In the course of Metal history, there’s been several geographically based movements with great impact around the world, such as The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), both the Swedish and Florida based Death Metal scenes, San Francsico Thrash, L.A. Glam, Norwegian Black Metal, German Power Metal, etc. etc. For almost twenty years now Finland, a country of only slightly over five million people, has provided the Metal world with tons of great bands, and though the music emanating from the Baltic Sea isn’t necessarily specific to any genre, for over a decade or so the sub-genre’s of Folk Metal, Viking Metal, and Battle Metal find themselves firmly entrenched in the Finnish scene. With acts like HIM, Children of Bodom, Amorphis, Finntroll, Stratovarius, and Ensiferium, Finland is the European hub of Heavy Metal. Hell, go back even further and Helsinki’s Hanoi Rock’s were probably a bigger influence on the L.A. Glam scene than anybody else, just look at the liner notes and inner sleeve pics from the GNR records.
Currently a huge fan favorite, the band Turisas are atop the Folk, Symphonic, and Battle Metal movements. Their name is also the name of an Ancient Fin God of War and with lyrics detailing epic Finnish history and folklore, bombastic battle marching sound, and brash war painted look, they’ve managed to build a worldwide following while steeped in the tradition of their homeland. Violinist Olli Vänskä recognizes the popularity of Finnish Metal, “I don’t really understand the hype about bands coming from Finland, but I do recognize that there’s definitely a fresh sound. Some years ago we were at the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival and from backstage I was listening to all these Metalcore bands and they all sounded the same, chugga, chugga, chugga. I may be biased, but it all sounded very much the same to me, unintelligible vocals, no real melodies. In Turisas we try to keep things interesting. I think we’re always developing, keeping things fresh.”
And yes, they’ve managed to antithesize themselves from their peers, continue to evolve with each record, while at the same time create a distinguished Turisas sound. Olli continues, “Sound wise I think we have built and maintained our own identity. We’ve changed with each album but the ethos of the Turisas sound is still there. We implement many things, lots of nuances. Here we are in New York and I think you can even hear lots of Broadway stuff in what we do, we’re very cinematic and Musical – like, with internal monologues, stuff like that.”
Turisas learned of another great achievement this February, basically stealing the spotlight at the Finnish Metal Awards, held annually at the Finland Metal Expo. Stand Up And Fight won the award for Album of The Year, Mathias “Warlord” Nygård won Vocalist of The Year, and Turisas was also named Band of The Year. Unfortunately for Olli, he came a close second for Musician of The Year, he mocks, “I was eight votes out of first place, and of course I have been crying every night as I go to sleep because I lost it. I don’t know how I can go on. I am completely in shambles.” But on a serious note, Olli is honored by the recognition, “It really is quite a remarkable thing to have an event like that specific to Heavy Metal. I think it’s quite unique in the world because it gets a lot of media attention. It’s an open fan vote, and of course I don’t know how many times people can vote, I never voted, but however it’s done it shows your fans dedication. We appreciate that a lot. We didn’t have a massive campaign or anything. Frankly, when I heard it, it just seemed ridiculous, like what the hell, we are definitely honored.”
…so in the winter if you’re not one of the cool kids who’s out skiing, you’re inside learning an instrument with the rest of the misfits.
So here they are, currently the top band from Finland, headlining a US tour, selling out every venue they play, kings of an underground Metal circuit, what keeps the world interested in Finnish Metal? “I get asked about this all the time and I really don’t have an answer. One key factor was Spinefarm records who really opened the door for music coming out of Finland, bands like Nightwish, Children of Bodom, and Amorphis. It was stuff very much different from the Nu-Metal and Metalcore things which had a worldwide audience. This I think sort of left a small corner for bands from Finland who do have a different sound, so those of us who weren’t really impressed with all the Metalcore stuff had an outlet with smaller labels like Spinefarm and Century Media. We don’t really have bands from Finland that belong to an international scene like that. So being different and fresh sort of helped the mythology of Finnish Metal a bit too. We also have an excellent music education system in Finland. It’s very easy and affordable to get music lessons, so in the winter if you’re not one of the cool kids who’s out skiing, you’re inside learning an instrument with the rest of the misfits. We were just in Australia where it was forty degrees Celsius (that means hot) and all I thought was, I never would have been into music if I grew up here. I would have been outside all the time.”
Speaking of Australia, Turisas just played Soundwave, a massive Rock/Metal festival similar to Ozzfest, where they were exposed to an audience quite varied and unlike the typical Turisas fan and they got to mingle with bands so very different than their own. “There’s certainly a sense of community in the band area, yet Limp Bizkit and System of a Down exist in their own little cocoon so you can’t really get near them, but I enjoy meeting other bands and listening to new things. Still, there’s a lot of tattoos out there and a lot of skateboard sponsored bands, and I don’t ride a skateboard or have any tattoos, so I do feel out of place at events like that.”
It’s hard to talk about Turisas without mentioning their look. Changing slightly over the past eight years, they’ve donned swords and Viking helmets, tattered clothes and war paint, but it ties into their lyrics which all have something to do with true events. “Well Mathias is a big history freak and he came up with all this stuff and the storylines we use. Nordic history really fits into the way we sound and vice versa, especially the last two albums which have all been about Scandinavians traveling into the Byzantine Empire and joining the Army there as mercenaries. So yes, they call us Battle Metal because we use battle themes. It is a good framework for a story musically, lyrically and visually. And of course, it’s interesting to know your roots as well.”
Still, the crux of Turisas is their music, an eclectic blend of Metal, symphony, and storytelling with a dash of the glitz of a modern musical. Among the traditional Rock band instruments there’s keyboards, accordions, and of course Olli’s violin, melding many layers and textures. According to Mr. Vänskä, “With modern technology you can have a thousand layers, but the question is always will it sound good live? Mathias has pretty much produced the last two records and he’s done well not adding to much where it’s impossible live, but enough to make it interesting. We get this really huge sound but at the same time we manage to keep the sound very organic.”
As for Olli, he’s made quite a name for himself. Though not the first guy to play the violin in a Metal band, very rarely has his instrument taken the forefront. His violin is most certainly the lead piece in Turisas music, playing the role traditionally reserved for the lead guitar. As a classically trained musician, he never thought he’d end up wearing make up for a Metal outfit. “When I graduated from music school I had basically quit playing. I really had no interest in being just another guy in an orchestra. I wanted to be a soloist or in a really high scale orchestra position. The standard is really unbelievable there so I just felt like fuck it. I never thought I’d be in a Metal band, but when this door opened I thought it was really very interesting. I was a Metal fan but being trained as a classical player my dreams as a kid were quite different. But in Turisas, I can’t complain. I get to do really creative stuff.”
So after completing a tour which took them from New York City to West Hollywood, Turisas are now back home in Finland preparing for Summer festivals and working on new material. Who knows? Maybe their next album will be about their epic journey through America, destroying mid-sized venues across the states, swords drawn high like Viking invaders. As Olli says, “Everybody in Europe romanticizes about going on the route 66 trip across America, but we just get to see a lot of darkness and truck stops on the road. But maybe a story of a Viking invasion of the states could work, we’ll see.”
Check them out below:
Official Video for Stand Up and Fight