"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."