Mathias "Vreth" Lillmåns, vocalist for the Finnish folk metal band Finntroll
Interview and live pics by Kyle Moore, The Metal Magnus
I had the opportunity to interview Vreth, vocalist of the acclaimed Finnish folk metal band FINNTROLL, before the show started. Because there was a large crowd of people backstage, we had to conduct the interview on the staircase leading up to the stage, and after a time the interview was cut short by the opening band starting their set. Nonetheless, Vreth was a pleasure to speak with!
I’m here with Vreth from Finntroll, its a very awesome super-pleasure to meet you. In the last few years, the folk metal scene has really taken off, with you guys at the forefront. Where do you see the future of folk metal, and where do you see Finntroll’s place in it?
Well I hope we’re actually gonna get a little bit away from the whole folk label, cuz I don’t think…there’s so many bands out there that sound exactly the same, and all the tours they go on…and it’s the same bands and the same lineup all the time, and I think in a couple years it’ll be boring for the fans because it’ll be the same packages all the time. So I really hope that all these folk bands today get out there on other tours.
So that non-folk bands would be on the bill with you?
Yeah, and the other way around. Folk bands from Finland and from Europe could be on real, proper metal tours.
As opposed to…
All these PaganFests, and Highland fests, I dunno how long they’re gonna still be active. Same bands, usually. [laughs]
Fair enough. On your newest album NIFELVIND, you guys did some orchestral samples, which would not exactly what would fall in the genre of folk metal. What made you guys do that, and where are you gonna take that in the future?
That was actually not really planned to do. We had some small orchestration on the UR JORDENS DJUP album also and we actually started just recording it from the keyboards and then, hey this is really cool, lets do it the full way and actually put really really good sounding orchestrations in there. It wasn’t’ planned really, when we were in the studio it actually turned out like “we have to do this.”
How do you do that for live playback?
Well we’re kinda lucky to have our Alexi Virta with us, because he is actually really good at making it sound almost like the album.
Now Trollhorn is with you guys here, but he’s playing with Moonsorrow, correct?
No, he’s not here with Moonsorrow?
Ok, I didn’t understand that…
You actually have the guy that fills in…
Janne Perttil: I’m Trollhorn! [laughs] From Moonsorrow!
He doesn’t play live with either Finntroll or Moonsorrow. They have Alexi in Finntroll and me in Moonsorrow for the live lineup. That’s just the way it works.
Gotcha! [turning back to Vreth] Your newest album NIFELVIND has gotten you guys, I think, unprecedented praise from the press, hey I wrote a good review of it so that’s all I know…have your concert attendance and CD sales matched that acclaim?
Well the CD sales are…three times better than ever probably. It’s gone really good actually in all the chart positions, we’ve never been this high on charts before, and actually never been on so many charts. The concerts…in the States, we’re not that big here, so this is about the same that it’s usually been. In Europe you can really see the difference. Lots of sold out shows on the PaganFest tour we did this year.
I read somewhere that you guys had done Wacken, and you had 60,000 people screaming at you, and you felt like you were at a Motorhead concert or something, but you were the band! So now that you have all these newfound fans, all this attention, are you guys able to do Finntroll full time?
We have sorta been doing Finntroll full-time for many years now. Some of us have jobs, some studying also, that gives a little extra money. But I don’t think I’ll need it for a couple years at least, as long as we are touring on the albums.
That’s a rare milestone for metal bands these days, so that’s really awesome for you guys. I want to talk about your new album a little bit…NIFELVIND is the heaviest album you’ve ever done. What made you go back into that sort of direction to your black metal roots?
That was actually the thing cuz we have these black metal roots and I think it was a little bit forgotten during the NATTFODD era. On UR JORDENS DJUP we wanted to go back to the roots and make it a little more primitive, more…showing off our death metal, black metal roots and now we just continue. The sound we’ve made now, we wanted to have a really well-produced album. We have so-far done, on purpose, making a little bit crappier sound because we like the sound of that. But now we’re thinking about “lets do it really proper this time,” make it sound really good.
One of the things I noticed on it, on every single song there are, I don’t even know how many layers of percussion, folk instruments…how do you guys come up with what to do for each of those songs when you’re recording?
That’s a strange thing, cuz usually we come up with it was we go. When we come to the studio, that’s when the songs starts…all the pieces fall together. Usually Trollhorn does these pre-production demos, and it’s usually just a rough version of how it could sound. But when we get into the studio and we record the songs, you find the thread and the path you wanna go. And that’s usually when the album gets born.
The photograph you did for the inset of NIFELVIND was very very different for what people would probably think a band called ‘Finntroll’ would do. You look like a club band at a 1920’s speakeasy. How did that come about, and are you gonna go a little further with that new image, especially with your new video [for “Under Bergets Rot], which goes with that too?
The thing is, we’re getting a little tired of the thing where we go out in the forests in the night and the snow and shit, and then take photos. We really wanted to do something different this time, and we had this idea about that one-and-a-half years ago. We were really bored at a festival, we had like 11 hours until the show, just sitting around trying to be creative or something. Then we came up with that, thought it would be really cool actually, make it like Finntroll tries to blend into society but miserably fails.
