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

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folk metal Music Reviews

AGALLOCH Ashes Against the Grain

Album · 2006 · Folk Metal
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Given that AGALLOCH took their name from aguarwood (Aquilaria agallocha) which is a fragrant wood used for incense, the band really have spent their career operating like a slow flowing resinous sap that such trees exude. Not only is this true in their shoegazy post-rock meets black and folk metal musical style but also in the fact that this Portland, Oregon based band really took their time to craft their studio albums. After the success of “The Mantle,” the band began performing their music live for the first time which meant even less time for song crafting and studio production values. It took four long years before they would follow up “The Mantle” with their third full-length album ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN (not counting the two EPs) but in that time the band came to a couple conclusions.

Firstly, “The Mantle” was a behemoth in its making with tons of extra non-metal instruments, electronics and production tricks which proved extremely difficult to replicate in a live setting therefore the band had to restructure much of that album to adapt to a live setting. This scenario resulted in AGALLOCH’s decision to scale back the bloated accoutrements and focus on a more stripped down approach that they could effortlessly convert from studio album to live setting without having to reconstruct the entire range of compositions. This proved to be a wise decision not only for adaptive purposes but also in the fact that it would’ve been a bad move to simply construct a “Mantle II.” Therefore ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN developed as a completely different beast from its predecessor, which in the long run proved to be a very good thing.

Secondly, as a studio only band, John Haughm not only contributed vocals but also played acoustic and electrics guitars as well as handling all the percussion duties. Clearly unable to tackle all these duties live, AGALLOCH brought in Chris Greene as the band’s official drummer and thus officially made the band a quartet. While Greene was added to the musical cast and joined before recording began on this album, he still didn’t perform drums on “Falling Snow” and “Not Unlike The Waves.” Due to his dissatisfaction of adapting to the band, he would depart after the European tour and replaced by Aesop Dekker ( of Ludicra). However, after ironing out the kinks in their studio / live performances ratio, AGALLOCH set forth to record their third album which was plagued with problems including the entire album being lost in a computer glitch that made them re-record from scratch. Ugh.

In every way, ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN is everything “The Mantle” wasn’t, at least in the context of the world of AGALLOCH. Yes, there are many similarities. This is still a skillful mix of black and doom metal with dark neofolk and post rock, however on ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN the entire recipe has been shifted. While “The Mantle” was primarily neofolk based with influences from Death In June and Sol Invictus dominated the sonicscape, on album #3 the focus was directed more in the sludge / post-metal camp. While Godspeed You! Black Emperor had always served as a major wellspring of creative juju, on ASHES, the band was beginning to blend in more with contemporary post-metal bands such as Isis, Neurosis and Pelican. While Godspeed had been subjugated to the underbelly compositionally speaking, heavy sludge metal riffing and upbeat tempos became the dominating factors on ASHES.

While the metal has been ramped up, there is no shortage of electronic freak outs, acoustic folk or moments of inner retrospection via catchy melodic hooks. Opposite of “The Mantle,” ASHES begins more aggressively with less catchy ear hooks but ultimately slowly weaves its magic as it progresses. While on “The Mantle,” it took a few tracks before the metal dominated, on ASHES the slower neofolk domination doesn’t kick in until the fourth track “Fire Above, Ice Below.” And also serving as the photographic negative duality is the fact that while on “The Mantle” the folk emerged beneath the grungy distorted din, on ASHES it’s the metal that has to emerge above the folk. I think i see a pattern here, hmmmm.

ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN does not provide the immediate satisfaction that its predecessor allowed. This one takes a bit more work to decipher. While “The Mantle” was an instant classic in my ears, ASHES had to prove itself but it has unleashed new magic every time i’ve spun it and created an alternative AGALLOCH perspective in many ways that to this day i’m not entirely sure as to how it has unleashed its magic. Somehow the band has woven another post-metal meets folk and electronic tapestry that shape shifts when least expected and manages to drag things out as long as possible and playing the ole switcheroo just before things become stagnate. While the band has stated that this is their worst album due to the fact that it relied on too much production mileage, i have to disagree. AGALLOCH is one of those bands much like Pink Floyd that have inherently entwined themselves into the production process and would be a lesser band for not having done so. There are no virtuosic instrumental moments on an AGALLOCH album. This band creates a larger than life listening experience that is all encompassing. That is a good thing.

