OK, so most people who know me offline will know that I actually grew up with folk music. Even now, I still have a soft spot for folk as a genre and am just as likely to pull out stuff like Steeleye Span and Simon & Garfunkel for casual listening as I am to pull out stuff like Black Sabbath and Nevermore. So you’d expect me to be an absolutely huge folk metal fan on paper. After all, it’s somewhat natural to expect a person who loves folk music and metal music to love hearing them together, so, logically, I should be all over folk metal with the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy shop and a bottomless bank account…right?
Surprisingly, no, I’m not! While I have heard some metal bands integrate folk elements into their sound in the past (Nightwish springs to mind), I’ve never actually listened to an actual folk metal album before now. The reason for this, quite simply, is that, because I knew folk metal was a genre which was incredibly diverse (as is folk in general, really) and most people didn’t bother to differentiate between which folk metal bands were taking influence from the melodic side of metal and the extreme side of metal, I tended to give it a bit of a wide berth because I didn’t particularly want to hear folk metal with extreme metal elements when, at the time, I wasn’t fond enough of extreme metal to be in with a chance of liking the result at all. Then, well, by the time I started liking extreme metal, other priorities put the idea of exploring folk metal on the backburner.
So yeah, here be dragons, basically.
Anyway, for those of you who want the basic information on the band, I’ll have to admit that my research didn’t bring up a huge amount on the band beyond their current lineup (lead vocalist and guitarist Tom Ostad, guitarists and backing vocalists Asgeir Stordal and Magnus Tveiten, bassist Steinar Evant and drummer Geir Johansen), their previous discography (which basically comprises of 2012’s self-released EP Forsmak and 2014’s self-released album Av jord er me komne, as far as I can tell) and where and when they founded (Drammen, Norway, in 2011). This, coupled with the fact that most of the information about the band is in Norwegian (which I don’t speak at all), means that I’m honestly not able to tell you much about the band. It’s not quite as detailed as I’d like in terms of information, I’ll admit, but it should be enough to get everyone at least somewhat up to speed!
Which leads me to Gjennom marg og bein, the band’s second record and first with label Crime Records. Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with it as an album, but, at the same time, I couldn’t help finding it really interesting and would certainly be interested in hearing more folk metal in the future.
Let me start with the obvious comment that I imagine most people will have guessed by now: the band’s lyrics are not in English, but are in Norwegian. This isn’t a problem for me at all, but it does mean that I haven’t got a clue what Ostad is singing about. So I won’t be discussing the band’s lyrics because, well, I can’t understand what’s being sung anyway and I doubt putting them through Google Translate is going to do anything except make me more confused.
The band’s sound…well, it’s hard to describe it in detail, really, but there are a decent range of songs, ranging from “practically full on metal” (‘Morkemann) to “almost like folk music played on metal instruments” (‘Under morke tyrirot’). I’m a bit surprised by the lack of ballads beyond ‘Finn kvila’, but that’s probably a complaint that more stems from my familiarity with folk than a criticism of the album, which manages to include a solid range of tempos and does an excellent job at holding interest overall. I also was surprised at the very limited number of folk instruments that appeared on the album: the vast majority of the record is based upon typical metal instruments, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (certainly, there’s nothing wrong with producing folk metal like that!), but I would have appreciated a more varied range of instruments overall. The overall sound is probably best summed up as a combination of Scandinavian folk music and traditional heavy metal, although bits of heavier metal styles do sneak into the band’s sound occasionally, including bits of groove metal, which is a sound that is probably nothing especially mindblowing if you’re already a fan of folk metal, but, for a newcomer whose familiarity with folk is mainly Irish and Northumbrian folk music and who has no knowledge of Norwegian folk at all, it’s an interesting sound to hear and I can’t deny that the band have done an excellent job making it work as a cohesive sound.
The songwriting itself is decent, but I honestly think the integration of the sounds on the record is more impressive than the actual songwriting, as I couldn’t really get into it as a whole. Some songs, like ‘Heimsokt’ and ‘Under morke tyrirot’, are certainly catchy and have some really enjoyable moments which stuck with me, but some, like ‘Bang bang’ (which also reminded me of nu-metal, for some reason), just didn’t impress me in the slightest. ‘Bang bang’ in particular just struck me as a dull and completely unnecessary track on the record, although the nu-metal reminders in its sound certainly didn’t help (I don’t like nu-metal, as you might have guessed!). When the record gets it right, it does fairly well, but, when it doesn’t, it just leaves me bored as a listener, and I have to say that I think there’s more misses than hits on this record. Still, I have to give credit to the band for variety and, being fair for a few seconds, the misses are less “this is horrible!” and more “this doesn’t do much for me”, so I could see people potentially enjoying this record as a whole.
The performances on the record don’t impress me much overall, although I wouldn’t say there’s anything bad about them at the same time. I think the fairly simplistic nature of the guitar riffing is a bit of a problem, but I can’t say it bugged me too much overall, just left me wishing the guitarists would try something different. The bass work is not too bad, but it doesn’t really do much of note overall. Probably the only instrument performance which I felt was somewhat interesting was the drums, which is the source of some decent fills, but doesn’t really deviate much from merely providing a beat for the rest of the band to follow for the most part. I’m really hoping the band steps up on the instrument front in the future, because they didn’t impress me much here.
Ostad’s vocals are probably the only performance which I actually liked. He has a voice which is just perfect for this style of music, being able to sing in a soft tone which gives a strong folk influence to the band’s sound while still being able to put enough power and roughness into his voice to sing metal music well when he has to. His vocal range isn’t the most impressive I’ve heard by any measure, but he certainly isn’t a bad vocalist!
The production of this record is fairly good, being somewhat polished without being too studio sounding and being fairly well mixed. I think the mastering is a bit louder than I would have liked, but it’s not problematic and it doesn’t cause too many problems for me, so I can live with it. The bass is also not too difficult to hear, which is fine with me! I think it’s fairly well done overall, so credit where it is due to the production crew on the record for a job well done!
Ultimately, I think Gjennom marg og bein has a very interesting sound and, when it is good, it’s definitely enjoyable. Unfortunately, I don’t think the performances on the record are strong enough to impress on that front and the songwriting doesn’t ascend the record past being decent at best. I definitely would like to check out more folk metal after listening to this album, so it’s done good on that front, but I doubt this is a record that’s going to be looked back upon with fondness once the year is over. Maybe if you’re a huge fan of folk metal, you might find this worth checking out, but, if not, then you’re not really missing anything that special if you give this a miss.
Gjennom marg og bein will be released on the 11th of March by Crime Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.