Sometimes, it would be a lot more convenient if this site was called Weirdest Genre in the World. I mean, when you’re diving into the Renaissance-Faire-meets-Euro-Hesher world of medieval metal, how do you pick just one band as the weirdest? But after an all-night bender of bagpipes and drop-D tuning, I think I can safely say that Germany’s Tanzwut takes the crown.
Medieval metal traces its roots…well, technically to medieval times, I guess, but the whole let’s-mix-Ren-Faire-instruments-with-electric-guitars thing really got its start in the ’90s, when it became really popular in Germany for some reason. Among the first bands to do it was a group called Corvus Corax, who started out playing semi-authentic versions of medieval folk songs on traditional instruments like bagpipes, lutes and something I’d never heard of before called a shawm, which sort of looks like a wooden vuvuzela and sounds, as far as I can tell, pretty much like a bagpipe. (Instruments didn’t have tremendous tonal range back in olden days.)
Anyway, as a one-time experiment, Corvus Corax did a metal-influenced 1996 record called Tanzwut, but it was so popular that they eventually just spun the whole thing off as a separate side project, also called Tanzwut, which apparently translates to “dance-rage.” Only in Germany would there actually be a word for that.
In the years since, Tanzwut and Corvus Corax have evolved into completely separate groups. While Corvus still sticks for the most part to traditional medieval music, Tanzwut has become one of several bands mixing medieval instruments and melodies with a heavy (and sometimes more industrial) rock sound. There’s also the oddly named Subway to Sally, the much more appropriately named In Extremo, and a bunch more you can read about on Wikipedia if that’s your thing.
Again, nearly all these bands are from Germany, although there is one excellent medieval metal band from Italy called Folkstone, who a reader named Michael turned us on to back when we were expounding on medieval metal’s even geekier cousin, Celtic folk metal, back on St. Patrick’s Day. When it’s sung in German, medieval metal kinda makes sense in a bombastic, “Ride of the Valkyries” way. Sung in Italian, there’s something kind of insane about it. It’s like Andrea Bocelli trying to make an Anthrax record. (Side note: Michael has a nifty little genre-mashing project of his own called Blood and Banjos, a work-in-progress melding of black metal and bluegrass. Check it out.)
But back to Tanzwut. Lots of medieval metal bands like to play dress-up, but mostly they just wind up looking like the Capitol One vikings or Game of Thrones fans at Comic-Con. Tanzwut look more like a cross between Rammstein and the world’s scariest Burning Man theme camp, with post-apocalyptic pirate bagpipers and a lead singer named Teufel (“Devil”) who sports actual devil horns (OK, they’re just his hair, but still). They’re also one of the few medieval metal bands who can rock just as hard in an all-acoustic setup. Well, maybe not quite as hard, but dig those hands-in-the-air moves at the 0:28 mark. If you can find us another medieval bagpipe band with that much swag, let us know.
Tanzwut’s live shows look pretty epic, but I’ll leave you with instead with their latest music video, for the title track to last year’s Weiße Nächte (White Nights). It seems to take place in some parallel universe where electricity was discovered in the Middle Ages, but it was only used to power guitar amps and halogen worklights.
- Tanzwut official site (in German)
- Tanzwut on Facebook
- Tanzwut on MySpace
- Tanzwut fan club on MySpace
- Corvus Corax official site (English and German)
- Teufel official site (in German)
- Ardor official site (the most pirate-looking of Tanzwut’s bagpipers—site under construction and mostly in German)