First of all let me congratulate you with Astrala. I love it. This may sound standard but this kind of music never really interests me, which is why I am so surprised. I am an avid fan of doom metal and female fronted symphonic bands are actually a kind of music that I dislike. I am not saying you are part of a hype, but I am wondering if you can explain why your music is so much more interesting than a lot of other music?
Hi Bart, thanks for having us at Lords of Metal, this is an honor! It's fantastic to hear that you liked the album. In this album, there was only one baking recipe: Be yourself. All artists have some role models, which, more or less, affect the art they create. We have ours, too, but with 'Astrala', we just decided to put out the music straight from our own table, we did not use any "archetypes of songs" or certain styles that we should aim for. I think this worked out really well. Many many reviews, so far, have also captured the idea that 'Astrala' has its own character and it does not resemble very much any other albums in the genre. Partly, as the main composer, I might also have some part here: I listen to folk or doom metal very rarely, if ever. My main musical inspiration comes from totally other areas, old synth music, folk and soundtracks. These influences will partly filtrate in to our metal, which makes it a bit more different. But this is just my own theory. Besides music, I will listen also to nature forces around me, there are some beautiful voices in their spheres.
Speaking of which: in The Netherlands and also Belgium there are a lot of bands rising at the moment that stick to a certain formula: melodious metal and a female front person. Why do you think this is happening?
Well, erm, because of certain very successful bands using the same formula. I do not want to get too deep in to this matter, because most of the bands of this genre are, of course, doing honestly their own thing and driven by their passions. In Benelux-countries, the genre really seems to be popular, we noticed this especially during 2015, when we played at Femme Metal Mestival in Eindhoven. Even a taxi driver recognized our band on the way to the concert!
Do you think a band should be defined by the gender of their singer?
No. Because this gender identification is used one-sidedly only for one gender, I wonder, why we have never heard of male-fronted death metal? Personally, I would like to stop this female-labeling today.
I am asking these questions because you are also a band that sounds rather melodious, and you have a female singer, yet you don't sound anything like "all those other bands"; to me it sounds a bit heavier, and if I may say so more honest. I also hear some melancholic sounds. How would you, aside from druid metal, describe your music and what are your main influences?
Thanks, nice to hear that. With great curiosity, we always check what the reviewers say about each new album style. This time it has been labeled mostly folk, doom and druid metal. It's surely the most folk metal album we have ever done, assumed that I even know what means folk metal. We hear many influences from Finnish and Nordic folk music and atmosphere of our northern wilderness and countryside in 'Astrala'. There are some "sound" influences also from drone metal and even from black metal acts. My musical taste, as well as Susanna's, differs quite a lot from the influences of the other guys. Our very different preferences might provide also a fertile ground for something different, when putting up the songs together at rehearsals. Susanna likes Piirpauke, traditional Finnish melodic and folk music as well as Rammstein. The guys (Jukka, Jari and Teemu) like metal in its many forms, while my current favourites are such as Gryphon, Klaus Schulze, Edgar Froese, Comus and Jethro Tull. But I've had found also some interesting metal bands while creating this album, for example, Agalloch, Negură Bunget and Sunn O))).
A lot of the lyrics are in Finnish (I think). I read in your biography that Unshine is all about melody. Is that the reason why you decided to use your own language? And can you tell us a bit more what you mean by that the melody wakes up the whole ancient story in your songs?
Yes, two songs with lyrics all in Finnish and one song where one half of the lyrics is in Finnish and one half is in English. We used Finnish language even more this time, partly encouraged by the response we got from 'Ikuinen Taistelu' ('Dark Half Rising', 2013). By that sentence about waking up the story, I mean that a song is always born from a place that really exists somewhere on our Earth, maybe on a spiritual plane. I think I find the songs usually from some kind of a collective memory of the Earth. A melody is a reminiscent of a story that took place times ago. It also might be a melody that is played regularly by the spirits of nature. You know Great God Pan, who plays flute in his Arcadian grove, in the wild forests, meadows and gardens? These things echo through times and dimensions. If you tune yourself really patiently, you might hear these wonderful things of serene woods and quiet valleys. Another type of example of waking up a story is 'Kainun Kuningas' from this album. In this song I tell about the connection between the first king of Finland, Fornjot, and his much later descendant. This descendant, living in today's world, starts suddenly seeing these pictures and memories in his dreams, which, as he soon realizes, refer to his ancient forefather, Kainun Kuningas, who lived in Finland, hundreds of years ago. The descendant starts a tireless search in order to find his ancient roots.
