Kageraw is Redefining NeoClassical Music

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One of incredible things about the world of neofolk, just like black metal, is that it can draw in so many influences and histories that two bands within the genre can be lightyears apart. Many draw on Nordic folk music, Basque ballads, Brazilian traditional music, and, increasingly, classical, chamber, or orchestral music. The goal of this neo-classical subgenre is to take the conventions of classical music and rediscover them in the contemporary world of music performance, sometimes bringing them into neofolk ensembles or as solo projects with an electronic production focus.

This is the direction that Russian neo-classical artist Kageraw went in, focusing primarily on classical and romantic piano work that would appeal heavily to fans of ambient music like Outer Gods. This is a particularly singular vision, often centered on the piano, but reshaped after the fact to create an audible painting that can wash over you in the same emotionally provocative way that neofolk does.

At other times, such in her first album, this is actually a tactile and low-res guitar sound mixed with the wind and rain, a sensation that brings you right into a sense of physical geography. Even as a solo project, there is so much here, a testament to the power of layering, both instruments and sounds of life, which often are intermixed in the world of neofolk. Her voice is an iconic part of this tapestry, the sound of which is often just as important as the words she chooses to sing (or not sing).

Kageraw has four albums, In the hands of Esse, I Fision, слезы шамана. глава вторая, and слезы шамана, each building on the cold wilderness of the Russian Federation, the winter isolation and frigid deep Siberian woods. The music is really only part of her entire artistic vision, she is an incredible visual artist and painter as well, and her Flickr is incredibly active with her wood-cut inspired work and photography.

We first became aware of Kageraw after she was included on the Red and Anarchist Black Metal blog, she is also a member of AxidanceRepression Attack, and The Toverheks. She has also appeared as a musician in the illustrious warona project.

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We are embedding three of her albums from Bandcamp below, but she unfortunately not on Spotify yet so we can not add her to our Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify.

