Folk Metal

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Folk metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal music that originated in Europe in the early 1990’s and has since become more widespread. Folk metal, as the name suggests, is a fusion between various heavy metal styles and folk music. English band Skyclad is often credited for being the creators of folk metal for their 1991 album The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth, which featured a full time violinist alongside the more commonplace metal band setup of vocals, guitars, bass and drums. Many artists have since greatly expanded on the use of such instruments, with mandolins, banjos, flutes, whistles, bodhráns, hurdy gurdy and more all being featured in various folk metal releases.

There is no standard as to which metal genres can be merged with folk music to create folk metal, with bands ranging from more traditional heavy metal influences to extreme metal, with black metal being a common choice. Likewise there is no standard on how the folk influences should be utilised within a folk metal band. Mostly notably folk metal bands may or may not incorporate traditional instruments such as violins or tin whistles alongside the metal instrumentation. Some bands prefer to rely solely on keyboards to create a folksy atmosphere in their music (such as the first two albums by Russian band Arkona), while others prefer to play folksy lead melodies on electric guitars (such as German band Wolfchant and Norwegian band Storm). Because there are no standard norms for either side of folk metal it has grown considerably since the release of The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth to become one of the most diverse metal genres to exist. Bands can now range from the melodic to the extreme.

Since the genre's genesis, several regional variants of folk metal have also developed, the most notable being Celtic metal, Medieval metal and Oriental metal. The bands Cruachan (from Ireland), Subway to Sally (from Germany) and Orphaned Land (from Israel) are considered to be among the pioneers of each style respectively. While sometimes included under Oriental metal, metal music that makes use of folk elements from Eastern Asia is sometimes considered a folk metal subgenre of its own or distributed among other metal genres. For instance, Tang Dynasty and Fu Xi are both known for incorporating traditional Chinese instrumentation into their music, but the former are normally considered a traditional heavy metal band while the latter are considered a doom metal band.

Yet more terms have been coined that are commonly associated with folk metal: Viking metal and pagan metal. These terms however, while they can refer to folk metal, can just as often refer to another style entirely, the other style often being black metal. Terms such as these are usually used in regard to an artist based on their lyrical themes, rather than the sound of their music and as such artists labelled as such can sound very different from each other.

Folk metal has also often been crossed with other established genres of metal music to form distinct hybrids between two metal styles, where the folk influences may or may not be present in every song the artist writes, such as the power metal act Falconer. It is also not uncommon in modern metal music for folk influences to crop up as a rare occurrence such as in an introductory instrumental or even in a regular song.

The genre has become increasingly popular among metal fans over the years, reaching new heights in the 2000’s. Today folk metal bands hail from all over the world, although the genre itself remains most popular in Europe. Many bands have gained widespread attention from the metal press with bands such as Korpiklaani, Ensiferum and Finntroll numbering among the world’s most successful folk metal bands as of 2011.

Inclusive Folk Metal Genres

Celtic Metal is folk metal that draws specifically on Celtic folk music as a source for it's folk elements.

Medieval Metal is folk metal that draws specifically on medieval music as a source for it's folk elements. It is common for Medieval Metal bands to sing in German.

Oriental Metal is folk metal which draws influence from Middle-Eastern folk music such as Jewish and Arabic. The style tends to be more distinct than either Celtic Metal or Medieval Metal, which many listeners often just call Folk Metal.

