"Heavy Metal is still very very popular in Finland and every time a metal band brings out an album, it's always in the top 10 chart over here."
Ensiferum celebrate 25 years in 2020 and have just recently released their 8th studio album "Thalassic"; which in itself marks as a first as the band's first themed album. Sadly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as with all forms of entertainment and art, Ensiferum's plans have been put on hold or cancelled, sure they managed to do a live stream show, but the anniversary celebrations may have to wait until next year, that's if they do it. Stepping up to speak to GMA was vocalist / guitarist Petri Lindroos, he survived our interrogation as he confessed his passion for vinyl, his sorrow at the depletion of venues in Helsinki, his excitement at the new album being released and his nostalgia for the pastimes or indeed things he grew up with, that is as said vinyl, but also cassettes, CD's and going into a record store and being able to listen to a record before purchasing the item(s).
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, how did you celebrate your new album "Thalassic" and your 25th anniversary as a band?
"That is an excellent question, well we did a live stream show and this was really the only form of celebration that we can pull off this year [Ensiferum had some shows planned prior to the COVID-19 pandemic]."
What in your opinion are the main factors that have made Ensiferum retain solidarity over the years?
"Well I would say we get along really well, our chemistry matches really well, we have a good crew that takes care of us on the road and stuff, we all still love and enjoy the things that we are doing - writing music, recording albums, going on the road and performing them."
You released the single "Rum, Women, Victory" prior to the "Thalassic" album release, what was the reception like and what can you tell us about the single? What does the word "Thalassic" mean?
"We received very positive feedback from it and for great reason as it's a killer track, we really love that track, it was a very good choice for our first single from the album. It's a nice starting point for the album, it gets your feet moving and head banging very nicely, even if it's a very metal-ish song from the Ensiferum repertoire, it's a very guitar-driven song and is definitely one of my favourites.
Thalassic means 'relating to the ocean and water', so it's not actually pinpointing anything specific but like water-related, ocean-related, this is the first ever themed album by Ensiferum, so this was a new approach for us - our bassist Sami Hinkka came up with this idea a couple of years ago and has been working every now and then until we started to actually form album material. He did a lot of research in historical events, ocean-related myths and things like that, so he is very much responsible for the whole theme actually."
Talk us through the "Thalassic" creation process from start to finish, was there any challenges you had to overcome?"
"Well the recording took around 5 weeks, and then it was mixed and mastered in 2 weeks by Jens Bogren in Sweden. Basically our style of writing music is really really slow, our guy Markus Toivonen one of Ensiferum's founding members brings across the ideas that he has, puts it down at the rehearsal place and plays around with them... we try all of the ideas including the crazy ones before we nail anything down, this takes a while as things change a lot and then when we were ready to hit the studio, we done it and then the final touches actually happen on-the-fly in the studio whilst we are recording."
Could you tell us what the track 'Cold Northland (Väinämöinen Part III)' means?
"Well the song is the 3rd part of the 'Väinämöinen' trilogy of what has been in existence with Ensiferum for a long time, since the first album... we also wanted to add a little bit of old school Ensfierum vibe into that song and I thought we pulled it off pretty nicely; you can hear that it's completely new but still has a lot of the old Ensiferum elements in it."
Most albums tend to have some songs that never make the final cut, did this happen with "Thalassic"?
"Actually nope, we have almost never had any leftover songs that does not fit into the album, we basically worked the material already and when it's almost ready to be recorded we start to figure out things for the studio; basically we don't ever have leftovers."
Therefore it keeps things tidy and not open for reflection in the context of what songs should have not been left out right?
"Absolutely! Then there is no questions of 'what if', what if this song should have changed to this one and why it didn't make it into the album, things like that, but also saves us getting a headache with that."
Do you have any funny stories to share through your touring experience?
"A lot of cool stuff has happened, it's usually in the middle of the night when people are drunk, when you're just coming out from a show and gear is packed up from the venue and loaded into the bus, ready to head to the next venue. All the funny things between the night and following morning, I cannot pull out any significantly funny moments out of my back pocket like that."
What are your thoughts on "Thalassic" being out on vinyl, was vinyl something you were used to growing up?
"It's very nice to see the album out on vinyl, actually I think that all of our albums are now pretty much on vinyl, even the first one, so the whole catalogue is out. I think that is just wonderful, I don't use Spotfiy at all basically, I just don't like to use Spotify. When I am at home, I listen to vinyls and have CD's, I also have a CD / cassette player attached to my stereo system which I also find very cool. I was listening to a mix-tape I made somewhere in the early 90's and was pretty surprising stuff what came out then, because the title just said 'Power Metal'.
