What makes folk metal interesting is how it is the unlikely union of two things that should not go together. Metal is hard, brash, and abrasive, while folk music is soft, acoustic, and introspective. Folk would be at the bottom of the list of other genres I would expect metal to ever be paired with, given the fundamental differences between them, and yet there is a healthy and thriving scene of folk metal bands that have managed to forge a connection between the two styles. I doubt anyone could have seen it coming, but certain strains of black metal have evolved in such a way that they mirror the spirit of folk music, which opens the door for folk metal to be something more sincere than a curiosity. Folk metal does something important, by giving metal a more human element.
Vintersorg has been at this game for twenty years, helping to lead the charge of folk metal, which makes it interesting that this is the first time I have really listened to any of their music. Coming into contact with them this late into their career, I'm not sure whether I am walking in with expectations that are set too high.
If they were set too high, that concern is discarded within the first three minutes of the album. Opener “Ur Aska Och Sot” is a dynamic piece, one that is able to deftly blend folk elements with a traditional black metal riff, only to open up into some sturdy and solid hooks. It's exactly the kind of gateway into extreme metal that is so often missing, and a way to get even a hesitant listener such as myself acquainted with that kind of music. “Överallt Och Ingenstans” follows suit, boasting an even bigger hook, the kind that would get lighters (or cell phones for non-luddites) swaying in the air. It's the kind of music that calls to be sung out, although there is the language barrier keeping me from doing so.
What I find most interesting about the album is that in each song I can hear little bits and pieces that I would normally be loathe to listen to, mainly the black metal parts, but in the context of larger and more interesting compositions, they serve a real purpose and are worth the time. The varied sections of the songs work well at establishing different feelings, the compositions able to balance positive and negative energy in a way that allows them to retain the sense of heaviness metal necessitates, but while having enough of an uplifting spirit to make the music engaging. I don't think I've ever before heard an album with black metal influences that put a smile on my face at any point.
I am slightly disconnected from the music, however, because of the language barrier. I know I'm not getting the full experience, because the larger message is lost on me. In making an artistic judgment, it's difficult to do so without getting the full picture. There are many bands and albums out there that I would have a much more favorable opinion of if I had never heard their horrid attempts at lyrics.
Unfortunately, the album loses some steam in the second half, where the black metal sections begin to overpower and outweigh the band's knack for hooks. Without the proper balance, the songs no longer sparkle, and they begin to drag and expose the slightly long running times that pepper the album. There are still some great moments, but they're not in the proper proportion anymore.
With all of that being said, “Naturbål ” is about as fine an album as blackened folk metal can produce. It's meticulously executed, well-balanced, and plays it all with a straight face. There's no cheese factor here, just a sincere album that is more well-rounded and enjoyable than most metal bands can muster.