ENSIFERUM: "WE HAVE SIX RAW SONGS FOR THE NEXT ALBUM AND WE'RE RELEASING A LIVE DVD"
INTERVIEW WITH SAMI AND PETRI PLUS GIG REVIEW
Ensiferum are back in town, eleven months after their storming, sold out performance at the Islington Academy last March, and I am very happy about it.
They won my Album Of They Year, Band Of The Year and Gig Of The Year for 2015 (here) so getting the call to come to the Academy and continue the chat that we had last year was obviously very pleasing.
It was scheduled to be a chat with bass player Sami Hinkka but frontman Petri Lindroos and accordian player Netta Skog all got involved and joined in the conversation as well with guitarist Markus Toivonen popping in too, which was great.
It's eleven months since we last spoke and you've had barely any time off at all since then. What's been the highlight of the last eleven months of touring?
Sami: "The whole 'One Man Army' touring has gone so well. The reaction from the fans has been incredible. Now the album is one year old, this is the point where usually the fans know all the songs but since the first show we've had big mosh pits and all the fans singing along."
It was absolutely magnificent here last March and it was absolutely rammed. Tonight is the third year running you have played the same venue in London so are you ready for an upgrade in London now? How were the other gigs you just played in the UK? Were you sold out?
Sami: "Sold out, no, not quite. The shows were incredibly good with decent audiences, yes, but not sold out. Hopefully this will give us a chance to play festivals and upgrade next time we come to London. It's a long process because if you think about how many times we have toured over the last ten years, we haven't actually played the UK that much and we want to because of the incredible fans. And the English weather."
You mentioned ten years of touring but it's actually twenty years of Ensiferum and you have a new release coming out, 'Twenty Years...'
***at this point both Sami and myself cannot remember the name of the forthcoming new compilation album but the situation is rescued as I wrote the title down on my interview notes...***
'Two Decades Of Greatest Sword Hits'. I'm a little confused because the album is being released on your former label Spinefarm yet there are two songs from 'One Man Army' on the album which was released on Metal Blade. How does this work? Did Spinefarm have to licence those tracks?
Sami: "We are still really good friends with Spinefarm and we have a long history - they have the whole back catalogue - so it's a case of scratching each other's backs. And I really like the fact that there are songs from 'One Man Army' on this album as fans can see the whole evolution."
***Petri walks into the room and joins us at this stage. I am sure he was supposed to be getting interviewed by someone else right now but he's more than welcome...***
Yes, evolution is a word I was about to use. We mentioned it when we spoke last year and I asked the question: 'how are you going to follow 'One Man Army'? So what's the situation now eleven months later?
Sami: "I think we have six raw songs ready."
Petri: "Very raw!"
And are you going to use a choir again? Are you going to continue down that road?
Sami: "Maybe - let's see how the songs actually turn out. It's going to be a little bit different from 'One Man Army' and it would be cool to do it with Anssi Kippo [producer] again as he did such a great job but he's a busy man so let's see. We would like to hit the studio again early next year but that's pretty ambitious as we have the European tour coming up, summer festivals and some other things that I can't mention due to politics.
"Between the tour we are trying to work on the new songs as much as possible and then we'll have a massive, intense session when the time comes. As for the choir, maybe we will just be the choir ourselves this time round. Just us and our beautiful voices."
But no Boney M samples this time round?
Petri: "We'll figure out something else..."
I took your earlier hint that we may be getting a live DVD later this year and I also note that 'Two Decades Of Greatest Sword Hits' contains no 'Windrider', 'Into Battle', 'Wanderer', 'Battle Song'. Am I being too presumptious in assuming that these are being saved for the live DVD?
Petri: "We've not really thought about the set list yet but what we want to do is create a really good package for the fans, you know not just one concert but a really interesting package with lots of different things. For example, we just did some acoustic shows in Finland and they were a lot of fun. Metal shows are very energetic for us and this was different, although we still had mosh pits but they were acoustic mosh pits.
"They turned out to be really good those shows and hopefully someday we can bring that show abroad. So as you can see, we have way too many things to do, new album, new DVD, hopefully some acoustic recordings, acoustic tour, we have lots to do for the next twenty years - we're not done yet."
***Neta joins us briefly at this stage***
Back to UK festivals and I note that once again you are not on at Download. As far as I am aware, no folk/battle Metal band has ever played Download...
