Sagas of the North: An Interview With Amanda Aalto

Seidr is the Nordic tradition of shamanism, to draw wisdom from the Gods through ecstatic rites, maybe meditation, maybe enhanced consciousness, walking the line between madness and clarity. The revival of Nordic Folk bands like Wardruna and Heilung has hailed a whole subgenre of neofolk that tries to revive the emotive music of the Vikings, and Finish neofolk artist Amanda Aalto’s solo work is one of the most surprising breakout examples of the year. Drawing on the traditional folk styles of the North, she moves towards ecstacy rather than archeological fidelity, and each track feels like it could either prefix warfare or celebration.

We interviewed Amanda Aalto about how this project came together, how the Northern Tradition informs her music, and how her music is a visionary process trying to break free.

 

How did you start making music? 

That’s a good question yet, I am not sure if I know the answer. I have been writing songs as long as I can remember, ever since I was a child I would come up with some silly songs by myself. I think writing songs and making music is such a big part of who I am that it’s impossible to tell exactly how it started, it probably just happened one day.

 

Is this your first project?

No, not really. I started by playing in bands when I was about 14 years old, mostly heavy metal and rock. I still wrote some stuff for myself but started my solo project only about 7 years ago. 

 

How does song writing work? Do you have a set process or does inspiration strike a number of ways? What’s the step by step?

It varies. Usually I sit in front of my piano and come up with a melody, which I start to work on more. Then I continue to vocals and lyrics, usually this happens quite fast, from like 15 minutes to an hour. Then, when I have the whole structure of the song, I record a demo and start adding more stuff to it, more instruments and such. This is how it usually works, but I like to try things differently as well. On ‘Ríkr‘, which is my latest solo album, there are a couple of songs which I wrote in the wilderness in Norway when I was camping last summer. That was something I’ve never tried before!

 

Do you have a number of collaborators even though this is your solo work?

I always like to collaborate with other musicians, so yes I have. Some have evolved to projects, some have been for one or two songs and so on. I feel it’s always a privilege to work with other musicians and artists because that’s when you usually learn the most about songwriting and producing.

 

Your music draws heavily from the well of traditional folk music and Norse traditions, where did you learn about these traditions? 

Oh yes, well this whole folk thing is a bit new for me as a musician but I have been into folk and neofolk for a quite a long time now. I’m a bit drawn to darker side of things so finding bands like Wardruna and Heilung really opened my eyes as an artist and a songwriter. When I listened to their (and other similar great artists’) songs it felt like home and something that I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t really known how to do it. After that it’s been a really inspiring journey learning about old traditions and old instruments and I know there is still a lot to learn. I have always been interested in shamanism as well, so that plays a big part in my songs as well.

 

What role does tradition play into your songwriting process?

It has a role, yes. Sometimes more and sometimes less. Not sure if I understood the question the right way, but if tradition here means respecting the old ways yes, I like to write this kind of music sometimes even outdoors or lighting candles and such. It is a ritual for me, for sure. 

 

How does Nordic paganism inform your music?

It has quite a big role in my lyrics, I have to say. I was raised as a Christian but always felt more drawn to paganism, not meaning that I worship the Old Gods but I do have a respect in the old beliefs and they interest me a lot. Still I like to leave things open and let the listener to decide what goes on in the stories of my songs. 

 

What bands have been most influential? 

Well, mostly Wardruna, Heilung, Dead Can Dance and Danheim. At the moment.

 

Have you faced any white supremacist attitudes in the neofolk scene?

Personally I haven’t. I have heard that this kind of stuff happens though which is very unfortunate.

 

Why do you think it is important to stand up to racism and fascism in the music and pagan world?

It is always important to stand up against racism and fascism, I think. It’s sad to hear that these things are involved with this genre and with my music I wish to send a message of equality and respect between all people.

 

What drives your music most? 

Feeling. Being free. Or wanting to be free. 

 

What instruments are you using? 

