Tag Archives: Folk
Diurnal Aural Experiences: Fall of Rauros’ Banished from “The Light which Dwells in Rotten Wood” (2013)
Amorphis has been either hot and cold with me. Their brand of music has cool from a blast furnace to varying degrees of ballad style songs to death’n’roll. In all fairness, I only recently jumped into their music in 2008 or so when I listened to Silent Waters. This is still my favorite album by them, and while I have songs that I enjoy from Eclipse, Skyforger, and The Beginning of Time, I still yet find points at which I find myself rather off put by their sound.
For lack of a better descriptor, I’ll call them folk-inspired progressive Melodic Death Metal that has encountered more rock aspects of late than metal aspects. The folk comes in regarding their subject matter: the Kalevala, or essentially the Finnish set of folktales that establish and define that country’s national identity. If anything, one can never state that their music does not fit the thematics of their lyrical content. However, sometimes the lyrics border close to Power Metal cheesiness.
Circle, however, explodes into your brain the moment you hit play on the album. “Shades of Grey” is exactly what they describe when they stated that they wanted to hit your ear with a skull rattling riff. Tomi Jousten’s voice is stunningly clear, his growls aggressive and focused, his shrieks piercing and cold. The guitar section grabs you directly by the throat, demanding your attention. In other words, it is the perfect opener for this concept album.
Then, they scale back through “Mission,” “The Wanderer,” and “Narrow Path” hitting you with metal (instead of their typical rock ballads and movements), before ripping back into your flesh with “Hopeless Days.” “Narrow Path” is the most interesting of these songs because it introduces the flute sound which seems to be the call of the Nightbird (see “Nightbird’s Song”) in which the flute drives the guitar riff, giving the song a very folk inspired feel. The tremolo picked riffs leading into the hook are amazingly placed, creating some of the best music Amorphis has done since Silent Waters. “Hopeless Days” explodes “Narrow Path” into a new direction, its riff again shatteringly heavy. “Nightbird’s Song” is crafted through a true eye toward progressive music, pulling more of the black metal genre into their sound to create a frozen, dark night scape in sound. “Into the Abyss” brings back movements into their Death’n’Roll sound, where “Enchanted by the Moon” continues this more rock inspired music though with metal substance. The chorus is amazingly beautiful with the voice leading the guitar’s whining tone in the background in contrast.
“A New Day” is the worst song off this album, having a funeral dirge quality and quite honestly feels a bit like filler just because of how very much it reminds of “Mermaids” or “You I Need” from The Beginning of Time. Therefore, to alleviate this, I recommend the purchase of the deluxe edition so that you may finish with “Dead Man’s Dream” which is a black/death inspired romp, fusing their primary sound elements together well – it feels very folk, very metal, and very melancholic.
To be frank, this is the best album from Amorphis since 2007’s Silent Waters. I enjoyed this work, and fans of the band’s eras as pure on melodic death and death’n’roll should find things to enjoy off it. I believe that finally they were able to get the folk elements of their sounds to genuinely mesh with what they attempted in the metal and rock and roll aspects. In the end, Amorphis is a Finnish institution, a unique band that comes round maybe once or twice in a generation that is able to encapsulate a national identity through their music. In other words, Circle is a stunning album (a fact that I am absolutely pleased to write after being lukewarm on Skyforger and The Beginning of Time) and is a perfect example of that which I just wrote. For lack of a better way of writing this, Amorphis is now, in my opinion, the Finnish version of Iron Maiden, and should be remembered going forth as that type of institution. Yes, you may not enjoy every song off every album they write, but damn it, you are going to be entertained and you are going to feel more familiar with their heritage when you are done listening.
First, a word on Sky Burial. There are two major world religions that have practiced this: Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. It is only practiced currently by Buddhism in Tibet and is known as jhator, or the giving of alms to the birds. Its environmental impetus is simple to understand – the culture does not have enough room to bury their all their dead (meaning that this and cremation are the two most common ways to handle the dead) and to keep vultures away from population centers. Its cultural ramifications are far more broad. Obviously, it serves as a means to honor the dead, whose living shells are now empty, represents impermanence, and is a final act of giving to other living animals.
