For Melodic Death Metal adepts, Insomnium is a household name. Formed in 1997, the Finnish outfit quickly gained a large following. Last month saw the release of Insomnium’s sixth full-length album, Shadows of the Dying Sun. This new release gave me the privilege to conduct a short interview with the band. By E-mail, I spoke with both Niilo Sevänen (vocals + bass) and Markus Hirvonen (drums).
By the time this interview is published, Insomnium’s new album, Shadows of the Dying Sun, will be available worldwide. Could you tell us something more about the new full-length? Was there a specific concept behind it?
Niilo: It is our sixth album and the first one with guitarist Markus Vanhala. We are very happy with the album as a whole. It seems that everyone likes it a lot. So far we have had some great chart success: #2 in Finland, #5 in the US Billboard Heatseekers, #18 in Germany, etc. It looks good! It’s not a concept album but a collection of stories.
Markus: There wasn’t any specific concept behind the album. It was just about making good songs and hoping that it would result in an awesome sound. We only had two rehearsal sessions before I hit the studio to record the drum tracks. We really felt lost after the first rehearsal, but somehow it all clicked during the second rehearsal two weeks later! It is actually the first Insomnium album I enjoy listening to after the whole process.
I have seen the music video of the first single, While We Sleep. In the beginning of the clip, a young woman is repeatedly touching a television screen with static. As a movie lover, I immediately thought of ‘Poltergeist’. Was this reference on purpose?
Niilo: You have to ask the director, it’s his vision. Poltergeist or perhaps The Ring?
Markus: I hate to admit it, but we didn’t play much of a role in creating the manuscript. There were some different scripts to choose from and this seemed to serve us best. You would have to ask the guys from Grupa 13 whether or not it was a Poltergeist reference. Awesome movie by the way!
During April of 2012, Insomnium had the privilege to support Paradise Lost on their UK-Tour. Being on the road with such a legendary act must have been quite an experience. How were the overall reactions from the crowd? Are you still in contact with the members of Paradise Lost?
Niilo: Paradise Lost is one of our favorite bands. I’ve been listening to them since I was 13, so yes it was special. They were a really nice bunch. The tour was really good. We met each other on some festival afterwards and it was a fun reunion.
Markus: It was a unique tour for us in many ways! We shared the same bus with Paradise Lost and became good friends with them. In the beginning, it felt weird sleeping in a bunk above the legendary Greg Mackintosh. For Paradise Lost it was a special tour as well. It was their first UK only tour in quite a while. The venues were really small; it was all about going back to the roots. The crowd was pretty good for us every night. We seemed to mix well with Paradise Lost, although most of their fans are more goth-oriented. Great small tour!
If I’m not mistaken, all Insomnium-lyrics are written in English. In the future, would you consider recording a song in Finnish?
Niilo: Why not, but it’s not in our plans. We are an international band.
Markus: Yes, all lyrics are in English. That is the way it will be in the future as well. It is very unlikely that we would write Finnish lyrics.
Insomnium was formed in the city of Joensuu, Finland. According to Wikipedia, Joensuu is a ‘lively student city’. How was it like growing up over there? Do you prefer the city or the countryside?
Niilo:Joensuu is a small university town with one of the biggest summer festivals in Finland. It’s a great place to grow up and start a band. I have always lived in the city…not in very large ones though. I’m a city boy, but a summer vacation at the lakeside is a must!
Markus: Joensuu is a rather active city in contrast to its size. I actually moved back to Joensuu since I got a decent job. Joensuu was really good place to grow up…safe but still enough action to get your juices flowing. Joensuu hosts one of the biggest Finnish rock festivals, Ilosaarirock. This festival has boosted the local music scene. University also plays a big role. Students make up the majority of the population. I prefer both the city and the countryside. Like every Finn, we have summer cottages in which we partly live during the summer. The best of both worlds!
Finland and Joensuu in specific are situated relatively close to the Russian border. Do you feel affiliated to Russia? Do you consider yourself Scandinavian, Finnish or maybe both?
Niilo: Scandinavian countries have a lot in common; therefore we get along really well with the Swedes and the Norwegians. Estonians speak a language similar to Finnish so in that way we relate to them. Finland’s history with Russia is of course full of contradiction and tough times. Russia is also our biggest trading partner so in that way it’s more of a complex issue. Finns are Finns, but we are part of the Nordic countries, part of the EU and part of Europe. According to all surveys, Finland is one of the best and happiest places to live!
Markus: Yes, the Russian border is rather close from Joensuu. However, the mental gap is bigger than the actual distance. In general, Finns feel much closer to e.g. Belgians than to Russians regarding values, etc.. After all, we all share the common European values. Russians come to Finland for holidays, to enjoy our spas and skiing resorts. They have boosted our local economy significantly. The economic depression has had its toll on the tourist sector but it will get better. At the moment, the public discussion is whether or not Finland should join the NATO.
In the recent past, the Metal community has lost some legendary musicians (Jeff Hanneman, Ronnie James Dio, David Gold from Woods of Ypres, etc.). Lemmy Kilmister has health issues, AC/DC might retire, etc. How do you see the future of our beloved genre?
Niilo:I’m not worried. At some point, the dinosaurs will be gone but new bands will appear. It has become more difficult to become a mega band and fill stadiums. This however does not mean that the genre isn’t healthy.
Markus: In general, change is always a good thing. If nothing changes, there can’t be a turn for the better. Even when groups retire, their music will last forever and the band members become legends. Could you hope for more? There will always be good Metal music! We will try to do our best during the upcoming years.
Do you listen to other genres/artists besides Metal?
Niilo:Of course, all kinds of stuff. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of 80´s golden rock classics like e.g. Van Halen, Toto and Journey in my car. Awesome driving music! From the new pop artists I really like Lana del Rey.
Markus: Of course, good music is good music! You are the only one who can decide whether it is good or not. I would say 75% of the music I listen to is not metal. Listening to different styles of music keeps things fresh.
Scandinavia has so many successful Metal bands. It is hard to believe in coincidence, do you have an explanation for this success?
Niilo: Difficult question to answer. We have a great educational system. Kids can learn to play instruments if they want to, of course that helps. We have a strong Heavy Metal culture so new bands form all the time.
Markus: This is a tough one! I believe that in general music is popular as a hobby so there is a critical mass of youngsters trying to form bands and making demo tapes, etc. It’s more of a cultural thing. The Finnish government and the whole public sector try their best to offer rehearsal places, band schools etc. in order to keep the momentum going. I guess we are rather lucky with the current situation. A lot has happened since the day we started…
Besides Insomnium, Amorphis, Apocalyptica, Korkiplaani, etc. Are there some lesser known Finnish bands you could recommend us?
Niilo: For example MyGrain, Lost Society and Stam1na (very big in Finland).
Markus: There are tons of bands I could list here. Some are well known others are not. Omnium Gatherum, Ghost Brigade, Swallow the Sun, Wintersun, Wolfheart, Medeia, Lost Society, Sear, Nerve End, Inthraced etc.I better stop here before the list becomes too long.
Thank you very much for this interview!
Niilo: Thank you! See you in Belgium during autumn.