Sunday, October 23, 2011


REAL TALK. Is it metal blogger suicide to declare one's love for neofolk in only one's second post? Probably, huh.

INTRO: Last month, I read this Decibel feature on neofolk which got me thinking a little more about the genre. It's always just kind of been accepted (if not necessarily embraced) as part of the metal canon but how did it get there? Was it because a handful of black metal bands went puss in 1996-1997 and picked up acoustics? Is it like when Michael Jordan played baseball for those couple years but he'll always be a basketball player? (no, it's not even remotely like that). Or is it that there is an inherent symbiosis in the DNA of Heavy Metal and that of neofolk? Sure, both dig dark ambiance, medieval music, the occasional bow chugging sesh, and totalitarian semiotics (wolves and shit), but there's got to be more to the relationship between these strange bedfellows than that.

Hypothesis: I call bullshit on the Neofolk-as-metal-genre phenomenon. How can you have a genre simultaneously rooted in and inextricably linked to industrial, classical, Northern-Eastern Europe indigenous folk music, and heavy metal? Aren't these mutually exclusive to a degree? Don't get me wrong, I've got as much of this stuff clogging up my shelves and iPod as the next guy. I'm man enough to admit I've got love for Amber Asylum. But what I don't get is why they crop up in the metal dialogue in the same breath as Agalloch, say. Just cos they got cellos and covered 'Kneel to the Cross'? Can someone enlighten me?

Let's look at the data.

From my analysis, you've got three main food neofolk food groups, none of which sound like they have anything to do with one another or with metal. Maybe there is more to this taxonomy, but writing this blog is a voluntary thing and Revenge is on tonight.

Here we have Musk Ox, that one album by Ulver, and dozens of other dudes who can completely shred the classical axe. This is my go-to stuff for dinner time or showing my 11-month-old how to whittle a wolf totem. Musk Ox has been garnering attention for a couple of years through endorsements by some heavy hitters, like members of the aforementioned Agalloch. He plays unambiguously beautiful guitar accented by piano, chants, and some atmospherics. Of all the bands in this post, Ulver is perhaps the most varied in that they went from raw black metal, to straight-laced nylon string guitar folk, to Shadows of the Sun, which boasts a theremin, a string quartet, and a cameo by Fennesz of all people. We could spend all day debating how deftly they made these transitions.

I'm going to lump Wardruna and their ilk into the Enchanted Forest neofolk group too. Bands who draw inspiration from traditional folks songs of pagan tribes, vikings, gypsies, that sort of thing. Wardruna is the guy from Gorgoroth playing didgeridoo, chanting, and using all sorts of shit to lead the listener through a musical journey about runes, according to Wikipedia and the record sleeve. I'm feeling it. Everyone knows runes are metal as fvck. Hate Forest had Battlefields which co-opted ostensibly Ukrainian folk traditions (I say ostensibly because I can't begin to imagine what real Ukrainian folk music would sound like) and welded it onto a black metal template. Drudkh did the same thing on Autumn Aurora. These are both pretty boring records in spite of Drudkh's almost unimpeachable discography.

Some 'Enchanted Forest' bands get shoehorned into metal via the 'dark ambient' tag. Amber Asylum, for instance. They (she) sound like a newborn fawn drinking dew from the paw of a benevolent giant. But a newborn fawn with a choice contact list as evidenced by callabos from John Cobbet, Steve Von Till et. al. Sometimes Amber Asylum sounds like Enya only more miserable but that is the risk you run dabbling in neofolk. Once we're in the 'Dark Ambient' farthing, we're treading dangerously goth-y territory. In a few short moves via Dead Can Dance and Fields of the Nephilim we're at My Dying Bride and Anathema. NO ONE WANTS TO BE THERE.


It seems unfair to only have Empyrium and Hekate in this category since they're both German, but that's just how the data sorts out. Empyrium followed a decidedly Ulverian trajectory by releasing a couple folk-inflected metal records before going all in on elaborate coiffuture and singing in rounds. Neun Welten is another one; basically the same thing as Empyrium without the vocals. They too are German.

Hekate is some of the most ridiculous shit you've ever heard. Seriously, one time I listened to them mowing my lawn in the middle of the hot ass day while half drunk and I just had to sleep off the whole experience. It was too much. It's almost completely unlistenable. I'm not talking about Gnaw Their Tongues or Blue Sabbath Black Cheer unlistenable, this is a completely different dimension of unlistenable. On their latest album (Die Welt something or other), Hekate covers Sol Invictus's 'In my Garden,' basically taking a perfectly lovely, somber folk tune and running it through some kind of Johnny Depp-as-Willy Wonka everlasting gobstopper ring modulator or something. I mean, I'm exaggerating but you get the idea. When Hekate are at their most subdued, they sound like some of that hyper-melodic, panglobal music you hear when you're copping a falafel from the Middle Eastern takeout.

This is your Death in June, your Sol Invictus and what have you. Lots of people say Death in June/Sol Invictus invented neofolk but I'm not buying it. They usually sound like Billy Bragg on ludes after reading a bunch of William Blake. With that awful electro-acoustic guitar tone where the brightness is up too high and you're in a coffee shop and it smells like pachoulli farts and someone is singing about dandelion wine. I'm not complaining that they are in the metal club. It means I can listen to them with a clear conscience. But who decided to let them in?

CONCLUSION: Data inconclusive. This exercise has been a complete waste of my time and yours. It has answered exactly zero of my questions. And so I turn to you, consumers, to guide me. Help me understand. Lest we fall down the 'trve metal vs. untrve' rhetorical wormhole, let's keep the question to 'Who put all this flute in my metal and why am I OK with it?'

To get you started, here is a four pack of my favorite neofolk records. I realize all these are pretty safe picks but they encompass most of what I discussed here for the uninitiated. As a bonus at no extra charge I'm throwing in that Hekate album you just need to hear to believe.


Download SOL INVICTUS - Lex Talionis

Download MUSK OX - Musk Ox

Download WARDRUNA - Runaljod-gap var Ginnunga

Download AMBER ASYLUM - Frozen in Amber

Download HEKATE - Die Welt Der Dunklen Garten


Anonymous said...

You miss some salient points:

A lot of neofolk came out of metal as a response to a discussion about how stringed instruments came out of Africa, and the NS-leaning neofolk bands wanted to play only instruments that were based only from their native lands. Right or wrong, the sentiment existed. See: Varg "Hliðskjálf" album, Robert Fudali, discussions on, etc.

A lot of formerly industrial/metal/Satanist people became heavily involved in Neofolk, esp. Michael Moynian who co-wrote Lords of Chaos. Moynihan is connected with Amber Asylum by marriage: Annabel Lee is his wife.

The connection of neofolk to metal is very real, whether you like it or not.

See also: Changes (band) with Robert Taylor, who had connections to the Process Church in Chicago.

Process Church is another link through metal/industrial, follow the threads of: Jex Thoth, Adam Parfrey, Boyd Rice, Feral House, Genesis P-Orridge.

Another metal/dark industrial connection is again through Moynihan, via his work to re-popularize the metal/industrial work of Bobby Beausoleil, esp. the Lucifer Rising Soundtrack.

You should perhaps do a LITTLE more research before purporting an "educated" opinion. This was definitely NOT an IllCon quaility post!

Shelby Cobras said...

Wow, what a fucking dickhead. That was a great post D.U., this anonymous commentator has his head fully up his ass. Personally, neofolk isn't really my cup of tea, but I can fully appreciate your viewpoint and recommendations. What I want to know is: where is the Renrock-Neofolk crossover? ie How has Ritchie Blackmore's witch hat affected the scene?

DoomUnicorn said...

Dude, did you read my post? I specifically point out the fact that my post is a waste of time and I don't know what I am talking about. Also, Graveland didn't matter til the mid 90s and Hliðskjálf came out in 99. The NS element was alive and well in neofolk way before that. But you know this.

purplerainingblood said...

Wardruna album is really good. Reminds me of a less Dead Can Dance version of Trial Of The Bow (one of the dudes from Disembowelment's dark ambient/neo-folk band from the 90s).

DoomUnicorn said...

I love Trial of the Bow...wishing I included them in this post. Shit. Good call.

Not Michael Moynihan said...

You miss some salient points."


The integrity of IllCon has now been compromised by not properly addressing Nazi elements in neofolk music.


Go fucking cry to your neofolk, neonazi, neopostdarkfolkmetalloser friends about a blog not properly presenting an "educated" opinion about this.

Maybe you should do a LITTLE more research on training bras and tampons. Illogical Contraption is strictly a GROWN MAN EVENT.

Judge Shredd said...

Nice post. I dont know shit about this genre. Thanks for shedding some light/links.
Is Man's Gin neofolk?

DoomUnicorn said...

Thanks man. Good question. MG wouldn't fall into any of my categories -- that's just science -- but I wonder if Erik Wunder had the same impulse in forming Man's Gin that Ulver (and countless others) had in following the Quiet Hand Path.

DoomUnicorn said...

@Not Michael Moynihan, "neopostdarkfolkmetalloser" was gonna by my next big genre study, thanks a lot.

Shelby Cobras said...

"ILLOGICAL CONTRAPTION: Strictly A GROWN MAN EVENT". Who wants to buy a T-shirt?

Not Michael Moynihan said...

Will the shirts be pressed in time for the holidays?

Shelby Cobras said...

Of course.

DoomUnicorn said...

Medium please

these a beast said...

dude in my mind you are setting the new contributor bar really high, like you were always already a contributor. i dig it!

RyGar said...

I thought it was a good post. Could use a couple links or youtube vids, so I don't have to actually open a new tab and look up stuff myself, but that's on my laziness and not yours. I think the unifying link is "Forests." Trees age on a much, much longer timeline than people. If provided for, they are practically immortal. Forests are hella metal. Remember that tree rape scene in the Evil Dead? Totally brutal. However, trees also provide shade, shelter, and breathable air. Keeping us alive is pretty hippy-dippy. Hippies like hugging trees and writing folk songs about trees and flowers and shit. Also, you gotta have stuff you can play when it is time for intimate relations. "Panzerfaust" will dry a buhgina faster than you can say "chaffed labia."

Shelby Cobras said...

Sounds like you're bangin' the wrong dames, bro.

Anonymous said...

"They usually sound like Billy Bragg on ludes after reading a bunch of William Blake."

I think this is A)fairly accurate and B)kind of confusing, because that description is awesome, but you say it like it's a bad thing.

Good post overall, all these new guys are doing a bang-up job.