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Folk Metal

Folk Metal
February 08, 2016, 08:19:15 PM
There are many silly works within the category of music referred to as folk metal. In many cases, the quality of the music and the connection to folk music can both be questioned.
Some culture's folk music would probably not mix well with metal, like some styles of metal would probably not work well with folk music. Heavy metal and black metal seem like the best candidates to me. I think that an attempt to musically speak about the things that metal and folk music can have in common would result in the metallic parts resembling either heavy metal or black metal.


So my questions for you are:

Are there any folk metal bands that you think are good? Let me know why you like a band that you like. And if no band appeals to you, dissect a shitty one and explain why it's bad.

and

Is folk metal as a style capable of producing great music, or is it a flawed genre?


Re: Folk Metal
February 12, 2016, 08:25:30 AM
While I'm not that well versed in folk music, my impression is that some similarities between black metal and folkish music can be observed. For example in some folk music - I'm mostly at home with swedish folk music since, well I'm swedish - there is a lot of repetition on certain melodies or chunks of musical information that gradually metamorphose, in some cases without the listener being aware of it, depending on his/hers attentiveness and sensibility. The changes could be in the melodies themselves or their context, or both. The same could be said about some better black metal, could it not?

Re: Folk Metal
February 12, 2016, 08:28:09 AM
On topic... I can't really think of any good folk metal at this moment. The term leaves a somewhat sugary, but bad taste in my mouth. What kind of bands did you have in mind, voddy?

Re: Folk Metal
February 18, 2016, 06:03:03 AM
I was thinking about Ensiferum, Finntroll, and Saor.
I used to think Saor was okay, but not anymore. They have some good riffs, but they do not construct good pieces with them.

Finntroll was unbearable in the beginning due to keyboard cheese, but now I think that they have some very good works which describe a culture thas has a healthy attitude towards violence, lives in harmony with nature, is somewhat xenophobic, and very united in cause. I find that interesting. But like I said, I had to get over what seemed to be a formidable barrier of cheese to get to this point. The music often has fighting spirit, but is morally ambiguous. Actually, it is not that the music is cheesy. It is goofy. And I wondered how goofy music could ever describe something profound.

Examples tracks: Krigsmjöd, Skogens Hämnd


Ensiferum are two different bands. Old Ensiferum is like an atmospheric heavy metal band. Their music is  like heroic quasi mythological tales, with a dash of isolation and darkness. They have some decent polyphony, usually with three instruments following a major theme, but differing slightly in tone and rhytm, sometimes with one instrument playing some sort of counter melody.

Example track: Treacherous Gods, Token of Time

New Ensiferum is like a maximalist heavy metal band with slight touches of power metal. In the beginning, I had a hard time appreciating From Afar because it was a wall of sound which I could not distinguish individual details in, and Victory Songs because the depth of the music comes from the instruments relations to each other and what they create together - often greater than the sum of all individual parts.
The music has traits of northern European landscape (Winter on From Afar, Autumn on on Victory Songs), always during day time.

There is an obvious heroic tone of valour and fighting, more overt and vulgar than old Ensiferum.
Technically, they often have each instrument pick a tone in relation to the others, so for example, instrument A will form a 4 tonal paralell with the next instrument, which in turn forms a 5 tonal paralell with the next one.
Then, staying in this formation, they will move around and play melodies, usually differing in rhytm and occasionally wandering from their place in the formation, while orchestral backing accentuates and provides extra texture.

Example tracks, Winter: From Afar, Smoking Ruins
Example tracks, Autumn: Deathbringer from the sky, Blood is the price of glory

These bands are not death metal or black metal, and despite how unpopular this opinion probably is around here, I will defend these bands as quality heavy metal. I did not like either of them at first, but the more I listen to them, the more I appreciate the technical structuring as well as the romantic themes.

Tell me why I am wrong and they suck. Bring me your best reasons.

