When most people think of ‘Folk Metal’ (if at all), the first bands who spring to mind are the titans of the genre: Fintroll, Korpiklaani, Turisas, Eluveitie and to an extent, Alestorm.
Characterised by melodic leads which have extremely infectious hooks to them, and often have a voicing of their own -almost as if they were a vocal line of sorts – the energy and feelgood factor you find in music deemed Folk metal is pretty high.
When you add European metal influences such as the rawness and power of Black Metal; the ferocity and pacing of Death Metal, and the pomp and theatricality of Power Metal, you get a strange hybrid which draws you in, keeps you hooked and to be honest… spells out ‘Party Time!’.
Doubt me? Just swing by a folk metal band at a music festival and see how the crowd act!
Of course, the feel and sound is just one aspect of folk metal. It’s renowned for its use of more traditional instruments – Lutes, Zithers, Dulcimers, Box Drums, Accordions, Fiddles and the enigmatic and extremely niche Hurdy Gurdy! The odd sounds these offer, when combined with a more contemporary metal foundation, adds an extra edge…. A duel between a fiddle and a guitar? Yes, the Devil Is Going Down to Georgia as far as folk metal is concerned.
However, it’s not all party, medieval fantasy, maidens, forests or other renaissance themes. For each example of a feelgood folk party anthem, there are plenty of darker and more sinister or sorrowful moments. Sea shanty songs which spell woe for those who dare follow in their paths, tales of disease, dragons, trolls and curses. It’s basically fairytales and Middle Earth, but musical-style!
So where do Sweden’s Apocalypse Orchestra fit?
As a disclaimer, the band is not an orchestra of sorts. Instead they are finely tuned Doom metal band, who also have a huge folk influence, especially in the form of lyrical themes, musical composition and delivery. With traditional instrument use meeting the slow drone and thunder of doom metal delivery, it certainly makes for an interesting musical concept, and perhaps this is where the ‘orchestra’ aspect may derive.
With a debut titled The End Is Nigh – a phrase which has plenty of resonance to the whole Judeo-Christian view of the end of the world through hellfire, brimstone and biblical levels of righteous fury and thunder -you can expect some dark and interesting lyrical themes.
Opening track, “The Garden Of earthly Delights”, potentially influenced by both the creation story in Genesis and the famous Hieronymus Bosch triptych is a scene setter of sorts, bringing in the whole doom and drone aspect of the music and working it well with the vocal delivery which, at times, is almost monotone and lifeless and at others, like monks’ meditative chanting. It really captures the Middle Ages feel.
“Flagellant’s Song” brings in more religious aspects, this time the whole medieval aspect of purification through self-deprivation and punishment. Depicting the art of whipping yourself across the back whilst praying (atoning for sin, or just a demonstration of how some people express their faith and religious fervour), it does bring up some strange mental imagery. As a contemporary reference, think of the extreme Catholic sect Opus Dei (or Tom Hanks either being chased by priests, or chasing priests!).
More bastardisation of popular culture waits in the form of closing track “Here Be Monsters”, a phrase often used on maps of the time where uncharted waters lay and the fear of the unknown ran wild! With an hypnotic melody which lures you in, it invites you to join in on the hopeless journey it depicts and the harsh metallic current underpinning the dark folk aspect is rather enjoyable.
As much as it can be captivating and interesting, bands like Apocalypse Orchestra are best experienced by the individual listener. The album is a good blend of two very distinct styles of music, creating a rather niche sound in an already niche genre of sorts, but just doesn’t excite me like the more energetic and popular folk metal bands referenced in the opening paragraph.
Still, for those who wish to read deeply into things; intellectuals interested in this period of time, and those with a thing for dressing up in full armour, belting each other with blunted broadswords and partying afterwards, this is certainly a release for you!