As a subgenre of folk music that harkens back to the ancestral roots of Europe’s vibrant history and culture, the captivating rhythms and enchanting lyrical themes of paganfolk, based on ancient runic inscriptions, paganism and folklore, are what make the music a magical and out-of-this-world listening experience. Here are a number of musical groups that best illustrate this subgenre’s diverse soundscapes.
Image: Apple Music
No article about paganfolk is ever complete without mentioning Wardruna, whom are widely regarded as one of the pioneers of this subgenre. Originally formed by the exceptionally talented multi-instrumentalist, singer and lyricist Einar Selvik, singer Lindy-Fay Hella and legendary (yet controversial) black metal musician Gaahl, the trio released their debut “Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga” in 2009, a concept album that took its inspiration from the arcane runes of the Elder Futhark. Gaahl has since left Wardruna in 2014, however, new additions to the band have kept the flame of Wardruna’s authentic ambience and transcendent performances alive. True to their pagan roots, Wardruna not only employ traditional Nordic instruments in their music, but they also present their songs in Norwegian and Old Norse.
So far, Wardruna have released two more albums that are “Runaljod – Yggdrasil” (2013) and “Runaljod – Ragnarok” (2016) respectively, tying up into one epic tale. The group’s music is both cathartic and powerful, sometimes evoking a trance-like atmosphere. It ranges from fiery and aggressive like “Fehu” to somber and mournful, such as the haunting dirge “Helvegen”. Wardruna’s popularity has even resulted in some of their songs to be featured in the History Channel series “Vikings” and Einar Selvik being recruited as one of the main music composers of the series alongside Trevor Morris.
Branching out from Wardruna is Skuggsjá, a side project by Einar Selvik and Ivar Bjørnson, the guitarist and founding member of the Norwegian black metal band Enslaved. At first listen, Skuggsjá might not differ much from Wardruna, for it still embodies the similarly haunting atmosphere and stylistic use of traditional Nordic instruments. However, the similarities between both projects must end here, for Skuggsjá carries a more abrasive and heavy metal-influenced vibe to it. Inflicting a harshly melodic sound to it, ranging from the black metal-esque tune “Makta Og Vanæra, For All Tid” to the enigmatic “Vitkispá”. A second album titled “Hugsjá” is slated for release this April.
Image: Amazon Music
Another influential entity in the world of paganfolk would be Faun. Named after the mythical half-human, half-goat creature in European folklore, the German band is currently made up of Oliver s. Tyr, Fiona Rüggeberg, Stephan Groth, Laura Fella, Rüdiger Maul and Niel Mitra. Faun’s music relays imagery and timeless tales from Europe’s rich culture and history via soothing vocals and folk instruments such as the Celtic harp, hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes and more. Unlike Wardruna’s dark and contemplative vibe, Faun carries a somewhat happier and slightly modern sound to their creations. Presenting their songs in a multitude of languages is one of the most remarkable features of this band. Expect languages such as Finnish, German, English, Spanish, Turkish, Latin and even Old Norse.
Their latest album, “Midgard” revolves around Norse mythology presented in the German language. One of their stand-out tracks is “Odin” which features the presence of a guest vocalist, none other than the master of Norse music Einar Selvik himself!
Tinged with the occasional hint of mischief, Omnia paints a light-hearted image of paganfolk with their elaborate costumes and energetic stage presence. Omnia is led by singers and multi-instrumentalists Steve Sic and Jenny. Being shamanic pagans (and a married couple), the duo forged a musical partnership along with band members Daphyd, Rob and Joe. The Dutch quintet is well-known for combining world instruments (such as the Celtic harp, didgeridoo, flute, acoustic guitar and drums) with esoteric lyrical themes that deal with shamanism and Mother Nature. The band members are also known for promoting themselves as tree-hugging Earth Warriors, as they have emphasised that they are more than “just a band”, but “a complete life style, philosophy and natural-‘religion’ without leaders or rules” instead.
The Moon and The Nightspirit
The Moon and The Nightspirit’s music is wistful, yet it retains that slight hint of dreaminess and childlike innocence. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Ágnes Tóth and guitarist Mihály Szabó make up this duo, bringing centuries of Hungarian folklore and paganism to life with their lively tones and fable-inspired atmosphere. The duo released their debut “Of Dreams Forgotten and Fables Untold” in 2005, with songs presented mostly in English. They have soon gone on to release another five albums with lyrics written entirely in their native Hungarian tongue.
This underrated one-woman project by talented Polish singer and multi-instrumentalist Anna Maria Oskierko might be underground, but she sure deserves much more recognition in the folk scene. Bearing a Polish moniker that refers to an alder forest, Anna aims to capture the melancholic and forlorn vibe of being in a misty forest. Although not quite paganfolk, as her lyrics deal more with general spiritualism, Ols’ music still has an otherworldly charm to it.
By Chen May
Featured image source: www.faune.de