A couple of hours before their first show in the Middle East which took place on January 15, Metality’s managing editor Habib T chatted with Insomnium’s vocalist and bassist Niilo Sevanen. The Finnish melodic death/doom metal giants performed that night in Dubai’s Music Room, supported by Bahrain’s Smouldering in Forgotten, with the show organized by Metal East Records.

Habib: This is your first show ever in the Middle East! So how does Dubai feel like for you guys? Was it anything like you expected? What are your expectations for the show tonight?

Niilo: It’s about what I thought Dubai would be.  It’s awesome to see places you’ve read about with your own eyes. So far, it’s what I thought it would be. No big surprises, but everyone is really friendly and nice. They’ve driven us around the city and showed us around, and we like it. We had a long flight and arrived here in the morning, so we didn’t get any sleep and we’re very tired now. But that doesn’t matter because we’re excited to get on stage, so it doesn’t matter if you’re tired when the adrenalin hits you to do your best for the show. After that, you feel like a winner, so I’m sure it will be a great show and a wonderful evening!

So besides the gig tonight, do you have any other plans in Dubai? Also, the weather here is very different for you, obviously.

Yes! We have this desert safari trip planned for tomorrow, and it’ll take around 7 to 8 hours. We’re excited for that too! And, yes, the weather here is great, especially because in Finland now it’s -25 degrees Celsius or so. The weather here feels like the summer in Finland and it's perfect!

Have you ever heard of or listened to any bands from our region? Do you think it’s surprising that the Middle East has an active metal scene?

I don’t think I’ve heard any bands from this region, but I’ve definitely read some names of them somewhere before. I’m not really surprised by the fact that there’s a metal scene here, because I’ve learned that in every country there is at least some small metal scene somewhere, and we have fans in literally every part of the world. It’s great, because metal unites people across cultures and countries.

I've been listening to Insomnium since 2010, and I've listened to your entire discography hundreds of times over. And it still amazes me. How do you guys keep putting out a unique and fresh record each time?

That’s what we want to do and try to do. We have really high standards in everything that we do, and we don’t want to repeat ourselves. We always want to invent something kind of new. That is, not totally changing everything, but always brining something fresh and making a different kind of album. For a band like AC/DC, for example, repeating themselves works out for them and nobody expects them to change at all. However, for most other bands, it’s better to put out something different and unique each time, to keep things interesting and fresh.

There has been a noticeable shift away from the folk elements present in your first two albums in your past few releases. Will you ever return to them? Or should we expect new elements?

Honestly, it depends on what kind of material we come up with and there might be folk influences, but it’s hard to say. I’m sure, however, that our next work will include a mixture of elements of melodic death metal, black metal, doom metal, folk metal, and thrash metal, in addition to things that we come up with. Then we make our own package of it, until it sounds like Insomnium.

Do you want classify yourselves into a specific genre, or Insomnium is just what it is?

If we have to categorize ourselves, then we are melodic death metal. But, you  always want to add “but”, because we always have influences and elements from other subgenres, like doom and black metal, and I think it’s a great thing. That’s what makes Insomnium a unique band.

I've once shown your lyrics to a couple of English literature professors at my university, and they loved it and asked me which 18th-19th century poet wrote this! Speaking of poetry, your lyrics have been an inspiration and influence for me to write my own English poems. 
What makes you write such powerful pieces that echo the style of the European romantics and gothic literature as well as Finnish poets like Eino Leino?

Both Ville and I read a lot, and we both write the lyrics. We read all kinds of literature, of course. Novels, and poetry and short stories. I love to write poetry and prose. I have two passions in life: music and writing. Those are the things that I extremely love. So, we have very high standards when it comes to lyrics, right from the start. We want the lyrics to work as poetry, even without the music. If you could just read the lyrics, it works as a poem, and there’s some kind of story that develops there, with an ending. And what you said about European romantics and gothic literature and poetry, as well as Finnish poets from 100 years ago, those are all big influences for us. For me personally, the German Romanticism era is a big influence as well, in addition to Eino Leino and Finnish poets from that time. When I read those poems, I feel like they convey similar feelings to the ones that we try to give in our music. It’s a huge source for inspiration.

Do you sit and deliberately force yourself to write lyrics when you have to, or do they just pop into your mind in a rush of creativity and emotion?

