DIY aesthetics and local scenes. Need I say more? No, no I don’t. But I will.
These two aspects of music are tangled and intertwined so deeply that they’re partly synonymous, and sometimes difficult to tell apart. It’d be wrong to brand both as the result of monetary lacking, as they serve an integral purpose in how we know and view the global music scene overall. Surely sometimes these two produce rather ridiculous and homespun results, but you shouldn’t view them as such as an entirety. I personally feel that doing things yourself maintains the integrity and honesty, both of which get easily lost amidst the easy-access, grandiose production machinery formed from piles of contracts and the conceit of someone else reaping the benefits of your hard work. Regardless, these personal, deep-rooted models flourish strongly from decade to another, and the band I’m presenting to you today have been hewing those lodes for a good while now.
Lähdön Aika are a Finnish post-metal/sludge/doom group, and pretty much the epitome of the things I talked about in the first paragraph. For the past seventeen years, they’ve been digging into the core of self-reliance and what it means to be an independent band. Building their skill set and knowledge throughout the years and seeking aid from circles close to the band when needed, have all together made the group what they are today; three albums, and a number of EPs and splits later. Musically unrestricted but determined, the quintet weaves bleak soundscapes of crushing weight, and their latest full-length Alku from last year is the zenith of their essence as their most refined, pure, and unforgiving effort to date.
But before diving into that, we need to take a step back and view their origins and how things took off from there. I was fortunate enough to schedule a meeting with the band’s founding guitarist Akseli Kahra, who provided his insight on these exact matters. And since an hour’s worth of discussion holds quite a lot of words in it, besides the more regular interview, I decided to mostly integrate the essential points and tidbits to this article from a narrative standpoint. And I gotta say that translating and decoding phone recordings was certainly a task for the past weeks, but you know, do it yourself and all that.
Lähdön Aika‘s trek started in 2003 on a spur of the moment, through a subordinate clause thrown to Kahra from their vocalist Marko Nyman. The duo assembled the rest of the band together from their peer group and locked themselves in to a rehearsal space to see what’s what. The musical direction wasn’t exactly clear from the get-go, but they managed to achieve some common ground and proper songs started to shape up rather swiftly. They headed to a studio with the plan of doing a demo, but that sentiment changed as soon as they got the finished product at hand. Fast forward few months and their debut EP S/T got released by Northern Hardcore Massacre in April 2004.
Now, when listening back to these tracks, you of course notice that while the musical ground they’re currently standing on got amassed all the way back then, S/T is more rooted in hardcore/crust leanings than what came afterwards. The EP is driven by a cavalcade of abrasive riffs and holds up a constant ominous atmosphere. Just listen to the tracks “Virus” and “Milloin” and you’ll get the idea. The sonically dominating and urging tracks on the EP sound like they were designed to be performed – to be the soundtrack to destroying your surroundings during a house show at your friend’s place, and evading all consequence because you were ‘compelled by a natural force’. With that in mind, it was surprising to hear from Kahra that they never even intended to play live, let alone tour outside the borders of our country.
When scrutinizing Lähdon Aika‘s discography as whole, there’s a clear attraction towards splits. I personally think that those kind of releases done with adjacent bands are a demonstration of a certain mindset, and also act as one kind of an embodiment of the local scene aesthetic. The band never had a vivid vision about building release-wide affiliations to others, but they came to be through the natural process of discussions and ideas shared on the spot.
The songs on all the splits are by no means redundant even if they were described as surplus material. The four tracks on the Burn Again release for example widen the territory that the band begun to explore on S/T, and forms an evolutionary bridge between that and their debut full-length Tuomittu from 2006. The album itself expanded their palette a lot, introducing more doom elements and assessing a more controlled and uncluttered musical direction. This partly newfound self is the most tangible on tracks like “Ajatus” and “Kenelle kuuluu kiitos”, both being sludgy and therefore rather ugly pieces, evolving over time and equipped with a more dragging pulse than before.
At this moment in time, Lähdön Aika was steadily performing live, but sank to quiet waters for a while due to member changes, shifting life situations, and simple lack of writing. Apart from a split with Brutopia in 2008, the band didn’t return to a stable release schedule until 2011, meanwhile focusing mainly on said live shows.