When I was a child, we had this very old stereo system at home with an analogue radio, I think there was even a double cassette / CD player and vinyl player, so yeah there was vinyls back in the days when I was growing up. I actually bought myself a vinyl player a few years back and have started collecting vinyls now, I really do enjoy listening to vinyls, it feels very good."
Of course there are people who prefer digital and others like yourself preferring physical, do you feel at some point there will be a common ground?
"Yeah of course, I also have all of my music stored on my iPad, so of course the convenience of having all of your music on your little iPad or mobile phone, or you store it to the cloud so you can basically listen to it anywhere in time; that one comes to mind when I am travelling. I don't think it's that handy to be travelling with a vinyl player, amplifier and two huge speakers to pump music out you know? Travelling with dozens of vinyls could be tricky... so I think there are good and bad sides for both in a way, but I guess the older people from the 80's & 90's prefer the physical copy of the album in whatever format, that they can hold it in their hands.
But the new generation who have been growing up alongside this digital technology, they will appreciate it a lot more just to have it as a download in mp3 version or whatever it is on their mobile phones, etc.
In a way it is also nice that you can listen an album or at least parts of it online before you purchase them, back in the days you could just go to the record store, pick up an album and take it to the guy at the counter who would hand you over headphones so you could listen to it there, now you can do this at home or wherever you are, sitting on a bus, train, you name it... you can listen to so much music now in an easier way with this digital technology."
Some bands are not fussed about genre tagging and some are, where does Ensiferum sit in this?
"That is a very good question because I think it also depends on who you ask, we have a lot of songs that take influences from many different metal styles, it's hard to pick one specific genre and apply us to it, but we have these Pagan and Viking metal elements alongside Folk Metal... I think we are a part of all of those genres somehow, but we still do consider ourselves a Heavy Metal band which has folk influences in it."
With that in mind, given how distinguishable Finnish folk music is, how would you describe it, how does it differentiate from other folk music?
"That is a really good question actually, well to me when I listen to the Finnish bands from this genre, they all sound very different to each other, but they are easy to recognise - they have this 'Finnish' sound and touch on the music. If you listen to Turisas, they have very much got their own sound in contrast to say Finntroll who have a totally different sound, to me there is a lot of common factors with these two bands - for example, that they come from Finland."
Speaking of which, given how global metal music is with bands from Botswana, Syria, etc., what are your thoughts on the genre's universal appeal?
"Heavy Metal is very universal, that is something I can say. Every place that we have played at has had metalheads there no matter where it is. But these countries definitely have Heavy Metal bands from there, just that we over here in Europe or the USA haven't actually noticed them somehow, that's perhaps the trickiest part - I don't know that many bands though I have seen it on Facebook here and there, that there are metal bands coming from the Middle East and have been taking a listen and are like 'oh, this sounds very cool, why not'."
With respect to not just upcoming Finnish bands, but upcoming bands worldwide, what is the biggest bit of advice you could offer?
"Well first of all play the music that you want to play, play from the heart, never give up; it's a hard and rocky road, with COVID-19 obviously it's not easy for anybody. Just keep on doing what you do and believe in it."
For Metalheads visiting Helsinki, surely there are a lot of venues and so what venues have you most enjoyed performing at? What more can be done to support grass-root venues?
"Well unfortunately there was 3 venues that have just closed in Helsinki permanently, these 3 venues went down within a period of around 6 months. One of those venues was also working as a rehearsal room for dozens of bands, was knocked down and demolished and from what I know, office buildings will be built in it's space. This venue is actually looking for new premises to continue their work, hopefully they can find some.
The 2nd one which was called Virgin Oil is being converted into a hotel, so that one is gone and The Circus in down-town Helsinki is also being converted into an office building. So 3 major venues are gone from Helsinki, but we still have the classic Tavastia club - I guess this one will never go away, it's been there since roughly the 60's / 70's, a very long time. Then there are a couple of new ones popping up here and there, I haven't been to those ones so I don't know how they look and sound from inside, but hopefully we will get some new venues to replace the ones that we have lost so far.
I have seen many shows in these venues and seeing them go really sucks, the local crews from these venues have lost their jobs - both of which are very sad situations.
That's an excellent question, well I think a lot could be done to make this venue situation a lot better... I don't know, it's so much out of my field of knowledge and know-how to know how these things could actually work in being somewhat successful."
For Metalheads visiting Helsinki, what sights / attractions could you recommend, is metal still as popular in Finland?
"There are museums and a fair good number of record shops to visit just around the city centre, so I definitely recommend looking those ones up, they have very nice selections and great staff, decent prices too - so check them out and support the record shops. There used to be a lot of metal bars in Helsinki, but I am not sure if we have one left, that was one of the good things about Helsinki, a long time ago though.
