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Tuomas Saukkonen: “I think this is like the ideal situation for me as a song-writer, having three different vocals to write the songs for. Like you said, there were a lot of different bands I used to have with different vocals, but now I get together all the ideas into one band.”

We volgen Tuomas Saukkonen en al zijn bands en projecten al sinds het begin. Daarom is het extra fijn om te ervaren dat er nog altijd summiere nieuwe elementen in zijn muziek opduiken, zonder zijn typische sound te verloochenen, zoals nu meer cleane zang als tegenwicht voor Tuomas’ sappige grunts. Wolfheart staat voor winter metal en welk tijdstip in het jaar is dan meest geschikt om de veelzijdige muzikant aan het woord te laten over het inmiddels al zesde album van Wolfheart, genaamd ‘King Of The North’? Pittig laatste nieuwtje: niet alleen Dawn Of Solace is terug actief, maar met Before The Dawn komen volgend jaar ook terug concerten.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 28 november 2022

Hi Tuomas, I am glad to have you one more time on the line. We have the successor of ‘Wolves Of Karelia’ and the EP ‘Skull Soldiers’ now coming up. When did you actually start writing for this new album ‘King Of The North’?
I started working already when the last EP was out, because at that time I already knew that all the tours were going to be cancelled for the rest of 2021. So I knew there was going to be a lot of time and I wanted to use all the time that I had in my hands to start building the next album. I did not have any other plans, because there were no tours coming up. So I just stayed in a writing mode.

I can understand. During that pandemic I have thought about you many times, because I know you have your job in music and that crumbled… That must have been a harsh time for you. How did you survive that?
I was really lucky, because I am also having my day job as a gardener, for 25 years now. So even though I have been doing smaller projects in the last years, between the tours and the festivals, but I was able to go back as a full time worker in 2020. So the past few years I have been working mainly as a gardener and secondary as a song-writer. It has been pretty easy for me, because it was just two phone calls and I had a job and then I was just focusing on that until this Fall, when things started to look better.

That is nice, because I can imagine that working as a gardener is also a kind of way to free your mind…
Yes, that brought a lot of balance in my life, because it was something completely different than before.  I was able to work outside, which I like anyways and that job was very little affected by the pandemic, because I work alone and I work outside. So the restrictions did not have much effect on the work.

‘King Of The North’ is dedicated to Finnish mythology. That is a completely different topic than ‘Wolves Of Karelia’ about the winter war in Finland. How did you approach this subject?
I really enjoyed writing a theme album about the winter war. I really wanted to make an even deeper Finnish themed album. Finland has a kind of short history. We are a pretty young country, so the biggest things in the history are in the first and the second world war, but I did not want to do any war related topics anymore, so the mythology was very clear and obvious. As a Finnish song-writer that is a hugely inspiring topic, about all the troll tales and beliefs of nature and the creation of the Northern lights and all that stuff. It is very inspiring.

I think ‘Skyforger’ is really an amazing opening track of the album, because it is long, it is epic and you present there what Wolfheart is about…
That is exactly what I tried to do and also I tried to present what the album was going to be like. Also because the song is telling the story about how the sky was forged and when the Northern lights came and the whole order of the Nordic realms. The song grew out pretty long, because it was quite a big story in the lyrics. Again I got a lot of critics from the label, because it is not ideal when it comes to streaming, like Spotify and the algo rhythmics. It is better to have shorter songs and the chorus coming quite early and now it even takes three minutes before you have the first vocals (laughs). So when it comes to the best formula for the music business, that is the worst song ever to open up an album, but I think it is really important to have a song that presents the band and the album, rather than having a smart business move.

Can you go deeper into that theme of ‘Skyforger’ with its Northern Lights?
The theme or story behind ‘Skyforger’ is the widest of the album. All the other songs are based on one particular story, but the interpretation of the skyforger also presents the Finnish mythology more wider. It explains a lot of things in the mythology, like there are the stories about the northern lights being the gates to the North and it tells about the Finnish version of Walhalla and that was believed to be a dark stream. They believed that it is the centre point of the Northern realm, where the dark stream is heading. So it combines the main themes of the whole mythology in one song. It is like an introduction, like a first chapter of a book that gives you the back story, so you know what to expect and what will follow in the next chapters. And then we go deeper into more detailed things.

What struck me is that we have more clean vocals on this album. You really have excelled in that!
We used the clean vocals of Lauri before in some of the choruses and two acoustic versions in the past, but now that Vagelis joined the band and I knew from in the beginning that he is a very strong vocalist, we have a lot bigger spotlight. I think it is really a big upgrade to our sound, to be able to have two different new voices. I do growling, but they can do so many different types of vocals like screaming, shouting, very fragile clean vocals, so they have huge range. There’s a lot more to explore with vocals in the future.