- Written by adg211288 with the input of the Metal Music Archives Admin Team

Sub-genre collaborator:
  • adg211288

folk metal top albums

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АРКОНА От сердца к небу Album Cover От сердца к небу
АРКОНА
4.81 | 12 ratings
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SKYCLAD Prince of the Poverty Line Album Cover Prince of the Poverty Line
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4.70 | 9 ratings
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ENSIFERUM Ensiferum Album Cover Ensiferum
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TURISAS The Varangian Way Album Cover The Varangian Way
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ENSIFERUM Victory Songs Album Cover Victory Songs
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folk metal Music Reviews

EMPYRIUM Songs of Moors & Misty Fields

Album · 1997 · Folk Metal
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Warthur
Dialling back on the symphonic elements of their debut album, leaning on the folk metal aspects more and teasing out the doom metal undercurrents of their sound, on their second album Empyrium produce what may be the finest release of their metal-oriented years. With the next album onwards, they would shift into the dark folk territory they already find themselves on the threshold of here, but this last incorporation of metal aspects into their sound is quite excellent, and sets a precedent for musical territory later explored by the likes of Agalloch. An enchanting 45 minutes and an album that truly deserved to put Empyrium on the map.

ATLAS PAIN What the Oak Left

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
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adg211288
Folk metal and I have an unusual relationship: I'm quick to count it among my favourite styles of metal, but I can list all the folk metal bands I truly consider myself a fan of on my fingers (and if I discount the ones that are heavily based in black metal or power metal (etcetera) I only need one hand). Even more so than with death metal I'm very picky when it comes to this genre. Where am I going with this you ask? Simple - it's just so easy for a folk metal artist/release to press all the wrong buttons for me. As it's a diverse genre that can draw from a large genre pool of influences on both the folk and metal sides I wouldn't say that there's an inherent objectively 'right' way to create it (though for my money the right way is authentic folk instrumentation, but I have heard good simulated stuff too), but there are many albums out there that in one way or another seem to miss the point behind the whole folk metal idea.

Italian band Atlas Pain brand their style as 'epic-folk metal' but their debut full-length album What the Oak Left (2017) unfortunately comes across as being one of the ones that missed the point. There are two ways that folk metal acts miss the point and it's not necessarily anything to do with simulating folk melodies instead of using real instruments to create them (not every artist especially newer ones have access to such things), but rather failing to find balance between folk and metal. Some bands are strong on the folk side but lacking on the metal side. Some bands are the other way around, Atlas Pain being one of them.

These guys are a relatively new entry in the Italian metal scene and have a prior demo (2014) and an EP, Behind the Front Page (2015), under their belts. I have to give them credit where it is due, they prove themselves quite capable in their metal aspects on What the Oak Left. It's a decent and at times even brilliant debut album, energetically played, fun and has plenty of epic moments. Theirs is a symphonic take on the folk metal genre and if I listen to the album as a symphonic metal album I come away feeling a great deal of appreciation for it. Their metal backdrop draws on both power metal and melodic death metal elements and the band are clearly capable of catering to the audience of epic, catchy and polished metal music, while retaining an extreme edge thanks to the primarily growled vocals. The feel of the whole thing is primarily melodic death metal/extreme power metal, with a rare dip into more black metal orientated growls, though musically the album doesn't ever go near anything remotely black metal. It's far too polished and power metal sounding for that.

But the folk part of What the Oak Left really trips it up. It's actually the symphonic elements that end up hindering it in the long run despite providing some of the album's best and most epic moments. The impression I get it that they've been applied a bit too excessively which causes them to detract from the album's status as folk metal. The band are actually delivering some great folk melodies on a regular basis, using either the orchestrations or the lead guitar, but the whole feeling of them being simulated is hard to ignore here because the folk ideas always manage to seem of secondary importance to whatever else is going on at the time, be it an epic orchestration or a speedy power metal guitar riff.

I don't know about anyone else, but for me that approach doesn't work. It sounds more like a kind of folkish metal rather than the real thing, just like viking metal and pagan black metal can be folkish in their ways. To my ears even though I do enjoy the album it creates the nagging feeling that it's missing something, which brings me back around to what I said at the start of this review: the thing What the Oak Left is missing, if it is supposed be a folk metal album (and I can't find any reason to argue that it isn't considering Atlas Pain's own branding for their music), is the point. The clue is in the genre name. Folk metal. What that means is don't slack on your metal elements but the folk should be a dominant feature as well. I can't honestly say that's always the case here. The times the band do get it right though are very good, which gives me hope for future releases.

