None More Black: An Interview with FIN
Once in a while, a record comes along that just knocks my socks off. A record that’s so immediate I’m forced to sit up and pay attention. A record that’s so fierce I want to sharpen knives. A record that’s so inspiring whenever I listen to it I want to work harder, train harder, play harder, or do whatever it is that I’m doing. Harder. The record I’m referring to is last year’s The Furrows of Tradition by FIN. The album, although relentless in its approach, never gets tiring. It’s non-stop fury from start to finish, but it’s a controlled, organized and laser-focused fury. Riff after glorious riff are backed by ferocious blasting and exquisitely placed tempo changes that deliver one hell of an invigorating experience. Warlike in its belligerence, heroic in its enterprise, and joyous in its rendition, it perfectly encapsulates everything I enjoy about Black Metal. FIN are a duo that go by the names of M.K. (guitars, vocals) and D.F.K (drums), and together they churn out some of the most devastating and uplifting Black Metal. I was fortunate enough to catch up with both members for their first ever interview.
So for those readers that are not aware of FIN, how did you originate and what are you all about?
M.K.: FIN came into being through myself and Pestartz (the original drummer). Essentially, he and I had heard each other’s projects prior to this endeavor and decided to start writing and rehearsing together in our spare time. After writing track after track at a respectively fast pace, we decided to give what we were doing a name and focus on it in a more serious fashion.
You’ve released three albums since 2011, and during that time period, you’ve fluctuated between two and four members. Why the lineup changes? Did you come to realize that two was the magic number?
M.K.: The lineup changes were due to wanting a fuller sound because as previously stated, the band began as myself and Pestartz on drums. We did in fact play several shows in the beginning as a two-piece and felt at the time that it was lacking. This led to the induction of a stand-alone vocalist as well as a bassist. This worked out for some time, but slowed down the writing and recording process with conflicting schedules, along with the original drummer moving from Illinois to Belgium. After the induction of the new (at the time) drummer D.F.K., we returned to the speed and pace of writing that I was most comfortable with. Conflicting schedules with the bassist and vocalist merited our separation back into a two-piece again. We have not looked back since, and do not regret this decision.
How would describe the progression of the music from the first album, Fated by Will & Iron, to the last, The Furrows of Tradition?
M.K.: With the first album we were only beginning to find our sound, we had an idea of what we were aiming to produce but did not quite have the sights set. What was clear though was that we aimed to pursue a triumphant sound, myself not being one of the disposition to write “dark” or “evil” sounding riffing, generally speaking. The “sound” of the band I think is something that came more into fruition on the second album Refutable Arts of the Noble Reserve and from there of course leading to The Furrows of Tradition, an album I view as a shining monument of everything I have ever wanted to accomplish musically.
M.K., you have a unique way of playing guitar (hyper fast, up and down the neck, multi-string tremolo picking). How did you develop the style of seemingly playing rhythm and melody at the same time?
M.K.: My writing style is highly influenced by many Finnish black metal bands. Their way of playing incorporates many inverted chord styles and note structures to create something of a keyboard sound without keyboard. Classical music also plays a role in what has helped bring our sound into being. As previously stated, it is the aim to make triumphant music that is somewhat optimistic sounding in approach and delivery. All songs capture raw emotion as well, as any music of merit generally does. Essentially, when I write, my aim is to have a song tell a story. I also believe that a song should in fact stand on its own with no words at all. The vocals are a secondary thought.
D.F.K, you joined the band just prior to Furrows. How did you meet M.K., and how did the offer to join FIN happen?
D.F.K.: We had known each other for years prior to ever working together on music in any capacity. I was always a fan of S.S.W.G., the band M.K. was in prior to founding FIN. I always went to their local shows, being a bit enamored by the music because they were really the only band from Chicago playing that type of black metal. So he and I knew each other from that and just being a part of the same “scene” in the same city I guess. Years down the road I think I offered my recording services to M.K. after I had heard the first FIN full length, Fated by Will and Iron. I cut him a super cheap recording deal just to make sure I got him in the studio because I wanted to do the record so bad. That was when the second full length, Refutable Arts of the Noble Reserve was recorded at Iron Hand Audio, still with former drummer Pestarzt in the band. Pestarzt moved to Belgium almost immediately after recording that album, so M.K., and the rest of the band at the time were left without a drummer. M.K. almost immediately propositioned me to join the band seeing as FIN had a show booked like two weeks after Pestarzt left that they did not want to drop from. I agreed without much hesitation given the nature of the material on Refutable Arts of the Noble Reserve. I learned the set in about a week, played the show and the rest is history up until now.
