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

folk metal top albums

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folk metal Music Reviews

ALESTORM Curse of the Crystal Coconut

Album · 2020 · Folk Metal
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DippoMagoo
During these dark and trying times, music can be a good distraction, especially anything on the more fun and upbeat side, which is certainly an accurate description for British pirate metal band Alestorm. I’ve been a fan of them since just before the release of their third album, Back Through Time, which is when they really stepped up their game, going from a solid, amusing band, into an excellent, often hilarious band, with some of the most over the top, yet irresistibly addictive and catchy metal tracks imaginable. They followed up that album with two more wonderful albums in Sunset on the Golden Age and No Grave But the Sea, and they are now set to release their sixth full length album, Curse of the Crystal Coconut (a title inspired by the videogame series, Donkey Kong Country), and suffice to say, the band has once again delivered some of the most epic,silly and wildly entertaining metal tracks I’ve ever heard!

Anyone who’s heard Alestorm before should know exactly what to expect from Curse of the Crystal Coconut: The band has a clearly established sound, and they’ve found their winning formula at this point, so anyone familiar with the band should already know whether or not they’ll enjoy this particular album. As usual, there’s a steady blend of hard hitting, fast paced power metal (with the occasional hints of thrash riffs thrown in) some very fun and playful folk metal, and some epic, cinematic sounding symphonic metal, with the various elements often coming together for glorious results.

I found No Grave But the Sea toned down their power metal elements a bit, compared to usual, but this album seems to have brought it back to around normal levels, so fans can expect a nice variety in the tracks, with quite a few fun, upbeat power metal anthems, as well as some slower paced, more folk-infused tracks, some mid paced tracks and some tracks where everything comes together, as well as one particularly strange and hilarious oddball track. As always, Christopher Bowes strikes a great balance between performing an excellent pirate impersonation, while still singing well, while musically everything sounds great, with the guitars hitting hard at times, while the folk elements are done very well, and the symphonic arrangements are very epic, and help add extra flavor. Performances are flawless across the board, with the vocals, keys and folk elements being the highlights, as usual, and production is absolutely perfect, as expected from the band.

As much as I love Alestorm, I was a bit nervous about the songwriting going into album, as one of the first two singles left me less than impressed. Thankfully, though, this proved to be an outlier, as aside from one other questionable track, the songwriting here is excellent, as usual, with a few tracks in particular standing out as some of the band’s absolute best work to date. Kicking things off is lead single “Treasure Chest Party Quest”, a mid paced, but fairly upbeat track, with some nice rhythm guitars, a great use of folk elements, fun verses, and an extremely catchy chorus, complete with funny lyrics, as usual. It’s not one of the band’s all time best tracks, but it’s quite a lot of fun, and gets things off to a strong start.

Next is “Fannybaws”, a very upbeat track, with a nice main folk melody, as well as some great guitar work throughout. It alternates nicely between heavy and melodic throughout, with very fun verses, an insanely catchy, epic chorus, awesome pirate themed lyrics, and an excellent instrumental section in the second half, with an impressive, yet very melodic guitar solo and more wonderful folk melodies. It’s pretty much a classic Alestorm song, in all the best ways possible, and stands as one of my personal favorites. I remember when I first heard the track, I thought it should be a single, and then about a week later it was released as one, so I was very happy! Another instant highlight “Chomp Chomp”, one of the band’s classic, thrashy power metal tracks. The song moves at a frantic pace, and features a nice blend of thrahsy guitars, more wonderful folk melodies, intense verses and a very fun chorus, as usual, to go along with more hilarious lyrics, and one of the best solo sections on the album, where the music gets quite intense. It also features some excellent harsh vocals, performed by Finntroll’s Vreth.

I mentioned being a bit concerned about the album, and the reason for this was second single “Tortuga”, which simply did not impress me much, even after several listens. My main issue has to do with the main beat, which I find rather irritating, and once the keys are layered on top, it quickly starts to grate on my nerves. The chorus is actually very melodic, and stands as the clear highlight of the track, but it simply doesn’t show up often enough to save a track I otherwise don’t really enjoy. The big elephant in the room here is the inclusion of a rap section just over a minute in, performed by Rumahoy vocalist Captain Yarrface. I initially hated that part (because I tend to hate rap in general), but over time it’s grown on me, somewhat, to the point where I now find it tolerable, and even slightly funny. It and the chorus still can’t save an otherwise weak track, though.

