One of the biggest names in Finnish pagan metal, FINNTROLL, are back at last with their seventh studio album, “Vredesvävd.” Naturally, having had a 7-year gap between releases, there are many questions going around about the new album, so on August 20th, 2020, we met up with Mathias “Vreth” Lillmåns at The Riff in Helsinki to talk about the upcoming release, which is due for release on September 18th, 2020, via Century Media Records.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I really like your tattoos – have any/many of them been done by Samuli [“Skrymer” Ponsimaa, bass]?
Vreth: Yeah, I have quite a lot of his… especially early work when first started to do this [laughs].
You’ve got so many tattoos at this point, how do you count them?
I don’t count them because [gestures to his whole arm] this is all one, two, three, four [gestures to the sleeves, torso, legs].
Well moving on then, [laughter] how have these last 7 years been treating you guys?
Well, its been quite busy, especially in the beginning. The first few years we toured the “Blodsvept” album and we had the “Nattfödd” 10-year anniversary, so they just blended into each other for the 3-4 first years of this 7-year album break. So the first half involved lots and lots of touring, then a bit less touring but still festivals every year and maybe mini-weekends with a couple of gigs here and there. The last year went by quite quickly writing the new stuff.
I’ve heard that you guys are rather notorious perfectionists when it comes to your music. Is there any truth to that?
Yeah, definitely, especially now when I’m working with Trollhorn [Henri Sorvali]. He also works with music, he makes music for computer games, and he’s really a perfectionist. He’s got very [technically] perfect ears, so stuff that nobody will hear, he’ll go into it and actually nobody will probably hear the difference, except maybe me. So that’s one of the reasons why we haven’t released an album in 7 years as well. We haven’t felt that we were happy enough with the material. We are very picky about what we write, so there was lots of stuff that didn’t work, so we either changed it or threw it back into the archives. So being really picky and really concentrating on details is one of the reasons why it took so long.
It’s hard to know when to let it go.
Yeah and there are also so many bands out there who just write albums to keep them on the road. Like, every second year they have to have a new album out so they can do two European tours, one US tour, and then go back into the studio again. They throw and throw and throw riffs into the pot and get the album out without the process of eliminating the generic stuff. I guess it works on Spotify, that really wants you to have music all the time and people just listen to the album a couple of times and then jump onto the next thing, but that’s never been the thing for FINNTROLL. We go back and rewrite the songs, we go back, we go forth, we go here and there. So you’re right that we’re really into details.
I’ve listened to the new album a few times and I’ve noticed that it has a very nice collection of all of the typical FINNTROLL sounds. By that I mean, it’s not strictly an upbeat folky album, but neither is it an extreme album either. I feel like it’d be a great album with which to introduce new fans to your sound.
It’s turned out because, when we decided to go on a more melodic side, when we wrote beginning, it would have gone in the direction that “Blodsvept” was going, to a rockier and more riff-based music, but it just felt that the 7 years… keeping a mid-tempo album or going slower would feel like, ahh, these guys got old. So we decided that we want to turn it up a notch and make it a little bit faster, a little bit more melodic instead of riffs, and it turned out that it went a bit back in time to “Jaktens Tid” and the “Nattfödd” album, as well as a lot of “Midnattens Widunder” in there. Also, there’s some vibes from “Nivelvind” in there as well, so it has my era of FINNTROLL in it as well, but it also goes a little bit back to the roots. It was a lucky accident… well, I wouldn’t call it an accident.
Just a little bit intentional?
Yeah, exactly. Trollhorn and Tundra are the main composers, so of course it’ll sound like FINNTROLL. I really like it, because I’m a big fan of the old material as well and I really like to play those old songs, so this brings me back to the end of the ’90s, beginning of the ’00s, the black metal I was listening to back then.
One of the biggest changes coming after “Blodsvept” was leaving out the brass. First of all, why was it taken out? Was it a one-off element?
The steampunk -kind of thing we did… started already on “Nifelvind” a little bit and then we went full-on steampunk on “Blodsvept.” After 7 years of touring that album, we wanted to create something new. We had an idea playing around with doing a kind of Mardi Gras kind of theme [laughter] to the album, and then we just decided to go more voodoo and New Orleans, swamp-feeling. It became Finnish shamanism mixed up with a New Orleans [laughter] troll kind of thing.