Was there was any difficulty learning any of Pestarzt’s (previous drummer) tracks?
D.F.K.: No, not really. Like I said, I learned 9 songs I think in about a week before I performed live with the band.
What stands out to me about your drumming style, apart from the excellent fills, is how you are able to hold those one-footed blasts for so long. How would you describe your playing style?
D.F.K.: For FIN, I’d say my style is influenced by a conglomerate of “extreme metal” and a few other significant metal drummers from across the decades. Generally the fast guys; Pete Sandoval (Morbid Angel), Proscriptor (Absu), Tony Laureano (Nile), Derek Roddy (Hate Eternal), Dave Lombardo and Paul Bostaph (Slayer) and Frost (various bands). That, mixed with more traditional black metal, thrash, even a little punk drums, is pretty much what you get with my era of FIN. But yes, I do all of the traditional blasts with one foot on Furrows. I think it just sounds more consistent that way if you can pull it off.
You mention in the liner notes of Furrows that the record was “captured by traditional recording methods without the use of metronome, samples, or editing”. Can you expand on “traditional recording methods?” As listeners, are we just listening to three tracks (vocals, guitar, drums), or are there other guitar tracks or overdubs?
D.F.K.: What we meant by that was basically that it was recorded in the same manner as people used to do it ages ago. The whole band playing a song at once and all members having to get the whole song right, at the same time, in order to use the take. Preservation of an organic performance if you will. That was, and still is, very important to us. The recording becomes an entity to be so much more proud of that way, I think. So, as stated, we did not use a metronome or “click track,” there was no editing of performances, and there were no drum samples used in the post production mixing, all just mics on real drums in a room. Drums and guitar one would be the 100% “live” organic performance to use as the foundation for the song. Then we would overdub additional rhythm guitar tracks to thicken up the sound and vocals separately, because if M.K. did vocals “live” in the studio recording, the vocals would be all over the drum microphones and mixing would be a disaster. Still preserving the organic feel and authenticity of the song captured because that is how the baseline instrumental performance was captured with drums and the first guitar track. Very minimalistic but potent methods in order to have it translate to an entirely organic but also decent sounding product.
As far as I know, you have only published the lyrics to Refutable Arts of the Noble Reserve’s “Hands Upon the Steppe.” Is there any reason why you chose the lyrics of this particular song versus any of the others?
M.K.: We published the entirety of the lyrics to Fated by Will and Iron (our first release) in the booklet of said release as well. The lyrics of that album deal with the stupidity of human nature and the willingness of humanity to repeat its mistakes and the frivolous ignorance over petty things. The reason I picked one song for Refutable would be because we didn’t wish to do a full booklet for that album. I felt incorporating that one song would be enough to convey the message previously stated.
I’m very impressed with your album artwork. Sang Ho Moon was responsible for The Furrows of Tradition and the new split with Totale Vernichtung. He’s an exceptional artist that is capable of many different styles. How did you come across his work and how did you go about commissioning him to work with you?
M.K.: I would like to state that the artwork for Refutable Arts of the Noble Reserve was done by my mother. She is an artist and I’d always wanted to get her involved with my music prior to that album. The way everything came together for that album deemed it appropriate at the time to finally incorporate her talents alongside my music. The way we got a hold of Master Sang was through seeing the artwork he’d done for other projects of merit in the underground. It was as simple as e-mailing him and showing our music to him. He is a great man, and very good to work with. Very passionate about what he does.
Does Master Sang come up with the ideas himself or do you work together on the preliminary concepts?
M.K.: For The Furrows of Tradition, we gave him a rough idea of what we wanted, and he took it from there. For the future split artwork, I believe my exact words were “Do whatever the fuck you want,” and he most certainly did not disappoint. So often, artists have to create to fit another’s vision. We collectively thought it’d be cool to see what he came up with on his own, and once again he did not disappoint.
There are plenty of black metal bands out there (especially one or two-man projects) that just focus on studio output. How important is it to you for FIN to be perceived as a live performing band?
M.K.: It is of paramount importance to us to be perceived and received as a live entity, just as it is to be translated properly on recorded medium. What better way to harness the passion of your music than in the flesh? To see the raw emotion that goes into culminating the music that pours from our veins into our instruments. This is our life’s work, and playing live is every bit as important to us as recording.
You play live as a two-piece. Have you made adjustments to the equipment that you use or how you set up your rig for live performances to compensate for not having any other guitars on stage?
M.K.: Not at all. We are considering getting a splitter of sorts to perhaps use two half stacks to create two guitar tones with one guitar down the line, but as it stands it has not been necessary. Thus far the response to us live as a two-piece has been well received and not lacking.
