[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.net, http://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.