“Folk, to me, means people.”
Reflect on that statement and all it could potentially entail, then consider it’s coming from Sam Levitt, the founder, bassist and vocalist of Vancouver and Edmonton’s Trollband, a raucous and energetic folk metal band that, at times, pays homage to Scandinavian mainstays Finntroll and Korpiklaani. It’s far from the answer you would get from most other musicians and fans who are so involved with the subgenre, as the sound and imagery have long been associated with medieval times and Nordic mythology.
“I think what’s happened in the industry these days is that folk metal has become so pigeon-holed in Nordic culture that most people assume that folk metal means Vikings and beer and battles. I hate that,” continues Levitt.
Levitt and company are searching for the “folk” in “folk metal” as opposed to locking themselves into a limiting pattern of writing. The introspective singer provided a fascinating basis for his band’s lyric matter, citing traditional folk groups like The Pogues, The Dubliners and Arlo Guthrie as inspiration.
“It would be more like the way Iron Maiden writes or the way that Slough Feg writes: stories about people,” clarifies Levitt.
This has been apparent since the band’s earlier work, which revolved around human history and heathenism with a distinctly North American perspective. For their upcoming sophomore release, Samsara, named after the Eastern term for the cycle of death and rebirth, Levitt borrowed journal scribblings on lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences from his wife and co-conspirator Nicole Ewing, who has co-crafted lyrics for the group since its inception.
“What Sam had in mind for the album seemed to come together naturally with my stories, so I offered some of them up for the band to use,” she explains via email.
The record was a completely DIY process and will be released for free via Bandcamp in August. A product of tediousness and meticulousness, Levitt was profoundly invested, paying close attention to detail.
“If we were on a label and they issued time constraints, we couldn’t do what we do. It just doesn’t work for us. We like to take our time and really listen to a song over and over again until we’re sick of it and certain a part doesn’t sound good,” he says.
The end result will be one that folk metal fans can look to as something other than an opus to Sweden, Finland and alcohol. It breaks free from that cliché, those self-made constraints that have nearly stunted folk metal’s progression. While Levitt and Trollband still stay true to folk metal’s Scandinavian pioneers musically, they integrate diverse sounds. Of course, tremolo-picked riffs, double-kicked drums and bouncing keys are present. But, structurally, Asian- and East Indian-based scales and progressions are harnessed just as much as the classic Nordic-inspired sound.
It’s that reason alone that should give anyone enough reason to give Trollband a nod of recognition. In an era of time where it’s so difficult to do something original within heavy metal music, it’s the trailblazers like Levitt and company from which the rest of us in the music community should try to take something away. Trollband’s mission statement is innovation in its purest form while still being able to wear their inspiration on their sleeves. Most of impressive of all is that this is being done by a folk metal band, whose subgenre could be, up until now, looked on by naysayers as a completely hokey gimmick that gives average suburban rich kids a reason to brag about their microscopic fraction of Scandinavian heritage.
But that could all be changing and it starts with bands like Trollband.
Watch Trollband on Monday, August 19 at Dickens Pub with Korperlose Stimme, Moradin, and Skymir.
By Brandon McNeil
Photo: Sara Power