Re: Folk Metal
March 05, 2016, 08:40:02 AM
Thanks for the exposition voddy. I haven't heard any of those bands - except for one or two songs by Finntroll played to me by a friend some 10-15 years ago - so I'm not in a position to criticize or salute them really. What I can say is that I stay firm to my thesis that most folk metal is not very good metal or folk music! This convinction stems from earlier hearings of bands like Storm, Moonsorrow, etc. The genres just doesn't mix well when all you do is bring folkish melodies into a (often heavy) metal context. When you take - whether they are authentical recorded melodies or pastiches of folk material - to spice up your average metal it just sounds... too jolly and faux maybee? Many older folk musics often feature a vast emotional span encoded in melodies that on the surface sounds simple, but works tremendously well in their original context thanks to other factors like song structure, performances, timbre and whatnot. Almost all of this tends to get lost in folk metal. Or it's just that I haven't discovered the better groups  :)

I could go on about the so-called viking metal, but I guess noone's reading this anyway...

Re: Folk Metal
March 14, 2016, 06:08:16 PM
Thanks for the exposition voddy. I haven't heard any of those bands - except for one or two songs by Finntroll played to me by a friend some 10-15 years ago - so I'm not in a position to criticize or salute them really. What I can say is that I stay firm to my thesis that most folk metal is not very good metal or folk music! This convinction stems from earlier hearings of bands like Storm, Moonsorrow, etc. The genres just doesn't mix well when all you do is bring folkish melodies into a (often heavy) metal context. When you take - whether they are authentical recorded melodies or pastiches of folk material - to spice up your average metal it just sounds... too jolly and faux maybee? Many older folk musics often feature a vast emotional span encoded in melodies that on the surface sounds simple, but works tremendously well in their original context thanks to other factors like song structure, performances, timbre and whatnot. Almost all of this tends to get lost in folk metal. Or it's just that I haven't discovered the better groups  :)

I could go on about the so-called viking metal, but I guess noone's reading this anyway...

I haven't heard Storm or Moonsorrow, but I have heard Korpiklaani, and it just wasn't very good. It had an obvious romantic tone, but it was so obvious that it was doomed to being flat and shallow. There was no room for anything interesting or deep. This left the music only with the potential of being aesthetically and technically deep, but it wasn't particularly so. I'd rather just listen to Mozart for that, which I do on occasion.

I can imagine that creating bad folk metal is easy - just take some melodies which on the surface resemble Scandinavian folk music and place them next to metal riffs, in the same way that a band like Children of Bodom can be "neo classical".

What I think is compatible with metal about Scandinavian folk music, however, is the sentiment of existence being a struggle, while dealing with that without whining about it. This is apparent in the lyrics, but it also tinges the compositions themselves.
However, I have not seen this part of folk music being used a lot in folk metal. They tend to just grab surface elements.
Having said that, I stand by my comments on Ensiferum and Finntroll.

Re: Folk Metal
April 21, 2016, 12:57:53 AM
Some styles of metal would probably not work well with folk music. Heavy metal and black metal seem like the best candidates to me. I think that an attempt to musically speak about the things that metal and folk music can have in common would result in the metallic parts resembling either heavy metal or black metal.

I agree that heavy metal and black metal are the best templates for folk metal, though I cannot elaborate why. Perhaps because the former is the most "righteous" and provides the most room to accommodate folk melody, while the latter is the proudest and fiercest.

Quote
Are there any folk metal bands that you think are good? Let me know why you like a band that you like. And if no band appeals to you, dissect a shitty one and explain why it's bad.

I would point to Bathory - Hammerheart, Enslaved - Vikingligr Veldi, and Graveland - Thousand Swords as early successes of metal with a folkish spirit. Bathory is more anthemic, Enslaved more introspective and mystical, and Graveland more martial and hateful, but the three have a common "folk-like" feeling that I have trouble describing in words at the moment. Maybe it's the sense of prideful righteousness and triumph in the music. Maybe it's the larger-than-life feeling that they convey, suggesting that oft-overused word "epic." Maybe it's that certain bounciness or even danceable quality in some of the rhythms. Hammerheart is worth special mention because I think that it had a lot of influence on many bands that followed.

Storm and Otyg had a style that appeals to me on paper, and it sounds nice, but it doesn't actually hold my interest for some reason. On the other hand, I find Isengard - Høstmørke very captivating (particularly the first half of the album). It is so...righteous, for lack of a better word, and almost danceable, and I really enjoy Fenriz's prideful singing (Wongraven - Fjelltronen has that singing style too, but that is pure folk music).

