Interview by Si Smith
From the first chord to the final drumbeat, a Crimfall album is an aural spectacle to behold. Orchestrations and sound effects only serve to focus the listener on the music that is on offer: a rich tapestry of metal and gusto that transports the observer to another world, complete with swords and battles. But if this is escapism, than it is a guilty pleasure, as this album proves. Moving on into darker more wintry territory, it proves to touch on themes closer to our hearts, but still always that firm foundation of epic folk metal. I braved the cold and sat by the campfire with Helena to discuss the band’s progress so far…
First of all thanks so much for talking to us Helena, and a warm welcome from all at Femme Metal.
Thanks! It’s my pleasure.
I understand that the band began as a one-man project of guitarist Jakke Viitala. What did the music sound like at that early stage? How did you become involved in the whole scheme?
Jakke had heard my voice in my former band, Tacere‘s debut album, and he asked me to try out some vocals for the three song demo “Burning Winds”. The material was pretty much ready at that time, and when I came in, we only arranged some melodies to fit my voice better. The music itself wasn’t that far away from how it came out on our first full-length album, but of course some arrangements were made, and the overall production of “As the Path Unfolds…” sounds much richer than the first demo of the band.
“Burning Winds” was your first recorded opus – how did you feel the recording went for this early work?
I can only answer from my part, since the first evening we recorded my vocals was the first time I met Jakke, so I don’t know how the process was for the others. For me the situation was relaxed, laid back and I felt secure and appreciated. We didn’t do anything in a hurry, ‘though it only took a couple of evenings to get the demo vocals done. Jakke and his wonderful wife Heidi first welcomed me with their heart-warming manner of stuffing all their guests with delicious food and wine, and since I also loved Jakke’s music, I decided to continue working with him after he asked me to take part on a full-length album.
Two of the songs from this demo were re-recorded for the first full-length “As the Path Unfolds…”. Were these tracks changed much in transition?
The other one, “Where Waning Winds Lead”, has now a slightly different touch melody-wise, and it’s intro is completely recomposed. If I remember correctly, there weren’t such big changes for “Wildfire Season”, but if you guys really want to compare, I suggest hunting down one of our demos and checking the differences out yourselves.
There were many session musicians on the first album, including Trollhorn (Finntroll, Moonsorrow). How was it working with all these guys on the project?
Did they understand well the general idea behind what you were trying to create?I never actually saw any of our brilliant session musicians during the making of the album, nor can I tell you what exactly was Jakke‘s vision behind everything. “As the Path Unfolds…” came out as it did, and I hope our dear composer is also as satisfied with it as the rest of us are.
Your voice soars on this first cd – you are clearly very versatile in your approach to the vocal lines, what is your background in singing?
The flexibility of my voice was one of the main reasons Jakke contacted me in the first place. He wanted a singer, who could awaken many different kinds of moods and feelings, without getting stuck on one style only. I’ve been singing my whole life. I’ve done classical studies with many different teachers as well as I’ve taken vocal lessons from one of the best jazz singers in Finland, Sanni Orasmaa. Of course that all has molded my voice, but no-one has ever taught me to sing heavy metal, so on the other hand I’m self-taught. Distortion for example.. I’ve wondered how does one teach that kind of stuff to another! I learned to use distortion and that Janis Joplin-like rattle mostly on my own and by listening to good singers who tend to use it – men and women alike.
You and Mikko clearly have a great working relationship when it comes to your vocals. What’s it like when you guys hang out together outside of “work” times? What does Crimfall do to relax?
The whole band has a good, family-like vibe going on. We concentrate best on what we’re doing by not taking things too seriously and joking a lot – teasing each other like sisters and brothers do. We rarely meet outside gigs, band rehearsals and meetings, but when we do, it’s usually about celebrating and enjoying the life “the finnish way” – sauna, beer, good music and good company. Actually after our first rehearsals with our drummer Janne we all ended up just chilling out, going to the sauna and after that continuing our rehearsals butt naked between the times we sat in the sauna. (God I hope the guys won’t see this, ha ha..)
Some labelled you “soundtrack music” because of the orchestral parts and the sounds of horse, blacksmith, etc, in between tracks. How important were the “sound effects” to the overall meaning of the first album? Did you intend the album to seem like the soundtrack to some immense fantasy film?