Yes, this one is a grower unlike “The Mantle” which casts an immediate spell, however this one is well worth the effort. It requires several intense listening sessions but well worth the effort indeed. While i admit the initial opening generic aspects of “Limbs” may not evoke any passions of fire, it doesn’t take long for the majesty to sink in. ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN ultimately comes off as a classical music album dressed up in contemporary clothing such as post-rock, metal and folk. Much like its predecessor, ASHES maintains a distinct musical flow between tracks but unlike “The Mantle,” relies on a series of opposing forces rather than easily cooperative ones. There is more tension that results from a heavier post-metal dominated soundscape than the lush acoustic folk pastoral marches of the past, however careful listening will find similarly plucked acoustic elements imbued throughout albeit not in the forefront. This is particularly more noticeable in the midsection of the album with “Not Unlike The Waves” coming to the forefront.

The three part suite “Our Fortress Is Burning” concludes the epic journey in an entirely satisfying fashion. It begins with a prognosticator of how it will end, with a bubbling volcanic gurgle of electronic excitation but in the beginning it ushers in a post-rock guitar riff that slowly builds into a more recognizable Mogwai type of riffage with a Pink Floyd type of guitar performance tacked on. While unified in name only, this three part finale only reflects the entire nature of the album that tacks many suites together as a united whole and arbitrarily labels them linguistically, however these last three tracks that constitute this suite are the most magnanimous of the bunch as they effortlessly juxtapose countless styles of post-rock, black metal, space rock and folk. Overproduced? I don’t think so. This is musical perfection. Get over yourselves if you think otherwise. As Act I cedes into Act II, a little musical heft is added with the percussion. This is a slow burner so expect post-rock baby steps. The Third Act is entirely dedicated to an intense electronic frenzy of the quasi-formulaic world of quantum level electronic weirdness with guitar feedback or at least that’s what comes to mind when it eerily transpires.

Indubitably, comparisons between “The Mantle” and ASHES AGAINST THE GRAIN will result since these were AGALLOCH’s peak years that defined them as the legends they have become. While similar in nature, ASHES takes a logical leap in ascension from what came before in that it doesn’t rely on instantly catchy melodies as the hook basis. In contrast, this one is a murkier affair that if one were to analyze the cover art of the two albums, perfectly reflects. “The Mantle” with its black, gray and white cover art easily portrays an image of a stag amidst a wintery tree-lined landscape whereas ASHES displays a nebulous unfocused image of a bird in a Van Gogh after a wild night on the town sort of way. Likewise, the musical constructs reflect a more surreal and less comprehensible manner of how the sonic parade of sounds is laid out. The result is a feeling of less warm and fuzzy melodies and an impending dread much like the feeling of that moment before the storm hits which while somewhat placid in the physical realm is mortifying in the anticipatory emotional factors that precede. ASHES perfectly captures that “bardo” state in between major events. This was a slow burner but when all is said and done, a more sophisticated slice of musical fusion than “The Mantle” and a more than worthy successor.

AGALLOCH The Mantle

Album · 2002 · Folk Metal
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AGALLOCH took their name from the resinous wood of the aguarwood (Aquilaria agallocha) and on their sophomore album THE MANTLE, this Portland, Oregon based band demonstrates how to let their musical cross-pollinations flow like sticky sap through an hour plus timespan that encompasses a wide spectrum of sounds and styles yet never outstays its welcome. THE MANTLE was a major improvement over the already developed and mature debut “Pale Folklore,” yet the first album was crippled by a lackluster production job that prevented the band’s true atmospheric prowess and uncanny ability to juxtapose disparate sounds in completely logical yet untried manners. THE MANTLE showcased the band in its comfort zone as it gracefully oozed out lusciously strummed acoustic folk guitar chords, electronic embellishments, black metal inspired doom and gloom and post-rock fueled compositional constructs that allowed the music to build to dizzying crescendoes and beyond.

