By Andrew Bansal
Finnish folk metal heroes Ensiferum are set to release their fifth studio album “Unsung Heroes” on September 18th in North America, via Spinefarm Records. Over an hour long, this album offers more musically as compared to any of the band’s previous efforts, and the 10-track album ends with the 17-minute song “Passion, Proof, Power”, the longest track ever recorded by Ensiferum. Right now the band is on ‘The Bearers Of The Sword’ European tour, and have plans to tour other territories later on. Last week, I caught up with bassist Sami Hinkka to discuss various aspects of the album. Read the conversation below, check out the amazing new music video of the song “In My Sword I Trust” using the YouTube player, and visit Ensiferum’s facebook page for more info on the album and tour dates.
Firstly, your new album is coming out on September 18th in North America, and from what I’ve read about it so far, it’s been described as a cinematic experience. Do you agree with that? In what sense would you say it’s cinematic?
That’s a good question! The cinematic thing wasn’t really in our minds when we composed, or even when we recorded the album. It was actually something that we noticed after we read some of the first reviews which said that the album has a cinematic atmosphere. And we were like, ‘Oh shit, actually that’s true!’ May be it comes from the fact that for this album, we took much more time and were much wiser from the experience of the previous studio sessions. We were much wiser with the arrangement, and we cut down a lot of tracks compared to the “From Afar” album. So when there was a place for a good metal riff, we cut down on all the unnecessary tracks, and when there’s a beautiful folk part we cut down a lot of the metal elements. On the other hand, when there is a huge epic orchestral part we made room for that. So may be the fact that we cut down tracks, it kind of clarified the sound of the album much more. So may be that made it more cinematic in a way. But that really wasn’t intentional. The main goal was to have a more organic sound for the album, and we’re really happy with the sound.
I had some real people from history when I wrote the lyrics, but the more I wrote, the more I started thinking about that whole issue. I realized that history and even present day is full of people who are not getting recognition for what their doing. So they are kind of unsung heroes. We are surrounded by them. But I would rather not explain the lyrics too much, because I really like for every listener to find their own meaning from the lyrics. I think that’s what fits an artist in general. I think an artist shouldn’t explain his work too much, because there is no right or wrong interpretation. So if you are explaining too much then you are taking something away from the audience.
I agree! So, the album has already been out in Europe for a couple of weeks. What’s the reaction been like from the fans and the press over there?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, which was a kind of surprise for us (laughs). This is our fifth album already, and there is no point to keep repeating ourselves so we wanted to push the boundaries a little bit and find some new elements and new ways to express ourselves. So it turned out to be a pretty hard album for the listener. It’s a one-hour long album, and it’s not so easy. When you hear it for the first time, you might say, ‘What the fuck is happening?’ We’ve already done all the old power metal hit songs so many times (laughs), so we wanted to do something different. So we were really surprised with all the reviews, and 99 per cent of the feedback from fans has been overwhelmingly positive. I think that’s understandable. If you just keep repeating yourselves, you’re staying in one place all the time. It’s important for us as composers to try to challenge ourselves, and that’s what we want to do album after album. I’m sure the next album will be something different again. That’s just how we write music. May be next album will be R&B or reggae or hardcore punk (laughs).
Interestingly, you’ve done a 17-minute track called “Passion, Proof, Power” on this album. What was the composition of it like? Was it done in parts or in one session?
It was actually a really fun but challenging song to compose. When we started working on that, we had a few melodies and few riffs that we knew were going to go together, and that they are coming from the same mood. But it wasn’t intentional for the song to become so long. It was just natural. It just kept growing and growing, at some point we noticed, ‘Oh shit! We are already up to eight minutes and the song has barely started!’ (Laughs) It turned out to be a really good song. Many people say that it’s different compared to the traditional ideas of the 10-minute metal songs which have a lot of repeating going on. On “Passion, Proof, Power”, some say that there are more parts on this song than some bands have on a whole album. So there’s a lot going on over the 17 minutes, and it was quite a challenge to have the dynamic for the song. It’s interesting for the listener. I had the story in my head and the raw lyrics, but when we composed it, we had this idea to have this kind of atmosphere thing, like how some albums have an intro piece. But it fit the story of the lyrics so well that we just had to include it in this song. It came out really cool, specially when we got the help of the guys from Die Apokalyptischen Reiter. They did the German dialogue, and it was a pretty funny part to compose. Many fans would have been like, ‘What the fuck just happened? Why do I hear German on a Finnish band’s album?’ But that’s how we are. Even though we compose seriously, sometimes we just have to do crazy stuff. You don’t have to be dead serious about things.
Absolutely. Are you going to try playing this live in the upcoming shows?
Yeah, we could play it live. That’s no problem because when we recorded the album, as always we recorded the drums first, and then the whole band was playing together, so in a way it was like playing live, even though many of the bass lines are from drum sessions also. But anyway, yeah we could definitely play it live. That could be interesting.
You’ve said that you pushed the boundaries of your music with this album. Was that a natural thing that came about because of the progress you’ve made as a musician over your whole career?
Yes I think it’s really natural, at least for us. We want to evolve as a band, and also as individual musicians and as composers. We don’t want to keep making the same album over and over again. When you compose music, you have to do that for yourself. If you start thinking about what people expect you to make then you’ll end up making a big pile of shit, and when you’re playing that stuff live you can’t really give a 110 per cent if you haven’t given it everything you can while composing, and if you’re making songs because someone else is expecting you to do some kind of stuff. That’s not honest. So I think it’s only natural that you want to evolve, because everything changes anyway. We’re not the same persons we were three or four years ago when we recorded the previous album. So naturally the band evolves and takes a step ahead, or sideways, or on a banana leaf or something (laughs).
You mentioned the German dialogue. I think you also had some Finnish pop singer as guest musician. What was the reasoning behind that and how did you find working with him?
Yeah, we had many guest musicians on this album. We had the most legendary living actor and singer in Finland at the moment, Vesa-Matti Loiri. We were really happy to get him to say those few lines of a 100-plus year-old poem. We also had a soprano singer, and another lady who sings “Celestial Bond”, the beautiful ballad. And of course, the guys who played folk instruments. We are really privileged people to play with us, and everybody said that if there’s ever a chance for them to come and perform live, everybody is up to it. So that way, even playing “Passion, Proof, Power” completely live would be possible, and even the people who did the huge choir thing also said that they will be really honored to do that live. So let’s see, may be some day when we have that money, when we win the lottery or something, we will tour with a huge production and 30 people on stage (laughs).
Talking of touring, what are your plans now that the album is almost out everywhere?
We are on tour in Europe already, and of course next year we have plans to tour every continent. The original idea was to tour North America this year, but there was some hassle with the release of the album in the US, so if we went there, we would actually be on tour before the album was out. So the tour had to be postponed. But we’re going to do it early next year. I still don’t have the routing and the exact dates, but our booking agency and management are working on that and I think it will be announced pretty soon. Anyway we’re coming there for the 70000 Tons Of Metal Cruise again. It’s going to be a blast, I’m sure. We were there last year and it was an incredible experience. We’re also talking to other promoters. We played once in South Africa, and may be we’ll do that again, along with Israel, Australia, Japan, hopefully China again, and South America also. So it’s going to be a busy time for us and we are really privileged to be in the situation that we are, being full-time musicians. There are millions of bands who are not able to do it. Let’s see how long this lasts. We’ll just have to enjoy every moment, because you never know. May be the next album will do terrible (laughs), and we’ll end up doing gigs in some pizzerias, playing in front of 10 people and have to go back to day jobs. But right now for us it’s all about making music with similar minded people and having good times with them.