“Metsatöll can be translated as 'forest animal'. 'Mets' means 'forest' and 'töll' is any kind of being who walks on four legs, or just a big being. 'Metsatöll' could also be used as a word for werewolf.” (Lauri of Metsatöll)

For anyone who arrived early enough to be blown away by their opening performance in support of Finntroll at the Red Room last November, it's been a long wait for the domestic release of Estonian folk metal act Metsatöll's new album Karjajuht, out this week via Spinefarm. So, for all the local pack members who waited patiently over the long winter months for this album to arrive, LiveVan has a tasty bone to throw you – an exclusive interview with Metsatöll's resident folkmaster Lauri about wolves, Estonians, folk instruments, and metal...

LiveVan: Evidently the word “Metsatöll” is “an ancient Estonian euphemism for 'wolf'”. For those of us who don't know the significance, can you tell us more?

Lauri: Greetings to Vancouver and all the fans out there! Yes, the word metsatöll was one of the words used to speak about wolves (there were hundreds of euphemisms for wolves). People avoided mentioning the wolf’s real name, using “fake” names instead; if the wolf would hear his name, it would come and eat your lambs. It’s kind of a “speak no evil” thing. But actually wolves were highly respected, all of the “enemies” [predators] were respected.

LiveVan: In the music video for “Külmking”, a song from your latest album, we see images of: a group of nude female bathers hunted down one by one and snared by a large hook; a roving pack of marauders in animal pelts; the band performing on an elevated platform in a field, backed by some impressive pyrotechnics – what's all going on there?!

Lauri: It’s a mythological narrative through our movie-maker's eyes. Külmking is a kind of creature in Estonian mythology – it has ten legs, ten arms, it stinks, its yellow, smelly, horse-like body with long head, hungry soul who cannot be killed in any way. It can fly as fast as thought, it hunts everyone, especially kids in the forest, and it eats and slaughters them brutally. In the night it comes and tramps on your chest and sucks all the life out of humans and animals. But it is afraid of wolves, they can tear it into pieces very easily and when Külmking is undone it explodes usually and all that is left is a little bad smell and rotting flesh. It has been about one year since the Külmking was last seen in the forest, so, there's not much left of its kind...

LiveVan: Estonian heritage and culture are clearly important to the band and to its fans, and Estonia is now ranked as “one of the most wired countries in the world” - a remarkable achievement for a country that reestablished its independence after 50 years of Soviet occupation (in 1994), and became a member of the European Union just 10 years ago - has the rapid rate of change affected Estonians?

Lauri: I think the achievements don’t come thanks to being in an any kind of political union, but the will, work ability and smartness of the local people. I mean, we had Russian occupation, but it didn’t stop Estonians in science, education, and of course feeding almost all Soviet Union with our food, drinks and science at the same time. Leaving the “tick” of Russia gave us just the right speed and vitality to achieve almost all that our country needed in a small time. But of course, there is a lot of work yet to do.

How does the rapid growth affect us? I think, one of the side-effects is that we don’t think long enough – everything must grow fast, but, as we all know, sometimes going forward means going back. There are weaknesses in the political system in many ways, but...this should be a “metal” interview, right?
One thing surely has gone way and way better in music – we have a cultural finances support side project for so-called “unprofessional” bands (meaning not classical and not jazz in political language). And, of course, partly thanks to Metsatöll.

LiveVan: There is a slogan of sorts on the page for Karjajuht at your website: “Only when 'me' becomes 'us' can we stand strong.” To what does this refer?

Lauri: “Karjajuht” is translated as “Pack leader”. For all the leaders, there is absolutely one primary quality, what has to be in a very high level – responsibility. When a leader stops thinking about itself, then the pack can be strong.

LiveVan: When and how did the band decide to incorporate traditional Estonian folk instruments into its music?

Lauri: Back in 1999, when Markus, Andrus and Silver started with Metsatöll, we were living in the same neighborhood and we had played together before. So, one day Markus did visit me with a strange CDR, telling, that now he has a this kind of band. It was slightly national romantic punkish heavy, all sung in Estonian. Singing in Estonian was not a big trend among Estonian metalheads. I did like this language-approaching very much and sometimes we did jam Metsatölls songs with Markus and Silver in my apartment. And in some point, driving with car to a third Metsatölls gig ever, we decided, that why not to play some flutes in some songs on that gig. The CDR flew into player and flute from my pocket – the managers VW golf turned into a rehearsal-room within a seconds.
After that gig we did some new songs and some rehearsals and as I did play some more Estonian folk-instruments, I had the courage to try also them with Metsatöll. Oh, it took a time before Metsatöll started to accept Estonian bagpipes instead of a second guitar. But here we are and no-ones complaining.

LiveVan: How is metal perceived in Estonian culture, is it widely appreciated?

Metal has, from the beginnings of Accept, Iron Maiden, Manowar, Metallica etc., always been very popular in Estonia and there have been, compared to population, very many metal bands (I think only Finland beats us in this). Though nowadays, when the rebellion soul of punk, rock and metal doesn’t play a big part in the worlds music-scenes any more, metal is going underground again, when You haven’t anything to tell, no-one listens you, course the party is in the other levels of the music.