Their first release of the new millennium, THE MANTLE has become one of those must-have albums in any metal collection as it embodies a perfection like few others before or since. Much in the vein of their debut, THE MANTLE tackles a wide range of influences that weave the possibilities of the dark neofolk sounds of bands like Death In June and Sol Invictus with the extra bombast of the metal world in the form of doom inspired riffing dressed up with black metal tremolo picking and shrieked vocals that played tag with clean sung lyrics sometimes resulting in whispered poetic prose. At first mistaken for a Scandinavian band for their use of guitar work utilized by bands ranging from Ulver, Katatonia and Amorphis, AGALLOCH allowed the black metal universe to expand beyond its second wave limitations of the legions of copycats and followed in the footsteps of the innovators that ultimately made them a part of the club that managed to craft a new hybrid of musical innovation.

The album’s signature sound is instantly addictive as the introductory acoustic guitar strumming of “A Celebration For The Death Of Men” demonstrates the band’s ability to create instant ear hooks augmented by subtle changes in atmospheric variation. The track cedes seamlessly into the following monster composition “In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion” which runs the gamut of metal meets neofolk possibilities and not only creates a seemingly infinite variety of subtle changes but demonstrates how the band ratchet up the band’s theme by connecting the tracks into a larger whole, in this case a pseudo-concept about how images can be conveyed through sound. The images in this case are real photos of Portland, Oregon landmarks beginning with the stag on the album cover in a shrouded mysterious blanket of foggy gray and nebulous murky atmospheric detachment. The music perfectly suits the assortment of photos that are included in the liner notes.

THE MANTLE is a slow burner and not one to be listened to in a hurry. This is not what one would deem a headbanger’s type of metal as it seems a vast majority of the real estate is dedicated to dreamy acoustic folk, shoegazy post-rock and hypnotic grooves embellished by electronic wizardry and outlandish production techniques. In fact only on the fourth track “I Am The Wooden Doors” does the black metal inspired fury have domination over the mellower aspects of the album and yet even here, is graced by unorthodox acoustic guitar solos that break in beneath the distorted metal galloping of the guitar grunge. Perhaps another amazing aspect of THE MANTLE is how the vocal harmonics create a whole other level of melodic counterpoint. Not only do the vocals range from the growled, clean, whispered and shrieked but in how they work together to create a larger atmospheric experience.

Sometimes one vocal style will dominate whereas other times clean and shrieked vocals will trade off by ushering in a call and response sort of forum. While many a black metal album’s shrieked vocals are indecipherable, AGALLOCH create almost the most perfect balance of lush melodic musical passages with grainy irascibly charge yet well enunciated periods of black metal magic embedded into the folk dominated soundscapes. The ratio between the sleepy time folk tranquility and the majestic metal heft is meted out in a satisfyingly elegant proportions and while there are points when certain hypnotic post-rock passages appear to be wearing out their welcome, AGALLOCH has a firm understanding of just how far to milk any certain idea before pulling out the rug and taking a 180 stylistically speaking.

THE MANTLE also masters the art of the reprise, that is, simple melodic hooks that are introduced early on and then find their ways back into the mix only with completely different variations but somehow bring the feel of an epic journey where one must revisit past destinations before moving on. In addition to the aforementioned influences, THE MANTLE brings the epic grace of Opeth to mind, especially from albums like “Morningrise” with the brilliant commingling of acoustic and electric elements but also finds epic bands like Pink Floyd-esque guitar solos and space rock feel in “The Hawthorne Passage.” The way that the entire album is laid out evokes a great rock opera and i detect many small touches that remind me of Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” not necessarily in musical delivery but in the compositional posturing and dynamic flow of one track to the next as they incorporate subtle sounds and themes (such as military march drumming and sound samples.)

