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
SKYCLAD
4.67 | 10 ratings
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TURISAS The Varangian Way Album Cover The Varangian Way
TURISAS
4.54 | 16 ratings
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ELVENKING The Pagan Manifesto Album Cover The Pagan Manifesto
ELVENKING
4.64 | 10 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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ENSIFERUM Ensiferum Album Cover Ensiferum
ENSIFERUM
4.44 | 26 ratings
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АРКОНА Во славу Великим! Album Cover Во славу Великим!
АРКОНА
4.55 | 13 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 Folk-Lore Album Cover Folk-Lore
CRUACHAN
4.45 | 14 ratings
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ELVENKING Heathenreel Album Cover Heathenreel
ELVENKING
4.40 | 16 ratings
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folk metal Music Reviews

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.

ELVENKING Secrets of the Magick Grimoire

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
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adg211288
Italy's Elvenking are pretty much a staple band of the folk metal and power metal genres by this point. While for a long time I've considered their peak to actually be their first album Heathenreel (2001), they've remained an incredible consistent band for me. Their fourth record The Scythe (2007) was one that took a while to appreciate, but most of their work has been easy to enjoy, with the primarily acoustic record Two Tragedy Poets (...and a Caravan of Weird Figures) (2008) also ending up a surprise highlight of their discography. They had a brief period where their releases tended to focus on either the folk or power metal aspect of their music more, but with their last album The Pagan Manifesto (2014) they returned to the fused folk-power metal sound that they started with. This reunification of their elements continues on Secrets of the Magick Grimoire (2017), Elvenking's ninth album.

The Pagan Manifesto was a great album. Certainly the best metal album that Elvenking had done since Heathenreel (though for my money I retain a great deal of affection for Two Tragedy Poets). The band have lost none of the momentum that made it so great in the three years since it's release, a recording gap that saw them release their first live album The Night of Nights (2015). It is fair to say that in terms of the elements used that Secrets of the Magick Grimoire is a more of the same kind of release. It's folk-power metal with a dash of symphonic elements, the latter being one of the elements that distinguishes this period of the band from the actual Heathenreel days, as well as it's follow-up Wyrd (2004). While some listeners may prefer a band who are more unpredictable with every release, which could be said of Elvenking for their 2006 – 2012 releases where everything from The Winter Wake (2006) to Era (2012) showcased something a bit different each time, on Secrets of the Magick Grimoire it's actually exactly what the doctor ordered. This album isn't so much a rehash of the previous but a refinement of its sound.

It's difficult to explain in words exactly why that is. The best way to realise it is to listen to the two releases back to back. While nothing can diminish how excellent The Pagan Manifesto was or that it had more than a few of its own nods to the early days, Secrets of the Magick Grimoire just feels even more like a throwback to their roots. Naturally it's better produced and polished being their ninth rather than their first album, but otherwise it would actually be easy to mistake this as an older release of the band, it sits so comfortably with their earlier material, while also being a natural follow-up to The Pagan Manifesto. While not necessarily untrue of the previous as well, the song-writing here really seems tailored to appeal to the old school fan.

The energy of the power metal genre is fully evident, while the folk melodies are very tastefully integrated. Yet the album is no less excellent during those parts where the band do dial things back a bit, such as during The Wolves Will be Howling Your Name. Vocalist Damn is on fine form throughout, his distinctive voice as always acting like the icing on the cake within the band's sound. He's joined here by a few guest vocalists, such as female vocalist Elisabetta Furlanetto. Elvenking have regularly had guest female singers on their albums and some of their best material has come out of those collaborations, which is true here as well. There are also growls, maybe a few less than on The Pagan Manifesto overall, this time performed by Angus Norder of the bands Nekrokraft and Witchery, rather than former band member Jarpen. The most high profile guest though has to be Snowy Shaw, known for acts such as Notre Dame and Mad Architect as well as several guest appearances with Therion, who appears on At the Court of the Wild Hunt.

There's nothing here that won't be able to convince you that Secrets of the Magick Grimoire isn't another excellent album from Elvenking. There are no dull moments, with every track on a par with the rest. There's a couple that stand out early on, for me being A Grain of Truth and 3 Ways to Magick, but repeat listens will assert everything to be on the same level. I'll always admit whenever I review an Elvenking record that my favouritism for Heathenreel has a bit to do with nostalgia – it was through that record that I discovered this wonderful thing called folk metal – but there's a good chance that with continuing exposure I'll come to regard this one even higher. For now though, it's absolutely in the top three albums from the band.

