Strength & Honour

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Ever since Mithotyn were sent out on a burning ship into the Gulf of Bothnia, many bands have clamoured to claim the crown as Viking metal’s undisputed king. Some like Hin Onde and Twin Obscenity have failed, others like Enslaved have simply given up the battle and progressed. Only Thyrfing have truly flirted with Viking metal brillaince consistenly, unchallenged for the vacant throne. Until now. With the realese of Voimasta ja Kunniasta (or Of Strength and Honour in English), Finland’s Moonsorrow have catapaulted to the top of the Viking metal heap with a brilliant second album. It is an album deeply rooted in Viking culture and Norse mythology with songs that envisage heroism, bravery, family, life and death. I had the pleasure of visiting with Baron Tarwonen and Ville Seponpoika Sorvali, two of Moonsorrow’s warriors, who are obviously beaming with pride from the superb opus.

Firstly, great album. I just wanted to touch on the fact you have English translations of the song titles and lyrics. What prompted this decision? Do you envision an album in English in the future?
Tarwonen: Thank you. The reason of the translations is simple. We just wanted more people to understand what we’re singing about. I think it’s very important for us because we sort of export the Finnish culture to the world. When the band started the songs were in English but we soon changed to Finnish as it felt so natural and at least for our ears it sounds better. So all you foreign bastards, get in touch with Finnish language! It’s very easy to learn. [laughs] As for the future releases, we do continue with our native tongue but fear not, there’ll be translations again!
How do you feel you compare to other Viking metal acts? (Either now defunct bands like Bathory of Mithotyn, and current bands like Thyrfing and Amon Amarth).
Tarwonen: Of course, we listen to many bands of this Viking scene, so I find it quite natural that in our music there’s a “little” Bathory and ‘Fing and so on. But then again we’re not here to copy anyone. We love to do this music and we love the power of mead! Similarities do happen (and has happened since the first Beatles record) and I think it’s great to have this viking/pagan-kind of genre too. I don’t think there are any bands doing exactly the same thing.

This is only your second album, and it is (in my opinion) a perfect release how do you improve upon this album after such a complete record?
Tarwonen: When our debut Suden Uni (or A Wolf´s Dream in English) was recorded we thought, “How can we make a better album next?” But we did it. Me and Henri just sat at home composing new material every day, bringing new aspects to Moonsorrow´s music. We had some 100 minutes of new material. So it was easy to pick the best songs from that pre-production. Actually, we had some of Voimasta ja Kunniasta material ready when Suden Uni came out because its release was delayed.

How has the album been received in your homeland where no doubt many similar bands are competing for attention?
Tarwonen: All the responses have been excellent and that surprised us. I didn’t have any expectations and actually I was a bit of afraid that people don’t get it because of its long song structures and all that. But when I read the reviews of it I dropped my jaw! But fear not, we’re not going big-headed. I don’t see competition between bands here because we play [a] very fair game here as we’re good friends with the members of other bands we like.

Are there any other bands in the genre from Finland that we should be aware off?
Tarwonen: Yes. All you pagans should support a band called Turisas. They only have made a self-released MCD, but I wonder if none of the record companies become interested in them. They have very pompous sound ala Bal-Sagoth and they’re performing very theatrical live shows. Command your browsers immediately after this interview to Turisas.

The difference in song writing quality from the first album to this album is huge-why and how did the band manage to make such a large improvement in the material?
Tarwonen: Maybe this is cliche but still I’d call that a natural development. And you have to remember that the material on Suden Uni is composed in ’98-’99 and the new material in 2001, so there was some time for us to prepare Voimasta ja Kunniasta. Also this time it wasn’t only Henri who’s responsible of songwriting. I penned two tracks (“Hiidenpelto” and “Sankaritarina”) and I think they differ a lot from Henri’s songs, but still fit in the Moonsorrow “mode.” And Ville surpassed himself with awesome lyrics for this conceptual album. Everything is professional this time: playing, sounds, cover art. Everything!

The songs on the new album are vast epic pieces that convey the atmosphere of the dark ages-how did you manage to translate this more “peaceful” Viking aura into music?
Tarwonen: Umm. I don´t know. As for the lyric-wise I think there’s at least one blood-fire-death-violent lyrics [in the] song “Sankarihauta”/”Warrior’s Grave” on the album which is not so “peaceful.” The whole concept is about heroism this time. It’s the story of strength and honour written in [a] national romantic way. Suden Uni was more directly in the face of Christianity. Music-wise we discussed a lot about that there must be long and slow songs, folkish songs as well as fucking fast blasts, but in the end it turned out that the fast songs didn’t fit the concept so it’s middle tempo material – but very heavy and bombastic. Actually it’s very hard to write short songs for Moonsorrow because we play this “Epic Heathen Metal” and this “Epic Heathen Metal” is not about two verses and a hit chorus for the masses. It’s about historical events, it’s about fighting, it’s about bravery, it’s about drinking for the gods, it’s about coming back home, it’s about traitors at home and it’s about fucking blood, fire, death! Not the album. [laughs] We do need many minutes to reflect those matters in our music for Odin’s sake!