Just to be clear, What the Oak Left is a very good album from Atlas Pain but I have to rate it as a folk metal album and as one of those it's lacking in a crucial way. But if you want to rate it as what it actually comes across as, a folkish symphonic melodic death/extreme power metal album, then you can easily add another full star to my rating. You'll have to consider me coming away from this one with a mixed opinion.

ALESTORM No Grave But The Sea

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
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Vim Fuego
A 12 year old boy can tell you anchor rhymes with wanker, but it took a swag of salty Scottish seamen to actually write a song about it. Celtic pirates singing sweary metal songs about drinking, pillaging, and sailing? It has to be Alestorm.

‘No Grave but the Sea’ carries straight on from where ‘Sunset on the Gold Age’ left off, in that it is an album chock full of tales of grog and girls and gallivanting, and the odd bit of pirating too. What is so surprising is that what a lot of people initially dismissed as a short lived novelty is still going. ‘No Grave but the Sea’ is Alestorm’s fifth album, and there is no sign of the It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. After all, Running Wild have been pumping out piratical power metal since the mid 80s.

Surely no one can keep churning out such melodies forever? Well, it seems like Alestorm’s sole remaining founding member, vocalist and keytarist Christopher Bowes, can. His croaky faux-buccaneer voice produces melody after melody, and his fingers dance across his keytar in an involuntary tarantella.

As ever, the songs are just a bit mad, with a fine twist of silly anachronism thrown in. First song, the title track “No Grave but the Sea” is actually a serious historical account of the Battle of the Saintes, a naval encounter fought in the Caribbean, which forced France and Spain to give up any plans of invading Jamaica. Admiral Sir George Rodney smashed the French fleet through superior tactics, technology, and a little help from the weather. His fleet sent an estimated 3,000 of Admiral Comte de Grasse’s men to Davy Jones’ locker, and captured another 5,000 whilst losing less than 250 British sailors.

So what’s a thirsty privateer to do after such a mission? Not sail back to grotty old Scotland, that’s for sure! No, the good ship Alestorm set sail for “Mexico”, where the cactus grows, ale is free, and er… donkeys provide the entertainment. While in Mexico, it seems Captain Bowes found an odd device called a timecube, which proved the world is not round as first supposed, so then set sail "To The End Of The World". More nautical nuttiness ensues with “Bar Ünd Imbiss", “Pegleg Potion”, and the self-titled “Alestorm”, all odes to the demon drink. “Rage of the Pentahook” is a cautionary tale of a Paraguayan pirate with five hooks on his hand. And speaking of hands, “Man The Pumps” is a double entendre laden elegy to the dangers of excessive masturbation. Hands off boys, it’ll kill ya!

And the anchor/wanker rhyme? It comes from “Fucked With an Anchor”, which sees the poor protagonist cursed with coprolalia, thanks to a witch doctor’s voodoo curse. It makes him a little cross, as the chorus to the songs demonstrates: “Fuck! You! You're a fucking wanker/We're gonna punch you right in the balls/Fuck! You! With a fucking anchor/You're all cunts, so fuck you all!” The solution? Rectally applying a large device usually employed to prevent a ship from drifting at sea to said doctor. Sounds painful, but the song is more dangerous still. See, the melody and chorus of “Mexico” and “Alestorm” are as infectious as bubonic plague at a fifteenth century rat-fanciers convention, but there is no known cure for the “Fucked With an Anchor” earworm. The simple, expletive-laden refrain will still be banging around in your head days later, as the odd whimpered “fuck” or “wanker” inadvertently slips from your uncontrollable lips.

Alestorm’s brand of melodic folk/thrash metal is too lightweight for many purists, but fuck ‘em. Metal doesn’t always have to be about being the fastest or heaviest. Sometimes, the most scatterbrained story tellers are the most entertaining. Long may Alestorm sail the seas of silliness.