For songwriting I use piano (or sometimes guitar), then for recording I have bowed lyre, shaman drum, other drums & percussions, flutes and I am planning to rent a harp for next album, but we’ll see.

 

How does recording take place?

Well I have a very small and humble home studio where I like to play around. I like to be free with the recording schedules and doing things my own way so it works for me quite well at the moment. 

 

What role does your native Finland and its natural landscape play in the music?

It definitely has a role alongside with other Nordic mythologies and traditions. On ‘Ríkr’ there are two songs with lyrics from Finnish folklore tales ‘Kalevala’ and ‘Kanteletar’, both really old poems and they were fun to work with, I have to say. In Finland we have always been very close with the nature and forests so that theme can be seen in my lyrics quite often as well. I hope in the future I can learn more about these traditions and bring them more into my music as well.

 

What is coming next for you? Any new releases, collaborations, or tours?

A lot of things! I am working with my next solo album which should be out some time next spring. Before that I am releasing two singles, ‘Mustan Parantaja’ (hopefully coming out in January) and ‘Pohjola’. I have also got a band together around this project and we have gigs coming up next spring and summer, so looking forward to that as well! I have also a new neofolk collaboration project ‘Járnviðr’ and we are releasing our first EP ‘Manatar’ shortly. 

 

What other bands would you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?

Vetten Runotar (my other band), Crown Of Asteria, Uumenet, Lovi. For starters!

 

We are embedding Amanda Aalto’s new album Ríkr as well as tracks from her last two albums, and we added several of her songs to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify.

 



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NEW RELEASE: Fuimadane Releases Perfect New Track ‘Fara Heim’ for Yule

Nordic and pagan folk artist Fuimadane has become one of our favorites over the years through their eclectic mix of traditionalist sounds tied together with synthesized ambience. The Nordic spiritual sound acts as the foundation for a cascade of instruments and orchestral voices, one that feels just as epic as it is nostalgic.

This perfectly describes their new track Fara Heim, available now on Bandcamp. We are previewing the new track below, and make sure to check out the interview we did with Fuimadane this year. We also want to note the incredible album art that was done by Kessi. We also have added Fuimadane tracks to our Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify.

 

Nordic Folk Against Fascism: An Interview With Hindarfjäll

The world of Nordic folk, a subgenre of neofolk focusing on traditionalist Viking era music, has become one of the most involved and ecclectic styles in the folk revival. Part of the attraction has come from the romantic focus on Viking culture, usually ahistorical both on the left and the right. Many of these bands have found inspiration in Nordic pagan spirituality and traditions such as crafts and arts, but have had to fight to defend this culture from open white nationalists who use a “folkish” interpretation of heathenry to promote fascist tribalism.

Hindarfjäll is one of these Nordic folk bands, inspired by a huge wave of musicians out of neofolk and black metal that are drawing on these communal sounds. They have made themselves clear from the start, that they will provide no quarter to Nazis attempting to appropriate these traditions.

We interviewed Nils A. Edström from Hindarfjäll about how the project came together, why we have to stand against white nationalism, and how tradition plays into their songwriting.

How did Hindarfjäll come together? 

I started Hindarfjäll with a close friend of mine, Elias Pettifor, back in 2015. We shared the same passion for nature, music and Norse mythology. As we’re both musicians we decided to try to make something together based on our interests. We only did one song together though, and that song is called ”Så Som Träden Viskar Hans Namn” which was the first song we uploaded as soon as we created Hindarfjäll’s Facebook page. Not long after that we got contacted by a festival called the Asgardian, arranged by Asatru UK, and we were asked to come and play. At that time Hindarfjäll was still a project, so we basically needed more people. I studied music in high school so it wasn’t hard to find musicians.

When we started to rehearse the songs, things started to get quite complicated. Elias didn’t show up and it was almost like he disappeared for some time. Eventually I decided to go anyway and find a substitute.

When we came home from England Hindarfjäll suddenly felt more like a band rather than a project.