Heavy Metal is still very very popular in Finland and every time a metal band brings out an album, it's always in the top 10 chart over here."
"Slovenia is such a tiny country you could visit several places in one day, from the seaside to the mountains."
Marax are a Symphonic Black Metal band from Slovenia whose lyrics revolve around Satanism... now to most metalheads the response will be 'not another Dimmu Borgir surely?' Well to answer this in the most cliche of responses, no they are not, they are their own sound and own style... probably what makes Slovenian Black Metal so unique, so much so Marax could not even explain why this is and thus just confirms that there clearly is something special about the said geographical variation of said genre. They have managed to deliver their debut album "The Witch" even in these dark times with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc worldwide. Here they talk to GMA about the album, the Europe-wide reception, the Slovenian Metal scene and why (as said) it's hard to explain why Slovenian Black Metal is different to other geographical variations of Black Metal.
For those who have not heard of Marax, could you give us a brief history of the band? What does the band name mean?
"The band was founded in the winter of 2017 by guitarist Nord Slayer (Cordura, Cvinger, Cursed Be Thy Flesh), drummer Morgoth (Cordura, Cvinger, Kholn, Cursed Be Thy Flesh) and vocalist Anin Astaroth (Morana) to play extreme, symphonic black metal. They joined forces with violinist Žica for the first two EP's ("The Abyss Of Illusions" in 2018 and "Dance Within The Flames Of Burning Fire" in 2019). In late 2019, violinist Mors Violinis joined the band, and in April 2020 we released our first full-length album "The Witch". The name designates the daemon Marax (also known as Morax, Forfax or even Ma’at), who is, generally, the daemon of justice."
Symphonic Black Metal is such an overloaded genre, with that in mind how would you describe your sound without the use of genre tagging?
"We aim to compose and perform extreme metal music. The sound of the violin (or, in the future, of various bowed string instruments) is always present, as well as some symphonic elements. Otherwise, we are pretty open in style, there are usually some more death metal elements in our songs, and we create what we feel."
Regarding your debut album "The Witch", what was the reception like? Has anyone outside of Slovenia bought the album; any surprising places?
"In fact, even more people bought the album throughout the Europe (compared to Slovenia). For the digital format we cannot know exactly."
Talk us through the making of the album from the production to mixing and mastering, the whole process.
"For the latest album, "The Witch", Nord Slayer first composed all the songs, at least the foundations. He wrote and recorded the parts for the guitars, the bass and the keyboards. Next, Morgoth composed and recorded the drums, then Mors Violinis composed and recorded the violin parts. Lastly, Anin Astaroth wrote the lyrics and recorded the vocals. For some songs, the backing vocals were recorded by Anin Astaroth and Nord Slayer, as well as some additional “instruments”. Everything was recorded, mixed and mastered in Studio Toplica by Nord Slayer and Morgoth."
Slovenia seems to have a rather strong Black Metal (and related metal) scene, what is it that makes Slovenian Black Metal strong?
"The answer to this question is much more complex than we could explain here. We think it could, on one hand, be do to with the nature here, or on the other hand, with the historical background."
On a broader note what challenges do Slovenian Metal bands tend to face these days? (ignoring COVID-19)
"Probably it is relatively poor concert attendance, but still, it’s not so bad. There are approximately two million people in Slovenia, a minority of which are metalheads. In fact, there are a relatively large number of bands compared to the audience sometimes. But we don’t want to complain; as soon as this crisis is over, we cannot wait to perform again."
For metalheads visiting Savinjska Dolina, what sights / attractions and bars / venues could you recommend?
"Firstly, the members of Marax are not from this region only (contrary to what the internet says). They are from the mentioned valleys (the towns of Velenje and Šoštanj) and from Kranj and Ljubljana. In the surroundings of every town mentioned you could just encounter nature, there are some forests, lakes, mountains etc. Slovenia is such a tiny country you could visit several places in one day, from the seaside to the mountains. In the valley of Savinjska Dolina, you could visit venues like MC Šoštanj or any bar actually. In Kranj, the most “metal” or alternative venue is Trainstation Squat Subart, and in Ljubljana there are several places like Orto bar, Metelkova or Kino Šiška where the concerts are held."
Do you have any thanks or greetings you wish to send to friends, family or fans?
"Greetings to everyone who reads this! Keep supporting extreme metal \m/"
"Bands from the same regions try to stick together to organise gigs and we support each other as much as we can."