Picking things right back up is the brilliantly titled “Zombies Ate My Pirate Ship”. I was expecting something completely wacky and out there, but for the most part, that’s not what the band did here. In fact, I’d say the band in general has a more fun side to them, where they can be super wild and silly, as well as a more complex, epic side to them, and if anything this track feels like a perfect blend of the two, with some of their most cinematic sounding symphonic arrangements ever, and an absolutely beautiful sounding, super melodic chorus, to go along with a wonderful middle section, featuring guest vocals from Patty Gurdy (who also plays hurdy gurdy throughout the album.) Musically, the track is quite nice, and has an epic feel to it, but on the other hand, the lyrics are every bit as silly as one would expect from looking at the name, complete with keyboardist Elliot Vernon screaming out some rather humorous lines throughout. It really feels like a perfect combination of everything I love about Alestorm, all in one track, and it’s definitely one of my favorite songs by them, to date!

The highlights keep coming with “Call of the Waves”, the fastest paced track on the album. It’s a very speedy, melodic power metal track, with more nice folk melodies, nice symphonic arrangements, and yet another very strong, catchy chorus. It’s less silly or intense compared to many of the other tracks, but it’s still an excellent, very fun track on its own. While there’s no title track, there is in fact a Donkey Kong Country themed track, as the band did a cover of “Pirate’s Scorn”, from the animated TV series, and they absolutely nailed it! Aside from the expected changes, such as making it much heavier and more metallic, the band also added in plenty of nice folk melodies, to freshen things up, as well as a really nice, entirely new instrumental section in the middle, while the track on the whole is quite faithful to the original, except with much stronger vocals and much better sounding music overall, while still maintaining the same level of silliness, complete with the absolutely incredible lyrics. In case that wasn’t silly enough, the band follows it up with “Shit Boat (No Fans)”, which is essentially their take on a fight song. I won’t go into full details on this one, as it’s only 74 seconds, and I wouldn’t wanna spoil the effect, but needless to say, it’s one of the most delightfully over the top and silly things I’ve ever heard! Following that is another fun track in “Pirate Metal Drinking Crew”, another fairly upbeat track, with great lyrics and a super fun, curse filled chorus. It feels like another classic Alestorm track, and is yet another winner.

The longest track on the album is “Wooden Leg Part 2 (The Woodening)”. Yep, the band seriously thought to make an 8 minute epic, as a follow up to one of their absolute silliest songs ever. As expected, this track feels like a longer, more stretched out take on the original, brilliantly reprising certain passages, while adding in epic symphonic arrangements, and updating some of the lyrics as the track goes on, while adding in some really epic choir vocals. I won’t spoil it, but things take an insanely goofy twist towards the end, and the final sequence is absolutely wild and ridiculous, in the best way possible! Overall, it’s a fantastic track, and would have made a great ending to the album. However, the band instead decided to close things off with “Henry Martin”, a cover of an old folk classic. The band performs it well enough, mostly performing it as an acoustic folk track, but I find the main melody a bit irritating, while the constant repetition of the lyrics drives me insane. Unfortunately, the track doesn’t work for me, but I won’t fault the band for it, because my biggest issues with it seem to come from the song itself, and not from anything the band did with it.

While I was initially a bit worried, Curse of the Crystal Coconuts has turned out to be yet another excellent Alestorm album. At this point, fans know what to expect, as this is yet another collection of insanely goofy, wildly entertaining pirate themed tracks, with a steady balance between power, folk and symphonic metal, as well as the occasional more epic sequences. Despite a couple weaker tracks, the album is amazing overall, with some of the band’s absolute best work to date, spread out fairly evenly throughout the album. Fans of the band are sure to love this, while anyone looking for fun pirate themed metal would be highly recommended to give this a listen, as it’s every bit as good as any other Alestorm album.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2020/05/17/alestorm-curse-of-the-crystal-coconut-review/