I noticed that a lot of fans are divided on “Blodsvept,” largely relating to whether they thought the brass worked. How do you guys feel about the brass after all this time?
I really liked it and back then it was also because FINNTROLL had never wanted to follow any trends and the way the folk metal scene was going, everybody was doing Viking stuff and to be from Finland and trying to act Viking is really weird because there were like seven Vikings in Finland [laughter]. We were the slaves of the Vikings, so for me it feels kind of weird. Then it was also to do something else. It felt kind of right because we chose steampunk-ish sounds as well and there was a lot of clinging of metal pipes and stuff like that. All of the visual stuff has gone hand-in-hand with the artwork. We have always been really into making everything [work together], so this time the album cover is more nature-focused now. It would be weird to do a steampunk thing in the forest and maybe it wouldn’t have worked, it would have looked wrong, so we decided now we’ve got to go back to nature, primitive.
You mentioned swamps and New Orleans, so how has your visual style adapted to match that?
The pictures that were taken of me, for example, for magazine covers are sort of the direction that I’m taking right now. I’m trying to figure out how to make it work live that I don’t have to paint half of myself. For example, touring in North America is going to be terrible because there’s like one shower every second week or something like that, so to be covered from the waist up in heavy make-up is going to be terrible to take off in the men’s toilet after [laughter].
I asked Mathias Nygård [TURISAS] once, aren’t you hot in all those coats? He replied with something along the lines of, “I’ll take anything over all that paint.”
Yeah, that’s true. They also use that red paint. It’s so bad because it sticks to everything and you look like a cooked shrimp for weeks after. They bought it from Germany and they said about 2 weeks after getting home it’s still there. So I’m definitely going to be sort of grey after these tours because it’s going to be white and black all mixed up.
I’ve noticed that, over the years, many pagan/Viking/folk metal bands who started shirtless have started wearing more clothing. Any conspiracy theories as to why that might be?
[laughs] It’s probably that lots of these Viking/pagan bands are getting old and are maybe not the fit 25-year-old anymore.
They’re hiding their dad bods!
[laughter] Exactly. It’s something along those lines.
Perhaps some bands start out in a lot of paint because it looks cool without realizing what a hassle it is, so after a tour or two they realize it’s easier to just put on a shirt.
Yeah, exactly. I would never settle for anything though; I want the band to evolve and taking away all that would be wrong. I know it’s going to be a hassle because my paint is going to take hours now to put on, but I wouldn’t settle for putting on a funny hat and that would be my live show now. It’s on or off.
You’ve got to respect the craft.
Now of course you guys sing in Swedish, so I’m not going to ask you to dissect the whole album, but generally speaking, what sorts of things are you singing about on this album?
This album is actually all about journeys, from some kind of shamanistic point of view. Journeys, of course, geographically having traveled to do something and doing a trip, but also spiritual journeys. For example, the animated video for “Forsen” is a song about taking a journey inside yourself to see yourself and confront yourself and coming to terms in a meditative and shamanistic sort of way.
The hippy in me loves that.
[laughs] They are pretty hippy, these lyrics, and I like it. Then, for example, “Att Döda Med En Sten,” is a trip that he does to seek vengeance, which means “to kill with a stone.” So when he seeks the other, he grabs what he’s got closest to him, a stone. So it can be that kind of story, a trip to seek vengeance.
Talking about the songs, I really love the instrumental “Intro.” It sounds like it’s straight out of a Howard Shore movie score.
It’s pretty Conan the Barbarian.
[laughter] I’ve also heard that Trollhorn is a huge fan of movie scores, so is it safe to assume that’s the basis of how cinematic that song is?
Yeah, and it’s also to set the mood for the album. Intros are really important. Well, on “Blodsvept” we didn’t have an intro because it didn’t need one. A radio teaser kind of thing in the beginning, but not a proper intro. So that song introduces the themes from the album, elements from different songs that you can hear in the melodies and it sets the mood for the album. It’s a really important piece of the whole package.
A good intro can make all the difference. It’s really complicated, yet all of the songs feel pretty complicated in general. Were any of them particularly hard to write or tie together?
