Originally written by Erik Thomas.
There are very few truly unique bands in metal anymore. However, back in 1997 a few drunk Finns gathered in the craggy mysterious woods of Helsinki to create what was at the time a truly unique musical entity. Blending black metal, a troll-based theme and traditional Finnish humppa music, Finntroll burst onto the scene with 1999’s Midnattens Widunder and 2001’s Jaktens Tid–albums that introduced something other than corpsepaint and Satanic imagery to the usually dead serious genre of black metal. However, numerous line up issues and the tragic death of founding member Somnium in 2003 left the band at a crossroads. They rebounded with an EP dedicated to Somnium (Visor Om Slutlet), and a couple of darker albums in 2004’s Nattfodd and 2006’s Ur Jordens Djup, both albums that (only to me apparently) seemed darker and more gritty than the bands first two albums. But with the recently released new album, Nifelvind, Finntroll appear to have returned to the bouncier, happier and more trollish tones of the first two albums, However, it appears that guitarist Routa, who was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, isn’t in complete agreement.
MR: I’m going out on a limb here and stating that after a couple of relatively ‘dark’ albums, Nifelvind seems to be a return to the more playful–yet still menacing–trollish and impish style of Jaktens Tid and Midnattens Widunder. Tracks like “Tiden Uten Tid”, “I Tradens Sang”, “Drap” and especially “Under Bergets Rot” seem like they would have been right at home on Jaktens Tid. Fair statement?
Routa: Heh, not really. Back in the days, Jaktens Tid and Midnattens Widunder were actually quite unique albums as at least we hadn’t heard any bands that would combine music styles and instruments in a same way as Finntroll did on those albums, but yet they were a bit generic in a way. And comparing to the stuff we do nowadays there’s a lot more insanity and mix of styles in our music now. I think if any of those songs would have been in for example Jaktens Tid, it would have sound just too out of place.
MR: Would having former, original vocalist Katla back in the fold to help with lyrics (all based on folklore and myths) have anything to do with the shift back to a more upbeat sound?
Routa: No, as Katla also wrote lyrics for the Ur Jordens Djup album. And actually we never planned to do more upbeat album, it’s just turned out as it is.
MR: Ok, I’m off to a hell of a start here, how about this: Nifelvind sounds far bigger and polished than anything the band has recorded, Including far more orchestral synths and keyboards on top of the Folk elements. And the synths on “Den Frusna Munnen” seems like Finntroll is stepping out of their box a little bit. What the process for tweaking a tried and true formula, without forsaking your sound?
Routa: Well, this is exactly what we try to do with our music. To stretch the limits of it and really trying to find new styles and new ideas to mix, but still not losing the Finntroll sound. And it’s not that planned as it sounds, but more like that all of us think that there would be no point of doing the same stuff year after year. It would be pointless to record albums just like Jaktens Tid every time.
MR: With none of the true founders and only two of the early members remaining (Trollhorn and Beast Dominator), how has Finntroll managed to retain a consistent and unique sound over time and still be immediately recognizable as Finntroll?
Routa: Well, actually, even though Katla and Somnium “founded” Finntroll it was clear that all the other guys will play in Finntroll as well, so I wouldn’t put too much weight on the founding members. And what comes to early members, they are Tundra, Skrymer, BDominator and Trollhorn, so only “new” guys are me and Vreth. And all except Vreth have know each other since we were kids so we’ve been there since the beginning and that’s why we’re kind part of Finntroll sound also, more or less.
MR: Finntroll is widely regarded as the first sort of folk/humpa and even ‘troll metal’ band- and now there seems to be a glut of them (Troll, Trollfest, Wolfhorde, etc.) – how do you feel about bands basically copying you with the whole troll stuff?
Routa: Of course it’s kinda flattering that there are bands that want to copy our style, but still I think that everyone should try to do their own stuff. Of course musicians play the music they like…obviously, but I see no point of doing music which already exists out there. And that’s why we always try to find new ways in our music as well.
MR: Finland is arguably responsible for the best folk/Viking metal around with bands like Ensiferum, Turisas, Korpiklaani,Kivimetstan Druidi, Moonsorrow and such. What makes the country so ripe with not only excellent folk elements, but so many great musicians playing the style?
Routa: I really don’t know, hehe. Maybe it’s just that half of the Finnish are crazy and the other half are drunks and there’s nothing else to do than play music, ha-ha.
MR: With so many great, similar styled bands from Finland – are you all good friends, I know some of you share members (i.e. Trollhorn) or is there some level of competition and one up mans ship?
Routa: Oh yeah, we’re friends with all the bands. Of course there’s some kind of competition but it’s nothing serious. It’s more like checking out who gets the highest charts position and stuff like that and then laughing at it.
MR: What’s your reaction to bands that play Viking / folk metal that aren’t really from that Norse / Scandinavian area, bands like a Hammer Horde or Oakhelm from the US or say a Viking metal band from Asia or the Middle East? Does that seem kind of ‘false’ to you?
Routa: I wouldn’t say false. People have right to do whatever they like. But sometimes I’ve been wondering why not taking influences of one’s own history or mythology. For example when Sepultura mixed the South American tribal stuff with their music it sounded fucking amazing! Would be interesting to hear something similar from Asia actually….
MR: Has the recent success of tours like Paganfest and Heathen Crusade surprised you as far as fan reaction and turnout in places like the Midwest US and other relatively ‘non-Viking’ countries?
Routa: We haven’t played on any of those tours in US yet, so I don’t know how the fans have been reacted. But I guess good? Anyway, I don’t think you need to be from “Viking-country” to like music that is influenced by Viking mythology for example. It’s like you don’t need to be a fisherman to like and to eat fish…
MR: With you being one of the members around at the time, what was it like deciding to continue with Finntroll after the tragic death of original guitarist Somnium in 2003? Were there any discussions about disbanding?
Routa: Oh yeah, there was discussion about quitting everything. It was just too many setbacks in a short period of time. With Katla’s voice before Somnium’s death and all that. But then again we also thought that everything would have been in vain if we would have just quit back then. And after Somnium’s parents asked us to continue as well, it was pretty clear decision.
MR: What can we expect from Finntroll in 2010? I see you embark on a US tour in April. Are you doing any of the big festivals at home or abroad?
Routa: Yeah, we have tour in US which we are really much looking forward to and a lot of big festivals in Europe, but I’m not sure which one’s we can announce yet, so I won’t mention any here, hehe. And you can also expect the DVD…most probably, finally!