Guest Post: Sharon Knight Reviews Paganfest America

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 4, 2012 — 16 Comments

[The following is a guest post from Sharon Knight. Sharon Knight is a nationally touring musician in the mythic-Celtic vein, and also front person for gothic-tribal-folk-metal band Pandemonaeon. With her partner Winter and Anaar of Tombo Studio, they produce Hexenfest, a festival dedicated to magick and Paganism in music and the arts. She has a lifelong fascination for the places where magick and the arts intersect. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found at http://www.sharonknight.nethttp://www.pandemonaeon.net.]

San Francisco, DNA Lounge April 17th

There has been an interesting fusion of Paganism and music developing over the last 15+ years, which has recently begun finding its way to American shores. This phenomenon is called Folk Metal and as you can probably guess, it combines folk music styles and instrumentation with hard rock and metal. Folk Metal originated in Europe and in many cases endeavors to revive the ancestral traditions of European Pagan culture. Nature, Paganism, mythology, history, and ancestral homage feature prominently in the lyrical themes of folk metal bands. For my part, I am smitten.

I recently went to see several of these bands perform at the aptly named Paganfest, in San Francisco on Aprl 17th.  Five bands played – Huntress, Hysteria, Alestorm, Arkona, and Turisas. I missed the first two – despite Huntress’s claims that they draw much of their inspiration from witchcraft, I find their take on witchcraft too sensationalistic. However I fully enjoyed the three main acts. Arkona is always outstanding and are quickly becoming one of my favorite bands. They describe their music as Slavic Pagan Metal. Founded by a husband and wife team on guitar and vocals, Akona’s power lies in the ferocity of front person Masha Scream, a petite dynamo wrapped in leather and wolf pelts, who brings to mind Joan of Arc and delivers medieval sounding anthems drawn from Russian mythology and folklore. Also, they have a bagpiper.

Alestorm is just plain fun. Not a lot of deep tradition here, but they deliver what they promise – “Bacon Powered Pirate Core”.  What more could you ask for in an evening’s entertainment? Also describing themselves as Scottish Pirate Metal, they sing of the simple things in life – wenching, drinking and questing, with traditional Celtic melodies perfectly suited to the sentiment.

Though I went to Paganfest for Arkona, Turisas stole the show. I jumped up and down for the entirety of their set. Which is saying something, since jumping is not in any way an activity I am compelled to. Looking like something that stepped out of a Mad Max movie, Turisas delivered a sonic assault that was relentless and powerful, yet also melodic, sophisticated, and thoroughly engaging. These lads are here to be bad-ass, make no mistake – they describe their music as Battle Metal. And indeed their songs are tailored to rally the berserker in us all. Their front man (Mathias Nygard) is grandiose and over-the-top, yet somehow doesn’t come across as pretentious, and their lead instrumentalist (Ollie Vanska) is one of the best violinists I’ve heard. Like so many great metal bands, Turisas hails from Finland.

In short, Paganfest was an evening of Viking warriors and battle goddesses, modern day berserkers come to slay us with song instead of swords. It roused the fierce pride of the tribe, and helped to shake off some of the apathy our world is plagued with. This was music fulfilling one of its highest purposes – waking the ancestral songs that sing in our blood, with ancient melodies and tribal rhythms that have lain dormant in our DNA for generations. This music compels us to rise, and fight to preserve what our ancestors died for – a welcome change from the usual trite sentiments in modern music.

Metal isn’t everyone’s thing, and it isn’t the only style of music I like. But I am very excited to see this level of musical discipline applied to Pagan themes, and I wish it happened more often. Our traditions deserve to be represented in the arts, and I hope this is a trend that continues across an ever-increasing range of musical styles and cultures.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=601178231 Jason Mankey

    Several of the bands that fuse “Paganism and metal” also add a large helping of Satanism and general antagonism towards Christianity to their music.  It can often be a very uncomfortable mix, while at the same time exhilarating and head banging in the best way possible.  I listen to a lot of it myself, but it’s often a mixed bag.  It’s definitely a genre worth checking out, just be prepared for surprises.    

    • Cigfran

      By the same token, I really enjoy Vanden Plas even though their overt Christianism sort of squicks me.

