Folk Metal

Folk Metal Radio

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Folk Metal Bands:
  1. Eluveitie Buy: CDs
  2. Enslaved
  3. Finntroll
  4. Korpiklaani Buy: CDs
  5. (NEW!) Turisas Buy: CDs
  6. Wintersun Buy: CDs
About Folk Metal:

Folk metal is a diverse collection of music, encompassing a wide variety of different styles and approaches. As the name suggests, the one common ground between folk metal bands is a shared interest in fusing heavy metal music with elements of folk music.


In 1990, the pioneering British band Skyclad was formed. Skyclad began as a thrash metal band with folk influences, most notably on the track "The Widdershins Jig" from their debut album, The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth. The band added a violinist to their ranks in 1991 and has since recorded their subsequent albums with a heavy emphasis on folk melodies delivered from the fiddle, keyboards and to a lesser extent, the guitars. The diverse influence on Skyclad's music include such bands as New Model Army, Tenpole Tudor, Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin.

The year 1990 also saw the release of the landmark album Hammerheart by Swedish outfit Bathory, an influential band that had already played a significant role in developing black metal in the early 1980s. An album from 1988, Blood Fire Death, had already signaled a change of direction but it was with Hammerheart that the metal world was formally introduced to the concept of viking metal, an approach closely related and often overlapping with folk metal.

The early 1990s saw the formation of a number of significant bands, most notably the Viking metal bands Enslaved in 1991 and Einherjer in 1993, as well as folk metallers Cruachan in 1992 and Waylander in 1993. The enigmatic Norwegian band In The Woods... had also formed in 1992, originally performing Viking metal before adopting a unique avant-garde approach from 1996. The Irish band Primordial began moving towards the direction of folk metal after originating as early as 1987 with a melodic black metal style. Mägo de Oz was another band that had formed in the late 1980s although it would not be until 1994 that their their debut album was released. A hybrid between folk metal and power metal, Mägo de Oz has found fame elusive outside their home country of Spain.

With the second wave of folk metal and Viking metal bands emerging in the second half of the 1990s, the two distinct genres began to merge. Bands such as Finntroll fused a path that blended the folk melodies and instrumentation of Skyclad and Cruachan with the darker, synths-oriented approach of Bathory and Enslaved. Folk metal from other parts of the world began to emerge in this period as well, with the Brazilians Tuatha de Danann being perhaps the most well-known. Ulver brought wider attention to the use of acoustic folk instrumentation with their second album Kveldssanger in 1996 while Empyrium, Mael Mórdha and Agalloch brought folk elements to the realm of doom metal. Shaman, a band that formed in 1993, introduced a specific form of folk singing named yoiking to a metal audience with their debut album Idja, released in 1999.

In the years since, folk metal has increased in popularity with an ever larger number of bands and fans. Many websites catering to heavy metal now devote a section to folk and Viking metal. Significantly, a number of bands have turned towards real live instrumentation instead of replicating folk sounds and melodies on synths. While Skyclad and Cruchan have long included a band member devoted to one or more folk instruments, the Swiss ensemble Eluveitie and the Finnish band Shaman turned Korpiklaani have gone further in including more than one member devoted to folk instruments. Korpiklaani includes an accordionist and a violinist in addition to the guitarists and drummer while four out of the eight members of Eluveitie perform on such instruments as Bagpipes, Flutes, Pipes, bodhrán, Hurdygurdy and Violin.

Musical characteristics

Folk metal bands can come across as vastly different from one another. They arrive at the genre from different backgrounds and sources. Consequently, they adopt different styles and idioms, resulting in an extremely varied collection. The differences apply to both the metal base of the music as well as the folk elements.

The range of metal styles in folk metal include black metal, thrash metal, death metal, power metal and doom metal. Some bands adopt a particular metal genre almost exclusively. Elvenking, for instance, utilized a power metal idiom while Windir had a black metal approach. Other bands blend more than one metal genre together with folk music, such as the symphonic doom metal path of Empyrium that eventually gave way into a neofolk direction. Other bands, such as Cruachan, blend different styles seamlessly and are generally referred to as just folk metal.

