INSOMNIUM – Tales Of Sadness And Sorrow
October 13, 2019, a month ago
“It turned out to be much better than we thought,” remembers Insomnium bassist/vocalist Niilo Sevänen about the band’s first demo, released 20 years ago. “We were in high school, I was 19 when we did the demo. The other guys were younger and that was just like the dream come true that you could actually make your own demo; and it was a time when people were shifting from making cassette demos to making actual CD demos and that it was already a CD felt super awesome. We had very little experience about working in a studio and it was the first time I ever recorded my vocals so we really had no idea what to expect and were really happy with the outcome.”
Fast-forward to today and the Finnish melodic death metallers are digging the holes for all the poor souls with their eighth album, Heart Like A Grave, released October 4th via Century Media Records. Following up the adventurous and bold one-song 2016 album, Winter’s Gate, Sevänen knew the band wanted to do something more conventional this time around.
“Winter’s Gate was a very successful album despite of the fact it looked like commercial suicide in the beginning, like just to make a one song album,” he laughs. “Everybody liked the album, liked it a lot and I think the media was very enthusiastic about it. Our profile got bigger and we got bigger, but we took no pressure from that. We just started making music and I think we only agreed, let’s make a more normal album. Everybody start making songs and then at some point we’ll start to look at what we have in our hands.”
In their hands is an album which deals with some very depressing concepts, writing about the most sorrowful tales from their native Finland. The inspiration was taken from this contest a Finnish newspaper was holding; asking readers to vote for the most sorrowful Finnish song.
Sevänen delves further, “The top 10 of that was really, really bleak, really sad stories. It shows the kind of mentality Finnish songs have. That was kind of the starting point and these are really old songs, not metal songs or rock songs at all. These are folk songs, popular classic, Finnish songs. For example, the song that was voted as the number one most saddest song, we actually took the story on the album and it’s track number five ‘And Bells They Toll.’ So we kind of took that story and then wrote like a new version of that story. It’s a really old, folk traditional song. It’s not even credited to anybody. There are other songs on the album that are inspired by the same themes and are like a combination of couple of different songs or ideas.”
Distilling this pure sadness to the listeners, Sevänen summarizes these themes with a bit of humor in his voice, “Summer is so short and the frost will keep you inside the house and even your soul will freeze and your wife left and your brother died and the harvest is dead already and everything is so ruined and you are just old and you just remember the golden days of youth with a heart like a grave, and that kind of Finnish stuff.”
Is this a Finnish culture thing? Are they naturally drawn to the dismal and melancholy side of life?
Sevänen brings clarity to this, “It is a very Finnish thing. Probably our most popular Christmas song; it’s basically a tale about this little girl who on a Christmas morning, she sees a sparrow in the snow, like freezing to death. And then she realizes that it’s actually the soul of his little brother who died last year, like really horribly, horribly sad song. People like to sing it with tears in their eyes.” He concludes with a laugh remarking, “I don’t know what’s wrong with our national psyche but it’s very, very sad stuff, but still we are voted as the happiest country in the world, which doesn’t make a lot of sense! Maybe it’s some kind of outlet that we like sad music so we can let the negative feelings out and then we can be happier.”
While Heart Like A Grave beckons the notion of a ending of some sort, the album marks a new beginning for the mournful metallers with the addition of third guitarist and former Sonata Arctica axman, Jani Liimatainen. Liimatainen has actually been touring with the band for a few years as Ville Friman’s work commitments make touring a challenge.
“It was easy to ask Jani to join the band permanently. He’s a great guy and amazing musician,” enthuses Sevänen. “He can sing and he can play and he can write songs; just a very skillful dude. He has a big impact on this album. I think he has been credited as a composer on three songs, like ‘Mute Is My Sorrow’ is totally his. He partly composed ‘Neverlast’ and ‘Twilight Trails’ and he’s had a big part in arranging all the songs.
Through the one hour journey of Heart Like A Grave, there are all the trademarks of Insomnium’s sound, but then there’s an interesting synth-based instrumental, “Karelia”, that concludes the record. A Sevänen composition, he explains the song was originally even more synth induced, before the final version was recorded.
“The original demo was named like ‘Karelia Blade Runner,’” he reveals. “It was even more synth-wave or ‘80s synth stuff in there. As a bonus track, on the limited version we have this ‘Karelia 2049’ version, which is totally only synth version. It’s something different, like really like atmospheric, sorrowful kind of. It could be a movie soundtrack almost.”
Another standout cut to the rugged vocalist is the black metal like “Pale Morning Star”.
“It’s almost like Winter’s Gate, but in a smaller size,” he contends. “It kind of has the same elements that Winter’s Gate had, but in a more compressed form. Some of these almost black metal elements are here and there, but also like a lot of really moody stuff like acoustic guitars, like long interludes and songs evolving and going to places and it’s not a traditional pop song and it doesn’t follow any clear structure. It just goes to a different kind of adventure or a journey.”
Before letting him go, I asked whether Insomnium had any preliminary plans to celebrate their debut, In The Halls Of Awaiting, which turns 20 in 2002.
“Not yet,” he affirms. “Of course as we are this old, and we have released almost eight albums soon, so there will be these anniversaries every year. I’m sure we’ll do some special shows or tours with them, but we haven’t yet talked about doing In The Halls Of Awaiting. There’s a lot of stuff that we haven’t played in a long, long, time. It would be interesting and of course some diehard, old fans would love to see it.”
(Photo - Vesa Ranta)