What originally sparked your interest in Norse mythology and Viking history? Is it something you grew up with?
Sorvali: I really can’t tell. I guess mythology and history in general have always appealed to me, and around the age of 16, should I remember correctly, I seriously begun to develop a deeper interest towards such topics. It was my heart that sparked that interest to say the least.

Since Finland is separated by language from Scandinavia but still very much rooted in Scandinavian, particularly Swedish, traditions from the Viking Era on, do you find most of your lyrical material coming from Swedish tales of conquest?
Sorvali: Why, our lyrics are firmly rooted in the Finnish ground. Simply for historical reasons, references to Viking culture whatsoever create no contradictions.

It seems the pre-history of Finland is more interesting, from a lyrical standpoint, than Viking Era Finland; although it’d be interesting to hear an interpretation of of the crusades into southwestern Finland.
Sorvali: I’m vastly interested in Finnish history, so I would not like to take a stand like that. It is remarkable, though, that Finland was practically isolated from the outside world until the latter Iron Age, or the “Viking Age” as many prefer to call it. Anyway, I would say “Köyliönjärven Jäällä” (from our debut album) is quite an interpretation of the crusades, or what do you think?

How does Norse mythology differ from Finnish mythology?
Sorvali: Well, we have different national epics, but altogether our belief systems are quite similar. Of course, the names of the deities differ, and the various mythological traditions the Finnish have practiced may be a bit “more obscure” than Asatru; exotic for the uninitiated. [laughs]

What is Epic Pagan Metal? Does the music have to be epic to be pagan and vice versa?
Sorvali: Epic pagan metal is just what the name indicates; epic, pagan and metal. In the case of Moonsorrow, those three words are firmly linked, but in general sense they should not depend of each other.

How is the difference between labels-Plasmatica for the debut and Spinefarm for the new album?
Tarwonen: The biggest difference is that Spinefarm is a professional label and Plasmatica isn’t. There were so many things that got fucked up with Plasmatica, which I don’t see reason to talk about anymore. With Spikefarm everything is so much easier because the company is in the same city as we’re living in. Although I don’t regret anything we did with Plasmatica. It was fair enough for making our debut album come true. We are now fully pleased with Spikefarm and I think we’ll sign [to] them for another album.
Which bands do think have the most influence on Moonsorrow’s music-ones inside the genre or other musical genres?
Tarwonen: I’d say Bathory is the only big influence from the metal scene. We do listen to many types of music from ’70s prog to Scandinavian folk rock and so on to the hardest of metal of today. But if I must mention some other names in the shadow of big “B” who might have some influence on us I’d say Einherjer, Thyrfing, Nordman, King Crimson & Bal-Sagoth. And Autopsy! What? Nah, not really!

With the lack of a true “Viking” heritage in the United States-do you think the American audience will not appreciate the music as much as their European counterparts? Do you think this hinders success abroad?
Tarwonen: Nah, I don’t think so. We have got some amazing reviews from U.S. and based by them I think Americans are very interested in this kind of metal. I think people are taking this “Viking” stuff sometimes too seriously. We just want to make some good metal music which has some folk music influences for old time’s sake! We work on the basis that Bathory and say, Amorphis, once created because we love this kind of music. We don’t care so much of success.

Are any members of Moonsorrow involved in any other projects?
Tarwonen: For sure we all have other projects too. Henri plays keyboards in Finntroll and in a prog band called Luokkasota (“Class War”). I’m in a weird Finnish band called Kuha (“Pike-perch”) which plays very odd music you can compare to Mr. Bungle. Ville has his rock (star?) band May Withers and Mitja is involved with a death metal band called The Sinkage. Lord Eurén plays with himself! [laughs]

Any plans for a tour? Describe to us a Moonsorrow live show? Is it furs and swords or do you let the music do the imagery itself?
Tarwonen: Not at the moment. We like to do as many gigs as we’re able to play. We have only played few gigs here in Finland and mostly in Helsinki. Moonsorrow doesn’t have anyt special live show. It’s just us playing loud and clear, covered with sweat and blood! Furs suck big time! They’re too hot!

With such a brilliant album so early in your career, the future for Moonsorrow looks good-what are the immediate plans for Moonsorrow?
Tarwonen: To do as many gigs as we can this year and write some new material for the next album. We’re going to studio in November so unfortunately you have to wait for the next Moonsorrow album until the beginning of 2003. But, we have also some other projects coming, namely Ahti (the name of Finnish ancient God of the Water), which plays Viking-rock mixed with folk music and Oi!-punk elements so it’s really something!

In my opinion your closest rivals in the genre are Thyrfing – Do you like them? Will you check out their new album?
Tarwonen: Yes I admit we have something in common with them – those Braveheart samples. [laughs] And we do like them very much. Of course, I’ll check their forth coming album and I wish them all the best! Hell Norden!

Anything else for our axe wielding hordes?
Tarwonen: Thanx for this interview and for your support! All you heathen metallers, feel free to visit our website It’s time to go to bed, so it’s over and out!


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