One day, we’ll have the time to unpack the complexities of the links between black metal and folk music. This is a subject which runs underneath any and all earnest discussion of the genre; in sound, in theme and in content, black metal is, of course, deeply affected by links to the folk cultures of Europe and beyond. From Ulver, Primordial, Darkthrone, Emperor and other progenitors of the genre to recently discussed Heid, Panopticon, Agalloch, Apocalyptic Witchcraft and more, folk music, tales and aesthetics color black metal through and through. Too often these ties are left implicit, their influences bubbling beneath the surface. This can lead to misunderstandings or simple ignorance, as a huge swath of what makes black metal work is consigned to the avid fan or the rare musician.
Luckily, Season of Mist teamed up in 2014 with Drudkh frontman Roman Sayenko to remedy some of that implicitness. Together, they gave us an underrated gem of an album called One and All, Together, for Home. It is nothing else but a collaboration album spanning various traditions, sounds and histories to shine a light on some of the folk music that acts as fuel for black metal. The roster includes the aforementioned Primordial, but also Haive, Winterfylleth, Kampfar and more. Together, they’ve compiled an album made up of a rich tapestry of styles, from true-to-source renditions of ancient songs to more metal oriented interpretations of said melodies. The guidelines for the contributing acts seem to have fast and loose and thus, the album features varied and disparate approaches, lending it a strong sense of personal, creative identity.
It opens with the by-now famous live track from Primordial, “Dark Horse on the Wind”. This melancholic and beautiful track, which opens all Primordial live acts, was originally written in 1966 and is a scathing political diatribe aimed at one of the most controversial moments in Irish national identity, the 1916 Easter Rising. This operation against the British was centered on Dublin and was one of the first, modern attempts to establish an Irish Republic. The resulting mass incarceration and massacre by the British of the rebels resulted in a dubious history of the rebels: where they courageous warriors for liberty or deluded extremists? Opening with this track, which laments the loss of life and dreams which the Easter Rising led to, immediately sets the album above the cut; it’s not a knee jerk effort, aimed at cliche ideas that are too often assigned black metal. It shows that black metal, through the artists at its core, is often focused at intricate and important relationships with national identity and the “folk” repertoires which it consists of. This is reinforced by the closing track, “The Foggy Dew”, a lament once again written about the Easter Rising and a possible criticism of it.
The rest of the album is then made different by this intricate approach to legacy and the importance of folk identity in modern times. Haive’s “Ei Kuule Emo Minua” for example, a scathing, black metal track in all its resplendent glory, draws its lyrics directly from the Kanteletar, the sister national epic to the more wildly recognized Kalevala. Both texts formed crucial boiling points for the Finnish struggle for independence against the Russians in the early 20th century and later, a struggle with ongoing ramifications on folk identity and discourse. The track itself is sheer brilliance, a stunning contrast to the otherwise muted tracks that come before it. The track, as well as Haive’s other contribution near the end of the album, “Onpa Tietty Tietyssani” (another traditional, Finnish song) are some of the strongest and heaviest moments on the album. Another such moment is Kampfar’s “En Hymne Til Urd”, whose lyrics come from the Icelandic Voluspå, one of the most important folk poems/sagas in the Scandinavian milieu. The track utilizes somber piano to introduce its ethereal strengths, finally exploding into a lilting, folk-inspired, doom metal crescendo.
The richness of the historical sources used is perhaps the greatest strength of this astounding effort. Branching away from European influences, Ava Inferi (a Portuguese project featuring vocalist Carmen Simões and spearheaded by Rune Eriksen of Mayhem fame) render a hauntingly powerful “Ao Teu Lado” (“by your side”), a phrase common in psalms both Protestant and Catholic. Its Latin infused guitars have a completely different timbre and meaning to the rest of the acoustic instruments found throughout the album. That contrast is cleverly highlighted by the following “Montferland II” by MONDOVOLLAND, featuring more European influenced acoustic guitars which will be familiar to fans of Opeth. These guitars are elsewhere featured on “The Three Ravens” by Winterfylleth, a translation of the traditional, Scottish song “Twa Corbies”. Continuing the damp, somber coloration of the album, this track blends leading and backing vocals to a powerful, chilling atmosphere of loss and bereavement, a fierce longing for home and place.
With all of this in mind, One and All, Together, for Home is a much needed masterpiece. It injects so much essential complexity to the discourse behind the ties between black metal and its folk influences, complexity often missing from the discussion. Eschewing the “obvious”, much trodden paths and configurations of metal and folk, One and All, Together, for Home is a subtle, rich and varied album. Both Roman Sayenko and Season of Mist deserve to be lauded for such an ambitious and accomplished effort to find new perspective into such a controversial question and for providing us with more tools to hold the discussion itself. Add to the fact that the music on it, whether heavy or “soft”, is beautiful and you get a perfect storm, an unappreciated, classic gem in our own lifetime.