Interview: Vreth from Finntroll.
Interviewed by CJ Claesson
Don’t call it a comeback. After 7 years of touring and writing, the almighty Finntroll are back with another epic album masterfully cloaked in wrath and trolldom. ‘Vredesvävd’ is the seventh full-length album by this septet of trolls and it takes you on an adventurous and haunting hike through the dark and enchanted forests of the North. Going back to the musical roots of ‘Midnattens Widunder’ and ‘Nattfödd’ this album is sure to quench the thirst of longtime followers and newcomers alike like a freshly poured tankard of mead. CJ sat down with Matthias “Vreth” Lillmåns to get further insights on the album, the folk metal scene, why Finntroll isn’t “troll metal” and much more…
The Razor's Edge: Why is Finland so metal?
Vreth: (chuckles) Of course nobody knows why, but I have my ideas why that could be. We’re so far up in the North and as North as I live, there won’t be much light at all during the day in a month or two. Living over half of the year total darkness probably inspired us throughout the times to make more gloomy, depressive music, I think. Also, in old Finnish folk or country music they always play in minor scales. There are no major scales or not really any happy parts, everything is really gloomy and depressive all the time. This of course has rubbed off on the metal scene. I think metal music really resonates with the Finnish people in its own melancholic and gloomy way.
The Razor's Edge: Especially on Facebook, a lot of fans ask why it took 7 years to come out with a new album. Why did it?
Vreth: There are so many aspects to that. For example, when we released ‘Blodsvept’ in 2013 we toured a lot on that album. We were doing at least three tours every year and some years we did even more. And we’re not that kind of band that really write anything when we're out on tour. It’s unheard of that we would actually get something done on tour. When we came back from the ‘Blodsvept’ tour we tried to write something, but it wasn’t right. We’re always kind of waiting for that “aha”-moment with Finntroll. That one song that opens everything up and you find the vibe you want for the album. But that song didn't come at that point. We didn't find anything, and everything was bits and pieces scattered all over different directions.
Then, we got offered to do a 10-year anniversary of the ‘Nattfödd’ album so we toured for a little bit over a year. All of a sudden, we already passed our normal album cycle of three to four years and the pressure started building up. The material was still all over the place and we hadn’t found that thread so we just said that we will take it easy, have a little break from touring and go with the flow. We did some festivals, weekend trips and we went to South America and Asia and tried to write something, but nothing really happened.
It was not until the summer last year that we talked about having an album out in 2020 so that people don’t start forgetting about us! People were already asking for a Finntroll comeback and that tipped me over to start working very hard on a new album. I sent a long email to Century Media and asked them for a deadline for a 2020 release. We got it and started writing a bit more intensely. We actually started to make time to write music and some point we wrote ‘Att Döda Med En Sten’ and the whole album sort of opened up. We ended up writing everything for the album in five months, I think. We went into the studio and here we are!
The Razor's Edge: You have some pretty diehard fans, but was there any added pressure after such a long wait?
Vreth: Yeah! That was sort of why it also started to get harder to write something, because we were never really satisfied with anything. We didn't think it was good enough for a five-year break or six-year break at that point so that was sort of a vicious circle the whole process with this album.
The Razor's Edge: Finntroll albums have a tendency to feel very conceptually tight - almost cinematic. What was the idea behind ‘Vredesvävd’?
Vreth: Well, for example ‘Blodsvept’ had the swing-ish brass section and ‘Nifelvind’ had the big orchestrations so we’re always looking for that “red thread”. On ‘Vredesvävd’ we wrote ‘Att Döda Med En Sten’ which was full of late 90s Scandinavian symphonic black metal and stuff and we decided that “hey, this is gonna be the theme. We’re gonna go back to the roots”. And we had already decided to make it a bit more of a melodic album. For some reason, combining that late 90s sound with our style of melodies turned into a little bit more an old school sounding Finntroll album. It draws parallels to ‘Jaktens Tid’, ‘Midnattens Widunder’ and there’s a lot of stuff that could be on the ‘Nattfödd’ album. We didn’t really reinvent ourselves, actually the twist was going back in time!
The Razor's Edge: As you mentioned, ‘Vredesvävd’ does draw parallels to ‘Nattfödd’ and ‘Midnattens Widunder’ so that was not really planned, rather a happy accident?
Vreth: It was never actually planned, but ‘Ur Jordens Djup’ is sort of an odd album, it doesn’t sit well in the discography. I’ve been talking to Trollhorn and laughing about this, saying that ‘Vredesvävd’ could actually be the album that you should have gotten instead of ‘Ur Jordens Djup’. It’s funny, but it wasn’t intentional at all, it just started forming into this. That’s what happens with Finntroll when we get that “aha”-moment then everything else starts falling into place.
The Razor's Edge: In an interview - Amon Amarth said that they're sometimes struggling to create new riffs / songs that they haven't done before but still fit their "viking metal" niche. How do you go about not hitting that wall?