Additionally if you don't mind spending a few extra quid, it's well worth picking up a special edition of Secrets of the Magick Grimoire. This will net you an additional four tracks. The first two of these are Petalstorm and The Open Breach, both of which were previously Japanese bonus tracks on prior albums. The real draw of the bonus material though is the 2010 version Jigsaw Puzzle. This song originally appeared on Wyrd, the only album in Elvenking's back catalogue not to feature the voice of Damna, so it's a window into what might have been had he not had a couple of years out of the band. Finally there's the 2008 version of Skywards, which is an acoustic version of the song originally from Heathenreel, undoubtedly from the Two Tragedy Poets sessions, though it doesn't appear to have been released before as far as I can tell. All are very much worth having.

MOONSORROW Kivenkantaja

Album · 2003 · Folk Metal
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Warthur
I tend to find the whole "folk metal" thing highly hit and miss, particularly when bands don't integrate the two halves of that formula but simply play mediocre metal and mediocre folk music together and hope that the charms of both sides of the equation smooth over the holes. Moonsorrow's Kivenkantaja, on the other hand, absolutely does not do that, integrating the sounds and motifs of Scandinavian folk music into a majestic, sweeping, almost cinematic metal framework. The compositions tend towards longer tracks with epic, progressive rock-esque structures, and the overall effect wouldn't seem out of place as the soundtrack to an adaptation of some pagan saga of ancient days.

TÝR How Far to Asgaard

Album · 2001 · Folk Metal
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siLLy puPPy
While the tiny little territory called the Faroe Islands may hardly be on anybody’s radar as far as the world metal music scene is considered, this little rugged subpolar archipelago located just north of the UK and equidistant between Norway and Iceland could be considered an extension of the Scandinavian music scene in general. With only a population slightly over 50,000 inhabitants, the tiny territory has produced a significant number of metal bands alone (as well as other musical genres) ranging from Heljareyga, Hamferð, Vernon, Synarchy, Asyllex, Hatursvart, Terji to this review’s subject of choice TÝR which has managed to poise themselves as the islands’ greatest musical export. All these musical connections result in the fact that the Faroe Islands are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark with close ties to Copenhagen as well as the rest of the Nordic lands. The culture traces its language and history back to Old West Norse from the Middle Ages and the language is closely related to Icelandic which makes it one of the closest linguistic connections to the old Viking tongues of the past.

Not surprisingly the subject matter TÝR is almost exclusively steeped in Viking lore, mythology and history. Their name itself is derived from the god of law and justice in the Norse religion and the music is heavily steeped in kvæði, the traditional folk music of the Faroe Islands which consists of stanzas plus a chorus sung between every verse. The band was formed in 1998 when Heri Joensen and Kári Streymoy decided to get together and jam which resulted in a similar outlook of creating a style of musical that was designed to break down the walls that have been erected between the various styles of metal the that have been created thus the music of TÝR is a unique blend of power, doom, progressive, Viking, folk and traditional classic metal. The debut album “How Far To Asgaard” may sound like a tribute to the Lord Of The Rings style Tolkien-based themes but in reality “Asgarard” is one of the Nine Worlds and home to the Æsir tribe of gods in Norse Mythology. For the debut Pól Arni Holm was recruited for vocals and Gunnar H. Thomsen for the bass parts.

While TÝR would develop quite the epic progressive metal sound on subsequent albums, on the debut, “How Far To Asgaard” displays their knack for mixing all the styles of metal ingredients dispersed throughout the metal universe around a mostly traditional Faroese folk style of compositional construction complete with homegrown musical scales and quirky time signatures. The album starts off feeling more like a doom metal release with chugging and slowed down tempos as “Hail To The Hammer” and “Excavation” delve into the Viking world lyrically and plod along with downtrodden doom inspired riffs constructed with a folk feel and a progressive metal methodology of incorporating high register vocals and challenging time signature jitteriness. A classic 80s metal feel comes into the picture as well as the metal aspects tend to have a somewhat classic compositional style with verses, choruses and virtuosic guitar solos. The mix of all these styles may sound quite strange at first and it took me a few spins for “How Far To Asgaard” to sink in as i found i needed to calibrate my sensibilities to its quirky idiosyncrasies but after i did so found myself really loving the intricacies of how these tracks were constructed and the melodies become quite catchy once you catch the Faroese vibe.