You should definitely ask Jakke about this, since I have no clue about any overall meanings behind any of our music. I just create some of it myself, sing it and enjoy it. I think with Crimfall the music comes first, and all the sound effects remain extra. But our music wouldn’t be the same without the orchestrations and the choir parts, so in my belief they’re at least almost as important a part of our music as the guitar walls and the bass lines are. Of course the movie-like sound effects help the listener to reach the battle fields in a more detailed way, and I think that is a nice spice to our records.
Where do you feel that the band fits in in today’s metal scene? Do you pay much attention to the other bands that might be playing similar kinds of music to yourselves, or do you deliberately keep yourself separate so as not to be overly influenced?
Oh no, I hate to box music! We all listen to many different kinds of stuff, but also quite a lot of epic folk metal, which probably would be the closest genre to box us into.. What can I say: we love what we’re doing, so I think it’s quite logical that we enjoy music with similarities as well. I don’t think finnish bands are too eager to stalk one another – of course we’re interested if something big happens to a band we know people from, but otherwise we just mind our own business’.
The year 2011 has brought a new album in the shape of “The Writ of Swords”. Could you explain the title to us?
The new album is much darker and gloomier than the first one, and somehow the lyrical and the musical themes are much more hopeless as they were on “As the Path Unfolds…”. I think “The Writ of Sword” is an excellent name for an album handling all the horrors of war and the pain of the loss it brings with it.
The last track on “As the Path Unfolds…” was “Novembre” and the first track of the new album is “Dicembre”? Was this intended to follow on almost directly from the first album? Is there a direct thematic link between the two?
As you can hear, the musical theme of “Novembre” is also the main theme on “Dicembre”. And yes, as the winter follows the fall, so does our second album follow chronologically our debut album both thematically and musically.
In this interviewer’s humble opinion, your voice sounds particularly beautiful on the some of the more folky songs like “Frost Upon Their Graves”. If you could produce an album solely according to your own personal tastes and vocal preferences, what kind of album would it be?
I’d probably make something a cappella. In fact, I’ve had a dream of a vocal group for a long time. Something like finnish folk music or maybe even metal. But if I’ll ever find time to arrange stuff for a metal a cappella group, I’ll definitely make it very rough and try to produce also the drums only with human voices, unlike for example Van Canto does.
Now that the band is fully-formed, is this the way it will stay now? Are you all pretty settled in your roles within the band, or is there room for some flexibility?
This is the best possible “casting” for Crimfall. Five members is a great amount of people in a band and since we’ve all sort of found our places and accepted our responsibilities within our team, I don’t see us reforming anytime soon.
Since your music is so “epic”, how do fans respond at gigs? Do you get the viking helmets from the Finland connection, or maybe the more “serious” fan rather than the diehard mosher?
I’m glad to say we have both! And may I add, they’re equally pleasing to play to: the hard core fans in the front row, the nasty looking pit forming in the center of the crowd and last but not least the people standing a bit further away but still clearly enjoying our music, fists held up high.
I must say that “The Writ of Swords” is one album I would have loved to have on vinyl. Are there any plans to release this album on vinyl format?
We did discuss the vinyl possibility with our record company, and I’m happy to say they didn’t turn it down – as a matter of fact they brought the idea on the table. “When”, on the other hand, is a question I don’t know the answer to.
As we draw near the end of the interview, I have to ask about your plans for the future. Touring is a given and I hear you are supporting Turisas on their “Stand Up and Fight” tour. Did you meet these guys already when Olli played violin on this album? What are you looking forward to most about touring? What do you miss the most when touring?
Yes, we did support Turisas on some of their gigs on that massive tour: we got to perform in London, Nottingham, Vosselaar, Paris, Amsterdam, Hämeenlinna and Helsinki with them. And I tell you, it was a blast! Although only some of us had met Olli and Mathias Nygård while recording the violins and guest vocal parts, we all got along so well with them on tour. They and their awesome crew were just absolutely great! I think we’re looking forward to do some more touring with a band yet to be announced. While we tour abroad, we might miss our closest ones and the luxury of sleeping in our own beds, but at the same time the best thing in it is definitely to get to play for different kinds of crowds and people not from our cold country. It’s amazing to find such blood brothers and sisters who dig the metal we play. It’s a very uniting feeling!