Ringing in a new sonic avenue with a blood-curling depiction inspired by the greats.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
From the raw and uncompromising instrumentation of Phlegethon to involvement in Vacant Coffin, Claws, Ruinebell, and more, Finland's Lasse Pyykkö lets his work ethic take center stage as a testament to his character. Among the several bands and responsibilities Pyykkö takes on, Hooded Menace leads the charge as a prominent force among metal's flooded underground ranks. First formed in 2007, Hooded Menace paved their path through a cataclysmic take on death doom, one that paved the path towards a promising reign of the slow burning subgenre. They became a staple for Finnish excellence with efforts as towering as Never Cross The Dead (2010) and Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed (2018), the latter of which serves as the pinnacle of the band's existence...until this year. New heights have now been reached with the arrival of the next Hooded Menace chapter, The Tritonus Bell.
Releasing on August 27th via Season of Mist, The Tritonus Bell presents a unit harkening back in glimpses at their golden era of death doom in favor of a more heavy metal leaning approach. Upon the initial reveal, lead single Blood Ornaments introduced us all to the band's varied new sound palette, the likes of which bridged Gothic (1991) era Paradise Lost and Mercyful Fate in seamless fashion. The record alternates in pace and breaks you down as hard as it builds you up through an electrifying collection of riffs and pulsing tones. To preface it all, The Tritonus Bell comes adorned by the macabre art of renowned metal artist Wes Benscoter, completing the deadly multi-sensory experience as Hooded Menace typically does. Those expecting a traditional Hooded Menace will find it in sections, but only as components of a larger, heftier work that stands tall amidst its counterparts as one of this year's leading death metal efforts. Benscoter's work heightens the composition tenfold and in following suit with the Heaviest of Art DNA, we had to dive in and uncover what lies behind its creation.
We go Behind the Cover of The Tritonus Bell with band mastermind Lasse Pyykkö and Wes Benscoter to learn of their seamless partnership, the significance of visual investment, the compositional shift, and much more:
From Adam Burke’s gloomy atmospheres on ‘Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed’ to Matthew ‘Putrid’ Carr’s twisted depiction for ‘Never Cross The Dead', you excel at putting a face to your towering death doom. Hooded Menace just never fails to deliver on the visual end. Would you say that a great deal of effort goes into expanding beyond the musical end of Hooded Menace?
Lasse: I’d rather say that a great deal of enthusiasm goes into it! It’s fun. It’s a lot of work for the artists for sure, but most often they seem to be just as excited about the process as we are.
That's a sign of a great collaboration! For ‘The Tritonus Bell’, you now turn to the renowned Wes Benscoter, who has quite the resume having drawn covers for Autopsy and Kreator to name a few. What sparked the interest in pursuing partnership with Benscoter?
Lasse: It’s always interesting to see different artists´ take on the "blind dead" themes we come up with, which is the reason why we haven’t stuck to just one or two artists. This time, we were lucky to have Wes Benscoter. His stuff is great. I actually tried to work with him in the past on some other project, I can’t remember which one, but things didn’t take off. I think I was short on a budget or something. Anyway, this time we made it happen with Hooded Menace and the results are satisfying, to say at least.
That they are. Visually, what were you looking for when approaching Wes for this depiction of a bell radiating death, which is of course an extension of the album title?
Lasse: We wanted to take a step back from the more expressive style of 'Ossuarium…' and have something more in the vein of our older albums. We figured something a bit more old school would complete the traditional heavy metal vibes of the album better than something more elegant and “artsy”, you know. I had this art concept in my mind and explained it to Wes. I actually photoshopped a loose draft for him! It was the artwork that actually spawned the album title.
Was the idea for the cover cemented early on or were there any significant changes to the direction that led to the final cover we see now?
Lasse: The idea was pretty much complete early on.
As mentioned before, you’ve worked with quite an assortment of artists that include Adam Burke, Matthew Carr, Justin Bartlett, and David V. D'Andrea, each of which had a unique collaborative dynamic. How would you characterize the creative process with Wes?
Lasse: Easy. Confident. We understood each other, we were on the same page. It was a very painless process, really. With that being said, it has been pretty easy with everyone.
The results speak for themselves. Aside from the obvious musical influence, did 80’s album covers inspire you at all? Perhaps in having it be something you wanted to see realized in the bands you went on to form? That era is truly the pinnacle of metal artwork.
Lasse: Absolutely! Like you said, that era is the pinnacle of metal artwork. There’s just so much great stuff. I definitely see our cover art to be as a continuation to the 80´s stuff.
You can definitely see the inspiration. Anticipation is high for this next chapter in the Hooded Menace discography, a chapter that marks a significant sonic departure from the band’s signature death doom sound. You two have put together a killer audiovisual work that encapsulates the power of the band. Wes, what did you aim to achieve with respect to themes and concepts presented by Lasse?
Benscoter: For this cover, I focused on realizing Lasse's very specific concept while still leaving a bit of room to do my own thing. I trusted Lasse's vision and I didn't really bring many of my own themes into it because I didn't need to on this one. I'm happy that people seem to be responding positively to the cover art.
You of course have had the privilege of working with countless bands over the years, the likes of which include Autopsy, Amorphis, Mortician, Incantation, Slayer, and so many more bands that are iconic in their own ways. In reflecting back at your successes, what does it mean to you have played a significant role in the visual identity of the genre during those key years in the 90’s and even now into the contemporary state?