ELUVEITIE Live at Masters of Rock

Live album · 2019 · Folk Metal
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Kev Rowland
Like many others, I am a huge fan of the 2019 studio album from Eluveitie, ‘Ategnatos’, and this album was recorded that year in the Czech republic at the Masters of Rock Festival while they were promoting it. Consequently, there are five numbers from that album within this sixteen-song set, but they quite happily sit alongside the older material. The Swiss act have been mixing melodic death and folk metal for nearly 20 years now, and there are few who can match them in this environment. It takes a lot of musicians to create music as diverse as this, yet with nine onstage it still seems incredibly tight and powerful. The twin vocal attack is powerful, with both singers also able to shine in different styles, and neither feels the need to always be involved but lets the other take centre stage. They also have in their midst a genuine multi-instrumentalist in Matteo Sisti, who can move from blowing into things, strumming things, or hitting things as the need arises. This means he can totally change a song not only by the notes he is playing, but what he is playing them on.

The guitarists can be frantically going up and down the frets one second, or providing support to delicate violin the next, with death growls front and centre. They are an incredibly varied band, and unlike some within the genre who seem to be playing at attempting to mix the forms, they really believe in what they are doing and instead of bringing two forms together have instead created a brand new one. In many ways their approach to folk and metal is exactly the same as Fairport Convention and their approach to folk and rock. FC may have started as a West Coast-style group, but they soon embraced the tradition, and brought it into the current age and made it relevant to a new series of fans. That was in the Sixties (and amazingly they are still going, I even made the trek to see them at their 50th Anniversary festival in 2017), and Eluveitie have taken up the mantle for a new generation.

The sound is superb throughout, the intro tapes which are used here and there are good and clear, and both the band and audience are on fire. There are a few songs such as “Epona” which may just appeal to folk rock fans (those vocals are incredible), but for the most part this is a band who is way more metallic and intense than many real ale drinkers will be able to comprehend. Me? I think this is awesome from start to end.

ELVENKING Reader of the Runes - Divination

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
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DippoMagoo
While it is generally believed that most bands get worse over time, either through failed experimentation or because their music has gone stale, I find that to not be entirely accurate, as there are certainly many bands out there who have not only aged well, but have arguably put out some of their very best works to date, in recent years. One such band is Italian power/folk metal band Elvenking, who have never released a single album I would call less than great, and they have been on a particularly impressive run over the past seven years, with the trio of Era, The Pagan Manifesto and Secrets of the Magick Grimoire all being among my favorite releases by the band. Every time I hear they’re releasing a new album, I get excited, because I trust in them to always deliver something special, and so when I heard their tenth full length release, Reader of the Runes – Divination, would be coming this year and that it would be the start of a multi part concept, I was beyond excited, to say the least! Now that Reader of the Runes is here, I can safely say it continues the band’s ongoing winning streak, and manages to be possibly their best release to date!

At this point in their career, Elvenking has settled into their signature blend of speedy, aggressive power metal and epic folk metal, and while some releases towards the middle of their career were a bit experimental, their past couple of releases have felt like a seamless blend of all aspects of their music, with everything coming together perfectly. This trend continues with Reader of the Runes, as it feels like the band has figured their sound out completely, and they know exactly what they want to do, so fans of any of their previous releases, are definitely in for a treat! The album explores their sound to every extreme, with some very aggressive speedy passages, some more relaxing, uplifting folk passages, some more epic mid paced passages, and plenty of tracks that bring everything together, for one awesome package. The songs are generally straight-forward, with very catchy choruses, but between the excellent guitar work, symphonic arrangements and all kinds of different folk instruments, there is a lot going on at times, and many of the tracks alternate between different movements, with frequent tempo changes throughout. Instrumentally, the release is equal parts hard hitting, epic and very melodic, as always, and performances are fantastic across the board, while vocalist Damna sounds as distinct, intense and memorable as always, singing very powerfully at times, while also being able to rein in it and carry some epic melodies. He remains one of the most unique features of the band, with his very distinct voice, and while everything about the album is amazing, his vocals are my favorite part of it, as usual.

Songwriting has always been a strength for Elvenking, so it’s no surprise Reader of the Runes is yet another triumph, with nothing but greatness from start to finish. While I found the previous release, Secrets of the Magick Grimoire, to be book-ended with excellent tracks, and let down a tiny bit in the middle, this album is balanced all around, with my enjoyment never slipping off at all, throughout the entire release, across several listens: Just like The Pagan Manifesto, this album has a perfect a start, a perfect middle, and a perfect end.

