The Path to Paradise Begins in Hell – Folk Metal

The Path to Paradise Begins In Hell

Last month, I discussed my love for industrial metal, and how one song shaped my entire adolescence before I fully landed in the German camp of industrial metal. Since writing the column, the song “Bye/Die” has become more prevalent as of late, as I am knuckles-deep into grad school and I haven’t had time to breathe. Thus, what better way to fully curse being a full-time student and being split in various camps than by humming a song about hoping some entities – in this case, my institution and select members of my immediate family – would fuck off and die?

If you can’t tell by now, humans have a tendency to categorize things because we like heuristics (shortcuts), and I am doing this because I like to organize what I know into small piles of easy-to-access information.

Also, for that one person who suggested other bands to check out: I do not consider Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson metal. They may be industrial and metal-like, but they are not metal to me. Like I have stated previously, labels are subjective, and while they do tend to crossover, I came to Nine Inch Nails later in life. As to the others, I might check them out, but we shall see.

Speaking of coming to things later in life, the next genre I want to explore is one that I came into because of fandom. While I never thought to involve myself into another fandom after what happened with symphonic metal, I watched from the sidelines while people talked about bands in this genre.

It’s time we talk about folk metal.

Full disclosure: I am not a folk metal person at all. I will listen to it and maybe bop my head to it, but, to that extent, my knowledge is limited.

In a sense, I knew folk music existed, but I never actually thought about folk music and metal being mixed together because that seemed strange to me. I also avoided the genre for years because I thought it was kind of stupid. Who the hell decides that folk and heavy metal should be mixed together? If it had been, the four years I spent dancing cueca would have been worth it.

I know – I sound like an ass, but hear me out.

After leaving the symphonic metal fandom and starting to stand on the sidelines of music fandom, I became friends and acquaintances of people who were involved in the folk/flok metal fandom on Tumblr. The folk/flok metal fandom focused a lot on the bands themselves, and some eventually became memes within that small community. That’s what lead to the “flok” in the name – the memes, fanart, and commentary on the numerous bands’ antics led to an amalgamation of fantastic and funny jokes that are still well known. Ask people about Time II and you get a slew of hilarious cracks at Wintersun.

Of course, this meant that I knew more about the antics of bands rather than their music, which endeared them to me and made them seem human. As I kept observing – and wishing to understand some of the inside jokes the fandom had – I eventually became more exposed to the bands’ histories. Thus, curiosity about the music itself.

Later, I eventually listened to a lot of folk metal and I began to change my perspective because, as it turned out, a lot of the bands whose songs I enjoyed dabbled into that genre. As far as black metal goes, they tend to go towards the folk route, especially if they have some acoustic backing.

I am looking at you, Agalloch.

However, let me backtrack a bit – there’s an origin story to all this, and it has to do with Amorphis.

“You I Need” and “House of Sleep”

During the bullet hell period where I just consumed and listened to as much music as my little heart could take, I ended up discovering my favorite Amorphis song of all time. I cannot give you an exact date when I found this song, but it must have been in either late 2009 or early 2010, because the song came up on one of my Pandora stations. That song was, of course, “House of Sleep,” and I remember watching the video on YouTube at a time where YouTube was barely starting to get traction as a site where you could watch videos. I remember being confused about everything the video had to show. Think about it – it was just some guy in dreads singing about sleep and love while his bandmates were playing in the background. However, the song was – and continues to be – a banger, and I loved it so much that I would go back to YouTube just to watch the video and listen to the song (since you couldn’t repeat the song on Pandora).

Eventually, my dabbling into “House of Sleep” led me to search for more of Amorphis’ music and I found the song “You I Need.” While thematically and musically different from “House of Sleep,” “You I Need” had the harsh, fast quality I was looking for in the music I was trying to immerse myself into. It also had that harsh scream that “House of Sleep” seemed to lack. It instantly became an earworm, a song I would remember even when I went straight into symphonic metal territory and didn’t surface for about four years. It always sat somewhere, at the back of my mind, and it was a song that I could replay from my memory banks when I needed it.

