Finnish melodic metal masters Insomnium’s new album, Anno 1696, is scheduled to arrive on February 24th via Century Media (pre-order here). We caught up with bassist/vocalist Niilo Sevänen to discuss the record, the band’s upcoming tour with Enslaved, and learning about his current writing project.
When we last spoke for the Argent Moon EP, you promised fans that there will be blast beats for the new album. I was curious, when did the writing process take place for Anno 1696 between the writing sessions for the EP?
Well, I had the concept already in my head around, oh, 2019. I’d already told the guys that I had this 17th-century story in my head that could be the next album, and it requires more dark and blackened music, of course. It’s going to be a tragic story. But then the COVID started, plans changed. We did the Argent Moon EP first, deliberately. It was a collection of softer, mellow ballad kind of songs. We knew that some fans might think that, okay, now the guys have gone soft and radio-friendly. But all the time the plan was that the next album is going to be more serious and dark. We never really stopped composing, so after the songs were done for the Argent Moon, we just continued making the full-length. I finished the story, sent it to the other guys, and they liked it. And we agreed, okay, let’s make a concept album from this. And most of the music was composed after that. So it really became the soundtrack for this specific story, and I think all the four composers in the band got into the same kind of mood and mindset. So we were really making music for this story. That’s how this came to be.
How long did it take you to write the actual short story, and then the process between the story to translate to lyrics for the album?
Oh, the short story, it was maybe three, four months that I wrote it and rewrote it and polished it. Something like that. Then the lyrics came in the last phase, because first I had to know what kind of songs were going to be there, so that I could arrange the lyrics in the right way. Some were more or less composed when I started to make the lyrics. Of course, when you are making a concept album and you have one big story, it’s a bit trickier to do the lyrics. They have to play together well, and you have to plan the whole thing from the start to the end, how it will make sense. So there is more planning involved than if you would make a normal album. And especially the first and the last song, they have to be locked in advance so you actually know how you will start the lyrics and how you will end it, end the story. So concept albums require more planning than the normal ones.
I definitely hear that challenge. Compared to the prior album, Heart Like a Grave, I can hear the process being completely different from each other just by listening to both. So, so far, because with translating everything from the short story, you already have two videos and the visualizer available. And how would you connect the visuals, with Lilian, White Christ, and The Witch Hunter, with the storyline?
Well, I’m really happy with those two videos we’ve done. I think they’re probably the coolest videos we’ve done. And this Riivata company, they’re doing excellent work, really cool, cool stuff. Young guys, but they know what they’re doing. There will be one more long video from the Godforsaken song. It’s going to be, what is it, eight and a half minutes, so it’s one of the longest songs. It’s going to be interesting to see what that’s going to be like. We shot the band shots in snow, in the winter landscape. It was a really cold day. So it’s going to be a cold video, for sure. But yeah, the videos, the imagery, the scenes, you can show in the videos, they have to match the story, and they have to be in the same mood and the same era, of course. We’re dealing with 17th-century history, so obviously they have to look really at what is happening in that time. We were a bit skeptical, just, can we do it? Is the video company so good that it will not look like some school play or live-action role playing thing? But actually, the videos are really cool. Especially these animals like horses, and these wolf-dogs that are shot there. They look really, really cool. I’m confident that the third actual video will be cool as hell as well.
What was the experience like collaborating with different artists; Rotting Christ’s Sakis Tolis for “White Christ” and Johanna Kurkela on “Godforsaken?”
With the White Christ song, when we first played it in the rehearsals, all of us thought that it had this Rotting Christ feeling and vibe in it. Of course, there was no name yet at that point. But we kind of joked first that, hey, let’s ask Sakis to sing this. Then after a while we thought that, okay, we should actually really ask Sakis. It would be a cool thing. And then we asked. He was really glad to be a part of it. He thought it’s a really cool song, and it became one of the best songs on the album, so one of the video songs. So it was a really cool thing. And all of us, we liked Rotting Christ already in the ’90s. I remember sending fan emails to Sakis like ’98 or ’99, something like that. So it was really cool to have him on this album. And then Johanna Kurkela, a female singer, she’s a very renowned artist in Finland. She has this great fairy, elf kind of voice, which we wanted for this Godforsaken song. So actually it’s now the first time that Insomnium has had female vocals. But we’re not going to turn into Nightwish or Epica. It was just the one song, and it required especially this kind of sound that Johanna can do, and she did amazing. She elevated the song to another level, and it became so much cooler than it was in the demo phase. So both of these guests did an extraordinary job.
Were there any songs that were more challenging to adapt from the short story into a song?