The Baltic countries spawned a couple of excellent albums from musicians who felt the metal spirit kindled in their breast, namely Skyforger - Zobena Dziesma and Zpoan Vtenz - Gimę Nugalėt, but these albums are more or less pure folk music. Traditional folk music has a strong presence in Baltic cultures, so it is not surprising that these musicians, who probably grew up reciting old folk tunes, excelled in this area. The Skyforger album is incredibly inspiring and uplifting with its sense of nobility, honour, loyalty, courage, and general manliness, and for me it has a timeless quality. The Zpoan Vtenz album is very emotionally deep, and as a result it can be too gloomy for me, but maybe I am misinterpreting the tone of the music. For metal compositions by these musicians, I would suggest investigating Skyforger - Kauja Pie Saules, which though secondary to Zobena Dziesma is still of high quality, and maybe Ha Lela - Pabudimas and early Obtest (I am not very familiar with these last two).

Some resources for exploring traditional Baltic folk music:
Latvian folk music radio station: www.radiooira.lv
Baltic folk YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/KaukusPameskiet

In Flames - Lunar Strain is quite folky sounding, and I find it somewhat endearing, but I am a younger fellow who came to metal through melodeath, so I am pretty forgiving with this kind of stuff. I can understand if this music makes more veteran Hessians want to vomit. Admittedly, the songs don't go anywhere and the music is definitely too sweet sometimes, and those qualities are problematic in a metal context, so I think that this album should have been written as folk music instead. The choice seems logical, given that acoustic guitars and violins are already present.

Concerning the more mainstream variety of modern folk metal, I find most of it to be formulaic, rock-based, excessively saccharine, and shallow in content (as opposed to deep / heavy), with the folk elements feeling like insincere appendages that provide little more than novelty. For how "epic" the artists try to sound, the music is compositionally unadventurous and awfully cheesy. Regarding cheesiness, personally I do not have a problem with jolly or jubilant music, but it has its place. Upbeat or "happy" sections must be employed tactfully, especially in metal music. Furthermore, the music loses its credibility as soon as it loses its seriousness (music can be jolly without being a joke).

One modern band that stands above most folk metal groups is Moonsorrow. My opinion of them has waned, but some of their qualities that appealed and still appeal to me are: Their music has a large presence both in the moment and in terms of the scope / breadth of compositions; the songs are focused (they hold together as single visions); the songs flow smoothly; the music sounds wintry and possesses a certain elegance; and the tone is triumphant / victorious / euphoric / celebratory (though some of their music is dark). There are some legitimate criticisms of their music:
1. The music is too upbeat and cheesy. This is a common complaint about the genre, and if most folk metal bothers you for that reason, then the first three Moonsorrow albums will probably bother you too (though personally I do not find their music offensive, unlike that of many of their peers).
2. The music resembles rock in a bad way sometimes, in the sense that the "big" sound can end up resembling stadium rock.
3. The songs develop too slowly and never go anywhere in particular / never reach proper climaxes. Some people have described Moonsorrow as boring because of this. As trystero commented in another thread, "They drag on for far too long about not much at all. The aesthetic is very pleasant, some of the riffs are nice. It makes good background music."
4. The lyrics are too vague to be evocative, but this could be an issue of translation into English.

Notwithstanding these criticisms, I think that Moonsorrow is compositionally far superior and heavier in content than most of today's "folk metal." Grouping them with Ensiferum, Korpiklaani, etc. is a mistake, because they are in a different league. Sure, Moonsorrow is on tour with Korpiklaani right now, but as stated in this interview, "As far as the bands we like to tour with, the actual music doesn’t matter as much as the people. Because, we have to be on the same bus for a month so we really have to get along (laughs). [Korpiklaani] are an ideal partner because they are different music from us, but we feel it is the other side of the same coin. We do have some of the audience in common. I like their live shows; I’m not saying I like their music on the album, but we like their live shows."

Moonsorrow's formula is a heavy metal one, though their personal taste for black metal is occasionally evident. Their first album, Suden Uni, suffered from some goofiness and inconsistencies in tone and lacked a strong sense of individuality, but I would argue that they probably mastered the modern folk metal style on their second album Voimasta ja kunniasta, meaning that that is the most that can be accomplished with the style. After that, Moonsorrow made their most overtly rock album with Kivenkantaja. They then returned to more of a heavy metal style, but they explored territory that ostensibly separated them from their peers; their music became darker and very compositionally ambitious. Some Moonsorrow songs to try are "Sankarihauta" or "Kylän päässä" from Voimasta ja kunniasta (though if you are wont to think that folk metal is cheesy, these songs will not change your mind), "Raunioilla" or "Unohduksen Lapsi" from Kivenkantaja, and "Karhunkynsi" and "Muinaiset" from their newer style.

