Wielding that Troll Hammer - Finntroll's Vreth

It's been a tough tour for Finnish folk troupe Finntroll. Cancellations and constant breakdowns have made it the most "Spinal Tap" like tour they've ever experienced. However, Finntroll are a band made resolute in the face of setbacks as frontman Mattias "Vreth" Lillmans explains.

Finntroll aren’t exactly in foreign territory at the moment. The United States is blanketed in snow, much like their native Finland. Interstate highways resemble the silent, icy tundras of Lapland – except they do have an enemy hunting them; the spectre of mechanical failure. Though known for their jaunty yet no less aggressive folk metal played with an icy yet elusive finger of black metal, the hearts in the Finntroll camp were further blighted by tour buses breaking down forcing them to delay shows and cancel a couple outright – and on the day I spoke to Mattias “Vreth” Lillmans, the tour bus started to catch alight. Again.

“It’s been quite interesting,” Mattias says as his voice crackles down what seems an ancient line. “This has probably been the most Spinal Tap [like] tour ever. [I’m] in a hotel in Philadelphia right now because we sort of had a day off – but everything is fucked up.”

“It was the second time on the tour that the bus caught on fire. Last week some of the wheels from the bus came off. It’s not been good.”

Tour mishaps aside, Finntroll have established themselves in the metal world as exporters of the “humppa” style of Finnish folk music replete with accordions, whistles and even kazoos incorporated into blackened death metal all growled in Swedish – partly because the band hails from a Lappish community of Swedish speakers and mostly because Swedish sounds overtly “trollish.” Unsurprisingly, the story of the troll-king “Rivfader” who leads the troll hordes against the Christians is central to the band’s history and music. As such, Finntroll are seen as pioneers and the “flagbearers” for this style of metal.

“Yes, I think we’re torchbearers for this kind of music. But we’re trying to move a way from it all so we’re not [pigeon-holed] as this kind of metal band and we can only play this kind of metal.

“I mean we use a lot of different instruments and we don’t have any restrictions when it comes to that – we do whatever, you know? I mean sometimes when we’re in the studio I might think – ‘hey, this would sound great with this instrument!’ We’re not so strict about it like saying ‘Oh, we don’t want to do any keyboards!’ we don’t do that. Which is fine.”

Some of their songs deal with brutal subject matter such as death, monsters and epic battles but often the accompanying music sounds idiosyncratically jolly – for instance the “party anthem” Trollhammaren is about the mighty hammer of a troll devastating the countryside, out for “weak Christian blood.” The majority of their fans can’t really understand the lyrics – is that a problem?

“Well, sometimes – it is a bit,” he admits. “But people don’t sing along to the lyrics, they sing along to the melodies. I mean we have discussed singing in a different language but it doesn’t really fit the sound. No other language really fits the music.

“I mean, people don’t really get lyrics, sometimes. But yes; some of the lyrics are very dark for a lot of the songs. But the lyrics are written in our own way. It could be about anything. I mean they could be really happy or they could be really dark.”

Their last record, entitled Nifelvind was the most commercially successful release of a career that spans almost fifteen years. Despite line-up changes and the unfortunate passing of founding guitarist Teemu "Somnium" Raimoranta in 2003, overcoming the obstacles – much like bus fires – keeps the band bound even tighter and more determined to move forward.

“Having all these weird changes keeps all the people in the band together,” Mattias explains. “These things tend to happen to other bands and it gets them down, but not us.”

“But I don’t know what success means [in terms of Nifelvind] – but I’m pretty satisfied with it. It’s a good album.”

Finntroll are bound for Down Under later in this month, marking their first trip to Australia. Matthias can hardly wait to get amongst the Aussie metal fans – quite literally.

“I’ve always wanted to come to Australia,” he beams. “We’re really looking forward to this one. I hope I get to see something, though.”

The fans will definitely see all their weird and “trollish” costumes and a high-energy live show; Mattias also issues an invitation that will most likely upset all of the bouncers.

“We’re bringing all the stage outfits that we use, for sure. We’re not going to sit still so everyone can take pictures of us. We’re not just going up there in jeans and t-shirts. We’ll have proper stage clothes. You can even come up on the stage with us!”

One notorious facet of Finntroll’s ethos is that they “drink enough beer to kill a horse” during writing and recording of their records. Mattias sets the record straight:

“Well, that’s not true,” he says. “We’re not that much into the beer. We’re more into the vodka.”

What about the amount they drink?

“Well,” he admits sheepishly, “it would probably kill a small cow.”