I started to write new Hindarfjäll material with help from my best friend Samuel Tibell and all of a sudden the two of us became the core of Hindarfjäll. Today I see Hindarfjäll both as a project and a band. Samuel and I create the music and we get help from the others when we enter the studio or play live.

Were you inspired by other Nordic folk bands, like Wardruna?

I’m inspired by a lot of different bands and genres. It all started when I was 13 years old and listened to a track called ”Stenristarna” by Anders Hagberg. Not long after that I discovered Wardruna and other Nordic folk bands. The band that’s influenced Hindarfjäll the most is a band called Månegarm. It’s actually a folk/black metal band from Norrtälje, Sweden. They have a lot of acoustic songs and if you listen to that you can really hear that it sounds quite similar to our music.

How does Nordic paganism and spirituality play into your music?

Nordic paganism and spirituality is basically the core of our music. Without it we wouldn’t be able to create that atmosphere we make today, and that’s basically why I wanted to do this kind of music from the start. The music definitely has its roots in nature and spirituality. I won’t say that every song we make has to have something to do with Nordic paganism though, but every song is touching deep thoughts and questions.

Are folk traditions important when creating your music? Do you feel bonded to the traditions and cycles of the past?

I feel bonded to nature and all the different traditions that are connected to nature. We definitely get inspiration from old traditions and the old ways of thinking.

What do you think of white nationalists trying to appropriate heathen music and symbols? What should we do about Nazis trying to come into this music scene?

I don’t think we can or should do anything else than just show the world what heathenism is REALLY about. I believe in freedom of speech so I think it’s better to show people that Scandinavian traditions and music doesn’t have anything to do with hatred and racism. We need to be seen and heard!

Do you think it is important to stand up against fascism in the neofolk scene?

Absolutely. It’s a real shame that we even have to explain that heathenry and Nordic symbols doesn’t have anything to do with fascism. But I think it’s really important to do that especially in these days.

How does songwriting take place? Is it collaborative? 

It varies, I wrote all the songs by myself until ”Sunnas Strålar” and ”Dolda Krafter”. That’s where Samuel came in the picture and we started to write together. You can hear that those songs are a bit different from the other songs.

What instruments do you use?

We use guitars, flutes, skin drums and mouth harp.

Who would you recommend fans of yours to listen to?

Byrdi, FehReid, Runahild and Songleikr.

What’s coming next? Any tours, new releases, or side projects?

The debut album is in the making. We’re just waiting for our drums to be finished, then we’re ready to go.

 

***

There is only one Hindarfjäll track available on Spotify and has been added to our Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify. Check out some more of their albums from Bandcamp below.


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.

The Sounds of the Wild: An Interview With Nøkken + The Grim

There is an aura around the American neofolk band Nøkken + The Grim.  The cry of thunder, the animal shuffle through the trees, the underlying soundtrack of the forest.  Nøkken + The Grim is an open attempt to capture that, to rewild ourselves and to expand our view of community to the animals and the earth.  This spirit of resistance is alive in their animism, and it is what makes Nøkken + The Grim such an incredibly evocative ensemble, emotive in every quiet moment.

We interviewed Justin Gortva Scheibel, who acted as a spokesperson for the band, about exactly what drives his project, what the music means to him, and why we have to be public antifascists today.

 

How did your band come together?

The original seed for this was planted back in 2015. The band started as a solo project called Nøkken. I performed in a cheap, plastic horse mask, something like a scavenger using humanity’s discard. Stephen and I have been in a relationship since 2011, and I’ve known Karli for as long. We all lived together, working as musicians, so it made sense for us to start performing. There was a narrative forming on two levels. I was already performing as a nature spirit, and it was as if that had attracted other spirits out of the woodwork. So, we expanded the idea, and they became “The Grim,” other enraged nature spirits who have rallied against the desecration of nature and their homes. Each month brought about subtle growth, new conflicts, new possibilities, but, like watching a plant grow, there is no single “event” where it formed. It organically evolved into what it is now.

