Be prepared to check your privilege, folk metal fans, we’ve got some bad news. A new study out of UK’s Leeds Beckett University published in the journal Metal Music Studies has determined that at it’s core, European folk metal is full of racist and sexist undertones. Published by Professor Karl Spracklen, a professor of leisure studies at the university and the editor for Metal Music Studies, the article argues the claim that “folk metal remains central to the on-going construction of heavy metal as a form of commodified leisure that makes the power of Western, instrumental whiteness and hegemonic masculinity invisible, while ironically being in plain sight.” The open access version of the article is available for free here.
Spracklen is a professor of leisure studies at Leeds Beckett University, which means exactly what it sounds like, he goes to work to study and teach about what other people do when they are not going to work. He’s particularly fond of heavy metal, as he grew up with it and can be seen wearing an Enslaved t-shirt in the article. He argues that because of the genre’s obsession with “warriors and cultural purity, displayed through tales of Vikings and dressing up as Vikings on stage” that it “is showing white men how to be white men and showing women and ethnic minorities their place in European society.” He also points out that the music is considered by some to be “too mainstream and crowd-pleasing” in its thematic use of drinking and fighting in a way that has “no authentic connection to Vikings, Saxons or other (supposed) nationalist patriarchs.”
“The folk in folk metal is a problematic ideology, a form of instrumental rationality about authenticity, nation and nationalism. Who are the folk who have inspired this music? They are supposedly the true ancestors of the musicians playing the music. The bands in this research are all trying to identify with some reputed folk culture that existed before modern times. That folk culture is not the precedent of the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural culture of nations now; these folk in the past are pure white peoples, monocultural and monoracial, who have supposedly preserved ways of thinking and being that have been transferred in blood lines down the ages to the present day. This folk metal desire to find authenticity in folk is a quest for pure and holy blood, a quest for belonging in an un-mixed, white race.”
“Folk metal itself seems to represent through its performativity the worst excesses of the heavy-metal stereotype: the swords, the fantasy, the sexism and the outrageous histrionics. Furthermore, while heavy metal has entered mainstream cultural spaces, folk metal might be seen as something like a palimpsest of metal’s recent, outsider, white teenage male roots (for those roots see Walser, 1993). It could be argued, then, that folk metal has become something that serves as a comfortable, communicative leisure space for those who have lost power in the recent decades: the white European, working-class men who have faced challenges to their assumed privileges from women, globalization, immigration and postmodernity.”
So there it is, well, at least a brief overview of what it might be. Is folk metal inherently racist and exclusionary? Take the time to draw your own conclusions, but until then, listen to some tasty, folk metally jams until you make up your mind.