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A Beginner's Guide To Heavy Metal #14 - Folk Metal

Updated on December 14, 2013

From The Lands Of Old

The origins of heavy metal are in the blues, which influenced the earliest hard rock bands. In Europe, the earliest music that was drawn from was the folk music of their ancestors. Celtic folk music in places like Ireland and England, Norse music and mythology in the Scandinavian countries, these songs and styles were taken by some ambitious and creative musicians, upgraded with electric instruments and modern recording techniques and transformed into something new and wonderful: Folk metal. Heavy metal infused with old folk traditions, music and instruments to create a musical experience that both honors the traditions of old and brings them into modern times.



Skyclad - Wayward Sons Of Mother Earth

Many consider this album to be the first official entry into the sub-genre of folk metal and that is a title very well deserved. A tight and powerful metal album incorporating a traditional folk sound and a violin on several of the tracks, resulting in a bold and ambitious step forward in melding two of music's strongest entries. The song "Widdershin's Jig" has been sited as being especially important in laying the template for folk what folk metal would become.



Bathory - Hammerheart

One of the further sub-divisions of folk metal is Viking metal, which for a brief time was the only brand of folk metal we had. After pioneering the sound of black metal with his first few albums, Swedish metal master Quarthon had begun to delve into viking themes and mythology on the album Blood, Fire, Death. It was brought full front with this masterpiece, detailing tales of viking history and legend with an incredible metal backing that saw a complete change in sound from Bathory's black metal past, but still retained all of punch they had always had. Pioneers of metal through and through.

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Wintersun - Wintersun

Originally started as a side project of former Ensiferum guitarist Jari Maenpaa, Wintersun was supposed to be a way for him to explore his interest in melodic death metal. His background could not be escaped completely however, as there are traces of folk influence littered all throughout the album, creating an incredibly atmospheric musical force that makes the listener feel as though they were a traveler wandering through a frozen landscape in some foreign land.

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Waylander - Kindred Spirits

Another sub-division of folk metal is Celtic metal, which really is where the roots of folk metal have laid in general since Skyclad sought to incorporate the sound into their own. Waylander is one of the top names in the genre, as well as being one of the bands who originally began making the Celtic sound a complete part of their sound. The result is a truly good headbanging experience from this Irish powerhouse.

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Alestorm - Black Sails At Midnight

Three words on the promotional sticker gracing the album cover when I bought this album said everything I needed to know about this band in order to know I was going to enjoy it: Scottish Pirate Metal. And there is no better description of the sound contained within. Tales of adventure on the high seas, sea monsters, keelhauling and riches beyond your wildest dreams all told with uplifting and instantly memorable music with Scottish folk roots from this band of rowdy blokes, the Pirates of the Caribbean films probably would have a better reputation if they had let these guys do the soundtrack.

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In Extremo - Sængerkrieg

A German medieval metal band, combining traditional songs from the renaissance and middle ages and heavy metal, that many on this side of the Atlantic likely are not aware of. They've yet to have a big crossover in the States but are a prime example of quality folk metal. Lyrics and music both based on the traditional music they have embraced and originally composed by the band, this is a band that truly sounds like two eras coming together (and providing possibly the only place the hurdy-gurdy will ever have in metal).



Ensiferum - Unsung Heroes

Another incredible metal band from Finland (I may need to look into housing prices there), Ensiferum have described themselves as "heroic folk metal" and I cannot think of a better description, particularly on their most recent offering Unsung Heroes. Every song is like an epic tale from a book of ancient stories. High energy, catchy melodies, memorable riffs, they are one of the most in demand names in folk metal for a reason.

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Cruachan - The Morrigan's Call

If there is any band that could be considered the definition of Celtic metal, this is it. The perfect combination of traditional and metal instruments, original songs and metal versions of old folk songs, and for a time a dual vocal sound providing a great dynamic in their sound (clean vocalist Karen Gilligan left the band in 2008). Fortunately, we still have the recordings she left behind, this one in particular, to showcase the band at its most intricate, and provide an example of what true Irish Celtic metal should sound like.

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Finntroll - Nifelvind

If there is any name in folk metal you are likely to already know, it is this one. Combining elements of folk music and black metal, and singing mostly in Swedish despite being a Finnish band, if the trolls of ancient lore were to come out of hiding and pick up electric guitars, I'm fairly certain that this is what they would sound like. This is the highest charting album they have had in their home country to date, and multiple mentions in the show Metalocalypse have helped to spread their name around, but more than anything it is the amazing offering of their music that will cement their legacy.

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Tye - The Lay Of Thrym

Nowhere in music has Viking metal been delivered with more power, better melodies, more superb musicianship and more re-callings of ancient traditions than on this metal masterpiece from Faroe Island metalliers Tyr. Channeling their native land's traditional music, knowledge of Norse mythology and incredible musical skills, they crafted an album that is everything folk metal should be. They may not utilize the traditional instruments that most folk metal bands employ, but that absence is more than compensated for.

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The Legends Live On

If you ever want to have a metal party, most folk metal bands are the best bets. The energetic and often upbeat nature carried by many of them is perfect for keeping spirits high. Aside from that, much of it is just phenomenal music that I would recommend to anyone for any occasion. But it goes without saying it is best suited for good times with plenty of ale for all.

Honorable Mention

Amon Amarth

Although their lyrics pay great tribute to Norse mythology, musically they are far too aligned with melodic death metal for me to justify putting them on this list. They are however nonetheless an amazing band whose latest album Deceiver Of The Gods is an incredible offering of solid metal.

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      3 years ago

      Excellent article - I must say however, being one with a predilection for English, I do have one tiny criticism - the word in the fourth sentence of the skyclad paragraph is spelled "cited" not "sited". All the same though very well informed author, keep it up.


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