American Indian culture has been associated with metal since its roots. Bands like Iron Maiden, Manowar and Anthrax celebrated American Indian culture and empathized with the plight of their race, in songs like Run to the Hills, Spirit of the Cherokee and, of course, Indians. It makes perfect sense for metal to celebrate such a culture, as it is enmeshed with struggle, strife, warrior lords, mystery and magic. Indian culture is as celebrated in metal as Egyptian or Viking culture because of its mystery.
However, there is a clandestine subset of metal warriors taking the enigma and plight of the Native Americans to whole new levels. Native American folk metal is a sub genre quickly making its way to the forefront. Also dubbed ancestral metal, pre-hispanic metal or tribal metal, this relatively new genre incorporates the use of indigenous instruments into its sound to embody a fullness and uniqueness in sound and melody that rivals well known Russian folk bands like Kroda or Nokturnal Mortum.
I stumbled upon this genre accidentally. With my interest in the flute growing, I was curious as to what American bands were pumping out great folk metal. People tend to forget that America is more than just the USA, so in my quest I chanced upon a slew of South American, Mexican and Central American bands, all celebrating their indigenous roots and shunning an unwelcome invasion of the Spaniards in their credo. I detected a glimmer of underlying “nationalism” (should I say) in the music, which took me back to the roots of the Scandinavian black metal scene of the 90’s. However their rage is justified and I empathized with the message delivered.
I listened to a number of bands and gained a great deal of respect for the purity of the genre, but three artists stuck with me, with epic albums that I will revisit over and over.
Carlo Alonso “Hueso” Raffo~ Vocals, Guitars (rhythm)
Marcelo Huacpe~ Native Instruments
Carlos Llosa~ Bass
Fabián Flores Castro~ Drums
Christian Aguirre~ Guitars (lead)
Upon first listening to this band, I was ready to discard them as a 3 inches of blood rip off. They quickly redeemed themselves, however, by exceeding the power of 3 inches of blood and refining a unique sound all their own. Their is a sense of victory achieved in the sound, helping to conjure images of battle and the hunt. Injecting masterfully timed breaks with clean vocals and buildups of epic proportions, this band certainly knows how to leave a listener hooked and wanting for more. At it’s heart, Peruvian outfit, Ch’aska is a thrashy power metal band, larger than life and bombastic, but the addition of native woodwind instruments to their sound gives the band an interesting feel. Thus far, Ch’aska has released only one full length album entitled Pururauca and a couple of EP’s. We can only hope to hear more from this band soon. I know they have me hooked.
Munseishi~ Ancestral Woodwinds
Naoma~ Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Columbia’s Guahaihoque is the first tribal metal band I had the pleasure of listening to. What this band does really well is incorporate the use of indigenous instruments in an ingenious way. Perhaps the most “tribal” of the bands I’ve heard, Guahaihohoque struggled to keep my attention during the more metal parts of their album The Return of the Ancient Gods, only truly shining with their folk elements. Some of the riffing sounded a bit immature, even “punkish”. While the band may need to work on refining their sound, their use of the wooden flute is practically hypnotic, making this band truly noteworthy and groundbreaking.
Nelson Vilaboa~ Bass
Martin Moreira~ Drums
Erik Nicolas Muñoz Arraño~ Guitars
Pedro Muñoz~ Guitars, Vocals (backing)
Andrés de la Cuadra~ Keyboards
Cristóbal Carmona~ Vocals
Of all the bands within this atypical genre, I was perhaps most impressed by the Chilean sextet, Folkheim. Forming back in 2003, Folkheim has released two EP’s and their first full length album last year. Mapu Ni Tiam (the bands first full length release) floored me, as did their EP, Pachakuti. Folkheim would be considered great black/folk metal even by Russian or Scandinavian standards, with their captivating melodies and hypnotizing breaks into clean chant-like vocals. Their use of the keyboards is utterly ingenious as it evokes emotions of sadness, embodying the trail of tears left behind by a once sovereign race. Overall, though, the feel of the music is that of victory, like in all great folk metal. Once again this band doesn’t forget their native roots, using indigenous instruments throughout their records. What truly sets Folkheim apart, is the literal, breaks of strictly native music sprinkled throughout their releases that evoke images of rain dances, battle cries and buffalo jumps. I have yet to find even one song I don’t like. Folkheim is epic beyond measure.
For those among you bored by the droves of cookie cutter black and folk metal bands, but not wanting to delve into hipster territory for a change of pace, I highly recommend this great new genre. It is like nothing you’ve ever heard. So everyone, get out your peace pipe, relax and join me around the fire for a little tribal metal. Happy Listening. Hails!