Vreth: (laughs) I think sometimes we really hit a wall. With ‘Vredesvävd’ we really went hard into that wall and that’s also why it took seven years. Tundra, for example, the songs he was writing were kind of a continuation of ‘Blodsvept’. ‘Forsen’ is a song that Tundra had a lot of parts on. Trollhorn kind of went into the ‘Nattfödd’ wall and we struggled to match the two. Luckily when we found the “red thread” it saved us from hitting the wall. Otherwise, Tundra’s songs would have sounded like a continuation of the ‘Blodsvept’ album and Trollhorn’s would have sounded like ‘Nattfödd’ songs and you wouldn’t be able to fuse those together in a good way.
The Razor's Edge: I can imagine with seven members in the band musical disagreements can happen as well?
Vreth: Yeah, definitely. Especially in times when we didn’t know what to do and we hadn’t figured out the sound we wanted. We were pulling in totally different directions.
The Razor's Edge:Where does the theme for ‘Vredesvävd’ come from? Does it come from books you’ve read or folklores you’re exploring?
Vreth: Yes, it’s sort of both. Katla has been writing the lyrics again and he also wrote for the last 3 albums. He has been dabbling in Finnish folklore and really really old stuff going back to cave paintings that are found here in Finland. He’s interpreting those cave paintings on this album. And also what he has experienced in his meditation sessions. For at least 20 years now he’s done drum meditations and old shamanistic things that he’s been exploring. He combined his own experiences with his interpretations of the old Finnish cave paintings that are found here and there in Finland which supposedly are 3000 years old.
The Razor's Edge: You're carrying the legacy of writing in Swedish, a language most of your fans don't speak - why do you think fans still have such a connection to your songs?
Vreth: Well, you know, if we would start Finntroll now we probably wouldn’t have the same chances of getting this out there. Being one of the first bands that actually sing in Swedish, especially in the folk-scene in ’97, there were not that many of these kinds of bands around. It was way easier and if somebody had a band, they got signed almost immediately. Now, metal is so overexposed and in Finland there are thousands of metal bands so it’s really hard to go somewhere. I think we a had good fan base from the start and back in those days they thought it was something really interesting and new. There wasn’t anything sounding like Finntroll back in those days, so we were lucky. When the whole “folk metal boom” came 10 – 15 years ago we actually had a steady fanbase that we could actually build upon.
The Razor's Edge: What do you think about the folk metal scene now and its evolution?
Vreth: I actually like that it went out of fashion a little bit. Around 2010 – 2012 during our ‘Nifelvind’ album there were these tours that had like eight bands that played folk metal on them. Some of these bands seemed to just copy other bands just to be in the scene because that’s where the market was at. If you listen to those bands which were formed around 2010 – 2011, some of them went into totally different directions and sound like metalcore bands or something like that and just adapted to what’s popular. It got really overexposed in my opinion and it made us take a step away from it. For example, ‘Blodsvept’ didn’t have much folk on it at all. There were maybe three riffs that were folky on the whole album. Now we’re getting back to it, and I really like that it took a little step backwards. All those bands who did it just to be in some sort of popular scene are gone now or changed their genre into something else. I like it more like it is right now.
The Razor's Edge: Do you consider Finntroll being "troll metal" or is that just nonsense to you?
Vreth: Yeah, that’s total BS (laughs). I don’t want to put Finntroll in any kind of box actually. I can agree that we have a lot of folk metal influences, but we also have a lot of death metal and black metal influences. At some point we even had a bit of industrial in there and stuff like that. I really don’t want to put Finntroll in any kind of box.
The Razor's Edge: Described as "musical anarchists" are there any no-goes for Finntroll?
Vreth: (laughs) I wouldn’t say so! I haven’t discovered any no-goes. On ‘Nifelvind’ we went into some really weird 80s pop music influence and we have experimented with South American folk music. We also even have eastern influences here and there. Of course, making drastic changes and doing something completely different like an ambient electronic album maybe wouldn’t happen. It will probably always be rock or metal based in some way but I don’t see any boundaries where we can’t take influence from.
The Razor's Edge: Were you faced with any challenges while recording the album?
Vreth: Yeah there were some. It was actually a little bit easier this time than for example the ‘Blodsvept’ album which was a total catastrophe. Also the ‘Nifelvind’ sessions were really nerve wrecking and stressful. But this time the stress wasn’t there. We came well prepared, we had all the songs written, everything was finished, and we didn’t have to try out different ideas in the studio. Everything was set in stone already.
There was other practical stuff this time. For example, Skrymer is living in Essen in Germany and the day he came to Finland to record the album, they put Germany on the no-fly zone. He came from this area of Germany where the pandemic was the worst, so he wasn’t actually allowed to come into the studio because there were so many people working there all the time. He went to a friend’s place in Helsinki to record the album and they sent the tracks to us in the studio so we could mix it.
The Razor's Edge: I’ve been listening to the album relentlessly and the vocal performance on this album is quite amazing – especially on ‘Grenars Väg’. Was that a personal challenge for you?
