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New Study Declares Folk Metal Racist and Sexist, Sort Of

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A recent study has come out of Leeds Beckett University which declares that folk metal promotes racism and sexism… kinda.

The basic idea of the study, which was written by Professor Karl Spracklen and published in the journal Metal Music Studies on gender, race and class (apparently, my subscription ran out), is that by focusing on ancient European myths full of Scandinavian warriors who enjoy wenches and mead, folk metal bands create a ‘safe leisure space’ for white European men who in recent decades have been forced to share their power and privilege with women and people of other races.

Spracklen writes:

“Through the study, I found that although women fans of heavy metal enjoy folk metal with the same kind of passion and intensity as male fans, and there is no doubt they find identity and belonging through the music, the heart of folk metal is predominantly masculine. The warrior myth that folk metal is focused on is normalizing this masculine predominance in our modern day world- men still have enormous social, cultural and political power.

“Folk metal’s obsession with warriors and cultural purity, displayed through tales of Vikings and dressing up as Vikings on stage, reduces belonging and identity in a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan society to a few exclusive myths. It is showing white men how to be white men and showing women and ethnic minorities their place in European society.”

According to this article, Spracklen focused on a number of folk metal bands, specifically Turisas and Tyr.

The thing is, I think Spracklen is missing, and maybe willfully ignoring, something important here. Folk metal definitely focuses on a simpler time — but not because that time was racist and sexist. Folk metal seems nostalgic for the days when a sword in your hand and the will to survive were all that mattered. Most folk metallers I know are laid-back and fun-loving, because they’re willing to tune out a lot of the ridiculous and pedantic drivel-mongering that goes on in society at large, and instead dream of a time that maybe never was, when someone’s strength of honor and combat were what made them great, rather than, say, their stock portfolio or how many Instragram followers they have.

More so, I find folk metal has more female fans than any other metal subgenre, and those women rarely cast themselves as some courtesan when listening to that music. In their daydreams, they’ve got battleaxes in hand too. So I’d say it’s more about indulgence in a memory than bitterness over a changing reality. As Conan the Cimmerian once put it, “Let teachers and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.” Spracklen sees folk metal celebrating the illusion, while most folk metallers are in love with the burning of life within them.

As Spracklen points out, there are definitely overtly racist folk metal bands, who celebrate that idea of the Aryan warrior ruling above all, but those seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Then again, I’m a white dude who likes battle scenes; for all I know, plenty of women and non-white people feels really marginalized and alienated by folk metal (if so, let us know in the Comments section, this is an interesting discussion).

Perhaps, though, this is a call for non-European folk metal. Bands like Chthonic have celebrated their countries’ unique histories–maybe we need bands merging metal and folk music from Africa, Southeast Asia, and other parts of the world where such music isn’t as much of a big thing. Though maybe it’s huge in those parts of the world, and it’s just not being called folk metal because it doesn’t involve a hurdy-gurdy or Pan flute.

Thanks to Daniel for the heads-up on this study.

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