I eventually went back into Amorphis’ discography and listened to everything except for three albums – Tuonela, Elegy, and The Karelian Isthmus – and didn’t move from my need to pursue folk metal until my curiosity burned a hole in my brain. Amorphis was the only band I needed and wanted – I didn’t feel the need to pursue anything else because I was set. This was a band I enjoyed – and still do this day – and I had no desire to look for anything else because, hell, there was nothing else out there for me.

Oh, how naïve I was.

Eventually, I found more music – some somewhat obscure and some more well-known – and decided to listen to it without giving any further shits. However, keep this is mind: because there weren’t any overt folk elements, I didn’t consider them to be folk metal. Eventually, as I slowly began to dabble in the folk metal fandom – and understand some of the many inside jokes are still somewhat prevalent after years of people having moved towards other interests – I found myself enjoying it. While I have no desire to listen to any more folk metal at this point, I will listen to it if it comes up, especially because black metal tends to gravitate towards some folk tones.

Folk Metal Gateway Albums

Amorphis - The Beginning of Times

Amorphis – The Beginning of Times (2011): Because I saw Amorphis recently, I spent a lot of time preparing for that concert by listening to a lot of their main material – mainly, Under the Red Cloud, Evening with Friends at Huvila, and Queen of Time. However, it had been a while since I went back and listened to their older stuff and let me tell you, it was better the second time around. I went with The Beginning of Times, as this was the first album I officially heard from Amorphis in its entirety. Of course, at this point, I had listened to a few Amorphis tracks and had kept tabs as to where they came from, but I hadn’t listened to a full album. I still hadn’t heard a full album when I saw them for the first time as a supporting act for Nightwish in 2012, but it didn’t deter me from actually enjoying them.

Fast forward to late 2012/early 2013, and I learned to torrent well enough to begin looking for albums and having them cross-referenced. When I got my hands on The Beginning of Times and listened to it for the first time I was impressed as it gave me an introduction to folk metal and how it should sound like. However, after listening to it very recently, you can almost pinpoint where a shift towards a more prog-like tonality was coming from, and it was coming from this album. At the very beginning, you aren’t listening for the change; you are listening to enjoy the album and see what new things it had to offer. Back then, I wanted the experience of knowing what metal actually was, labels be damned. Now that I am older and have a better grasp of what Amorphis is doing, I now understand that The Beginning of Times was actually a great starting point for me to understand folk metal as a genre. Of course, the band has since shifted into something else entirely, but they have kept some of their folk tones embedded into their music. Listening to this album now makes me nostalgic, as it reminded of things before school got difficult, before a lot of things went wrong. It brings me great memories and a great semblance of joy, and gave me a reason to look outside of my comfort zone.

This, of course, leads me to an album that has a very special place in my heart, especially when the main member of said project is now involved with Borknagar.

Vintersorg - Orkan

Vintersorg – Orkan (2012): Have you ever fallen in love with someone’s voice before you realize that you are knee-deep into the concept of the album and that you will eventually spend a good portion of your sophomore year looking for a good torrent of this album before you actually find it literally YEARS later? Well, that was me when I first heard the song “Orkan” by Vintersorg when Pandora gave it to me, and I was so taken by the song that I wanted the album immediately. Of course, it took me years to find, but that didn’t stop me from listening to “Orkan” on repeat for about six months. However, because it took me so long, I decided to wait until I got my hands on Orkan (trans. “Hurricane”) in order to listen to it. When I got Spotify running and searched for the song, I couldn’t find it, but I did find Vintersorg’s newest at the time, Natturbal, and I listened to that instead.

What I love most about Andreas Hedlund – the man behind Vintersorg – is his dynamic voice. Frontmen and main vocalists have always been interesting to me, because the vocalists I am familiar with all have these great dynamic voices that makes them stand out from other singers in their respective genres. For example, I can recognize Anneke van Gierbergen anywhere because her voice is distinctive and I know it well enough now to know that it’s her singing on a record or a song. Hedlund’s voice is so distinctive to me that when I heard him growl on Winter Thrice I had to confirm that it was him. It turned out that he had joined Borknagar as a singer some time ago and had been working with them since. In between releases, he was also working on other projects and spending a lot of time doing Vintersorg stuff, which is why I am happy to talk about him and Orkan.