Into the Heathen Past: An Interview With Fuimadane

There is a growing scene often referred to as Nordic Folk, neofolk and neo-medieval music inspired heavily by Heathenry and the Viking history of Nordic culture.  This is a particularly volatile battleground because of the Nazi appropriation of Nordic Paganism, and this is why bands in this genre are often speaking out so openly.  This is particularly important since Nordic Folk rarely moves into contemporary politics, so we need to be able to create a scene where no tolerance for the far-right is made explicit.
When we came to Jon Krasheninnikoff Skarin, the man behind the Nordic Folk project Fuimadane, about doing an interview, he was more than excited.  Rarely is being open as an antifascist something that brings cache is neofolk circles, and he wants that to change.  Even though Fuimadane eschews any politics in the music itself, as an immigrant he knows how essential it is to take a stand.  Fuimadane’s music really comes out of Skarin’s history as an electronic musician and feels like a beautiful and evolving synthesis between a whole range of post-industrial music, from classic folk instrumentation to ambient synth-drone.
How did your band come together?
I started out making music in different genres before creating Fuimadane. Originally creating electronic/techno tracks for the entertainment of my family and friends, I later discovered my love for the medieval/folk/viking age genre. This ultimately lead to the creation of Fuimadane.
Does spirituality play into your project?
I do consider myself a very spiritual person. Ever since my teenage years, I have suffered from several mental illnesses. What I found always helped me through that difficult time in my life was being able to focus or connect to spiritual energy, finding solace in nature. It has become a big part of my life and who I am. So, yes, it really does.
What bands inspired you in doing the work?
My friend Mike Olsen, who you might know as Danheim, has always been a big influence on me, as well as my other brothers from Fimbul RecordsGealdýr, Rúnfell. Other bands that inspire me are Heilung, Corvus Corax and Wardruna. Anything that blends medieval, folk, viking age or ancient music with modern techniques and styles feels very powerful to me.
How did you start to develop your sounds, and how do you define it?
I started my music career as an Electronic music producer because of my love for 90’s Dance / Trance music. It had such an impact on me that I wanted to create a style like it myself, so I taught myself how to create music with the few means I had. It wasn’t until I discovered medieval and folk music for myself that I slowly started to blend genres together in a more serious way, specifically seeking out Instrument- and SFX Libraries that I feel would fit the genre. Neo-medieval music with a Classic-Modern style and “arrangement” is what I would call it now. Not too complex, but drawing influence from both genres.
There seems to be a strong spirit of resistance in the music, not just lyrically but in the way that folk music is made so vibrant.  Do you see this project as inherently tied to politics, or collective liberation?
I try my best not to let political views influence my work, though I acknowledge that any form of art, particularly the one targeting something as previously tainted as the Norse ideology, can never really be separated from politics. At least not in the mindset of those who consume it.
The only conscious involvements of politics I’ve ever displayed on any tracks of Fuimadane are tracks that have historical influences, for example tracks inspired by the times when Danes turned from Heathens to Christian. My latest album ”Kominn vel á sik” for example begins in a church, and from there starts reverting back to something more primal. A musical manifestation of my take on returning back to the old ways. Heathen/Pagan life is certainly part of what inspires me, but I hope my music can be enjoyed regardless of who the audience views is.
There is a huge variety, it moves from frenetic synth inspired tracks to very slow and plotting melancholy sound, do you feel like you are constantly reinventing your sound?
I am always on the hunt for new ways to convey certain feelings and emotions, but finding something that feels right always depends on my own mood. There are certain recurring themes I want to incorporate in each album – a very emotional Track, one that’s very granular, an epic orchestral one – and so on. I try to keep these ”molds” very vague and not recreate the same sound every album, but the outcome will always depend on the mood I’m in as I compose them. At the end of the day, whatever feels right to me will be what I release.
What drives your commitment to antifascism?  Have you experienced a lot of white supremacist attitudes in the pagan and neofolk scene?
Yes, I have been subject to their hate for being who I am – many telling me I am not ”dane enough” because of my Russian ancestry. I don’t tolerate racism or white supremacy around me, in any way or form, I don’t actively try to pick an unsolicited fight with them. I have a simple rule: If I open my doors for you, behave and respect my home and family.
Why do you think it is important to be a publicly antifascist band?  How does antifascism inform your music?
History is a huge influence for me, and it is very important to me to know what or where we came from. My music has focus and inspiration from the Heathen traditions and Pagan style, but I also try to be very inclusive of other ethnicities, hence drawing inspiration from many corners of the world – all over Asia, Russian, Native American and many others. Limiting oneself to just one style is like limiting oneself to one mindset, very conservative. There is a time and place for honoring one’s roots, but if that means compromising another person from honoring theirs, then that’s wrong.
Music is a universal language, and everyone should have the right to feel, experience and enjoy it.
What other social issues play into your music?  There is a strong sense of a need to a return to a cyclical, grounded way of life in communities.
Indeed, I believe that in the past we were much more connected in tight knitted communities. Until the greed of mankind altered faiths and believes for there own benefits. Now its all about money, and we teach our children at an early age already that they need a good job and education to be able to afford a good life. I don’t believe in that. What I believe in is that you are the one forging your own fate. Find what makes you happy, what feels right to you and pursue it. Don’t just live and work to pay the next bill. Enjoy life to the fullest, and have fun doing what you do. I think that’s one of the things I want to express with my music.
What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
Heilung, Danheim, Corvus Corax, Rùnfell, Gealdýr and Wardruna.
We are putting several Fuimadane tracks below from their previous releases available on Bandcamp, and are also adding three Fuimadane tracks to our Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify.

Gae Bolg Shows How You Can Stand Against the Fascist Neofolk Scene

Inside the world of neofolk and post-punk, martial industrial gets the most ire because of its aesthetic quality seems owed to the militarist imperialism of mass fascism.  As outlined by academics like Anton Shekhovtsov, much of the far-right version of neofolk has been is an attempt at building a fascist metapolitic that influences a cultural space while claiming “apolitical” status since their project does not explicitly mention politics.

