Genetics of Viking Metal, Part IV: Finntroll

As I wrote last week, I hear Viking metal as a collection of overlapping hybrid genres. The basic idea is that metal bands are adding some kind of “Viking” element to heavy metal music. Different artists have taken different approaches. Bands add one or more of the following elements: traditional melodies or rhythms, acoustic instruments (sometimes synthesized), and lyrics influenced by Norse mythology.

Metal itself is quite diverse. Because the metal bands can start from a number of places before they add their different Viking influences, there are a variety of sounds that can reasonably be called Viking Metal. I will illustrate this with a few case studies in my next few posts.

A friend of mine who knows a lot about extreme metal mentioned Finntroll to me, so let’s start with their CD, Jaktens Tid. I chose that CD because it happened to be in stock at my local record store.

The CD starts quietly enough, with ominous snythesizer and drums. There might be some faint chanting. There are some snyth horn calls too. If I made a b-movie about dawn before a big Medieval battle, I would want something like this.

When the second track gets going, we get a fast menacing riff on piano followed by guitar. The drums are actually playing a disco beat. The whole thing sounds like Rob Zombie if we were going to reference someone who a lot of people might have heard of. The vocals enter with a “hi-yaa!” that reminds me of a bear practicing Kung-Fu. The signing is in Swedish, if you could call it singing. It’s really more like growling. If you listen to death metal, you know what I’m talking about.

The lyrics are helpfully printed in the booklet and a tall, blonde friend of mine confirmed that they indeed are Swedish. In North America, we think that Swedish is kind of a sing-songy language–nothing to fear from the cheeseheads, right? Singer Katla really does sound like a troll-the kind of troll that lives under bridges and eats little children. Not the kind with the fluffy hair they used to sell at Hallmark stores that my little sister used with her Strawberry Shortcake dolls.

Numerous sources state that Finntroll sings about Norse mythology, especially trolls. I am reluctant to translate any of the lyrics. The music is so picturesque; I almost don’t need to know the actual lyrics. (Also, I am reminded of Yes, whose lyrics I used to know by heart even though I had no idea what any of the songs were about. Besides “Don’t Kill the Whale.”)

Back to track 2… There is an instrumental break in the middle with double-time accordion that is joined by guitar. We get 16th notes on the kick drum. This breaks down into a folk-influenced melody on relatively undistorted guitar with acousitic guitar in the background. Katla gives us some whispers and growls, while a keyboard choir builds. That is a lot of ideas for one song.

Track three is led by the accordion with an very fast Oompah beat. In Finland, this rhythm is called humppa and it all over this CD.

Let’s get a taste of non-metal humppa.

Now let’s hear Fintroll’s humppa.

It is the use of the humppa that sets Finntroll apart from other rock bands. This is just a continuation of the trend I wrote about a few days ago. Just as Fairport Convention added traditional British elements to the then-current folk-rock trend, Finntroll is bringing their country’s traditional music to now-current heavy metal.

Finntroll also employ a style of singing called Yoik. On first hearing, it could remind one of Native American singing. It’s actually a traditional style of people indigenous to Lapland, called the Sámi. (Search for yoik at the Finnish Music Information Centre for more info. Search for yoik on their music player too.) Yoik isn’t integrated as thoroughly as humppa. It’s more of a coloring. To summarize, Finntroll makes unique and very interesting music. It might be too energetic for many people, but the folk elements could also appeal to adventurous folks who don’t always enjoy death metal. The major elements in their style are:

  • Fast and aggressive death metal
  • Occasional atmospheric sections with synthesizer
  • Real or synthesized acoustic instruments, such as accordion and wind instruments
  • Humppa
  • Growled vocals
  • Yoik

They will tour the US this summer.