Insomnium went back to their roots with their new album Heart Like a Grave, which was released on October 4th via Century Media Records (order here). By roots, we meant, an album with ten sorrowful tracks versus one forty-minute epic tune, which we heard in 2016’s Winter’s Gate. Regardless, their new album is another masterpiece, and will most likely appear on many year-end lists for best metal LP of 2019. Guitarist Markus Vanhala is perhaps one of the hardest and busiest working musicians as he gives 150% in for both Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum. Despite his invincible busy schedule, he somehow took some time to talk to us. Vanhala went into detail on Insomnium’s latest effort, his “superhuman” energy, touring with both bands, the latest Insomnium lineup, and more.
What was the process like to going back to a 10 track album With Heart Like a Grave?
It’s coming back to easier routines because it’s of course, natural. This is how we’ve always done the albums. We gave one something different. We called it [Winter’s Gate] commercial suicide, which basically didn’t kill us off because it went pretty well. But a 40 minute hit single, that was something different. I really love to play that 40 minute song in a concert situation because it was something completely different than we’ve done before. But now, we did it, we played for a whole two years of this album, I’ve been touring a lot with Winter’s Gate, so it feels nice to do a normal album again.
Musically, Heart Like a Grave is different than Winter’s Gate. Not just the fact that it’s one song versus 10, it sounds as though you guys did go back to your roots, but at the same time, not at all. How would you compare the new album to your prior efforts?
Well on the new album, it has this song called “Pale Mornings Star.” I was calling that song a miniature version of Winter’s Gate because it’s like Winter’s Gate but it’s a 10 minute song. It has a similar feeling to Winter’s Gate. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of different stuff. Something new and something old as always in a new record. At the same time we wanted to head back to the Insomnium roots, we will always think that the Insomnium as a Finnish sounding band and we have a lot of these Finnish themes in Finnish folklore, music, keys in Insomnium music. That’s basically one thing we wanted, to get a lot of insight on this new album. I would say, maybe Heart Like a Grave is the most Finnish sounding and Finnish tales that was ever done with Insomnium. We wanted to dive into the deep heart of this Finnish old folklore music.
Not folk music. We are not folk metal at all, but I meant folk music. Finnish folk music is always played in the minor key and the lyrics and tales of the songs are sorrowful tales of what’s happening to the Finnish field. And when winter rapes your harvest and when the snow comes inside from your roof, your home is drowning with snow when your wife freezes to death on a field, but you still have to go on. This was the same Finnish folk tales from a hundred years ago.
It’s funny that you mentioned “Pale Morning Star” because that’s my personal favorite song on the album.
All right! That’s good. That’s my song.
Since it’s your song, can you talk more about the creation of it?
Well I composed that song as like an acoustic song many, many years ago. Maybe like five years ago and it’s been a skeleton song that are acoustic folk songs in my song vaults. And I thought that I’d never use it in anything. It’s just for my personal adventures with acoustic guitar. But I played the song to Niilo during one night over beers having a conversation in the tour bus, and Niilo really liked the song. He said let’s make a complete metal song out of this acoustic piece, so I obeyed my dark master and I did complete a song out of it. That’s how it became life.
And there will be a bonus disc with the first acoustic of this song, which is called a “True Morning Star.” So basically the roots of the song will be released also.
With this new lineup, do you guys have three guitarists full time or is Jani just a live member? I’m curious to know the full rundown on what’s happening with Insomnium after we heard the official news about Ville.
Jani is an official member of the band now. Ville left to do science and teaching at a university and as you might have seen, he hasn’t been touring with us.
Jani started to be a live session member four years ago and it has been going really well and he’s a really good friend of mine and he’s a talented guitar player and also really good composer. At some point we just thought why not? Why not just add him to the band and not kick anyone out. So basically doing what Iron Maiden did back in the day when they did this three guitar assault attack. So it’s just a bonus now. We have four members compose music in the band, and Jani immediately started to compose music for this new album also.
I think this made the band stronger and we will be showing the live situation every now and then. So far we’ve done only one festival in Finland with three guitarists and Ville’s not coming back on the longer tours, but he will play some solo shows or festivals with us every now and then. And those will be on a special occasion.
Ville might join us for Finnish shows orBritishh shows but, we’ll see. It’s not decided yet. It’s also a mystery for all of us.
Can you talk more about this video for “Valediction?”