And many martial industrial bands have jumped right in to live up to the accusations, using Nazi imagery, fetishizing fascist art and fashion, and intentionally being provocative about genocide.  The Celtic martial industrial band Gae Bolg stands out for playing so hard against type: they are not just openly opposed to fascism, they have fought hard to do so.

Once you hear Gae Bolg, you can’t forget it.  Filled with a carnivalesque extravagance, it draws its sound directly from celebratory folk sounds, ranging from the victory parties for returning soldiers all the way to drunken debaucharies inside a public house.  The sound itself draws on a much older set of traditions than much of the medieval obsessed post-punk neofolk bands and is obsessed with folk stories and character, villains and heroes.  The flute heavy sound they have developed, that has such a distinct beat to it that you will always be able to register its brand, sounds like if Oingo Boingo reformed as a pagan neofolk band.  If Conan had just entered into an ancient city and was perusing through the limestone streets in search of strong drink, this is the music that would be playing.  This owes to the filmic quality to the music, which is always grand in its orchestral sound, drawing on dozens of instruments and overwhelming the listener’s senses.  This does not have the quiet and meditative quality that you might expect from bands like Wardruna or Hindarfjäll.  At the same time there is a sing-song quality to it, which is particularly striking as it pounds along in arcane references that few listeners would pick up on, not to mention lyrics primarily in French.

Gae Bolg was founded by renaissance musician Eric Roger, classically trained, who had been a part of a number of bands, including Seven Pines and L’Orchestre Noir.  It is Roger’s history that tells a more complicated story since he was a “hire-on” musician with the neofolk band Sol Invictus, which is one of the best examples of the fascist side of the neofolk world.  While the associations between Sol Invictus’ front man Tony Wakeford and the far-right politics, particularly the Front National and nationalist Traditionalist philosophy of Julius Evola and Oswald Spangler, there was a lot of denial of this in the neofolk world.  While Wakeford could not hide his earlier relationship with the National Front, including doing a benefit for the NF in her earlier band ‘Above the Ruins,’ he tried to portray this as a youthful indiscretion that he wholly rejected later.  Many people took him at his word, including several band mates, but as the band progressed people started to notice that something was a bit off.

Eric Roger is the story of moving from a neutral fence sitter to standing up against it.  He left any collaboration with Sol Invictus in 2005, along with Karl Blake, after they raised concerns to Wakeford that a festival they were performing at seemed to have a lot of far-right attendance and participation.  Blake recounts that there was an antifascist action against Sol Invictus’ performance, which both he and Roger are supportive of.  This action was a wake-up call for them to leave the band since they felt like they had not been told the extent and character of Wakeford’s relationships. Blake spoke heavily about this in an interview with the now-defunct website We Make the Nazis:

But I must say this – my ‘being sacked’ from Sol Invictus came about as a result of a couple of things – the specific one relating to this being that Eric Roger was sacked for objecting to the [i’d say] 95% fashtype line-up we [Sol] were being grouped with in a particular hall over 2 days as part of the Leipzig Gothik Treffen [2005]. Eric spoke to Wakeford about this first and he agreed that it sounded bad. Eric himself then contacted the promoter – which caused considerable flack – the first I heard about it was to get a phone call from Tony saying ” hes gone mad!!” Wakeford then sent Eric an email telling him as much [that he’d gone mad] but that he could continue in Orchestre Noir as he valued his abilities… Eric understandably refused Wakefords ‘kind’ offer by not reponding at which point Wakeford had a further meltdown.

Gae Bolg and the Church of the Fand was a project that Roger had been involved in since 2000 and was known for its heavy use of traditional and neo-classical music, and was eventually just shortened to Gae Bolg shortly after he took a stand against Wakeford and the fascist neofolk scene.  As Roger said in an interview after the split, “Tony Wakeford and Sol Invictus are now a part of my past and I’ve to say that it’s much better like that!”