It’s hard work, the same as creating any form of art or writing music, but inspiration is a must. There’s creativity there but there’s also a lot of hard work. So you need to sit down and see what you’ve been doing, but also after a while look at it analytically and edit it. Your first draft is always your first draft. In this sense, the biggest difference between the amateur and the professional is how they handle the text after the first draft. It’s not ready when it’s the first draft. Only the idea that you formulated for yourself is what it’s in the first draft, and then you start changing it and making it work. It’s sometimes difficult and you feel like “I have no idea what to write or fix”, and you get writer’s block. It can also be tricky when trying to make the poem change to fit the rhythm for the music, and it takes time to do that. In the end, when you make it work, you feel super good!

Your 2009 album Across the Dark included heavy use of electronic keyboards (which I personally loved). Do you ever plan on using those again? Why or why not?

Again, it depends. I think it mostly has to do with the mixing of the album. There’s usually some keyboards in the background in most of the parts, but they’re not so audible. Maybe that’s one thing, but we shall see when it comes to our future albums. However, I think keyboards are an important part of Insomnium’s music, and you can add a lot of stuff with them that you can’t do with just guitars. We’re definitely going to have keyboards in the future as well.

I feel One for Sorrow was a beautifully well-done masterpiece of melancholy. However, I sensed that Shadows of the Dying Sun seemed to shift towards a bit more positivity. What was the reason behind that, do you think?

It’s hard to analyze that. Songs just come out of somewhere, and this time, they sound like this and the other times they sound different. It’s not intentional, that we decided to make an album sound overly like that. We just start making songs, and something comes out of it. And at some point, when we have like, let’s say 10 songs ready, we would ask ourselves “What is this album missing?” We then see if we need one fast song or one long, epic song to add to the album and whatever else we feel is missing. Up to that point, it’s really free-flowing and natural before being a directed and deliberate album from the start.

You guys have come a long way since your formation in the late 1990's and you've become one of the more recognized and renowned bands in the worldwide metal scene. Is there any advice you think you can give to up-and-coming metal artists in the region?

Believe in yourself and try to find your own voice and style. Of course, everybody starts by imitating their idols, but at some point you should find your own voice, sooner or later. So, try to do that. If you want to stand out amongst all the bands in the world, you have to have something unique about your music, that’s the thing. Making good and unique songs, something that people want to listen to again and again, that’s what’s important to help you establish yourself as a musician.

I've always wondered if you guys listened to anything other than metal. Do you? So is everything not so brutal and KVLT for you?

We listen to all kinds of music, and I think that it’s a bit childish to intentionally and forcefully limit your music choices. Listen to everything you like. If you like only metal, it’s cool; go for it! However, I try to find good stuff from all kinds of music. For example, if we’re touring, and playing metal all the time, with 3 or 4 other heavy bands, in the evening when we’re on the tour bus, we’re not going to listen to metal, so we put on some classic ‘80s pop music or Queen or Michael Jackson, so it’s totally different. I think that’s one important thing when you want to create something very unique because you need to study more than your own genre. This also applies to literature and writing. If you want to be a science fiction writer, for example, you don’t want to just read from your genre, but you need to read the world classics in literature and a large variety of books and literary works. The same thing goes for music.

If you could choose only 5 artists/bands to listen to for the rest of your life (excluding your own band of course), who would they be?

This is a difficult question indeed!
I would say Queen, Emperor, Type O-Negative, Amorphis, and Sentenced. It could be other artists, but those are just what I got off the top of my head right now.

Any words for the readers of Metality as well as for your fans in the Middle East?

We’re really excited to finally get and play here, in this part of the world. And, we hope to get back here soon! Also, for those people who haven’t heard our music, check us out, and open your mind to more bands and genres of music!  

Habib: I want to thank you guys on behalf of Metality, its readers, and the region's metal scene for making it all the way here to play, and for this interview as well.
As a loyal fan, I'm looking forward to seeing you guys live again, and to see what you have in store for us. Thank you for being inspiring musicians and fantastic lyricists! Until next time!

Niilo: Thank you so much!

The show that followed by Insomnium and Smouldering in Forgotten was, of course, beyond amazing! Our review for it will be out soon. 

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