Ensiferum: “Life is about evolving”

Ensiferum have become one of the big players in the Pagan-Metal scene – and definitely one of the busiest live-acts on this planet. Right now they are travelling across Europe (“Bearers Of The Sword Tour 2012” with Profane Omen and Amoral), and they just released their new album named “Unsung Heroes” – therefore we just had to ask a band member – Basser Sami – for a few comments…

Before recording “Unsung Heroes”, Ensiferum hadn´t hit the studio for three years. Did you miss the studio ? How did it feel to record again?
Kinda. Composing new material with the whole band is really great thing for us. We try all ideas and twist and turn all chords and melodies and even the craziest arrangement-ideas are given a chance. This line-up has been together for years and all the touring and composing two albums have really made us closer to each other and working as a band is so easy nowadays. The actual studio session went really smoothly and we are really happy with the result.

I assume you guys had plenty of new ideas. Did the band manage to encapsulate all those new ideas on “Unsung Heroes”?
Yes and no, because we finalized all songs on Unsung Heroes so that we can stand behind every note but we had many songs that we didn’t complete yet, so we already have some material for the next album. This has been the way we work for years and it works for us perfectly.

“Unsung Heroes” is much more versatile than your previous albums. Beyond typical Ensiferum stuff, we can also find different musical elements and atmospheres, like some melodic death metal or even some speed metal. Did you have a desire to open up the musical boundaries of the band before hitting the studio, or did it come naturally while recording?
Composing new songs happened really naturally. We never think about can we do this or that, we just write new stuff and if it sounds good to us then we keep arranging the idea to a song. Life is about evolving and it´s only natural that bands take steps to another directions, there is absolutely no point to keep repeating yourself album after album. The ideas we have for the next album are again a bit different than Unsung Heroes.

To me, it´s mainly that musical variety which makes the album so great, because we can feel different moods. Can you comment on that?
I agree. On Unsung Heroes there is not a single moment that listener should feel that “ok, I heard this already in the previous song”. It´s also a great challenge as a composer and lyrics writer to express different moods that originally gave the inspiration for each song. It´s never ending process and you can always learn more.

One of the song is titled “Pohjola”. Is it necessary for you to make some references to your roots, where you are from?
Not really. It´s not like we have to underline that we are from Finland and even the song Pohjola is sang in Finnish I´m sure many people can enjoy the song. I write almost all lyrics for Ensiferum, and even though all my lyrics are inspired by real life things, I try to write my lyrics more in a metaphorical way ,so that many people can relate to them.
I actually found the lyrics for that song from a poetry book, the lyrics are an over 100 years old Finnish poem (of course I had to add a few lines). This was back in 2006 when we had recorded the first demos of that song and I was home reading this book and found the poem. I recorded demo vocals at home (while my neighbors were banging the walls, haha) and took it to the others to the rehearsal room and they liked the lyrics and vocal arrangements. But still it took 6 years to finalize that song! We are really slow, I know.

Tell us a bit about the themes you tackle on the album.
I actually noticed afterward that many songs tell about change. Nothing is stable or eternal. It´s not good or bad thing, it´s just the world works. I don´t want to explain my lyrics too much, because like in art general, everyone finds their own meaning of it.

By the way, more and more bands label themselves “pagan” just because they decided to include a violin or a keyboard in their line-up. To you, what does it means to be a pagan band ? Is it more about the music, the lyrics, the band´s state of mind …?
I cant speak behalf of my band mates, because I think we all have a bit different ways to see life and the world. I don’t see myself as pagan and I don’t think it´s something that you can become just by adding folk elements to your music, hah! For me it´s totally ok what ever people believe in, as long as no one tells me or the rest of the world what to believe. If faith gives someone comfort and makes them better people towards other people, I don’t care if they say their prayers to Odin, Satan or Higgs Boson.

There are several guests on “Unsung Heroes”, like members from the band DIE APOKALYPTISCHEN REITER. Why and how did you end up working with that band ? Tell us more about that collaboration.
We have had this idea of medieval market square -part for years, and while we were composing Passion, Proof, Power we noticed that we need some part for the song that would give a listener a breather and that song was getting so out of hands anyway, so the idea of having German speaking guys on a market square sounded like a good idea. Luckily our management hooked us up with Die Apo -guys and they did an excellent job!

Let´s talk about the current music industry. If I´m not wrong, you all live from making music. It´s more and more difficult now to earn your living through a band. Although it´s deserved, do you feel even more “blessed” compared to some other musicians?
Yes, we are really privileged to be full time musicians. It´s really hard financially, especially in Finland where everything costs so much and taxes are high. Some of us had to take day jobs when we were composing the new album, because we didn’t do any gigs for several months. But let´s see how it will be in the future, now that we started touring again. But generally it´s getting harder and harder for musicians, because record sales are going down and all the bands are touring much more, so there is oversupply of gigs. For us this hasn’t been a problem at all, because tour after tour we seem to gain more fans, but some bands and promoters are worried about diminishing crowds.

Do you think it´s a shame that now even a gifted musician is not very likely to earn a living via music?
The world is full of gifted musicians. It´s not so simple that if you can play your instrument well and suddenly you are playing to sold out stadiums. You have to have something to tell with your music. It´s also combination of good contacts, timing and pure luck. Music itself is purely creative thing and shouldn’t be corrupted by anything and if you start playing, because you want to be someone, I think you got it all wrong. I know great musicians who just play at home and compose just for fun, they are not interested about touring and the whole business side. But if you get into it, be prepared to work your ass off, sacrifice your personal relationships, spend countless hours traveling and accept the fact that everyone makes more money out of your music than you or your band. Might sound terrible, but when you get on stage and the crowd goes wild, then you understand that it´s all been worth it.

It´s time for the last question: during the recording, your released several video updates from the studio (funny ones by the way!). Something obvious came up and I needed to ask: Is holding a beer and being naked the key to success ?! 😉
Haha, maybe? We shall see what the future brings.

Thanks for your time !
It was my pleasure! All the best! 🙂

Marine Crepiat

- no longer active - - Reports - Reviews - Photos Passionate and curious by nature, I'm interested in ways through which I can express my opinion and communicate my feelings. Writing, photography, singing, drawing, languages... are the main things I keep myself busy with ! As for music, my favorite genre is music that speaks to me and that conveys a certain atmosphere. It can a be a pop or a metal song, some thrash or death metal tune... so the actual genre doesn't really matter to me.