 

How does paganism and animism provide inspiration for the music?  Do you think the music itself is a ritual space?

Something that is often unexplored in music is the primality of expressions prior the violence that language and words inflict upon the world, cutting and dividing things into categories. People often want lyrics. They want things to “make sense.” They demand it of the world. But I want wild cries of animals led by instinct from one note to another, where human conventions of music and meaning no longer matter. It is why we focus on improvisation, on being animals speaking through music. Animism recognizes an interconnectedness of all things, and the presence of other-than-human spirits in everything. We see this in our music, and we join with the ways in which each animate being produces music as a form of primal communication. The Earth Mother moves in cycles, large and small, from the replication of cells to massive shifts in climate and tectonic movements. Right now, humanity is messing with cycles of life and causing global extinctions. It is an interruption of rhythm, as much as a musician who slips and misses a beat, except with dire consequences for all life. Our music is a miniature of all this rhythm, both the cycles and the cataclysmic destruction of these cycles, where we no longer distinguish our rhythms from the processes of life and death.

From a more personal perspective, I serve the Earth Mother, and I am an extension of the primal spirit of the horse. Modern thought would probably call me an “animal worshipper” with a bit of a sneer. I am ethnically Hungarian and German. My heritage in Magyar táltos tradition (‘shamanism’) and Norse heathenry serve as the folk roots of the characters we play on stage. For me, this music is deeply spiritual. Stephen and Karli, who join me are not pagan, but are an agnostic and a Christian deist respectively. What unifies us is our recognition that human oppression towards each other and the living world cannot be tolerated, that human beings cannot continue to destroy nature.

I think music in general is a powerful ritual space, and not enough people recognize the responsibility that musicians have. Music is a vehicle of attention, synchrony and transformation, a place where many different wills coincide. With all that intention collected in a single space, magic flows through our sensuous bodies and can be channeled, for better or for worse. I perform all my concerts in a trance state in which the illusions of being human have disappeared. I feel like there is no break between the stage and the audience. We become coils of ritualized rhythm.

 

What bands inspired you in doing the work?

It’s a strange mixture of things. I love the alienated beauty of Buckethead’s guitar playing. He originally inspired me to put on a mask. The integrity of Moddi and Tanya Tagaq are also sources of inspiration. The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók has been a huge influence in our thought and harmonies. He was one of the first ethnomusicologists documenting folk music traditions, but he also wrote his own strange contemporary versions of folk music. Bartók was an anti-fascist who sacrificed his music career in Hungary in protest. He eventually fled to the United States. Over the years, we’ve been influenced a lot by bands like Tengger Cavalry, Ulver, Garmarna and Heilung. Karli is huge into Neue Deutsche Härte, folk metal, basically anything from Scandinavia and Germany. Stephen, as a composer, also brings a ton of influences from film music, EDM, jazz and ambient into our sound. He and I work together to create the electronic soundscapes that permeate our music. Probably our most out-there influence is John Cage.

 

There is a beautifully quiet quality to your music, both haunting and curious.  How did you start to develop the uniqueness of your sound?  How do you define it?

We started out performing music that fit more into neoclassical styles, as classically trained musicians. We did improvisation and performed works by minimalist and modern composers, and then we thought, “fuck it, we could do whatever the hell we want with music.” I suppose I would call our music “uncivilized,” or perhaps, “undomesticated” music, “wild,” “bestial”. There is no guarantee that we will ever sound the same from one moment to another.

“Primal” is probably my favorite word to describe what we do, if there is to be a word. It is instinctual music, to create music in terms of our senses and emotions, our animal being. We lose the idea that there is ever a wrong or right note—just different notes in sensuous immediacy. Conventional music adheres to a pattern it justifies to itself, so it forms into a genre, a style, a normative imposition on what music “should be.” Musical conventions very easily slip into oppressive institutions. You see this all the time with people talking about how they hate this music or that music. Primal music may form patterns (just as the growth of nature forms chaotic patterns, sometimes tremendously complex), but they are not dictated by forethought, imposition, the tyranny of order, only chance and instinct, necessity and intuition. We are aware of many “musical rules” but simply do not care. Human conventions pretend to themselves they are not profoundly instinctual, irrational and accidental. So perhaps, primal music is music without this pretense. It has gone feral.

