A band composed of collaborative writers, excellent arrangers, and fantastic musicians, titan Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum recently treated the world to it’s latest release, One Man Army. In 2015, the band celebrated 20 years together, partially with the release of One Man Army, their critically-acclaimed release for Metal Blade Records. After the band’s European tour, Iris spoke briefly with Petri Lindroos about the band, their latest release, and their thoughts on music in general. (As a bonus, Petri educated Iris on the difference between Finnish “humppa” music and American “country” music, which gloriously opened a whole new genre-door for exploration!)
I see the terms “folk metal” and “pagan metal” being used to label Ensiferum. What do those labels mean to you, and are they accurate? What do you feel are the “core elements” of your sound?
Well I think the term “Folk Metal” fits the best for us, since that’s the thing that got Ensiferum started in the first place – a long time ago – and all those elements are still heard in our music. The core comes from our main songwriter Markus‘s hands, and we then all give our input on top of that, to make us sound like we do today.
Congratulations on your new record deal! Here we thought record labels were all dying. It’s nice that some are not. When you signed with Metal Blade, what were, and are, you looking for from the label?
Thank you very much. Record labels are very important, and we can just hope that the larger crowd will figure that out too, the sooner the better. What we were looking for when searching for a new label were stability, and a longer history in this scene. Metal Blade made the best offer, so we jumped on their train, and so far it’s been a great ride. These guys are very good at what they do, have a lot of love for the industry, and are highly motivated: those were also the main things what we wanted to see.
What inspired One Man Army, musically speaking? Were you guys listening to a lot of diverse stuff?
Motivation was not that hard to find, because all of us wanted to make a killer album after the Unsung Heroes album, which was a bit different. We all listen to a lot of other music than metal, too, so pointing out exactly where influence comes from is really difficult.
Production-wise, what did you do differently for One Man Army? It seems like it might be a “polarizing” album, in that some people seem to adore it, and other fans do not. Did the “as analog as possible” idea help?
Yeah, going back to analog was really great, and we do think that it helped a lot. It gave the sound what we wanted to have. Our producer/recorder, Mr. Anssi Kippo, participated during the recordings quite a bit, with final adjustments that made this album sound like it does.
Could you talk a little bit about your current songwriting and lyric-writing process? How much time did you take to write the songs and lyrics for One Man Army?
Time-wise, it took over a year to get it all done, before entering the studio. Markus brings over the ideas he has to the rehearsal room, and from there, we all start to work with them. Sometimes it goes quickly to get a song done, but mostly it takes a long time.
Do you re-work older riff or song ideas into new tunes? Or do you like to start with a “blank slate”, so to speak?
Sometimes we do use old ideas as they are, or modify them to fit the song better. This time, we started from blank slate, so it also gave a fresh start to us.
The “folky” metal theme is progressive and fresh; it moves forward. What do you think it’s going to take, to innovate within the genre?
When you can keep your music interesting to yourself, and to know what you want to do, and be able to stand behind your music, I think that is the most important thing when making music.
You’ve incorporated some pretty “risky” (and cool) elements. The American “Country & Western” music element (in “Neito Pohjolan” / “Candor and Lies”) is something that would have terrified me back in 1990. Where does your music “comfort zone” end, and are you pushing your own boundary limit here?
Well, actually, that is Finnish humppa – not American Country & Western – just making sure you know!
So far, I don’t think we even have any limit when composing new songs. That is good, because so many bands are stuck in their ways, and can’t reach out that much nowadays.
Is there a taboo to adapting folk songs “away from folk”? It would be really interesting to hear a band do adaptations of their country’s traditional hymns – but it seems to have been uncommonly explored ( ~ Eluveitie and Tyr seem like rare bands that will attempt it).
Maybe we will join that ‘group’ on the next album, and that sounds pretty interesting too.
I thought that your live version of “Rawhide” was hilarious. What inspired the band to cover that song?
Well, thank you. Our record label and management asked for cover songs, and we started to run out of time, so “Rawhide” came in as a perfect option. It’s short, and everyone knows it from the Blues Brothers movie. We didn’t have to work that hard to make it sound like an Ensiferum cover, and it turned out really well too.
Now that One Man Army is out (at least to the press, at this time), is there anything you think you should have added, or anything you think you should have left off? Would you repeat the “as analog as possible” production process?
I wouldn’t change anything on the album; it’s just the way we wanted to make it, and so it shall stay. And absolutely we would repeat the analog way of recording.
Your fans are constantly looking for your new material. What do you think of sites that can make your material available before it’s planned release date, or can make it available for free?
Obviously it is not good for this business at all, but there isn’t much what we can do about that either, so we just have to live with that. In the long run, that will be the thing what will destroy many bands and labels as well, so by buying the albums legally is the best way to keep this industry alive and well.
Europe fortunately has an entire summer season devoted mostly to festivals. Do you enjoy playing ‘the festival circuit’? What does a fest gig offer that “regular” touring might not?
Festival shows reach more people at one show than touring, so that way bands can get new fans. Playing festivals are a lot of fun for us: big stages and huge audiences to interact with, and also meeting up with friends in other bands.
You guys had a huge European tour booked. Other then that, do you have any special plans for this year, ‘live gig’ wise?
The European tour was really successful, and great in all. Our North American tour starts in L.A. on the 6th of May, with Korpiklaani and Trollfest, so that’s going to be a good one too. Summer is pretty full with festival shows.
Thank you so much for your time. I hope One Man Army does very well; it’s a great record.
You’re very welcome.
Here are a couple of “rockumentary” clips:
Sami Hinkka – Bass Guitar / Vocals
Petri Lindroos – Guitar / Vocals
Markus Toivonen – Guitar / Vocals
Janne Parviainen – Drums
Emmi Silvennoinen – Keyboards / Backing Vocals