LiveVan: Several of the songs on Karjajuht are surprisingly positive and inspiring – lyrically they address community, tradition, home and heartland, celebration (i.e. beer!), resistance/solidarity, and the circle of life – where does the positivity come from? What inspires you as a band?

Lauri: Metal music somehow has been very history-nostalgic. Maybe its one of the reasons, I do like metal. I do also like poetry. And I do find inspirations often from the history, especially from the folk-history – traditions, old songs. And from the Estonian poetry. I do love to think about the understanding of the world through the centuries, how would people think, how would I think if I would live in the bronze-age.
I think, the positivism comes from trying to understand the world’s and time’s working mechanism and getting a hold of tiny part of the answer of the biggest question.

LiveVan: Historically, the lionization of culture/heritage has sometimes been put to nefarious use as a tool of political parties; in this context, has Metsatöll received any criticism or negative attention from its celebration of culture?

Lauri: Strange, but absolutely no. Estonian culture and language is unbelievably rich, we have richnesses in folklore and tradition, most of the nations would never dream of! Sharing that silver to others through music – can it be fountain of getting negative criticism? If it is, we still cannot deny our heritage and home!

LiveVan: A lot of bands in North America love to tour in Europe because of its population density – there are so many countries packed into a small geographical area, and major cities are relatively close to one another – what do you guys think when it comes to touring North America, with all the open country and the vast distances between cities?

Lauri: Being in different places of the world always broadens your own world. To see and hear, what do the people think and how they think, to see all the weird customs – it’s always fun! Wastelands – if you have lived in a dense forest most of your life, its refreshing to widen your view sometimes!
We have a North-American tour ahead of us in the autumn, we can see all the good fellows again, and all good old comrades we have seen already couple of times. Believe me, we are truly waiting to play for all of you! And for all, who have learned some more of Estonian, we have a special gift for you!


REVIEW: Metsatöll, Karjajuht (Spinefarm Records)

In a sub-genre of metal that can sometimes sound to the uninitiated like a parade of Wagnerian odes and battle epics performed by caravans of beer-swilling medieval gypsies, Metsatöll's latest album Karjajuht (Pack Leader) is a refreshing blast of high-energy, no-bullshit thrash that's deftly woven with threads of authentic Estonian folk sounds and cultural influences.

Maybe it's just that I really like the sound of Estonian folk instruments, the traditional elements one hears on Karjajuht feel more earnest compared to the work of many other folk metal bands. Metsatöll incorporates ethnic sounds in a way that expresses a genuine cultural identity. The torupill (Estonian bagpipes) solo on "Lööme mesti" shreds, and the flutes on “Must Hunt” punctuate the melody with genuine frivolity. Favourite tracks include the slow-burning “See On See Maa” and “Metslase Veri”, with its prowling groove, winding torupill, and chanted chorus.

While the righteous anger which permeated Sepultura's seminal ethnocultural thrash album Roots is absent on Karjajuht, Metsatöll may yet produce an Estonian equivalent - all of the elements are there: strong and distinctive songwriting, traditional instruments that are integral and complementary to the band's sound (rather than mere embellishment or afterthought), and song lyrics which demonstrate appreciation for heritage and tradition yet maintain critical awareness of power and politics. Folk metal generally has a festive, celebratory vibe - and Karjajuht certainly doesn't lack for it - but the genuine sense of community that Metsatöll brings to the party is refreshing. Cheers to the new leaders of the pack!

FALL 2014 TOUR: Metsatöll w/Eluveitie and Tyr:

9/19: Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Soundstage
9/20: Charlotte, NC @ Chop Shop
9/21: Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
9/22: Ybor City, FL @ The Orpheum
9/23: Ft. Lauderdale, @ Culture Room
9/25: Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live
9/26: San Antonio, TX @ Tequila Rock Room
9/27: Dallas, TX @ Granada Theater
9/29: Tempe, AZ @ Club Red
10/2: West Hollywood, CA @ House of Blues
10/3: Ramona, CA @ Ramona Main Stage
10/4: Sacramento, CA @ Assembly Music Hall
10/5: Oakland, CA @ Oakland Metro Opera House
10/6: Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theater
10/7: Seattle, WA @ El Corazon
10/8: Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theater
10/10: Edmonton, AB @ Union Hall
10/11: Calgary, AB @ MacEwan Ballroom
10/13: Winnipeg, MB @ Garrick Centre
10/14: Minneapolis, MN @ Mill City Nights
10/15: Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
10/16: Detroit, MI @ St. Andrew’s Hall
10/17: Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Theatre
10/18: Montreal, QC @ Corona Theatre
10/19: Quebec City, QC @ Imperia de Quebec
10/21: Boston, MA @ Royale Boston
10/22: New York, NY @ Irving Plaza

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web link Posted: Jun 5, 2014
In this Article Artist(s) Metsatoll