Our song “Blue Ritual” is a great example. Everything about it is “wrong,” strange meters, harmonies, off-kilter patterns of 7, live outdoor recordings mixed with studio electronics. It is like a weed that decides to grow in one’s perfectly manicured lawn, Mother Nature’s green middle finger to the need for control and order. I like weeds. I am happy to be a weed.

 

Why have you included actual sounds from nature, like rumbling thunderstorms, in the music?

We put thunderstorms in “Vox Terrae” to evoke nature in sublime way and to give the music connectedness with the living world. “Vox Terrae” means “Voice of the Earth,” the Earth as a singer. It’s this recognition that sound and nature have their own agency; I would say intention. There are many agents beyond the mere human, other species, animals, plants, microbes. Also, whole natural phenomena are recognized as part of this animate, living ecosystem. Human beings tend to try to differentiate between “music” and “sound” and operate under a pretense that “sound” occurs without agency, while “music” is this supposedly willed (exclusively human) thing. It’s all part of this colonialist objectification of the world. But all animals are producing music, the songs of birds, the rhythms of horses’ bodies. Moreover, everything that happens is rhythm. So-called ‘chance’ sounds, natural phenomena, are as much music as anything human beings produce. I see the world of sound as a world filled to the brim with agency, spirits, actors, where nature speaks and sings in all moments of resonance. Sound is itself a living environment, one in which a multitude of agencies are acting. For me, it is not strange at all to see a storm as a musician, a person, collaborating to produce music. Or moreso, we are invited by the Earth as collaborators, lent this moment of time to be alive.

 

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?

Personally, I would prefer to just to exist without having to have “a sound.” That is, I would like, in music, to follow every instinctual urge I have, whether that is violent, sensitive, sexual, explosive, playful. To the person listening, I think it probably sounds like we are constantly reinventing our sound, but to me, we are shapeshifters by nature. If I need to be violent in a song, then that is what happens. If I need to whisper, or yell, or seduce…our bodies produce the music. The concept of having a static sound is exactly what institutions impose upon our animal bodies, and those categories only serve to reinforce hierarchies in world.

 

What drives your commitment to antifascism?  Have you experienced a lot of white supremacist attitudes in the pagan and neofolk scene?

I would say that I have run into explicit white supremacists rather infrequently. The real fear lies in the undercurrents of racism and authoritarianism in ‘ordinary’ people whom supremacists are trying to win over. I feel that both the Pagan and neofolk scenes are very anti-fascist already and that the situation is not as bleak. All the Heathen and Pagan communities I partake in online and offline are working ceaselessly against supremacists. There is a recognition in much of the Pagan and Heathen communities that our own cultures and beliefs were colonized by Christian theo-political violence and oppression (and continue to be demonized to this day), and this unites us with the struggles of all other oppressed minorities. But there is fear across the Pagan communities to even talk about what we are doing. We are still afraid of being persecuted by mainstream religions as “devil worshippers.”

Within me, there is a deeper, personal anger at the fact that the Nazis appropriated our spiritual symbols and concepts. It was festering rot, feasting on the corpse of indigenous European traditions, appropriating our symbols and our heritage for their purpose of hate. It wasn’t enough that my cultural heritage was decimated by religious persecution throughout European history, especially my spirituality, which was thoroughly destroyed by Christianity. Our symbols then became corrupted and mutilated by honorless Nazi thugs who worshipped nothing but their own pettiness, driving them to hatred.

My love for all difference and my fury against injustice runs deeper than words or reason. Spiritually, I seek liberation of the natural world and other-than-human life, and I extend that to the struggles of all different human peoples. You could say it is in my blood to be anti-fascist, to be a freedom fighter. My family escaped from Hungary as refugees and came to the United States seeking asylum. Members of my family fought in the Hungarian underground resistance. My existence could never have been if they resist oppression and leave their homeland.

