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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ENSIFERUM Ensiferum Album Cover Ensiferum
ENSIFERUM
4.50 | 24 ratings
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SKYCLAD Prince of the Poverty Line Album Cover Prince of the Poverty Line
SKYCLAD
4.70 | 9 ratings
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TURISAS The Varangian Way Album Cover The Varangian Way
TURISAS
4.54 | 16 ratings
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SIG:AR:TYR Beyond the North Winds Album Cover Beyond the North Winds
SIG:AR:TYR
4.71 | 8 ratings
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АРКОНА Во славу Великим! Album Cover Во славу Великим!
АРКОНА
4.55 | 13 ratings
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ENSIFERUM Victory Songs Album Cover Victory Songs
ENSIFERUM
4.52 | 14 ratings
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ORPHANED LAND All Is One Album Cover All Is One
ORPHANED LAND
4.52 | 12 ratings
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EQUILIBRIUM Sagas Album Cover Sagas
EQUILIBRIUM
4.54 | 11 ratings
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MOONSORROW Jumalten aika Album Cover Jumalten aika
MOONSORROW
4.65 | 7 ratings
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CRUACHAN Blood for the Blood God Album Cover Blood for the Blood God
CRUACHAN
4.62 | 7 ratings
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АРКОНА Гой, Роде, гой! Album Cover Гой, Роде, гой!
АРКОНА
4.48 | 10 ratings
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folk metal Music Reviews

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.

EQUILIBRIUM Armageddon

Album · 2016 · Folk Metal
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Kev Rowland
By the time that Equlibrium released their 2016 album there had been some changes in the camp, as they were now back to a five-piece, although René Berthiaume was still very much in control. This album sees a shift in the overall sound of the band, as it’s not as crushingly heavy as the previous album, and there is a larger use of keyboards. Robert is still providing the death style growls, but there isn’t as much impact as on the previous release, and one does wonder if the band might be better suited with a different style of vocalist to lift them into yet another direction. In many ways this feels like a transitional work, as they move from styles for which they have become known into something that is potentially more mainstream, although still bringing together lots of different types of metal.

Somehow it just feels lighter, as if there isn’t quite the same amount of passion and angst as there was previously. The drone of the rhythm guitars just don’t have the punch and effect that they need, and although drummer Tuval "Hati" Refaeli does his best to raise the imapct, somehow it just doesn’t work as it should. There are even some songs on the album that have their lyrics in English, and the gruff vocals just don’t work on “Born To Be Epic”, while the least said about the keyboard sounds used on the bridge the better – to call them “twee” would be an understatement.

This is an opportunity missed, and I am sure the reason I am so negative about this album is that the previous one showed so much promise. Mind you, this got to #5 in the German charts, but we all know that chart success is never an indicator of how good anything is. Hopefully the next album will see them more like they were on ‘Erdentempel’

EQUILIBRIUM Erdentempel

Album · 2014 · Folk Metal
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Kev Rowland
Formed in 2001, Equilibrium combine elements of folk music, black metal and symphonic metal to create something that is more than the sun of its parts. This 2014 was their fourth release, but they were going through something of a traumatic period of the band in terms of line-up and was actually recorded as a duo, with founder member René Berthiaume providing all the instrumentation and production and Robert "Robse" Dahn (who had joined in 2010) the vocals . Mind you, this never comes across as a duo, but rather a band firing very much on all cylinders. Lyrically they focus on Germanic myths, and the vast majority of their songs are performed in German, so I have no idea what they’re singing about, and instead view the death-style vocals as another instrument in their own right.

That this is brutal and extreme is never in doubt, but it also contains an incredible amount of melody within the sheer heaviness of what is happening. There is a fierce bottom end that wouldn’t sound out of place on Sabbath album, but mixed with Nightwish lightness and symphonies that also brings in Amon Amarth to create something that is quite unique and never boring. This is incredibly impressive, with strong production that dares the listener to play it as loud as they dare. I found the only way to have this at the correct volume was by listening to it on headphones, and then just when one thinks it can’t get any heavier there is a short mandolin interlude and then they are off again. There is something quite Celtic about it, but far more majestic and over the top than one would normally expect: Enya never sounded like this!

This may not suit everyone, but I was enthralled the very first time I heard it and repeated playings have only made me love it even more.

MOONSORROW Jumalten aika

Album · 2016 · Folk Metal
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siLLy puPPy
MOONSORROW has carved out a unique niche in the extreme metal world having successfully positioned itself equidistantly smack dab in the middle between the world of black metal and the pagan Finnish folk music that is the source of their inspiration and philosophical outlook. On the black metal side from whence they sprung forth, they have kept many (if not all) of its aesthetics including the corpse paint visual effect, the intense distorted buzz saw wall of noise along with the other ubiquitous black metal elements such as blastbeats and raspy snarled vocals too buried beneath the din to discern all the while wrapped up in chaotic swirls of extreme Viking intensity. They have nurtured these attributes quite well over time never letting the incremental intrusions of the stronger folk elements or slicker production ever once distract from the overall goal of remaining firmly in the extreme shopping section of the greater metal universe. After a long five year wait for rabid fans foaming at the mouth awaiting a followup to 2011’s “Varjoina Kulijemme Kuolleiden Maassa,” they release their 7th full-length epic black folk metal JUMALTEN AIKA (“The Age Of Gods”) and prove that their style seems to have no limits in how to expand into ever widening arenas without significantly changing the core of the band’s sound.

