As a break from the collaboration series, I thought it would be interesting to look at a couple of my favourite bands that have taken inspiration from the obscure world of folk horror.
“Folk Horror” is an unusual term, it usually tends to mean a loose collection of UK films from the 60’s and 70’s, films from the likes of Hammer, Amicus and Tigon. Most of these films would contain themes of Black Magic, Devil worshipping cults, ritual sacrifices, things of that nature. It is a hard genre to pin down and sure to cause many arguments among genre fans. I’ve recently seen one or two articles including more modern films within the folk horror genre. Films like “The Blair Witch Project” would kind of fit as a modern take on a folk horror film I guess, witches in the woods, rituals and sacrifices.
Equally I’ve seen films like Haxan, which we’ve discussed before, listen here:
… and Onibaba considered by some people to be early examples of folk horror dealing as they do with folklore and superstition, except both these films are from outside the UK, so I’m sure that may cause an argument or two! I don’t claim to be an expert on the genre by any means, more of an interested fan, I am a huge fan of Onibaba though so any excuse I get to plug a favourite of mine, I’ll take it.
We will get around to doing a Folk Horror episode soon I’m sure, one of the films considered to be part of the “Big Three” of folk horror we have already spoken about, that being the Vincent Price classic Witchfinder General. See link above for that episode!
Undoubtedly the highest profile of the films that traditionally tend to get lumped together under the umbrella term of Folk Horror and one of the greatest horror films ever to come from the UK, also featuring one of the titans of UK horror, is 1973’s The Wicker Man.
I’ll save going into a full review of the Wicker Man as it really deserves all our input and I’m sure it will pop up in an episode in the not-too-distant future. While the artists included here might not be to everybody’s taste, hopefully it will at least be an interesting read from a horror fan perspective.
The first band I want to highlight is an American band out of Portland called Agalloch, The band played an unusual blend of styles with elements of Black Metal, Doom Metal, Post-rock and Folk. There’s not really a band to compare them to I don’t think, a genuinely unique band.
Starting out in the mid-90’s until calling it a day in 2016 Agalloch released 5 albums and numerous demos/EP’s/compilations in their 20 year history. Many of their songs focus on aspects of nature and themes of Paganism and Pantheism, you can see why a film like the Wicker Man might speak to them.
Here’s a typical example of one of their songs. They rely very much on creating an atmosphere to express the darker side of mankind and our strange relationship to nature, at times basking in the beauty of it, but at the same time lamenting that we sometimes go out of our way to destroy it.
In 2008 they released an EP entitled “The White”, for this release they do away with the majority of the other heavier elements and stick almost exclusively to the Folk elements. The White EP contains several samples from the Wicker Man sprinkled throughout, there’s some of my favourite lines of dialogue from the film.
A few years ago Agalloch released another EP entitled “Faustian Echoes” taking inspiration this time from the classic German tale of Faust. The EP ending up being one single song, running time, 22 minutes!
I was pleased to find that somebody on youtube has edited the song with footage of F.W. Murnua’s 1926 silent classic, which you can see below. I’m quite the fan of the German Expressionist era so I think it’s well worth seeking out the full film if you’ve never seen it. Some of the imagery is simply incredible and would be highly influential on many films in the future, well, the past to us but the future in 1926.
Another band that I believe takes a lot of influence from folk horror are the Canadian band Blood Ceremony.
Blood Ceremony hail from Toronto, formed in 2006 by Alia O’Brien, the singer/flautist/organist and all-round brains behind the band.
Blood Ceremony have been described as many things in the past, one of my favourites being “Witch rock” They draw on many influences musically, there’s a little Jethro Tull thrown in there with the addition of the flute giving a folky feel to a lot of the material, certainly elements of Black Sabbath are present too. The fact that they’re hard to classify is part of the appeal I think, it’s a bit different and a bit esoteric.
Most of their material draws influence from general horror themes, witchcraft, sacrifices, black magic, that sort of thing. You get quite a strong folk horror vibe from the video I think, with a hint of 60’s psychedelia thrown in. Skulls and rituals and Astrological themed mumbo-jumbo. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a green Barbara Steele pop up at one point.
Blood Ceremony seem to take a good amount of influence from a pretty obscure W. Somerset Maugham novel from 1908 called “The Magician” telling the story of Oliver Haddo and his attempts at creating artificial lifeforms by way of sacrifices.
Interestingly enough the famous occultist Aleister Crowley was apparently unhappy with the novel’s main character, believing it to be caricature of himself and accused the author of plagiarism.
“The Magician” would end up getting it’s own big screen adaptation in 1926, with some even believing that James Whale’s later Frankenstein films took no small amount of influence from it.
I started this article talking about The Wicker Man and sure enough, Blood Ceremony do have their own song about The Wicker Man, it’s interesting to note that this song is unusual in that it’s the only song that Alia doesn’t perform the main vocal duties.
It’s a bit more of a sombre affair in comparison to a lot of their material, but I’m all for variety.
The influence and legacy of these folk horror films can still be seen and felt now. Some might even argue that it’s had something of a revival recently with the likes of last year’s surprise hit “The Witch” and Ben Wheatley’s duo of “Kill List” and “A Field in England”, the latter of which uses a similar Civil War setting as Witchfinder General.
Speaking of Witchfinder General, if you’ve never seen the video for Cathedral’s song about Mr. Hopkins it’s certainly worth a look, if only for it’s strangeness.
The influences of horror in general on many bands is huge, and I may get into other bands / film genres at another point if people enjoy this and would like to hear more about the music / horror intersection.