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Folk metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal music that originated in Europe in the early 1990’s and has since become more widespread. Folk metal, as the name suggests, is a fusion between various heavy metal styles and folk music. English band Skyclad is often credited for being the creators of folk metal for their 1991 album The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth, which featured a full time violinist alongside the more commonplace metal band setup of vocals, guitars, bass and drums. Many artists have since greatly expanded on the use of such instruments, with mandolins, banjos, flutes, whistles, bodhráns, hurdy gurdy and more all being featured in various folk metal releases.

There is no standard as to which metal genres can be merged with folk music to create folk metal, with bands ranging from more traditional heavy metal influences to extreme metal, with black metal being a common choice. Likewise there is no standard on how the folk influences should be utilised within a folk metal band. Mostly notably folk metal bands may or may not incorporate traditional instruments such as violins or tin whistles alongside the metal instrumentation. Some bands prefer to rely solely on keyboards to create a folksy atmosphere in their music (such as the first two albums by Russian band Arkona), while others prefer to play folksy lead melodies on electric guitars (such as German band Wolfchant and Norwegian band Storm). Because there are no standard norms for either side of folk metal it has grown considerably since the release of The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth to become one of the most diverse metal genres to exist. Bands can now range from the melodic to the extreme.

Since the genre's genesis, several regional variants of folk metal have also developed, the most notable being Celtic metal, Medieval metal and Oriental metal. The bands Cruachan (from Ireland), Subway to Sally (from Germany) and Orphaned Land (from Israel) are considered to be among the pioneers of each style respectively. While sometimes included under Oriental metal, metal music that makes use of folk elements from Eastern Asia is sometimes considered a folk metal subgenre of its own or distributed among other metal genres. For instance, Tang Dynasty and Fu Xi are both known for incorporating traditional Chinese instrumentation into their music, but the former are normally considered a traditional heavy metal band while the latter are considered a doom metal band.

Yet more terms have been coined that are commonly associated with folk metal: Viking metal and pagan metal. These terms however, while they can refer to folk metal, can just as often refer to another style entirely, the other style often being black metal. Terms such as these are usually used in regard to an artist based on their lyrical themes, rather than the sound of their music and as such artists labelled as such can sound very different from each other.

Folk metal has also often been crossed with other established genres of metal music to form distinct hybrids between two metal styles, where the folk influences may or may not be present in every song the artist writes, such as the power metal act Falconer. It is also not uncommon in modern metal music for folk influences to crop up as a rare occurrence such as in an introductory instrumental or even in a regular song.

The genre has become increasingly popular among metal fans over the years, reaching new heights in the 2000’s. Today folk metal bands hail from all over the world, although the genre itself remains most popular in Europe. Many bands have gained widespread attention from the metal press with bands such as Korpiklaani, Ensiferum and Finntroll numbering among the world’s most successful folk metal bands as of 2011.

Inclusive Folk Metal Genres

Celtic Metal is folk metal that draws specifically on Celtic folk music as a source for it's folk elements.

Medieval Metal is folk metal that draws specifically on medieval music as a source for it's folk elements. It is common for Medieval Metal bands to sing in German.

Oriental Metal is folk metal which draws influence from Middle-Eastern folk music such as Jewish and Arabic. The style tends to be more distinct than either Celtic Metal or Medieval Metal, which many listeners often just call Folk Metal.

- Written by adg211288 with the input of the Metal Music Archives Admin Team

Sub-genre collaborators (shared with Viking Metal):
  • adg211288

folk metal top albums

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WILDERUN Olden Tales & Deathly Trails Album Cover Olden Tales & Deathly Trails
4.76 | 10 ratings
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AGALLOCH The Mantle Album Cover The Mantle
4.41 | 86 ratings
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MOONSORROW V: Hävitetty Album Cover V: Hävitetty
4.44 | 27 ratings
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CRUACHAN Blood for the Blood God Album Cover Blood for the Blood God
4.66 | 9 ratings
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ORPHANED LAND The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR Album Cover The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR
4.41 | 29 ratings
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ELVENKING The Pagan Manifesto Album Cover The Pagan Manifesto
4.56 | 12 ratings
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ELVENKING Secrets of the Magick Grimoire Album Cover Secrets of the Magick Grimoire
4.68 | 6 ratings
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WOLFCHANT A Pagan Storm Album Cover A Pagan Storm
4.59 | 7 ratings
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MOONSORROW Jumalten aika Album Cover Jumalten aika
4.39 | 14 ratings
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ELVENKING Heathenreel Album Cover Heathenreel
4.34 | 18 ratings
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WILDERUN Sleep at the Edge of the Earth Album Cover Sleep at the Edge of the Earth
4.37 | 14 ratings
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ORPHANED LAND Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven Album Cover Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven
4.23 | 47 ratings
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OMUT Дзесяць шляхоў праз дрыгву

Album · 2014 · Folk Metal
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siLLy puPPy
OMUT is a folk metal band that started out in the southern Brest Region city of Drahichyn, Belarus but has since found a brighter future in the cosmopolitan capital city of Minsk. This band has been around since 2004 playing its unique mix of traditional Belarusian folk music and heavy metal but in that time has only released one EP and one full length album which came out first.