One of the most surprising things about MOONSORROW is that it’s never really a surprise as to what kind of album they will release. They dutifully check off every single element that defines their sound that began way back on “Voimasta Ja Kunniasta” and adamantly adhere to the formula set forth ever since. That usual formula has consisted of sprawling ten minute plus epic tracks that commence with slow atmospheric build ups that erupt into black metal fury wrapped around Finnish folk metal song structures and then draw out and eke every possible variation from every single cadence possible. In this aspect JUMALTEN AIKA is absolutely identical to previous albums where all these elements pretty much develop in identical fashion. The most surprising thing to me with JUMALTEN AIKA is exactly how gracefully MOONSORROW expands these set standards and create an album even more lush and brutal than its predecessors in a seemingly effortless and logical way. First of all, the song structures are stronger with deep earwormy hooks that sink in deep from the get go and the magical chemistry of the atmospheric keyboards, black metal guitar, bass and drum fury accompanied by the folk aspects that include violin, flute, accordion and mouth harp just play so very very well together.

One of the things that takes JUMALTEN AIKA into slightly more elevated territory is the supreme production aspects along with a more heightened sense of folk and symphonic elements including a larger roster of chorus vocal contributions in addition to the five permanent members of the band. While the black metal has been beaten into submission as to maintain the harsh brutality of that respective world, the folk and symphonic characteristics have been given more of a free rein in creating a more polished sound than before. If that wasn’t enough MOONSORROW has certainly attained a state of maturity that allows them the luxury of knowing just how long to let a passage linger before it outstays its welcome as well as knowing when to let certain aspects drop out as to let others shine. I have to admit that i seldom have hope that MOONSORROW will find the gumption to keep their set sound fresh and relevant in the contemporary metal universe but i have to fully admit that with JUMALTEN AIKA they have surprised me and am in awe of their ability to take the slower burner approach of slightly upping their elements incrementally from one album to next by staying true to their core sound but expanding from within in totally logical arrangements.

MOONSORROW once again proves that they are masters of their unique amalgamation of Finnish folk and black metal. As they transcend from one stage of their existence to another, they remain firmly planted in their philosophical roots and only adding new elements to their sound where they are appropriate for inclusion. While as always, all lyrics are in their native Finnish language but the feel and instrumental prowess successfully dictates a story in the making regardless. While the album and first title track JUMALTEN AIKA (“The Age Of Gods”) begins the journey, the final track “Ihmisen Aika (The Age of Humans)” shows the culmination of a musical pilgrimage that brings forth the pagan folk philosophies that the usurpation of human introduced technologies imposing their will upon long established “godly” traditions as evidenced in the natural world will bring about a dystopian existence. As with every MOONSORROW release, i’m very much impressed by their style of seamless fusion of folk and black metal and even in awe of their philosophies of sort but never quite finding myself wanting to bestow upon them the credit of creating a masterpiece of the ages. There is always something albeit imperceivibly identifiable missing in that regard but nevertheless this dilemma prevents me from doing so. But that doesn’t mean i don’t love listening to their music time and time again!

Personally i have the limited edition digibook that has an extra CD with two bonus cover tracks. While i would hardly recommend these covers by Grave and Rotting Christ to be worthy of shelling out the extra dough to get the upgraded version, i do have to say that the inclusion of the beautifully embroidered patch that depicts the album cover is totally awesome! BTW that extra CD is a mere 8 minutes and 28 seconds so it does seem a little gimmicky to include it. They could have at least included some live or unreleased material. So unless you REALLY want a patch, stick to the original five track version. Personally this album is a winner and a top 5 in the year of 2016 for yours truly :) Sorrow Finntroll and other weaklings of the underworld. This band has your asses beat big time

MOONSORROW Metsä

EP · 2001 · Folk Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The origins of MOONSORROW go all the way back to 1995 when cousins Ville Sorvali (vocals, bass) and Henri Sorvali (guitar, keyboards) hooked up in Helsinki, Finland to form a simple melodic black metal band. Before they would introduce the Nordic and Slavic folk elements to their music they started out as a run-of-the-mill 90s black metal band as heard on this early demo turned remastered EP “Metsä.” At this point the band was merely a duo with the two cousins handling all vocal and instrumental duties.

While the music is the typical atmospheric keyboard drenched buzz saw feedback distortionfest black metal of the era complete with a two minute atmospheric ambient chill out session, there are faint traces of folk influences that would later dominate such as the inclusion of the mouth harp in their otherwise standard Pagan and spiritually themed melodic metal marches. As with all MOONSORROW albums even to this day, everything is totally in the Finnish language, so if you’re not hip to this top dog of Finno-Ugric languages then the meaning will be shrouded in incomprehensible mystery however with screeched lyrics like this it would be impossible to discern any meaning.

In addition to the four tracks feeling amateurish, the production value is fairly weak as well which for some may be an attraction, however the great promise of a melodic black metal band is born here and it’s clear that even though this is hardly an essential edition of their discography that the song structures are decent and the keyboards provide more than just a subdued frosting to the cake and actually contribute a significant portion to the overall dynamics. Many reviewers compare the vocals to a pissed off cat and i couldn’t think of a better comparison myself. Better things were to come but this is an interesting historical artifact for those who like to dig deep.

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