Soaring, dramatic and moving, The Light Within introduces Surma as one of the most riveting symphonic metal bands on the contemporary scene. Spread out across 13 tracks in 47 minutes, there is not a moment wasted as they weave their epic stories of optimism around music that is suitably gigantic but compressed into relatively short songs. "I think the real message of the album is to give hope to everyone, no matter what they are struggling with," states vocalist Viktorie Surmøvá, best known for her work with Bohemian Metal Rhapsody. "Some songs are not really happy, I admit, but in most of the stories, I really tried to see something positive. The most powerful way to express this was in the opener, 'Reveal the Light Within'. Most of the songs are inspired by statues and the sculpture that inspired us to make this song ('Expansion' by Paige Bradley) says it all. We all have the chance to reveal our true selves and be happy even after the worst ordeals that leave us damaged in one way, but also provide opportunity to let out what is best in us, symbolized by the light within."
Taking their name from the vocalist's last name, it is surprisingly multifaceted. "In Ukraine, it is a very specific kind of Cossack trumpet. In Finnish mythology, it is a terrible beast guarding the gates of the Underworld, and it also literally means 'death' in Finnish. We also know about Surma people in Ethiopia, and I am pretty sure it means much more in other languages." Teaming up with guitarist/vocalist Heri Joensen of Týr, the band began in 2018 and spent most of 2019 writing, arranging and recording the music that would comprise their debut. Starting from vocal melodies and building the songs up around them, all are very dense, rich with orchestrations and searing guitar and propelled by driving rhythms. That they are all compact comes down to the influence of Joensen. "I've worked on the epic songwriting register since I started writing music decades ago," says the guitarist. "But with my other bands, I can't say I've always tried to be compact, though for Surma, it is more fitting. We were very aware of the arrangement of the songs, and we did try to get to the point of each song quickly and without too much fuss." Despite being very cinematic sounding, cinema was not in fact an influence on the musicians, Surmøvá stating that she is most inspired by the predominantly Dutch symphonic and progressive metal she listens to. It was also important to her that a diverse range of emotions be expressed on the record, which did not come easily. "We were really trying to keep all the emotions I felt from each sculpture that inspired me for the lyrics. I honestly struggled a bit with expressing emotions during recording, because even though I really feel it inside, when I listen to the final recording, I feel that there are not enough emotions in my performance. It is something I have to work on a bit more since this is a new experience for me. Sometimes when I listen to music, I get bored very easily. It is not necessarily the fault of the band, but to avoid that feeling, I was trying to give each song a different emotion than any other on the album."
Looking for inspiration in sculpture is certainly an unconventional approach when it comes to lyric writing, but once Surmøvá seized upon the theme she knew it was exactly the path she needed to follow. "I was looking for sculpture that moved me, emotionally. I looked into the story behind each sculpture, and we wrote lyrics inspired by those stories. Those stories are kind of all over the place, but the common theme is overcoming hardships. The only exceptions to the sculpture theme are 'Desire' and 'Until it Rains Again'. I wrote 'Desire' when I was 15, based on my first heartbreak, and 'Until it Rains Again' was my personal message to everyone who feels emotionally unstable from time to time. No one has a perfect life, and it is up to us how we deal with it. I am generally a very positive person so the message usually goes in that direction." Among these tracks are "The Selkie", which is a story from Joensen's native Faroe Islands and is inspired by a statue of a woman holding a seal skin that stands on the shore. "The story behind the statue is about a seal woman whose hide is stolen by a young man and so is forced to live with him for years. She finally gets her hide back and returns to the ocean as a seal. The man takes revenge on her seal man, and she takes revenge by casting a curse on all the islanders." Then there is "Lost To Time", which is based on a statue by a Norwegian sculptor, Fredrik Raddum, and is about a series of events on the Galapagos Islands, when a group of Germans tried to escape civilization by moving there resulting in some deaths that have gone unsolved to this day. The song "Cages of Rage" is based on a sculpture by the Ukranian sculptor, Alexander Milov, called Love. "It is a couple of child statues facing each other, standing within a couple of adult statues seated back to back. We wrote the lyrics about the human need to connect, and the ego, resentment and conflict standing in the way of this connection."
Alongside the core duo, the record features performances by Rens Bourgondiën on bass, drummer Andrey Ischenko (ex-Arkona), and Lars Vinther arranged most of the orchestrations with Joensen contributing a little to this side of recording too. Maintaining overall control over proceedings, Surmøvá and Joensen produced the record themselves in the guitarist's home studio with the drums tracked in Moscow. With touring commitments with Týr and other interruptions, the recording process was broken up, but Joensen asserts it was a "walk in the park", again confirming the chemistry that comes when the two work together. Looking ahead, the general positivity that exists around them is once more pushed to the fore. "I would love to perform a lot. I would love to have a strong friendship with my bandmates, and I would love to touch people with our music and our performance," states Surmøvá. "I believe we can make something good in this world, and we can help people through hard times and inspire them to have hope in the future, and generally inspire a better mood and a better feeling in those who listen to our music."