I believe that the combination of heavy metal with folk and epic music is one of the most successful of the last thirty years. These two genres seem to have been born to be blended together and one reinforces the other. Unfortunately, however, all successful discoveries attract hordes of bands without ideas and creativity that seek to emerge by just following trends and fashions, without adding anything new to the genre that they play.
For this reason, I think it’s important to isolate those bands that really manage to produce something interesting and valid. In the case of folk metal music, I’m convinced that this means being able to produce songs that are folk and metal, which is something different from playing folk music with heavy metal instruments, or heavy metal with some folk melody inside.
In the first episode of my new digest dedicated to folk metal I’m presenting five albums that I consider the most relevant among those published since the beginning of 2019. You’ll find here both well-established formation but also some interesting underground stuff. As far as geography is concerned, we have one band from Noway (Týr), one from Italy (Furor Gallico), one from Denmark (Vanir), one from Romania (Dirty Shirts), and a multi-national collaborative project (Ahl Sina).
Enjoy this first episode of the folk metal radar, and stay tuned for future updates.
“Hel”, by Týr
Without any doubt, one of the most awaited events by all folk metal enthusiasts was the publication of the new album by Týr, the legendary band from the Faroe Islands. The LP, called Hel, interrupts in fact a gap of six years from their previous publication, which is also the longest time between two albums that they ever experienced to date.
Once released, Hel confirmed to be a very good record. In this respect, all the years that were spent waiting for the new album have been rewarded by the release of one of the most engaging and solid folk metal records of the recent times.
Those who have been following the band throughout their long career were probably expecting something even more brilliant, an album that could shine in the night like the “Northern Star” that the band was aiming in one of their most famous songs. But when a band is as good as Týr, it manages to excite even when it doesn’t reach the highest peaks of its production.
I’ve published a dedicated review of Týr‘s new album, you can read it from here.
“Troops of Pain”, by Ahl Sina
In the early days of the year, I had the opportunity to listen to an odd album called Troops of Pain, played by a curious band named Ahl Sina. After some study, I learned that Troops of Pain was conceived almost ten years ago, but only in recent times, the members of the band found themselves in the right condition to record and release the material. Ahl Sina, in true honesty, should be treated more as a collaborative project rather than a proper band, if only because their members never met and they assembled the songs by putting together pieces that were recorded in separate countries.
It’s not the first time that I come across to such kind of projects and usually the results depend very much on the basic idea that generated the collaboration, in particular on how strong and cohesive is the originating concept, because this shall compensate for the loss of naturalness that’s naturally caused by the absence of a direct and immediate relationship between the musicians. In the case of Ahl Sina, the unifying element was the idea to mix together the elements of traditional middle eastern music with the sounds of progressive metal and to use the music to tell about ancient, fascinating and timeless stories. Nothing particularly new, to tell the truth, and in fact, the album in its essence looks like one of many other entries in the widely explored genre of Oriental Extreme Metal. But there were two things that caught my attention and made me reconsider my first (negative) reaction about the LP.
First: in the album there are actually a few particularly nice and catchy songs (the best one, for me, is called Miracle Demise); when we listen to these tracks we manage to forget, at least for a brief span of time, the inaccuracies and defects that today affect Ahl Sina’s music: from the fairly approximate musical production which generated the muffled sounds we hear in the album, to the songwriting (practically there isn’t any harmonic development in the songs of the LP: all the instruments, and also the voice, seem to follow the same melodic lines).
Secondly, beyond the stylistic considerations, I perceive in this debut LP a genuineness of intents and a passion for oriental music and folk legends that effectively impregnate all the songs of the album. Therefore, despite Troops of Pain is definitely far from being the album which can shake and revolt the world of folk metal, there is still something good and curious in this music, something which makes this project worthy of a mention, and also of our encouragement for the future.
“Dark of the Ages”, by Furor Gallico
I am extremely pleased to mention in this article the new release from an Italian band that has already collected some notoriety in the international folk metal scene. The band is called Furor Gallico, they come from Lombardia, in the Northern part of my beautiful peninsula, and they have already turned ten years of activity.
Dusk of the Ages is Furor Gallico’s third and newest LP. The album offers a new collection of nice melodic songs that are inspired by the stories and the sounds of the Celtic tradition. One of the key characteristics of this album is definitely the duality: two voices (one growling and one angelic), two languages (some songs are in Italian, others in English), two types of sound (moments of melodic death metal are opposed to atmospheric sections with acoustic arrangements). All of these contrasting elements guarantee an internal dynamic for the songs that keep the record alive from the beginning to the end, although the musical offer remains somehow restricted within the same track that has already been travelled by many other bands.
A special note of merit goes to the acoustic sections, which in my opinion give the most exciting moments of the album. Who knows what would happen if these guys will decide one day to switch to 100% acoustic music.
“Allfather”, by Vanir
Danish band Vanir is not a newcomer in the international folk metal scene, as witnessed by the fact that as the band is turning the ten years of career they have already released their fifth studio album, called Allfather. Despite a certain prolificity in publications, however, these musicians from Roskilde have not yet achieved a celebrity and a success comparable to the commitment they have always shown in the production of new material.
Will Allfather be the record capable of projecting the band higher up in the ladder of success? Honestly, I’m not sure. The metal formula that this band proposes, in fact, seems too much a hybrid of different things that is likely to leave quite dissatisfied both those who seek epic and catchy songs and those who instead adore more complex and articulated musical structures. Vanir’s new record, in this respect, is quite in the middle between these two characteristics of folk/Viking metal, without being effective in either of them.
In summary, Allfather is an album with lots of good ideas and which highlights the dedication and the passion of the band when playing their music. At the same time, if I still recommend it for the diehard fans of Viking metal, the LP won’t remain among the things that have impressed me the most in this first part of the year.
“Letchology”, by Dirty Shirt
When we speak about the combination of metal with world music or folk music, typically we have in mind those cases where metal is influenced by Celtic, Nordic or Middle Eastern traditions. Every so often, however, we come across formations that are coming from areas of the World that are quite distant from the usual ones and, in these case, we may enjoy more curious variations of the “metal folk” recipe.
Last year we were impressed by Alien Weaponry, a young band from New Zealand which debuted with a formidable collection of groove songs marked by the sounds and the hymns of the Maori tradition. This year we could appreciate an album from Romania which is offering to the fans of this kind of mixtures a nice and funny version of metal that’s impregnated with the sounds and the melodies from Eastern Europe’s tradition. The band is called Dirty Shirt, and their most recent record is Letchology.
My approach towards folk metal is based on the idea that we shall always try to distinguish between the aspects of originality and curiosity, which are those which impress at first, and the absolute value of the music. In this respect, the initial reaction that I had with Letchology was that of a funny, curious, eccentric album, but not particularly significant from the point of view of the “metal” content. This is mainly because the band’s style is characterized by evident ease of accessibility and also the adoption of riffs and progressions that – if we except the ethnic flavours – don’t bring so much innovation to the culture of groove music.
After a few more listenings the situation has improved and, progressively, I recognized that behind such light-hearted and irreverent facade it’s possible to appreciate the effort of these guys in making each song of the album quite different from the others, and I could discern also a number of interesting ideas that remain valid even beyond the initial appearance of easy-listening metal.
I’m collecting the best folk metal songs of the year in a special playlist, called The FOLK METAL Radar. It’s now featuring a bunch of tracks but it’s going to grow with time.