My favorite tracks are those that think outside the box such as “Ten Wild Dogs” which uses a hammer on guitar lick as the guitar with a slightly warped sense of rhythm yet existing in the general framework of the established fusion sound TÝR have created. While the tracks are definitely metal based with Faroese folk mixed in, the track “Ormurin Langi” is a metal version of a traditional Faroese song and if anyone if familiar with some of the Pagan leaning black metal bands of Norway, Sweden and Finland such as Enslaved and Moonsorrow, this traditional style of Nordic folk music should sound quite familiar. The lyrics are mostly in English on “How Far To Asgaard” but native Faroese is also used in some choruses and of course on the traditional. Here’s another debut that i find myself against the grain on. True that it requires a little indoctrination to the subtleties and an education into the ethnomusicology folklore that it derives from, but once i put this on while driving on full audio emersion, i found i loved this one a lot as it’s some of the most authentic fusion of ethnic folk music and modern day metal i’ve ever heard and doesn’t resort to some of the beer chugging bards of future albums. Nice harmonics, instrumental counterpoints and history lessons. Excellent!

“How Far To Asgard” has been released twice. One with the original ominous purple sea album cover with the rune inspired band logo and again with an artistic vision of the Faroese landscape with Vikings gazing out from the clouds above. This second version re-released in 2008 on Napalm records after the band found more worldwide success contains the two bonus tracks "Ólavur Riddararós” and “Stýrisvølurin" which are two more examples of traditional Faroese folk music dressed up in metal clothing and are highly recommended. Not only do i like the second release better for the artwork and extra two tracks, but all the bad production gripes i’ve encountered regarded this album seem to have been rectified on this second go at it. While it’s taken me a while to get into the music of TÝR, i have to admit that after hearing a few albums, it was this debut that made it all click and now i’m hooked.

TENGGER CAVALRY Die on My Ride

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
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Sisslith
Folk metal is a very broad musical genre. It encompasses a wide range of styles, from "Celtic metal" (e.g. Skiltron) to "Mesopotamian metal" (e.g. Melechesh). I’ve listened to many different forms of folk metal, the last one being "Chinese metal" by Dream Spirit. But never before had I heard of a "Mongolian metal" band.

Tengger Cavalry, which means something like "cavalry of the sky god" (Tengger seems to derive from Tengri, a Mongolian and Turkic deity), have been in the metal scene for seven years. They are quite a prolific band since they have released thirteen studio albums so far. "Die on My Ride" is their penultimate offering, and it is an unusual one.

On the one hand, the instrumental work is the highlight of the album. Although most of the guitar riffs and solos are pretty basic and simple, some of them (the galloping riffs on Die on My Ride or the ones on Cursed, for example) are catchy and interesting enough to keep the listener’s attention. Nevertheless, a few songs, such as Independence Day and To the Sky feature several parts that are extremely dull and uninspired. To be honest, at those moments I just wanted to skip both songs.

Now then, not everything is doom and gloom. The folk passages are undoubtedly the best part of the record. For instance, the opener track, Snow, is perfect to set the mood: the igil and the morin khuur, accompanied by a delicate piano, create some emotive and slow folk melodies. It is also noteworthy how these instruments are effectively used on other tracks like Die on My Ride (my favourite song of the album), Strike and Me Against Me.

On the other hand, the vocal performance is the main flaw of this album. Throat singing is characteristic of Mongolia’s traditional music. It is a curious and odd way of singing, but in this record the raspy vocals don’t convey anything to me -definitely not my cup of tea. The auto-tuned vocals on Ashley (yes, you read well, auto-tuned) are the last straw. They are completely random after five Mongolian throat singing pieces and make the album feel rather messy, even though it’s just one song. The choruses, however, are great: they sound pretty epic and, oftentimes, give a vibe of nomadism.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy this album after all. The positive aspects don’t make up for the bland and slightly haphazard songwriting. Die on My Ride features some notable songs and an extremely appealing folk sound, but Tengger Cavalry should improve many aspects of their music, especially the guitar riffs. However, music is one of the most subjective things and I am sure that a lot of metalheads might appreciate this record much more than I do. Lastly, I would recommend listening to this release if you like folk metal and want to discover different and distinctive sounds.

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