When Cultures Collide – Is It All Folk Metal?


I hardly ever write about a topic that I’ve just read about somewhere else… okay, I guess that Baby Metal post contradicts that since I saw it in a post from a friend (to be fair he only linked to the videos and not much else). Either way, it didn’t change the fact that this recent post on Invisible Oranges set off a few questions in my head on the issue of regional influences and folk metal.

Rhys Williams’ review on Tengger Cavalry, a Chinese Mongolian black metal project, speaks highly of their previous debut ‘Blood Sacrifice Shaman‘; expressing his sentiments perfectly with the observation that

‘reliance on ethnic instruments alone does not a song make. If you want to be truly “folk metal”, and not just amplified folk music, you’ve got to make sure the metal end of the bargain is well represented’.

As he’s pointed out, project mastermind Nature achieves this in blending together Mongolian throat-singing and traditional instrumentation with fast paced blastbeats and speedy guitar riffs Even the wolf motif on a number of tracks is testament to this, as it was believed that the Mongols were descended from wolves (as opposed to the metaphor of this animal for savagery or even Odin, on many European metal albums).

At the same time, this makes me recall again the question I pitched to Rhys on his review. If cultural representations – of both traditional music and the more “modern”, European/American genre of metal – are evoked and heard (if not even successfully executed in practice), does that automatically make it folk metal? Or for folk metal to happen, should the mental images be rooted more in cultural traditions and metal second?

Since I mentioned them in my original question, let’s get the discussion going with Rudra – whom I’ve stated incorporate traditional Indian songwriting into extreme metal notes (and are admittedly becoming a common example of extreme music’s successful integration with the Eastern hemisphere, including from myself now and again)

India, though a country with many religions and identities going on is often the most associated with its Vedic roots and the Hindu faith. While Rudra could be said to be more philosophical in style and lyrical themes, the Hindu connection can be more than enough to suggest India and its cultural traditions to most other people.

Though is this enough to make that argument for Rudra as folk metal?

To be a bit contentious, and to refer back to Rhys’ quote that I highlighted above, let’s ask the reverse question as well – how far can the metal representation be upheld through folk for a sound (let alone band) to be folk metal?

Sweden’s Fejd were mentioned to me by past interviewee (and master of his own one-man folk metal band) Lars Jensen, who commended them for their approach to metal via the medium of folk music itself.

Admittedly, it’s the latter that shines through more strongly than the former.

In order for a band to be considered folk metal, how far must they observe both genres through what they do? Are cultural connotations more important to the audience (including critics) than the artists’ actual intentions, or is it better to write off anything with an “ethnic” or “folky” sound under this label?

photo (C) Robert Klein, 2011

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2 Comments

  1. Oh Hi! From India!! Yes, i’ve been on the other side of the planet for the past month! I actually had plans to see Metallica in Bangalore but it I was not so fortunate for that to happen.
    Great article, Ann! Yeah, Rudra are quickly becoming a name referred to often with heavy music and India. They are from Singapore i think. You know, while i’ve been here in India, I’ve yet to see 1 metal shirt being worn? I think only one person in Delhi, a foreigner, some white guy with long hair, was wearing a Rock of Ages shirt, which I respectfully threw the horns for. Some people here have not even heard of Judas Priest!! The metal underground here is just that, completely underground! I’ve been to Bombay rocking my Creeping Death shirt and have seen no response by any passerby. Gone to a music store asking about Iron Maiden (who open their Flight 666 DVD with Aces High in Bombay) and gotten a blank stare. It’s quite scary!!
    I do love how Rudra integrate the vedic folklore into their music, I cannot recall the name of the song, but there is a music video that recounts the Ramayana, showing how the prince Arjuna had to raise arms against his kin, and did not want to, but the Lord Krishna advised him to do otherwise, telling him to weigh the balance of self and direction, to slay those who abuse life, and in doing so, find the righteous path.
    I’m not religious, truly, but I do hold a small faith in my Hindu heritage. It’s nice to see extreme music delve into the truly rich and violent nature of my culture.
    This i call folk metal, but am not one to start categorizing sub-genres of metal anymore, there are just too many obscurities, too many angry people with rules and guidelines of how to categorize, and too little time to give a shit about it.

    keep up the great work, Ann! I’ll be more active once i’m back in December!

    • o shit, that was not the Ramayana at all, that was the Mahabharat, what a stupid slip, i suck at my own religion hahaha


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