INTERVIEW WITH PETRI LINDROOS BY KEVIN STEWART-PANKO
PHOTOGRAPHS BY VESA RANTA
On July 10th, Finland’s Ensiferum will release Thalassic, their latest and eighth album. With live music having its shins shattered with a barbed wire baseball bat by the state of the world, the gauntlet and kilt sporting Helsinki natives will be offering a live stream album release event in place of what should be a series of appearances on Europe’s summer festival circuit. The idea of watching Ensiferum “performing a selection of new, classic, and rare tracks for a special live streamed show,” followed by a Q&A and the band “hanging around for some beers with you all after the show” may pale in comparison to the energetic spectacle of witnessing three-stepping waltz-y melodic death metal on stages big and small, but it’s likely going to be the only chance anyone will get to witness Ensiferum beyond their recorded works and whatever old gigs can be tracked down on YouTube.
Thalassic, being the band’s most diverse offering yet, is bound to keep fans engaged and occupied during this period of indeterminate downtime. Songs range across a wide board with the likes of “Rum, Women, Victory,” “Run from the Crushing Tide,” “For Sirens,” and “One with the Sea” fusing melodic death metal with elements of yo-ho-ho-ing bottle hurling folk and the sound of longboats cutting through lapping waterways powered by epic and anthemic vocalization and classical/baroque orchestration. We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Petri Lindroos as he sweated through one of the hottest Finnish summers on record to discuss why live show cancellations are especially painful, water’s elusive power, and the reason he’ll never stop smiling through even the worst flight conditions.
It’s getting to be customary, but the question I’ve been asking everyone over the past few months is what are you supposed to be doing right now that you’re not doing?
Well, today is Thursday, so most likely I’d be getting ready for a festival show somewhere tomorrow in Europe. But instead of that, we’re not. We had 16 shows originally planned for this summer, so that’s a pretty big dent and it sucks a lot, but what can you do?
As a band that plays music full-time, how have you been occupying your time and maintaining a living?
When it comes to keeping up the making a living part, that’s a little bit difficult since there are no shows. We shot a video for the song “Andromeda,” which came out a week or so ago. We’ve been trying to keep busy by going to the practice room. Today, we were there for four hours sweating our asses off, because right now the weather in Finland is extremely hot. We are prepared for the cold, but not the heat, so it’s driving people crazy now. I hope we’ll manage. They promised rain next week, and I’m actually looking forward to it.
Have you been able to offset losses by keeping up with online merch sales?
When it comes to the merch thing, I think there are some kinds of issues with delivering to some countries. We did a COVID support shirt, and I’m not sure if all of the orders have been sent out already or not. So far, we’re doing kind of alright-ish (laughs).
“WE MADE THE SONGS A LOT MORE COMPACT, DYNAMIC, AND STRAIGHT TO THE POINT. WE SKIPPED ALL THE UNNECESSARY PARTS”
How long did you work on Thalassic, and was there anything that you did different in the writing and/or recording?
The songwriting process was relatively fast in our books because we worked on it for about a year. We always write during the time off from when we’re doing shows and tours because we’re not able to focus on writing new music on the road very well. We’ve tried it, and it just doesn’t work. We need to have the time to sit around at the rehearsal room and play around with ideas and stuff. An example of how the album is a little bit different from the previous one is that we made the songs a lot more compact, dynamic, and straight to the point. We skipped all the unnecessary parts that would make the songs longer. The songs are a lot shorter than what our fans are probably used to. We also have a new guy in the band, Pekka Montin, doing the clean vocals and playing keyboards. His voice opened up a lot of new doors for Ensiferum’s music, and we really loved the outcome of that.
I read that Pekka didn’t join the band until 2020, which can’t be right if he contributed to the new material.
He came to the band pretty much at the beginning of when we started to write the new songs, which would have been the beginning of 2019. He had his own input in the songs and was focused on his clean vocal parts the most.
After eight albums, do you find yourselves drawing more inspiration from how the music goes over in a live setting as opposed to specific musical influences?
We really do what comes naturally. It’s hard to see beforehand how some songs are going to work live. Some songs you have the gut feeling that they’ll kick ass live, but aiming to write songs so that they kick ass live, that’s not what we do. We do the music we want to do, and if you are familiar with our material, you already know there are no limits to what we can do.
“ALL THE HISTORICAL EVENTS AND ALL THE MYTHS AROUND THE WORLD THAT SOMEHOW INVOLVES WATER, BECAUSE THIS IS A WATER THEMED ALBUM.”