Moonsorrow, Skyforger, and Fenriz have all expressed, or at least implied, dissatisfaction with the state of folk metal today and that folk metal was better before it actually existed / solidified as a genre, back when only a few bands were attempting such a style.

One tangential style of music worth mentioning is the "dark folk" employed on albums like Empyrium - Where at Night the Wood Grouse Plays and Weiland, Tenhi - Kauan, and Vàli - Forlatt. This is a nocturnal, pensive, slightly sorrowful, mostly instrumental type of acoustic music that is likely to appeal to metal fans with its romantic spirit and evocations of the natural world. It provides an outlet for some emotions that would be inappropriate in a metal context, its subtle catharsis and soothing effect working beneath the soft sounds.

Quote
Is folk metal as a style capable of producing great music, or is it a flawed genre?

In general, folk music and metal exist for different reasons, express different truths (or different aspects of the truth), and serve different purposes, so they are best kept separate. Folk metal is a hybrid creation that can never fill both roles. That being said, great folk metal is possible (see examples above), but it is a flawed genre as long as metal musicians relegate themselves to darkness and evil and alienate themselves from the notion of goodness in humanity. This is why folk metal tends to proliferate in regions where senses of traditional culture, national pride, and loyalty to one's family and one's people are strong (e.g., the Baltic countries, Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, etc.): Traditional folk music is an expression of jollity and purity of spirit, and of beauty of culture, and therefore it is an expression of light. Therefore, metal has to move beyond the darkness in order to incorporate that light. Yet this is not really moving "beyond" so much as moving "back," or rediscovering an ancient expression of truth. Or maybe it's both at once.

Note: Edited Moonsorrow section on 22/04/16.

Re: Folk Metal
April 22, 2016, 11:16:26 PM
Thank you, Tree. I'll give serious attempt to your recommendations.
I haven't heard Baltic folk music yet, only Scandinavian folk music, and a tiny bit of Celtic music.

Vikingligr Veldi is great black metal. I agree with you on that. I haven't heard Graveland, and I should probably listen to more Bathory...

Lunar Strain has some melodies which would be at home in a Scandinavian folk piece. One track on the album, "Hårgalåten", is literally an old folk tune from Sweden.

You mentioned the problems with In Flames yourself, and I agree. Lunar Strain is their best / least bad album, probably.
If they had gotten better instead of worse after it, maybe they could have been a good band.


Re: Folk Metal
April 23, 2016, 12:19:19 AM
Thank you, Tree. I'll give serious attempt to your recommendations.
I haven't heard Baltic folk music yet, only Scandinavian folk music, and a tiny bit of Celtic music.

You are welcome. Don't feel any pressure to listen to all of the bands that I mentioned (or any of them at all for that matter, haha). I just wanted to express my thoughts completely.

Quote
Vikingligr Veldi is great black metal. I agree with you on that. I haven't heard Graveland, and I should probably listen to more Bathory...

Thousand Swords is the only Graveland album with which I am decently familiar. It has a hypnotic quality to it, and the combination of folkish music with hateful lyrics is fascinating (though I haven't decided whether it actually works well). On the other hand, the songs tend to blend together.

"I should probably listen to more Bathory" is a feeling with which I am familiar. Maybe my age is the reason, but I have trouble relating to or "getting into" any of the pre-Blood Fire Death albums.

Quote
Lunar Strain has some melodies which would be at home in a Scandinavian folk piece. One track on the album, "Hårgalåten", is literally an old folk tune from Sweden.

You mentioned the problems with In Flames yourself, and I agree. Lunar Strain is their best / least bad album, probably.
If they had gotten better instead of worse after it, maybe they could have been a good band.

I did not know that about "Hårgalåten", but the fact that an actual folk song fits with the rest of the material supports my proposition that they should have written a folk album instead of a metal album. My favorite In Flames material is probably the Subterranean EP, except for the emo lyrics. I think that the songwriting there is better than on Lunar Strain. I also still find The Jester Race somewhat enjoyable, maybe as a vestige of when I was first discovering metal, but I don't think that there is much - if any - deeper meaning in the music of In Flames.