It might not seem obvious, but the world of neofolk flows perfectly into the harsh noise of black metal. This largely comes from the deep well of inspiration they find in the power of nature, in the use of environmental sounds and traditional folk music, and some of the lyrical content. Both genres have been plagued by the far right, which is why a band like Falls of Rauros, who fuses both genres, can be such a beacon of hope.
We did an interview with Falls of Rauros about their music style, why they are antifascist in murky musical waters, and how climate collapse fuels their rage.
How did the band come together, and what was the concept when it first started?
Falls of Rauros began in late 2005 when the bands that Ray and I were previously in dissolved. We were still in high school at the time. The two of us wanted a creative outlet and decided to start recording raw demos, thrown together quickly with little thought or strict adherence to traditional song composition. It was a mixture of improvised, off-the-cuff decision making, and loosely composed ideas. Generally, each song would come together extremely fluidly, often within one afternoon. There were no plans to play shows or take it any further, but eventually we sought out the help of some close friends and became a proper “band” by the time we recorded our first full-length record, Hail Wind and Hewn Oak. Stylistically, the concept behind the early demos was to combine raw black metal in the vein of Judas Iscariot, Ildjarn, etc. with neofolk and experimental and psychedelic folk/rock. The result was something incredibly raw but much less aggressive or “evil” than anything released by the aforementioned artists. We were simply trying to exercise our creativity and get some wild and disparate ideas down on tape. We’ve since refined our sound greatly, but the building blocks remain intact since day one.
What is your own history? Was this the first metal band for its members?
There is no history worth digging up before this group, as we were still in high school when we formed. We were in bands before Falls of Rauros, but absolutely nothing notable. Everybody has high school bands; it’s how you figure out how to work as a collective, write songs, perform, record, etc. Ray was in a metal band before Falls of Rauros, and the other three of us were in a metal-influenced post-hardcore/rock type of band. These are nothing worth hearing but the experience we gained was invaluable.
Your music really straddles lines of genre. How do you think of it? Still black metal, or something else entirely?
I’m comfortable describing Falls of Rauros as a black metal band, but only because it simplifies things and dodges the necessity for an overly convoluted description. In recent years the definition of black metal has been stretched so far that I think we fit the bill without too much worry. I would never try to pass us off as a pure black metal band, as that would be an abject falsehood; there are undeniable influences from rock, folk, classical, and other styles injected into our music. Adam at Gilead Media described us as “melodic metal” and I think that’s a fair description; our compositions hinge overwhelmingly on melody. Melody really drives this band and our records. So perhaps “melodic black metal” or “black metal influenced melodic metal” could work. You see how quickly this becomes ridiculous so I’m in favor of simply calling us black metal.
How do you think Falls of Rauros relates to the rest of the neofolk scene? Much of your music seems to fall into the genre.
None of us in the band listen to much neofolk despite it being an initial influence when we formed the band. We certainly enjoy some but, truthfully, just a few of the bigger names. Tenhi is wonderful. As the years go by I would say that there is less and less neofolk to be heard in our music, and something more akin to folk rock / classic rock has replaced it. We still use acoustic guitars frequently, but the mood and style of those acoustic parts aren’t necessarily neofolk inspired. But perhaps I’m not the one to say what it sounds like, and I’ll leave that up to the listener to decide. A lot of people say they hear post-rock in our music but I can say definitively that we are not substantially influenced by post-rock, nor do any of us listen to much post-rock whatsoever. Anyhow, to answer your question; I don’t think we really relate to the neofolk scene in any meaningful way, but we certainly run in adjacent circles and cross paths on occasion.
There is a definite critique of the existing culture, capitalism, and broader society in your music. Where does that come from? What kind of vision for a society do you have?
As the lyric writer for the band, most of those topics you mention are filtered through my personal worldview and outlook. However, all of us in the band are more-or-less on the same page when it comes to such matters. None of us are materialistic; we try to remain humble, take nothing for granted, and live our lives with less-than-typical excess. It would be hard to say that anybody living in a modern civilized society can avoid producing and consuming in excess, but trying to remain cognizant of these issues, and curtailing as much excess as possible, is something of a noble exercise. The major critiques found in my lyrics fall close to the side of environmentalism; most present-day cultures are entirely anthropocentric, and capitalism is potentially the most egregious example of anthropocentric tendencies. My lyrics are often personal, but when they broach political topics they unflaggingly push back against capitalist ideation. But they also venture well beyond that safe and simplistic “CAPITALISM BAD” punk rock approach into exploring the shortcomings of human civilization as a whole, the dismantling of hierarchies among humans and non-human animals, distrusting and disarming mythologies both secular and religious, etc. I don’t really want to go in depth regarding what sort of vision for society I have because it’s not comprehensive or even realistic necessarily, but here’s a start: healthy, egalitarian, honest, communicative, and artful.
