Previous Turisas Interviews
The Gauntlet: Alright, to start things off with a regular question—how's the tour going so far? Appropriately pagan?
Mathias Nygård: Well, it's been good. We've only been in the U.S. now for a few dates. We did two shows in Canada first, which were really, really big and with great audiences, and the same has continued in the U.S. So, I think the tour is about the package value, kind of. The added value of all the bands together is more than the bands sum up to, somehow. But it seems to be a really popular tour. And here, I know it was really hard to sell because nobody really wanted to do these shows in the U.S.—
The Gauntlet: You mean the promoters?
Mathias Nygård: Yes, the promoters. But, no complaints. Most of the shows so far have been more or less sold out, so it's been really good.
Gauntlet: Good, good. When I first read about the show, I was amazed, because I never expected to see any of these bands touring in the States, much less all of them together. Fantastic. I read some about the shows in Canada, the amazing response, great crowds, interaction, and such. They generally do well up there for that.
Mathias: Yeah, I think they have a really strong following of European metal. In the U.S. it apparently varies a bit, depending on where you go, but we'll see what it comes down to. So far it's been cool to play smaller shows. Today, it's a bit bigger, with this being tied to the Chicago Powerfest, but I also like the vibe of the smaller venues, and even playing to just a small number of people is cool because we all have to start somewhere. There are other people in some region that might not be considered particularly metal, and it's been really cool to be able to go there and play for at least those who follow it, even if it's not the best market, territory-wise.
Gauntlet: I also noticed that you played at the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival, right?
Gauntlet: So, are that and Powerfest the only two festivals you're getting tied into?
Mathias: Yeah, those should be it. But here, tonight, I was actually a bit surprised that we were the only bands on the bill, more or less, with a local opener. I was expecting that there would be bands after us, sort of headlining this as well. But apparently this 'warm-up' show, this is the first time they've had it here. And I was a bit worried because the venue is slightly…well, I heard the festival is sold out, but I don't know what the turnout would be. I don't know how it works here, so I didn't know if all the people were going to show up or what they were going to do. Looks like people are coming in all the time, though, so….
Gauntlet: It's been an interesting event. I went to Powerfest last year and they had some pretty amazing bands on the bill. Some brought over from Europe as well.
Mathias: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Gauntlet: This year it seems heavier on the American bands, with Testament and Iced Earth as the headliners. Trying to go pretty big. And it seems that bringing in Paganfest as the warm-up was a real coup, in the sense of bringing together an entire package—
Mathias: Yeah, it works really well. For them to have a warm-up which is sort of worth something and for us it's cool to also be able to play these sort of festival things, which are not necessarily just the crowd that the Paganfest pulls, but also the crowd that Powerfest in general pulls. So both sides win, I guess.
Gauntlet: Things work out well. In researching for this interview—I was familiar with Turisas before—but I caught up with some of the more recent goings-on. And from what I've read it seems that Netta [Skog, accordion] is fitting in with the band very well.
Mathias: Yeah. We haven't really made any sort of official statement. Maybe because sometimes it feels like the fans are more concerned about who plays in the band and who's official and who's not. And for us, you know, the band that plays the shows is the official band. We actually toured with Iced Earth and Annihilator in Europe last autumn, and she filled in then for our former accordion player. And we did a five-week headlining tour in Europe before coming over here. Things got a bit messed up with that, so we had to make some decisions, you know. But she really fits in well and I don't see any reasons to change back or go back to any previous settings.
Gauntlet: You're right. Some fans do seem to get caught up in the lineups so they can go run to Metal Archives and type in the new names again and make sure it's all up to date… Is Netta maybe going to bust out any of the 'Raining Blood' covers that we've seen before?
Mathias: Well, I don't know. Of course, Lisko, our previous accordion player, he was quite a character. But that's the main reason why he's not working with us right now, because he was also offstage quite a character to try to work with. So that caused some problems in the past. And it's a completely different thing, having a freaky guy playing 'Raining Blood' on accordion and then having a blonde, young, sweet girl. But she instead of filling his shoes has found her own place in the band, which is different, but we don't feel that we've lost anything for the band, and we've actually gained something else as well.
Gauntlet: That's good, that's good. As far as the band in general, you seem to have enjoyed some pretty explosive popularity in the past couple of years, with the videos, singles released, now the U.S. tour, and that sort of thing. How has it been for you or the other members to grow into that role so quickly?
Mathias: Well, to us it never seemed that things exploded, because our debut came out in 2004, and it wasn't even released in the US at all. Century Media Europe put it out, but we were a band without any kind of sales background, so they just put out a record and said, 'Let's just see what happens.' And we had to build up from there, so the record had been out for two years before stuff started happening, especially in the U.K. So for us it's been quite a steady, upward curve, but not exponential in the way that we've lost track along the way. I think the curve has been really healthy. Things in Europe—we did our first headlining tour there, and now that things are sort of more secured, we can step forward and come over to the U.S. So it's not like we've got too much at once. Now we felt it was the right timing, and Century Media put out our latest album here, and now our first U.S. tour…. So hopefully this will allow us to come back later this year in a different package, or who knows what.
Gauntlet: That's good to hear you say. There are some times where a band will be a flash-in-the-pan success and then they'll disappear. But I'd very much like to see you guys continue that kind of growth you were talking about. And you mentioned coming back later this year—the work visas are good for a year, right?
Gauntlet: That'd be very interesting. And, I didn't even know that 'Battle Metal' wasn't released in the states.
Mathias: I think it wasn't. It was probably imported, but other than that…
Gauntlet: Hmm. There's a metal store in Chicago called Metal Haven, and that's where I got it. I just saw the cover and said, 'I need to have this.' (laughs) 'I have to have this.' And it fulfilled all my expectations, it really did.
Gauntlet: And going back to the past—it seems that you and everyone else that you're working with have moved on from Cadacross. Would you say that that's true?
Mathias: Ahh, I mean, that's more of the Metal Archives stuff—
Mathias: It actually dates back to a time when neither of the bands [Turisas and Cadacross] were really serious in their mindsets yet. We didn't have a record deal or anything, so they were more of a hobby thing. And at that time we were sharing a rehearsal room with some other guys, so the common thing happened that they needed somebody—and that was even before we came out with anything, in '99, or something—they needed somebody to play keys on their album that they were giving out. So I said, 'Yeah, sure, I'll do it,' and that was about it. And we swapped guitar players. The guy who kind of ran that band joined in along with Georg, who joined in and played guitar with us for quite some time until he had this car accident in 2005, which again changed things. For me there's a small kind of link between the bands, but that's it. I never considered myself a part of that band or don't really want to be linked to that band. That was always Georg's own project that he worked with.
Gauntlet: And your interaction was more coincidental?
Mathias: Yeah. Or more that I just happened to be there and played some keys on an album. It was not like I was part of a band. And, yeah, the others…our bass player, our former keyboard player played on their second record or something and so on…. But it's more like a small town syndrome—
Mathias: When you live in a place with 50,000 people, the circles are quite small. Even Helsinki, the bands there—I hate the word 'scene', but still—everyone knows and goes out to have a beer with each other. It feels a bit funny, but that makes it quite natural; if you need someone to join in a band, you know someone playing in another band, since the circles are so small.
Gauntlet: And, yeah, that seems to go back to your point about whoever is playing the shows with you is the member and you don't worry about keeping the formal lineup as much as the fans might be concerned with that.
Mathias: We haven't had a steady lineup. But, I mean, the violin player played as a session member on 'Battle Metal' in 2003, when it was recorded. And then after that we kind of realized that we will need to have the violin player live as well, and he has been playing with us for all the shows since. So he has been in the band for a long time, even if he wasn't officially credited and listed as a band member in the booklet until our latest album came out last year. But, yeah, for us we see it a bit differently than the fans do, because for us the band is the people we work with.
Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. Regarding early Turisas material, you've mentioned that there might be some demo releases? Or at least speculated about that?
Mathias: I think it's more that people might be interested in it. For musical value… (grimaces)
Mathias: It won't shake the history books or anything. But, yeah, I know that fans like that stuff and are interested in it. So maybe at some point, but right now…. It's also a bit of a pity that when you put something out like that, it spreads on the net and then it's sort of gone, or just out there. And who in their right mind would go and buy shitty recordings (chuckles) from a rehearsal room ten years ago? In that sense, it's not directly worth paying for it, but then it just spreads on the net. So maybe we'll put it out, use it as bonuses somewhere, when appropriate. And with that stuff, it's cool to hang onto it and try to figure out the right place to put it out rather than just to push out everything we've done. We have video footage and all sorts of stuff from festivals years back and tours. That's also stuff that we could put out on YouTube, and it would please some people, but it wouldn't really do anything. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about marketing strategies, but I like it better for it to build up for a proper release or a proper launch that comes together with a tour or something, rather than just spitting out stuff as soon as it's done. So it's more compact in that way.
Gauntlet: So that you have the whole package, right, that makes sense. Since those early days, would you say that your goals or your vision for the band has changed? In progressing from just sitting around the rehearsal room back then to sitting here, now, how has what Turisas means changed for you?
Mathias: I think it's changed quite a lot, even between 'Battle Metal' and our newest release, 'The Varangian Way'. There were three years between the releases, and I think you hear that on the album as well. And I think that's an essential point in the way that I don't want to do what I've already done or copy myself too much. I want to see the band move on and progress. Sometimes that's not always what pleases the fans the most, because they like one thing and then if you go too much towards one direction they might drop off or whatever. But, for us to keep it interesting and also in the end, I guess, for the fans, then I think definitely you have to progress. And after just a few years as you grow older and see the world and do whatever, your perception of things changes. That would be the worst—if you're 26 and have the same kind of ideas about the world as you did when you were 18, you know? People change, so that should definitely also come to bands and music as well. The world around us has changed a lot as well, If you look at the time when we were putting together some demos 10 years ago, you could never imagine that someone who does some sort of folk metal or whatever could ever go on tour or sell any sort of proper records or anything like that. And it's kind of a funny thing in general, because a lot of these bands that seem to belong together in general—like us and Ensiferum, and so on—quite a few of them come from Finland and are more or less formed in the same time period. So, even if the bands were not at that time in contact, so everybody grew on their own, and now we're getting to know everybody in the bands later on. At that time, it wasn't caused by everybody getting together and listening to what the other bands were doing. I just think that somehow the time and the influences that these bands had were shared quite a lot. And that's why they're similar bands from a similar time period. And it's not been until now that you can actually say that there exists some kind of folk metal or Viking metal scene. That didn't exist before. In Europe there was a lot of the second wave of black metal and the more melodic form was just becoming really big. So at that time we kind of saw ourselves coming from that scene, which nowadays sounds kind of funny—
Mathias: And that's where all the stage costumes and stuff, that's where it originally came from—from wanting to step aside from the corpsepaint and black leather and spikes. And now it's so different that it doesn't really sound… (laughs)…that sounds a bit strange. But at that time we saw ourselves coming from that direction and taking our own branch off from there, rather than what you could think of today: melodic, power metal, whatever.
Gauntlet: It seems also that, especially with 'The Varangian Way', you've taken on a much larger worldview. That seems to factor into your music in terms of how you approach the process of making the album. I mean, I obviously have no idea how you do that-(laughs)-but, just comparing 'Battle Metal' to 'The Varangian Way', it really seems to be expanding.
Mathias: Yeah, I mean, as I said, it would be horrible if as a person you make no progress and you have the same ideas and look at the world the same way you did five years ago, ten years ago…. People change, and the older you grow, the more you see, live, and learn, it's quite common that the really extreme stuff is more for teenagers—
Gauntlet: (laughs) Yeah.
Mathias: And then the older you grow, you're not as concerned about being really extreme in one direction or another. Some might say it's sad and that people water down, but, (pauses) I think that it chimes back to what you said [about the worldview], and music-wise I think it's expanded in the way of daring to cross lines in different directions more than before. And see that as something to continue in the future. Obviously we don't want to jump too far, because that would be…. There are bands like Ulver, or whatever, who have gone from one end to the other, and it sometimes works that a band that did one thing in the past, which was cool, then jumped to something totally different, which was cool in another way. But I've tried to keep that curve of that more even as well. So, for instance, on 'The Varangian Way', I'd like to think that we kept the restrictions away, like 'No, I can't do that because it's too odd for people'. But there were a few ideas I really had to think through and maybe put down or move aside because it was going a little too far from what we did before. It would have bewildered people a bit too much.
Gauntlet: Would you maybe keep those aside for a third album, then?
Mathias: Yeah, I mean, I seldom write anything that I don't finish. So, that's kind of a curse with this band, because the label always wants bonus tracks or this and that, and for me I can't really get into it—especially working with a concept where everything is tied together. It was hard to do something on the side that's just a bonus track. And also the whole idea of doing just bonus tracks is a bit funny to me. So, yeah, there are some ideas that didn't end up on the record, and at some point we'll hopefully have time to sit down and actually start thinking of a third album. And then those ideas will definitely be there for guidelines or first snippets here or there and we'll see what comes out of it.
Gauntlet: You've had a hand in producing the albums so far, and there's a transition—obviously the growing process you were talking about—from the first album to the second. What kind of balance did you have of real and synthesized performances for the different kinds of instrumentation?
Mathias: Well, I think the balance has more or less stayed the same, but everything has improved quite a bit. The first album was done, in terms of synthesizers and that stuff, on keyboards and stuff like that, whereas the new album was really heavy with samples from a huge library of actual, real recorded sound. So I guess there's quite of big difference in that. When it comes to the balance, there's stuff that you can do that still carries the ideas through without…well, now when I listen to 'Battle Metal', I can't really stand to listen to it, to be honest. There are so many things I hate about it, but—
Gauntlet: In the songwriting or the production or everything?
Mathias: Well, everything
Mathias: But, yeah, in the end I think the song carries on no matter how the production is done. And there are things that are doable or sound decent enough, and I think that's the way to go with sampling. Then again, for choir stuff, which we have on this album, there's no way we could have done that in any way other than recording a choir. The same with more solo performance, like violin. Accordion would sound really odd as well, and all the percussion stuff. There are a lot of small details that we were there recording that we ended up working with. It's mostly the big orchestra stuff, which would be quite impossible to realize on this level with a real orchestra, that are samples. But I haven't even set my mind on the question of working with a real orchestra. So many bands have gone that way and it's a bit of a trap in that sense that when you do it, where do you go from there? It's hard to down from that again. Maybe.
Gauntlet: That's an interesting point, I hadn't thought of it that way. There are the bands—Therion, for example—that keep going up and up and then try to stay on that level. That could be hard.
Gauntlet: When you were writing 'The Varangian Way', was your songwriting at all influenced by the knowledge that you could have more depth, with the production materials you had at hand?
Mathias: Well, writing the whole album started with concept behind it first, which was quite a long process of studying. Not in the sense that it started out and I was like, 'I should do this,' and then had to go through this and that to do it. It was a growing interest that more or less made the idea that this could work as a concept album quite well. So that was the first thing, and then writing the songs was kind of like writing a soundtrack to this storyline, and even if I didn't write down anything final at first, I had a rough picture. And I had the ideas, and especially the atmosphere, in mind of how each song was located in the drama and of the—
(Stereo overhead begins to play 'Through the Fire and Flames')
Mathias: (pauses, looks up) Dragonforce.
Gauntlet: Hah. Your thoughts on Dragonforce, as an aside?
Mathias: We're actually going on tour with them after the summer.
Mathias: Yeah. (chuckles)
Gauntlet: That would be an energetic, very energetic show.
Mathias: It will be a good package. I think the audience will surely appreciate it.
Gauntlet: (laughs) Alright, so—
Mathias: Yeah, so that was the main influence. The songs for the new album, all of them are in my head small movies that I wrote to and tried to achieve a certain atmosphere in reaching that. And, sort of, the movie is not released, so what you get is the side product, which for you is then the only line that carries forward the story. And I'm quite happy with the result, it worked out quite well. And I think people are able to pick up on the storyline just by listening to it and not necessarily even reading too much into the lyrics. On the technological side, when you noodle around with samples and sounds you get ideas that this would actually work with this very well. And I don't want to lock down things too much. There's a certain difference when you haven't written everything already and just go paste it into the studio, and there's enough room for it to change and evolve while you're doing it. And that makes it more interesting, because as you're doing it, it becomes the final product. I started from very rough pictures; my own sketches for the album, the first ones, if you listen to them today it's just the rhythm and the main melody. And then you take it from there, piece by piece, layer by layer. But yeah, the question about the sounds and inspiration—definitely when you find something that would fit somewhere really good, I like that kind of creative vibe of being in the studio and coming up with ideas and trying them out. Seeing that, 'Wow, this turned out to be a bit different from what I had it mind originally, but it actually turned out to be quite cool.'
Gauntlet: Yeah. And you'd mentioned that this idea wasn't just popping into your mind—that was another question of mine. You've mentioned that Basil II was your favorite conqueror, and the question was going to be, 'Was it the history that inspired the album or the idea for an album that inspired the interest in history?' And it seems that it's been coming together from different places kind of organically.
Mathias: Yeah, for the concept, first I read quite a lot of historical material and then started going through all the actual…
Gauntlet: The source material?
Mathias: Yeah, the source material, and especially the firsthand source material, which are the actual old sagas and chronicles from early Russia, early pre-Russia, and the Byzantine period as well. But sometimes…how would I put it…it becomes—
Gauntlet: You get caught up in it?
Mathias: Yeah, or in the details that don't really matter. Of course, you leaf through that and read it, but you don't really remember anything about it.
Mathias: And that's why I enjoy the firsthand material, because you have the perspective of someone being there and the kind of personal perspective towards it all, rather than a historical debate of which theory of what happened is the most likely. So I also wanted to pick up some sagas on the side and historical novels on the subject, which kind of build up on the same idea, but in a different way. So the concept is definitely historically driven, but I think the main theme of a journey inspired me a lot because of all the musical possibilities that it gave the album. Going from once place to another and trying to capture what would be a Slavonic sound, and then towards the end of the album getting a Greek or high-culture sound, rather than where the album starts off. So that was probably one of the main inspirational things regarding the album. The history, yeah, but also what it allowed me to do musically.
Gauntlet: It's a pretty fascinating concept. So, with Basil, what's your favorite thing about him?
Mathias: Well, that's just—you probably took it off a website…?
Gauntlet: Probably. (laughs) Was it just for the website, then?
Mathias: Yeah, I mean, sometimes you get asked questions and just toss out something. But, Basis II is praised in history for more or less forming the so-called Varangian Guard in the Byzantine Empire and also having a very long rule. He fought many wars and after him, when he passed, everything he achieved in his time started decaying. And that's always the fascinating point in great political or historical systems: there's always been the peak point, and then something happens that starts off the decay of everything. And that's a really inspiring, kind of darker thematic in a way. But, back to Basil, I found that what I read about him was as a person not really interesting and just really dedicated to his position of work, unlike many of his followers who were…not quite dedicated. There are the anecdotes of when the Byzantine Empire was at war with not Bulgaria the state but Bulgars from the same area, and the most-known legend about it is when the Byzantine Empire had won the battle and sent them back to their rulers. And they blinded almost everybody, left one man with one eyes or two eyes per 100 men, and then sent them back to their rulers. So, that's quite cruel, but I sort of admire the efficiency of the message.
Gauntlet: Yeah, that's pretty hard to ignore.
Mathias: There're a lot of interesting characters in history, but in general, in looking back to a lot of leaders it's always a bit of a false image, because everything was written down to leave a certain image of someone afterwards through what you see as valuable. Okay, so you win great battles, but on a personal level, you might not be a person that you'd really look up to and respect as a human being.
Gauntlet: Right, right. It's hard to find out until after the fact. As you were talking about, when societies reach their peak and then begin to decay, the society, I would imagine, rarely knows that it's in that state of decay until it's too late.
Mathias: Yeah, yeah.
Gauntlet: Goes back to that darker theme you were talking about. Pretty fascinating. I remember reading about the Varangian Guard and being amazed that there were so many Scandinavians coming down to Constantinople, and then hearing about 'The Varangian Way' made it a really nice coincidence. It seems like a lot of the Scandinavian, folk, and pagan metal scene is dominated by the idea of the big Swedish Viking and so forth. And it seems that you have stepped away from that a little bit…
Mathias: (smiles) Yeah.
Gauntlet: And with Finland in general not being so involved in the Viking era, how closely do you affiliate yourself with that scene, either historically or musically? Or do you at all?
Mathias: Well, I often get the question or somebody points out, 'Well, Vikings did not come from Finland, so how can you actually be doing this music?'
Mathias: And that's such an absurd way to look at everything.
Gauntlet: And as if Vikings would have actually played this music.
Mathias: Or that they would have lived up to the modern day, like the people in today's countries would be closer to the people who were there before them. It's really complex. I mean, Vikings as such is a name for a group of people that's become more popular since the 19th century Romantics rather than at the time. And secondly, as sort of a culture or what we relate to when we think 'Vikings', quite similar groups of people and cultures existed at the same time. The Baltics, Finland, more eastern parts especially, and all the Slavonic modern day Eastern Europe, Russia, and obviously Germany and so on. So there have been really similar cultures, but for some reason ones who came from Scandinavia were better at one thing, and that was leaving traces behind them. For people today to actually find rune stones today and actually track it back to them, rather than someone who didn't know how to write or whatever. But that doesn't mean that the culture wasn't there. So, for me, the issue for us is that we don't consider ourselves to be directly singing or making music about the Viking thematic as such, but rather the same time period. Yes, it includes Scandinavia, but like on the new album, there's definitely the Slavonic vibe as well. And they all kind of link back to each other at that time. There were really strong links between the Kievan Rus' and the Swedish court, for instances, like marrying their daughters back and forth and stuff. When it comes to me personally, the whole thing is even funnier. I don't know if you are aware, but in Finland there are two official languages—there is Finnish and then there's a population of, say, six percent, who actually speak Swedish as their mother tongue, but still are Finnish, not Swedish.
Mathias: And my mother language is actually Swedish. And it's pretty much the same thing they have in Canada—having really French areas, but they don't consider themselves to be French, either. It all dates back to the close history of Sweden and Scandinavia and all the settlers from there, all the way back from the Viking era and centuries after that. There's a close connection between them and the Finnish. There's a small pond between them, but aside from that it's really close. So, there's the question of, "You're not Scandinavian, so—"
Gauntlet: People have told you that before?
Mathias: Yeah. And that's kind of strange because, in a way, who knows? There's really no books on heritage and that kind of thing before the 17th century. When it comes to me personally, I see myself as a northern European, Scandinavian, but also quite fascinated by the more eastern Slavonic culture, which borders along with the Finnish culture. And on the other hand there's the more Scandinavian influence. And I see myself in between all that and I don't have the urge to stick myself into one…
Mathias: —position in that way. It's just funny that when it comes to the whole heritage thing—being from Finland and not being linked to Vikings or whatever—
Mathias: I mean, who knows? My mother language is Swedish, so maybe I'm descended from there, anyway. And the people who live in modern-day Sweden might be from who knows where, Poland or France or wherever. So looking at somebody as having some sort of privilege to some culture because of modern-day culture doesn't really fit, because those haven't always been the borders and it's quite an unnatural thing, in the end. But that's just a funny example. And, Amon Amarth are Swedish, but there's also a Finnish population in Sweden, descending from people in the 1950's who, after the war, moved to Sweden for jobs. And so there's a population in Sweden that doesn't necessarily speak Finnish, but…
Gauntlet: Identify themselves with—
Mathias: Right, identify themselves and have Finnish names or whatever. So I think that at least one in Amon Amarth, for instance, has half his roots from Finland or something. So it's really funny that people say, 'This band comes from Sweden, so they are entitled to do Viking stuff, whereas you are from Finland…'
Gauntlet: Kind of arbitrary.
Mathias: It's kind of a naïve way to look at the whole thing in general. For instance, there are probably a lot more experts in history the U.S. than there are in modern-day Istanbul, so I think in the end it's not everyone's privilege to say, 'You can't participate in this', or, 'You can't be proud of this.' I mean, if you want to….
Gauntlet: Yeah, it can be frustrating. I know what you mean. So, you've obviously put a lot of work into developing 'The Varangian Way'. When you were writing, was that in your mind at all—trying to maybe broaden your audience's horizons a little bit, show the history and migrations that occurred for different peoples?
Mathias: Yeah, definitely. And looking into the whole subject more you find out how linked everything has always been from such a long time ago. And, yeah, it sometimes feels like the scene or whatever has been, or perhaps is, a bit narrow-minded in some ways. Of all the people who left Scandinavia for the Byzantine Empire, one of the reasons the Vikings made it so well is their ability to adopt different cultures. Some picked up Christianity because it made life easier or whatever. And with those things, there are so many naïve views today in not seeing that point. As settlers, there was a group of people who were so good at adopting the lifestyles of the people around them and blending into the cultures around them, and maybe keeping some kind of identify of their own. And sometimes today, people don't really see that.
Gauntlet: Right. I remember learning about the Battle of Hastings and the three sides going on in that stretch of time before the Normans carry the day, and then going back to the name of Normandy and its origin, given to them as men from the North. But then by the time they come back for the Battle of Hastings they've taken on a lot of French qualities. So, yeah, there's a lot of mutability, I suppose, changeability, in culture, and people tend to overlook that.
Mathias: And, you know, on the musical side I thought that in general all these bands who use the same thematic, sometimes it just becomes so generic. We don't identify ourselves with folk metal as such that much, but still of course we have elements from it. But sometimes, that also is really generic and narrow-minded. You put some sort of half-Celtic, half-nothing melody on top of some distorted guitars and there's folk metal for you. Whereas I wanted to use the same idea but deliberately not go into that kind of easy way to do it, which is why I tried to find a different angle to do folk metal, if you will, but still sounding fresh or different.
Gauntlet: More dynamic.
Mathias: Yeah. And there's a kind of Slavonic influence on the new album, and there's a track 'In the Court of Jarisleif' that has a really strong Balkan influence. That's probably the strongest folk metal song on the new album, definitely, and on that track the idea was the do a folk metal song, but to take the ethnic elements of it from something else than the kind of popcorn half-Celtic, half-Nordic simple way. I mean, you can do it in a nice way or you can do it really, really horribly.
Gauntlet: I know what you mean. When people say 'folk metal' and try to write something other than the half-Celtic, half-Nordic thing, it confuses some people because they don't really think of folk metal as being anything other than that.
