"The most exotic (for us) places, where we had watchers, were definitely Uganda and New Zealand. Metsatöll has not yet managed to perform there, but maybe we should!?"
Metsatöll, arguably the most successful metal band from Estonia performed a concert on 20th March 2020 with a unique twist, there were no concert goers... at least physically. The band played a concert to people all over the world by streaming their set through Facebook and YouTube with only the band, tech and venue team in attendance.
What a surreal experience that must have been and yet the band that celebrates 21 years this year, certainly felt taken aback by the overwhelming response they had, even if a vast swathe of viewers do not speak or understand an inch of Estonian; the band sings in their mother tongue. Irrespective of the language barrier, the band gave it their all in what could be described as an event that they ironically hope never happens again, that is, playing a concert to no one physically present because of a global pandemic.
Both lead vocalist / rhythm guitarist Markus "Rabapagan" Teeäär and vocalist / guitarist / instrumentalist Lauri "Varulven" Õunapuu spoke to GMA about the concert, the challenges for non-Estonian speakers in singing to their songs, their quarantine and end of year plans.
Hi guys, firstly it's a tough time for all of us with COVID-19 savaging the world and so how are Metsatoll keeping in touch with each other?
"I live in a really separate country house in the middle of nowhere, a four-hour drive from the others, so there really aren't many opportunities to meet with the band. However, given the current situation, it is not a very wise thing to meet someone at all. Of course, if there are issues to discuss, we will contact using all sorts of 21st century tools.
And to be honest, communicating with the rest of the band over the Internet seems to be one of the few possibilities of communication for several more months. Because at the moment organizers are starting already to cancel festivals and concerts, that were supposed to take place at the beginning of the summer. For a freelance musician, it's a hit below the belt - even during the war, the musician has a job, but now..."
"The internet does wonders these days. So we keep in touch every day. But that internet concert gave us a little boost and we are thinking what to do next."
Are you generating new ideas from your own homes whilst the lockdown in Estonia carries on? What are your restrictions?
"Restrictions are pretty strong and I'm happy that our people take it seriously for a few weeks. We hope that things will get better. Until then we make new ideas and things from our homes. You can record a riff or melody and send it to others. Somehow we deal with music everyday."
"As it is currently forbidden for more than two people who are not related to each other to meet in Estonia, it is, of course, difficult to rehearse. But a musician never rests, of course you have to write music and lyrics, not just for Metsatöll. Just play music, give music lessons over the internet, compose. Record demos, think through your friends' musical ideas, and give advice when needed. It is also possible to dig out your own old demo recordings and listen again, recompose, rewrite new words, etc .. There is always something to sow for yourself in the wide field of the music."
You played a live stream over Facebook last week, what was the reception like? Where were your most views and obscurest (country wise) views from?
"The reception was very good. Although we might have hoped for a little more audience. Because, look, the total number of views on YouTube and Facebook is currently about 80,000. However, calculating the number of minutes viewed, and figure over the Facebook and YouTube calculation widgets, the actual number of viewers may be around 10,000.
The Metsatöll concert was watched in about 30 countries. The reason I say "about" is because we still have countries in the world where Facebook and YouTube are banned and these channels are explored through other countries' VPN. The most exotic (for us) places, where we had watchers, were definitely Uganda and New Zealand. Metsatöll has not yet managed to perform there, but maybe we should !?"
The event itself must have been a surreal experience playing to an almost empty hall; technicians and venue staff aside?
"For me the experience was exactly like a real concert. I was nervous and I went to feeling all alright. Maybe because the RGB team and our own crew are so professional, I didn't feel any difference. It was 100% LIVE so LIVE will always be LIVE for me. I think we all felt that."
Arguably Metsatoll is Estonia's most successful metal band, what bands are following your footsteps in terms of getting international attention?
"In fact, there are quite a few bands around the world that tour and give dozens of concerts a year. Compared to the total number of bands. In this sense, it could be remarkable that in one small country there could be, for example, ten touring bands. But of course there are good new musicians coming up who want to play all over the world. For example, a trio of my good friends: “Trad Attack” - it would be worthwhile for every Estonian ensemble to learn from them something in terms of production and organization. At the moment, however, it still seems that many good technical crew members from Estonia are touring the world a lot more than different Estonian bands."
Given your songs are in Estonian, have you got any tips for those who want to sing along to your songs; seeing as some letters are unique to the Estonian language?
"Õ, õ is really cool letter. Now Lauri can talk about it about thousand words. Lauri?"
"In fact, as far as the 'Õ' letter is concerned, it can be said that there is more than one 'Õ' letter in the spoken language in Estonia. In southern Estonia at least two, different similar sounds in Western Estonia on the Islands, even more. Even an ordinary Estonian does not know exactly how different vowels are pronounced in different counties. Therefore, of course, it is difficult to give a foreigner some hints to start with. Language learning usually starts with learning the spoken language, imitating someone or something.
I think it would be a good start for a Metsatöll listener to learn some of our songs by listening. And then send it to us. Probably all of us, after a short pause of laughter, will send our own instructions on how to move on with your life later, without having to think much about Estonia. Of course, this is not very easy, because, not joking - in Seattle, for example, it is possible to study Estonian culture and language freely at the University of Washington - our culture has drilled so deep into different parts of the world that the drill has long since jammed."
What sights / attractions could you recommend to metalheads visiting Tallinn?; under normal circumstances*
"The Old Town is very beautiful with its architecture and all kinds of bars and pubs. But If you have time go outside Tallinn. There is something historic to discover everywhere in our country."
