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The Best Folk / Pagan / Viking Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2021





If you’ve been enjoying Kaatayra’s Brazilian black metal-sans-electricity, then Aztlan's hybrid melodeath may be your next favorite. Legión Mexica does incorporate electric instrumentation, but those modern elements hang in a rare kind of equilibrium with the acoustic guitars, brass, and premodern percussion. Aztlan have no problem spinning their many disparate sounds into acoustic melodeath or murderous Mexican metal, and as often as they pay tribute to contemporary metal acts or embark on oddly upbeat variations on folk music, they also borrow the darkness of something more primordial and mysterious than the youthful pretensions of modern popular music. Legión Mexica is a massive, 80-minute adventure, drawing you deeper and deeper into the misty, sweltering jungles of ancient Aztlán with every furious flood of raw, sunbaked noise.

Bandcamp / YouTube (full album)

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Folk metal prodigy Malo Civelli goes from strength to strength with the latest effort from his project Cân Bardd. Taking the established approach of marrying black metal’s vocals, tremolo, and blast beats with folk instruments, chorals, and melodies, Devoured By The Oak delivers each element and combination with aplomb, creating a world of fantasy in a way that very few records in this vein have previously gotten close to. Devoured By The Oak delivers the epicness of great fantasy movie scores with captivating melodies and compositional grandeur.

Bandcamp / YouTube (full album)

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Empyrium are such practiced hands at writing somber, oppressive neofolk that half the time they don’t even need metal to summon a stunning natural gloom – and this they have proved over several past albums, but lately they’ve been getting back to their heavier roots. Über Den Sternen brings back the blend of doom and atmospheric black metal that once more regularly complemented the band’s acoustic compositions. The haunting, throaty baritone cleans that surface throughout resemble Gregorian chants, increasing the impression of misty timelessness, and when shored up by fading whispers, silky bass, light synths, and a hefty amount of reverb, the album has a goth rock/post-punk sense of melancholic mystique that works well with the inherent darkness in the Scandinavian folk elements. Über Den Sternen is Empyrium's first album in 7 years and their first album to be this heavy in much, much longer, and it shows a band still at the top of its class, walking the line between pure metal and pure folk the way few others can.

Bandcamp / YouTube (single 1) / YouTube (single 2)

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Hot on the heels after their 2020 blockbuster Uinuos Syömein Sota, Havukruunu keep their pagan crusade going at full speed with this 35-minute EP. You wouldn't be able to guess that it's a merging of their oldest and latest material by listening, because the quality throughout is as high as the average beats per minute. Kuu Erkylän Yllä is a deceptively melodic blend of raw, violent, and epic Viking metal that eschews surprise and innovation in favour of perfecting an established style. This approach has quickly made Havukruunu into a serious contender for the Viking metal crown. If albums were combat vehicles, this one's a maglev tank cruising fearlessly through the Winter War.

Bandcamp / YouTube (full album)

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The final part in the "Transylvanian Trilogy" as well as the final Negură Bunget album period came after long anticipation and long after it was recorded. Built around late drummer and founding member Gabriel "Negru" Mafa's recorded drum parts, Zău straddles the divide between Frankenstein's monster and the crowning achievement of the trilogy. Though its constraints are understandable, Zău does the most it can with what it has, crafting ethereal atmospheres in the ambient folk sections and thunderous black metal wherever drum parts were available. A fitting end, considering how it's a miracle this album even exists, and one that sparked the need for some retrospection.

Bandcamp / YouTube (full album playlist)

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Ruadh continues to take big strides forward, with Eternal marking the grandest and most adventurous step so far: an album that unravels before you as you listen, a journey through flowing atmospheric set pieces centred around the theme of seasonal change, weaving the material together into one of the most cohesive and entertaining releases of the year. An album you can put on and immerse yourself in, a strong contender for one of the albums of the year.

Bandcamp

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Turning to the traditions of centuries past for inspiration doesn’t mean that your sound has to be stagnant. While they originated as a southwesterly answer to Eluveitie, Spain’s Salduie have grown ever more adept at composing neofolk and more comfortable incorporating cutting-edge metal trends. Ambaxtos shows the band’s arrangements shooting to new heights of sophistication and variegation, particularly in the vocal department: whether solo or choral, dramatic or flippant, brutal or Blind Guardian, or all at the same time, the prodigious range of approaches provides fascinating ornamentation to a series of Celtic-inspired compositions. Ambaxtos still mows down Roman legions with Gothenburgian distortion and menace, but Salduie have also learned a very important lesson: sometimes, you have to exit the dark woods and throw a party.

YouTube (full album)

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Obârșie is not too different from Sur Austru’s debut album, Meteahna Timpurilor, in that they sound like continuously polished versions of folk black sound they played while in Negură Bunget. But lacking the name and the expectations that come with it, Sur Austru were able to craft something that gets pretty close to being their own sound, much more streamlined and focused on blending the folk and the black into a single cohesive, droning generator of immersion in the forested mountains of Romania. Their tools are sharper, their melodies more enchanting, their songwriting more refined. All in all, it shows a clear upwards trajectory for Sur Austru.

Bandcamp / YouTube (full album)

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Growls over militaristic rituals blend with bewitching singing over off-beat folk instrumentation. If this sounds a bit like a mix of Rotting Christ and Thy Catafalque, you've got the right idea, and it's very enthralling. Bajki O Staruchu's opening track title translates to "It's Scary Here", and the title "Straszno Tu" recurs several times throughout the album, to remind you all that you're entering territories as dreadfully dark as they are mysterious and awe-inspiring. Not that you'd need that reminder, since the music speaks for itself. Thy Worshiper's songs sound more like mantras to summon evil spirits for scaring off even eviller spirits, and it's easy to imagine a motley crew of sky-clad pagans pounding on drum skins, chanting and dancing around bonfires on a dying marshland haunted by will-o'-wisps beneath a full moon. Bajki O Staruchu is a unique, spellbinding, and hypnotic take on pagan metal.

Bandcamp / YouTube (full album)

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Eight years of absence left Thyrfing itching to announce themselves anew with Vanagandr. Though they have been streamlining their sound over the years, pushing back the symphonic elements and focusing on a tighter, more concise mode of songwriting, the Swedish wardogs keep to their epic stomping pace with plenty of opportunities for the keys and strings to add their unique layers of pagan bombast, and thanks to the palette of vocal tones conquered by Jens Rydén with his raucous cleans and wicked growls, Thyrfing can move effortlessly between jaunty mead-hall choruses and intimidating Viking black metal chants. Those blackened elements give the songs a good scorching, too, complementing the more melodic, mid-paced folk passages with enough speed and ferocity to keep Vanagandr balanced on the edge between extremity and accessibility. It was a long wait after De Ödeslösa, but Thyrfing didn’t let that time go to waste.

YouTube (full album playlist)

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