Interview: INSOMNIUM
Title: The path to Karelia into the mists of darkness

From the deepest Finnish forests, from the shores of the misty lakes of Karelia came these four grim men. Four stern young men playing Melodic Death Metal full of fury and anguish, sorrow and longing. Music made with a zealous will to create songs which could touch the listener´s inside and raise emotions. 

Emotional songs that could actually mean something to the listener and would not be like most of the music today: shallow, hollow and pointless. Though some line-up changes have been inevitable through these years, three of the founding members are still in the band.

Insomnium´s amazing debut album „In The Halls Of Awaiting” came now to be ultimately the best work of this fine band so far. Songs had gained more versatility, depth and nuances and the overall production was stunningly heavy. The album presents a band that has taken a step away from the traditional Melodic Death Metal, and moved towards hither to unknown musical territories.

Singer and bassist Niilo Sevänen and guitarist Ville Friman answer the questions.

Which emotions should feel the listeners while listen to your music?

Niilo: „Everyone will of course feel our music with a different way, and that´s good. We just wanted to create an interesting and enchanting album, which would be like a dark and mystical journey through the endless woods of Karelia. Our lyrics are sorrowful tales, which tell of the topics that are universal and familiar to all: ill-fortuned love, unfullfilled longing, death, grief, loss of something dear, the powers of the nature – so I believe these stories and tunes can really touch people. Hopefully our music can give hope and solace to some, and make them appreciate the good things they have in this life.”

Ville: „I think Niilo already covered most important things in his comment. The stories are usually in some sense fictional but the emotions which we deal are real: If I’m in depressed or sorrowful mood I compose music that reflects these emotions and so on. I hope people are able to sense these strong emotions through our music. Also the beauty is one thing we try to portray in our music. Many things in life are very beautiful and I hope people will in some way open their eyes. For example I wish that picking up the album and looking its cover picture arouses these kind of emotions when you’re checking CDs in the store.”

Insomnium was formed 1997 in Joensuu. Please give a band history, which contains mainly the cause(s) for founding.

Niilo: „The main cause for founding the band was simply the need to play Metal music. I was before in a really lousy grunge-band, and playing in it was not very nice. Markus Hirvonen (drums) and Ville Friman (guitar) on the other hand were not playing in any band back then, so for them it was just great to put up a real band, I guess. In the beginning it was the sheer love for playing Metal that made us start this whole thing.”

Ville: „Well for my part of course it was exciting that thing like own band was coming a reality. We loved Metal music and really enjoyed playing it and still do.”

How came the musicians of Insomnium together?

Niilo: „I was in a same upper-level school with Markus and Ville Friman. I wanted to form a Metal band, and I knew that those guys could play, so I asked if they would join me. That´s how we started, and we got along very well and became soon good friends. Our other guitarist Ville Vänni came to the band last year. I had joined his band Watch Me Fall as a singer a bit earlier, and we quickly became good friends. And as he is a great guitarist, I asked if he could join Insomnium as well. That´s how the current line-up was born.”

How is to understand the band name?

Niilo: „`Insomnium` is a latin word, and it means both insomnia and nightmare. Our lyrics are often dream-like and gloomy tales, so the name fits us well. And we chose it because it also sounds very cool.”

Ville: „When we actually started to take this band more seriously, we had few songs of our own and we could play together, the proper name became current topic. Niilo came to rehearsals with many names and at the first glance I picked up the name Insomnium from the paper. The double meaning of the word fits also great to us and it’s not that typical Metal band name, like `mutilation` or something quite tasteless name like that. Also one word band name is very compact.”

What means the title of the album?

Niilo: „The concept of the title song comes from J.R.R. Tolkien´s `The Silmarillion`, where these halls are the place where the elves´ spirits go after they die. It´s not a paradise, but more like a vast, silent, shadowy garden, where the elves wait for those who still stay in the world of the living. It´s the place of longing in our song too, as the narrator, who has died, is not sure if he´ll ever see his loved one again. All he can do is wait through all eternity.”

Ville: „As album title it binds all our stories together under this one venue, a place between life and death. It’s somesort of a limbo where star-crossed spirits wander restlessly before their final rest…”

Where exactly is the mentioned area of Karelia - and why you guys use its influences for your music?

Niilo „Karelia is a large region between the Gulf of Finland, Lake Ladoga and the Ice Sea. Nowadays the western parts belong to Finland and the rest to Russia. Our hometown, Joensuu, is in the easternmost part of Finland, in the province of North-Karelia, so the Finnish Karelia is the region where we come from. Karelia has a great mystical past, as the poems of Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, were collected from these very regions in the 19th century. These tales, the old traditional tunes, and also the wonderful nature around us has affected our music and our lyrics a lot. We basically sing of the region which is our home, and which has made us the kind of people we are today. In my opinion people should be proud of their roots.”