This resulted in a new 7″ and the split with Haistelijat. On those releases, you can hear that the band was more critical towards themselves and their writing. Not only did that breathe new life to their output, but they seemingly stepped up their game overall and had naturally evolved along the way. The Haistelijat split as well as the one with Frog Skin in 2014, came to be through similar process as before – someone knew someone else and just threw the idea out there. Altogether, Lähdön Aika seems like the kind of band that really seizes the moment rather than plans things in advance. Kahra also confirms this, saying that whenever there’s been any kind of plans or schemes otherwise, they usually fell apart to no avail. While completely winging it really isn’t always possible due to other responsibilities, this still led into them operating freely, grabbing adequate opportunities as they presented themselves.
After recovering from the silent period, Lähdön Aika started to write for what later became their second album. Or well, according to Kahra, the band’s composition process is always ongoing to some extent, so I guess saying that they ‘started to write’ something is a bit off, but anyway. While still sticking to the free-form formula, sooner or later the goal of doing an album became obvious, and II was released in 2015. It might be a bit repetitive to say, but again it feels like the band reinvented themselves, departing further away from their lively crust/hardcore roots into a more expressive and eloquent concoction of doom and post-metal.
The opening track “Kuolemalle” is a melancholic and dramatic track that, frankly, would’ve felt out of place should it have been on any of the earlier releases. Three of the album’s five tracks clock in around ten minutes, which alone showcases the profound shift in their ethos. The songs present a fresh appearance and pack a highly emotional punch, mostly audible on the foreboding and droning closer “Luomakunnan Kruunu”. Its massive crescendo and sudden end makes you instantly hit replay, and only then you fully realize how much of an immersive opus II is as a whole.
This development in possibilities really shows in the latter material. After all, being able to record and ponder things yourself in peace tends to yield better results than just going at it in a practice room with multiple ears, under pressure of having to decide things there and then. But on the other hand, this way of working might also lead to an abundance of material, though that has apparently always been the case with Lähdön Aika, regardless of the operational model. And while the modern possibilities are countless, the members’ lives outside of the band of course changes, bringing its own changes and complexities to the table. One such difficulty could be as simple as getting everyone’s thoughts and opinions gathered coherently, which was the case when the band was in the middle of the writing process of doing their newest album Alku.
So that brings us to the current day and Lähdön Aika‘s most recent album from last year. On it, they dug deeper into their own distinct vision that presented itself on the previous album, and managed to take it further on all levels. Slow is slower, fast is faster – you get it. The abrasiveness and utter heaviness are on the forefront much like before, this time just in a more sophisticated form. The nuances are plenty, the atmosphere is absorbing, and the production is rough but modern. These amongst other details make Alku easily their best album to date, in my opinion at the very least, but browsing through the web for research proves that I’m certainly not alone with that sentiment.
The album’s cover also pops up from the rest. Instead of the mainly black and white, grim imagery, we now get a colourful photograph of a lake and the looming land during a sunset. As you probably guessed, the artwork was provided again by a friend who sent over a multitude of shots in similar nature and colour scheme. Much like everything else regarding them, the band’s visual appearance has also always entertained the DIY ideals. I understood they never had a clear idea of how they’d want to look externally, but have gone with the flow, doing what feels good at any given time.
The artworks represent each of their releases as separate entities, and actually underlines the musical changes as well. It feels like the band has gone through different eras, and are now in the middle of the third one. The first releases sport saturated colours and are perhaps more akin to the DIY standards, being aesthetically more punk and directionless, the second phase is a grey and bleak one, much like elucidating the now clarified tonal destination, and the third one sees them through an earthly lens, inflicting the sense of a confident and artistically unbound band being exactly where they want to be. It is actually rather intriguing how perfectly these things click together, even though Lähdön Aika never had a clear or distinct plan for anything.
From gas masks to sunset, to put it poetically. Fun side note, by the way: the deep green-masked figure on the cover of the debut EP was supposed to be screaming pink instead of what it is now, even though the band always thought that it was intended to be as it is. Turns out the original artist had his PC screen calibrated wrongly from shit to eternity, and the actual hue was completely accidental. A slice of random chance, anyone?
That pretty much wraps it up. In conclusion, I think that Lähdön Aika are a hidden gem, fully a product of the local scene, and deeply fascinating as such. Whether it takes a month or few years, I know I’m extremely curious to see where the tide takes them, and how their next effort will turn out to be. If you share this sentiment even in the slightest, I urge you to give them a follow on Facebook and a more thorough listen on Bandcamp at your earliest convenience. Until next time.