The album opens with a brief intro, “Perthro”, which has various folk instrumentation and some epic chanting, as well as slight symphonic arrangements, and it’s a very relaxing, beautiful piece, which sets the tone wonderfully for what’s to come. Opening up the album in full force is “Heathen Divine”, which begins with more nice folk instrumentation before the guitars kick in and the pace picks up, never looking back. Verses are fairly fast paced, with some hard hitting riffs and fun vocal melodies, while the chorus goes full throttle and is the kind of epic, triumphant sounding chorus the band specializes in, except here it’s dialed up to the max, to somehow be even more awesome than usual. It’s certainly a wonderful way to kick off the album, and is one of the best choruses the band has ever written. The second half of the track mixes in some slightly slower passages, more epic vocal melodies and a great guitar solo, as well as an extra epic final run through the chorus. Overall, it’s an amazing song, and possibly my favorite on the entire album. The momentum doesn’t let up, though, as the first of two title tracks, “Divination” (also the third and most recent single,) is a fast paced, hard hitting track with some excellent riffs, furious verses, and a very fun, catchy choruses, which is a bit on the repetitive side, but in a way the band pulls off perfectly, so it ends up being energizing instead of annoying. There’s some nice folk melodies throughout, especially in the middle, to help make the track a wonderful blend of power and folk metal, like the band is capable of.

The first slower track on the album is second single “Silverseal”, a more relaxing, heavily folk infused track with some wonderful melodies. It moves along at a fairly slow but nice pace, with some relaxing, enjoyable verses, and the chorus is very melodic and warm, with some excellent vocals from Damna, but the highlight of the track is the wonderful folk instrumentation, especially in the middle, with some very nice melodies to accompany an epic guitar solo. Despite being on the slow side, it’s a very catchy track, and showcases the softer side of the band perfectly. Back on the heavier side of things, “The Misfortune of Virtue” starts off with more nice folk melodies, before turning into one of the heavier tracks on the album, with some pretty extreme sounding guitar work, and furious blast beats, at points. It’s mostly a fast paced track, with very heavy verses and instrumental sections, though the chorus is actually very soft and has some beautiful folk melodies, so it’s yet another case of the band blending the different aspects of their sound together perfectly. Once again on the softer side, “Eternal Eleanor” has some very soft, melodic guitar work, as well as a ton of folk instrumentation. It’s the calmest, most relaxing and most beautiful track on the album, with Damna singing very smoothly, and yet with a ton of emotion, giving a stunning performance. It feels like a classic folk tale set to music, with minor metal elements throughout, as well as slight symphonic arrangements. It has very nice verses and a huge, epic chorus, which only gets better towards the end, as it the sound gets bigger in scope and scale. Overall, it’s an incredible track, and one of my personal favorites. Following that is the brief interlude “Diamonds in the Night”, a largely acoustic folk infused ballad, which teases the chorus of the album ending second title track. It’s a brief, but very nice track, and serves as a nice interlude.

The lead single is “Under the Sign of a Black Star”, another softer, more folk infused track, though it has a bit more bite to it, thanks to some slightly heavy guitar work. Verses are fairly laid back, but still engaging, while the chorus is the kind of upbeat, epic and heartwarming material the band excels at, with some excellent vocal melodies, as always. The track has some heavy instrumental work in the second half, but it’s still a very nice, melodic folk metal track, overall. Getting back on the speedier side, “Malefica Doctrine” is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, and it does a nice job of alternating between speedy verses, with some very flashy guitar work, and a slower, epic chorus, with more wonderful vocals and folk melodies. The track varies in tempo a lot throughout, as well as alternating between heavy power metal passages, and lighter folk passages, to help make it another excellent blend of the band’s two styles. Next is “Sic Temper Tyrannis”, a more straight-forward track, which stays at a more moderate pace throughout. It has some epic symphonic arrangements, and is another heavier track, with a very epic, catchy chorus. The folk melodies are a bit more downplayed, compared to normal, but they’re still in there, though the track leans more towards symphonic power metal, overall, and does an excellent job of it.

