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
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4.83 | 11 ratings
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SIG:AR:TYR Beyond the North Winds Album Cover Beyond the North Winds
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TURISAS The Varangian Way Album Cover The Varangian Way
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ORPHANED LAND All Is One Album Cover All Is One
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4.52 | 12 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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FALCONER Armod Album Cover Armod
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4.46 | 13 ratings
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WILDERUN Olden Tales & Deathly Trails Album Cover Olden Tales & Deathly Trails
WILDERUN
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ELVENKING The Pagan Manifesto Album Cover The Pagan Manifesto
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ELVENKING Heathenreel Album Cover Heathenreel
ELVENKING
4.41 | 13 ratings
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folk metal Music Reviews

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.

AGALLOCH Pale Folklore

Album · 1999 · Folk Metal
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Warthur
Agalloch's debut album sets out the stall for what the band would offer for much of their subsequent career: an intricate mixture of influences from atmospheric black metal, post-rock, folk metal, and just plain traditional folk, combined into an intriguing mixture. One of the things which keep Agalloch interesting as a group is that whilst most of those ingredients are present to one extent or another on most of their albums, at the same time the centre of gravity shifts about, making each album a distinct and different proposition. Pale Folklore, for its part, seems to me to be centred in a deliciously accessible brand of folky metal which gives way to darker currents as the album progresses, and is a worthy part of the group's musical progression.

АРКОНА Возрождение (2016)

Album · 2016 · Folk Metal
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adg211288
Re-recorded albums. Many artists do them at some point, but most of the time the exercise is deemed to be completely pointless by their fans. Most likely the original didn't need re-recording in the first place (it may even be considered a classic as is the case with Flotsam and Jetsam's No Place for Disgrace (1988)). The end result of such an endeavour won't be seen as being as good despite the artist's best efforts. However one album that has always struck me as actually being able to benefit from being re-recorded is Возрождение (2004) (Vozrozhdenie), the debut album by Russian folk metal act Аркона (Arkona). Serving as their eighth full-length album and the follow-up to Явь (2014) (Yav), Возрождение (2016), is the re-recorded release that I've hoped and expected Arkona to one day do.

The reason why this album needed re-recording is not because the original was poorly done but because in their early days Arkona didn't use real instruments to create their folk sounds, instead synthesising them. So obviously the biggest draw this new version of Vozrozhdenie is that the band now use authentic sounds on it as they have done ever since their third album Во славу Великим! (2005) (Vo Slavu Velikim!). The original was always a pretty damn good album even done the way is was back then, so swapping in authentic folk can only be a benefit to the album.

With that said, this version's songs do remain very faithful to the originals, so listeners shouldn't expect any lowering of the amount of synths used and new folk parts added instead. Vozrozhdenie has always been a pretty symphonic sounding work from Arkona and this new version highlights that even more than the original. The same can be said of how much power metal influence went into this album compared to their more recent work, which displays more black metal than is present here. This is an album with lots of speed and melody, but also strong extreme metal aspects too thanks in no small part to vocalist Masha "Scream" Arkhipova continually switching between melodic clean singing (in Russian, of course) and death growls. The most notable change between the two versions of Vozrozhdenie is that the original also featured some guest vocals from Lesiar of the bands Крамола (Kramola), Невидь (Nevid) and Butterfly Temple on a few tracks but on this version those parts are handled by Masha. I tend to prefer it that way personally, as I wasn't keen on his vocals on the original version.

Vozrozhdenie was already a decent album in its original form, being the incredibly varied folk metal release that it is, and this new version enhances pretty much every aspect of it. The folk instruments are now real, so it feels more natural. The production is just that bit more polished, so it feels more powerful too. From this it's clear that Arkona have learned a lot since 2004 and the album is a recommended purchase even if you already own the original version. Here's hoping that the band's second album Лепта (2004) (Lepta) will be given the same treatment in due course.

YOSSI SASSI Roots and Roads

Album · 2016 · Folk Metal
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siLLy puPPy
YOSSI SASSI may be better known as the founder of Israel’s premier metal fusion band Orphaned Land which has been active since the early 90s, but since 2011 he has also launched his own solo career and in the process has incorporated a whole army of musicians that he wrested out of their respective genres to create a larger than life sound that blends progressive rock and metal with traditional Israeli folk music. In addition to his musical contributions to the world and his never ending goal of promoting peace in the Middle East, he is also the inventor of the “Bouzoukitara” which is basically a combination of the Greek Bouzouki and electric guitar that allows him to mix and meld the two sounds in a more efficient manner. ROOTS AND ROADS is his third solo offering with this one going under the YOSSI SASSI BAND moniker.

The band consists of six members that contribute a huge wealth of musical instruments which not only include the usual rock guitars, bass, keys and drums but the newly formed Bouzouikitara, traditional Bouzouki, charango, oud, sax and chumbush as well. In addition we have no less than 14 guest musicians contributing piano, Hammond keys, kanun, violins, ney (Arabic, Turkish and Persian varieties), flute, fretless bass, lap steel guitar, Diddley bow, clarinet and something called a Choiron “Wing.” If that wasn’t enough we also get a sizzling guitar solo contribution from Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal on “Palm Dance.” All of these characters in this musical script all add up to one big fat rich sounding album that is exquisitely played and extraordinarily produced as to allow all the competing sounds to exist in harmony instead of a barbaric cacophonous manner.

My first impression of this is that it is very much in the vein of other Middle Eastern progressive metal fusionists such as Myrath as the rhythms, harmonies and musical scales are heavily steeped in desert lore and conjure up images of camels traversing mirage ridden sand dunes on silken road journeys but this goes far beyond Myrath in the ethnic department. As with almost all Middle Eastern music, YOSSI SASSI focuses the energetic drive first and foremost on the percussive rhythms with the melodies carrying a near equal secondary weight. Unlike bands like Orphaned Land and Myrath, the YOSSI SASSI BAND use metal as only one color on their painter’s palette and it is by no means ubiquitous in the album’s sound or feel although it’s included on most tracks when the energetic drive needs to be lifted to a new level for contrast’s sake. There is a lot more detail paid to the ethnic instruments while the metal often chugga chugs as a rhythmic intensifier.

While described as progressive rock / metal, there aren’t a lot of bizarre proggy freak outs with time sig changes run amok nor heavy reliance on dissonance. This music has a very accessible sound being instantly addictive and as seductive as the tales of Scheherezade. This is simply a must for lover’s of Middle Eastern ethnic music mixed with Western elements. With this many musical members on board there always exists the risk of too many chefs in the kitchen stumbling over one another thus ruining the perfect smorgasbord of ideas, but in the case of ROOTS AND ROADS, a competent band leader puts on his conductor’s hat and ekes out all the possibilities at the right times when needed and creates a beautiful parade of alternating softer and heavier passages. While i can’t say this is the absolute most original music by mixing these styles as its been done a few times before, i can say that this is a very pleasant display of East meets West fusion where both worlds have plenty of time to play together to create an exhilarating new take on it. Personally i like SASSI’s solo stuff over Orphaned Land. Unlike, say, bands like Secret Chiefs 3 that successfully fused Middle Eastern music with Western, YOSSI SASSI is actually from that region having been born and raised in Israel. This is the real deal. Very cool album.

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