Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mad Max's Wheels of Steel #3

Written by Maxim Björky.

Folk Metal tends to get roughed up a bit in some circles. Now, folk bands aren't getting stuffed into lockers just because they reside at some intersection of a cultural faire and a sword n’ sorcery convention, nor is it because they necessarily count more silly bands among their own than any other metallic subsidiary. Rather, I would venture that folk metal’s embarrassing extended family is much more commercially viable and visible. This tends to obscure some very dynamic acts, ones that are both menacing and uplifting, whose albums are unabashedly melodic yet still manage to feel righteously savage. Here are just a few of those.

This is what it sounds like when Polish transplants in Ireland get really into traditional Celtic dances. Though I'll leave it someone more versed in the genealogy of folk music to delve into this, I gotta say that the smoothness with which these guys fuse Slavic and Celtic themes might be as much a testament to their own ingenuity as to the common Scandinavian influences that run through both cultures. The vocals are just great on this newest record and are probably the most dynamic and enjoyable part. If you like acts like Hagalaz’ Runedance, or even Satanica-era Behemoth, this constitutes a must-buy. The end result is some pretty epic harvest season type tunage. Come to think of it, this should have made it onto my best of 2014 So Far list but I snoozed on it hard. Much recommend!

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Artwork by Astral Body Horror

I still having a hard time believing that you have to tell folk metal fanboys and fangirls about this band. They are goddamn majestic. Tengger Cavalry bring Kublai Khan’s conquest of China to life with vivid, colorful instrumentation. Even with my base knowledge of Mongolian culture, it’s hard not to note that the righteous gallop of “Battle Song From Far Away” seems to capture the fortitude of an army which so easily swept across much of the known world in the 13th Century. And while much of the album is horseback riding music, the punchy, memorable “Summon the Warrior” will get the blood pumping. On top of that you get the usual Tuvan throat singing, which complements everything nicely.

I have never wanted to fire a bow so much in my life.

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Artwork by Moonroot

I’ve asked many people, nerds and heshers alike, to define just what pagan metal is and have never gotten a consistent answer. I get that we're splitting hairs here but it seems even the thematically defined Viking metal thing is easier to anoint as a genre. This is what this band is often labeled and I'm just not sure it does them any justice. It’s a rich tapestry of leads, samples, hymns, and blasting refrains, one that’s at its most novel on jams like “Wayfarer’s Awakening”, “Doomsayer”, or the massively rewarding, guitar-driven “Don’t Tell Lies to Children”. Much like the world-renowned beer their hometown of Pilsen is known for, Panychida’s music is crisp and full of haunting accents that linger with you long after. One often recalls Thyrfing or even Enslaved. Just as suddenly, they can rip into some dense commentary on modern warfare on songs like “Love Bombing”. These are the kinds of curveballs I search high and low for.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love slamming cheap domestics to a Finntroll set as much as the next guy but, for me, this stuff is at its most compelling during the kind of soul-searching that happens to Moonsorrow and Arkona than when dressing up to see any one of the innumerable of bands whose whole aesthetic is a dwarven bar fight.

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Tagged with 2013, 2014, black metal, death metal, folk metal, Maxim Björky, melodic death metal, pagan metal, Pagan Records, Panychida, Tengger Cavalry, Thy Worshiper
  1. I don't normally like folk metal, but I can't lie, I'm starting to dig Thy Worshiper. Does that mean I have to buy a pan flute and a hurdy gurdy?

    1. I like Panychida. I'm thinking lute and a kilt.