The FOLK METAL Radar (Episode #1/2019)

I believe that the combination of heavy metal with folk and epic music is one of the most successful of the last thirty years. These two genres seem to have been born to be blended together and one reinforces the other. Unfortunately, however, all successful discoveries attract hordes of bands without ideas and creativity that seek to emerge by just following trends and fashions, without adding anything new to the genre that they play.

For this reason, I think it’s important to isolate those bands that really manage to produce something interesting and valid. In the case of folk metal music, I’m convinced that this means being able to produce songs that are folk and metal, which is something different from playing folk music with heavy metal instruments, or heavy metal with some folk melody inside.

In the first episode of my new digest dedicated to folk metal I’m presenting five albums that I consider the most relevant among those published since the beginning of 2019. You’ll find here both well-established formation but also some interesting underground stuff. As far as geography is concerned, we have one band from Noway (Týr), one from Italy (Furor Gallico), one from Denmark (Vanir), one from Romania (Dirty Shirts), and a multi-national collaborative project (Ahl Sina).

Enjoy this first episode of the folk metal radar, and stay tuned for future updates.



“Hel”, by Týr


Without any doubt, one of the most awaited events by all folk metal enthusiasts was the publication of the new album by Týr, the legendary band from the Faroe Islands. The LP, called Hel, interrupts in fact a gap of six years from their previous publication, which is also the longest time between two albums that they ever experienced to date.

Once released, Hel confirmed to be a very good record. In this respect, all the years that were spent waiting for the new album have been rewarded by the release of one of the most engaging and solid folk metal records of the recent times.

Those who have been following the band throughout their long career were probably expecting something even more brilliant, an album that could shine in the night like the “Northern Star” that the band was aiming in one of their most famous songs. But when a band is as good as Týr, it manages to excite even when it doesn’t reach the highest peaks of its production.


I’ve published a dedicated review of Týr‘s new album, you can read it from here.




“Troops of Pain”, by Ahl Sina


In the early days of the year, I had the opportunity to listen to an odd album called Troops of Pain, played by a curious band named Ahl Sina. After some study, I learned that Troops of Pain was conceived almost ten years ago, but only in recent times, the members of the band found themselves in the right condition to record and release the material. Ahl Sina, in true honesty, should be treated more as a collaborative project rather than a proper band, if only because their members never met and they assembled the songs by putting together pieces that were recorded in separate countries.

It’s not the first time that I come across to such kind of projects and usually the results depend very much on the basic idea that generated the collaboration, in particular on how strong and cohesive is the originating concept, because this shall compensate for the loss of naturalness that’s naturally caused by the absence of a direct and immediate relationship between the musicians. In the case of Ahl Sina, the unifying element was the idea to mix together the elements of traditional middle eastern music with the sounds of progressive metal and to use the music to tell about ancient, fascinating and timeless stories. Nothing particularly new, to tell the truth, and in fact, the album in its essence looks like one of many other entries in the widely explored genre of Oriental Extreme Metal. But there were two things that caught my attention and made me reconsider my first (negative) reaction about the LP.

First: in the album there are actually a few particularly nice and catchy songs (the best one, for me, is called Miracle Demise); when we listen to these tracks we manage to forget, at least for a brief span of time, the inaccuracies and defects that today affect Ahl Sina’s music: from the fairly approximate musical production which generated the muffled sounds we hear in the album, to the songwriting (practically there isn’t any harmonic development in the songs of the LP: all the instruments, and also the voice, seem to follow the same melodic lines).

Secondly, beyond the stylistic considerations, I perceive in this debut LP a genuineness of intents and a passion for oriental music and folk legends that effectively impregnate all the songs of the album. Therefore, despite Troops of Pain is definitely far from being the album which can shake and revolt the world of folk metal, there is still something good and curious in this music, something which makes this project worthy of a mention, and also of our encouragement for the future.



“Dark of the Ages”, by Furor Gallico


I am extremely pleased to mention in this article the new release from an Italian band that has already collected some notoriety in the international folk metal scene. The band is called Furor Gallico, they come from Lombardia, in the Northern part of my beautiful peninsula, and they have already turned ten years of activity.

Dusk of the Ages is Furor Gallico’s third and newest LP. The album offers a new collection of nice melodic songs that are inspired by the stories and the sounds of the Celtic tradition. One of the key characteristics of this album is definitely the duality: two voices (one growling and one angelic), two languages (some songs are in Italian, others in English), two types of sound (moments of melodic death metal are opposed to atmospheric sections with acoustic arrangements). All of these contrasting elements guarantee an internal dynamic for the songs that keep the record alive from the beginning to the end, although the musical offer remains somehow restricted within the same track that has already been travelled by many other bands.