And why do you sing some of the songs, like 'Jack's Feast', in English?
The songs, when they, or their seeds pop up in your head, have always some identifiable form already in them. So, with this I mean that they first born either in English or in Finnish, I do not really have much authority on that. Let the forces decide. Jack also refers to a character from an English mythology and it felt natural to have the lyrics in English in that song.
Speaking of 'Jack's Feast', I think it is my favorite song on 'Astrala', which makes me wonder who Jack is. Can you tell us? And on a related note, although the term druid metal rather speaks for itself, where do you get the inspiration for both the lyrics and the melody?
We also love this song a lot. Jack is a character who appeared to me many many years ago. I could even say that he was the one, who catalyzed our "druid metal". In my personal life, I was having some hard time and kind of felt very lost, when one morning; I found a fansite dedicated to Jack-in the-Green. He is one of the most iconic mythological characters of English folk memory. His origin is still very obscure, but many of his friends, including me, believe that he is some kind of a collective spirit, who appears to us reminding us about our inseparable and equal connection with nature. Nowadays, he also appears as warning sign for humankind. We come from the nature, and in death, we will return to nature, forever continuing the cycle. I own several books about him and I've sighted him on many old house roofs around Europe. On the cover of 'The Enigma of Immortals', we had an English painting depicting Jack's counterpart, "Green Woman", by Katrina Sesum. This song is my personal homage to him: When I die, I want to become him.
Unshine is not a new band at all. If I am correct you started in 2002, but it was not until 2013, when you released 'Dark Half Rising', that you gained international reputation. Why do you think that is?
We first started on a very low profile and continued like this for several years. It was not until around 2010, after our first European tour, when we realized that we could even grow our audience in to more international. 'Dark Half Rising' was our first true international release and we learnt a lot about this business with that album. We're nowadays a very established band what comes to relationship between the members. The line-up has not changed once bit since our second demo in 2003. We try to do things nowadays in a more professional way than we used to do back in those times.
I always love it when a band stays together in their original line-up. Some of my favorite bands who I thought were pretty solid have had line-up changes. This happens apparently, but what is the reason that you guys have been together since the perception of Unshine?
I don't know. Maybe the thing, that we all come from a very small area in Western Finland, called Southern Ostrobothnia. People of this mostly rural region are considered being proud, tough but also very honest and true-to-their-roots. We have known each other since the age of 13-16 years. As the band, it is easy to start arranging new tunes, because we exactly know what to expect from each other. We also share the same common memories and mindset from the past.
Maybe an interesting, related question. Within the world of metal there are a lot of different people, there are among others many open-minded individuals that will give everything a chance and there are the so-called "old school" rockers, who will tell you they only like the first Metallica album and Slayer only when Dave Lombardo is behind the drums. I wonder what you as musicians think about, not these particular examples, but discussions like this in general. (If you do want to voice an opinion about those examples, of course you are free to do so.)
That was a great question. For some people, a certain music was the essential growing substance, like a certain type of soil for a certain type of plant. The plant grows bigger, even in to a tree, but it always remembers the soil, where it grew. However, old-school-only thrashers and more open-minded global music addicts who explore unknown territories – we all are needed in order to make the world of music more colorful and richer.
I very much like the term druid metal. To me, druids refer to nature, the way animals behave (observing them is a nonstop means of interest), the way plants grow and the way roots eventually take over any castle, skyscraper or corporate building. It is all natural, yet you play metal. How do you combine these seemingly two opposites?
I think druid metal is essentially about the unbelievable power of nature. Metal is a strong form of music, not just because of the heaviness of the sounds, but also because one can include so many musical textures in to it and still call it metal. For some people, metal has certain unwritten rules, which tell what can be included under the term, and according to them, these invisible rules cannot be broken. I think metal is an art form, where you can really break preconceptions, if you dare to do it. Our Earth is an epic place, a single plant root can split a stone, in the sound of thunder – well there is your Manowar.
And finally, how much of a part is druidism or nature of your daily life?
To me druidism is something I have personally defined to be part of me, forever. It includes my basic life principles; I try to achieve them in a better way, day by day. Since my childhood, nature has been The Place for me. Later, as an adult, I consider myself as a humble servant of Mother Earth and her accompanying folk. In so-called "civil life", I work as an advisor for forest researchers, so also in that sense; I could also classify myself as a modern druid.