One of those bands that features its band name in the Latin script and the release titles in the Cyrillic, OMUT debuted in 2014 with Дзесяць шляхоў праз дрыгву ( Ten Ways Through A Quagmire in Belarusian) which refers to the region the band is from as the southern part of Belarus is known for its swamps and peat bogs. The band’s name OMUT means ‘whirlpool’ in the Belarusian language and all the titles are in the Belarusian language (more similar to Ukrainian) and not Russian giving it more of a nationalistic pride sort of feel.

This album features 10 tracks and clocks in at 36 minutes and 22 minutes. A very authentic folk metal album for sure. In fact the entire near 2-minute opening “Iорданская вода” is the traditional vocal styles performed by vocalist Elvira Stelmashuk and she is the main vocalist throughout the album however the album features the beauty and beast effect with vocalist Alles Maksimovič adding some cookie monster growls. They trade off and also sing together.

Slavic folk music is so distinct and OMUT does a great job at keeping it traditional. The female vocals are based completely in the traditional vocal styles of the regional folk music and the addition of the bayan (the Russian accordian) adds an extra layer of authenticity however the band does a great job adapting it to the world of metal music as well with excellent guitar riffs, bass and drumming that walks the fine line between the sensual folk music and the more aggressive metal. The metal vocals are sort of aiming at death metal but aren’t quite there. They are growly shouts.

Most of the tracks are on the speedier side of the folk music equation and sound like danceable Irish jigs only clearly derived from Eastern European traditional styles. While many folk metal bands simply use folk traditions to add some spice to their style of metal whether it be black, power or doom, OMUT is more based in the folk music and uses the metal as an accent as the folk aspects are never abandoned but the metal often drops out leaving just folk music performances. Slavic folk is addictive so it’s hard not to like this and the band does a great job adapting it to the metal universe. Pretty good actually.

EMPYRIUM Songs of Moors & Misty Fields

Album · 1997 · Folk Metal
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Empyrium continue their unique sound of Folk Doom Metal, with tons of Symphonic elements and a medieval touch for good measure. This one is an improvement over the debut on all fronts, having a good amount of variety in sound and dense, lush soundscapes of flute, keys, acoustics… all manner of folky instrumentation.

Melancholy permeates this release, but it’s not the depressive kind. This is an almost peaceful, romantic gloom, poetically painting beautiful nature scenery with admiration of love lost or unattainable. Vocals have a nice range of somewhat epic, deep cleans and Black Metal shrieks. The occasional double bass drumming adds great energy to this release as well, the band knowing when to kick things into doomy overdrive.

The music occasionally borders on boring, but most of the time, the rich orchestrations and gentle melodies are more than enough to carry the release. Very unique for its era, and still pleasant today.

SKYCLAD The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea

Album · 1995 · Folk Metal
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“The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea” marks the 4th album in a row Skyclad have taken the spot for best Folk Metal album. Despite creating the genre on their sophomore album years prior, not many other bands really contributed much to the scene! And so Skyclad are still reigning at the top with their tried-and-true Thrash-influenced Folky Heavy Metal.

This album has a little progress and change from their last effort, mostly in the fact that each song has a bit of a distinctive style, with different instruments contributing to them, albeit minimally. Opening track “Still Spinning Shrapnel” has one of their catchiest choruses yet, and the violin is quite prominent here. I was hoping most of the album would follow that style, but unfortunately this album kicks off with what is easily the best song. Still, there are fascinating lyrics all over this thing, almost every track has some unique identifiers, and it’s a bit more varied than their previous releases.

The stronger variation here leaves room for lower lows than their more consistent material. Slightly Ambient “A Stranger in the Garden” is a really unique song, but doesn’t do much for me and ends up being kind of boring, and closer “The Dance of the Dandy Hound” is a goofy bluegrass number that ends the album as weakly as possible. “Desperanto” is a great nod to their thrashier roots, but overall the lows of this album make it possibly their weakest so far in my opinion.

SKYCLAD Prince of the Poverty Line

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

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

SKYCLAD Jonah's Ark

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

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

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

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