We are going to post a section here from an interview Gae Bolg did with Heathen Harvest, a website we take a great deal of issue with.  The site has been friendly to far-right bands, and, frankly, fascist ideas, but because it was basically the only major neofolk website around many bands have gone on it.  It wasn’t until recently that the extent of Heathen Harvest’s problematic publishing has been made aware, and a lot of the writers and artists profiled in the website are actually fully opposed to those areas.  This interview was in 2014, quite a while before exposes were done on Heathen Harvest, and while there were still left-leaning writers at the website.  The interviewer of Gae Bolg tried his hardest to get them to infuse their music with some kind of nationalist message, and the responses from Eric Roger are golden, so we are republishing an entire section unabridged.

HH: The music and singing on Gaë Bolg and the Church of Fand has a distinctly medieval flavoring. Can you explain your interest in medieval music and vocal styles?

ER: My interest for medieval times has more to do with fantasy  than anything else, a sort of escape from our actual world. It’s the scent of mystery and darkness that I like. A strange period of religious extremism but at the same time, but for those people who tried to escape this rigid model, may just be the first anarchists in history…

HH: The lyrics and text of Gaë Bolg and the Church of Fand also seem heavily influenced by medieval period writings. Can you explain what influenced you to focus upon this period in history for lyrical inspiration?

ER: I have always had an interest in the writings of that time, from people who were on the margins and by all those free minded people who have refused an imposed repressive model. It’s what I’ve liked in “Aucassin et Nicolette”, who was in fact – if you consider the fact that it was written in the 13th century – an incredible humanist, libertarian and pacifist pamphlet hidden in the dresses of irony.

I don’t know what “Eurocentric” means really. All  of the countries in the world, France and Europe, during its history, have been influenced by other cultures, and of course have influenced these same cultures. To give just 2 examples amongst many others, Arabia had invaded Spain and the southern half of France during, and France, England and Holland had invaded a big part of Africa and Asia between the 17th and the 20th century!!!

People who speak about “pure culture” or “race” or “preservation of identity” or things like that are simply stupid!!! Europe, as well as all the other continents – and maybe more than the other continents – , is a big mix of cultures, and it’s this mix which give it its richness.  Personally, I’m not interested by a suppose-to-be “Eurocentric” fact.

HH: There are many critics and persons who would like to censor bombastic / martial orchestral music coming from Europe. Has Gaë Bolg and the Church of Fand or Seven Pines faced accusations of militancy or political fascism as so many bombastic music projects have?

ER: Never! because I’ve always been clear and I never played with this ambiguity. I’ve definitely nothing to do with fascism, or the right wing, nor am I fascinated by war or militarist topics. I’m a humanist, pacifist and politically green left.

HH: What is your opinion of the far left attempts at censoring and ostracizing musicians who create what the left claims is politically challenging or offensive material in the form of music or fascist imagery?

ER: Personally, I find all the fascist imagery or all this sort of ambiguity in music both ridiculous and dangerous. I don’t see anything glamorous or sexy in the 3rd Reich’s symbols and it’s often there just to hide the musical emptiness.

All the people who do that are just people who probably don’t have a lot of things going on in their life. It’s pathetic and dangerous, and it conveys insane ideas and hate. Most of those bands allude to intellectual background, but they don’t realize that what they say is completely empty. They just all repeat stupidly the same things, all the same citations of the same authors and are unable to have just a parcel of personal thinking!

Not to mention the fact that they forgot how many millions of people those ideas killed!!! I really don’t understand. If they’re so fascinated by war, it’s easy to enlist in the army!!! And if they have such a strong interest for totalitarianism, why don’t they live in a dictatorship? It’s easy to find one in this world!!! I completely understand that some people protest against this glorification of those right wing insane and smelly ideas!

Personally, I clearly made my choice: I prefer being fascinated by a good meal, good wine, nice girls and nature!!!

Gae Bolg does not make political music, focusing instead on fairy tales about ogres and elves, and that is what they would prefer to discuss (Don’t we all).  But they are making their position well-known and Eric Roger was one of the few bands to publicly walk away from collaborating with a fascist neofolk musician.  There is a culture in neofolk of keeping relationships “apolitical” even when they disagree, which allows many bands that do not have nationalist politics to continue to support those that do.  Gae Bolg has decided to separate themselves from that paradigm, and that makes them significant.  It is an incredible bonus that they are one of the most inventive neofolk and martial industrial acts of the past twenty years, and are opening up exactly how we can use traditional folk music internationally to build something wholly original.

There are many things I would like to share! A good meal, my joy to be in this world, my love for people, my desire for peace, my wish to see stupid egotism and individualism disappearing forever for an intelligent, creative and humanist way of thinking ushered in, my dream that people will one day think by themselves without being influenced by little hateful leaderships…  Yes, I know, I’m a hippie!!!

Gae Bolg’s sound promises to keep changing as it develops, a synthesis that Roger calls “Hard-Symphonic-Martial-Psychedelic-Medieval-Operatic-Electronic-Experimental-Prog-Folk.”

We are going to post some songs here from Gae Bolg’s earlier albums, Requiem (2006) and Aucassin Et Nicolette (2005).  We will also be adding several Gae Bolg tracks to the Antifascist Neofolk Spotify playlist!  Unfortunately, the newer albums seem to be a bit scattered, both on Bandcamp and other locations, so we may add some tracks to this article later on.

Chamber Music and Memory: An Interview with Deliverer

Modern music has lost the ability to play a tone to its logical conclusion, to allow extended sounds to drive a narrative structure that can draw out feelings like dread and drama.  The orchestral-neofolk solo project Deliverer rests entirely on competing tones, achieved by recentering the accordion into a drawn out baroque sound that feels equal part Hammer films soundtrack and Eyes Wide Shut house band, and we mean that as a huge compliment.

We were able to speak with Adam Matlock, the artist behind Deliverer, on what drives his sounds, the influence of Jewish cultural music and black spirituals, and how antifascism has to remain central to his work given his own identity.

