The Best Folk / Pagan / Viking Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2018


Total votes:
731



So we've got groovy metalcore pummeling, tremolo-picked riffs pulled from black metal, power metal leads and falsetto cleans, symphonic affectations, thrash-paced aggression, sludgy post-metal noise, and... is that a flute? Must be folk metal. Well, okay, there's more to our classification system than that, but you have to admit that it's hard to hold Battlesoul to one style with all the textures they incorporate; it's just that those charismatic chaunts, weather-beaten melodies, and dramatic swells of "epic-glory-but-not-power-metal-epic-glory" give us an "ancient" feeling. Really, we just needed some place to put this eclectic gem, because Sunward And Starward is too fascinating not to nominate.

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In the time since Chthonic's last album, Freddy Lim got elected to public office and he and Doris Yeh welcomed their first child - and still this is one of their strongest and most musically accomplished efforts to date, so nobody else has any excuses, as far as we're concerned. Battlefields Of Asuka summons the many styles that Chthonic has entertained in the past and woven them into the tightest incarnation yet, an 11-song adventure of blackened symphonic extreme power folk metal with the palpable influence of traditional culture and jaw-dropping performances that have long characterized one of Asia's most preeminent metal bands.

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Folk metal ain't always the friggin' sunshine'n'rainbow show you get from bands that basically treat the genre as an excuse to get drunk. If the "folk" that you are happens to have the sort of miserable history that Nine Years Of Blood chronicles, you come out sounding more like Cruachan: a mess of grit, gloom, war, and woe. Though they sometimes embrace the melodies and give into the temptations of heroic-sounding, high-energy trad. arr. hits, Cruachan's core is a mix of black and heavy metal with the rhythm and outlook of a normal folk band. Next Saint Patrick's Day, instead of running around with a "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" shirt and a shamrock-encrusted Guinness in each hand, consider lying down on the floor of your room and listening to this album.

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In their quest to collectively become the next Hokage, Dalriada marshaled their considerable strengths for their eighth album and proudly executed the duties of their office as Hungary's greatest folk metal band. 40 billion vocal lines soaring together in transcendent harmony, ultra-precise instrumentation sliding between warming folk melodies and speed runs of technical metal, hooks catchy enough to last a millennium - Nyárutó contains everything that makes Dalriada great. They understand that the best way to craft an overwhelmingly epic sound is simply to have a whole ton of stuff going on at once: everybody gets involved in making something big happen, and when the songs crescendo into the apex of dramatic tension, the whirlwind of voices and instruments is unmatched in melody and power. Believe it!

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Gåte's peculiar combination of Norwegian folk, alternative rock, abrasive metal, and quirky electronic soundscapes shows us that folk music isn't always for drinking, fighting, and history lessons: sometimes, it's for creating abstract atmospheres and wallowing in the weirdness of sounds formerly lost to time. Piercing vocals, overdriven instrumentation, artificial effects, and post-something moods fuse with the hypnotic singsong of Norwegian tradition in a curious pastiche of the ancient and the ultramodern. Svevn brings Gåte back to us after 14 years out of the studio, and, after hearing it, we can only hope that they like being back as much as we do.

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Thirteen draws heavily from melodeath, learning how to gallop, roll percussion under the chugging, and crush with melody from the likes of Amon Amarth (and Dethklok?). The storms of sweaty, coarse refrains, Forefather-esque clean vocals, and traditionally flavored riffs led by guitars and keys will make you believe that Gwydion have been appointed official heralds of the Age of the Viking, despite the fact that they are from Portugal and named after a figure from Welsh mythology. This is also the band's first album since returning from a few years of silence in 2017, and it seems that they have only improved from Veteran.

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Originally just a one-off side project of Patrice Roques and Patrick Lafforgue of Stille Volk as an outlet of more extreme forms of folk metal, Hantaoma released a pretty good debut back in 2005. Now with other musicians under their helm, the project has been revived to give us more folk black metal sprinkled with hurdy-gurdies, flutes, fiddles, crumhorns, bouzoukis, and obviously baritone chants sung in Occitan, everything with a nice crusty lo-fi production.

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The last few years have brought great upheaval to Heidevolk; it's difficult for a band with such a distinctive sound to deal with the fact that its strengths are changing, but Heidevolk puts up an admirable fight and comes out the victor with Vuur Van Verzet. As the band reorients itself towards stronger songwriting and an increased guitar presence, its sound becomes rawer, darker, and less polished than before, an exciting evolution that yields the strongest effort since Uit Oude Grond. This Heidevolk is a new beast: still with its characteristic lead vocal team, still ready for sailing the seas and conquering lands, but more aggressive and progressive than ever.

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With 2013's All Is One, Orphaned Land showed us the vast potential for clean, accessible metal that was still unique in its Oriental heritage and important message - a great pop analogue for the folk metal genre. Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs, as its more unwieldy title foreshadows, ratchets back up the progressive side, though without abandoning the sleek production and catchy nature of its predecessor. Kobi Farhi's voice is in fantastic shape, perhaps his best ever, covering a wide variety of techniques and moods - and while the new, cleaner front of Orphaned Land is great, longtime fans can also revel in some returns to the heaviness of past material.

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Primordial has refined and polished its unmistakable sound over many years, but Exile Amongst The Ruins is different in that we hear not merely evolution but experimentation as well. Next to Nemtheanga's iconic poison-tongued bellowing and the band's usual wickedly downtrodden riffing, we have a pair of singles that see Primordial heading in quite opposite directions with its distinctive folk black sound, and overall a less doomy, more gloomy atmosphere than the last few records. Rarely has a band had a more fitting name than Primordial, and Exile Amongst The Ruins preserves that feeling.

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