Interview with Helmouth of Paara: Festivals, Finnish Folklore, and Pushing Their Limits

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If there is one thing that the members of Helsinki-based Paara have mastered, it’s defying convention. The band’s three vocalists sing exclusively in Finnish, but unlike many others who do the same, they’ve dared to deliver their set throughout Europe to fans who can’t translate. They’ve also released their four-song sophomore album Riitti (ViciSolum Productions, 2018) on cassette as well as digitally, and served as one of few black metal bands in a vast lineup of death metal and more at this year’s Nummirock festival.

Zvartus (male clean vocals, guitar), Helmouth (harsh vocals), Hahtezan (female clean vocals), Lempo (guitars), Waara (drums), and Trangoth (bass) took Nummirock’s Kaaos Klubi stage as six shadowy figures, imparting to the audience a self-described “approachable” brand of black metal that celebrates nature and Finnish lore. Metal Solstice sat down with Helmouth to discuss the band’s genre and thematic influences, their time spent abroad, and the effort they’ll spend this year conjuring new music.

Paara, Nummirock 2019. Photo credit: Serena Solomon, courtesy of DarkArtConspiracy.com.

Metal Solstice: How did you feel about the Nummirock performance?

Helmouth: It was one of those shows that we were looking for, for a really long time. Our show works well in this environment, as so many of our themes revolve around nature. Everything worked really nicely, awesome crowd. It still feels really good, and the crowd was awesome. The last show we did was in Prague in February, and this was a totally different show; all of us just enjoyed ourselves.

MS: Have you played any other memorable festivals in the past?

Helmouth: Our biggest one was Tuska, we did Turku Saatanalle, and also another smaller festival in the U.K. There have been a few festivals, but not many.

MS: There aren’t many black metal bands on this year’s Nummirock roster. How do you feel about that?

Helmouth: In Paara, the roots are black metal, but we’re combining so many different genres, so it’s actually more approachable and relatable than many of those bands who play beautiful, mellow stuff. There have been a lot of people coming to us and saying, “I don’t listen to black metal, but I really love your stuff.” We see the whole black metal thing as a freedom to do whatever we want to do, and that is our strength, really stretching those boundaries and genre limits.

Paara, Nummirock 2019. Photo credit: Serena Solomon, courtesy of DarkArtConspiracy.com.

MS: Is black metal what you listen to, as well?

Helmouth: Yes, but I’m not listening to only black metal, I listen to everything. Many people in our band do the same, and it’s another strength we have, being able to get influences from other genres outside of metal. I think it’s quite important, actually, because it really opens you. Other bands that listen to only one genre, they tend to sound exactly like those bands.

MS: Can you explain how songwriting works when you have to accommodate three vocalists?

Helmouth: In the beginning the whole band was me and our singer/guitarist Zvartus, only writing and recording songs that we would love to listen to. I’m also involved in the compositions and writing lyrics, so that’s how it started; it was never supposed to be a band, actually. On our second album, Hahtezan joined the band, and we involved the other band members, too.

The next album will be different because Lempo will be more involved in the songwriting process. We’re telling stories through our lyrics, so we build songs in a way that makes sense who is singing which part, as part of the story. It’s a really natural process for us, making the best of what we have, using the whole range of vocals.

MS: So you stuck around until the end of Nummirock; which other bands did you check out?

Helmouth: Swallow the Sun, they’re fucking awesome. Their latest album is beautiful. When it came out, our bass player and I were like, ‘Yeah, this is the album of the year.’ Hypocrisy, Bloodbath, and Horna, too.

Paara, Nummirock 2019. Photo credit: Serena Solomon, courtesy of DarkArtConspiracy.com.

MS: You mentioned the next album earlier; what information can you divulge about it?

Helmouth: We’re not going to tell that much about it, since we’re now composing it. It’s going to be again one step further from our latest album, but will still sound like Paara. I think it’s going to be a bit more progressive. It takes a really long time for us to compose a record because we don’t want to release anything that is just generic shit. It’s going to take its own time. Theme-wise, it will continue on the same path, but we’re now involving more Finnish folktales from Kalevala.

The last album had some Kalevala, other folktales, and also more recent events. One of our songs, “Suon sydän”, was about this guy Noita-Kallio in 1931. He was really sure that there was treasure in a swamp in Helsinki. His cult dug up some bodies from a really old cemetery near to that, and flung them in the swamp in some ritual that was supposed to bring the treasure up.

MS: That’s pretty intense. How do you choose which story to tell?

Helmouth: I don’t choose, I just get the feeling that these are the stories we want to tell this time around. Whatever feels natural at that point, and what I have been reading makes a big difference. It’s a combination of so many things. I love the fact that we’re singing in Finnish, because the only natural thing to do when singing about these stories. If I were to sing them in English it just wouldn’t work. We want to tell stories that are more serious.

MS: There’s nothing more serious than throwing bodies in a swamp! [Laughs.] So you went to Prague; how else do you strive to take your music outside of Finland?

Helmouth: After we released the first album, we started with shows abroad in the U.K., Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, and France. The first album was released by ourselves, and we didn’t have distribution for it, but on this second album we have worldwide distribution and media coverage. That was the next step, reviews from press who weren’t able to understand what we were singing, but actually worked nicely. We want to do more shows abroad, and our goal for the third album will be to push ourselves more towards…

MS: New York?

Helmouth: Hopefully, that would be really good. We want to keep our music interesting, so we actually don’t do that many shows in Finland, and we choose them selectively. Nummirock was the only show we have booked for the rest of this year; we’ve basically said no to every show that has been offered to us. It takes a lot of time and effort to write the best possible album we can do, so we really want to concentrate on that.

MS: With praise from the fans and international press as you said, Paara already seems to be on quite a positive trajectory. Why is it important to still challenge yourselves, and not become complacent with your sound?

Helmouth: We don’t want to be one of those bands who keep on repeating themselves. We want to challenge ourselves as individuals and musicians, and most importantly as a band. With Riitti we found our voice, if you will. Now we want to experiment the ways to express ourselves and stretch those boundaries again, to elevate ourselves musically and spiritually. This way we can offer our listeners the most intriguing and enjoyable experience.

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