November 10, 2016 Interview – Niilo Sevänen of Insomnium Talks Winter’s Gate
Lead Vocalist and Bassist of Insomnium, Niilo Sevänen, is a man whose efforts have helped focus the spectrum of Melodic Death Metal into the wondrous shades of aural majesty it occupies today. The Finnish juggernauts, along with Dark Tranquillity, Omnium Gatherum, and Amorphis, have catapulted themselves to the pinnacle of the genre by reaching farther with every album; improving by leaps and bounds as well as touring hard for each such achievement. From their beginnings with 2002’s In the Halls of Awaiting, to their epic seventh album, Winter’s Gate, Insomnium seem to be only scratching the surface of their potential. Released in late September of 2016, we managed to catch up to the busy singer for a chat about the unique nature of Winter’s Gate, touring plans, and a couple other tidbits occupying Mr. Sevänen’s creative mind.
CrypticRock.com – The new album, Winter’s Gate, is out and getting marvelous reviews. The ambition of recording one long song, which is also a concept album, takes a supreme degree of confidence. Though the inspiration to write Winter’s Gate struck relatively recently, had you ever thought of doing one long song in the past? If so, was it ever discussed with the band prior to writing and recording it?
Niilo Sevänen – We had this idea of making a really long song when we were rehearsing songs for our previous album, Shadows of the Dying Sun. So that was about 3 years ago. I think we all wanted to do something different for a change.
CrypticRock.com – Artists rarely want to stay in one spot for too long. Once you decided to do Winter’s Gate as one song, how did this decision affect the writing process within the band? Does composing one uninterrupted piece alter your existing writing dynamics? If so, how?
Niilo Sevänen – Actually, it went pretty much the same way like before. But now we had to put all the pieces together and make one track that would feel like a single epic song – not just a collection of riffs and parts. Everyone wrote music on their own and then we started putting it all together, and in the end, it all went pretty smoothly.
CrypticRock.com – The end result blends so seamlessly together, showing the strength of Insomnium’s inner chemistry. The accompanying story with the album was a novel and enriching idea, unique among Heavy Metal bands. Have you written such tales in the past, as short stories, books, etc? Is writing stories something you want to do more of in the future?
Niilo Sevänen – I have written stories since I was a kid. That’s the other passion I have besides music. There are some interesting projects in the works… Let’s see what comes out of them!
CrypticRock.com – After absorbing the tale that inspired the new album, fans will be eager to devour whatever projects you have planned. What was it like recording yourself reading the story? What challenges did this present to you?
Niilo Sevänen – It felt a bit awkward at first and I was nervous. But it all went pretty well and it doesn’t sound utterly horrible, so I’m happy with the result.
CrypticRock.com – You sound like you could easily narrate some epic tales for some long car rides. Well done! Fans consuming the album on formats like Spotify will notice that the sections of Winter’s Gate are divided into seven separate ‘parts.’ Did you, as a band, have a hand in dividing up the sections, and will you be playing certain selections from Winter’s Gate live, or performing the whole album as one piece with a ‘best of’ encore?
Niilo Sevänen – Yes, for Spotify, we had to divide the song, otherwise they would have not put it there. We discussed this with our label how would we split the song. Now we had the Finnish shows already and we played the whole song through – all the 40 minutes – and I’m sure fans want to hear it like this. And after that, some older songs to finish the set. I think it worked really well.
CrypticRock.com – There is no other way to truly immerse oneself in the album. Hearing it played live in one take must be breathtaking, and fans will no doubt want it that way. Insomnium is rapidly becoming one of the best Melodic Metal bands in the world. Does this kind of praise add pressure to you and your band mates when it comes time to write? The band seems very low-key and humble.
Niilo Sevänen – Nah, we don’t take any extra pressure. We always want to do the best possible music and albums, stuff that pleases ourselves. Stuff that comes from the heart and soul. We are not trying to please the masses, but just do our own thing.
CrypticRock.com – Well, no doubt, the masses are being pleased with Insomnium! During our last talk in 2015, we discussed how falling album sales has had a negative effect on Heavy Metal business. How has the ingenious marketing of Winter’s Gate as an artbook with bonus spoken word disc managed to help turn this tide? Are you pleased with how the special edition is selling?
Niilo Sevänen – Luckily, Heavy Metal fans are still buying the albums in physical form and they want to have the special stuff as well. They are loyal and supportive, and that makes it possible for bands like us to keep on going and touring (and not spend all the time in our day jobs). The artbook version with a real hardcover book was sold out on the first week, so yeah, it did really well. We are pleased!
Insomnium live at Gramercy Theatre, NYC 1-4-15
CrypticRock.com – That is a very encouraging sign. Heavy Metal fans are truly like no other fan base, that’s for sure. What lies on the horizon for Insomnium? Too busy concentrating on promoting and touring Winter’s Gate, no doubt, but has any of Insomnium’s musical future taken shape yet?
Niilo Sevänen – Busy touring and planning the next tours, right now, yes. There are some very interesting special shows coming next year, so let’s see . . . but about the next album – it’s too early to say.
CrypticRock.com – Your fans shall await this news with baited breath. If you recall, CrypticRock.com focuses on Sci-Fi and Horror as well as music. Over the past year, has any work of Science Fiction or Horror caught your attention?
Niilo Sevänen – Let’s see… Of course I’ve watched the big movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and the superhero stuff. I recently saw Dr. Strange and that was visually stunning but otherwise pretty basic – but enjoyable. I’ve read a lot of classic Comics like Sandman, Watchmen, Swamp Thing, and hoarding all the Hellboys that I don’t yet have (thank you Brexit, cheap pound, and Amazon UK!). Also exploring the online Sci-Fi/Fantasy magazines that mostly offer great short stories. That’s what I’ve been doing recently.