The last song, “Ylaren,” is definitely one of those. That’s one that we went back and forth over many, many times. The beginning, the slower-paced first half of the song, that was pretty easy, but how to continue from there was the big problem and I don’t know how many versions we had. There were lots of riffs there that we just threw in the trash or back into the archives. So that one was definitely a really hard one, even if it sounds pretty straightforward, but the rhythms and everything in there are going to be pretty difficult to play.
You went right into my next question, because “Ylaren” felt like the most unique, innovative track, the most experimental piece on the album.
That intro riff is actually one of the old riffs that we’ve had many years ago already, so the first half of that song has been around for 5 years – maybe the second song that we wrote for this album – but then we went back to it many, many times and the second half of it had so many different versions. It’s going to be pretty hard to play but it’s one of my favorites. That riff is probably my favorite riff on the whole album.
You’ve released the first single and now the music video. Do you have any more music videos planned? Has it been hard to organize that stuff this year?
Yeah, they have been. Yesterday we filmed a music video. That’s actually why I’m here doing this promo day, because I’m in Helsinki for 2 days. We just finished filming yesterday. I’m really relieved because there was so much to do, getting everybody’s schedules to fit and get the film crew, and because our guitar player lives in Germany. The borders were closed for so long to Germany, especially the area where he comes from where the pandemic was the worst. So let’s see now if he gets home on Friday, because last time he came here to record the album, he had to stay here for 2 more weeks because he’s got Finnish citizenship and they didn’t believe he lives in Germany, so he had to get paperwork to prove that he lives there. It took him 2 weeks [laughs], so he’s hoping that he can go back. He’s got tattoo clients over there.
Hopefully he’s more prepared for any problems this time.
He’s got the paperwork at least now [laughter].
You segued nicely into my next question again, as I was wondering how much agency you give him to do the album art. Does he get free rein or do you guys discuss it all together?
Yeah, sort of. We trust him to make something awesome anyways, it’s not about that, but he – for example – and Katla have been discussing the lyrics together so they can go hand-in-hand in that sense, so they talk quite a lot about it, what the lyrics are about, what they are hiding, and then he makes something out of it. This one, I actually didn’t see anything before the final draft, or really close to being finished. He had two versions of it and asked which one did we like. Everybody actually liked the same one more, so he fixed some small elements and then it was done. The front cover came very easily this time and it’s one of my favorite ones that he’s done. I really like it. The color scheme is really nice, with the green and magenta.
I agree. The style is also a bit more air-brushed than pencil this time as well, so it stands out as a bit more different. You guys have also had these animated videos – how involved are you in the artwork for those?
They of course check our style out. The same artist did the “Under Bergets Rot” video as well, so it’s the same people behind it again and it’s actually why we chose them again. We were really happy with “Under Bergets Rot,” so we wanted the same kind of style and when you see the new video, you’ll be able to see some tributes to the other video as well. So they listen to the lyrics and we explain what they are about and I trust them as well. They came back with ideas, like this is going to be the main character, this is going to be this, and when everybody said go, we let them go with it, saw the script, and it turned out really cool. It’s different, even if the style is a bit the same. This one is maybe a bit deeper and more psychedelic, but in the same kind of playful way.
I guess we’re running out of time, so I’ll start to wrap this up. Are you planning any streams or events in the future?
We’re planning [laughs] and we were supposed to release some kind of info about it a couple weeks ago but now with the second wave coming, we’re still waiting for the Finnish government to give us some kind of guidelines on what we can and cannot do, so stuff is going on and it seems right now that we need to wait to release any info. But there’s definitely stuff happening, in terms of gigs in Finland. It’s all up to what the government decides and can we actually sell any tickets or are we just going to do a stream or what is going to happen. It’s really uncertain right now. We have a European tour in March and April and before that, something will happen but we don’t know when.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention before I let you go?
Actually, you mentioned that you’re from Canada. Over there are lots of people asking us all the time when are we going to come over. I really want to point out that we’re coming and we have big plans. Unfortunately, everything is like half a year late because of corona, so we have to move all our plans half a year or so like that, but stuff is happening! I haven’t been in a tour bus since 2016, so I’m missing it a bit.
That’s all of my questions then. Thank you very much!
Interview by Bear Wiseman