What means nature-mysticism in your eyes?

Niilo: „Basically it´s the idea that there are strong powers in nature which will affect people in many ways, since we too are a part of the nature. The idea is of course very old, as about every folk has its own myths and deities of the nature. So nature has been seen as sublime and divine for thousands of years. For the modern times it were the German philosophers and poets of Romanticism who introduced the idea about the hidden powers of the nature, so you guys must be a bit familiar with this, am I right? For us nature-mysticism is very much present in our lyrics, since almost all of them take place in the middle of Finnish nature. Sincerely nature is a great source of inspiration for us. We want people to think the misty shores and endless woods of Karelia when they hear our music.”

Ville: „There is absolutely mysticism in the nature even without thinking it in a romantic sense. We can’t understand it as whole even yet than rather know lots of details about the animals and plants for example. Nature and surroundings affect to us more than we imagine. What I’m concerned is that also in Finland almost all of the old forests will maybe be cut down in the future. Don’t get me wrong, forest management is done good in Finland and new forests will be planted to the places where the trees were cut down but the old forest have the history of the many hundred of years and many species are depenent of them and can’t survive in the planted young forests. To see real wild forest today one have to travel all the way to Northern Russia where trees have not yet seen any saw or multi-function machine. In my opinion nature is very important to us all.”

Sounds really different to most of the bands of nowadays, very promising! In which position you see yourself in the scene?

Niilo: „Thank you for your couraging words! I would say that we are a kind of mixture between Finnish and Swedish Melodic Death Metal bands; we have taken what we have considered as the best aspects of each of our favourite bands, and moulded them into a new entity. Our melodies are quite Finnish, but our style of playing is nearer the Swedes. On the other hand we have epic songs like ”Shades Of Deep Green” and ”In The Halls Of Awaiting”, which are quite different from anything in the Melodic Death Metal genre. I believe that we have now found our own way to make music.”

Ville: „Thank you, we’re flattered. We have got more confident with ourselves and are also willing to explore different areas of music too. I mean we do have different kind of songs and will have in the future too. For example `The Shades Of Deep Green` was the newest song we made for the album and it was also very different from the other ones. It worked well in rehearsals but I must admit that for a second I was sceptic about how it would work among all other songs. But after we recorded it I lost all my doubts. Many people have especially liked that track and those comments have been very rewarding. From the beginning we had this our `own` thing. We just have been trying to refine it all the time and will continue this our process.”

„Scandinavian Melodic Metal as it was always meant to be played.“ How´s it always meant to be played?

Niilo: „That quotation is from Terrorizer´s review of our first demo, so I don´t know what the guy who wrote it had in mind. I think that Scandinavian Melodic Metal as its best is full of aggression and violence, but also sorrow and longing; it´s not monotonous, but full of different atmospheres and nuances, and many acoustic passages. And it also has some progressive shades, so it´s a bit challenging to the listener. That is at least the kind of music we want to play.”

Ville: „Yeah, I think the inventiveness and creativity are the key words in this matter. Music should always embody these terms even as peformed as its simplest form and keep the listeners interest awake.”

In which direction your music will go?

Niilo: „I believe that we are moving away from the Melodic Death Metal genre even more. We are not going to change our style dramatically, but we´ll concentrate on doing things as they haven´t been done before. We want to make music that sounds clearly of our own, and not just an imitation of some other bands. We definetely try to make each album a bit different from the previous, so that the music won´t get boring to the listeners. Some bands make same kind of albums over and over again, and usually it gets really dull in some point.”

Ville: „I myself see that process a big challenge and it’s hard to tell anything for sure as we haven’t done than just few new songs yet. Definitely we continue to refine the things we have done so far and will continue our musical exploring. I’d like to keep all the things we now have in our music in the future too but still add more elements into it. Make it richer in every way. But I promise it will always be Metal, we’re not going to start to play Rock or anything. `Scandinavian melodic metal as it was always meant to be played.`”

Which were your early idols out of the Metal scene?

Niilo: „Metallica was the band that made me a metalhead. Other bands I liked as a teen were Sepultura, Paradise Lost and Slayer.”

Ville: „Metallica was the band for me too. I have tried to follow metal scene since then and I respect many people in the genre nowadays. Metallica was the band from where the everything started back then, but actually I haven’t `idolized` no one in my life yet. We are just the same people…”

Which have more or lesser influenced Insomnium?

