Denim and Leather - November - Native Singing Bands
In celebration of our brilliant new Spanish blog, ‘La Mosca Cojonera’, this month I’m looking at bands from around the world who choose to sacrifice potentially reaching broader audiences by opting to sing entirely in their native tongue. In heavy metal in general and throughout Scandinavia specifically, this is something that happens a lot and evidence can be found all over the more extreme genres such as pagan black and viking metal. However, in an industry where obscurity is everything, this kind of reclusive music can often end up breaking out into the UK, the rest of Europe and beyond, bringing some degree of success to the bands playing it. Here are some of my favourites, both established and up-and-coming, from the world of native metal.
Formed by three friends in 1995 in the capital city of Reykjavik, Iceland’s Sólstafir are as difficult to define as they are not to fall in love with. Working tirelessly since their formation, to date Sólstafir have released four demos, two EPs, one live album and four full-length records. The most recent of these, 2011’s ‘Svartir Sandar’, saw the band’s vision come fully into fruition with their finest piece of work yet by a good distance. This release also saw them really start to gain the recognition and success that they deserve with glowing reviews all round, including a few Album of the Year awards in top publications, high chart positions in Iceland and Finland and even a number one single in the former, their native Iceland, for the mesmerisingly beautiful ‘Fjara’ which was accompanied by a captivating music video directed by Bowen Staines. Tracks like ‘Fjara’ are what take Sólstafir out of the heavy metal sub-genre category and into their own etheric plane that can be enjoyed by people from all walks of life, but the rest of their work, although still easily accessible to outsiders, maintains a Primordial-like sound that still gives them a place to call home in the heavy metal community.
Arising from the ashes of The Devil’s Blood alongside the likes of Jess and the Ancient Ones and engulfed in the occult rock renaissance are the creepy, acid-drenched Seremonia. Unleashed by Svart Records in 2012 with their debut self-titled release, Seremonia have taken their unique brand of heavy, endtime psychedelic rock to a range of equally applicable venues around the world, from backroom Punk districts to big festival slots at the likes of Holland’s Roadburn. Singing entirely in their native Finnish, Seremonia’s sophomore release ‘Ihminen’ sees them begin to expand their style away from the Occult Rock revival movement and incorporate a more punky and at times epic sound to their music. Whilst not a concept album per se, ‘Ihminen’, which means human, focuses on the truly evil state of man in the 21st century, and the combination of 60s sludge sounding riffs alongside the hypnotic vocals of Noora Federley give Seremonia a horrifying and apocalyptic outlook on mankind's future. Ones to watch.
Starting out as another project of French multi-instrumentalist Stéphane (Neige) Paut but eventually turning into more of a neverending quest, Alcest began playing raw black metal but soon evolved into the atmospheric, post-rock shoegazing music they’re known for today. Driven entirely by Neige’s childhood dreams of a fantastic transitional realm, these transient visions spoke of a place where the soul rests free from the burden of incarnation and all music, lyrics and artwork are intensely linked into the aim of depicting that place and the profound, arcane feelings one can experience there. Alongside the music, this concept works exceptionally well when delivered, as Alcest do, in the French language and 2012’s ‘Les voyages de l'âme’ brings the listener closer than ever to understanding the vision laid out by the band. As enchanting to reflect listening to as they are to watch live, Alcest are my number one pick for foreign music you need to listen to.
In 2001 the folk music duo of Patrik and Niklas Rimmerfors joined forces with childhood friends and members of the band Pathos to create Fejd. The combination of Rimmerfors traditional Swedish folk music with medieval undertones and Pathos members heavy metal backbone instantly made for something very exciting. Amalgamating this with the bands usage of traditional instruments like the Moraharpa(Keyed Fiddler) and the Mungiga(Jew’s Harp) brought the concept to completion and something very special was born. A couple of well received demos and one EP was enough to gain the attention of Napalm Records who signed the band up to start releasing full lengths. Fast forwarding five years brings us to their most recent release, 2013’s ‘Nagelfar’, and sees Fejd more confident than ever in the fusion of sounds they are creating. From the haunting opening of ‘Ulvsgäld’ to the grave instrumental finish in ‘Häxfärd’, this is a band three albums deep and really starting to hone their craft both in the studio and on stage.