Echtra, whose name comes from Irish myth regarding a Hero’s Journey in the Otherworld, is a Cascadian Black/Folk Metal band from Olympia, Washington. Introduced via Temple of Torturous as a drone focused band, I was certain that I was absolutely terrified by this album (as I’m not a massive drone fan). However, the teasing materials promised a sonic exploration of the dissolution of our mortal coil and the impermanence of our existence. Sky Burial is a two part album, consisting of two 23 minute length songs. It is the first release of this band’s Passage Cycle and seems the moments after death and the initial moments of the transformation of consciousness.
The album opens with a sense of falling before finding a plaintive, pensive tone in its acoustic guitar. This sound repeats and persists in fragility even when the scathing cold droning electric guitars sweep in. Equal parts reflective and mysterious and obvious and demonstrative, this evokes a curious dissonance of warmth and cold in their sound; a definite explication that the appointed hour has come and gone, yet that there is hope therein found. I write obviously about the first song here because I greatly enjoyed this composition’s first 11 minutes most of all. It really drives home those emotions that Echtra seems to be trying to find.
The keyboard adds a further, nebulous layer of sound that aids in the creation of solemnity on the album. The use of the deep, nearly throat singing style vocals crafts this into a hymn. All things here feel restrained wisely and there seems to be no missteps in the composition of the album and its intended point. It is cold and inevitable, yet warmth and approachable. It does not push death as something to be feared, but rather something that one must transcend.
Echtra’s efforts are reminiscent of Agalloch’s; however, unlike a number of the other bands whose efforts mirror this style, Echtra gets it. Sky Burial is a wonderful exploration of the intended themes and offers the listener a chance to enjoy and consider the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death. At 46 minutes, it is not a lengthy listen and is wonderful chamber music, whose ambience and quality is one of the best I’ve heard this year.
Solo projects have become more common of recent, it seems, especially in black metal (see: Alcest, Ihsahn, Blut Aus Nord, &c). This Melbourne, Australia based project offers what they call an “atmospheric metal” approach to sound. Combining folk, metal, classical, and symphony, Aquilus’ sound is thick, rich, and layered. It never ever feels quite as heavy or as light as it seems. If Agalloch, using a similar sound, forged the Cascadian Black Metal genre, then Aquilus feels as if they are forging the Hymnal Black Metal approach.
In their bandcamp description, they tag their band as palatial metal and to an extent it is metal chamber music: think, dense, and yet still stunningly discernible in sound. It is like a thick smoke hanging in the top of the room. Its spirit slowly fades in the song “Nihil” and does not end until the last note of the “Night Bell.” No individual track stands out to me and none of the movements in the song feel unoriginal or derivative.
A simplistic description of their sound does it very little good and is hard to approximate. On one hand, it feels somewhat like an Agalloch-inspired black metal band using Catholic or church style symphonic; however, that is too simplistic because I honestly could probably spend entries describing individual songs off this album. Suffice to say, you always feel the acoustic sounds echoing in the background of the most soul crushing black metal, while the keys and synths build the energy of the music, all the while following a classical structure it seems.
In the end, this is a short review of this album because it is hard to qualify its density. It is like a layer cake with a new surprise in each layer. It will not be for everyone and cannot please the most sincere of prog fans or black metal fans. For those that enjoy it, even casually, be prepared for a ride.
Offering three songs today, all from folk metal projects.
First up is “Omnos” from Eluveitie’s acoustic album “Arcane Dominion I.” According to the band and their use of the Gaulish language as reconstructed by the University of Bern (Switzerland). This Swiss band that uses hurdy gurdy, mandolin, pan flutes, tin whistles, and other traditional sounds offers a folk song that is essentially a version of Red Riding Hood. It however illuminates a particular interesting facet of Gaulish culture, and indeed all of Celtic culture as a whole.=: emotional, physical, and sexual abuse were expressly prohibited by their legal system and was enforced with strict exile. The abuser was culturally represented as a wolf. I’ve included the embedded video and a link underneath it to the band’s forum where you can read the lyrics in English. I also recommend the song Dessumiis Luge off the same album (a song performed to the words of a curse found on a metal plate on the Chalmers Plain in France that dates to approximately 200 AD).
“Omnos” lyrics translated: HERE
Manegarm, a Swedish folk metal project whose metal I absolutely detest, released this wonderful work that is an acoustic focused EP titled “Urminnes Haevd.” Wonderfully relaxing music. See below for the embed video.
Finally, I offer the video to Regin Smidur (which is filled full of wondrous cheese for the fantasy metaller). By the Faroe Islands band, Tyr, this song is a good example of what folk music tied to metal can do, in my opinion.
Traditionally labeled as one of the most abrasive, cold, decadent and violent, Black Metal is often described, especially by modern, artistically minded musicians, as a genre filled with “corpse painted Satanic clowns” (Thank you, Blut Aus Nord). Its second wave is very much filled with aggressive, violently anti-religious sentiment and thought, culminating in the murder of Euronymous by Varg Vikernes of Mayhem/Burzum (this is a reason why I refuse to purchase his albums). Around the world, people that espouse far right political views to teach hatred, fear, misogyny, and racism often cling to the sonic atmosphere crafted by this genre (which is the reason why Alcest is such an amazing musician to craft warmth into an atmosphere so damned cold). Those these are shunned by the mainstream audience and musicians that perform this music.
For the uninitiated, Black Metal rose from the UK and Sweden almost simultaneously with the coming of two bands: Venom’s Black Metal (which turned 30 this week) and Bathory’s Bathory. Its instrumentation is standard: guitars, a bass, and drums. The guitars are typically heavily distorted, played in high pitch with the use of tremolo picking. Dissonance and the use of the tri-tone is commonly found, while the bass guitar is faded down even further in the mix than thrash metal (e.g: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer). Drums are used as an engine: providing double bass and blast beats. The genre is typically very lowly produced and offers an individualistic approach to music (see the prevalence of one man black metal bands around, such as Blut Aus Nord, Alcest [for the most part], Aquilius). Traditionally, the vocals, as founded by Quothorn from Bathory, are shrieking, rasping, and high pitched. The imagery evoked by these bands are decidedly anti-Christian or anti-religious, some bring in fantasy and philosophy, and others violence or anarchism (similar to punk). Like other genres, black metal began dividing out into its own sub-genres.
Noting all the above and the general demography of metal fans, the genre is renown for being primarily masculine (women are beginning in roads now, specifically in the Middle East). However, a curious irregularity is found on one the seminal Black Metal releases: 1988’s Blood Fire Death by Sweden’s Bathory. One of the album’s most celebrated songs, “For All Those Who Have Died,” shares lyrical similarities to the Erica Jong poem from 1981’s Witches, “For All Those Who Have Died” (For the texts of the two pieces, go HERE for Bathory’s and HERE for Jong’s). Left Hand Path demonstrates controversies over the use of art by Jos Smith for Jong’s collection of poems for Bathory’s imagery (this article can be found HERE).
Jong’s poem speaks of the historical trials of femininity and the tortures a woman could endure for “delivering man into an imperfect world.” Quorthon’s lyrics remove gender from the equation; however, focus on similar images of bodies breaking on the wheel, and having to die to be cleansed of the sins for which they died. It offers a marginally different look at the same theme.
However, more to the point, this speaks more to the fact that Quorthon had actually involved himself emotionally enough with this feminine work that he brought it in song to the Black Metal world, even using the following lines from the poem directly: “For all those whose great beauty/ stirred their tortures to rage/ And for all those whose great ugliness/ Did the same.” While later attributed to Jong’s poem, Quorthon never directly expressed himself on this subject (a decision that likely prevented him from being pushed even farther to musical obscurity). The fact merely remains that the musician read this poem from the collection of poems, he consolidated it and refined the lyrics to obviously and admittedly away from the purely feminist tone of the original, and further expressed it to a wider audience. Conversely, another means of looking at this is that he profited off the work of another; however, noting some of his attitude during interviews and other information, his cryptic nature lends one to believe this was a calculated movement by the musician. Even the art work depicts the Wild Ride led by bare breasted female riders on the clouds (somewhat like valkyrie) coming down to take women on earth (it almost looks to me as if they are being rescued; see image below).
Aagaardrein by Nicolai Arbo, 1872; curated in Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo, Norway.