Death metal is not by definition my favourite genre, but sometimes an album pops up that raises an eyebrow. “Awakening”, the debut album by Finnish melodic death metal band SWANSONG, founded in 2019 by growler Jemiina, is such an album that wrinkled my forehead. “Awakening” will be out through Noble Demon on December 1st (pre-orders are available here)! We spoke with Jemiina about how she changed from a punk singer to a death metal growler and of course the new album will also be discussed in this interview with definitely the most positive female singer in the metal business.
INTERVIEW BY: HENK VAN NIEUWENHOVEN
Mitä kuuluu, Jemiina. You started as a punk singer in the band Up Yours. What made you decide to become a death growl vocalist in your own melodic death metal band?
Hi and thank you, I am well and happy about our debut album release coming 1st of December 2023. How are you? The story behind my growl vocals is that I just wanted to try it, I was curious. First time I tried growling was three years ago just before X-mas. I contacted one of the coolest voices I know, Mathias ‘Vreth’ Lillmåns, and I asked him to show me how to scream safely. The awesome Markus Laakso (author, musician, artist and more) helped me to reach him. Growling felt so empowering that I got hooked. I love extreme vocals and metal music. When I met Topi, our guitarist and composer, everything just came together and we started to create music together just because we love music so much.
Most death metal fans will know SWANSONG from the EP “Winter Maiden” (2022). Noble Demon re-released “Winter Maiden” after you had inked a deal with them in October 2022. Was that also a major breakthrough for SWANSONG?
Yes definitely. The “Winter Maiden” EP was kind of like our first demo as a band. We did not expect so much attention. It really surprised us and it feels so emotional and awesome that people embraced our music. Noble Demon and Patrick Laureano Walch really believed in us and we are very grateful to him and to everyone who listens to our music. Patrick is such an amazing person: he is passionate about music and working with him has been delightful. Everyone at Noble Demon are super! I remember looking at their website after releasing our EP and dreaming about a record deal. When the dream came true, it was such an awesome feeling. Noble Demon has had awesome releases this year and it is an honor to be companied by such awesome bands!
Do you think that the video for “Lovely Bones”, and in particular the half skull make-up you are wearing on it, has contributed to the recognition of SWANSONG as a melodic death metal band as well?
People loved that makeup, so definitely yes. Visuality is fun and I like to change my outfits and makeup, so you never know what will be next. My dear friend, talented makeup artist Kiki Kameleontti, designs and creates many of my looks and headpieces, including the Lovely Bones half skull makeup. We have fun together planning our next design. We are so lucky to have her in our team.
Not long after SWANSONG had signed with Noble Demon, drummer Markus Tikkanen left the band and was replaced by Jimi Myöhänen. Markus left “due to personal and schedule reasons”. Did this have to do with Mika Tikkanen, who left SWANSONG in 2021, as both are also playing in Finnish progressive metal band Omniversum? Are they siblings?
Yes they are siblings. And they both played in Omniversum. That band is sadly not active right now and Mika has moved to another city. When we started to make music and SWANSONG was born, our idea was to create captivating melodies and to just play music together with friends and have fun. We did not expect attention or a record deal when we started. So when things started to get surprisingly bigger, it is understandable that not everyone has the time to be in a growing band. So schedules were against us. But of course we are good friends, we love both of them and they wish nothing but the best for us and follow and support our journey.
Back to the present, SWANSONG’s debut album “Awakening” will be out on December 1st through Noble Demon. How proud are you as not only being the singer, but also as the founder of the band?
I am very lucky and honored to be in a band with such awesome musicians. The guys are incredible, mixing and mastering are high quality, our label is super supportive, sound techs and my vocal producer were the best and everyone who participated in the making of this album have been amazing. I am also very happy about the marbled color vinyl LP. It is a dream come true to get this album on a vinyl.
The album cover art for “Awakening” was made by Timo Kokko, a Finnish visual artist. Did he make it at the behest of you and in consultation with you? Did he also tell you what exactly he meant by his artwork and can you explain what we see on the cover?
Yes, Timo is an awesome artist. He did the cover based on our song “Awakening” and the lyrics. He always asks the direction that we want and we have had many awesome female characters on our covers. But he is the mastermind behind the art. The debut album cover tells the story from the depth of the forest: under the full moon, in the forest, in the darkness of the night, you can hear the ancient trees whispering. In the old days, people believed in the power of the forest spirits and went to the forest to ask the spirits for many things. A tribute to the beautiful and sometimes scary forest, which has aroused many feelings and hopes, as well as fear, over the years.
You already mentioned “Awakening”, released as a single with an official music video earlier this year and inspired by Nordic/Finnish mythology. What books did you read for the lyrics and is the whole album based on it or just this track?
I draw some influences from mythologies. For example our song from the album “Maiden Of Death” is a praise to Tuonen’s girl, guardian and ferryman of the underworld. In Finnish mythology, the guardian of the stream leading to the realm of the dead is a woman. Väinämöinen wants the wisdom of the dead for himself and decides to aim for the kingdom of the dead by impersonating the dead. You don’t just walk into Tuonela/Underworld like that, the girl recognizes the lies of the living and turns Väinämöinen into a snake, causing him to escape into the waves. Very Amorphis-influenced, folk elements and death metal vocals. And I did read Kalevala (a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology) for this.