ALESTORM No Grave But The Sea

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
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adg211288
It's been almost a decade since the self-described True Scottish Pirate Metal band known as Alestorm first made waves upon the seven seas of metal to exact some Captain Morgan's Revenge (2008). The waters have been perilous as they sailed their Black Sails at Midnight (2009) and many of Captain Christopher Bowes crew have gone overboard on their quest to bring their scurvy brand of metal to unsuspecting listeners everywhere. Wait, I may have that wrong, their quest may just be to drink all our beer and steal our rum and sing a few songs along the way. With long time member Dani Evans having jumped off the black ship Alestorm in 2015, the year 2017 has them sailing with a completely rotated crew except the captain, but he at least seems as set in his course as ever.

Through their many stops along to way to No Grave But the Sea (2017) the band have brandished their own brand of metal comedy across four albums, most recently going Back Through Time (2011) to observe a Sunset on the Golden Age (2014) where they walked the plank, drank a lot of mead from hell (and got a hangover), got hit in both knees by cannonballs and had both arms cut off by Samurai. Alestorm are a hard bunch to take seriously and with each album it becomes clearer that they don't really want anyone to, because this time they're off to Mexico for three margaritas and a taco, kick a wanker in the balls and fuck him with an anchor, brew some pegleg potion and oh yes, they drink a lot. Again. They also got a dog who challenged Bowes for the captaincy, won and deleted all the vocals on the album and replaced them with barking which is why there's also a version of the album with a No Grave But the Sea for Dogs bonus disc also included.

So, business as usual then!

Well perhaps not quite. Alestorm are an easy band to laugh at which can lead to not really paying attention to them as musicians, but they're not actually the bunch of swabs they appear to be and their sound underneath all the pirate and otherwise tongue-in-cheek lyrics has actually been evolving and skill as musicians improving this past ten years at sea. No Grave But the Sea feels even more different to their past work since there's less power metal guitar in there and even less of the thrashy riffs they'd had previously. It that sense it feels to be quite a stripped back album, though a new element I feel they have on this one is the addition of some metalcore style screams, which can be heard in their self-titled song, something which I'm surprised it's taken this band this long to do, a self-titled song that is. Of course this is all neither here nor there where an Alestorm album is concerned, because that's clearly not the point of their music. The point is for it to be fun and yep, it is. My point however is that despite their apparent efforts towards complete and utter pirate buffoonery, they're not actually one trick ponies. Maybe that should be monkeys.

With that said, I didn't personally enjoy this particular Alestorm voyage as much as some of their past ones. It's easy to sit and snigger at their (admittedly often immature) brand of humour and they can certainly write a good drinking song for when it's time to down a few flagons of ale (though none as good as the previous album's Drink), but they're five albums in now and the joke seems like it might be getting a bit past it's sell-by date. They're not becalmed just yet because tracks such as the title track, Mexico and Rage of the Pentahook are still pretty decent, but the title of their previous album may end up being prophetic. Maybe the sun has set on the Golden Age of Alestorm. One thing's for sure though, they won't be going quietly.

ALESTORM No Grave But The Sea

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
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Kev Rowland


Somehow these guys have made it to their fifth studio album, still portraying ‘True Scottish Pirate Metal'. I was once asked by a mate if I wanted to go and see them play live, but I honestly couldn’t bring myself to do it, and I’ve been to see Gwar! The frustrating thing for me is that there are some interesting songs on the album, but do you really want to sit through ten songs about being a pirate? I love folk in all its forms, but there are only so many shanty-style numbers that one can sit through at one time. Someone also needs to have a conversation with keyboard player Elliot Vernon and suggest that not only he update the patches he is using, but also to never repeat the sounds he uses at the beginning of “Mexico” as they sound as if they have come from an Atari that someone has dragged up from somewhere.

These guys are having a laugh, of that there is no doubt, and they are making a career of it, but although I can see the appeal this really isn’t for me. That they know what they are doing, and that this has been well produced is never in doubt, it’s just that there are many more albums I would prefer to listen to.

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