The essence of folk metal should be to combine traditional folk music with metal, yet this is a standard many practitioners of the genre don’t exactly reach — bands are often content with simply doing black or power metal with folk-sounding melodies, forgoing any real integration between past and present beyond the most superficial. Spearheaded by a powerful performance from vocalist Liv Hope, Fredlös effectually combine subject matter and music to demonstrate how real folk metal is done with their self-titled debut Fredlös.
The heavy aspects of Fredlös aren’t rooted in one genre, yet it’s the doom-heavy songs where the album shines the most; these have a great ebb and flow between crushing guitars and folk melodies from the vocals and violin. “Otto” is the best example of this, acting as a funerary dirge for the peasantry replete with mournful violin and multilayered vocals in its choruses. The title track is more of a standard mid-tempo folk metal song, but a standout guest vocal performance from Månegarm’s Erik Grawsiö keeps it interesting. Yet it is Liv Hope’s vocals that carry the entire album with their dark, haunting beauty, especially when paired with the violin — as far as folk metal albums go this certainly isn’t one made for sitting around drinking and headbanging with friends, but Fredlös is all the better for it.
Conceptually Fredlös is similar to last year’s debut from fellow Swedes Änterbila, albeit a few hundred years earlier in their nation’s history. The first two tracks set the stage for the struggles of the peasantry doomed to spend their lives toiling away in the fields under cruel yoke of both landlord and The Lord, followed by the ravages of the Black Death (“Farsot/Plague”) and subsequent peasant revolts (“Uppror/Rebellion”) that presumably arose out of changed labor relations long after the worst of the pandemic was over. The music follows along with these themes by leaving most of the violin behind once the plague hits and including more chug-heavy riffage during the rebellion portions of the album. This middle section is the least compelling instrumentally, but Liv Hope’s vocals keep the music fresh and continually rooted in the folk music of the past. 13-minute closer “Requiem” ties the entire album together in epic fashion by bringing back both violin and Grawsiö, concluding with Hope’s highest-register vocals on the entire album.
Rising above the oft-meager standards set by some of the most well-known peers in the genre, Fredlös have crafted an impressive debut album that truly manages to combine folk music with metal in a somber yet beautiful way. This is folk metal broken down to its very foundations, and hopefully more bands follow in their stead.
Fredlös will be available February 10 on Threeman Recordings. For more information on Fredlös, visit their Facebook and Instagram pages.