Friday, March 30, 2012

Skyline Painter: An Interview with Circle of Ouroborus' Antti Klemi

On The Lost Entrance of the Just:
Circle of Ouroborus is a special entity in underground metal. Formed in 2004, this Finnish duo has worked their way into the hearts of angry basement dwellers and major music publications alike, leaving behind a trail of vinyl, cassettes and CDs long enough to make any seasoned black metal band blush. In the three months since I last wrote about Circle of Ouroborus, they've graced the world with a new EP, the already-sold-out Mullan Tuoksu, and the more readily available full-length, Handmade Birds' The Lost Entrance of the Just. With this new full-length album, the band's tenth, we see instrumentalist Atvar and vocalist Antti Klemi reaching new, murky depth in the style they've honed, but holding back from the inherent poppiness of the style seen on releases like Eleven Fingers and Tree of Knowledge.
Naturally, the more "esoteric" approach found on The Lost Entrance of the Just makes for a lengthy digesting period; picking out melodies from within the veritable "music mush," deciphering lyrics, and adjusting to a much quieter mix than its critically acclaimed predecessor. Note that these elements do not detract from one's enjoyment of the album, rather makes for a much more in depth, intense analysis which might not have been fully necessary at face value for Eleven Fingers. The keyboard-sounding-guitars and catchy melodies which everyone loves are still there, but it seems that the "bloated corpse" to which Circle of Ouroborus has been compared countless times has finally begun to sink into the depths. What we have with The Lost Entrance of the Just is a deliberate, almost meditative album, depending on slight movement and quiet texture. This new album is a much more demanding listen than Eleven Fingers and Armon Keitalla, though I have found it is just as rewarding.
When one looks up Circle of Ouroborus on the internet, aside from blogs hosting their music and reviews aplenty, there isn't much "primary source material" from the band itself. No, aside from an interview in Decibel, Antti and (especially) Atvar have kept from participating in interviews. I guess this is the interview. Cue angry basement dwellers.
Aside from a small handful of "twenty tapes a year" black metal bands, the "hyper-prolific black metal" phenomenon of the new century seems to have started with artists like Njiqahdda, Benighted in Sodom, and yourselves. What are your thoughts on immensely active, prolific acts in black metal? Do you feel apart from that sort of culture?
I don’t know those bands you mentioned so it’s difficult to comment these prolific bands in general. But what comes to us, I guess it’s just a result of not restricting ourselves too much. We work very instinctively and when there are also many stylistic channels to express ourselves, you end up releasing lots of material. Usually I compare our working method to painting: you make sketches, different approaches on the same topic, you make series, you want to try to see things from a new perspective, and you will know the outcome only after you have finished it. So I can’t say that every one of our songs or releases is perfect – there are flaws and bits and pieces I don’t like so much. But same time every one of these creations had to be done: every release has been an important and vital step on the path of artistic and spiritual progression. And as we know, wrong paths can teach us as much as the right ones.
Do you intend to put forth as much material as you do, or is Circle of Ouroborus's massive output based more on "spur of the moment" composition?
Like said, we work instinctively, and the last years have been quite productive for us. There have been some new winds blowing and hidden roads revealing themselves, like the rude path of Armon keitaalla. Of course a good bunch of reliable labels that are willing to release our material has helped on this, and although I might sound a bit defensive, I’d like to say that it’s the labels who have offered their services, not us. Of course Rauta’s Kuunpalvelus label has been one useful channel to get audible those releases we have wanted to release as soon as possible. It’s not a big secret that we have loads of music waiting to be revealed, but we don’t want to rush on these. When the album has been recorded isn’t an important thing to us. Sometimes it’s even a better solution to release an album two years after its creation than right away.
Continuing on your expansive catalog, it looks like productivity more than doubled starting in 2009. What brought about this surge in recordings/releases?
Hmm, hard to say. As mentioned before, we have always been quite productive, and a part of material released in 2009 or later has been recorded a way before its release. And also the beginning of our co-operation with Cocainacopia was maybe one of the reasons.
"Flipping" culture has been a source of frustration for Circle of Ouroborus fans, with smaller run releases selling out in mere hours, only to resurface weeks later with hefty pricetags. How do you view this sort of activity? In light of your popularity among flippers, will you still self-release limited demos/EPs? If so, how do you plan on combating their mass purchases so that fans have a better chance of getting their own copy?
This is a double-edged sword, no doubt of it. We don’t want to make big editions like 1000 copies because you end up having tons of copies in your shelf – or some distros’ shelves – collecting dust. Especially when we are as productive as we are. On the other hand we have sometimes underestimated the demand – this happened with Armon keitaalla tape box, but I think that the vinyl edition corrected the situation a bit. At least the vinyl is still available both in Europe and in the States. But yeah, this is a difficult thing to answer properly. We are aware of a few of these records flippers and we try to prevent them to get our releases. We have done some “dedicated to” releases just because we have our own circle of friends who we want to pay homage to, but even some of these releases have ended up to eBay… And on the other hand when the album is out, I don’t care who owns a copy and who doesn’t. And who is a real fan or who is not? Is the guy who owns or wants to own every Circle of Ouroborus release in every format more dedicated than the guy who listens only to Shores with a total enthusiasm? Maybe the only statement I want give is that you can live your life even if you don’t own every one of our releases. 