AGALLOCH found musical perfection on THE MANTLE. All the elements that had been laid out so brilliantly on “Pale Folklore” aligned perfectly on this sophomore release. The album has become a classic in the metal world for great reason. This is one that has the double effect of being instantly addictive yet offers an infinite variety of details to offer satisfying repeat listens. In fact, this is one of those albums i can safely put on perpetual replay and never grow tired of hearing since it conveys such a vast array of moods, tones, textures and timbres graced with a sophisticated production that allows every little detail to shine through the grim, depressive atmospheric displays that permeate THE MANTLE’s post-apocalyptic soundscape. When it comes to a brilliant display of how folk, metal, post-rock and atmospheric ambient sounds are woven together, i cannot think of an example better than THE MANTLE. Just digging this out for a review led me to keep it on replay for several days straight and i’m still awed by it. THAT only happens when an album is friggin’ awesome beyond belief. Yep, THE MANTLE is just that.

AGALLOCH Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor

EP · 2001 · Folk Metal
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To the casual listener of AGALLOCH’s albums, it may be unclear as to whether the band is a black metal band dressed in dark neofolk clothing or a folk band that happens to delve in the metal universe, however it becomes clearer if one is to explore beyond the full-length albums and into the equal number of EPs. While on the albums, the mix is pretty even, on the EPs, most are totally dedicated to dark neofolk with no metal at all. AGALLOCH’s first album “Pale Folklore” came out in 1999 and starting with their next release they began a trend that would continue throughout their career. They would release an EP between each album. While most would be completely folk based, this first EP titled OF STONE, WIND AND PILLOR is the exception in that it is an eclectic mix of five tracks that differ quite substantially.

This was intended to be AGALLOCH’s debut to be released as a vinyl 7” that would include only the first three tracks: the title track, “Foliorum Viridium” (from the demo) and “Haunting Birds.” The title track displays the unique mix of black metal, post-rock and dark neofolk that would catapult AGALLOCH onto the world’s stage and become their signature sound. The track is more upbeat than anything else on this EP and would’ve fit well onto “Pale Folklore” as it emphasizes the shrieked black metal vocals, heavily distorted guitar riffing and atmospheric doom and gloom. The following two tracks “Foliorum Viridium” and “Haunting Birds” are completely different as they are instrumental and non-metal. The former, a haunting orchestrated symphonic affair with choral effects and the latter a recognizable early prototype of the introductory acoustic guitar folk layout that would begin “The Mantle” and would become its signature defining characteristic.

Since the project was put on hold until 2001 and released after the full-length “Pale Folklore,” the band decided to add two additional tracks. The first was the Sol Invictus cover “Kneel To The Cross” which offers an orchestrated atmospheric folk tinged melody that is enhanced by the repetitive vocal chants that break into a more recognizable dark neofolk style similar to “The Mantle” but deftly incorporates an interesting clean / shrieked vocal dynamic over the acoustic guitar melodic drive. The last tune is a musical score titled “A Poem By Yeats” which incorporates poetic prose of W.B. Yeats poem “The Sorrow Of Love.” This track is another heavily symphonic neofolk offering that displays AGALLOCH’s mastery of the darkened acoustic world with layered atmospheric elements. It also includes a beautiful piano run that ushers in a shoegazy mix of keyboards, vocals and echo effects. The melodies are beautiful and soaring as the poetry is reciting in spoken prose.

Although OF STONE, WIND, AND PILLOR was intended to be the debut preceding “Pale Folklore,” i find that it works as the perfect bridge that leads up to “The Mantle” as it displays the logical extension from the black metal dominated debut to the more post-rock / dark neofolk laced sophomore album. While the EPs in AGALLOCH’s canon have been ignored in favor of their more lengthy full-length albums, this one is quite majestic in its short 28 minute time run. The melodics are melancholic and haunting and while eschewing the metal almost completely displays in perfect form how well AGALLOCH were at concocting sophisticated compositions based on heart-tugging melodies. The only complaint i have is that it has an annoying silent stretch at the end with some pig squeals that finish it off. I wouldn’t complain if it were longer either but it is an EP, but a really, really good one nonetheless.

