Folk metal is an immensely varied genre but an interest in the past in general, and the remote barbarian past, in particular, is a universal and defining characteristic. Performers evoke history in a number of ways, including musical sound, visual imagery, and lyrical subject matter, but the most emphatic tactic adopted (albeit by a minority of bands) is by the use of lyrics in dead languages (defined as those with no speakers for whom they are a mother tongue). Europe has many of these, of which much the most prestigious is Latin; folk metal bands, however, tend to use one or other of the vernacular languages, invariably that spoken during the earliest and formative period of their own national group. This practice of singing in dead languages originated in 1994 with the Norwegian band Enslaved, in a period in which extreme metal bands were self-consciously rejecting English – pop music's dominant tongue – in an attempt to distance themselves from what they saw as inauthentic neo-liberal Anglo-American cultural hegemony. From its beginnings, it had strongly patriotic and nationalistic overtones but it is argued that the ancient texts from which lyrics are taken also acquire a quasi-religious character for listeners, not least because of the occulted and numinous air imparted by the opaqueness of the language. The acts that have most often composed lyrics in dead languages have been Scandinavian – singing in Old Norse – but the most popular act that currently engages in it is Eluveitie, from Switzerland, who, whilst mostly performing in modern English, include at least one song on every album in reconstructed ‘Gaulish’. This linguistic strategy is at once a means of locating Eluveitie within the ‘code’ of folk metal, a method of acquiring the sub-cultural capital associated with ‘authenticity’, and an opportunity to align themselves with internationally-familiar and popular ‘Celtic’ identity and sensibilities.
Trafford, S. (2020), "
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2020 Emerald Publishing Limited