Mention the genre Metalcore and usually people will bring up bands from the USA, the UK and to an extent Australia... mostly because they tend to dominate the touring circuit. However if you look under the coveted swathe of stadium bands i.e. of the Asking Alexandria, Killswitch Engage and Parkway Drive, then you'll find a plethora of Metalcore bands from most of the known metal scenes. Emerging out of the Polish metal scene is Winds Brought Siberia who arguably have been causing a bit of a national stir, there is no doubt when things calm down (post COVID-19) we will see this quintet develop plans to play across Europe.
They went on to explain that they are not just a run-of-the-mill Metalcore band and certainly are not just another product off of the factory line. They told GMA about their origins, how their sound dabbles in global sounds, why it's hard for bands in Poland to gain a relative national following and that success tends to rely on being internationally known and of course, what there is to do in their home city of Poznań.
For those who have not heard of Winds Brought Siberia, could you please give us a brief history of the band?
"Winds Brought Siberia is a Polish project that began in 2016. Since the very beginning we wanted to bring something that's full of emotions and allows us to share our feelings and thoughts with as many people as possible. In December 2019 we released our first EP “Consolation”, which features 5 songs that describe and respond to some of the problems and various situations we face nowadays all over the world. It is our voice, a word that we want to spread through people and raise awareness and touch their hearts and souls."
You play Post-Hardcore / Metalcore; describe your sound without using the genres, how do you make yourself different from other bands in these genres?
"We are a mix of people with various interests, and we take inspirations from every part of life. From the very beginning we wanted to not shut ourselves in the box of a single genre and deliver our music from our hearts. We also listen to music from all over the world, and every one of us have different favourite styles and genres, so you can hear sounds from all over the world in our songs. Sometimes we are more “post” and sometimes we are more “black”."
What is the Metalcore / Post-Hardcore scene like in Poland? Are there many bands?
"The Metalcore / Post-Hardcore scene in our country is fairly big. We have some recognizable bands e.g. Frontside (whose vocalist is a guest on one of our songs), who are one of the pioneers of these genres here, but it’s hard to achieve a local-iconic level like they did. There are also a lot of smaller bands and every month people form new ones, so the scene is developing right now."
What has the band been doing at home during the pandemic? What other hobbies / interests do you all have?
"Most of us have the privilege to work and learn from home, but in our free time we spoke, planned and worked on the future of the band, social media and new material that we want to release next. As of the hobbies we are mostly ordinary dudes, so our activities involve video-games, books, listening to music, learning new stuff like vlogging and photography, some sports and of course practising instruments."
What are the challenges that most Polish Metal bands face these days (ignoring COVID-19)? Is there established media in Poland?
"Not really. We have Facebook fan pages and groups, auditions at small local radios but nothing widespread - this may be one of the challenges we have to face. There is no specific channel for spreading metal music. We also have a feeling that attendance at concerts is also dropping. As there’s a lot of new bands that are in our country it’s getting harder to get recognized and being original, but we think that our strongest side is spreading emotions through our music."
Tell us more about the Polish Metal scene, when did metal arrive in Poland? What is the public opinion of metal?
"It’s hard to tell how old Polish metal is - from the information we could gather it began in the late 70's with the bands KAT and TSA; who don’t have much in common with modern metal. We suppose that metal as a genre is not very popular in Poland. Although we have some big metal stars like Vader, Behemoth, Decapitated or recently Mgła and Batushka - they are more popular abroad - the percentage of active metalheads in Poland is still very low.
Young Polish bands are also very promising but we lack support from the local environment, unfortunately local shows do not overflow with audience. Still, we cannot say that we don’t have support. Bands from the same regions try to stick together to organise gigs and we support each other as much as we can. For most of us it's a very expensive hobby we enjoy doing and people closest to us are always there."
For metalheads visiting Poznań, what sights / attractions and bars / venues could you recommend?
"There’s a lot of great places to see in Poznań. As a band we probably played in all of the venues that are in this town and all we can say is that they’re great. U Bazyla and Pod Minogą are probably the most known and were visited by a whole lot of foreign musicians. When it comes to places not strictly linked to metal music, Poznań is a town full of great pubs, bars and clubs, all of them have their own unique climate and atmosphere. Basically it’s a place that makes almost everybody feel good and acclimatized. It’s clearly visible that we as a band are very connected to our city as we use our “slogan” - Greater Poland Metalcore (Greater Poland is a Polish voivodeship and Poznań is its capital)."
Do you have any thanks or greetings you wish to send to friends, family or fans?
"For sure! We are grateful to people that helped us shape our music tastes and skills (as individuals and as a band). We would like to thank our friends as they are always at concerts in the first row. Also fans and people who discovered us and appreciate what we do. There are too many to count: but we thank you all! :)."