Aside from the Armon Keitallaa triple cassette/2LP, Circle of Ouroborus has been descending further into its own brand of muddy, bloated, dreamy sound with every new release (The Lost Entrance of the Just being the murkiest and most esoteric). Are there plans on continuing in this direction, punctuated by more "metallic" releases like the Armon cassette, or does Circle of Ouroborus have something else up their collective sleeve?

Again I have to remind you that you can’t follow our musical path relying on the releasing dates. Yes, we have had different stylistic periods, but they get entangled when the albums are released in different order they have been made. But what I can tell you is that there are a couple of albums in our magic bag which are stylistically similar to Eleven Fingers and The Lost Entrance… (for example the coming Abrahadabra belongs to this group), and they will see the light of a day sooner or later. The more recent path is this with Armon keitaalla: more metal, more rudeness but same time more new lyrical approaches. Time will tell how long we are able to walk this path – the latest creations are already quite primitive and miles away from what people consider as Circle Of Ouroborus. When the source drains, we move on.
Your unique, complacent voice has been both the source of praise and contempt, though recently, like the choir voices which close Eleven Fingers and the occasional clear, precise verse on The Lost Entrance Of The Just, we see a much more "orthodox" approach to the clean voice. What determines the use of each vocal approach in a Circle of Ouroborus song?
Hah, you spotted those parts which are sung by Rauta! Tells something about who really can sing and who goes just with the feeling… I have said this thousand times and I say it once more: I’m not a musician, and for example I’m really lousy to notice when I’m singing in tone and when I’m not. I just try to drown into the ethereal world of music and absorb the feelings I have enveloped into my lyrics, and so the right way always creates itself. Humming, going with the wave of riffs and melodies, trying to find the emotional meadows and peaks within the song… That’s about it.
Artwork is a big part of Circle of Ouroborus albums; each LP I own comes with its own artbook (Streams, Eleven Fingers, The Lost Entrance of the Just) With such importance placed on artwork, do you feel Circle of Ouroborus is a visual entity as well?
Yes, very much. I mentioned painting in the beginning of this interview, and that same metaphor is useful here too. I’m responsible of the majority of the artwork in our releases, so it has been quite natural for me to not only hear but also to see our music. Maybe because I don’t have any musical knowledge, music opens before me as visions, forms and colours. But I have also enjoyed Rauta’s contributions and hired artists’ works. Especially Alexander Brown’s art on Eleven Fingers is astonishing and reveals things and elements in our music and lyrics that even we ourselves didn’t know hiding there.
As people, you seem to be interested in the metaphysical. Do you feel music operates on a metaphysical level, or is it just a vehicle you use to convey these ideas, or neither?
I think art in general operates on a metaphysical level. There is always more than meets an eye, for us as artists and for the receivers. Although art, including music, consists of physical tools and concepts, something ‘magical’ happens in the process. Of course it would be easy to consider music only as a message or ‘a box’ in a traditional language/communication system (a sender – a message – receiver), that is transferred from one direction to another, but I believe there are also other channels than the visible/audible one. How do these other channels are created between the artist and the receiver, that’s another thing. In our case I guess it has something to do with our metaphorical/Symbolist/abstract nature. We throw different messages, visions and feelings in the air and people pick their own from the flock – in one form or another. How do they interpret our music and lyrics doesn’t bother me at all.
The Eleven Fingers artwork is absolutely filled to the brim with mystical signs, ranging from Kaballist imagery to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and a depiction of the third eye. Is this album intended to be a sort of "panmystical" amalgam, or is it solely for aesthetic purposes? Would you consider Circle of Ouroborus an occult/mysticism-centered project?
The cover art concept was mainly Rauta’s idea, so I have only second-hand information about it. The album’s lyrical content is a mixture of Rauta’s deeper knowledge of Kabbalah and my personal, more poetic approach. Practically this means that Rauta gave me a bunch of themes, names and ideas, which I studied and went through and then transformed them to my own creations. It’s just impossible to me to just transfer rituals and dogmas to the lyric sheet as themselves. I always want to have a view of my own, and that’s the deal in many Circle Of Ouroborus lyrics. Usually the lyrics are describing my feelings and thoughts – be them positive or negative, abstract or concrete – but they are always seen through rather mystical lenses. I’m a big fan of Symbolist art and literature – especially Finnish poet Eino Leino’s (1878-1926) way to combine deep Finnish feelings, myths and legends and strong metaphors has made a strong impact on me. If you study Unituli very carefully, you can find a snatch of his poetry from one song...  
Is there a sort of process to creating a Circle of Ouroborus album? That is to say, is a concept discussed before the music is composed, vice versa, or is it something more chaotic and unplanned?