 

Why do you think it is important to be a publicly antifascist band?  How does antifascism inform your music?

I think people are getting complacent with hate. Silence is the real problem. Artists must be willing to stand up and show others that they are not alone. I also think that some music groups wait too long to disclose their stances on important subjects like this for fear that it will limit their audience. I don’t know about them, but we don’t want fascists and white supremacists in our audience. They can fuck right off.

Anti-fascism informs our music in loving and seeing beauty in difference and in the necessity to do what we can as artists against hatred. We see our music as undermining the colonization of the world—singing against the destruction of wildlands, the erasure of indigenous beliefs and peoples, against voracious and spiritually empty consumerism and authoritarianism.

 

What kind struggles drive your work?  There is a strong sense of a need to a return to a cyclical, grounded way of life in communities.

I agree. To add to that, our music expresses this need to recognize the entire world of other-than-human life as part of that community. A few concepts that are important to us are the idea of “re-wilding,” David Abram’s notion of “becoming animal” and what the ecofeminist philosopher Donna Haraway calls “kin-making” and “companion species.” I see modern society as having this ill ideology of trying to leave behind nature and animal being, of trying to transcend themselves, of trying to domesticate and dominate everything, warring with their own natures, consuming the world to feed industry and Ego eating itself. Humans fail to even recognize that other animals have forms of intelligence and cognition that exceed their own, something that is fortunately being corrected by the scientific field of cognitive ethology. Traditions and spiritualities that celebrate being kin with the world, with animal life—of being part of an ecosystem instead of holding dominion over it—end up as victims of modernization. This is especially true for indigenous peoples who are deprived of the natural cycles and resources needed to sustain their life-ways. I see our music as embracing and conjuring our own animality to rejoin with our other-than-human animal brothers and sisters, to relearn how to live alongside the more-than-human world instead of enslaving and destroying it.

 

What’s coming next for you?

We currently have two major projects in the works. We just finished shooting for a short film/music video for our song “Vox Terrae,” and we mastered a live performance of the track to release as a single alongside the video. We are also working on writing and recording our next album. (Well, really it is two albums to be released side-by-side. The concept behind them is kind of insane. Can’t say more than that, yet.)

 

What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?

Ulvesang, Hanggai, Tengger Cavalry, Garmarna, Heilung, Wardruna, Soriah, Tanya Tagaq, Paleowolf, Forndom, Jambinai, Bohemian Betyars. Julius Eastman is an unsung hero whose entire life’s work as a composer was dedicated to fighting racism and homophobia.  He was a queer black performer, and today his work should probably come with a trigger warning because his song titles often included the racial slurs that were being thrown at him during his life.  Part of it was he wanted the classical music community to look their own racism in the face every time his music was performed.

Moddi has been a longtime favorite of the whole band, a folk singer from Norway who melds haunting melodies with political activism. His album “Unsongs” is a must for anti-fascist artists and activists. The album is entirely made of songs banned by oppressive regimes. There are also documentaries about each song and its historic context on YouTube.

Below we are putting tracks from the latest album, Trickster God, as well as the most recent album before that, Treason to Our Nature.  We have also added tracks from Treason to Our Nature to the Antifascist Neofolk playlist on Spotify.

Wardruna is Taking Back Nordic Pagan Culture and Music from the Far-Right

As a blog, we have focused on profiling some smaller and emerging neofolk bands in an effort to draw out the DIY elements of a grassroots scene.  The perception that many have of neofolk is that all the major bands are held tightly by the far-right, examples being Blood + Sun or Death in June, but there is a whole universe of major neofolk bands who have taken a public stand against white nationalism.  This is particularly true outside of the narrow English language post-punk bands that dominate much of the music press coverage.  Many of the bands who drive their inspiration directly from the folk music run against this fascist interpretation, including the heathen bands of the Northern Tradition.