A special note of merit goes to the acoustic sections, which in my opinion give the most exciting moments of the album. Who knows what would happen if these guys will decide one day to switch to 100% acoustic music.



“Allfather”, by Vanir


Danish band Vanir is not a newcomer in the international folk metal scene, as witnessed by the fact that as the band is turning the ten years of career they have already released their fifth studio album, called Allfather. Despite a certain prolificity in publications, however, these musicians from Roskilde have not yet achieved a celebrity and a success comparable to the commitment they have always shown in the production of new material.

Will Allfather be the record capable of projecting the band higher up in the ladder of success? Honestly, I’m not sure. The metal formula that this band proposes, in fact, seems too much a hybrid of different things that is likely to leave quite dissatisfied both those who seek epic and catchy songs and those who instead adore more complex and articulated musical structures. Vanir’s new record, in this respect, is quite in the middle between these two characteristics of folk/Viking metal, without being effective in either of them.

In summary, Allfather is an album with lots of good ideas and which highlights the dedication and the passion of the band when playing their music. At the same time, if I still recommend it for the diehard fans of Viking metal, the LP won’t remain among the things that have impressed me the most in this first part of the year.



“Letchology”, by Dirty Shirt


When we speak about the combination of metal with world music or folk music, typically we have in mind those cases where metal is influenced by Celtic, Nordic or Middle Eastern traditions. Every so often, however, we come across formations that are coming from areas of the World that are quite distant from the usual ones and, in these case, we may enjoy more curious variations of the “metal folk” recipe.

Last year we were impressed by Alien Weaponry, a young band from New Zealand which debuted with a formidable collection of groove songs marked by the sounds and the hymns of the Maori tradition. This year we could appreciate an album from Romania which is offering to the fans of this kind of mixtures a nice and funny version of metal that’s impregnated with the sounds and the melodies from Eastern Europe’s tradition. The band is called Dirty Shirt, and their most recent record is Letchology.

My approach towards folk metal is based on the idea that we shall always try to distinguish between the aspects of originality and curiosity, which are those which impress at first, and the absolute value of the music. In this respect, the initial reaction that I had with Letchology was that of a funny, curious, eccentric album, but not particularly significant from the point of view of the “metal” content. This is mainly because the band’s style is characterized by evident ease of accessibility and also the adoption of riffs and progressions that – if we except the ethnic flavours – don’t bring so much innovation to the culture of groove music.

After a few more listenings the situation has improved and, progressively, I recognized that behind such light-hearted and irreverent facade it’s possible to appreciate the effort of these guys in making each song of the album quite different from the others, and I could discern also a number of interesting ideas that remain valid even beyond the initial appearance of easy-listening metal.



I’m collecting the best folk metal songs of the year in a special playlist, called The FOLK METAL Radar. It’s now featuring a bunch of tracks but it’s going to grow with time.


Quick Review: “Hel” by Týr

In the course of the last twenty years, Faroese band Týr have gained the status of “masters of folk metal”, and many lovers of this genre of music include some of the band’s LPs among the best folk metal albums that were ever released. Even myself, who don’t belong to the family of the most diehard fans of folk metal, I’ve literally consumed some of their historical releases, especially the couple of albums that were published at the turn of the last decade (2009’s By the Light of the Northern Star and 2011’s The Lay of Thrym).

Despite the physiological ups and downs that characterize the discography of every band, especially those who’ve been playing for so long, there are – and there will always be – some special characteristics in the music of Týr that make their records so unique and enjoyable. These include the capacity to generate tangible feelings of bravery and courage, together with a “desire to fighting” that we can leverage also for our everyday battles.


Týr’s newest album, called Hel, interrupts a gap of six years from their previous LP, which is also the longest distance between two albums in their discography. That’s why all the fans of the band became immediately excited when the news of a new record started to circulate on the media.

One of the reasons for the time which passed after the previous record is that in the last years the band underwent through many important changes in the line-up, including the departure of one of the historical members of the formation. After 17 years spent with the band, in 2018 guitarist Terji Skibenæs announced his intention to quit. And because there were also a few replacements for the drummer’s seat, the result is that the new line-up of the band is for 50% different from the one which recorded the two masterpieces that I mentioned at the beginning of the article.

After so many years, it’s not easy to quantify how much a certain change of style is due to the changes in the band’s line-up rather than to a natural evolution in their musical sensibility. The fact, however, is that Týr’s new album, although still exciting and engaging, seems to have lost part of the immediacy and the facility to engage the listener which we appreciated in the band’s best works.


