Vital Vinyl: Metsatoll’s Lauri Ounapuu Talks Estonian Metal, New LP + More
Unless you’re a huge fan of Estonian folk metal, it’s safe to say you’ve never heard anything like Metsatoll‘s latest studio album, ‘Karjajuht.’ In just 12 tracks that span a little less than 45 minutes, the Estonian four-piece have constructed a record that warrants multiple listening sessions, if only because of its sheer one-of-a-kind sound. To help with those listening sessions, the band took great care to ensure the vinyl edition of ‘Karjajuht’ lives up to the music they created.
Exchanging emails from Estonia, guitarist and vocalist Lauri Ounapuu recently caught up with Loudwire. A serious vinyl fan, Ounapuu discussed why he thinks the format is so important. The Estonian folk rocker also dives into his band’s latest LP, the cover art and what the future holds for Metsatoll.
First off, congrats on everything surrounding ‘Karjajuht.’ The album is powerful. What has the response been like so far?
Thank you for your good words. The response has been very, very good. You know, all our albums are more like handiwork. Although there are reviews and tiny write-ups in the newspapers or webzines, it really doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks. You yourself know what is true and what should be this way or that way. And of course, as always for an artist, the opinions of the closest ones always matter. But for now we could say that our gigs are sold-out everywhere, our songs are played everywhere and in Estonia we’re even on daytime radio. We are doing good, thank you!
Metsatoll have existed for nearly 15 years. Since that first album in 1999, how has the writing process evolved for you as a band?
To tell you the truth, it hasn’t very much. Maybe you could think that as a young person you want to finally tell something to the big world, [you get] your first chance with the first record and maybe with the fifth or sixth record it is harder to tell something. Has everything been told already years ago and anything more would just be repeating yourself? No. A good storyteller always has something to tell.
The creating process of the songs has maybe changed a little bit as we know each other more and more every year. You could know what the other musician would possibly do with his instrument. Maybe we are more unified than years ago.
There is a lot of positivity in the liner notes, especially when referring to your fans as a “tribe” and helping “those who are weaker than you.” I think your lyrics have similar themes as well. How do you incorporate positivity and a “tribe” mentality with such heavy and brutal music?
I think the music is a universal language. With this language you have endless possibilities to tell something. If it is a thinking musician with a musician’s soul, the musician’s mission should be to prove its [brutality] contrariwise. The idea of rock, metal and punk music was connected to rebellion to the modern world. Metsatoll’s rebellion still lasts. And the idea of any rebellion is always to make everything better and stay together, not crying and weeping and locking yourself in the cellar where no one hears your complaints. We are making the world better for ourselves and everyone else right now and today. Those are the roots of our positivity.
‘Karjajuht’ is a heavy record, and to make the listening experience even bigger, you released it on vinyl. With the artwork on the 12-inch jacket and being pressed on red wax, the vinyl adds a lot to the experience. In today’s day and age, why is releasing your music on vinyl still important?
I think the vinyl has more value in time than a CD. Analog sound can last hundred and hundreds of years. Nowadays, more and more music is listened only through the digital audio players. I think the compact disc decades are slowly fading into the past. And as we are looking to the very short time in the history, gramophone discs have lasted longer than any of the audio carriers: wax cylinder, cassettes, tapes, etcetera.
Everything goes to digital, but holding a vinyl — a really thing with a real sound in your hand — it is something. For me, MP3s and vinyl are like e-cigarettes and pipes. I’d like to sit on the comfortable chair and take some time with a pipe instead of having an e-cigarette “on the go.”
Talk about the cover art. It’s strange yet beautiful at the same time. It’s eerie yet oddly calming. What was it like working with Juri Arrak?
Juri became involved with Metsatoll back with our album ‘Kiiekoda’ in 2004. Back then we were thinking what would be the best artwork for our album. We thought to ask the only artist in the world who could make our artwork — who, of course, lives in Estonia — if it would be somehow possible to … And Juri’s “Yes” came before the question ended! Since then, we have [worked together]. As all Estonians do, we know what sounds and looks “Estonian.”
How do you think the artwork and music are connected?
The artwork and our music are both holding a tiny piece of Estonian “something.” You just can’t explain it but it’s always there. In Estonian, karjajuht means “pack leader.” As you can see, the being on the album cover has two sexes, two heads, many eyes. It can see everything, feel everything, both as a man and as a woman. So, it is the ideal leader of the pack.
The painting also has an ulterior meaning. The image of the red being that Juri did is from an old cartoon of his, ‘Suur Toll.’ ‘Surr Toll’ was a mythological hero from the island of Saaremaa in Estonia who fought with enemies and held peace in the island. In the cartoon, all the enemies were painted as our “big brother” in the east with a culture and language that is absolutely not connected to Estonia in any way. But, there was always that being in the sky who was always watching what was going on down below.
How important is vinyl to you as a music fan?
Vinyl is a real thing with a real sound. There is something magical [about it]: taking the vinyl out of a jacket, putting it onto a gramophone, setting everything up for a good moment of magnificent music, taking a nice cup of Americano and a pipe and enjoying music. Of course, everyone knows about the quality of the sound … it’s really impressive how even the most usual ear can really tell the difference.
I think it’s important to do vinyl for music where the sound of the instruments plays a big part of the compositions. For jazz, classical or rock music it is always important. There is also recorded music with different functions where the sound doesn’t play a role nearly as big. I do research of old songs, their roots and traveling ways, mostly folklore. It’s very comfortable to have all wax-cylinders and old crackly LPs on a hard drive to play them right away when needed. If there was a possibility that all of those songs were somehow released on vinyl, as a scientist I would not need them. But as a collector, always!
How important is vinyl to the metal community?
In the metal subculture there are always people who are and will always prefer to listen to it.
What is the metal scene like in Estonia? Do you feel like you fit in as a band?
As an insider, I cannot tell you exactly what Metsatoll is for Estonian people. I could easily disarray the image. But, I think Metsatoll in Estonia is more than a metal band, it’s a way of thinking, the way of seeing things. In Estonia, there are many of our fans who are usually not listening to metal at all. At our shows there are old and young all mixed up; there is no [standard] Metsatoll fan. I think we are considered as something that is part of the very essence of Estonia itself.
What’s on the horizon for Metsatoll?
The horizon is always something that moves as you get closer to it. You never know what is the horizon. When you reach the point you thought that was the horizon, it’s not anymore.
Metsatoll’s latest studio album, ‘Karjajuht,’ is out now via Spinefarm Records. Get your hands on the vinyl here.