Vreth: Oh yeah, oh God that song. Because of my arrangements, I put myself in really hard spot there. That was probably the worst part of this album, to get those really fast parts fluent and sound like they are in synch with the songs. It was really terrible. But on this album I really wanted to put my vocals on the next level again. I did really long days in the studio and I was only there with the engineer and we were there totally locked away for many days. I really wanted to have that extra 120% on this album and I had the time! There was nothing to do. I hadn’t been to Helsinki in a while and I have lots of friends over there, but everything was closed; you couldn’t go anywhere; you weren’t allowed to meet people. It was actually a really good time for me to concentrate and go that extra mile for this album.
The Razor's Edge: If you were a betting man - what song will be the crowd pleaser from this album?
Vreth: (laughs) The crowd pleaser! It’s probably going to be ‘Grenars Väg’ – that’s sort of the ‘Trollhammaren’ of this album. I really hope that we can play for example ‘Att Döda Med En Sten’, that’s my sort of track. I like the speed of it, I like the keyboard stuff that is going on and what the vocals are doing. That would be the song that would please me probably the most. ‘Forsen’ is also one of my favorite tracks. I guess people are waiting for ‘Grenars Väg’ and maybe when they get to listen to ‘Stjärnors Mjöd’ that could be a crowd pleaser as well.
The Razor's Edge: I’ve seen other Finnish bands doing smaller national shows - will you do the same?
Vreth: We were supposed to have some gigs now but the Finnish government screwed us up again. We were waiting for months on end on the new restrictions for September and they came like three days ago and they totally screwed up our plans. So, sadly we had to postpone everything again. It would be cool to do something but the way it is in Finland right now it’s impossible to do something that would actually pay the bills. Because if we do a pub show we have to pay for it ourselves because we have to get our guitar player from Germany and lots of other things to put into place. Sadly the new restrictions took a really big crap on our plans… again!
The Razor's Edge: Do you see some positives coming from the quarantine or pandemic in general which you will use in the future for Finntroll?
Vreth: Yeah definitely! All these kinds of streaming things. Because streaming has been long coming and some festivals have had live streams. We did Summer Breeze a couple years back and the main stage was streamed onto all different platforms. I think the technical issues for these kinds of videos and streaming stuff have been overcome at double the pace than it would have without Corona. Also, for me going into the digital world, because I’ve been doing singing lessons or well, screaming lessons in my case, but I didn’t really focus on doing them online or doing courses through the Internet. That was something I was able to push forward and actually make happen now because I needed to get money from somewhere to pay the bills. I couldn’t meet up with my pupils and I couldn’t have any workshops, so I needed to do them through Skype or Zoom or something and I think that kind of technology took a big leap forward.
The Razor's Edge: What is your favorite Finntroll song to play live?
Vreth: This is a hard one! Probably now, it’s going to be some of the new songs because they're fresh and they're not to spoiled yet (laughs). But I think the answer to this question has been the same since 2006 so I’m going to go with the first album ‘Midnattens Widunder’, the opening track ‘Svartberg’. I really love that song and still I really like to do it live. It’s such a nostalgic song for me and one of my favorite live songs.
The Razor's Edge: With 11.7 million plays on Spotify, ‘Trollhammaren’ is still arguably your most popular song. Will you ever get tired of playing it live?
Vreth: We never really rehearse that song because we tend to focus on songs we actually need to rehearse. It never gets played in any sound checks or anything because we have heard it too many times, you know. But still, to present that song live to the audience and see them light up! Because although they have been waiting for the gig, they have waited for that song and they have been saving their energy until that song comes on. I really like the way people light up when we play that song.
The Razor's Edge: Speaking about fans, what is a typical Finntroll fan?
Vreth: (laughs) Yeah, well… I’m a big nerd myself so I can do this. I see those little bit nerdy kind of people, they are definitely the typical Finntroll fans over here. As myself, I’m big on sci-fi and fantasy and stuff like that as well so it’s definitely in my category of people. I know that we are also quite a big band in the computer game world for people who are fans of Skyrim and World of Warcraft and all that. I see that stereotype, and not in a bad way! Like I said, I’m a big nerd myself.
The Razor's Edge: Do you usually engage in comments and stuff that people write on social media?
Vreth: Sometimes I do comment, if I have the time for it. Sometimes people ask the same questions over and over again and I like to get a definite answer out there. I sometimes enjoy commenting on the posts of fans and that’s also why I love to do these interviews and stuff – to have the facts out there.
The Razor's Edge: I saw this thread that you have on your Facebook page where fans all over the world asking all kinds of questions and it’s interesting to see the variety of questions coming in!
Vreth: (laughs) Yeah, there were some really funny ones!
The Razor's Edge: There was one about if you would ever do a collaboration with the Moomintrolls. But I guess that’s not on the horizon?
Vreth: (laughs) Not right now, no. Even though Tove Jansson was a fellow Swede as myself!
The Razor's Edge: Lastly, do you have any last comments on the album and the upcoming adventures of Finntroll?
Vreth: I really want everybody out there who reads this to know that we are really doing everything we can right now to get out there and promote this album. Even though your country may not be on the list right now, we are making all the plans possible that we can actually come and as soon as the borders open up we're going to be everywhere. Don't lose hope and stay safe out there!