Mathias: Yeah, yeah. And sometimes I just feel that Hollywood popcorn isn't a part of folk metal, because that general idea of European or Scandinavian or this kind of ethnic sound is a bit off. It's a false mixture of Celtic and the generic folk sound. And that's probably the easiest way. The audience will love it. But for me it feels just a bit—
(We are interrupted briefly while David, the tour manager, introduces Mathias to the photographer for Turisas' photo shoot)
Mathias: So, I want to do the same thing, but try to find different angles or look at things differently. I mean, there are a lot of bands that I respect and that do a really good job, but there are so many bands that are so, frankly, really horrible.
Gauntlet: What seems to be the problem is that, in integrating the two styles of folk and metal, people often simplify them to make them easier to combine. That's why I appreciate bands like Turisas or Moonsorrow who are direct about using a more earnest sound from each gene, then present it to the audience and allow them to make what they will of it. You've mentioned that some influence for this story has come from the Kalevala. What more might you say about that to an unfamiliar audience?
Mathias: About that particular story or the Kalevala itself?
Gauntlet: Well, my understanding is that it serves as something of a national history…
Mathias: Yeah. It's a Finnish collection of stories. It's…it's a bit difficult because it's stories that have lived on as oral tradition, and the Kalevala itself has a certain form and order of all these stories. But it's just one person who collected these in the 19th century and put them into Kalevala, which is the book with these stories in them. But the thing is, you find these same stories in oral tradition slightly different form, and sometimes the connection between the stories is not directly as given in the book. And it's known that the author of the Kalevala who compiled everything together sometimes connected things together to make it run more smoothly. Probably something like if you look at the Bible, there's probably a certain amount of truth in there, and then there's some fiddling around to make it work better or for easier reading. But, yeah, it's a really strong tradition. They come from the eastern part of Finland, which connects quite closely with the Baltic. And there's still a—well, a dying out—small tribes in modern-day Russia, because Finland lost in the war the eastern part, which was more or less the whole territory of all these stories, or most of them. They were pulled from that area that was lost to the Soviet Union in the war, so they are now on the other side of the border. And sometimes it's a bit of pity, because these different tribal areas and the culture, (sarcasm) in sixty years of Soviet efficiency, has died out quite…nicely. Bit of a pity. But there's still a lot of this living on in these areas, and the Kalevala is sort of the Eddas of Finland.
Gauntlet: Yeah, that's kind of how it seemed to me.
Mathias: But it's a bit different, because its much more abstract, whereas the Eddas is quite clear establishing relations, pointing to time and place, unlike the Kalevala. And that's the kind of inspiring part of it. The modern day people are so used to the kind of Shakespearian way, actually dating back to the Greek way, of building up a certain story, and how a story has to be formed so it makes sense. If you lose some pieces from there, it just doesn't make any sense. And we are so used to that, so when you tell it in a different way or have a different sense of the story telling, it feels really strange and abstract. And the Kalevala at parts is really abstract, and out of place or time or proportion. And that's a really fascinating part of all these stories.
Gauntlet: The States don't really have a unified national series of stories like that, so it's fascinating to look at other cultures that do. And it seems that there's almost a parallel, if you will, between the Kalevala, the Eddas, and 'The Varangian Way', where there's a larger story being told through a series of smaller pieces. I think that's pretty fascinating. I watched all the videos on the website describing how it progresses and that sort of thing, so I really appreciate the attention to detail and how rich it makes the entire listening experience.
Mathias: (nods) Thank you
Gauntlet: I know I've taken up a lot of your time. Are there any other things you'd like to say to readers in closing?
Mathias: Mm, not really. (Laughs) These are always… 'Any final words?' Well, come see our shows, if this is out before the tour ends. If not, we'll hopefully be back later in the year or early next year or something. Buy our album, buy our merch, you know—
Mathias: So we actually get paid.
Gauntlet: Well, the merch part at least shouldn't be that hard, since the artwork is beautiful. Turisas art is great fun, from the covers of the albums to the pictures on the inside of swords through people's heads. Pretty entertaining. So, again, thank you for your time, a real pleasure to meet you.
Mathias: Thank you. It was a good chat.