That is nice to hear, because I remember when you had all these different projects; some bands also included clean vocals. Dawn Of Solace for instance…

I am glad that you have found new companions to do that…
Yes, I think this is like the ideal situation for me as a song-writer, having three different vocals to write the songs for. Like you said, there were a lot of different bands I used to have with different vocals, but now I get together all the ideas into one band.

‘The King’ is also a very good song and it has a tale about a forest god. What is it about?
I really like that myself. The king is the bear. For people back in the days, the bear was the most feared and honoured creature. Naturally he was on top of the food chain, so he was considered to be the king or like a god-like figure, but this detailed story of the king is the reputation of the bear. There are still a lot of rules and rituals still in place in Finland. For example, you are not allowed to hunt the bear in winter, because the bears are sleeping in the winter and they are the weakest. You are not allowed to hunt the bear in that state. There are lots of rituals and rules. For example, when you kill a bear, you have to organize a feast to honour the bear and to make up for the theme of the spirit of the bear to return to the forest. So you need to show respect and you have to honour the bear, even after you killed the bear. But the story about this theme is about the illegal or forbidden hunt of a bear during the winter.

It is interesting that you share this with us, because we don’t know about that here…
There were a lot of things that I didn’t even know about, because I don’t hunt myself. For example, when you kill a bear, you always carry the bear out from the woods head first. Even if it is a human or an animal or every living creature, you carry it out teens first. But the bear is to be believed having eternal spirit. So it is never fully dead. So when you kill a bear you always carry the bear out of the woods head first. That is still done nowadays, so it is really fascinating that these traditions still live in people who are hunters.

I think you did a lot of research then…
I did. Tours did not happen, so I had a lot of time. I even bought few books and I was digging all the information I could find on the Finish mythology. It was quite a big work, because the Finnish mythology is very badly documented. In comparison with the Norwegian mythology which is very structured with the Norwegian and Walhalla and Odin, it is very clear. There’s even TV series about the Vikings. Everybody knows something about the Viking culture, because of the media and movies and artwork and everything, but the Finnish mythology is just a compilation of the stories that were passed from village to village or from generation to generation. It was never written down properly. A lot of the stories are just part of a song or part of a poem. Even the main book of Finnish mythology, called Kalevala, where also Amorphis is taking all of their lyrics, that is also a compilation. The author of that book was just travelling from village to village to document all the stories and he just made like a compilation of those. There is a lot of work and that made it even more exciting, because there were so many things to discover.

Can you illustrate that with some of the topics in the songs?
Yes, it made the whole song-writing even more interesting. The previous album was a theme album about the war and a very short war. The winter war took only place in three months. It was very short period of Finnish history and all the stories were similar. The experiences of the soldiers and the regular people were very similar, because every story came from the same short period of time, but now I stumbled upon so many different stories, so many different interpretations. For example there are so many beliefs about where the northern lights come from. In one part of Finland was believed that it was this giant whale and it was splashing the ocean waters with its tale and the moon and the stars were colouring the water and that made the northern lights. Another part of Finland believed that it was like this magical fox with a burning tale. It was colouring the sky. In the very northern part of Finland they believed that the northern lights, the colour came from the people who were killed by violence and they were in the Finnish version of the underworld and they were still bleeding. That blood was colouring the sky. So different regions in Finland had a different interpretation for very similar things, so it was just like an endless amount of stories and of course it was very important to me to be able to write the songs that support the stories. So when you read the lyrics and you hear the music, you understand the connection. The music has to be like a movie soundtrack of the story.

On the other hand, when it is not written down, it can be interpret by people in a very different way…
That is always a risk, but I think it is easier with the Finnish mythology, because it is already bits and pieces, it leaves room for imagination, even if you read it from the books. It is never a complete story. That is how the stories lived on, it was the same from generation to generation. Stories were told by elders for the children of the village and of course, every time you tell a story, you add something more. Every storyteller adds his or her imagination a little bit more, so the stories grew out to be bigger. I wasn’t worried at all that my versions would be misinterpreted, because the Finnish mythology relies so heavily on the imagination.

That is nice, then the listener has freedom…
That is the very base of Finnish mythology. It is a very basic thing, like rain for the farmers or the sun or bear for the hunters or northern lights that you see in the sky. Just a lot of things where regular people came up with different explanations. It had to be some god or demigod or something higher, there is a lot of imagination behind it and there should be in modern days also. I do like the idea that if someone is listening to the new Wolfheart songs, and he gets his own interpretation, because for example if you see northern lights for the first time in your life, there is no way you can reason that for yourself. It is so magnificent and of course your mind starts trying to explain that phenomena for you. The pulse would be that people who listen to the new Wolfheart songs, they would put their own imagination also in those songs.