Why is it so important to combat fascism and racism in the black metal and neofolk scene?
I’ll be the first to admit that I have listened to a handful of politically questionable bands both past and present. It was something I paid little attention to as a teenager; in my youthful ignorance it didn’t seem all that important and my vision of black metal was as something inaccessible and threatening to humankind, so without much thought it just sort of made sense to me that fascism and racism existed in black metal (and neo-folk). As the years have gone by things have changed; I have become much less complacent and tolerant of these ideas in music as they truly represent the antithesis of counter-culture and rebellion. There is absolutely nothing brave or heroic about adhering to state-mandated dogmas and championing police and military might. It’s pure cowardice. It’s the easy way out. It’s an embarrassing and basic ethos for misogynistic knuckle draggers who fetishize efficiency, conformity, and history. So, ultimately, these ideas don’t belong in black metal, or neo-folk, or any other counter-cultural music or art. I can hang with misanthropy, cultural subversion, religious blasphemy, and whatever else in black metal. But fascism and racism simply have no seat at the table.
Why are you public about being an antifascist band?
Well, for the reasons mentioned above primarily. I also think we are public about being an antifascist band because so many bands try to ride the political line in order to maximize their potential fanbase. They don’t want to alienate people on the left or right, so they attempt to play neutral. Or they take the crypto-fascist angle and thinly veil their fascist sympathies with obscure aesthetics. We don’t want to be one of those bands.
Furthermore, perhaps being vocally and overtly antifascist helps in some way absolve me for listening to some sketchy artists in the past (though I don’t support them financially). There are just some really classic, canonical black metal and neofolk artists with frankly repulsive ideologies. When it comes to black metal I just try to remain fully aware of what I’m listening to and why. The same goes for other styles of music, as well as writers. And there are countless other examples. I just love music too much and I want to hear it all. So by writing and playing music that takes an active stance against being a piece of shit, maybe we’re doing our part and making a small positive contribution to the world?
What’s next for you?
We don’t have a lot of plans at the moment. Our new record, Patterns in Mythology, will be out on July 19th, and we’re going on a brief 7 date tour of Canada and the East Coast with Denver’s Wayfarer immediately after its release. After that nothing is in the works. We’ll book and play more shows over the next year or so, but likely not a lot of them. We’ll start slowly working on a new record eventually, but it’s hard to say when. We tend not to book ourselves up too heavily; everybody has jobs, other bands, and whatnot.
What other bands should people be checking out?
For like-minded bands comprised of good people, everyone should be listening to Panopticon of course (though most are probably familiar already). Anything on the Bindrune / Nordvis / Gilead Media rosters such as Alda, Obsidian Tongue, Eneferens, False, Yellow Eyes, Mizmor, Thou, Saiva, Waldgeflüster, Stilla, Bhleg, and Murg. Woman is the Earth is an amazing band worth checking out. For new music that I’ve been enjoying personally (whether or not they have any relation to Falls of Rauros) I’d say it’s worth listening to the Gaahls WYRD album, Nusquama’s Horizon ontheemt, and Autumn Heart’s The Deaths of Summer. Everything by Heiinghund is really enjoyable for those with a tolerance for ultra-rawness. Anything Ildjarn-adjacent fascinates me so loving Heiinghund was an inevitability for me. For non-metal stuff, it’s 2019 so everybody should be well acquainted with the alt-folk of Songs: Ohia (and all Jason Molina releases), Palace Brothers (and most Will Oldham releases), Smog / Bill Callahan, as well as the guitar cult of John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Sandy Bull, and those who went on to bear their lonesome burden such as Jack Rose, William Tyler, and Daniel Bachman. I’ll give it a rest, but I could talk about music nearly forever.
We are putting Bandcamp links to their albums here and then will be adding them to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify.