INTERVIEW: Mitja Harvilahti – Moonsorrow

MOONSORROW are an interesting band within the folk metal genre. Whilst most bands focus their efforts towards upbeat and drinking related music, MOONSORROW have forged a style that explores the Pagan faith through a dark and hard-hitting style of sound. On the back of the release of their latest record, Jumalten Aika, and before a co-headline performance with fellow countrymen KORPIKLAANI (read our review here), we spoke to guitarist Mitja Harvilahti to talk about the tour, the reception towards their new record and why the band exclusively sing in their native tongue of Finnish.

We are many dates into the co-headline tour with KORPIKLAANI, how is it going so far?

Mitja: Very good, it’s been a great tour with good attendance at every venue, it’s been good times!

The package with KORPIKLAANI is a bit odd, you both play distinct varying sounds of folk metal. How is that running in terms of the live performances?

Mitja: Well, indeed we are very different. I think both bands can play their own kind of shows, I haven’t seen much negativity towards either of the bands, I haven’t seen any angry moods or people leaving after us. I haven’t seen any of that separation which is a surprise really.

This tour is right on the back of the release of Jumalten Aika, how are you finding the reception towards the new songs live?

Mitja: Really good, I mean of course it is a very new album and not everybody has it but I like to see people listening to it, I can see that people have been mesmerised by some of the parts in some of the songs. I enjoy the fact that when I look at them hearing if for the first time they are happy.

MOONSORROW albums all seem to have a story, what’s the story with Jumalten Aika?

Mitja: It’s more of a mythological theme, it starts in a time where people are discovering religion and to start explaining what the world is about and who created the people. Basically people created the gods thinking the gods created people. The record follows through different scenarios, some are more ritualistic based, musically and lyrically, and some are based around Scandinavian mythology. At the end of the album the last song is about the time where people have abandoned all these gods and religions are replaced with greed and money.

MOONSORROW’s lyrics are exclusively written in Finnish, do you find it difficult for some fans to understand what the band’s themes are about?

Mitja: It could be, but I don’t see it necessary because when we were kids we were listening to bands who were from Sweden or Norway singing in their native tongues. It doesn’t really matter, I find it more interesting when you can actually research the lyrics.

Moonsorrow live @ Club Academy, Manchester. Photo Credit: Christopher Ryan
Moonsorrow live @ Club Academy, Manchester. Photo Credit: Christopher Ryan

It’s almost like you can teach them the language…

Mitja: Yeah, and at the same time you can learn the culture. It can be very good!

It seems that the general consensus for most music is to sing in English. Do you feel that by singing in Finnish you can add another level of diversity to MOONSORROW?

Mitja: Yeah, it’s because Finnish is a very poetic language, it’s a very expressive language. English is as well but you have to be on a very high level to utilise it. None of us are, even though we can speak and write it, but we don’t get to a level where are at the highest with the language.

So do you feel by singing in your native tongue, you can really get across the messages and themes you want to express?

Mitja: Yeah definitely and also it’s a geographical thing. We are based in Finland or Scandinavia so it feels more natural to use our own language.

The bonus edition of Jumalten Aika features two covers from GRAVE and ROTTING CHRIST. What was the decision behind covering those two bands?

Mitja: It was very spontaneous. Marko our drummer thought we should do a cover so we decided to do a ROTTING CHRIST cover and then we just decided to do a GRAVE cover as well. They are both important bands to us and we already had all the demos and arrangements ready so it was very cool to have those covers.

Moonsorrow live Manchester
Moonsorrow live @ Club Academy, Manchester. Photo Credit: Christopher Ryan

So it gives something extra to the fans who want to hear it?

Mitja: Yeah and also it’s extra to us because we got to arrange those songs again so it was a lot of fun for us to do something for the fans.

With MOONSORROW’s style, you want to distance yourselves from folk metal and to make the band a challenge to listen to. What was the decision to go down that route?

Mitja: Yeah, a long time ago bands were getting really symphonic and the folk metal genre was born. The name folk metal didn’t exist when we started, it really got it’s name in the 2000s. We wanted to go down a different route, we didn’t feel this danceable folk metal was really our style.

So by doing it do you feel it’s added more diversity to the genre?

Mitja: Well I don’t know about that but personally it just feels right because we can transmit the message much better, it carries stronger emotions than just playing drinking songs. We are not very good at writing drinking songs, you can’t really have MOONSORROW playing drinking songs!

The band is described as a Pagan metal band. How does those beliefs and ideologies influence the writing style?

Mitja: I would say a lot, because the core of the lyrics and the core of the band lies within the Pagan philosophies so it is something you can’t really take away from us. It always stems from that.

So will that always remain a key characteristic of the band?

Mitja: Yeah definitely.

So really to close this off, what else can fans expect from MOONSORROW for the rest of 2016. Do you have many festival plans?

Mitja: Well we are doing many festivals, I don’t think we have any in the UK, and then later this year we are hoping to tour Europe again.

Brilliant, well thank you for your time and good luck for the rest of the tour!

Mitja: Thank you!

Jumalten Aika is out now via Century Media Records.

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