Did you watch the northern lights already a couple of times?
I have seen them a few times. I have been to Lapland and northern Norway many times, but I never saw them there. You never know, it happens when it happens. I would like to see it a lot more, but here in the south we have way too much what we call light pollution. We have city lights, so it is more difficult to detect them, but I have seen them few times.

We have been to Iceland, but it was in the summer, so no northern lights…
I have been reading about them since I was a child and I have always known about them, but when you finally see them, it is just amazing.

You have two guests on the album. So please tell me something about them, because they are very different. One of them is Karl Sanders from Nile, the other one is Jesse Leach from Killswitch Engage…
The whole thing was completely an accident. We were starting the recordings of the album and our management was asking us if there was any of a bigger name that we wanted to have on the album. If so, they would start asking around. At that point I told them: ‘no, I don’t want any guest vocals on the album, because there is already Lauri and Vagelis to be introduces to people. We don’t need anybody else.’ I don’t want to take the spotlight out from them, this is the album where I want them to present as a lead vocalists also. But, when we were producing the album in last October, I got a message on Instagram from A Russian fan and he was sending me a link to Jesse Leach’s instagram stories. He had a story with our song in the background. I read in the comments: nice choice of a song. I never spoke to him before, we never met, there’s no connections and I didn’t expect him to reply, but he replied in few minutes and he told me that he has been a fan of the band for years. A friend introduced him to Wolfheart and he has been listening to the albums for years and he was asking like how things are going and are we making new music and how things are in general… I played him a few songs and he was listening and he said: ‘that would be exactly the music I’d love to do vocals on’. The whole conversation just went there in one day, he would do vocals on one of the songs. So it came completely as an accident, but it was a good accident (chuckles). It was not planned, it just kind of happened and from then on my decision didn’t matter anymore. We already had one guest vocalist, so why not a little bit more. The song ‘Cold Flame’ had one part where we needed very low monster growling. I did my best in the studio, but I just couldn’t get that kind of sound. We have certain connections with Nile. Vagelis is a good friend of the drummer and they have been using the same sound engineer as we on our tour, so it was very easy to ask Karl to do a few lines, because he has the perfect monster sounding growling. The whole thing came as an accident, but I am really happy that it happened.

One song sounds very dark: ‘Knell’. It is like a death bell I think…
Yes it is. That was one of the stories in Finnish mythology, a very short story, but I thought it was so cool that I wanted to write a song about that. It also underlines how imagination took over back in the days when something happened and you just had to come up with an explanation. It was always a little bigger than the actual reality. There was this belief in the old days in Finland, when somebody was heavily ill, you hear that knocking sound on the walls of the house and that was like the death knocking the walls of the house, marking that someone is going to die soon. That was a very bad omen actually, the sound of the death bearer. In reality it was actually one beetle, living in the wooden walls of the house, making small tunnels and it was making like this tapping sound. It was very natural, but the story behind it grew out to be that there is like a grim reaper knocking on the walls and someone is going to die then the next following days. That was evil, so you can imagine how much fear was brought to different farms from such a small beetle.

You see, small details can influence the life of people very drastically…
Yeah. Like I said, imagination can make very small things growing out to huge things. Just a simple beetle in the wall and suddenly everybody believes that there is a death coming to the home.

Same way as we are bombarded with news these days…

News is always coloured…
Especially nowadays when all the news is happening on the internet and the websites want to have more clicks. The headlines, bigger than the news, are made to attract people to read your news more than the others, so they always scandalizing headlines.

Everything is breaking news
I totally agree. That is very well said. Even the smaller news facts are made to sound like it is the end of the world. So it is like an overflow of big news, even though they know there is nothing to shout about.

After three years you will be on the road again. So what are the expectations and how do you see the future?
Well, it feels weird. I have never been this long without touring. It feels like it is my first tour. It seems as if I forgot everything, about organization, about announcing a tour and getting prepared for the tour. Also of course the Ukrainian/Russian conflict is making a lot of things more complicated. The pandemic is gone now more or less, but there are complete new challenges with the gasoline price going higher, so many obstacles again. I just try to think not too much about it, because after two years in a row I want to pick up things again and see what is going to happen. Now I am super happy that the first show will take place in two and a half weeks and after that I just hope that the world will get back to normal a bit soon.

To occlude I want to tell you that I enjoyed watching the video clips for ‘Ancestor’, ‘The King’ and ‘Cold Flame’…
Again it was such fun to make the videos. We travelled to Lapland a few times, spending outdoors and into the forests, making videos and enjoy nature. I still enjoy making the music videos a lot.

Well, then I hope to meet you in person again pretty soon and wish you all the best…
Yeah it has been too long. I just hope that it will happen sooner now that the touring is back. It is always a pleasure to have an interview with you.

Thank you so much, likewise from my side. Have a good evening and hugs…
Bye for now, Vera.