Headbangers Ball at FolkNotes: Blackbeard’s Tea Party & Ritva Nero

Something different for a change… 🤘

There is a metal subgenre called Folk Metal where folk melodies spice up the metal attack, or sometimes function as a launching pad for the riffs and melodies. However, the two great albums I checked out this week I’d like to label Metal Folk: tunes very much in the folk or trad genre but played with hard rock or metal energy and, in part, instruments.

It’s better not to call Blackbeard’s Tea Party metal, though, as their latest album – their fifth and by far their best – fits better in the ol’ skool hard rock style of the 1970’s, just before Iron Maiden and Metallice turned heavy into metal,

The band from York have played their rowdy, loud and party-optimized brand of rocking English folk, songs loaded with pirates and booze, for well over a decade already. But Kick the Curb, the new album released late last year, seems to mark a jump to the next level. A proper drum kit has entered the band’s arsenal, resulting in their first proper folk (hard) rock album.

Simply playing self-written sea shanties and old songs about wenches as hard rock anthems would probably be easy. But the Blackbeards have too much integrity and genuine folk music experience to take the low road.

Instead, Kick the Curb is surprisingly full of color and musical ideas; almost every song has nice hooks and turns, and when you listen carefully, you may notice how much detail there is in the mayhem – it’s very well performed. Honestly, I was positively surprised: it’s a brilliant, loud and fun party album, but it also stands remarkably well on its own in your headphones. A resounding hell yeah! from me and a tankard full of ale as well! Go Beards!

If the Tea Party people are more hard rock than metal in their mutated folk music, then my five Finnish compatriots, collectively known as Ritva Nero, are decidedly very, very metal – and very, very folk and trad at the same time as their debut album Immortal Tradition amply testifies.

The instrumentation itself is so strange, you’d never believe it would work: soprano saxophone, Finnish/Baltic bagpipe, nyckelharpa, bass guitar and drums – and that’s it. The musicians (two women, three guys) are awesome, and the drummer, Patrik Fält, is a real extreme/black metal professional, and it shows… ye Dark Gods, that technique, fire and precision! 💥

The tunes are mostly by saxophone player Sanna Salonen, with bagpipe dude Petri Prauda (who usually plays bouzouki and mandolin with Frigg!) contributing a couple of tunes. The band’s music is almost impossible to describe – it’s literally a seamless hybrid of Nordic/Baltic/Balkan folk music and extreme metal, re: Slayer, Cradle Of Filth, etc.

And it works like you would not believe. This is no musical joke or novelty act; the tunes are as intricate as they are fierce and they demand very much from the musicians – no amateurs allowed here. And, like the Blackbeards’ album, you can both mosh to this or just listen in absolute awe to this improbable musical beast that shouldn’t even exist. Mighty and dizzying music from 🇫🇮!

In closing, a brief philosophical point: how far can you stretch the boundaries of folk music; when will it cease to be folk or trad? Are these two albums folk music at all?

I will say they are. Both are deeply grounded in their respective folk music traditions, with obvious knowledge of and respect for those traditions. The fact that the recipe for cooking the raw musical ingredients is a bit different than usual does not change the fact that the essential core of these bands is in their folk music traditions, and these traditions are very durable – perhaps even immortal, indeed.

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