“I understand that many platforms are cautious about difficult topics like violence and human skulls, etc… For the next video Kiki and I planned to have fake blood and a vampire character, but sadly we did have to leave the idea to the draft box so that our next video can be shown more. So no fake blood, at least this time.”
– JEMIINA –
In a recent review of “Awakening”, your voice was compared with that of Angela Gossow in the early ARCH ENEMY days, but on your Facebook page is written: “The vocals are influenced by such as Dark Tranquillity, 90s melodeath, death and black metal, and for a more modern use of sound from Shadow Of Intent.” Which one suits you or describes it better?
It is a huge honor to be mentioned in the same sentence with the mighty Arch Enemy and Angela Gossow so it feels amazing and unreal. It is crazy! There are so many influences and of course Angela and Alissa are big and important influencers to me and to so many women. They are both awesome, super talented and they have made the way for women in metal. Big respect to them. I also get inspired by many melodic death, black metal, etc. vocalists and also deathcore vox that I love. But I try to do my own thing and evolve all the time, I want to get better. I wanted to bring variety with highs and lows to this album and tried to sound brutal, but so that the listener can hopefully understand most of the lyrics. So I don’t know what describes my vocals best, I hope everyone listens and makes their opinion based on that. I just think I sound like me. 🙂
The album was produced by Mathias Lillmåns, whom we know from bands like …And Oceans, Dispyt and Finntroll. A well-considered choice as he’s already in the black/death/folk metal corner?
Yes, he produced the vocals on this album. First we planned that he would produce the whole album, but his time is limited (he is a busy artist) and Topi had a clear vision with the composing and everything, so Mathias trusted everything else to us. Mathias has supported us so much and he also was my vocal technique teacher when I started to growl. He is a good friend and amazing person. I felt so safe in the studio with him and he always lets me be myself. And also he understood my vision when I told him that I wanted do something crazy with my vocals on this album. He and the guys from the band only heard two demos with vocals before I went to the studio. Luckily, everyone trusted me and in my vision I had the vocal demos only in my own head, so most of the songs vocally and lyrically were a surprise to Mathias and also to the SWANSONG guys. I am happy Mathias believed in me and in us when I did not believe in myself. He is the best.
Meanwhile, SWANSONG also released a couple of music videos from the new album, among which quite recently one for “Burning Flames”, shot completely in black and white. Why not in color?
We wanted to respect old horror movies and do something different so Teemu Myöhänen from KarmaMedia.fi made the video black and white and we are very happy with the video.
You told me that YouTube algorithms prohibit to show your “Burning Flames” video as it was too extreme because of the plastic skulls in it. Ridiculous, of course, there are more extreme ones on YouTube with blood and even nudity. Did you appeal against their decision?
I have to ask our label about that because they handle everything regarding our music video releases. But of course, I understand that many platforms are cautious about difficult topics like violence and human skulls, etc. (although the skulls were fake and made by Timo Kokko). For the next video Kiki and I planned to have fake blood and a vampire character, but sadly we did have to leave the idea to the draft box so that our next video can be shown more. So no fake blood, at least this time. 🙂
If someone would come to you and say: “Jemiina, I am still in doubt whether I should purchase “Awakening” or not and I only have time to listen to two songs.” Which ones would you recommend to that person and what would you tell him/her about those two tracks?
It is very difficult to choose only two songs. But if I have to, I would say “Frost Of Winter“: an atmospheric, melancholic and melodic beautiful song that tells about separation, life lived or death depending on the listener. When life has been experienced, the world seen, a home built and lost, a heart broken and it’s time to leave: “Frost of winter take me away deep into the land / Wash away all my sorrows, for my time has come / Bury me and walk away”. My other choice is “Become“: beautiful melodies and an emotional solo combined with a low roar and high screams with black metal influences. The song empowers and encourages you to work for your own dreams, become something they never thought you could be! As bonus choice I have to say “Shot In The Heart” for its versatile music and a femme fatale story.
ARCH ENEMY has recently announced a co-headline European tour with In Flames and special guest Soilwork. Wouldn’t you have loved to be on that bill as well?
Awesome tour! Legends! Of course that would be the biggest dream come true ever! Both of them are our idols, we love them and they are a very big influence to us. Arch Enemy is one of my favourite bands ever. And of course so is In Flames. So if something like that would ever happen you would have to pinch me, cuz I would think I am in a fantasy dream land.
Or perhaps Noble Demon can send you on a tour with roster mates Night Crowned from Sweden, who also just released a new album “Tales”, and Voidfallen from Helsinki. Would you be into that?
Well, that would also be a dream come true since I love the Night Crowned‘s just released new album and I am waiting for the vinyl in the mail. I love them. And of course, Voidfallen are amazing at everything they do, so it would be awesome to make that happen! 🙂
Thank you for the interview, Jemiina.
Thank you so much for having me! You guys rock! Happy holidays to everyone and I hope next year brings good things to everyone.