I consider Hel as a very good record, there is no doubt about it, and Týr confirms their status as one of the most important and valuable bands in the domain of folk and Viking metal. In this respect, all the years that were spent waiting for the new album have been rewarded by the release of one of the most engaging and solid folk metal records of the recent times. Those who have been following the band throughout their long career were probably expecting something even more brilliant, an album that could shine in the night like the “Northern Star” that the band was aiming in one of their most famous songs. But when a band is as good as Týr, it manages to excite even when it doesn’t reach the highest peaks of its production.

My overall rating for Hel is 7/10. Among the best songs of the album I can definitely mention Garmr, Far From the Worries of the World, and the two singles which anticipated the LP: Sunset Shore and Ragnars Kvæði.



Týr’s new album can be streamed from Spotify, and it’s now featured in The FOLK METAL radar, which is the playlist that collects the best songs released in 2019. Follow it, and check it periodically because it’s going to grow with time.


Quick Review: “Kulkija” by Korpiklaani

It’s actually impossible not to feel affection and appreciation for Korpiklaani, the Finnish band that since twenty five years are playing around with their catchy, happy and light-hearted folk metal. On the other hand, perhaps not everybody knows that differently from the majority of folk metal bands, which have included the folk element in their metal songs, Korpiklaani startedas a 100% folk band, adding only later in time the metal component inside their songs. It is no accident, therefore, that their music has always preserved that spirit of revelry, parties, meetings with old friends, and getting drunk.

 

 

It is also true, however, that age advances for everyone and this crazy style of life – and all the physical fatigue it entails – becomes increasingly difficult to sustain. Observing the career of the black wood clan (that’s the meaning of Korpiklaani in the finnish language) we see that the frequency of their publications is slowly decresing, and when we listen to their most recent works we also feel that some sign of tiredness begins to emerge also in their music.

It is as if a second transformation is taking place in the band’s lymph: day after dat the heavy-thrash components are becoming less significant and, in the end, it’s the folk root which remains the living part of their music. It’s not by chance, therefore, that among the 14 tracks of Kulkija, which is their latest studio LP, the less “metallic” pieces are those that seem more “alive” and inspired. like for example the beautiful Pellervoinen.

 

 

So what’s my overall opinion about Kulkija? For the time being, a narrow sufficiency. There are a bunch of very nice songs, those kind of tracks which give you good feelings, energy, and everything you expect from Korpiklaani. But there are also more repetitive pieces, poor in content, certainly less inspired than others. I am convinced that if someone in the production office had the courage to cut out from the album the 4 or 5 less emotional songs (and with fourteen total tracks it wasn’t for sure an impossible operation to do), the album – as a whole – would have gained in compactness and effectiveness. Perhaps this is what one should learn with age: at a certain point quality becomes more important than quantity.

Kulkija can be streamed from Spotify.

Highlights: Pellervoinen, Juomamaa and the opening track Neito.

 


 

 

Best New Music: PALO by Kalmah

I have undoubtely a passion for Melodic Death Metal and therefore I tend to overestimate the bands that play this kind of music, I must admit. But every so often there is an album whose value transcends the borders of its specific genre and objectively becomes an interesting work of art, regardless of the type of music it offers. Nonetheless, in the case of the Finnish band Kalmah, I have never devoted too much attention to their music, although they’re around since twenty years. By my fault, I should add.

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These five metalheads from Oulu have released this year a solid and powerful album, Palo, which has the merit to merge brilliantly a series of incredible melodies with the frantic rhythms and the complex structures of Death Metal. One of the most impressive elements of their new record is the maturity that the band has achieved in balancing the various components of their sound: the catchiness and intensity of the thrash metal sections, the articulated dynamics of death metal, and of course the folk elements that have always been one of the main characteristics of this group. And it is no coincidence, then, that Palo is probably the first album where Kalmah succeed in going above that threshold of quality which separates good records from exceptional records. Maturity, in this case, derives from the fact that Kalmah have now reached the eightheth album of their discography, and it’s further consolidated by the fact that the line-up is pratically the same since fifteen years ago, except for a change of keyboardist in 2012.

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In the evolutionary process that has led the band to consolidate their current sound we recognize an almost constant growth of the role of guitars, which today maintain an absolutely central role in the development of the songs of Palo. Both from the rhythmic and melodic points of view, the two guitars of Pekka and Antti Kokko dominate totally the scene and polarize almost constantly the listener’s attention. All the remaining instruments seem to accompany the game of reinforcements and chasing that the rhythmic and lead guitars like to play across all the songs. The track Take Me Away, in this sense, may be an example of the typical development of the songs of Palo: there is a melody played initially by the solo piano, on which the powerful guitars are inserted within twenty seconds into the track. From that moment on, it is essentially a succession of exciting riffs and guitar solos, with all the other members of the band contributing in the background.