I understand you decided Thalassic was going to be a thematic or concept album right after the previous album Two Paths  was finished.
This is an album with a theme, which is a first for Ensiferum. The idea for it came from our bass player, Sammi Hinka, and he worked his ass off for almost two years on the lyrical material for this album—all the historical events and all the myths around the world that somehow involves water, because this is a water themed album.
Water, in what sense?
Thalassic means “water related,” but it doesn’t pinpoint to any certain thing in or about the water, just related to water. It’s a weird word, but it’s pretty good because it keeps the doors open on the subject very, very well.
Would you say that your lyrics are based more in history or fantasy?
I think there’s a little bit of both. One is “Andromeda, ” which is a myth thing, but I’d have to ask our bass player where all the rest comes from since he never makes things too clear. He’s a little bit mysterious in those ways. If you want to know, you’d have to ask him. I think I might have to do that too and get a little bit more educated on these things (laughs).
“WE’RE ALWAYS GOING TO STICK TO FICTION AND FANTASY AND HAVE FUN WITH THAT.”
Have you ever felt the urge to write lyrics that are a bit more applicable to reality?
Well, this is a very fantasy based band, so I think we’re going to stick with that. There are enough bands that are doing the up-to-date, current events material if you want a look at what’s going on. I think we’re always going to stick to fiction and fantasy and have fun with that.
Given all you past experience, was there anything that you wanted to avoid doing on Thalassic?
That’s a good question. We have been very satisfied with all of the recordings and albums that we have done so far. But every single recording session is also a live and learn type of situation. New things always pop up, and you deal with whatever problems arise. But I don’t think there has been anything in particular.
You’re in a weird situation where there’s a new album, but you can’t promote and tour it as you normally would. Have you thought about working on new stuff or is it still too early?
It’s way too early for new material, definitely. We’re going to get this album out and focus on the live stream show from the studio on the release day, July 10th. After all that, we’ll see what we’re going to do, I have no idea. Maybe we’ll start to check out some new stuff since we’ve got nothing but time.
Where is the live stream happening from?
We are renting a studio place to get it all set up really well, to get a good sound and a good audio/visual set up. We wouldn’t be able to pull it off from our dumpster, trash filled rehearsal room (laughs). It wouldn’t be appropriate for our fans. We got a good place to set it up.
Was it difficult to organize given the lockdown, businesses being closed, and so on?
So far we haven’t really been working on it too much because the studio where we’re going to do the live stream is already equipped with pretty much everything that we’re going to need. It’s pretty easy to just show up with our instruments and gear, set up, and do it.
“IT’S A GOOD THING THAT WE’RE JOINING UP WITH THE ONLINE PARTY IN THIS WAY TO CELEBRATE THE NEW ALBUM”
Whose idea was the live stream album release event?
It pretty much came from everywhere. Metal Blade had their input on it, and our management thought it was a good idea. Also, tons of other bands are doing them, so I think it’s a good thing that we’re joining up with the online party in this way to celebrate the new album coming out.
What has the response and ticket sales been like?
There are ticket sales, but I don’t know the exact number of where we’re at. Hopefully, it’ll be a good success and we’ll have a lot of people checking out the show.
How long do you think you’ll be able to hold off on not playing live before it becomes too frustrating or financially impossible to survive? Has the Finnish government done a good job of supporting its citizens during the pandemic?
The support system over here is fairly decent, so in that way, you’re almost covered. Of course, everybody would like to get back to work. Playing live is what we do. We feel very, very comfortable on stage and playing the shows are the highlight of every single trip. It’s the main thing and what we live for. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get back to it as soon as possible, but in checking out the reality of the situation, I’m not that confident there will be many live shows happening this year.
Does it hit especially hard because it’s something you love to do as opposed to going to a job because it’s a job?
I know what you mean, and it has been getting clearer and clearer almost day by day. It would be awesome to jump on an early morning plane and just fly over to somewhere, hang out backstage, meet some friends from different bands, have a good time, play a good show, and fly back home and wait a week then repeat.
Is that how you operate the majority of the time, doing the weekend shows, with fewer blocks of regular touring?
No, no, no. I was just referring to the festival season because that’s what would be happening now—those shows that are focused between Thursday and Sunday. Regular touring comes after the festival season is done. It’s pretty much a pain in the ass, getting up at 3:30 in the morning to catch a 6 a.m. flight, but now I will never complain about that again. After this summer, I’ll be happy to get up at 3:30. It’ll be my pleasure (laughs).