Wardruna is the best known of these, with their notoriety resulting from the path they have charted in taking back Nordic heritage and history from those who have attempted to racialize that history.  Wardruna, which is primarily the project of musician and Nordic pagan historian Einar Selvik, has become a central figure in this trend for bringing a certain historical accuracy to portrayals of Viking Age art and music.  This is what led Wardruna to the soundtrack for the History Channel show Vikings, which brought Selvik a lot of attention.

The sound itself is subcategorized as Nordic folk as it focuses heavily on heathenry, the pagan tradition that honors the Aesir and Venir and the traditions of the Nordic people’s in what is now Scandinavia.  Their music drives directly from the myths and sagas, with a massive range of instrumentation that pulls from the diverse cultural span that made up the Viking Age.

When people hear terms like Nordic heritage and Viking music there is a certain unease that appears because of the way that fascists have appropriated that culture, a process that goes back almost 200 years into the early volkisch movements of 19th Century Germany.  Using pseudoscienifitic and mystical ideas, they created the idea that Germanic Gods were part of the spiritual psyche of people of Germanic ethnic heritage, and that those archetypes define them as people.  This rejects the actual history of heathenry, which was diverse, multiracial, and had influences from global cultural exchange.

This is a part of why Selvik has made Wardruna heavily indebted to historical  accuracy and openly professes the intent of the project.  White nationalism has nothing to do with the rediscovery of paganism, and uses a false modern construct to employ ancient folkways as an excuse for fascist revolution.  As Selvik says:

This project takes inspiration from our native culture but it is about creating something current and new. It is also important for me to dispel a few myths about the Runes and Norse culture that have been misinterpreted and made almost cartoonish by the media.The image of the Runes has been tarnished by some right-wing racist idiots who have no business using them and only did so for their own gain.

This reconstruction of paganism is also in opposition to Christianity, seeing it as an imperialist religion that wipes away indigenous cultures through domination.  This is, again, a fact that has often drawn in elements of the far-right that share an anti-Christian stance.  It is also what drew in the black metal element, and something that Selvik has in common with early Wardruna member Gaahl of the early Norwegian Black Metal band Gorgoroth.

The serious focus to pagan histories, so much so that Selvik gives lectures on pagan history and sells books on heathen rituals and spirituality on the Wardruna website, is also what creates the unique multicultural understanding the band brings to the music.  For Selvik, it is the diversity of pagan practice that actually unites humanity.

I’m generally interested in culture, whether it’s slavic, siberian or african. What’s fascinating, if you go back in time far enough, you’re going to see all these similarities, how we are connected. Of course, in my work, in early work with Wardruna, because the history is very fragmented, it’s only natural to look into other neighbouring cultures for inspiration and also clues.

Instead, it is allegiance to the ideas and passion for the tradition that binds a community together, not a false notion of race.

I prefer to sow seeds and let them grow, and this little weed then enters the shade of the new shoots. It is very convenient to live far from the origin of a tradition, claiming it for yourself and focusing on ethnicities rather than nature. At the same time, nature has shaped culture. I would much rather be a blót with a Spanish person who gets it than with a Norwegian who does not get it. If you are stupid, you are stupid. It does not matter if you’re descended from any Viking king.

The increased focus on Nordic history and culture, which Selvik has been a big part of, has helped to create a barrier to stop the far-right from being able to continue appropriating it without a counter-narrative.

It is a very positive effect, that increased interest does not allow the subculture on the extreme right wing to use our history in peace. We have somehow taken our own story back.

“It is difficult to take them seriously, and it testifies to great lack of knowledge when right-wing extremist groups have used our cultural heritage in their propaganda,” says Selvik, pointing out that the far-right lacks a clear understanding of Nordic paganism and instead uses it simply as an aesthetic rather than a true spiritual path.

