There’s no huge audience for folk music. Not when we start talking about real, authentic folk music. Sure, we’ll love a bit of Wardruna thanks to the epic Vikings series. The Hollywood experience leaves the music in itself is largely misunderstood though. That’s a massive shame because people miss out on groups that really bring it the way the gentlemen from Byrdi do on their latest album Ansur: Urkraft.
Byrdi has been around for a bit now and this is the follow-up to their debut album Eventyr. On this record, they go deeper though, more intimate and personally they approach heathen folk of the forgotten ages. Digging deep into northern history and mysticism, the group produces an album that really fascinates and tantalizes the listener on a primal level.
Though its title may be funny, the harmonious singing on ‘Blaanane blaa’ serves as a gateway into the realm where Byrdi operates. Tempered, tribal drumming comes up in the background. While minimal, it’s effect is so heavy with the rumbling in your gut. The music doesn’t need any heaviness or density. The full, warm sound and smooth production allow for an optimal expression with just simple instruments and vocals. Sometimes that can sound a bit more boisterous and manly, like ‘Myrpesten’. At other times they sound intimate and melancholic, like on the visceral ‘Celebrata’. The bass tones and eerie atmosphere takes you away.
One thing that I find surprising is how easily the mood and emotions change with the songs of Byrdi. The directness of the songs really goes straight to something inside you, tugging the heartstrings so to say and evoking images of more archetype-like experiences. The way the gentle guitar picking on ‘Ren’ focuses the attention is just magical. When the vocals come in, you’re already in a trance-like state mentally. Byrdi has made an album that puts you in the heart of the forest, in the shadow of mountains and the cold stream of a river. The magic that inspired our forefathers to make their earliest folk art and songs. This record is pure magic.
I’ve penned something about this band before. I was intrigued by their approach of a forgotten language, the dedication and bravery in trying to put these ancient pieces back together and reinvoke a culture. The group Romowe Rikoito has done five albums this far. I’ve not managed to grab a hold of those first two, but it is on the third where they immerse themselves in the forgotten world of the Prussians.
Let me give you a little background, since Prussia often makes people think of Germany. Prussia was a Baltic nation though, but washed away by German immigrants from the 14th century onwards. The language disappeared in the last century. A people forgotten so to say. Brave revivalists put new life in the language. Romowe Rikoito is instrumental to this effect. We can actually call this modern Prussian.
The gentle opener is ‘T T T’, with the soft voice of Alwārmija resounding warmly over the trickling tones. Main man Glabis Niktorius has a certain bite to his voice, a particular tang when he pronounces the words in this ancient tongue with conviction and resolve. The music of Romowe Rikoito is like a gently trickling brook in a hidden grove somewhere in the ancient lands of the Prussians. Gentle bells and other metallic instruments play a pleasant song for the weary wanderer.
On songs like ‘Rōma[nā]wa’ we hear the percussion work its magic, weaving a song without ever really hitting a melody. It creates the feeling of ambient, of something natural in harmony with the universe. The music holds on to something meditative, something ritualistic that soothes the mind when listening to it. It’s melancholy is also hard to miss on songs like ‘Waīstis waistā’. Even the voice of Niktorius has an element of desire to it, an almost gasping hunger for life of the forgotten ways of the Prussians.
This album tells you secrets, it whispers in forgotten tongues and takes you away to a different place. I really recommend you listen to this closely, because it is one amazing record.
Label: Wolfspell Records Band: Hermóðr Origin: Sweden
The man behind Hermóðr is Rafn, a man who has been active in dozens of black metal projects in the past (like Mist, Deadlife and Vredesmod but an uncannily long list more). This one has been one of the longer running ones. Atmospheric black metal with a focus on nature, the north and the ancient times when the world was still younger and more close to us.
In the music of Hermóðr the listener finds something grand, the uncharted nature and the wide stretches of uninhabited ground. On the cover alone the cliffy coast beckons in a golden morning light, while calling the brave and bould to approach. I’m immediately pulled in by that imagery. There’s definitely a strain of folk music present here too.
The trickling intro promises mystery and adventure as well, but also the feeling of autumn in the air. The music never really transgresses into the tremolo and blast beat grounds of more traditional black metal and remains a more ambient metal-like soundtrack to the season. The slow progressions on songs like ‘Summer Ends’ are more inward. Introspective tunes that make the listener look back at himself. Thoughtful and with a haunting beauty the songs wander by, with an odd guitar riff spinning out or a bass line clinging to the inner ear for a moment.
Even on ‘The Mystic Forest’ the leaves are turning and icy vocals reach out to you. They’re buried deep in the mix, which I don’t always get. Lyrics should be audible atleast I feel, but it works here. The repetitive shimmering guitar parts lull the listener into a dreamy state, enjoying the natural state of the world around them. It reminds me a bit of Falkenbach, though maybe with that modern element of Drudkh. The slow, pastoral progressions, the laborious toiling of nature. The music falls in with the current movement that takes out the human part and shows nature in a pure, unspoiled way. A tradition harking back to the ‘Dunkelheit’ video by Burzum even.
A good example of really going in that direction is the song ‘Snow and Ice’, which really fades in a noisy snowstorm towards its end. The dirge-like sound just fades away due to a hazy cloud of noise. This album is one that is special. It certainly possesses its own darkness an depressive qualities, but these are just the shifting elements of nature. There’s a simple grandeur to a track like ‘The Howling Mountains’. There lies its beauty, in its uncomplicated appraisal for the natural.
Label: Nomos Dei Band: Coume Ouarnède Origin: France
I’ve been intrigued by the releases of Russian label Nomos Dei, since I found out about them. This is another mysterious release, that is in fact a quest of discovery to find our ancient roots in the mighty mountains of the Pyrenees through music, ritual and ambient sounds. Something profoundly archaïc can be found for those who dare search for it.
Yan Arexis is a percussionist, who also has been active in Stille Volk (pagan folk)and Sus Scrofa (pagan black metal). He pretty much founded all those, but also La Breiche and Cober Ord. Another set of projects unveiling archaic Pyrenean folk. So, all in all Yan Arexis is at home in the field of music he is practicing on this record. This explains the compelling force of the record for sure.
The name of the record translates as ‘those who the empty trees’ and the purpose is to create music, like it was 10.000 years ago. In awe and respect of nature, to please the gods. The percussion you hear is natural. In the description Arexis claims to use stones and rocks. The forest sounds surround the central musician, who murmurs ancient words on a whispering tone, while tribal drumming sounds softly. The sound of howling birds sounds in the background as the listener is slowly talked into a trance.
Sometimes the music is barely audible, but it’s a constant trickle of sound. Mild ambient, softly blaring sounds and the echo of something akin to bells. In particular the track ‘La Coume Ouarnède’ is a track to sink into and let go of all other things. The tribal drones are the leading element, helping the listener to find a calm. This whole record is hard to describe as a rational experience. It’s a primordial expression of spirituality and offers a meditation gateway for the listener. One needs to be open for that. If so, you’ll find a wealthy, rich album of ancient folk.
I’ve come across many kinds of music and many artists and some stick. Sometimes I don’t even get the words directly, but something in the way they are sung tells you of their meaning.
Header photo by Olafs Osh
One of those artists is Imants Daksis, a latvian singer/songwriter, who makes ‘screaming folk’ music. Daksis is a peculiar figure in the Latvian music scene. Deeply artistic, expressive and solitary caught between the east and west. Check out the latest record right here by the way.
I was extremely excited to find him willing to answer some of my questions, so without further ado, here goes:
How did you get into music and how did you end up on this specific path? Which artists inspired you? When I was 15 I realized that guitar is my instrument. I began writing songs at 17/18 and at the same age I had already planned and written down concert repertoire for many concerts which was even far from planning. So it happened quite naturally.
In 2001 we made a post-punk band together with my friends. The band was called “Pasaulesgaisma” (Light of The World). After few years I began my solo act.
I experienced my first musical revolution at 13 when I heard Jimi Hendrix. I am still fascinated by the way how liberated he was in his playing. In my opinion, it is possible to reach true virtuosity by doing things your own way and not according to the so-called canons.
My own music has been influenced by 60s’ psychedelic music and ethnic/world music, post-punk bands (such as Swans, Bauhaus, JoyDivision, etc.), Russian punk scene (Grazhdanskayaoborona, Instrukciya po vizhivaniyu, etc.), and some local artists as well. Also I have great love for Russian singers-songwriters VladimirVisotskiy and Alexander Bashlachev. I have always been loyal to independent music and ground breaking avant-garde, though I am more interested in particular artists than genres. Not to mention the influence left by classical music and music for cinema. The last one has particularly leaded the way on how I make my own albums.
However, for the past 5 or so years I am mainly getting inspiration of my own musical work which has been recorded in the past and developing my own ideas.
Are you involved in any other projects at the moment? Right now I have collaboration with one electronic music artist and I am also a lead singer in s rock band. At this moment these projects are focused on making records and there are my songs involved.
Music is not my only occupation. For the past six years I have also been making photo collages.
What does making folk music mean to you? I don’t associate myself as a folk musician and I have never felt the need to belong to any music scene. I think that my music is more expressive and controversial than a typical folk musician could tolerate. I could say that it is somewhere between folk, psychedelia and post-punk. Some time ago my Latvian audience invented a new genre to describe what it sounds like – screaming folk.
What are the thoughts, images and messages you try to convey in your music? I am into such themes as death and transcendental processes of any kind of consciousness, weather it be human mind or mind in wider meaning.
Is there any political element to your music? Or a religious one for that matter? In my music I actualize the need for spiritual freedom. That is the most important thing for me. There are also motives of reincarnation and transformation in general. My music is not political. However, from all political systems social democracy is the one I prefer the most.
How important to you are the traditional elements in music and culture in present day Latvia? Where do you see your own role in this? For me traditional elements are as important as any other elements are, if they are used to create something good.
Not too long ago I was a vocalist in a post-folk project “Pērkonvīri” (Thundermen). We were looking for innovative sounds and interpretations of Latvian traditional music and recorded a very good album together, which you can listen here. This has been my closest affair with traditional music so far. However, I have composed a couple of songs by the same principles as Latvian folk songs are based on (speaking of the text layout and rhythm). I don’t like to tag my music with genres, but I see it more as a combination of acoustic post-punk, indie, psychedelia and folk in general.
Can you tell a bit about your latest album ‘Mūžīgā ģeogrāfa piedzīvojumi’, which is a great record. I understand it’s an album with global themes, for example the Judah Song. Why did you choose such topics?
“The Adventures of Eternal Geographer”. This album is dedicated to the eternal geographer – a character which has repeatedly appeared in my music. For eternal geographer our so-called reality and civilization is something only so-called. He does not cling to anything and does not see the statements and ideas made by this society as something unconditional. Eternal geographer is not attracted to any ideology – he laughs about the borders which are made by human society (for him human life is only a temporary challenge). This album is not only about global themes, but the abstract nature of them. It is about human in the world and the world in human, and in general it tells about spiritual processes.
When I try to read translations of your lyrics and texts accompanying music, I feel and see a lot of poetry and literature, also in referencing. Do you take this as an important influence on your work and which writers most of all? I have always had an ability to perceive and memorize huge amounts of information. When interested in something, I literary start studying it. So when an image, reference, rhyme or anything else is needed, it just emerges from this storehouse. I am interested mostly in spiritual and explorative literature. And in some spare moment I will read children’s or adventure books – that adds some ease and buoyancy to my daily life.
Folk music has a risk to sound outdated, how do you keep your music so catchy and relevant? It never feels repetitive to me. My life is hard both internally and externally, that makes my music catchy… Well, every joke has a gain of truth. I have very wide range of interests and influences. For example, right now, besides answering these questions, I am listening to Syrian traditional music and Sardinian polyphonic singing. I also experiment a lot till my music reaches my mental state (a song has often gone through several wholesome versions). My aim is to achieve unexpected results, while using minimal resources (that especially refers to live performances).
What plans do you have for the near future? I have some very divergent musical plans and projects for this year, and also my photo collages soon will be finally finished.
If you had to compare your music to a dish (food) what would it be and why? I would like to think that my music is more eternal than food. Food is something that has to be taken to provide this physical life, but I make music to transform it.
Label: Self Released Band: Ēnu Kaleidoskops Origin: Latvia
Sometimes you need to find the sound that is lcoser to nature, by venturing into nature and trying to get in touch with it. This is what Mārtiņš Links did, while studying in Lithuania. It is the origin story for the band ĒnuKaleidoskops from Latvia. A group that creates neo-folk with a particular calm and natural feeling to it.
This is as far as I can gather the third full length album of the band. The engineering work was done by Kaspars Barbals, who is a familiar name due to his work in Skyforger in the past. The group is a loose collaboration of artists, joining forces where needed to create beautiful music. On ‘Tie, kas šķietami zuduši’, the third effort under this name, they succeed for sure.
The music is typical for the Baltic tradition. A bit heavy handed, a bit dark sounding, but also very cozy and natural. A lot of chanting and a wide array of instruments to create all the different little sounds in the clean recorded songs. The vocals are mostly in harmony with backing vocals and instruments, like very clearly audible on ‘Asā zāle’. Meandering, wavery instrumentals put no pressure on the listener.
The playful folky medleys, like ‘Elpa’ with a Jethro Tull-y flute are very pleasant to the ear. Catchy, but also a little dark and unpredictable. On ‘Bula Laiks’ we even hear the intense rhythm section stepping back for just an idyllic bit of flute a few times, which sounds so heavenly peaceful and calm. The combination with the vibrant energy of the percussion is a thrill for the ear. I think that ‘Rūķu armija’ with its jolly intro is even a little bit of a hit potential song.
The core of the music is typical for Baltic volk. The reciting tone of the vocals, the repetitive patterns of the music and all are very much reminiscent of an act like Romuwe Rikoito and I guess a dozen groups, since this style of folk is simply quite popular. Not that it’s a casual thing that the people enjoy, it seems that there’s quite some younger people inspired to re-invoke the heritage in this type of neofolk music. The repetitive element is a common feature, but the flute play and expansive instruments are not necessarily so. It does function in such a way to create a feeling of otherworldliness, even trance by the repetition. The listener sinks away into a much emptier, younger world.
The mystical sound of this group definitely works for me.
Label: Deivlforst Band: Wolcensmen Origin: England
We are what we are, because we are shaped by the land we hail from. For a long time the British isles offered much of their heritage in the form of folk, story and song. You can still see that in the more remote parts like Ireland, Wales and Scotland, but England itself seems to have lost part of it. Wolcensmen is in that sense a breath of fresh air with their heathen folk, reclaiming something that might seem forgotten.
Wolcensmen is more than just a folk project by Dan Capp (known from Winterfylleth), its a platform featureing various artists who collaborated with the Englishmen to bring his dream to life. One of the participants is Canadian cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Musk Ox), who is brilliant. Another is Grimrik (Arath), who is a master of dungeon synth, and creating those Burzumesque atmospheres.
Jumping ahead for a moment to the main contribution of Grimrik, that Burzumesque feel is immediately present ”Neath a Wreath of Firs’, which was written and performed by the German artis. It truly captivates that eerie forest spirit. A great tune, but my avorite is at the start of the album. When the intro starts, I imagine beautiful landscapes like those on the Winterfylleth album covers.
That feeling remains, but even more ina an eagle-eye perspective in a soaring, praying calm on ‘The Fyre-Bough’. The second song with this majestic, droning song is a connection to The Hobbit soundtrack, particularly the song by Richard Armitage ‘Misty Mountains’. Though the similarity is not as strong as my words may suggest, there is a similar evocation of a more pure, clean world that is both rough and free as well as pastoral and calm as one can find in the work of Tolkien. I wonder if that is an inspiration for Dan Capp.
There’s something more gentle to the English folk music, compared to its Celtic counterparts. It’s gentle and freely flowing akin to a calm river through a green meadow with gnarled, old trees hanging over you. It lacks the rugged yearning of the Irish and Scottish folk, which I find is particularly true for Wolcensmen too. There are other elements woven into the music, which is mainly guitar, bodhran and synths. The droning strokes on the cello by Weinroth-Browne give the music a lot of its atmosphere with a deep, sonorous sound that gives the tunes their earthy feeling. A song like ‘Hoofes upon the Shymmeringe Path’ have something of an early approach of spring. A liveliness and hunger for green land and being alive again, with a foreboding drumming and double vocals.
A song like ‘Yerninge’ feels more like a crackling fire on a snowy winter day, when the sun has gone down and the fire offers that uncommon warmth and joy in the dark hours. There’s always a calm and tranquil feeling to the music though. It takes the listener to a time where fantastic creatures still roamed the land, like on ‘The Mon ‘O Micht. The base for the song is an old poem in dialect. The words even hold some particular wisdom. Dan Capp delivered something beautiful here.
Wolcensmen don’t sound like anything else really, but in a way they do sound very familiar. Like a voice from the past, that makes you think of a more peaceful time. A lingering memory of something that once was.
Label:Neuropa Records/Música Máxica Band: Sangre De Muerdago Origin: Spain
When I read of the origin of this band, I had to look it up. Though I’ve heard of Gallicia, I never really knew where it was. Now, it is that strange corner of Spain north of Portugal, where legends roam. It’s a land that is green and filled with rivers, haunted by myths and legends and very ancient. No wonder that this band speaks about that.
Sangre De Muerdago is a forest folk group, as they describe it. Which means that their inspiration is nature and the little stories derived from it. The words are in Gallician, which is closer to Portuguese and the music is traditional and in its own way ancient and primitive. Primitive I would normally use for rough, unsophisticated music, but in this case I mean something different, I mean its voice, its timbre and all over harmonious, natural vibe.
Oh, and they like Motörhead. This album tells a story of a fox, which you can find out about all by yourselves. The music is a swirling collaboration of acoustic instruments, that weave together this story. It tells of old tales, the forests and hills, of men gathered around the fire or under the moon to make music (and women, obviously). The thrumming of the bodhran and the continuous flow of the hurdy-gurdy are excellend instruments to create the atmosphere of a forlorn age. Continuously pumping out sounds, while a bouzouki is played and other traditional elements come to play.
The record is a mixture of traditionals from Galicia and Bretagne. Also the work of folk band Milladoiro is used, for example the swooning ‘Agullas de Agarimo’, with its harder tones and dancable energy. Different is the fragile ‘An Dro’, which meanders through an eerie forest in the early morning, when the lush green is still moist and awakening. It’s music that takes you away from the concrete jungle, to a place more simple and easy. It may just be a small taste of the Gallician group Sangre De Muerdago, but offers a wide array of folkish enjoyment.
To me it matters where I come from, it matters where I feel at home and I feel a connection to certain traditions and religious tendencies. I’m happily embracing the harmonious ideas of heritage, This is something that is very persistently present as well in extreme metal music. The connection has provided us with endless political discussions, but does that make as much sense as we think?
Though there is the rare band that embraces national socialism, racism and nationalism at large, it’s a very rare occurence. Most bands say they are anti-political and not without reason. Extreme metal has one characteristic that defines it.
Individualism: Defining the self
Extreme metal has often been about the individual. This is probably why NSBM is such a weird mix of two world views. Metal is against the herd and for the self, but that leaves the void of identity for a person. We, as human beings, like to define ourselves as something, we are always looking for a sense of belonging and reason to be. Even black metal warriors delve into identity and spirituality on all sorts of levels.
Connecting to something like our heritage, traditions and maybe nationality is a logical thing to us. Sure, we can still accept that we are all one people, but we’re defined by where we are from. Does that make me a Germanic pagan? Not necessarily, but it might just as well. Bands like Skyforger, Winterfylleth and Moonsorrow had a hard time getting the difference across. Self-identification is an individual proces, which sometimes works as a concept and identity for a band, but that doesn’t make it the herd behavior of institutionalized nationalism or racism. It’s about defining the self, not the other.
The Other: Defining the opposition
The other side of the medal is when identification of the self is done in order to define the other. The other is, for some reason or purpose, the opposed of what the self should be. This is a lot harder to do in a way, so much easier to do by defining the other first. Now, here we come into the terrain of professional hate mongering. Defining the other with unwanted characteristics is very effective, because it defines both sides. This completely binds the relation to the other in an absolute relation of the lesser and the better. There is no need to approach the other anymore, because the other is evil, wrong, lesser and the enemy.
When we’ve defined the other, we usually end up with a stereotype, with a group we’ve vilified. This puts us in a group too and sadly we soon will find likeminded individuals. The hate is concrete enough to fuel itself, but high-over enough to define all others. Though metal has the tribe mentality to form a cohesive group, it just isn’t in the nature of the culture to find such unity. Individualism is part of that identity and so is discussion and interaction. This sort of defining just doesn’t work in that environment.
Open hearts, open minds
It’s perfectly possible to have an identity bound up with the local, the past and belief, but be open and tolerant to others. Interaction between cultures is what shapes them, but if you define your opposed identity you’ll never know this beautiful variation. I talked to a Latvian metal singer once who said: “It’s ok to be proud of your country, your tribe or your belief, but if you feel superior to others you missed the plot.” Superior thoughts lead to isolation, which creates a fearful protection of what is yours. Of vague ideas of tradition and identity that don’t really matter at all. Imagine a culture on its own. How does it get any value if it’s not challenged by different ones?
I see this constantly in the metal world. People are embracing their own culture and past, but also interacting with others. Clearly showing that, a while ago a compilation album came out titled”One and All, Together, for Home” on Seasons Of Mist. Why would all these bands work together if they were the kind of nationalists depicted in the media? If they had superiority motives, why would they ever join on a record? It’s that sort of love for land, folk and belief that creates. It connects and enriches itself and the other.
If you open yourself up to the other, to culture of others, your identity and culture will change. We learn through interaction about the other culture. We adapt, we reform, we change. Change is scary, but not bad. This sort of change we are all too familiar with. We call it growth.
If we allow growth to happen, maybe we can even get some sort of enlightenment one day.
Murmur mori is part of an Italian collective that embodies more than just music. Stramonium seems to aim and various forms of expression and this just happens to be one of them. The collective has released a compilation as well featuring groups like Ashtoreth, Sangre De Muerdago and VRNA in tribute to winter solstice.
It helps to place where this group is coming from with a revivalist attitute towards old traditions and a drive to reimagine them in these turbulent, higly urbanized times. The old forests and mountains, the sacred places in northern Italy are what inspired this record by Mirko Void and Kurio Silva.
The music is mild, slowly trickling down with a gentle hand, but never fading away. The continuity is that of the mountain river and the wind, in which you can hear the gentle song of the vocals. It’s very much like listening to nature and finding that voice. On ‘Nemeton’ we hear eerie ambient, foreboding and mysterious, as are the omnious mountains in the morning light, when the peaks are still covered by the black of night and the sun peeps up in between.
The droning sound has an endlessness to it, which is very fitting with the topics of the music. The upbeat tribalism of ‘Il Legno, il Sasso e la Volpe al Fiume’ in its percussive dance, the gloomy droning of ‘Aquile’, it both embodies the experiences one can have in nature. Never does Murmur mori waste any sounds on filling voids, it’s as complete as the nature they describe. Both the silence and the vibrancy, which can both be seen when not obscured by darkness. The discrepancy between the timbre and flow of closer ‘La Caverna’ in its own way speaks of the many sounds you can identify, the many roads to walk.
The record in its entirety is an exploration, a quest into the heart land of Europe, south of the Alps but flocking to its outskirts. It’s a tangible quest of sound and feeling, much like I feel I’m experiencing. It’s also lovely.