DATE OF INTERVIEW: 24th January 2020
Last October saw Insomnium release their eighth studio album, 'Heart Like a Grave', to rave reviews. Characterised by further progression for the band, it also succeeded in retaining the core sound their legions of loyal fans around the globe have always loved them for. It was also steeped in Finnish melancholy, more so than ever, as they delved deep into the despondent realm of poems, songs and tales from their homeland, to infuse their latest set of compositions with a predominance of gloom, doom and despair. The results? A melancholically profound outing in refined, timeless metal artistry.
Metal Discovery met up with the band's bassist/vocalist, Niilo Sevänen, for a chat ahead of their show at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham, a venue they last played eight years ago as main support to Paradise Lost. Now, back as headliners as part of a ten show UK run, it seems their popularity has soared on these shores during the past few years. Us Brits are hungry for a live serving of deathed-up, melodic Finnish melancholy, it would seem. Niilo reveals what he perceives to be the essence of Finnish melancholy; the permanent recruitment of Jani Liimatainen and what he's brought to the band; his love of British culture and humour... and a whole lot more...
METAL DISCOVERY: This is your biggest UK headline tour to date, with ten shows…
(Niilo Sevänen on Finnish melancholy)
"It’s a unique thing and, to really grasp it, I think you would have to live in Finland for some years, and you would get the idea of what these people are doing..."
Niilo Sevänen in his dressing room at Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, 24th January 2020
Photograph copyright © 2020 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: How have the shows been? I gather a couple have been sold out...
NIILE: Yeah, Dublin and Glasgow, they were both sold out. Of course, London was the biggest show, at Islington Assembly Hall, a really nice venue. It was almost full. But all the shows have been good… Norwich, Birmingham, Manchester… all the shows have been good; really good audiences. It’s been better than we expected.
MD: And Ville’s not on this tour… I gather he’s off working?
NIILE: Yeah, he’s working.
MD: At York University.
NIILE: Yeah, and it’s difficult for everyone that he would only do a couple of shows because you have to set up the gear differently, and there are only some bunks in the bus. So either he does the whole thing or he doesn’t do anything.
MD: So when Ville is on board, do you play as a five piece, with Jani as well?
NIILE: Yeah, we play as a five piece.
MD: Do you have slightly different arrangements for the songs when you have three guitars, then?
NIILE: The guitarists, they figure out what they do. For me and the drummer, it doesn’t change at all. Before this, we played two shows in Finland where Markus Vanhala was missing, so Jani and Ville were playing the guitars, and it worked. When they played the solos, I’m sure if there was somebody who was blind, they wouldn’t have noticed anything different!
MD: ‘Heart Like a Grave’ came out in October last year to a lot of buzz, with many fans and journos declaring it your best work to date. Do you feel that way about the album yourselves?
NIILE: Well, it’s so hard to say. I’m very happy with the album. It sounds very good. I think it’s the most hi-fi production on an Insomnium album. It’s a long album with ten songs, and we didn’t want to drop any of those because we felt they were all good and deserved to be on the album. I’m happy with it, people seem to like it and it’s getting a lot of these ‘album of the year’… particularly in Finland…
MD: People don’t just like it, they love it!
NIILE: [Laughs] Yeah!
MD: Press blurb for the album states Insomnium are now “one of the spearheads of their genre”. Does it finally feel like you’re at the forefront of an ever crowded scene? I mean, the last time you played this venue was supporting Paradise Lost 8 years ago, and now you’re back headlining it, and I think presales are strong, as well.
NIILE: Well, Nottingham is the place where we started our UK conquest, back in 2005.
MD: Oh really?
NIILE: Yeah, it was the first place where we played.
MD: Where did you play in 2005?
NIILE: Just around the corner…
MD: Oh, Rock City?
NIILE: Yeah, the smallest room.
MD: Ah, Rock City basement.
NIILE: With Cancer.
MD: Ah, right, wow, one of the times when they reformed. I remember buying their ‘To the Gory End’ album back in the day.