Sami: "Neta has, with Turisas. Neta - did you play Download with Turisas?"
Neta: "Yes, in 2011."
Sami: "You bastard."
Neta: "It was raining like hell."
***Neta has to leave now. I think her dinner was ready***
Has Neta played the whole of this eleven month schedule with you and what's the situation with Emmi at the moment?
***Neta is currently 'filling in' for permanent keyboard player Emmi Silvennoinen who wasn't able to make this tour due to family reasons***
Sami: "Yes, pretty much the whole time and she's doing an incredible job. It all feels really natural. It all started in the studio when she came to do some guest vocals and accordian."
Petri: "We didn't even notice the switch and they've got very similar personalities too. The other one plays like this [mimics keyboard] and the other one plays like this [mimics accordian]."
So is she going to become a permanent fixture in the band?
Sami: "We'll see how it goes. We'll be much wiser on this pretty soon."
Have you varied the set list over the last tour at all?
Sami: "Yes, a little bit... but of course this is still the time when we are promoting 'One Man Army'... I think there have been some changes... [to Petri] do you remember?"
Petri: "Eerrr, no, not really... I think there has been some changes but I really can't remember."
***I ask them if they are going to play 'In My Sword I Trust', which they didn't do last year and the reaction and the look tells me that I am probably in for a treat later tonight. Metal Blade executives are now trying to hurry us up by trying to call time on the interview but Sami and Petri tell them to go away as they are enjoying themselves...***
Sami, Petri, is there anything you would like to add for your UK legions? It's 3.00pm and they are already queueing down the street, just like last year and the year before."
Sami: "That's great because we're not sold out in advance. Last spring we had a stronger package of three bands and I think the show time is kind of early today."
It's 9.30pm to 11.00pm according to the poster on the wall.
Petri: "That's OK but 8.00pm in the week would be awesome. In Finland they are changing it to that during the week."
What time were you starting in America?
Petri: "I don't remember - it's all just one big blur. When you are on tour in America what you see is bus, venue and a Walmart and we didn't know small details like what time we were on stage until our really beautiful tour manager appeared and said: 'Hippies - get on stage - five minutes...'"
***And at this point, Ensiferum's European tour manager appears and although it isn't a five minute call, it is the end of the interview. So we bade each other farewell until the next time and the MetalTalk crew retreated to the bar to wait for showtime...***
O2 Academy, Islington, London
Thursday 25th February 2016
It turns out that there isn't quite as many here as there were last year. You can move around fairly comfortably in the Academy unlike eleven months ago when you literally could not move.
Pythia are playing their third gig since replacing frontlady Emily Ovenden with Sophie Dorman in mid 2015 and there is ground to make up. In short, when Emily left the band lost something and they are still trying to find it.
It's not too far away. Sophie has the looks, she definitely has the voice and she definitely knows the songs but she lacks confidence and needs to engage with the audience more. Once she masters these two aspects, then Pythia should be back on track.
It might also be a big help to Sophie if they can add a couple of new songs to the set that she can call her own. At the moment the set list is made up completely of Emily's songs and Sophie has got pretty big boots to fill. Once she gets a couple of songwriting credits, it could be a totally different story but for the moment, Pythia are still struggling to recreate past glories but I am sure they will come round again at some point.
Metsatöll are from Estonia and are seven studio albums in but they don't quite seem like the finished article yet. They don't start well at all and in fact, I wondered whether all the band members were actually playing the same song when they first fired up.
But it improves dramatically and Metsatöll end up with deserved applause after showcasing some pretty decent material which has massive potential.
What appeals most to some is the gargantuan riffing of guitarist/frontman Markus who really does bash out some chunky riffage but it's Lauri who is the star for me with his wild and wonderful collection of unusual instruments, all traditional Estonian, including a torupill which is an Estonian bagpipe, lots of various flutes, an acoustic and electric kannel which is a bit like a washboard with eleven strings, a mouth harp, a goat horn and the instrument of angst, more commonly known as the hiiukannel or ängipill.
That all makes for something very different and quite unique and although there are many pleasurable moments during their set, Metsatöll are lacking some really strong and memorable songs. If they can produce some of these then the future could be bright for them.
Here's a great video where Lauri talks you through his instruments.