That is the first song we just decided to do a video for because it’s the only song Ville had brought to the new album and it’s an Insomnium sounding song. It was the most hit song off the album because it’s a short song with a catchy tune. Naturally it became the first video, first single song and the next video was for “Heart Like a Grave,” which is something completely different. It’s slow. Both of these videos were shot in Eastern Finland, in this national park of Koli, especially for the second video. I think it shows the most beautiful part of Finland ever because it’s filmed in the top of the Koli mountain and you can see a lot of lakes in that video. The same actors are featured in both videos. It’s a continuous story with both videos “Valediction” and “Heart Like a Grave” Both videos were filmed and directed by Vesa Ranta, who is the old Sentenced drummer. It was really cool to get to work with one of your old heroes.
You guys are returning to North America this spring. It looks like you’re once again doing a double shift with Omnium Gatherum. Do you find it easier this way or having two separate tours?
Our North American booking agents wants to kill me. I would feel easier to play one show per night but, of course it’s about saving time. I had a choice to do two tours in a row, which would have been taking three months or take six weeks instead and play two shows per night. I decided the time-saving way. It’s not the easiest way, but it’s still doable. I think OG and Insomnium fits really well and we have seven Seven Spires on the deal too. It’s a nice melodic death metal bill and being on the same touring bus with both of my bands. That’s the best of both worlds. It’s a lot of fun times for everyone else except me of course, who is dying. I’ll play two shows but there are pros and cons but I think the tour is going to be amazing.
It’s definitely a great package. You always surprise me by finding ways to constantly write new music for both bands and it seems like you’re on the road for most of the year. I never know how you have this much energy.
Me neither because one thing is, I’m not capable of writing music when I’m touring. I am not that kind of guy who writes music in the tour bus. I always need my isolation at home when I can be alone and silent to create music. And, I never have time for it, but sometimes, somehow, it always comes. For example, for the newest Omni(um Gatherum) album, I wrote five or six songs, even though we’ve been touring with Omnium Gatherum after the Burning Cold album. So if you have the urge to do something, you always find time and tools to do it.
You somehow find this power that you never thought you had in you and you just get it done.
Yeah. There’s a lot of human resources. Hiding in our body, it’s fantastic. Take them out and challenge yourself.
With the new album, how do you guys plan on creating the set list and how would you place Winter’s Gate?
We played Winter’s Gate as a whole and we did it in every show. I think now it’s time to lay Winter’s Gate to rest for a while and just play a so called “normal songs” in the set.
During a few festivals and also the North American tour when we played with Epica in 2017, we performed parts of Winter’s Gate, but somehow it feels wrong because you have to play the whole opus if you want to play Winter’s Gate. I wasn’t a fan of playing parts of it. I want to do all 40 minutes or nothing if you ask me.
That makes perfect sense. Thinking back now, the way Spotify arranges Winter’s Gate. When it shuffles music, it wouldn’t play the full song and it can get confusing as well as a feeling of incomplete. So hearing part of it live, it’s like wait, where’s the rest of the song?
We were all highly against it, because Spotify and iTunes and whatever, streaming services, we would have wanted the whole 40 minute track, but somehow it was not doable. You have to divide it for these platforms. We were against that. But we chose it and was divided for whatever pieces. I don’t even know how many, I only have the vinyl, and the vinyl has two sides.
Now that the new Insomnium album is out and since it seems you never stop working, what are the plans for the new Omnium Gatherum record?
We are released a new song.
Wow. I was right. You don’t stop.
There’s a new song, though it was recorded last year on The Burning Cold session. It’s basically an old single that we had been hiding. We are doing a headlining tour in Europe with Omnium Gatherum and right after that we are doing headliner tour with Insomnium in Europe. So again I have to do two rounds in Europe in both bands, but we already have some plans to start writing a new OG album and it’s coming. We were just asked by the label that they want to release the next OG album so we have to start planning. Never stop the madness. No rest for the wicked.
Wish people have half your energy. You’re a superhuman.
Or stupid or crazy. I probably have some kind of brain damage, which of course is where this kind of noise is coming out of my head.
Are there any other plans for more Insomnium?
Nothing particular. We’re getting older and older and hungrier and hungrier. Nothing particular that we haven’t heard yet, I think we are full of mysteries and full of secrets.
What is the most depressing Insomnium album?
Well, it has to be the new one. Of course it’s stupid. You always have to pick the new one in questions. But if you asked the most depressing and melancholic album. It’s really, I have to pick this new one because if only the lyrics, they are really, really in deep waters of the Finnish melancholia. They are telling a story about last centuries’ sad tales of Finland. So it’s really deep water. And of course the music isn’t that happy. I have to pick this one because Winter’s Gate is about Vikings and Vikings are happy campers and they can fight together and they can travel the world and sail on. So Winters Gate is especially a happy album.
You went from the happiest album to the saddest within three years.
Yeah. From happy Vikings to really sad Finnish farmers.