      Good metal stands on its own merits.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001741042586 Gabriel Lorquet

      While there is a lot of Christian hate in Black Metal, I find it much less aparant in Folk Metal. I give you that the line between paganish Black Metal and Folk Metal is thin. Folk metal is more about honouring and cheerishing our own ancestors than just hating on other people…

  • Lori F – MN

    Thanks for the update. I’ll be checking out those bands tonight.

  • http://twitter.com/KulkulkanX Thomas Valdez

    I’ve been fans of Alestorm and Turisas  for a while now, but haven’t been exposed to Arkona until now.  Time for a download!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001741042586 Gabriel Lorquet

    I must point out Eluveitie and Korpiklaani for the folks that are interested in the great sounds of Folk Metal.

    • http://profiles.google.com/celticelk Scott Martin

       Eluveitie is the most interesting hybrid of Celtic sounds with metal I’ve heard since the original Skyclad albums in the early ’90s.  Those who don’t like metal should check out their mostly-acoustic album *Evocation I* anyway.

      • Nick Ritter

        “Eluveitie is the most interesting hybrid of Celtic sounds with metal I’ve heard since the original Skyclad albums in the early ’90s.”

        Add to that the fact that they sing in *Gaulish*. Anyone who revives a dead language to make music in it has my rapt attention.

        • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

          It’s a one-off invoking one of HPL’s deities, but “Nyarlathotep” by Darkest of the Hillside Thickets is the only song I know of entirely in Middle Egyptian. If you like dead languages, it’s worth a listen.

          • Nick Ritter

            Thanks for the recommendation! A friend of mine and I once thought of recording some form of Metal in Sumerian, because Sumerian makes everything sound badass. Except that the lyrics would be things like “I like fuzzy bunnies” and “kittens make me happy.”

            I like a joke that requires years of education to get.

  • Lori F – MN

    The Wild Hunt is how I found Sharon Knight and Pandemonaeon.  I can’t wait to check these artists out.
    Keep showcasing musicians!

    Don’t forget to mention old favoriates too.

  • Thelettuceman

    I had a chance to see a Paganfest out here (New York) in 2008, which I unfortunately didn’t take.  It was right after I moved back home from college after graduation and I couldn’t get back downstate to see them.  I think Tyr was one of the big headliners at that show.  I don’t get to see too many shows as I’ve never been a significant concert goer, but I hope to get out to some kind of Pagan fest again, soon.

    I wish some of the fans at these shows were a little different though.  I cannot begin to tell how many people I have run into who are loud, boisterous, and suddenly a Christian-hating, self-adopted and initiated Nordic pagan because they listened to too much Viking metal.

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

    From the Turisas website:

    “the Finns have spent the last few years taking their music to the
    people, just as their beloved Viking ancestors strode purposefully
    across the northern Hemisphere many centuries ago.”

    *head hits desk* really? I must have missed the part of Finnish history where all the Finns became Vikings and traveled all over the northern hemisphere.

    • LDP

       Well, if you think about it one second, the name of the band leader (and composer) is Nygaard, Nygaard is originally written Nygård and is an old swedish name, the band’s guitarist, Wickström is also swedish . In fact, many do not know that in Finland there is a minority of 5 percents of swedish speakers whose ancestors are, indeed, vikings. In addition to that, a good number of Finnish speaking Finns also have swedish ancestry as many swedish speaking finns gave up their distinctive swedish language and culture back in the early 20th century. So yes, Turisas may play the Viking card a bit too much but deep down, there is some kind of truth in what they say.

      Otherwise, the sole really “Pagan” band on the bill is Arkona, the other Folk metal bands don’t carry any real pagan identity or message in their music. It is sad, when considering other bands that have previously participated in the pagan fest and whose message is indeed pagan (Primordial, Moonsorrow, Finntroll, Heidevolk, Unleashed, Einherjer, Tyr…).

      I once again find it very sad that many “traditional” pagan do not seem to know what’s going on in the Pagan Metal scene and can’t really sort the goods from the posers.

      • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

         I’d considered that, but even so, in that case it’s their Swedish ancestors who were Vikings and not their Finnish ones. The quote, as I read it, specifically implies that the ancient Finns were Vikings, or alternatively, that all Finns have Viking ancestors, which is almost certainly not the case.

        • LDP

          That sure is. That’s why I say the guys of the band are overdoing it a bit. But well, I suppose that for most teenagers in North-America, it doesn’t make much difference…