A futher element of interest in this album it’s the fact that Kalmah have tried keep their style fresh, alive and somehow “modern”, both in terms of the overall production and also for the introduction of a few “groovy” sections that dont’s spoil at all the general quality of the work.

In summary, this is definitely a good release from Finland which can be easily appreciated by all lovers of Melodic Death but, more generally, by all fans of epic melodies and heavy sounds.

Palo was released on April 6th, 2018, on Spinefarm Records.


 

Best New Music: UNSUNG PROPHETS & DEAD MESSIAHS by Orphaned Land

My job brings me very often into the fascinating lands of Middle East, and as consequence I’ve always had a particular fondness for those groups that are able to infuse in their music the elements from the culture of that area. Therefore, it’s easy to understand why I alway looked with extreme interest to Orphaned Land, the Israeli metal band that many define as “the pioneers of oriental metal”. Unfortunately, however, too many times their work appeared to me something like a wasted opportunity. The concept followed by this band has always been intriguing and full of potentialities: to mix together Jewish, Arabic and other Asian music influences, then use the expressive capabilities of progressive metal as a glue. In addition to the musical aspect there was also the beauty of the message of universal peace and unity that these musicians have always conveied with their songs. But, as already mentioned, the result didn’t always lived up to the expectations, and the potential also. An aspect that sometimes has been lacking in their work was the capacity to merge the folk elements of their music in the structure of the songs, rather than just playing – with metal instruments – musical pieces that perhaps would have been even more expressive without so many distorted guitars. After all, this is the unstable equilibrium in which operate all the artists who try to fuse together expressive languages that were born from extremely different origins: it is easy for one of the two styles to prevail over the other, transforming the result into something extravagant but not very homogeneous. And because of that, after the initial curiosity of listening to new instruments and nice oriental melodies, many of the songs produced in the past by this group were soon forgotten. There were always, however, peaks of creativity that suddenly have made the band to re-emerge from the average mass of the ethnic bands, keeping alive the hope that eventually the final moment of maturity would come.

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Has this moment fnally arrived with Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs, the new album released by the band in 2018? The answer is not completely affirmative, yet, but we are definitely a span higher than the most recent productions of the group. The LP shows in fact an impressive stylistic consistency and the songs transmit an emotional power as we dind’t feel from them since many years ago. And coming back to the subject of the fusion between different genres and cultures, finally we have a sequence of beautiful “oriental metal songs” rather than just simple metal songs that imitate oriental music. Said in other words, in many tracks of the album we see that the specific dynamics of Middle Eastern music are guiding the development of the song, both in the riffing sections and the choruses.

Speaking abuout the music, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs offers a nice combination of progressive metal and  folk. The music is extremely accessible and melodic, but like the Arabian dates that grow on the palms in the desert of the Middle East, sweetness here is never cloying and it fills the body with vigor and energy.

Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs was released on January 26th, 2018.


 

HEAVY FOREVER – Volume 2 – Best of New Heavy Metal

Three months have passed since the first volume of the HEAVY FOREVER mixtape series, i.e. the periodical publication of the best and most recent heavy metal songs, selected and mixed by Guerino. In this time span there were a number of very good releases and at this point it was quite easy to assemble and produce a new powerful compilation with the best tracks from the most recent LPs with heavy, folk and power metal. Enjoy the playlist and check with regularity for new updates! As usual, a few additional information on the bands contributing to the mix are provided after the widget. Good listen and prepare for the fight!


 

The intro and the first proper track of the mixtape are taken from Amain, the new and third LP released by Finnish symphonic folk metallers Crimfall. This band has a strange story because at the end of last decade they were considered as one of the most promising groups in the symphonic metal scene, and they gained in fact quite a good reputation with the first two albums. From that moment, the band became almost silent for six years until this last release, which however seems to show that all the positive things that were said in the past about the Group are still valid today.

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The Privateer are a German “pirate metal horde”, active since 2007 and which released this year their third studio LP, The Goldsteen Lay, from which I selected the intriguing song Draft of the Strange. Their music is a curious blend of power metal and folk, with violins often breaking the heavyness of the guitar riffs. Accused sometimes to put more attention on their appearance than on the music, their last production contains however a couple of very good songs, and the last album is generally enjoyable and nice to hear.