The thing about Orkan is that it’s part of a four-album series that has yet to be completed, as Hedlund released Till fjälls: Del II in 2017. Out of the three, Orkan is my favorite, followed by Natturbal, and then I haven’t listened to Jordpuls. It’s dynamic, orchestrated extremely well, and it has such a distinct beat that really makes the album vibrate with life. It makes me want to get up, dance, and headbang until I can’t move my neck in the morning. It gives me so much joy to actually listen to the album now that I am older, because I can appreciate it for what it is rather than when I was still listening to metal for the first time. Orkan is also one of those albums that feels like a deep cut, as if you have to ask someone about it. I feel like Vintersorg isn’t a band/project that you can access easily; you have to go through six degrees to the left of mainstream to find it.

Or you do what I do sometimes and type in a band that you think is interesting, only to connect the dots that the voice you heard at age 17 was the same voice screaming in a different band at age 22.

Korpiklaani - Noita

Korpiklaani – Noita (2015): Now we are moving into some mainstream territory!

I have mentioned the folk metal fandom and how their memes eventually led me to actually listen to the music of the more well-known bands in that genre. These include Korpiklaani, Ensiferum, Wintersun (for some reason; I don’t know why), Alestorm, Eluveitie (they were a favorite to be memed, especially because of their large amount of members), Finntroll, and Turisas, to name a few. Eventually, I went through a period where I listened to a good portion of these (except for Wintersun), and decided that, while it wasn’t for me, I still wanted to listen to something more recent for my own knowledge Enter Noita, Korpiklaani’s most recent effort at the time, which I liveblogged for my own amusement to understand what the hell this album was talking about. From what I could understand, the Finnish word “noita” translates to “witch” in English, although a more direct translation would be “medicine man.”

Rather than talk about how I felt about the album, I decided to present to you a collection of thoughts from my own liveblogging session back in 2015. Now, some context: a lot of the people in the fandom were excited about this album’s release, and I found myself caught up in the hype. Previously, I had only known Korpiklaani as a band filled with happy, little boozers who had a lot of fun getting drunk, but I didn’t know anything about their music. Thus, when I picked up Noita, I had no idea what to expect. What you are getting is my first impressions from some select tracks that I thought were the most intriguing.

On “Minä näin vedessä neidon”:

Why does “Minä näin vedessä neidon” sound so damn ominous? It sounds like Jonne decided to tell a ghost story that is sure to make you shit yourself. The slow drumming and accordion parts are not helping; this song becomes more of a “Dance Macabre”-esque sort of song than anything.  There is also that scream in the middle of the song that we can’t ignore. (x)

On “Lempo”:

This song makes me nostalgic, because it sounds like a story and I always feel sad when it ends. Granted, I have no idea what the song is talking about, but, because I have listened to it so many times before the album came out, it became a quick favorite. (x)

And, finally, on “Ämmänhauta”:

In regards to the music itself, this definitely sounds like a ballad, and although it’s very folksy, it still retains its metal overtones. The accordion rules the song, but the violin helps drive it. However, this goes to show you that vocals aren’t the only thing that makes a song unique; sometimes, the instruments help play a part and it may even outshine the vocals. (x)

I had a lot of fun writing about this album track-by-track, and I did a number of these before stopping them altogether in 2017.

Although it would eventually become something I am very selective about, folk metal is still something I look into and see what I can get from it. It’s not my favorite genre, but Amorphis definitely had a hand in leading me into that direction. It’s nostalgic for me to listen to these albums, because they all came at a time before a bunch of shit hit the fan.

Tune in next month as we talk about another genre in my limited knowledge, and why I think one of these singers would do well on another project that is not of his own doing.

Hasta la proxima!

– Hera

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