And by the time 9.30pm finally arrives, the anticipation is approaching overwhelming and as the intro, 'March Of War', breaks out from the PA, you know this is going to meet expectations and it absolutely does, the opening tracks from 'One Man Army', 'Axe Of Judgement' and 'Heathen Horde', setting a relentless pace and making a massive statement.
They have changed the setlist from last year, not hugely but just enough to keep it still interesting and this set list is really great, primarily because it includes 'In My Sword I Trust', which pleases me immensely, although the masses crying out for 'Lai Lai Hei' will not have been so pleased when Petri announced they had "left that one at home this time".
Six studio albums in and it's impossible to please all of the people all of the time but all in all, this is a superb setlist with songs from 'One Man Army' interspersed at exactly the right moments amongst the 'older' gems.
'Ahti' is a highlight, as is 'My Ancestors' Blood' but 'Two Of Spades' almost steals the show again proving that this song is perfect for Ensiferum's live set. Neta plays the "Boney M" parts perfectly on the accordian and once again it's a rousing romp that leaves you breathless.
Ensiferum are an energetic band and watching Sami move around the stage like a possessed whirlwind will also leave you breathless but it's the musical ability that really is the standout element of their performance.
'Unsung Heroes' and 'Twilight Tavern' close out the set and it's all over too soon but we get three cracking encores, including 'In My Sword...', and 'Iron' really is the perfect number to close on.
It was a solid, driving performance tonight from a band who are now seriously seasoned touring veterans and there's an awful lot to look forward to in the coming months, including the aforementioned live DVD and the follow up to 'One Man Army', which is almost certain to be this publication's most anticipated release of 2017.
And 'Two Decades of Greatest Sword Hits' is due out on April 1st on Spinefarm Records.
This was almost certainly the last Ensiferum UK gig until 2017 but as you can see from the list of gigs below, there is plenty of opportunity to see them overseas before they finally come off the road and retreat to the studio. Berlin in April looks very tempting indeed...
March Of War
Axe Of Judgement
Warrior Without A War
My Ancestors' Blood
Two Of Spades
In My Sword I Trust
Ensiferum scheduled gigs 2016
04.03.2016 - 05.03.2016 Sweden House Of Metal, Folkets Hus, Umea
+ Fleshgod Apocalypse
01.04.2016 Germany Ragnarök Festival, Lichtenfels
02.04.2016 Netherlands Maasilo, Rotterdam
03.04.2016 Belgium Trix, Antwerp
04.04.2016 Germany Batschkapp, Frankfurt
05.04.2016 Luxembourg Kulturfabrik, Esch/Alzette
06.04.2016 Germany Capitol, Hannover
07.04.2016 Denmark Amager Bio, Copenhagen
08.04.2016 Germany Hellraiser, Leipzig
09.04.2016 Austria Szene, Wien
10.04.2016 Hungary Barba Negra Club, Budabest
12.04.2016 Romania Arenele Romane, Bucharest
13.04.2016 Bulgaria Mixtape 5 Club, Sofia
14.04.2016 Serbia Dom Omladine, Belgrade
15.04.2016 Croatia Vintage, Zagreb
16.04.2016 Germany VAZ Pfarrheim, Burglengenfeld
17.04.2016 Swizerland Kulturfabrik Kofmehl, Solothurn
18.04.2016 Italy Fabrique, Milan
19.04.2016 Germany Substage, Karlsruhe
20.04.2016 Germany Live Music Hall, Köln
21.04.2016 Germany Columbia Theater, Berlin
30.04.2016 Norway Karmøygeddon, 1866, Karmøy, Kopervik
10.06.2016 - 11.06.2016 Germany Rockfels, St. Goarshausen, Loreley
09.07.2016 Germany Rock Harz Open Air, Ballenstedt
23.07.2016 Mexico Heaven and Hell Fest
29.07.2016 - 31.07.2016 Ukraine Carpathian Alliance, Kiew
06.08.2016 France Sylak Open Air, St. Maurice de Gourdans
11.08.2016 - 13.08.2016 Spain Leyendas del Rock, Villena
19.08.2016 - 20.08.2016 Slovakia More Than Fest, Zvolenska Slatina
25.08.2016 - 28.08.2016 Poland Czad Festival, Straszęcin, Arena Park