As most folk metal bands are from Europe, the most common folk music used is European. A Celtic style can be found in such Irish bands as Cruachan, Primordial, Geasa, Waylander and Mael Mórdha as well as bands outside Ireland, including Eluveitie and Tuatha de Danann. Scandinavian folk styles are represented by such bands as Finntroll, Týr, Korpiklaani, Glittertind and Trollfest. Beyond that, one can find many other styles of folk music as pursued by bands from the respective country or ethnic group. This includes Moravian (Silent Stream of Godless Elegy), Latvian (Skyforger), Lithuanian (Obtest), Estonian (Metsatöll), Belarusian (Znich), Hungarian (Dalriada), Russian (Butterfly Temple, Arkona), Middle-Eastern (Melechesh, Orphaned Land) and even Native American (Guahaihoque, Tezkatlipoka, Ek, Mictlan). Names such as Celtic metal and Oriental metal (referring to the Middle-Eastern bands) have been used in reference to these particular styles of folk metal while other neologisms such as Native American metal or tribal metal can be commonly found as well.

Folk metal bands not only differ in their choice of metal style or folk style but also in the manner in which they bring the two elements together. A band can choose to play a folk melody on a folk instrument, the electric guitar or both. Folk melodies can be found over a metal rhythm or metal riffs can be found over folk rhythms. The folk melody can be original or traditional. At times, folk metal bands would perform arrangements or cover versions of an entire traditional folk song. The famous Irish song Spancill Hill has been covered by both Geasa and Cruachan. Bands could also cover songs or compositions from other genres and arrange them in a folk metal style. The famous Sabre Dance by Aram Khachaturian has been covered by at least two different folk metal bands, namely Skyclad and Butterfly Temple.

The wide variety of styles in folk metal means that one can find complex, progressive compositions alongside more simple song formats. Rousing chorus for fans to sing along with are not uncommon. Dance rhythms such as the Jig and the Polka can also be found.

The degree in which one can find folk elements in the music also varies from one band to another. Some perform mostly metal with folk music brought in only occasionally while others emphasize the folk element as an integral and constant part of their music. Many bands in heavy metal have brought in a little ethnic flavor to a particular song or feature an acoustic folk interlude or epilogue. A more substantive use of folk music would generally be required for a band to be considered as folk metal. This label can be quite misleading, however, as not all folk metal bands actually use genuine folk music. Many bands simply give an ethnic flavor to their music, comparable to the style of Dead Can Dance and other world fusion music.

Lyrical themes

Common lyrical themes in folk metal include a celebration of nature, an identification with medieval culture and neo-pagan beliefs as well as a hostility towards organized religion, particularly Christianity. The common occurrence of pagan lyrics have led some to use the term pagan metal in place of folk metal even though not all bands with pagan lyrics perform in a folk metal style, or indeed do all folk metal bands contain a pagan element.

Lyrics are often sung in the native language of the band members rather than English. Another common lyrical choice is a hedonistic celebration of drinking alcohol, most evident in such bands as Korpiklaani and Finntroll. A humorous lyrical obsession with trolls have led to such bands as Finntroll and Trollfest being tagged with the term troll metal. On the more serious side, bands such as Cruachan and Skyforger have set historical events pertaining to their particular culture into narration. Lyrics from mythology and contemporary fantasy are also frequently found, with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings being a particular popular subject matter amongst both folk and non-folk metal bands alike. Skyclad remains unique in folk metal for maintaining a strong left-libertarian political stance in their lyrics.

Folk metal bands are sometimes mistaken for harboring National Socialism sympathies, partly because of a common ground in using Romantic Nationalist lyrics and partly because of the use of pagan symbols that are often misconstrued as neo-nazi symbols. This has compelled a number of bands to publicly and explicitly disavow fascism and Nazism, including Wolfsangel, Summoning and Skyforger. That said, some folk metal bands, such as Nokturnal Mortum and Temnozor, actually are sympathetic to National Socialism.



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