Metal and Literature w/ Charlotte Doesburg


Charlotte Doesburg 


As a metalhead, you have probably heard songs about Odin, Thor and other gods of Norse mythology. But have you heard of Väinämöinen, Lemminkäinen, or Ilmarinen? The funny thing is, you probably have heard the stories of these characters from Finnish mythology in the lyrics of songs, but you might not have been aware of it.  

Finnish metal is, in a way, a brand of its own. With bands such as Nightwish, Amorphis, Finntroll, and Apocalyptica reaching international fame during the late nineties and early in the new millennium, metal from Finland is well-known. The bands mentioned above have, at one point or another, used material from the Finnish epic, the Kalevala, in their music. 

The poems that make up this epic were collected and edited by Elias Lönnrot. He published the final edition of the Kalevala in 1849. The epic has inspired artists from the beginning, and it was perhaps only a matter of time before metal musicians turned to the book for inspiration.  

The first adaptation of the Kalevala in lyrics happened in 1993 with the song Awaiting the Winter Frost by Sentenced. A year later Amorphis followed with the release of the album Tales from the Thousand Lakes. During the second half of the 1990s, more bands created lyrics inspired by the epic. The new millennium saw an explosive growth of lyrics inspired by Finnish mythology from bands such as Korpiklaani, Insomnium, Mokoma and many more. 

The research I do on the adaptation of Finnish folk poetry in the lyrics of metal music from Finland consists of two interconnected paths. Firstly, I trace the lyrics back to the folk poetry and give a possible interpretation. Secondly, I talk to the artists who wrote the lyrics about their interest in Finnish folk poetry and how a sense of Finnish national identity is involved in the adaptations.   

One of the most surprising things I have come across when analysing the lyrics is that some artists use more than the Kalevala as a source. The lyrics can be created by using one, two, or even three different sources. The lyrics for Lemminkäisen laulu ‘Lemminkäinen’s Song’ by Kotiteollisuus adapt Lemminkäinen’s story from the epic, a poem from a Finnish classic novel ‘The Seven Brothers’ by Aleksis Kivi, and the song Kimpale kultaa ‘The Golden Slab’ by folk-rocker Lauri Tähkä. The song interweaves these sources to create lyrics that function as a critique on Finnish society, past and present.   

When I interviewed the artists, many expressed a close connection to the folk poetry and mythology, which was an unexpected discovery. Pekka Kainulainen, lyricist for Amorphis, said the following when asked about the Kalevala and his adaptations: “It is in my blood, this shamanism, the Kalevala, and these ancient things”. All in all, metal inspired by the Kalevala forms an important part of the Finnish metal scene and it cannot be completely understood without looking at the connections between music and epic. 


Songs to keep in your ear (besides those mentioned in the text)