Well maybe not 1920’s society. I for one think it worked pretty well. On NIFELVIND, you guys incorporated a lot of disparate musical elements. It’s not just black metal. There’s so many other things that are going on, other ethnic music types coming in. What do you guys listen to outside of metal when you’re recording to get these ideas?
Well there’s so many different kinds of music that people like in this band. For example, Trollhorn is a really really big movie soundtrack fan and he does it for a living also. He makes soundtracks for computer games.
Any ones I might know?
I don’t actually know which ones he’s done. He’s done some movies also, some Finnish movie soundtracks and stuff like that. You can really really notice it in the music, especially on the new album. It’s actually like a movie soundtrack to a weird, carnival film or something. Everybody listens to…for example, me myself I listen to a lot of electronic music so, it’s really varied.
You recorded an acoustic song for NIFELVIND called “Galgasång” and you kind of hinted at one for “Tiden utan Tid” – this hearkens back to VISOR OM SLUTET, which is your all-acoustic album you came out with five-some-odd years ago. Any plans in the works for another acoustic effort like that?
Actually, you never know [laughs]. It was really nice to do “Galgasång.” It’s the first time for me to do a real, full-blown acoustic song and everybody really liked doing that song. Maybe in the future more, I dunno. We’ll see.
Do you think you will incorporate more of the clean vocal in the future?
That’s the thing, you never know. Some reason we can get into our heads we’re gonna do a really black metal album…but you never know. I think it’s gonna be more, that’s usually the thing we do, more and more, but never know.
What inspired “Under Bergets Rot”? When I first heard that, and I’ve heard Finntroll for a long time and it’s kind of a bouncy kind of sound, but when I heard that song I wanted to run around my room and dance like a maniac, it’s so bouncy. How did that song come about?
I actually have no idea. It’s actually Routa and Trollhorn that have written that song together. Have no idea what’s going on in their minds when they did that one, cuz it’s a weird, weird song. It’s like an Addams Family with a rockabilly influence. I have no idea how they came up with it?
Why’d you guys do the bonus track as an acoustic version of the same song, or are there different lyrics for it?
It’s the same lyrics for it. It’s just, we were in the studio when we were mixing the album and you try around with different sounds, and for some reason we just muted the guitars…
That’s all you did?
No no no, when we were in the studio mixing the album, for some reason we listened to the song and thought, “shit, this sounds really cool, it would work perfectly without the distorted guitars.” Thing was, we took the base that we had in the studio, all the tracks, and put some more acoustic stuff, and there’s really not any keyboards on that. It’s really organic instruments on the special version we did, so we just took away the acoustic guitars and put stand bass instead…
Do you guys play most of those acoustic instruments, or do you bring in some other folks to do that sometimes?
Well, we have done it mostly ourselves, because Trollhorn takes 10 minutes to learn a new instruments. He’s a genius with lots of the stuff, but we had actually two guest musicians. One violin player from Turisas is playing the violin, and then we have one friend of ours from Iran playing a strange rhythmic instrument called Daf.
What’s a Daf?
It’s like a big tambourine, it’s got all these strange metal rings, looks a little bit like chainmail. You drum on it and there’s this “shhh k shkk” sound on it.
What songs was that featured on the new album?
There’s some in “Solsagan” and also on “Ett Norrskensdåd" there’s some. I don’t remember, I think there’s three or four songs, and on the intro also.
On “Fornfamnad", that was like the blackest song you’ve ever done. What was going on with that song?
That’s a hard question also. The blastbeats, they came up in the studio, we decided “hey lets put blastbeats!” Before, it was double-pedal, but then we said “lets put blastbeats on this one.” And there’s this strange dissonant stuff mixed up with Star Wars…I have no idea how they came up with that one…one of the riffs actually, was supposed to be on the JAKTENS TID album, but it never ended up there, so it’s actually really old stuff. Elements from here and there really mixed up together. That’s probably why it sounds so weird, cuz it’s a 7-year-old riff.
How does NATTFODD fit into your live set and your legacy, cuz it sorta stands out amongst all your albums as something that doesn’t quite fit as much?
I think it makes the set list a little more varied, get the variation there. You have the Finntroll folk stuff from NATTFODD and then we had from the first albums the black metal stuff, we have the new one with the orchestrations. I think it makes it more varied, more diverse.
Your lyrics are written again by Katla, and he draws a lot of his inspiration from myth. He wrote on the UR JORDENS UP inset, that he wanted to tell really interesting stories. Since the lyrics are all in Swedish, do you feel that it’s hard for your English speaking fans to relate to the stories, and you guys don’t provide translations either…
…yeah, for some….I would like the fans to know more about the music, and sometimes you have this really really big misconceptions of what Finntroll is all about, but usually somebody translates them anyways, but of course it’s not as good sounding as in Swedish usually, because they’re meant to be written by Katla.
I think it sounds better in Swedish, it sounds more appropriate…I think we’re…not so in a good place, so I’ll call this short. Thank you so much for doing this with me!