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 collaborators (shared with Viking Metal):
  • adg211288

folk metal top albums

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WILDERUN Olden Tales & Deathly Trails Album Cover Olden Tales & Deathly Trails
WILDERUN
4.78 | 9 ratings
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AGALLOCH The Mantle Album Cover The Mantle
AGALLOCH
4.40 | 85 ratings
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CRUACHAN Blood for the Blood God Album Cover Blood for the Blood God
CRUACHAN
4.66 | 9 ratings
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ELVENKING The Pagan Manifesto Album Cover The Pagan Manifesto
ELVENKING
4.56 | 12 ratings
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ORPHANED LAND The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR Album Cover The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR
ORPHANED LAND
4.41 | 28 ratings
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MOONSORROW V: Hävitetty Album Cover V: Hävitetty
MOONSORROW
4.38 | 26 ratings
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WOLFCHANT A Pagan Storm Album Cover A Pagan Storm
WOLFCHANT
4.62 | 7 ratings
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ELVENKING Secrets of the Magick Grimoire Album Cover Secrets of the Magick Grimoire
ELVENKING
4.68 | 6 ratings
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WILDERUN Sleep at the Edge of the Earth Album Cover Sleep at the Edge of the Earth
WILDERUN
4.44 | 12 ratings
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ELVENKING Heathenreel Album Cover Heathenreel
ELVENKING
4.34 | 18 ratings
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MOONSORROW Jumalten aika Album Cover Jumalten aika
MOONSORROW
4.41 | 12 ratings
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EMPYRIUM Songs of Moors & Misty Fields Album Cover Songs of Moors & Misty Fields
EMPYRIUM
4.47 | 9 ratings
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SKYCLAD Prince of the Poverty Line

Album · 1994 · Folk Metal
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SilentScream213
Skyclad are once again taking the top spot for Folk Metal on account of being so far ahead of everyone else at the game. Folk elements here are a bit more developed than on prior releases, but it’s still a primitive slab of Heavy Metal compared to what later Folk Metal would become.

The melodies and atmosphere here is quite good, the riffs are primarily sharp but playful, capturing that medieval feel but keeping with some of their Thrash roots in delivering that extra edge. The lyrics here are actually not really folky or even fantasy focused at all, but honed commentary and stories of lower class suffering and modern day societal issues. It’s an odd dichotomy with the music, but it makes the album that much more unique; the lyrics are so compelling I find myself looking deeper into almost every song, rife with literary references and otherwise. The vocalist has a great anger in his gruff delivery that fits the themes. There’s a nice variety of stuff here too, and some more instruments/keys than the usual sole violin found in previous albums.

SKYCLAD Jonah's Ark

Album · 1993 · Folk Metal
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SilentScream213
On Jonah’s Ark, Skyclad finally relieve themselves of all Thrash roots and focus entirely on the Folk Metal sound. Here, the violin is featured prominently on just about every song, and the riffs have a rhythmic, medieval feel to them. The music is quite upbeat, melodic and “fun” in a way. Interestingly, instead of focusing on fantasy or medieval tales, the lyrics tend towards conscious social commentary, often disguised in fantastical allegory.

Most of the riffs here are pretty tasty, and the Folk elements really set the band apart from anyone else of their time. It hasn’t held up exceptionally well however, since folk bands afterwards usually do a lot more with the folk aspect of their music. The energy and speed of this one is quite subdued, which is something I sorely miss from the debut.

Overall a great album, but it tend to makes me want to listen to their thrashing debut instead.

KORPIKLAANI Jylhä

Album · 2021 · Folk Metal
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Kev Rowland
I have had mixed feelings about Korpiklaani over the years, as while they have long been favourites of the mass media and are certainly the closest a lot of denim and leather wearing longhairs will ever get to folk, to me they can sometimes lose their core purpose. I felt their last album, 2018’s ‘Kulkija’ was the finest of theirs I had come across, while 2015’s ‘Noita’ had too much pirate metal contained within it. The idea of having a single figure on the album cover takes us back even further, to 2012’s ‘Manala’ and the five albums which precede it, yet here we have a band who have had their first real line-up change in some time with the departure of drummer Matson, who had been with the band since their formation in 2003. He has been replaced by Samuli Mikkonen who apparently had a major impact on the demos when they were first presented by Jonne Järvelä who along with guitarist Cane are now the only original members left.

The result for their eleventh studio release is an album which to my ears is incredibly inconsistent, in that when they are good and everything comes together then they are truly great and one can fully understand why they are such heroes of the folk metal movement. But there are other times when it feels somewhat as if they are going through the motions, and we get some of that pirate folk styling thrown back in which has nothing to do with their normal influences. In a way it is incredibly frustrating as I really want to enjoy this album, and the further I get into it the better it gets, but when I start again at the beginning, I remember why I was so annoyed the last time I played it. The arrangements are massively complex and complicated, with heavy guitars and dynamic drums (Samuli is a real standout on this album) being played against accordion and violin, with wonderfully strong and emotive vocals (of course I cannot understand a word), and there are times when it is sheer brilliance, and others when they are just treading water waiting for the next section.