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How did Deliverer first come together?  Did the project have an earlier incarnation?
I work a lot in the style of dungeon synth, which is often similarly in the orbit of black metal/extreme metal in the way that neofolk is. At some point I was practicing some riffs on the accordion, and the acoustic sound was very alluring, so I started recording and composing on the spot. It was something I’d wanted to do for awhile, and as I wrote it, a story came together that it felt like I needed to tell.
You can see where pagan folk traditions have such a heavy influence in how neofolk has developed, and what keeps drawing people to it.  Were you drawn to folk music traditions when forming Deliverer?
I have always felt a connection to old folk traditions, although I never had a ton of personal connection through them in my upbringing – so many of them I have admired from a distance. But it is also so easy for these things to get wrapped up in nationalism that has also kept me a bit removed from them. There are many Black American folk magic and pagan traditions that I don’t have as much connection to.
I’m especially a fan of Scandinavian and similarly influenced projects like most of what Einar Selvik is connected to, Ulver’s Kveldssanger and the like. But I’ve also looked to bands like Deveykus and Zeal and Ardor who have tried to incorporate Hasidic music and Black spirituals respectively into a metal sound, insisting on making space for themselves and their sounds in the larger umbrella of the scene.
How did you develop your sound, and how do you define it?  What instruments do you use?
I had always wanted to make Neo folk, but never did because I didn’t play guitar. But as I’ve gotten older I guess I’ve been able to get less attached to my specific expectations of a sound or a project, so, getting purely beyond the very limited Scandinavian or English folk influences that often show up in neofolk. Once I started writing, the story drove me more than my doubts about the sound I was developing. It was important for me to keep it mostly acoustic, so it would feel separate from my dungeon synth projects, so for the debut release I used only accordion, voice, recorder, and percussion. Limiting the sound palette helped to keep the ideas flowing. And I was thinking of this project as a sort of imaginary neofolk, compiled from various musical influences as well as a kind of chaotic collage of impressions of cultures showing their opposition to an oppressor.
There is a real feel of classical organ or chamber music in the album.  Was classical or romantic era orchestral music important when you were writing it?
The accordion definitely has a chamber organ sound for sure. I listen to some organ music, but if that shows up in this release it was unconscious. I play a lot of Klezmer and so there were some conscious Jewish music influences, particularly Nign, which is a style of wordless melody that when sung in a group feels like time is stretching. I grew up singing Black spirituals which were passed through my family, and there are elements of that music that shows up behind the surface in a lot of my projects – in this project especially having some kind of call and response relationship between the voice and the instruments. I’m definitely very moved by Scandinavian fiddle music (which only seems to slightly influence Scandi inspired neofolk), but the way the fiddlers in that style pass their tunes down and harmonize together is really inspiring to me.
What drives your commitment to antifascism?  Have you experienced a lot of white supremacist attitudes in the pagan and neofolk scene?
I am Black and mixed race. It’s hard to think of fascism as a benign thing for me, whether or not the attitudes are sincere or just aesthetic based. For those reasons I’ve often been removed from the metal scenes except on the internet, which is where people are the worst about that sort of thing. I’ve probably been to less than 10 black metal shows in 20 years of listening to the music for that reason, so I’ve encountered only minimal amounts of it in person. But the way we’ve seen conversations about this sort of thing become more meme-y and less about sincere connection, I’ve found that I’ve run out of patience with the jokey edgy humor, with the kind of intellectual shell-game that people play with weaponized ideology.
Why is it important to you to remain a public antifascist in a scene so known for its far-right or “apolitical” stance??  How does antifascism inform your music?
It’s important to me because to some, my presence in the scene is unacceptable. This is why it’s important to me to assert myself as an artist in neofolk, in black metal, in dungeon synth.  Besides that, I think the attitudes in neofolk, of looking to the past as an explicit transgression of social norms, have their logical opposite in the assimilation of fascism, and I am frequently astonished at how often people forget that. We are already, as modern people, given the chance to learn from history even as we look to the past and tradition for liberation, so it doesn’t serve anyone to blindly recreate that without some sifting through.
What really moves you through writing music like this, is it a sense of story or social commitment?  What really drives the work?
For me a lot of what moves me is narrative, storytelling. To me all the most compelling arguments involve storytelling in some way.  Through a combination of music and accompanying flavor text, I hope to convey some of what occupies a lot my thought processes: about growth, resilience, and resistance in a world that is deeply biased, somehow, against most of its inhabitants. But I feel like talking about these things through narrative is a good reminder to all of us that this kind of work is an ongoing thing, not a constant state of being that, once attained, needs no further attention or maintenance.
Also, the transportive element of music like neofolk is a nice balm for some of the harsher elements of modern society, which is sometimes necessary for anybody with an active awareness of the world.
What’s coming next for you?
I’ve been performing some pieces live from the Deliverer debut (Smother) with a crew of people that I do some other styles of trad folk with. At this point it’s just a part of our repertoire, mixed in alongside other trad pieces at our shows.  But I hope to write and record more for this project, including some material with lyrics, and get a consistent set together for live performance if the opportunity arises.
What bands would your recommend for an antifascist neofolk audience?
I’ve found it hard to vet things myself since so many on the internet seem to thrive on obfuscation, which is one of the reasons I’m so grateful for the work you’re doing with this blog. I will have my answer as you keep updating!
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We are putting Deliverer’s new album, Smother, below so you can listen to it from Bandcamp.  Unfortunately, they are not available yet on Spotify so you will have to wait to add them to the Antifascist Neofolk Spotify playlist.  We will be adding a couple of new bands to that list later this week, so stay tuned!