We work very instinctively – am I repeating myself, heh? One impulse, one thought, one quick idea to try something else, and we are on the run. And sometimes we break a dam, and a new wave of ideas start to flow, like in the case of Armon keitaalla. One demo grows to a trilogy, or maybe to something bigger. Rauta makes the songs, he sends them to me, sometimes with some ideas for lyrics, and I start to go through my collection of poems or then create something new just for this particular release. We switch ideas for songs, lyrics, song and album titles, artwork… and magically every piece finds its own place. It’s quite weird actually – I’m not saying that we are spiritual twins or something but we complete our thoughts and visions quite effectively.
Do you still consider Circle of Ouroborus a black metal project? If so, why? If not, what would you call it?
This is actually quite a hard question. I have always thought that black metal is about lyrical content, not about music, and that’s why I’m interested in many experimental and out-of-the-box black metal bands. In that sense our earliest works can be considered as black metal, but nowadays my lyrics are going all over the place – although some our releases are closer to (typical) black metal than ever. Take Armon keitaalla for example: it’s raw and rude and straight-forward with buzzing guitars and shrieking vocals, but the lyrics deal with different themes of love. Black metal or not? If ‘yes’, then you could say that raw music with buzzing guitars and shrieking vocals AND with Christian lyrics is also black metal. So, to give a straight answer: I don’t consider ourselves a black metal band anymore. There is a dark and eerie heart beating in our chest, but there are so many other elements too. Let’s say we are a dark rock/metal band.
What does the future hold for Circle of Ouroborus? Are there any new releases in the works? Care to divulge any "top secret information"?
There are material in progress, material planned, material complete, material waiting for its release… Things are going so fast sometimes, that even I can’t keep up the pace. Expect raw, expect mellow, expect anything…
What is The Lost Entrance Of The Just?
I don’t want to give – and I’m not even able to give! – a precise answer, but if you go through the numerical origins and meanings of words like IPSOS and Maat, you can maybe make some connections…
What is most misunderstood about Circle Of Ouroborus?
Hmm, hard to say, because as I said before, people can make their own interpretations about our music and lyrics. Of course this whole ‘post’ mess has got me irritated a couple of times. Yeah, when we started, one of our aims was to mix the cold feeling of post-punk and the cold feeling of black metal together in the vein of LIK for example, but after that we have started to wander our own, more surreal and amorphous ways. But still people are talking about post-punk, and what is more worse, they are talking about ‘post black metal’ what is in my opinion a totally different ‘genre’ if you want to use that word. It seems this ‘post black metal’ tag is just a cheap attempt to match post rock and black metal, and these bands usually kill me with their boring music. Some bands I can appreciate like Altar Of Plagues but if you think a second, you notice that there are not so much common with us and bands like Altar Of Plagues. Well, I guess I made a mountain out of a molehill here. If people have somehow misunderstood us, good for them. As said earlier, sometimes wrong paths are better and more fruitful than right paths.
What do you hope to accomplish through your music?
Personally speaking, I want to learn to know myself better, and I can say that I have accomplished this somehow during these years. I’m not the same person nowadays what I was when we started in Circle Of Ouroborus, but neither is the band, its music and its lyrics. So there has been transformation and also growth and progression, and I think this has been a two-way road: Circle Of Ouroborus has changed because I have changed, and vice versa. This band is a tool and an opportunity to look this world and also myself from different angles; I can take a moment or a feeling and transform it to words and sounds and see it in a totally new light. That’s why I hope we will continue for a long time.
Why has Circle of Ouroborus chosen to avoid doing many interviews, specifically on for web publications?
I have made interviews when I have felt that I had something to say. There have been years and releases that have been good as themselves, and therefore we have kept our silence. Another thing is that there haven’t been so many good questions. I want to challenge myself when I make interviews: if I don’t have to ponder or even doubt my thoughts and doings, there isn’t any use for writing answers that are just verbiage. (Self)promotion hasn’t ever been the goal in these interviews. And what comes to web publications – well, we are quite old school guys in this, and as you maybe know this, I have my own paper magazine, so this hidden art of zine journalism has always been close to our hearts. Also I have to say, that there haven’t been so many interview requests in the first place.

Infinite thanks to R. Loren/Handmade Birds and Antti Klemi/Circle of Ouroborus for making this interview possible. The Lost Entrance of the Just is still available from Handmade Birds Records, so be sure to snag a copy before they go the way of every other Circle of Ouroborus release!



  1. "sometimes wrong paths are better and more fruitful than right paths." Very true. Great interview. I learned a lot here. Thanks.

  2. How i miss those "shores" days, when i was whistling those melodies all day long. Not a fan of later work unfortunately...

    And we need another kaleidoscope!


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