I am sure there are many fans who will stand with Jonne Järvelä and say it is the best thing they have ever done, but while there are some definite highlights, for me this is a move in the wrong direction.

SKYCLAD A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol

Album · 1992 · Folk Metal
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SilentScream213
Skyclad’s sophomore album is Folk Metal’s first, utilizing violins, acoustic guitars and medieval-esque riffs to create the unique feel of the genre. Skyclad’s debut was very Thrashy, but this one eschews most of that in favor of highly melodic, slower paced (comparatively) tracks. The vocals remain pretty gruff, however; nothing like the smooth flavor usually associated with these fantasy albums. My favorite tracks are where the faster ones where Thrash roots take stage, like “Salt on the Earth.”

This thing really relies mostly on the gimmick of the violin mirroring the lead guitar in every track. Not that it’s a bad thing; at the time it was pretty much the only band to do this. It definitely creates a more epic, fantasy filled atmosphere than their prior album. Uniqueness aside, I myself prefer the more straightforward Thrash of the debut. Even though most tracks are fantastic quality, there is a liberal use of interludes and weaker tracks in between. Still, this is definitely a must hear for anyone interested in Folk Metal. Respect is always given to the creators.

SULD City Rider

Album · 2015 · Folk Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The region of China’s Inner Mongolia sits in the extreme northeastern part of the nation where the Han Chinese of the south meet the Mongolians of the north to create a unique fusion of cultures which sadly have been been dominated by the dominate Chinese population for quite some time now. This is a region that few cast their gaze upon for any length of time much less visit but the region still hosts some of the remotest parts of the planet as the territory covers a whopping 1,200,000 km2 (463,000 sq mi) and is 12% of China's total land area.

Given the remoteness of these vast lands where nomadic tribes still thrive, it’s hardly a place one would associate with metal music but the band SULD ( 战旗 in Chinese ) is a unique band that as far as a know is the first and only band to mix metal music with the traditional folk music of Mongolia which includes moments of throat singing with lyrics crafted in the native Mongolian language.

SULD ( 战旗 ) means “Battle Flag” in the Mongolian language which was the symbol of Genghis Khan and gives a hint as to the lyrical content of this band which recounts the narratives of traditional Mongolian history and culture. The band which features the six members 白斯乐 [Bai Sile] (guitar, vocals), 卓力克 [Zhuo Like] (bass), 徐晓晨 [Xuxiao Chen] (matouqin), 苏和 [Su He] (drums) and 米尔吉 [Mirci] (strings) play the usual metal instruments such as guitars, bass and drums but adds the exotic traditional richness of the horsehead fiddle, tobshuur and balalaika and is most uniquely characterized by the traditional throat singing style known as khoomei.

The band plays traditional Mongolian music completely unplugged as well so in many ways this is the same style of music only with metal instrumentation adapted which includes arpeggiated acoustic guitar intros and lots of metal guitar distortion. The band formed in 2014 in the city of Hulunbuir which sits on the Chinese border where both Mongolia and the Russian Federation all meet and have released two albums, a demo and a split so far. There seem to be two versions of this debut album CITY RIDER that emerged in 2015. The other is titled “City Nomad” but they basically have the same tracks in a different order and some have slightly different names as well. This one’s title track is titled “City Nomad” on that album of the same name. Why this is the case since both are only available as digital files is anyone’s guess.

For the casual folk metal aficionado steeped in traditional European styles and have never immersed themselves into the world of traditional Mongolian sounds and throat singing music, this will utterly blow them away however i’ve been a huge fan of fan of Mongolian folk music for a long time with familiarity with bands like Egschiglen and the Tuvan throat singing variety from the Russian side with bands like Huun-Huur-Tu and Kongar-ol Ondar so this music is not as exotic to me as it probably would be to many others. SULD do an excellent job at adapting the metal aspects to their traditional folk crafts however the laid back vocal style which registers quite low in the mix seems to prevent this album from really feeling like a metal album as the metal guitar, bass and drums are merely accent the folk music.

Despite the rapid bombast of the metal music that added, CITY RIDER seems pretty chill due to the fact the Mongolian instrumentation is not subordinate but has equal footing and often dominant. The music is quite infectious as the melodies are mined from the vast history of the Mongolian folk music style that has become quite popular internationally in recent decades and since this style of local folk flavors has cross-pollinated with hip hop and other world music forms, it’s no surprise that someone finally hopped on the metal bandwagon.

Overall this music is quite brilliant in its execution but also seems to be lacking for diversity as the tracks seem to suffer from a similar sound and the monotonic style of the singer seems to need some contrast with a secondary vocalist that has a wider range. Excellent album but only on the lower ranges as i can think of many ways this could be spiced up to keep it from stagnating at least stylistically half way through. While it’s not a chore in any way to listen to some kick ass Mongolian music with metal accoutrements, i simply wish the metal was more than just an adornment and allowed to dominate now and again.

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