5/26 Philadelphia, PA @ Boot and Saddle
5/27 Baltimore, MD @ Sound Stage (Maryland Deathfest)
5/30 Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar (MDF post party)
5/31 Boston, MA @ Middle East
6/1 Montreal, QC @ Sala Rosa
6/2 Toronto, ON @ Coalition
6/3 Vancouver, BC @ Funky Winkerbeans
6/4 Seattle, WA @ Highline Bar
6/5 Portland, OR @ Panic Room
6/6 Eureka. CA @ Empire Lounge
6/7 San Francisco, CA @ DNA Lounge
6/8 Los Angeles, CA @ Complex
6/9 Monterrey, MX @ Café Iguana
6/10 San Luis Potosí, MX @ Loud Stage
6/11 México City, MX @ Cosa Nostra