NIILE: Yeah, we did four shows with them and that was our first time in the UK. We were just so excited about everything and… well, it’s fifteen years ago, so a lot has happened for us, and now we’re doing headline tours all over the world. But I’m still confident that we can still achieve greater things and, with every album, we move forward, so slowly but surely. And I think we’ve kept our fans…
MD: So, next time you come to Nottingham, it’ll be headlining Rock City in the main hall!
NIILE: Let’s hope so!
MD: I gather the album concept is centred around Finnish melancholy and that you were “inspired by some of the bleakest and saddest songs, poems and tales that truly capture the essence of northern gloom.” What were some of the songs, poems and stories that inspired you?
NIILE: There are several that could be mentioned. Like, a couple of years ago, there was this competition; it was the biggest newspaper in Finland, and people could vote for the saddest Finnish song. The top ten was really interesting, so we sort of got the idea from there. We said, “okay, let’s use this material as an inspiration, that our parents and grandparents and even older generations have been listening to.” It’s very Finnish and very popular stuff that everyone knows in Finland and there are some really bleak and sad songs that people like to hear and sing.
For example, the song that was chosen as number one, we made a version of it, and it’s ‘And Bells They Toll’ on this album. So, basically, it’s a story about this woman living in this terrible region, who’s really, really poor, in misery her whole life, and she gets married but the man dies right away. It’s just misery for her whole life, and not even a quick ending, but living to old age… it’s so sad as a concept for a song… [Laughs]
MD: Endless melancholy!
NIILE: Endless melancholy! [Laughs] It doesn’t even end quickly. She’s living in endless fucking poverty forever.
MD: Is this based on a true story?
NIILE: It might be. It’s a traditional song; it’s not even credited to anyone. It’s an old story, from the nineteenth century, I think. But it’s really, really sad. So that kind of stuff. And I always like to mention, also, a Christmas song in Finland, about a little girl who sees a sparrow, freezing to death, on Christmas morning, and then she realises that, actually, it’s the soul of her little brother who died last year… [Laughs] People like to sing that song.
MD: A lovely, happy Christmas tale!
NIILE: Yeah, happy Christmas!
NIILE: So, Finns like sad music.
MD: Have you seen ‘Rare Exports’, the Finnish film?
MD: That’s like a very bleak Christmas tale.
NIILE: Yeah! [Laughs]
MD: It is funny, too, I guess, with all the naked Santas running through the snow!
NIILE: Yeah... [Laughs]
MD: Do you regard Finnish melancholy as its own unique entity, developed and shaped by Finnish history and the country’s natural environment and climate, etc?
NIILE: Exactly, all of them. Definitely, melancholic Finnish music is different to what the other Nordic countries are doing, or what Russia is doing, or what Estonians are doing… our nearby neighbours. It’s a unique thing and, to really grasp it, I think you would have to live in Finland for some years, and you would get the idea of what these people are doing and listening to this kind of music. It’s a Finnish thing.
MD: Despite all the melancholy on the album, it doesn’t all feel like irrepressible doom and despair. It does feel like there’s optimism shining through, too. Is that one of the messages, that hope should never be lost, despite all the gloom?
NIILE: In some of the songs, yes. It’s not hopeless doom and gloom all the way. There is some glimmer of hope in some songs. Like a glimmer of hope can be in the form like ‘Pale Morning Star’, in a dream, you can still meet your loved one who has died, and stuff like that. Sort of optimistic! [Laughs] But, yeah, you’re right.
MD: Are there any subjects that you would never touch because you perhaps deem them to be too dark, or are there no bounds to your melancholy, in a creative sense?
NIILE: Well, there is a certain kind of topic that fit with songs, I think. And then there are things that would not fit in songs… they would be dark and horrible things, but they just wouldn’t suit us. There are many things we would not write a song about.
MD: So you never want to go too dark.
NIILE: No. There has to be a sort of romanticism or mystery left in what we do. There are topics that I wouldn’t touch.