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Interviews : “It was good fun. It’s kind of a unique thing” – An Interview With Ville Friman (Insomnium)

By on February 23, 2018

Insomnium – Ville Friman

One of the foremost bands in melodic Death Metal, Finnish maestros Insomnium raised the bar with their latest release ‘Winter’s Gate,’ a single 40-minute song. Guitarist Ville Friman related some of the ideas behind the gargantuan track, along with the band’s experiences on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise.

Insomnium has been around for 20 years, and Friman reflects on some of the changes he’s seen in that time. “When we started, we already had the Internet so it was easier to distribute your music while still making demos for CDs, stuff like that. But I think the technological development has been the biggest kind of change, just all the studios going full-on digital recording. I guess there’s more music out there now than there’s ever been, but at the same time it becomes a bit harder to stick out from the crowd, so it’s kind of how you can define your unique sound, and even if you have a unique sound, how are you going to separate from all the other bands out there? We have more music than ever, but at the same time I think we have quite a lot of generic music.”

Insomnium’s latest release, ‘Winter’s Gate,’ is a 40-minute, single track epic. Friman offers some insights into what goes into writing and composing such a daunting piece of music. “I think we got the idea recording and rehearsing for the previous album, ‘Shadows of the Dying Sun.’ We are all kind of fans of Progressive music as well, especially like Dan Swano’s, Edge of Sanity’s ‘Crimson,’ stuff like that. We really like that kind of stuff, Opeth and so on. So we kind of got an idea, let’s do something like that, and I guess the initial idea was to choose something that is like a 20-minute song, something like that, which could be an EP or whatever, and let’s just figure out how it goes. Then we just kind of started writing and basically we just made one demo on computer, everybody was bringing some ideas and just developing the theme, and then it got to, ‘Okay, I think we have enough material to make a 40-minute song,’ which would be kind of an album.

“It kind of wrote itself,” Friman acknowledges. “I started that, then we have some middle parts that are done by another guitar player, and then Niilo [Sevänen], our bassist / vocalist, then there’s some other stuff that is done by our other guitarist in the end. So it’s like, everybody put something into it, and I guess you can hear that because it’s quite diverse. I think the reason is it can get really monotonic as well if you are going to make the span and excitement last for 40 minutes, normally your songs are five minutes so you don’t want to repeat yourself too much, so it’s kind of a group effort. Basically we just did the demo and bounced around ideas. We never rehearsed, we just went to the studio and recorded it, and that’s it.”

While many bands would struggle to get away with such an endeavour, Friman points out the band have open-minded people to work with. “We have quite an understanding record company who were just like, ‘Okay, sounds like an interesting idea. Let’s do it, because you never know how this can work out.’ It could not work at all, and it could be commercial suicide if people don’t like it, but on the other hand in the Metal scene you can do these kinds of weird things and people still find them interesting. I guess we’ve been around 20 years, so you kind of want to challenge yourself musically as well and come up with some new ideas that keep it kind of fresh. You don’t have the same limitations you normally have when you’re writing an album where you have individual songs, and then you have to think about how these individual songs can fit together. Niilo’s just like, let’s just write, whatever comes out of that, if it sounds good, that’s great, but that was the only thing we thought about. We were really writing it to ourselves.”

It’s been said that ‘Winter’s Gate’ is a Viking story, but Friman points out that it’s also far more than that. “The idea of the long song was also an idea to combine lyrically with a short novel Niilo had written quite a while ago. He’s into writing stuff as well, and he won some national prize with that novel / short story back in the day, and it was only written in Finnish, then we kind of thought about it: ‘Hmm. Should we kind of use that short story as a basis for the lyrics, and make that story into an album?’ Then it was translated into English, and German as well, and that was kind of the story behind the story,” he says with a smile.

“It’s a Viking story in a way, but I think it’s kind of universal, so we don’t want to go like Amon Amarth, or really kind of Folk for things. I think these kind of bands already own the Viking scene, so if you mention Vikings, everybody thinks about these bands, but I think it’s like okay, let’s take our own story, our own view of that. I think it’s kind of a universal story in a way, it’s not only about Vikings. There’s big themes, love and death and so on, so it’s kind of more of a general story behind that Viking narrative and the scene.”

