Folk metal exists in a vacuum of sorts. It’s not black or death metal but it’s not classic metal either, where the genre falls on the spectrum is literally up to the band. No other genre has that benefit, most of them being very strict on what is or isn’t. Folk metal and I have a pretty long history, longer I’d say than black metal or death metal. My first job out of high school was at a music store that sold metal across all the genres. I sort of went crazy and bought as much as I could find, building a huge repertoire of albums ranging from At the Gates and Gorgoroth to Elvenking and Nightwish. My knowledge of the genres expanded exponentially and I began to steer toward black metal over all the others. Still, there are times when the mood strikes me that I want, or need, some folk metal. I have a lot to choose from, of all the genres folk metal has by far the widest selection. Ocelon, a Spanish folk group, released “Of the Lost Heritage” this year, their first and it’s everything I could have hoped for in an album.
What do I look for in folk metal albums? Simple, musically I am open to anything they can throw at me. Give me traditional metal instruments like guitar and drums or give me folk instruments like the mouth harp and the duduk, I will undoubtedly love it as long as it’s played well (you’d be surprised how badly some instruments can be combined). The thing I care most about in a folk metal album is the lyrical content. I believe a folk metal band ought to have lyrical content that focuses on the heritage of the band or members themselves.
So many times I have seen a South American band or an Italian band sing about Norse mythology or English folklore, the world is full of rich cultures, mythologies, and folklores why should a band choose to focus on a culture that is not their own? Each culture and heritage should be celebrated. Norse mythology and English folklore are undoubtedly fascinating and rich but why not leave those subjects to the men and women that know them best while giving your own culture as much attention? Thankfully, Ocelon did that with their debut album. As a Spanish band they have a history that leads back farther than the Roman Empire. Of the Lost Heritage is a beautiful album that doesn’t really focus on any one time period specifically but takes a broad view of Spanish and Gothic history.
The music is beautiful, opening with a calm instrumental before really getting down to business. They work all sorts of instruments into the album, creating a rich and lush sound before the vocals kick in. I loved the music it was vibrant and lively yet each song had very distinct mood and emotional level. Some folk metal bands celebrate the culture they sing about; others mourn its lose. Of the Lost Heritage manages to do both without neglecting either. They sing of the richness of their history and at the same time the listener can feel the ache in the hearts for the times that have been gone so long now. The music compliments the vocals rather than acting as a separate piece, with the vocals acting as the guide in tempo changes. It’s unusual but I think the album came out stronger because of it, a focus on the vocals and lyrics is a nice change for me.
The vocals, too, are quite strong, with several different voices ranging from harsh to melodic. Each member of the group lends their voice (both literally and metaphorically) to the album, even members that might not be as strong vocally as others are able to contribute to a sound that feels very organic and natural rather than synthetic, I really appreciated that.
I think the only qualm or issue I had with the experience had nothing to do with the album itself. On Bandcamp, one of the tags used to identify the album was black metal and even though I listened closely all the way through I couldn’t really find any sound or vibe that made me think of black metal. The vocals were harsh and raspy but that in and of itself doesn’t indicate black metal. So why use the tag? To draw more people in? If that’s the case, then I think they should remove the tag because their music is strong enough to stand on its own. Tag it with folk metal and let the music speak for itself. Tagging it thusly only diminishes both genres. Black metal as a term has become overused because of the interest and intrigue it holds but if everything becomes tagged with black metal then black metal as a genre and as an idea loses its value and identity. The same goes for folk metal. It’s a strong genre with ties to more than just metal. It’s a genre that deserves to be given a chance to stand on its own, tagging it with other genres only serves to delegitimize it. Let folk stand on its own merits!
Overall Of the Lost Heritage was a brilliant album with lots of nostalgic qualities. The music is played with almost classical precision and organization. At the same time though, the music has a feral, wild quality about it that endears it to the listeners, earning the moniker of folk metal. This is just the first album from Ocelon, they have a bright future ahead of them.
Listen and support!