"I would not recommend Tallinn. Come to the country, breathe fresh air, go to the sauna."
What plans do you have for the rest of 2020 (all things considered) and do you have any greetings you wish to send out?
"We still dont know what 2020 brings but we wanna send best regards to our listeners! We are lucky to have you and we feel your support! Thank you so much! Aitäh! Stay healthy!
Or even METAL HEALTHY!"
Emphasis are not holding back nor are they slowing down, the Estonian Progressive / Symphonic Power Metallers have signed a deal with Japanese label Red Rivet Records. Thus giving the band the momentum to reach deep into the Asian market and help expose not only their music, but the rich vibrant sounds the Estonian Metal scene has to offer. It has been two years since the sextet dropped their debut album "Revival" and now they're revelling in their latest offering "Soul Transfer", deviating away from the structural guidelines laid before them in search of a truly inspirational sound for the album as the band go on to explain... it did not happen by sheer accident.
How does it feel to release your second album 'Soul Transfer'; especially on Japanese label Red Rivet Records? Where does this place itself in terms of the band's history and the wider Estonian Metal scene?
"Estonia is a small country and our metal scene is very small as well. Actually, there's only one metal label – Nailboard Records. Many years ago they signed bands, but now they work more as a distribution company. So it means that we have no choice and it's pretty common that Estonian artists sign deals with foreign labels. So, as you know, our previous album was released on the Italian label "Underground Symphony". This time we sent our record to a list of labels over the world and we were happy to get positive feedback from Japan. Red Rivet Records offered us reasonable conditions and we're still happy about our co-operation. And yes, for us every action and step forward is kind of achievement."
Regarding the 'Soul Transfer' track-list, could you explain the meaning behind the percentages?; Assuming it ties in with the album title?
"Soul Transfer is a concept album, an entire complete original story where the order of the compositions are arranged in a certain meaningful sequence. All the tracks are combined through smooth transitions or short instrumental sketches, which underlines and complements the full picture of the idea. In order to understand what we wanted to convey to the listener, you need to listen to the disc from start to finish in one session: from zero to one hundred percent with a total duration of 73 minutes. So, in the album, three main lines are closely intertwined: the inner world of feelings and memories of the character, the world of virtual reality created by a super computer, and the real material non-industrial world and its society, manipulated by gadgets and social media.
Using non-tradtional metal instruments can sometimes be considered unorthodox (in this case a saxophone and trumpet). What gave you the inspiration to include said instruments? How was it working with Raul Sööt and Allan Järve? Can we call the album 'Avant-Garde' or 'Progressive Jazz Metal'?
"I expected such a question... creating music for "Soul Transfer", initially I did not think about jazz instruments, as well as about violins. The album was at the stage of mixing... there were a lot of instrumental parties and it did not sound boring. But one evening, when the light at the end of the tunnel was already close, I went to the shower. Standing under the hot water, I thought: damn! I want to add something else, why not the jazz sounds? After two beers I opened my computer, sketched out my ideas, and messaged one saxophonist. In the morning I got a negative answer from him. I was quite mad and decided to make a last effort. I wrote a message to one of the best musicians in Estonia - my former harmony teacher and tenor saxophonist Raul Sööt. Next morning he answered me that it will be interesting for him to take a part in this project.
After that I was thinking about trumpet. Then I messaged to Allan Järve, who was my friend at the Viljandi Academy of Culture. He quickly came to my studio and we recorded a trumpet for two tracks in an hour. Raul Sööt took the task very responsibly. He recorded his parts at the studio with Cristo Cotkas, there were several sessions. When I mixed the album, including their parts, I realized that this is exactly what I would like to hear in the end. The other members of the Emphasis were shocked. They listened to the songs several times and said that it sounds cool, albeit unusual. Avant-garde it or not – let the reviewers to decide :) But for me this record is exactly what I always wanted to record, even at those times, when in our group were only three members - me, Katya and Vsevolod. Ten years passed and we did it! I want to say a big thank you to all the musicians who shared this work with us - Raul Sööt, Allan Jarve, my friend from Moscow - Oleg Lutskevich, and also my colleague Julia Mets and my student Alexander Smirnov."
Assuming there will be a tour to support the new album, are there any countries you would want to target? Will there be a music video released in support?
"Currently, we don't plan any tour activities. Our album release party took place in Rockstar's club in Tallinn on April 14. The most of the songs we played for the really first time in our lives and we really enjoyed that! The crowd was amazing. We decided to focus on promotional stuff. Yes, we have some great plans about music video .. but let's see! :)"
For metal fans travelling to Tallinn and wider Estonia, what sights / attractions could you recommend seeing?
"Rockstar's club – the oldest rock club in town, actually! Hard Rock Laager Open Air, of course. If you want to discover more, I totally recommend you to visit Narva, home town of three of our musicians, and got Art Club "Ro-Ro“. Believe me, there's really special atmosphere :)"
What plans does the band have for the rest of the year that have not already been indicated earlier?
"We are planning to open our online-shop, finally! There you can find our musical stuff and some really cool merchandise. As Anna said, we also have some plans about music video, but.... now we're not ready to discuss it. However, GMA will be the first source who'll get a link ;)"
Anna (vocals): "In autumn, we plan to play more shows. This spring was really hard for us!"
Max (guitars): "And we also plan to continue with the new material."
Pavel (guitars): "... 3,5 of the songs done :D"
Are there any greetings you wish to send out to fans, friends, family, etc?
All: "We wish you to visit more live shows and support local underground scene!"