AGALLOCH Pale Folklore

Album · 1999 · Folk Metal
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American rock history has rarely been in the forefront of the European scenes as it seems the US has always been playing catch up rather than being innovators but every once in a while, a band or two happens to catch the rest of the world off guard with something completely bold, daring and original. This applies to the heavy metal universe as well. One example is when the Texas based Watchtower exemplified the bombast and fury of 80s metal and applied it to an adventurous progressive rock paradigm. The world would never be the same. One could also argue that the Portland, Oregon based AGALLOCH has had much of the same effect on the post-second wave black metal that has become a staple of the 21st century extreme metal world and has allowed a relentless explorative pursuit within the black metal world ever since.

This band dates back to 1995 when guitarist / vocalist John Haughm (formerly of Sculptured) and keyboardist Shane Breyer (formerly of Susurrus Inanis) began to take early explorative measures in the black metal universe that would amalgamate the disparate worlds of black metal, post-rock and progressive rock with the neofolk of bands like Death In June. As soon as guitarist Don Anderson (also formerly of Sculptured) joined, the band set out to record their first demo tape “From Which Of This Oak” which was released in 1997. While still deeply rooted in black metal, the band had hit upon their own style and with the addition of Jason Walton on drums, the band would forge their unique style that would be unleashed onto an unsuspecting world with their full-length debut PALE FOLKLORE in 1999 just in time for a new millennium.

AGALLOCH immediately scored a unique eclectic mix of musical elements that hitherto had only been attempted by Scandinavian bands such as Ulver, Opeth and Amorphis. PALE FOLKLORE features a mature homegrown integration of doom and black metal along with acoustic folk arpeggios and post-rock compositional structures that sprawled into lengthy melancholic tracks that exhibited a wide range of growled, clean, whispered and shrieked vocals. The pagan based themes in the lyrics focused on depression, nature, folklore and the supernatural all splayed in a post-rock nonchalance that set up mood altering passages that found closure with heavy black metal crescendocore. Unique to this debut was also the female operatic vocals that occasional pop in performed by Anderson’s girlfriend of the time. While the album took three years to write and record, only one track from the demo, “As Embers Dress The Sky” make it on PALE FOLKLORE.

The album begins with an epic grace of the “She Painted Fire Across The Skyline” suite which in three movements perfectly prognosticated the evolution of black metal into the new millennium. The juxtaposition of the disparate metal, folk, post-rock and doom elements took the compositional flow of post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the neofolk of Death In June and layered in doom metal marches, black metal tremolo picking and distortion with the occasional flare of neoclassical elements bleeding through. Likewise the atmospheric properties of the keyboards added a frosty veneer over the aggressive metal passages assuaged by acoustic folk melodies. Add the disparate vocal styles and the extraordinarily diverse drumming patterns and the result was one of the most unique metal albums of 1999. The band has cited that in addition to Ulver and Godspeed You!, influences include Katatonia, The 3rd And The Mortal, Swans as well as music from movie soundtracks.

All in all PALE FOLKLORE may not be as focused as “The Mantle” or other subsequent albums but in effect lays the groundwork for all that would come and proved to be an influential release in its own right. Entrenched with soaring atmospheric orchestrations, keyboard tinklings, metal bombast in contrast to acoustic folk melodies, PALE FOLKLORE found a unique niche in between the orthodoxy of 90s black metal and even the Neurosis styled post-metal of the same era. AGALLOCH simply took the cross-pollinating effects of all these elements to a new level and managed to put the US on the map within the black metal world. If you ask me, AGALLOCH probably has the most in common with Sweden’s Opeth. They both exhibited a unique trading off between sensual acoustic guitar passages and bombastic metal explosiveness that were cleverly woven together. Out of all the AGALLOCH albums, PALE FOLKLORE is the most diverse in tempos, timbres, time signatures, vocal styles etc. A more than competent debut.

ENSIFERUM Victory Songs

Album · 2007 · Folk Metal
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mlkpad14
Loving this album!

Sometimes, I don't know whether I am more inclined to listen to classical music and post-rock or prog metal and doom metal. Well, that is where Ensiferum comes in, or folk metal in general; this is one of the better folk metal albums in my collection, so that is all very great!

Another interesting thing about this album, specifically, is that it really helps get my brain working and creative when it is turned off.

3.5 stars because I am not really a folk metal fan in general, but as I said, this is one of the better albums in the genre.

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