Friman offers some reflections on his first time on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise in 2016. “First, that was two years ago. That was the first time I’ve been here. If you live in Scandinavia, if you live in Finland, there’s always a ferry going around between Finland and Sweden. Just kind of like, people go over there to buy tax-free alcohol and be stupidly drunk, really. So we have these ferry boats, and this ferry boat has been in Finland as well actually, so we have big docks there. First time, ‘Oh, this is big, and this is kind of crazy to go on a cruise.’ And of course we went up to the top deck, and got ourselves drinks, and then it’s like, ‘Oooh, these are stupidly strong drinks,’ and I got wasted basically in the first moments,” he recalls with a wry grins.

“It was good fun. It’s kind of a unique thing, because you don’t have the VIP areas or anything like that, so everybody’s the same crowd. All the bands are hanging with the crowd. I guess for the Finnish nature that can be a bit overwhelming at times,” he smiles, “because we like our solitude, we like our space. But at the end of the day all the people are really cool, really nice, so it’s kind of a unique opportunity for the fans and the bands to just meet each other, and have a normal discussion as well. That’s kind of something that’s very unique for this cruise. You don’t get that on any other Summer festivals and so on. But yeah, last time I had such a bad hangover when we got back I was like, ‘Never again,’ but here we are, and I’m enjoying it, so you just have to kind of tone down those stupidly strong drinks and have fun. And have coffee at times!” he adds, raising his caffeinated beverage.

Winter’s Gate out now via Century Media Records

When it comes to reclusiveness aboard the ship, it’s more cultural than personal. “Finnish bands, we are very social when we’re drunk, but after that comes the hangovers, and people are just laying down and probably having a nap. But everybody has to get out, you have to eat, and you have to get drinks. But I think Finnish bands, when they’re hungover, they want their space, and to be watching TV or sleeping,” Friman chuckles.

As for what the band have been drinking, Friman reveals, “We’ve been drinking quite a lot of Long Island Iced Teas, and that’s a stupidly strong drink. But it kind of gets you going. They have quite a nice selection of beers as well, so you can get Sierra Nevada and different pale ales and Blue Moon, and if you want, wheat beer. But there could be even a larger selection of beers and I think people would like that. Why isn’t there 70,000 Tons of Metal beer? There should be one for sure,” he grins.

If there were any member of Insomnium to get seasick, the answer speaks for itself. “It has to be our drummer because he was just vomiting yesterday, all day. Maybe it wasn’t seasickness, but kind of related to the cruise and alcohol,” Friman laughs.

If Friman could tour with any band on the 70,000 Tons of Cruise line-up, one band stands out in particular – a band whose frontman sang a guest spot on Insomnium’s first set of the cruise. “Well, I mean there’s loads of many great bands, and I love all of our good friends here. We toured quite a lot with Dark Tranquillity, they’re great guys and they seem to be working really well together musically as well, so I mean it would be just the easy option to go on tour with them, and just have fun.”

The question of karaoke choices, however, requires more consideration. “Oh, that’s a tough one. It would need to be something I actually know pretty well. I’m pretty crap at remembering lyrics in general, so maybe I would do something like Guns ‘n’ Roses or something like that, Sweet Child of Mine or something like that.”

An easy choice at 3 am however, is the food. “I think if I had to choose, it’s probably pizza. It’s just easy. You just go to deck five and grab some slices, and that’s it.”

However, Friman has his own ideas about where he’d like to sail the ship. “Because I’m Finnish, I’m not dealing with hot weather as well, so maybe I would just go to North America, that might be interesting, but not so pleasant for playing outside, but it would be interesting to see around those kind of seas.”

Failing that however, there’s plenty more on the agenda for Insomnium. “We have a couple of tours coming up. We’re going to do first a European tour, go to Eastern Europe and Southern Europe for most of the shows. Then we have a US tour lined up in May / June. So we’re going to do a couple of tours, then a couple of selected festivals this Summer, then we’re just going to focus on writing the new material and recording the new album.”

Finally, Friman has a clear recommendation for anyone considering a trip on 70,000 Tons of Metal. “Definitely I would recommend everybody to come and at least experience this cruise once in a lifetime. It’s quite a spectacular and unique way to spend time and meet people.”

Head to the official Insomnium website:

To find out more about the 70,000 Tons Of Metal Crusie, head to the official website: