The Best Folk / Pagan / Viking Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2019





Hands down, the partiest album of 2019. Letchology is designed to make you move with Cavalera-core breakdowns, smooth ska grooves, and rappy metalcore that is, of course, couched in the colorful energy of Romanian folk music. Imagine giving Destrage a horn section, or Andrew W.K. an accordion, or Gogol Bordello a System Of A Down album. Dirty Shirt are so full of brassy, metallic exuberance and they want you to be, too. Bring your friends. Bring your grandparents. Bring the whole town. They'll love it.

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Since their 2016 EP, an excellent first foray that earned itself a nomination in this category, E-an-na have picked up a few new members and a lot of new tricks. Like Jiana, Nesfârşite combines frenetic Romanian folk music with Eluveitie-style metal underpinnings, now tweaked into something more closely resembling metalcore, but with an hour of space to fill, E-an-na have taken the opportunity to experiment on their full-length debut. Between gorgeously precise and blistering exercises of traditional instrumentation, you'll hear forays into electronic and acoustic styles, more aggressive metal, and even something swing-like, now that it's the Roaring Twenties again. Whatever pace or tone E-an-na takes, there's always a second or third or fourth or fifth layer of instrumentation backing it up, and with a powerful vocal tag team (something all folk metal bands should strongly consider), Nesfârşite really establishes E-an-na as one of the emerging bands to watch in this scene.

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A lot of weight fell on the shoulders of Ategnatos: it was to be Eluveitie's studio return to heavy metal after a highly dramatic personnel shake-up and an (extremely successful) acoustic test run in Evocation II - Pantheon. As we should have expected, Chrigel Glanzmann and his newly reassembled clan delivered the same quality we had gotten used to; Ategnatos follows Helvetios and Origins very closely, incorporating countless ancient melodies from the Occidental Continent into a grim, Gothenburg-tinged metal framework. Bouncing between catchy choruses and slamming distortion with the dedication to traditional songcraft that Eluveitie has always treasured, Ategnatos shows off a new and strong ensemble, proving that we have nothing to worry about - Eluveitie is back.

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Still wearing a lot of their Moonsorrow influences on their sleeve, Finsterforst manage to come back to good graces after literally releasing an EP titled #‎YØLØ‬. So not only is Zerfall Finsterforst's longest album, it also has their longest song at 36 minutes in length. Thankfully the album works wonders in making sure that time is used to create some very immersive atmosphere, without turning the balance too hard in favor of the atmosphere; instead, it always feels like there is something massive happening.

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Nothing like some Viking metal to get the blood pumping in between two winter raids of the local watering hole. Listening to a band that continues to innovate even when they approach their thirtieth anniversary is a rare treat for a folk metal fan, but it seems that Helheim is as dedicated to elevating the genre on Rignir as they were on their previous outings. While the slight post-rock tinge makes the sound more modern, it goes so well with the traditional themes of the lyrics that it's hard to imagine a better pairing. And if Norwegian proficiency isn't listed in your CV, just close your eyes and think of icy rain beating upon the smooth, rocky surface of a mountain top.

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With plenty of black metal in their folk - or maybe the other way around, with plenty of melody in their black metal. Regardless, Obsequiae have created a medieval sound that is the warmest and haziest that medieval black metal has ever sounded, complete with melodic guitar melodies, harp interludes, and some clean vocals to complement the shrieks. If this album isn't transporting you to a fantastical medieval world full of knights and dragons and where no one questions the moral superiority of feudalism and monarchy, there's no telling what will.

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Born out of Negură Bunget's last lineup, with a few additions, Sur Austru brings together some of the doom sound from Grimegod, which some of the members are part of, with the black folk sound of Negură Bunget to create a droning soundscape where each instrument is building a somber atmosphere (especially the flute) and where each song has its own personality and dips its toes into some sound other than the established folk-black one.

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Týr - Hel

Týr had been quite productive for the first decade of its career, and then... a six-year gap between Valkyrja and Hel. What could have happened? Týr was determining what kind of band it wanted to be, learning again from scratch how to write folk metal. Hel does not have as many melodic hooks or succinct structures as the last few albums, focusing more on building a full-album sound with deeper, more serious cuts. Týr's sea-faring anthems are a tad more progressive, a smidgen darker this time around, on top of the fact that Heri & co. simply knocked it out of the park with the actual songcraft; it's quite possible that this will be the album Týr is remembered by decades from now.

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Over the last few years, it really seemed like Tengger Cavalry were lost and couldn't find their true path - they were struggling for a sound musical direction, and Nature Ganganbaigal was struggling for acceptance within himself. Though it is little consolation for those who mourn Nature's death, it seems that for one final time he captured the spirit of the original vision he had for Tengger Cavalry ten years ago. Northern Memory is a fitting title, as this album contains some of the sincerest and most impassioned music that the band ever recorded, and it is now the album by which we will remember Nature. While Nature rests with his ancestors, we have Northern Memory to sing the great trail-blazing horselord to the skies.

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We're not sure how Forefather would feel about knowing they have a French equivalent, but that's for Wulfstan and Athelstan to worry about; Véhémence has already earned the comparison. This is proper medieval metal - not esoteric neofolk, not sensationalized power metal fantasy, but blackened blasts built around the clanging of mail, the galloping of horses, and the singing of brave deeds. Hallowed choruses meld the strains of olden legends with bright, colorful guitar harmonies that are tremolo-picked into perfection and dark, solemn voyages into the mists of history; these gilded melodies are practically leaping into existence from the halls of kings and the pages of illuminated manuscripts. Most black metal comes from caves or mountains, but Par Le Sang Versé is inside the castle, waiting to burst forth for a siege.

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