Niilo: „For me the most influental bands have been Amorphis, Sentenced, In Flames and Dark Tranquillity – I listened them a lot when we first started this band, and it can be still heard.”

Ville: „For me also every above band have been influential one but besides these `uniting` bands we all listen various others and have all our own favourites. For example our drummer Markus listens to a lot of progressive music too. And for me the Opeth have been the band since `Morningrise`.”

How you found to the record deal with Candlelight Records?

Niilo: „We sent our second demo to all possible labels, and Candlelight was interested in signing us. They were clearly the best choice we had, and so far everything has went really well with them.”

Ville: „I think our case shows that you don’t have to know all the people behind the company to get a deal. Just good enough demo can bring the deal even as far as from the England.”

Be so kind and explain the lyrical contents of the album!

Niilo: „Our album consists of ten separate tales, so it´s not a concept album. Basically our songs are downhearted and dreary stories about love and death, yearning and sorrow. Old Finnish poetry has affected our lyrics, and we have taken some concepts of other litarature as well. For example I have taken an ancient Greek tragedy, `Medeia`, and arranged it into Finnish settings. `Ill-Starred Son` tells a story of a man who loses both his son and his wife. `Dying Chant` tells about an old man on his deathbed who wonders where he has wasted his life. `The Bitter End` is a tragic tale about desperate love. The lyrics shouldn´t never be explained too much, because the listeners have to have a chance to make their own interpretations – that is important.”

Which were and still are the inspirations for the music of Insomnium?

Niilo: „`The Kalevala` and `The Silmarillion` have been the two books that have mostly influenced me with this album. This is hard to explain, but for me the overall atmosphere of our music is a kind of mixture of these two books; they are both very sad and beautiful, and they have this certain melancholic mood, which is present in our music as well. When I read these books I get same kind of feelings which I wish to raise with my music.”

Ville: „I get inspiration from everywhere, music, books, nature and films. From the life in general. I have also this `thought` or `feel` when I think of Insomnium´s music and it helps me to get to the right mood. These things are hard to explain, because I can’t explain them properly to even myself. Music just comes, when I grab down my guitar…”

What is your opinion to the world-situation of nowadays?

Niilo: „That quotation was written when we hadn´t made our debut album yet, and it was a joke. We were very eager to show the whole world what we could do, and already we were sure that we would make a good album if everything would go as planned. But about the world situation today; many tragic things are happening all the time and here in Europe we don´t even hear about most of them. We should be very, very happy with our secured lives, and not complain about some small problems all the time. On 11th of September we were mixing our album, and it really helped to find the right perspective to all this – making a Metal album seemed really insignificant and useless in that point when we simply felt happy to still be alive.”

Ville: „In the middle of this world of contradictions we should appreciate all the small good things in life and remember to be grateful for every single lived day. Nowadays we’re under this big information overflow and are bombed with many bad things: wars, global warming and famine which we see on tv but which we do not actually grasp for real. It’s sometimes hard to do the right decisions but even in the worse situation we should try to choose the best one. People, think and get the information about things, take responsibility of your doings and take care of each other. In life you can’t go wrong with those things in mind. It’s only you who finally abide for yourself!”

What is the exact artistic goal with the band?

Niilo: „To make great albums and create music that will be remembered more than a couple of years. The main thing is that we ourselves are satisfied with our doings, because you can´t never please everybody! I don´t know if it is an artistic goal, but we would very much like to tour at least Europe. Japan and USA would be really nice too. After those tours we can happily retire!”

Ville: „To make good reckoned music of which enjoy oneself too. Lyric-wise… make people to think for a while and settle down for 55 minutes. Remember that life’s short: enjoy it and don’t run through it!”

Live gigs planned?

Niilo: „At the moment none. We don´t yet have a booking agency, so arranging a tour is a bit difficult right now.”

Ville: „Yeah, time will tell…”

Main plans for the near future?

Niilo: „First thing is to finish the video from the song `The Elder`, and then see if someone will play it somewhere. We just have to wait and see what happens with this album, and if we´ll get any chance for touring. Then we start to plan our next album, which will be hopefully recorded in summer of 2003.”

Ville: „That’s just about it. At the meantime check out the `In The Halls Of Awaiting`, melodic and atmospheric music full of strong emotions! Thanks for the interview Markus!”

And Niilo surprises with German words: „Vielen Dank für das Interview, Markus! Prost und Kippis!“

© Markus Eck, 16.04.2002

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