Skáld: Huldufólk (or, actually, some thoughts inspired by it)

…and now for something different – at least for this blog…

Over the past year, I have developed a taste for what’s called Dark Folk, Pagan Folk or Nordic Neofolk. But I really don’t care about all the labels; I’m referring to new music based on actual old folk music from different areas of Northern Europe; music that takes major liberties with its sources, creating deliberately moody and dramatic, sometimes grandiose and cinematic music, ways removed from its humble roots.

I just listend to Skáld’s new album Huldufólk and that made me write this. The band has been around for about five years now and are, I think, fairly representative of the genre I’m trying to describe. Formed in France, their current lineup seems pretty international and they don’t fly any particular country’s colors, but the launching pad for their music has been old Norse (but of course) songs and poems.

The thing that fascinates me in bands like Skáld (and many others in this genre) is the way they deliberately play with the extremely romanticized and mythicized images of The Old Dark And Cold Pagan North where fierce Vikings live alongside forest spirits and other mythical beings. This imagery has little to do with historical facts, but packaged the right way, over the top and to the brim, it can be appealing and fun – if you’re into that vibe to begin with, that is.

Thankfully, these bands have more respect for music than history. They use the latest studio tech and visual designs to create this altogether imaginary, overblown Hollywood version of the ancient North and its music, but they are fine musicians, well versed in the old musical traditions, even if they often (intentionally) sound like they’re doing the score for Game of Thrones (I believe that particular show actually did use little snippets of music by bands like Skáld).

This tightrope act between real, old musical traditions and their carefully fabricated and mutated 21st century mirror image fascinates me. Even when I’m aware of the artifice of the product, I enjoy it, both the music and the impressive mental images it evokes.

At the same time, though, I do care about the ”real stuff”, ie. the music and culture beneath and behind this imaginary North. I care, because the traditions are alive today, in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lihuania; in all of these countries you find a vibrant trad music scene, alive with brilliant musicians and some regional trad instruments you either may have heard (the Swedish nyckelharpa is pretty much all over the place these days) or not (the Finnish kantele, the Finnish-Baltic jouhikko, or the Baltic bagpipes).

I would like the Dark or Pagan Folk scene even more if the bands and artists did just a little informative stuff on the side of creating their music. As bands like Germany’s Faun (really cool stuff, will see them live in Helsinki soon) have literally hundreds of thousands of fans crossing the divisions between Pagan Folk, Goth and Metal communities, they have a unique opportunity to tell all their fans where their source materials and insipirations are and share links and pointers to them, now that we have all these streaming platforms that have loads and loads of rare, old and even ancient music on them for anyone to discover.

Having said all that, I continue to enjoy my dips into the dark and icy, sometimes also fiery, pools of the Dark/Pagan Folk – always keeping in mind that all these bands owe their careers and creations to people and communities who are long gone but whose musical legacies are very much alive today.

Skål! Kippis! 🍻

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