After having last set foot on Australian soil in 2013, Ensiferum are finally returning to the red continent for three shows in honour of their most recent 2017 record ‘Two Paths’. The Finnish Folk Metal outfit are coming to take over Brisbane’s The Zoo (February 28th), Sydney’s Manning Bar (March 1st) and Melbourne’s Max Watts (March 2nd) and are prepared for beer-drenched good times with Aussie fans of their signature brand of Folk Metal that has inspired countless younger bands. I sat down for a chat with bassist Sami Hinkka. We talked about the upcoming Australian tour, tour life in general, Ensiferum’s future plans – and koalas.

Sami acknowledges that it has been “quite busy” for Ensiferum recently: “We did an acoustic tour in Europe in December, then came home and pretty much had time to do our laundry – and then five weeks of touring in North America and 70,000 Tons of Metal.” Very soon, he and his band colleagues Petri Lindroos (vocals and guitar), Markus Toivonen (guitar and vocals) and Janne Parviainen (drums) are, finally, taking off to the Southern Hemisphere. “There are a lot of good cities and there’s always a good atmosphere at shows. Coming over is difficult logistic-wise because we’re very often touring on the other side of the planet. When we have a touring gap in which we could come to Australia all venues are already booked full. And vice versa: If there are gaps for the promoters and bookers over there, there then we already have another tour or something coming up”, Sami explains. “I’m really happy we are coming back even though it’s just three shows. There are many other places that would have been cool to visit but this is much better than waiting for several years again!”

Sami is visibly excited to hit Australia’s smaller stages: “We‘ve only been to Australia a couple of times and it‘s almost always the same thing that you have to start somewhere – and usually that means smaller venues. But I actually personally prefer smaller venues to massive festivals. It’s really cool to play Wacken and Hellfest and so on but, you know, the atmosphere is more intimate when you play in smaller venues.”

This really allows the band to get a feel for how their latest music has been received among fans. “For me, the best feedback, the one that only really matters, is when we play songs live and you see the reaction from the people. One of the best feelings ever is when you have released a new album and the people are singing along with new songs,” Sami says. With a laugh he adds: “So it really feels like they accepted it.”

Even though the band is truly canonic these days, with most big European festivals being difficult to imagine without them, it is obvious that Sami has remained both humble and genuinely excited about writing, releasing and performing Ensiferum’s music: “For me, Ensiferum has always been a live band. We always have a really good energy on stage and also the people who come to our shows are very energetic. It also gives us a boost. Interaction with the crowd is one of the best things in the world.” Regarding life in the studio, he goes on to explain: “When we hit the studio it’s usually pretty hard to get that drive. Just sitting in a comfortable studio, drinking your tea without the gig adrenaline, you know.”

But what about composing and business? “You never know which song is going to be the crowd-pleaser. If you think this from a business perspective it’s really like we are shooting ourselves in the leg all the time. We are never worried about what people expect us to do and that’s why we always end up having very weird songs in our albums. We just want to make music that sounds good to us and that we as a band stand behind.”

Sami must be aware that Ensiferum helped shape an entire sub-genre of Metal with their first decade of full-length releases ‘Ensiferum’ (2001) ‘Iron’ (2004) and ‘Victory Songs’ (2007) and ‘From Afar’ (2009) – however, it is easy to see that he and the whole band are as ambitious and creative as ever: “Of course we could just check all the clichés of the genre and then just have a couple of filler songs on the album but that’s not how we work. We are much more ambitious concerning music. We love our music so much and respect the history of the band so that we want to keep on the road that we chose – make music that we like. I suppose our fans appreciate that there is a lot of diversity in our music.”

It is refreshing to hear that Sami is nevertheless open-minded regarding genres as well as other approaches and goals when writing and producing music. “I’d say there that there is nothing wrong with wanting to approach music from a commercial perspective”, he says humbly, “A guy I’m friends with makes Pop music for the radio and it’s totally okay! It’s just one form of art. And if people get kicks out of your music no matter which idea it was made with then I guess that you achieved your goal. But I guess it’s a bit different in the Metal scene anyway.”

Ensiferum are working on pushing boundaries, never ceasing to experiment: “For the last two albums (‘One Man Army’ (2015) and ‘Two Paths’ (2017)), the goal was pretty much to really nail a live, tight atmosphere, to make them sound like a live band is playing while still being tight enough to be accepted as a studio album. That’s why we ditched the click in a couple of songs on the last album and there are at least two songs where drums and bass are just one take from the beginning to the end. It’s a really old school approach but it sounds realistic.”

Speaking of a great live sound, what are Ensiferum’s plans for the Australian gigs? Sami sure knows how to make the fans look forward to the three long-awaited shows: “We come to Australia so rarely that we’re going to make a really cool setlist with some old, some new and some rare songs.” The Scandinavian musician laughs a little while making a special request: “And if you could tune down that heat a little bit before we come that would be really much appreciated because we come out of the heart of winter now.”

So are the Finns going to sit back and relax under the (maybe for once not so scorching) antipodean sun for a little after taking on such a long journey? Sami is clearly disappointed when he states: “We are not spending any time in Australia. We arrive, then it’s three shows in a row and then we are f***ing off. That really sucks because it would have been nice to see a little bit of your beautiful country. I wish I could see one koala because that’s my spirit animal.” How come?, I ask him. “I don’t know, I can just relate to them”, he says, which makes me mention that koalas tend to sleep a lot. Sami agrees with a laugh and says: “I really hope there will be time in the future to come to Australia for a couple of weeks, even to rent a car and drive around. I know it’s not the best thing for the environment but it would be cool to see the Great Barrier Reef.”

After their short but with all certainty memorable appearance in Australia, Ensiferum are moving on to tour Russia for the first time before heading into Europe’s notorious summer festival season as well as embarking on another North American tour. The band truly is a live band, both at heart and in practice – and Sami at last gives us all a teaser of both his band’s and his personal creative future plans. “Between all these tours we are trying to find time to finish songs for the next Ensiferum album,” he says, before adding with a mysterious chuckle: ” And just so that it would not get too easy I started a new band myself a year or a bit longer ago. It’s going to be Power Metal and we are actually now mixing the first album of that band. Let’s see if there are any gaps in Ensiferum’s tour cycle – then I guess we’ll fill it with gigs for that band so… busy busy busy.”