INTERVIEW: Niilo Sevänen – Insomnium

For 20 years, Finnish melodic death metal outfit INSOMNIUM have crafted a sound that is both hauntingly beautiful and devastatingly heavy. Last year the band released their most ambitious album to date, Winter’s Gate, one 40 minute epic track. 2017 kicked the band’s year off to a widespread headlining European tour where they would perform the new album in its entirety alongside material from their decorated back catalogue. Before the show in Manchester, Distorted Sound‘s James Weaver and Julia Ward caught up with frontman Niilo Sevänen to talk about the tour, the reception to Winter‘s Gate alongside reflecting on the band’s 20 year career.

So we’re a handful of dates into the European tour for Winter’s Gate, how is it going so far?

Niilo: Well it has been a very good tour, everything has gone better than we expected. We’ve now had three sold out shows in a row so yesterday in Birmingham then Paris and Lyon so that is very good! It’s been so much fun.

Has there been any standout shows in particular?

Niilo: Well, Lyon and Paris were very good, very hot and steamy! Being club shows which were sold out was crazy.

And obviously with this tour you’ve playing Winter’s Gate in full which is quite an ambitious aim for a live performance. What are the challenges with playing the entire record live?

Niilo: Well of course it’s a bit different than playing a normal show, but actually because there are natural breaks there it kind of feels like we are playing six normal songs in a row without breaks so we can have a sip of water, I think it works well! It’s nice to see how the audience react differently, for the Winter’s Gate part they are like in a trance for 40 minutes and then when the normal set starts they start moshing and stuff like that. It’s nice to see, it’s different and people seem to like it, so it works live.

So what has been the biggest rewards of playing Winter’s Gate in full on this tour?

Niilo: Well of course, meeting the people and seeing that obviously we have maybe have reached another level. We started doing something really special, maybe it’s commercial suicide? Maybe it is a bit risky but we didn’t care, we just wanted to do it, and then people loved it so that’s an extra cool thing to notice. We thought it would be cool to do and the fact people think it’s cool is something that resonates in other people, it’s really cool to see that.

As well as playing Winter’s Gate you are also going through your back catalogue for the rest of the set. How hard was it to balance that setlist?

Niilo: Not hard! It probably took five minutes to do the setlist, I think we’re going to play something from every album but Winter’s Gate takes up about half of the set but there are some olden goldies in there too!

In regards to Winter’s Gate you have a fantastic reception, how do you feel about that? Was it something you were expecting?

Niilo: Yeah [laughs]. I don’t want to sound arrogant but personally I was really happy with it, everything went how we planned it in the studio, everything went pretty smoothly and the sounds became what we wanted. We were all very happy with it so it’s not a surprise that most of the critics liked it as well.

It was quite an ambitious concept, with it being a short story split up into parts. How do you feel Winter’s Gate holds up to your other albums?

Niilo: Well, it is something different. The original idea was that we wanted to do something different, for a change, to keep things interesting for ourselves. We had six normal albums already so we wanted to try something new.

I think the more important question is that would you do it again?

Niilo: Yes but maybe it would be something different as we don’t want to repeat ourselves. But I think this gives us more courage to try new things, there are some elements in Winter’s Gate that are new to us. There’s more almost like doom metal stuff and a lot of black metal vibes so let’s see what we come up with next! It gives us confidence to try.

This year as well, it’s 20 years of INSOMNIUM. Do you have anything planned to celebrate such a milestone?

Niilo: Well we have some really special shows coming in the summer, I can’t reveal them yet! Actually, today we filmed one promotional teaser that’s going to be released next Monday, it’s going to be a really special festival show. I can’t reveal the juicy facts but it will be special one and there will be a lot of people on stage.

To get to 20 years in a band is an amazing achievement and throughout your career with INSOMNIUM you have achieved so much, has there been any special highlights?

Niilo: Of course there are so many! So many things have happened in 20 years, we were only 16/17 when we started the band and now we are 36/37 so it’s been a while. Getting the first record deal, with Candlelight Records was a fulfilment, without it I don’t know how long we would of kept going as an underground metal band from Finland. We had just moved to different cities, maybe we would have split up if we hadn’t got that deal, it was a critical point for us. The other thing of course is signing to Century Media, after four albums with Candlelight, that was another turning point. Originally they had kind of turned us down, we had talks with them and I think someone said there wasn’t enough commercial potential. But then one of their head guys saw us live, just by coincidence, he wasn’t there to see us but he saw our show and then wanted to sign us. We were, once again, very lucky to have that so once we got to Century Media everything after that has been faster, every album has got us bigger and it’s been great being with them. And of course, there are many many shows, playing Tokyo for the first time and some of the big festivals.

Did you ever expect to be at this level where you can internationally tour?

Niilo: Of course not, when you start a band the dreams are so humble. It’s like I wish I could make a demo then after that it’s I wish I could have a record deal, I wish we could play a show somewhere. But then you start to expect more and more but it never occurred to us that we would be here 20 years later.

This is really an open question but with 2017 being 20 years of INSOMNIUM, where do you see the band in the next ten years?

Niilo: Well you never know of course, life is full of surprises but I hope we keep on going for another ten years. I hope we keep releasing interesting albums, that we don’t repeat ourselves and hopefully we stay on the same level or even go higher. I hope we can keep on doing this for at least a while so maybe when we are 60 we won’t be doing this anymore! For the next ten years at least, let’s see!

And really the last question for you is what else does 2017 have in store for INSOMNIUM? Do you have many festivals planned for the summer?

Niilo: We have quite a lot of festivals in Finland and Europe, some of them have been revealed already like Wacken. There will be some special festivals announced soon, the plan is to go to Asia and hopefully to America as well and maybe another European tour but lets see! We’ve announced some Russian shows and shows in Scandinavia so we will be busy for the rest of the year.

Well best of luck for tonight and the rest of the tour, thank you for talking to Distorted Sound.

Niilo: Thank you!

Winter’s Gate is out now via Century Media Records.

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