Gaahl had been a part of the project since its founding, which many saw as problematic given that he often made up the more offensive side of black metal and was involved in far-right gangs in his youth.  He has since repudiated those politics and publicly rejected them, and spoke out about what it is like to be an open gay man in the black metal scene, but we were still not comfortable with his involvement in Wardruna. In 2015 he left the band entirely and has not had any more relationship to it, a move that we support.  We would not have included Wadruna if Gaahl was still in the band, and we think it is important to outline this history.

Going forward, Wardruna is continuing to be a massive project, one of Selvik’s many music endeavors, and will set the tone for much of how this more traditional sound comes together in neofolk.  It is his public declarations of the intention of the music that is important because it forces the community away from an apolitical stance.  While Wardruna is not political on contemporary issues, it is much more focused on songs about Thor and sailing, they use the moments they have to make it clear that they are taking a stand against the fascist creep into this cultural landscape.

We are putting a few of our favorite songs by Wardruna from their Bandcamp below, and just added a few Wardruna tracks to our Antifascist Neofolk Spotify playlist!

Hindarfjäll is the Nordic Folk Band You Have Been Waiting For

The term Nordic folk has emerged to distinguish a series of bands that are directly connected to the revival of heathenry, the tradition of the Aesir and Venir, often focused on Nordic cultural identity and accurate history of pre-Christian Scandinavian countries.  The term has a double usage in that it is a way to not say neofolk, which has the occasional baggage of costumed racists like Sol Invictus or Allerseelen. Drawing a distinction is especially important as white nationalists have staked their claim on heathenry, using pseudoscientific theories like “metagenetics” and misreadings of Carl Jung to argue that heathenry is a religion that is for people of Northern European descent only.  

For the vast majority of heathens, particularly heathens outside of the U.S., this notion is absurd, and instead Asatru and heathen denominations across Nordic countries have been active in anti-racist campaigns and welcome a worldwide kindred.  The neofolk duo Hindarfjäll comes from this tradition, using the traditional regional instruments and sounds of Norway and Sweden to revive a historical music that is tied directly to the earth.  Started by vocalist Nils Edström in 2015, the project was inspired by bands like Wardruna in that they drove directly from a historical memory that centered an earthy pagan worldview.  

Hindarfjäll is centered well in neofolk in both sound and practice, with each member filling multiple roles as they juggle a range of instruments from flutes to guitar to bassy percussion, all backed by looping chants.  There is something haunting about the folk-inspired sound that comes out of the frigid woods, and Hindarfjäll feels like they are emerging with a sound meant to capture a life guided more by the cycles of nature than the modern travails of politics and conflict.  Each track feels precisely laid, patient and haunting, acting as a reminder of a life that once existed and could again. This may be why the bands in the Nordic folk scene have been so centered on history, particularly the accuracy of it, because of the misappropriation the far-right has made of their cultural legacy.

Hindarfjäll is new on the scene and has yet to put out a full-length album, and has instead been releasing demos that sound like they could have been birthed by a dozen musicians syncing for a decade.  With the very brief coverage they have had, they have used it to make a public statement about what they stand for. Before playing their first live show in 2016 at The Asgardian, they wanted to make clear that they reject any element of the racialist pagan movement.

I want to add is that I think that racism is a very important subject because Asatru and the music we play attracts a lot of idiots unfortunately. Such as nazis and racists, I think that’s unacceptable. Hindarfjäll does NOT tolerate such things. We take a stand against hatred and racism.

The Asgardian was put together by Asatru UK, a heathen association that prohibits racism in their organization.  “Asatru UK is an organisation that abhors all forms of discrimination and racism in Heathenry, and though it is sad to say – these views ARE still out there. For the good of our members and the community we are creating, we do have to have some measures in place to keep that community hate free.”

We are jumping the gun a bit to include Hindarfjäll since they only have a few public recorded tracks and have yet to release their full length album, but we were blown away and wanted them in the mix early.  We are putting some tracks below from Bandcamp and YouTube, but unfortunately they are not on Spotify yet and cannot be added to the playlist.