Benscoter: I love it and I'm proud of it, but I also remember how unpopular metal imagery was to mainstream art-directors in the 90's. Many of the metal labels also wanted to move away from "classic" metal art. It was a constant battle to get cool imagery onto the covers in the 90's. Now, it's so fragmented that it seems like there's a home for everything.
I agree, and the variety is truly astounding. Are cover illustrations still as exciting to you as they were when you were exploring your own place in metal artwork and dark art in general?
Benscoter: I wouldn't use the word exciting, but I still get a thrill when I start to see what the completed art is going to look like. That's my favorite part of the painting process, when everything is roughed in and the faces and heads are locked in and you can see what it's final form is going to be.
It's great to see the genre's icons like yourself and Seagrave still at it. Jumping back into ‘The Tritonus Bell’, the cover painting is stacked with detail and vivid color use. About how long did it take to complete and what tools were used in the process?
Benscoter: It took roughly two weeks, give or take a few days off. It's painted in acrylics on board at 16 x 16" size. I do a very rough pencil sketch for the band or labels approval and then I do a more refined (but not very detailed) layout sketch for myself to work from.
Lasse mentions that the album title spawned from the cover. Did that make the experience unique in any way, especially with artists tending to build off an album title in the design process?
Benscoter: I rarely pay attention to an album title, so it has almost no influence on the cover art. However, this cover was unique because it's rare that someone is that prepared with their own rough image and so specific in what they're looking for.
You both locked it in quite early. The cover itself is reminiscent of some of your old school work, as is the album itself. Would you say that was a key element you wanted to see incorporated when taking on the project?
Benscoter: When I think of my own old-school work, I think it has a more pronounced Giger influence because I used and airbrush at the time. I think the Hooded cover art feels old-school because of the imagery... to me it has an almost Maiden cover-vibe.
I can sort of see the Derek Riggs resemblance there, mainly in the atmosphere. Wes, Hooded Menace are a band that take a full-fledged approach to the cover art for each and every one of their releases, as one could see given their previous partnerships with Adam Burke, Matthew Carr, and more. As an illustrator with a wealth of experience under your belt, what can you comment about the significance of visual investment during an album’s release cycle?
Benscoter: It's an incredibly important investment to make into an album because of the obvious promo and merch reasons, but also because of the legacy of the album. You have to give the fans something to "grab on to" and these things can take on a life of their own. Metal covers have a unique power that other genres don't seem to have. It seems like bands, now more than ever, understand this and take the cover art creation very seriously.
For the bands reading this, take note. It's neat to see them utilize it on their music videos too. The cover of ‘The Tritonus Bell’ is sure to entrance audiences both new and old to the hard-hitting sound of Hooded Menace on visuals alone. That said, has there ever been an album, book, or even movie cover that has had the impact of making you pick it up without even having prior knowledge of it?
Benscoter: All the time. To give a recent example... the self-titled (2020) album by Duma (Nyege Nyege label) really caught my eye and made me check it out. Perfect vibe and execution of a cover concept.
Great choice! Don't think I'm too familiar with the record. Lasse, six full-lengths in and ‘The Tritonus Bell’ stands as the one to make a significant sonic departure, which as you detail, happened subconsciously through your continued listening of 80’s heavy metal. Do you feel as though this needed to happen, for your own musical satisfaction and for the longevity of the band?
Lasse: Yes, definitely. When Harri joined the band as a vocalist in 2016, it opened new possibilities for us. His voice allows for more dynamics. As you may know, I used to do the vocals on our albums before Harri and my growling is pretty one-dimensional. It goes well with the slower stuff, but 'The Tritonus Bell' would have never happened with me on vocals. Those faster parts just wouldn’t work. I would have struggled with some of the stuff on 'Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed' also. So, I’d say Harri joined the band at a perfect moment, at the moment when we needed to take that step forward artistically and expand our sound more. You know, it’s good to keep things interesting and always evolving, and on 'The Tritonus Bell', we really went for it.
It's evident that it paid off greatly. In looking back at ‘Fulfill The Curse’ (2008) and your years in Phlegethon, how would you assess yourself now in your growth as a musician? Beside ‘The Tritonus Bell’ being a shift towards a different style, it’s a testament to the maturity and expertise present within your ranks.
Lasse: Well, at least I hope I’ve become a bit better at everything I do, be it composing, writing lyrics, playing guitar, performing, or recording. Of course, I have a much better understanding of the whole process now than in the Phlegethon days when I was just a youngster.
Definitely. ‘The Tritonus Bell’ is nearly here and with it marks a significant milestone in the Hooded Menace catalog, a milestone jam picked with hard-hitting riffs and arena leveling power, as the masterful ‘Corpus Asunder’ would testify to. In closing, Lasse, how much of this is driven by Finland’s rich metal history and your own personal soundtrack growing up?
Lasse: Mostly, it’s about my personal soundtrack growing up in the 80´s. That’s where I come from, that’s what I know the best, really, and of course early 90´s death/doom too. As for Finnish metal, I guess I could namedrop old Amorphis and maybe 'Amok' (1995) era Sentenced also. I would always put the earlier Sentenced on the top of 'Amok', but I can’t say that I wasn’t fascinated about this brave change in style at the time, even if I wasn’t following the scene anymore, or metal in general. There are so many cool riffs on that album that you simply couldn’t ignore it. There's obviously a ton of Iron Maiden influence in there, but hey, I´ll take it!
The Tritonus Bell arrives on August 27th via Season of Mist. Order your copy HERE.