Well, some of them came faster and some of them required more thinking and writing. Of course, some of them are very long songs, so there are a lot of lyrics as well you have to write, a lot of stuff. But for example, this mellow ballad song, The Unrest, that actually came pretty fast. It actually tells this part that you don’t see in the short story. It really tells something extra. So the lyrics and the short story together reveal all the sides of the story. So that’s one song that came quite easily, one part of the lyrics that came easily. Some of the longer ones took more time, of course.
With Anno 1696, it shows you guys keep on raising the bar for each album. You can hear the effort and work that you put into this record. It puts you on a different level than other artists. The production, in a way, reminds me of Winter’s Gate. But how do you constantly always put up quality over quantity in this day and age?
Well, you are right that I think this is closer to Winter’s Gate than Heart Like a Grave, musically, and also sound-wise. So we wanted to have this a bit ’90s kind of vibe, a bit more raw sound, and not the modern metal compressed sound that many bands are wanting nowadays. That’s why we chose Jaime Arellano Gomez to mix the album. He’s done this kind of more organic sound with Moonspell and Paradise Lost. But yeah, your other question. We still have the flame to make the best possible music, and not to do the same stuff over and over again. We don’t want to become the Motorhead of AC/DC of melodic death metal. We want to bring something new to the table every time, but without losing the essence and core of Insomnium. That’s always, of course, balancing so that you don’t lose that one thing that makes your band cool in the first place. But I think the secret is that we are doing what we really want to do, the kind of music we love, and that’s it. We’re not trying to please anyone else, not the fans or the labels or media or anyone. Everything comes from the heart. That’s the only secret there is. That’s it.
That’s very true. And you can hear and see it. I can’t compare you with any other artist, because you guys put yourselves on a different level, blowing it out of the park each time, and it’s incredible. I was also curious, because you’re a writer, so what other short stories do you have, or at least in your mind, that maybe could fit in another Insomnium album?
Actually, I am writing a story now which is much, much longer, so it’s actually a novel. It’s about 500 pages. So that’s what I’ve been doing now for two and a half years. I don’t know yet if it’s going to be an Insomnium thing or just my own personal book, but it continues the Winter’s Gate story, and of course, on a much bigger scale. It’s set in medieval settings in Europe, and it’s a big, epic thing. I’m writing version three at the moment, and I’m trying to finish it and send it to my editor before the US tour, so I would stay on some kind of schedule. But that’s the big story that I’ve been writing.
That’s incredible. I hope it gets translated to English if it ever gets released, because I have to say Winter’s Gate … I think I even told you this before. That’s my favorite album from your entire work. I don’t know why. I just keep listening to that same record like a thousand times each year. To hear that expanded into a full book, personally, I would love to read it.
Great. Now, of course, when you talked about the translation, with the editor already in the beginning, it would make sense to have at least the English version. But let’s see. I have to finish the Finnish version first, and then see what happens. But let’s keep fingers crossed that it really gets translated to English.
Of course. And no pressure.
Yeah, I know. I would really love to see it in an English version.
Actually, it’s been a while since you guys had a tour out in North America. Is there anything that you want fans to expect for the tour with Enslaved?
Well, it’s a co-headline tour with Enslaved, so both bands play equally long sets. I think it’s a really good package. Especially now with our new album, I think it fits very well with the Enslaved music. Both bands are treading these kind of a bit progressive but black metal-ish paths in their own way, so I think it’s a very good fit. It’s a fun thing that we started touring in … The first real tour we did was in 2006 in the UK supporting Enslaved, and we were the third support band. There were four bands on the bill, and we were the first one. And now we are returning with them as co-headliners, so the circle is complete. It’s a fun thing. I have only good memories of that first ever tour we did, and they seemed like really nice guys. It’s a great band. I’m sure it’s going to be a good tour for everyone, for the bands and for the fans as well.
Yeah, definitely looking forward to that one. Is there just anything else that you want to say or add about the new album?
Well, there are several versions, of course, available. The full short story is included in the vinyl version and art book version. So those are definitely the coolest ones, if people want to experience the whole thing. It’s a short story, but it’s actually so long that we could not fit it into the normal CD booklet. It was impossible. We tried it, but … So it’s only available in these bigger versions, where it actually fits. And then of course in the art book version there’s this three-song EP, Songs of the Dusk, included as well. We recorded 11 songs, and some of my favorite songs ended up being on the EP. So I think it’s a really, well, nice addition. So we did actually a full-length album and EP at the same time. So if people are interested, then they should get the art book version.
Tags: Insomnium, Niilo Sevänen
Categorised in: Interviews