Have you written any songs that would not be possible to play live?
M.K.: There is one track off of Furrows that would not be possible to play properly live, “Arrogance… A Bridge to Fall.” It could certainly have a live rendition, but to properly play it as it is on the album would require a second guitarist. We rarely if ever write music that cannot be played live as it is on the recording. I doubt that I will ever do that again.
What are you plans for live shows, festivals or tours in 2016?
Under the Black Sun festival (Berlin, Germany) in June. Grimscape (Baltimore, Maryland) in August, as well as a concert at St. Vitus in NYC that same weekend. KC Blackdeath Fest II (Kansas City, Missouri) in September.
Berlin’s Under the Black Sun festival has got to be one best black metal festivals going right now. How did the offer to play at this year’s event come about?
M.K.: I messaged and spoke with the gentleman from Iron Bonehead inquiring as to whom we should speak with regarding playing in Europe. He put us in the direction of the main promoter of UTBS, and from there we spoke with him. We are very excited and grateful to be playing our first European date ever at this festival, as this is one I can say I’ve personally always wanted to attend in general.
You’ve just released a new song called “Minstrels,” and you described it on Facebook as a “fanfare(s) to the avid listener of all things victorious.” It certainly sounds victorious to these ears. Where do you seek inspiration for these types of riffs?
M.K.: When writing, I do not seek to create anything depressive, evil, or dark. It is more optimistic than that. Personally, I wish to create music that says the war is now over and the time to lament all woes has passed.
Where did the idea for adding the “choirs” come from? Is that really M.K. singing? How did you achieve this effect?
D.F.K.: Yes, that is really M.K. singing, only one vocal track always, soaked in reverb. Basically, it’s just a single dry vocal track being sent to a massive reverb algorithm to simulate him singing in a large cathedral or the like. The choir effect you are referring to comes from the reverb effect I used on the vocal track. A very common production technique I’d say.
How many songs have you contributed to the “Transatlantic Hate & Resentment Division” split and when do you think it will be released?
M.K.: Five. The release date is uncertain at this point.
Some of our readers are a little irked that it’s not possible to download your music digitally. What is your reasoning behind this decision (or are there future plans to release your albums digitally)?
M.K.: We are in the process of creating a bandcamp to serve that exact purpose, as well as create an easier way to procure physical copies of our releases should people feel inclined to purchase them directly from us.
Every Saturday, the Toilet of Hell hosts a Riff Of The Week (ROTW) competition where readers submit a riff that meets the criteria of that week’s competition in the hopes of winning absolutely nothing. If there was a FIN ROTW edition which riff would you submit and why?
M.K.: The second riff in “Hands Upon the Steppe” from our second release is probably still my favorite riff I’ve written to date (next to the first riff in “Minstrels” after the intro).
What is your currently your proudest achievement with FIN? Where do you go from here?
M.K.: Complacency is grounds for failure, all achievements are to be valued equally, and as far as where to go from here, we only wish to continue making our music and playing abroad.
As you’re currently on the one album a year cycle, you obviously have a lot of pent up creativity. So much so, that you both have other projects on the boil. Tell me about those (and how they impact FIN).
D.F.K.: I released a solo album three years ago as an entity known as Nocturne under the title Ave Noctem. That album is a collection of songs that I wrote during a number of years that I had to stop playing drums because of an injury. My second solo album is half finished, being recorded currently, and will most likely be released under a different band name. It’s slow going progress, pretty much entirely due to my obligations to produce records for others and taking a necessary priority to make ends meet and keep the studio up and running. My solo work does not affect FIN at all.
M.K.: Apparition of Sunlight came into being as something of a project free of the usual record/release format. For the longest time I’d wished to make something in the way of atmospheric black metal without the use of keyboards, so it is just that. Replacing keyboards with heavily reverberated clean guitar I think it accomplished what I was looking for. I basically just record at my leisure and share with close friends. There are quite a few recordings locatable on YouTube however. I don’t foresee doing any actual releases in the near future however. As far as impact with FIN, it does not affect it.
Is there anything else that you’d like to say, before I let you both get back to drinking coffee?
M.K.: I would like to clear up any grey area as to our political beliefs as this is something most bands within this particular genre may or may not have to do at one point or another. We do not judge others on what they choose to believe but we collectively view it as dense to lean in one direction or another as far as political disposition goes. As far as we are concerned, so long as people respect us we will respect them. It is when said beliefs are forced upon others, that is where we draw issue. Our music focuses solely on human nature, both light and dark.
(Photos via M.K.)