Interview: Insomnium’s Niilo Sevänen on Winter’s Gate, Their Collective Vision and Communicating an Epic Story

Insomnia – Photo Courtesy of Jussi Ratilainen

Finland’s Insomnium began their melodic death metal journey in 1997, have six full length albums to date and later this week will release their seventh, Winter’s Gate. It greatly expands on the quality we’ve come to expect from the band’s work but is also a very sincere effort. Winter’s Gate marks a departure of sorts from the standard album template and goes all in with one 40 minute track. Little doubt it’s a risk but within minutes the grand, epic scope and emotionally driven songwriting proves that the rewards far outweigh the risk. Niilo Sevänen (bass, vocals) was kind enough to answer a few questions about the upcoming album, sticking to the band’s vision, successfully retelling a story through music and much more. See what he had to say after the jump.

Niilo Sevänen
Niilo Sevänen – Photo Courtesy of Jussi Ratilainen

With six full lengths of consistently good melodic death metal what made you decide now is the time for an album with one 40 minute track?

Niilo Sevänen: Perhaps because we already had done 6 albums pretty much in the same manner. We wanted to challenge ourselves and keep things interesting. Create something different.

Your music has always had a flair for telling a story. Winter’s Gate is hands down the best at doing this with various genre crossings and emotionally charged acoustic passages. What was the writing process for this album like?

NS: The story was already there when we started composing and it kind of set the mood for the whole thing; cold and dark. So we were all in the same zone when we wrote the riffs and it was pretty easy to put it all together. All of it came naturally and easier than what it sounds like.

You wrote Winter’s Gate (Talven Portii) several years ago and to high acclaim at the time. For listeners not acquainted can you elaborate on the story?

NS: It’s a historical fiction / fantasy hybrid, telling a story of a group of Vikings who set out to find a fabled island even though the winter is already near. Three narrators give the reader their own perspective of the events that unfold. And there will be blood.

In listening to the album, the spirit and essence of the story is successfully captured and conveyed. Death metal, black metal, hints of prog and quieter passages make it feel as though the listener is watching a movie, experiencing all the highs and lows as the album plays out. Do you feel the same with how the final product turned out?

NS: Yes. The music is made so that it follows the dramatic arc of the story. It just flows onwards and goes to new, dark places. I think we succeeded really well in all this and it sounds the way we wanted it to.

Were there any hesitations along the way knowing this would be one long track instead of the usual 9-10 we’ve seen in the past? Or did you just make the album you wanted to in hopes that fans would enjoy it?

NS: We just did this mainly to please ourselves. That’s the thing, always – do what you love and the kind of music you want. Don’t think too much what anyone else will think about it. When you pour all your heart, soul, blood and tears in it then there’s a good chance that something great comes out of it. And then of course, others can enjoy it too.

In this day and age of digital music consumption it’s extremely refreshing to see the physical release include your story. Not only will it give deeper meaning to the album but listeners will have something to sit with and take in. Did you originally plan to include this with the release?

NS: Yes. The idea, right away, was to release a physical book with the album. We all thought it would be a really cool idea and so did Century Media. We are so old that we love to have our albums and music in physical form, and if they come with something special, like a book, then even better!

When it comes time to tour how do you plan on representing the album? In full or bits and pieces?

NS: We are going to play the album in its entirety. We just rehearsed the live show last weekend and it’s going to be cool. It just means less talking with the audience so it’s easier for me.

Insomnium is but one of a few melodic death metal bands that hasn’t significantly changed or lightened any content over the years. You’ve stuck to your original vision of classically heavy death metal with catchy melodicism. How important is it for you to stay rooted to your original vision and not lose sight of it?

NS: It’s really frustrating when your favourite band changes too much and becomes something that you can’t like anymore. We all have experienced this for sure. Our vision and aim and goal has always been to create something new and fresh but still keep that thing that made us what we are. Not to lose that core of Insomnium. So unless we all start digging acid jazz or something, then I would say we will keep doing the kind of music we have always done. Invent something cool always, but remain Insomnium.

How was it working with Dan Swanö for this album?

NS: Dan is a very nice guy and a true professional. He was the first guy we thought of when we discussed mixing the album. After all, this all started as a kind of tribute thing to Edge Of Sanity’s Crimson. Personally for me it’s kind of a dream come true since I listened to Edge of Sanity as a teen. Didn’t see this coming.

Aleksi Munter’s keyboard playing adds so much depth to the overall sound and scope of Winter’s Gate, how did this collaboration come about?

NS: Our collaboration started around 2006 when he did stuff for our Above the Weeping World album. He’s been kind of a fifth member of Insomnium ever since. Awesome guy and musician!

Winter’s Gate will mark the third release with Century Media. How has it been working with them and what was their initial reaction to the idea of a one track album?

NS: I have only great things to say about Century Media. They are really genuine and honest people who love music, which is rare in the music business. They were supportive right from the start and they thought it was a cool idea for us to do something different. We have total artistic freedom with them.

Best of luck with the album and impending tour. Anything you’d like to add?

NS: Thanks! I hope we get to North America again during 2017!


Many thanks to Niilo for his time.

For more on Winter’s Gate click –here– to watch a four part album trailer.

– Josh

Winter’s Gate will be available September 23 on Century Media. For more information on Insomnium visit the band’s official website.


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