Back on the more complicated side of things is “Warden of the Bane”, another track which alternates between some heavier passages, and some more melodic, epic folk passages. It gets a bit dark during the verses, before the uplifting melodies kick in for the chorus, and it alternates nicely between fast and slow passages, while being pretty heavy in spots, and beautiful in other sections. It’s another excellent track, overall. Closing out the album is the second title track “Reader of the Runes – Book I”, a near 11 minute epic, which takes everything the rest of the album has going, and dials it up to the absolute max! It has some fast, heavy passages, more amazing folk melodies, epic symphonic arrangements, and one of the biggest, catchiest and best choruses on the entire album. It alternates nicely between soft and heavy, as usual, and has some great extended instrumental work, while still having plenty of excellent vocal melodies. It’s an epic track, overall, and an amazing way to close out the album!

Elvenking are one of those bands that always deliver an excellent album, every time, and Reader of the Runes – Divination is no exception. It contains the same seamless blend of speedy, hard hitting power metal, and epic, uplifting folk metal as usual, while having some epic symphonic arrangements, and plenty of memorable huge, epic choruses, as always. This band has only gotten better with age, and while I initially thought The Pagan Manifesto could be unbeatable, this album may have just proven me wrong! Either way, it’s an absolute must buy for fans of the band,a s well as anyone looking for some truly special power/folk metal, as there really aren’t any other bands in the world who can pull this sound off nearly as well as Elvenking can. And with the promise of a direct follow up, I can’t wait to hear what comes next!

Originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/08/31/elvenking-reader-of-the-runes-divination-review/

ELUVEITIE Ategnatos

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Kev Rowland
The Swiss septet have been making quite a name for themselves since their formation in 2002, but to my ears they haven’t always been as consistent as they might have been. When they are good they are very good indeed, but the mixing of melodic death with folk sometimes jars as opposed to gels. Well, with the release of this their eighth studio album they are back with a huge bang. I had long set myself the expectation that they would never again reach the heights of 2008’s ‘Slania’, but right from very first note this album grabs the attention and refuses to let go. Here they have channelled Midas, with everything they touch turning to pure gold. Chrigel Glanzmann has his melodic growls hitting just the right aspect, while Fabienne Erni’s pure clear sounds provide the contrast. In most bands she would be the solo singer, with not only great range but a real emotion in her voice, but her and Glanzmann share the stage and the band is all the better for it.

Often it is a whistle or recorder that can be the lead instrument, but when the band belt into full bore metal it is a brave piper who stands centre stage and weathers the storm. It is hard to pick a favourite, but “Deathwalker” stands out just because it is so damn catchy. This is one of the elements which has made this album leap out from others in that it is contains loads of great songs, with catchy riffs and hooks, so much so that one at times misses the maelstrom and sheer heavy mix of music which is going on as well. Incredibly heavy, yet always melodic, even when death metal is coming to the fore, with folk elements strongly alongside metal at all times. This isn’t a band throwing in a few bits and pieces just for the hell of it, but instead are taking the music of founding fathers Horslips and taking it to a logical conclusion. But have they reached the peak? What will come next after this one, how can they improve? The next release will be a live album later in the year during the course of their current world tour. 2019 has seen the masters of folk metal come back with a bang, long may it continue.



TROLLFEST Norwegian Fairytales

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
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Kev Rowland
I really don’t know how to read these guys. Are they serious or is it is just one almighty pisstake which has now been going on for well over a decade? Personally, I think it’s the latter, and having been onto their website and discovered their logo may seem threatening at one point until you realise it is comprised of plastic blow up toys, I am pretty sure I am correct. But whatever you think of them, the Norwegian nutters are back with yet another album, their eighth! This time around they have apparently released a concept based on various Norwegian myths and legends. Each track tells the story of a different ancient tale from the band's home country. For example, opener "Fjøsnissens Fjaseri" deals with a troll who, depending on how you treat him around Christmas, either lovingly takes care of your farm animals or simply razes them to the ground, and includes a guest appearance from BORKNAGAR/ex-DIMMU BORGIR singer ICS Vortex.

Even the press release is on the joke, saying that the album “grabs the listener by the neck and push them through 10 more anthems dealing with the devil, undead sailors and the obvious explanation why you just shouldn't feed any alcohol to your goats.” Look, it’s Trollfest. If you are a fan of this drunken style of folk metal then you will love it, and if you’re not then you won’t. Unless you also drink serious amounts of alcohol.

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