Folk Tales: An Interview with Moonsorrow’s Mitja Harvilahti

You’d be hard-pressed to describe Finland’s Moonsorrow without using some kind of synonym for “epic,” so the fact that their new LP, Jumalten Aika, out-epics anything they’ve done is nothing short of astounding. We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Mitja Harvilahti to discuss the musical, thematic and personal influences that helped bring this beast of an album to life.

Jumalten Aika translates to “The Age of Gods” in English. What concepts and themes are you exploring with this title?
Basically, the album deals with the ever-present human hunger to believe, explain and control. The album starts at the time when people started to create stories, myths, religions, and belief systems to explain this world and make order in their lives. There is no storyline, but it follows through more religious and ritualistic events into the depths of the mind of a lunatic. In the last song, mankind is willing to sell everything that’s sacred to them for a bag of gold, figuratively speaking. Human greed…that’s where everything ends.

Moonsorrow have always been influenced by folk music, but this album takes the integration even further. What inspired you to go in this direction on your seventh LP?
This time, we wanted to have a more ritualistic touch with the instruments—more tribal, in a way. I can’t say which specific influences led to creating it since we use traditional music as a tool that changes shape according to the needs of the song. In the beginning of the writing process, we knew we wanted to add a wider spectrum of musical elements. There’s more black metal, more acoustic stuff and more melodic parts, but it’s still perhaps the darkest of our albums. We wanted to have a lot of musical variety on it, too. More twists and turns!

This is the first Moonsorrow full-length in five years. What was the writing process like for Jumalten Aika? How soon after Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa did you start composing these five songs?
Well, first we needed a year or so just to tour and refresh our perspective about the band. We wanted to have two years off and then start writing intensively. Henri [Sorvali, guitars/vocals] did a Finntroll album also and wanted some time off from composing. Also, some kids were born and even more time off was due. Suddenly, five years were gone and it only felt like three years! We really got into the mode in late 2014, and last year we finally got everything together.

It was much more difficult to write the new stuff than we imagined. This time, we wanted to renew our ways of arranging and composing, just to stay away from our routine Moonsorrow way of doing things. That became the biggest challenge. We had millions of potential ways to arrange, and just trying out every option and building the songs like a puzzle was very hard. And the music changed all the time. We might go to Henri’s place to have a session with him and the next day he might have deleted all of that and replaced it with new stuff. Even the last night before recording started, Henri had some major changes in mind for the second song on the album [“Ruttolehto incl. Päivättömän Päivän Kansa”].

Moonsorrow have essentially had the same members since forming in 1995. Why do you think the line-up has remained intact for all these years?
One big reason is this band is not one man’s vision. We are all equally involved in things and decisions. We know each other very well and it would feel really awkward to replace someone. Many times, band members change because of lack of time when it comes to touring. We need to compromise when someone can’t tour. We all have those times, but new opportunities will always come.

Jumalten Aika, is out now on Century Media Records. You can order here.