Interview with Ensiferum

Folk metallers Ensiferum have just released their critically acclaimed fifth album and are heading to the UK in a couple of weeks. ‘Unsung Heroes’ hears the band tackle some new, ambitious territory, including an epic 17-minute-long closing track. Bassist and clean vocalist Sami Hinkka had a chat with SoundShock’s Calum Robson about lyrics, mead and how the new album is their least accessible yet.

Why did you choose ‘Unsung Heroes’ as the title of the new album?
It just felt like obvious name for the album. History and the world are full of unsung heroes so this album is kind of our tribute to them all.

Ensiferum use a lot of battle imagery to really build a vision, whilst your themes have always presented us with sorrow, loss, brotherhood and heathen times of old. What did you want the lyrics to invoke on ‘Unsung Heroes’?
The lyrics of the new album are inspired by real life but of course they are written in Ensiferum-style. I use lot of time to find metaphors so that the original idea still remains, at least for me. But the lyrics can be interpreted in many ways. I don’t like to explain my lyrics too much because I want every listener to find their own meaning for them.

Musically, there’s perhaps a more symphonic influence prevalent on the album. How do you think it varies from last record ‘From Afar’?
Compared to ‘From Afar’, ‘Unsung Heroes’ is much rawer but different elements and layers can be heard much more clearly. We knew much better what kind of sound we want for this album and used much more time for arrangements. ‘Unsung Heroes’ is a more difficult album for the listener, so it demands a few more extra spins before it opens [up].

What do you want your listener to experience when they put on an Ensiferum record? Is there anything that you hope they feel?
There are no right or wrong interpretations of art in general and same goes with music, so everyone’s personal experience is valid. It’s not an artist’s thing to say how people should experience the music.

On ‘Pohjola’ some of the lyrics are taken from Yrjö Sakari Yrjö-Koskinen. There seems to be a great longing for the northern lands. Why did you choose the lyrics? What atmosphere did you want to create with it?
I found the poem back in 2006 and I wanted to use at least a short clip of it in one of our songs. At that time we made the first demo of the song which became ‘Pohjola’ and I noticed that I could actually fit the whole poem to it. The rest of the band liked the idea and my vocal arrangement but we were not happy of the song yet, so it took six more years to arrange the song. Hehe, we are pretty slow composers. There was something on that poem that I could relate to very much, like praising the beautiful nature and longing back to home. But like I said earlier, I think everyone should try to find their own meaning for the lyrics/song.

‘Passsion Proof Power’ is a magnificent epic! What made you want to tackle a track of that length?
Actually, it wasn’t intentional. The song just kept growing and growing and ended up to this 17-minute-long mammoth. It’s not a very traditional ‘long metal song’ because there isn’t much of looping, just a few riffs. Someone said that in that one song there are more parts that some bands have on a whole album. It turned out to be great song and it was really fun song to compose and push the boundaries of our music to a new level.

You obviously seem to have a bond with your ancestry and with nature too. In your activities away from making music, what are your interests?
I read a lot and for last few years I have started to do yoga, which really helps physically and mentally [for the] hard and hectic life of a touring musician. I think nature is close to every Finn’s heart.

Getting down to some serious mead drinking… Who are the better drinkers – Moonsorrow, Korpikaani, Ensiferum, Finntroll or Turisas?!
Haha, we never had a ‘competition’ outside the touring. Personally, I don’t want to risk a gig just for a party. The more you get, the more is demanded from you; when people pay to see your show, they don’t want to see you to give only 90% just because you have hangover. I guess Korpiklaani and Finntroll might be the ultimate hobos of this genre but I think all the bands can handle their booze pretty well.

On an Ensiferum tour, what are the essentials?
Our own crew, with them we can handle pretty much everything.

What are you going to bring to the UK on your tour later in September?
Three good live bands and the best Ensiferum show ever. Simply the most ass-kicking tour of the year!

‘Unsung Heroes’ is out now on Spinefarm.

Interview by Calum Robson.

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