Across their 17 year existence, Austria’s Dornenreich have gained more labels than a shopping centre. This is the result of their never-ending journey of discovery and evolution within the German language, which shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. After their first two albums gripped the world of avant-garde Black Metal, 2001 saw them sign with Prophecy Productions and take things in a new direction with the landmark release of ‘Her von welken Nächten’, bringing praise and adoration from music moguls the world over and sending them touring a huge 50 dates across Europe. The next two releases continued to attract a wider range of labels from ‘Neofolk’ and ‘Dark Pop’ to ‘Industrial’, the assortment of which proves Dornenreich’s unique ability to transcend the border constraints of genres. Following this was another landmark release for the band in 2008’s ‘In Luft Geritzt’, meaning “Carved in Air”, that saw the exclusive usage of acoustic guitar, violin, percussion and the soothing yet nightmarish vocals of Jochen Stock. Appropriately being described by the band as “Intense, Mystic, Timeless” showed their feelings towards misleading labels such as ‘Acoustic Black Metal’ and what they fail to get across: that sensation that no words can define. As well as contributing one of the finest tracks to Prophecy Productions Neofolk compilation ‘Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings’ in 2010 from the previous album, Celebrating and representing 15 years of the bands heritage is their most recent album, 2011’s ‘Flammentriebe’ which blends blazing guitars, calming violins and a gripping nature overall, accurately depicting the bands history to date. Moving forward from this third landmark release sees Dornenreich head back into the studio to start work towards ‘Freiheit’. This will be the band's eighth studio album and one can only hope to guess at what the result will be, except to say that it be something passionate, magical and heartfelt.
Although not singing entirely in their native Faroese and instead combining this with English throughout their work, an article on foreign singing artists wouldn’t feel complete without one of my favourite bands in progressive viking metallers Týr, formed in 1998 with the intention of honouring the one armed God of War and Justice. “Traditional music dating back to the Vikings, that is not preserved anywhere else in the world, not even in Iceland, is passed on in an oral tradition here and it is still alive and well. That is what we build our music on and draw great inspiration from” is how mastermind and lead singer Heri Joensen accurately sums up the bands work, which he rightly feels sets them apart from the rest of the viking metal movement. Following the release of their now legendary debut album ‘How Far to Asgaard’, Týr’s follow up ‘Eric the Red’ would become the island’s best-selling album and subsequently grab the attention of Napalm Records who would release the album worldwide in 2006.
The next two releases would see Týr both expand and refine their sound from the technically brilliant and authentically viking ‘Ragnarok’ to the ambitious and traditionally Faroese concept of ‘Land’, both of which met with rave reviews and gained the band more followers everywhere they toured. A sequel of sorts from their debut came next in ‘By the Light of the Northern Star’, the single from which ‘Hold the Heathen Hammer High’ alongside it’s impressive video saw Týr reach new commercial heights. After a final release on Napalm in 2011 this year saw Týr head for a new horizon and a new chapter in their career over at Metal Blade Records for the recent release of their latest offering ‘Valkyrja’, which sees their sound head in bold new directions whilst staying faithful to their authentic Faroese ancestry. Packed with instant classics throughout the album as well as the beautiful ballad ‘The Lay of Our Love’ alongside a pair of brilliant Iron Maiden and Pantera covers, ‘Valkyrja’ sees Týr in good hands at Metal Blade and heading for a future brighter than the halls of Valhalla itself.
By Nick Malone
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Album of the month
Artist - Beastmilk
Title - Climax
Label - Svart Records
Born in 2010 during a nuclear winter in Helsinki, the void-mothers of Beastmilk kick out an irradiated dust of what they appropriately dub ‘apocalyptic post-punk’ with their debut full length release. Ghoulish death rock matched with a wicked sense of humour will have you falling in love with the fallout.
Gig of the month
Hawkwind - 9th November, o2 Academy
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