With Swiss Folk Metal band Eluveitie barely a week away from touchdown in South Africa for a two-date tour (scroll to bottom for details) – their first to the continent – we took an opportunity to reflect in-depth on the development of the genre in South Africa. Furthermore, we are honoured to have shared some words and insights on the subject with Eluveitie’s very own singer and hurdy-gurdy player, Anna Murphy, and to banter a little on matters pertaining to the band and their fast-approaching visit.
Roots and development of Folk Metal
The genres of folk-inspired Heavy Metal appear to have exploded in Europe over the last decade as compared to the humble beginnings which can be traced back to the early-to-mid 90s; the concept of ethnically-infused Metal now having spread its influence into nearly every part of the world with great power, regardless of creed or culture.
In South Africa, the wheel has turned (as we know it does) a little more slowly, with this style of Metal remaining reasonably unheard of on the Southern tip apart from the likes of Skyclad, In Extremo, Falkenbach or other bands which had often been regarded by the majority of Metallers here as “obscurities” until gaining traction in the later 2000s. Yet, knowledge and appreciation of this treasure has been long and dearly coveted by those few who shared music in the most close-knit of musical circles. A definite turnaround and wider acceptance in South Africa began to become apparent immediately prior to the turn of the decade, and for most, was led (in SA at least) by the likes of Eluveitie, Ensiferum, and Korpiklaani at the head of the charge. We asked Anna if there were any others she thought needed specific mention to the list:
“I’d like to mention a few important bands that include folkloristic elements and do so with a very unique sound: Primordial from Ireland, Solstafir and Skalmöld from Iceland, Finntroll from Finland and Arkona from Russia.” ~ Anna Murphy
On the South African front, the first prominent hints of change came with Cape Town’s Strident appearing on the scene in 2008, blaring power metal with folky elements in tow, and the Gauteng-based Haggis And Bong band which, at that time, consisted only of three pipers and a drummer just beginning a steady rise towards popularity and having since evolved into a heavy metal powerhouse, with the incorporation of guitar and bass emerging in 2013. Finland’s Ensiferum visited South Africa for a tour in 2010, solidifying the upward trajectory, and signalling the same year which saw beginnings of a rapid rise by the youthful quartet known as Balyios, who appeared out of nowhere with a magnificent display of promise. By 2011, Agro, which had long displayed hints of folky influences, formed up in fresh guise with a violin player and a noticeably bouncier step. It was only a matter of time before the band who brand themselves as “The New Wave of Folk Metal”, the tip of the spear themselves, would find South Africa ripe for the plucking. And so now we ready ourselves to welcome Eluveitie in South Africa, a moment which fulfills something almost prophetic for the folk metal fans of old!
Moving in closer to our soon-to-be guests
At this point, we wanted to ask Anna about the Eluveitie part of the global tale – was their movement specifically towards becoming a touring band, bringing the flag of Folk Metal to new lands, a successful part of their original plan – to truly become “The New Wave of Folk Metal”:
“I wouldn’t say so, no. Our primary mission was always just to write music and then see what happens with it. We realized rather late – after already touring around the world for the second time – what kind of impact our music is having on people. Of course, now that we’re a well established and heavily touring band, playing live has become almost as important as writing songs and is one of our main focuses.” ~ Anna Murphy
Only twenty-six years old, Anna joined the band still as a teenager in 2006 and first appeared on the recording of Eluveitie‘s second studio album Slania  (which followed Spirit , plus an earlier demo album Ven), which was for many metal listeners something of a turning point towards a genre which was previously scorned upon by most. In their home country of Switzerland today, the band have become overwhelmingly popular and not only turned the ears and hearts of Metallers towards Folk styles since the beginning of their studio career, but also those of ordinary “conservative” music listeners towards heavier sounds. In terms of the development of Eluveitie‘s distinctive sound, style, and approach, Anna shared with us:
“I would say it happened naturally. I joined after the second album (Spirit) was recorded, so I wasn’t there from the very beginning. But creating harsh Metal songs with equally important melodious Folk parts has always been what the band is about and it’s not like it got easier over the years or was harder to do ten years ago; it was just always normal and completely natural.” ~ Anna Murphy
With the genre gaining such a strong foothold, not only in Europe, but in all sorts of strange places and new intepretations of the genre taking root – in fact, sprouting almost completely new versions of it in some places – we wanted to hear about whether or not Anna and her band mates had any opinions on what they have heard emerging, or anything special that crossed their ears whilst traveling.
“I’ve heard a lot of different Folk music during the past years and honestly I’ve never really disliked any of it. I’ve rather discovered that there are always certain parallels between different kinds of folkloristic tunes even if the continents are so far apart. I obviously relate to Swiss and Irish tunes a lot because that’s part of my heritage, but what has inspired me personally is Mongolian Folk music which I really like to listen to. I’m also a big fan of Sami music (from northern Scandinavia) and Joiking.” ~ Anna Murphy
Speaking of heritage, there is a lot of fascination shared by fans of Eluveitie‘s commitment to reviving – at least within the realm of completing their own artistic expression – an extinct language: Gaulish. We are to understand that Eluveitie are constantly working with scientists towards studying and perfecting the use of this ancient tongue?
“Chrigel does a lot of work with scientists. He is the one who then teaches me how to correctly pronounce and translate Gaulish so that my singing is as authentic as somehow possible. I think, so far, he’s worked with three or four different scientists; it’s always been different from album to album. Our knowledge and pronounciation is something that evolves over the years. Back when we recorded Slania, I pronounced a lot of things differently because there wasn’t as much information as there is today – and even that still being very scarce!” ~ Anna Murphy
When asked if being part of Eluveitie included a prerequisite that each member should speak Gaulish, she laughed:
“No way, we’d become a study group instead of a rock band! Only the singers have this special honour” ~ Anna Murphy
On the topic of members, we were also keen to learn about the new lady on violin since departure of Nicole Ansperger on the eve of the band’s world tour, and who we would be meeting when they arrive in South Africa.
“Yes, it’s very unfortunate and we seem to be very unlucky when it comes to line-up changes. Especially in Nicole’s case, both parties weren’t happy with it at all, but had to accept it because of family issues. I’m getting along very well with Shir-Ran, personally as well as musically. She’s insanely talented and a very open-minded person. She brings something different into the band which I think is cool.” ~ Anna Murphy
The South African visit, as mentioned, will include the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg. The support bands for both cities, declared ten long months ago (previous article here), have unfortunately both fallen by the wayside since, owing to scheduling difficulties and dramatic changes in circumstances. Members of both bands, Strident and Agro, will certainly be in attendance at shows now given over entirely to the visitors:
“I am very excited! I’ve never been to Africa before and honestly was very surprised when we got the offer to play there. Not because I thought nobody listens to Metal over there, but rather because no band I personally know has played there. I can’t wait to see and hear what your crowds are like, I have very high expectations. I also want to see something special and experience things I can’t experience at home. See some awesome nature stuff, taste some local food…” ~ Anna Murphy
We’re certain that Anna and her band mates will receive a very warm welcome, and surely so will Finntroll when they arrive on tour in November. Article coming soon!
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Co-written by Linda Evermore and Darkfiend
Eluveitie with Anna on lead vocals
Eluveitie with Chrigel on lead vocals
Eluveitie with Anna singing in ancient Gaulish