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It may be strange at first to see Tau Cross contributing to an heavy metal playlist. The band, which is basically a post-punk multinational collective (or “supergroup”), released this year their highly anticipated second LP, Pillar of Fire, which follows their 2015’s debut album (Tau Cross). In both the two releases this group of skilled musicians shows a unique ability to move freely within multiple genres and influences, mixing together post-punk, hard rock, industrial and folk metal. The song selected for this playlist, On The Water, is a beautiful example of their incredible musical approach and you’ll see how the track fits well in this heavy metal compilation thanks to the powerful rhythms and abrasive and energetic anthems.

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The second part of the mix starts with Taipei Person – Allah Tea, that is one of the best tracks within Hydrograd, the sixth studio album by American rock band Stone Sour. Their last LP is maybe one of the best they produced so far and it sees the band particularly focused on the melodic aspect of their sound, with groovy rhytms and a lot of catchy anthems. The track embodies ca lassic heavy metal guitar riff and incorporates also hard rock and punk influences.

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The following couple of songs of the compilation come from two bands that have already appeared in the pages of this blog: we have the talented italian metallers of Arthemis, showcasing with the beautiful Undead their impressive thrash-oriented approach to heavy metal (they were also contributing to the first volume of the series), and Helengard, the contemporary folk metal project which is also a side project of two of the main members of the glourios band Kauan (I spoke some months ago about their free-to-download album).

 

The last and beautiful track of the mix is Avalanche and it’s taken from This Is the Sound, which is the debut album by Cellar Darling, the three-piece folk metal spin-off of Eluvetie.  After their split with the Swiss folk metal masters, the trio composed by singer Anna Murphy, drummer Merlin Sutter and guitarist and bassist Ivo Henzi, focused all of their energy into this new metal project, which fuses together a strong and heavy metal approach with poetic lyrical and folk elements.

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If you enjoyed the playlist, here you can access the first and succesful volume of the HEAVY METAL series, published on last June.


 

June 2017, Best Metal Album of the Month: Tarot by Æther Realm

Tarot, by U.S. metal band Æther Realm, is one of the most recent surprises in metal. The band, which plays an interesting fusion of melodic death metal, folk and heavy metal,  with the second release eventually managed to define an own and unique style, something that’s not easy to achieve in a kind of music that’s so strongly influenced by a few major and relevant groups such as Ensiferum and Wintersun.

What’s really good in this disc is the quality of the guitar riffs. In most of the times the guitars operate in background to support and amplify the melodic soundscapes that are created with keyboards and vocals, but at other times they break the melodiy with furious rhythms and fierce guitar rides.

The album is also characterized by a combination of clean vocals with growls and screams and the balance between these two styles is excellent and gives another positive element to most of the songs.

The distance between Æther Realm’s two full-length releases may have been a time-consuming trip, but it is time that the group have clearly taken advantage of, forging and smithing each of Tarot’s songs into battle-worthy weapons. The band have leaped past the initial fascination of a group out of North Carolina being able to create so well a sound that we usually associate with Scandinavian regions, vaulting into an area where they’ve been able to mature their sound enough that Æther Realm have really now become their own thing. (No Clean Singing)

 

Good and Free: Firebird by Helengard

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Helengard is a contemporary folk metal project found in 2005. Their discography, however, is not particularly rich given that they released their first album in 2010, which is now followed by a second album, Firebird, that has been shared a few days ago on Bandcamp.

The two musicians behind the group, however, are far to be unknown. Anton “Hvar” Belov (who plays all the instruments) and Alina “Witch_A.” (singer), are two of the supporting members of the legendary Kauan (a band that here in this blog we love beyond any reasonable limit). As a matter of fact, Helengard may be thus be considered an effective spinoff of the main project of the two artists. And this, by itself, makes this album definitely of interest to us.

In addition to that, there are a couple of relevant things to point out. First, the album may be downloaded for free in MP3, FLAC and other formats (actually you can name your price if you want to actively support the band). Second – and most important – the songs of the album are really nice to hear! Check it out.

Gift to Give Yourself: “Aava Tuulen Maa” by Kauan

You can download for free and at high-quality one of the masterpieces of ambient metal: the beautiful album Aava tuulen maa by Kauan. Released in 2009, this was the third LP from the Russian band. This album is particularly important in their career since it signed the definitive evolution of their sound from doom metal into a melancholic mixture of atmospheric neofolk and post-rock.

Aava tuulen maa is a brilliant, beautiful album that is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in post-rock or emotional music as a whole. The album’s atmosphere evokes feelings of hope and affinity with nature, and stands as the quintessential springtime album. (Sputnikmusic)

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