As the holiday season approaches, we’re forced to listen to Christmas (and Hanukkah!) music. I’ve never liked holiday music, and I know there are people who dislike it as much as I do. So as a public service, I’ll provide a list of international musicians to rescue your ears from that hopeless state of festive music.
A: Antti Martikainen
A Finnish epic music composer, Martikainen’s combination of medieval, folk, classical, electronic and metal music will make you want to go on a quest to slay a dragon. I recommend “To Valhalla!”
B: Babkini Vnuki
They are a Russian folk group that sings traditional as well as new songs. An all-male ensemble, they perform in brightly colored national costumes and harmonize beautifully. Take a listen to “Ne Dlya Menya” (Not For Me).
She is a Korean rapper and singer, otherwise known as Chaelin Lee. Part of the all-female group 2NE1, she raps in both Korean and English. One of her most famous songs is “The Baddest Female.” With her leather jackets, golden grills and sharp winged eyeliner, she probably is the baddest female.
D: Die Antwoord
They are a rap-rave group from South Africa, whose name means “The Answer” in Afrikaans. The song that gained their world recognition was “I Fink U Freeky.” Their style is hip hop with the incorporation of the South African zef culture – trashy but fancy at the same time. They rap in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa (A language of a tribe in South Africa).
A folk metal band from Switzerland, they mainly sing in English. However, some of their songs are in ancient Gaulish. They combine fiddles, tin whistles, hurdy gurdies (crank-turned fiddles) and bagpipes with melodic death metal to create a unique sound. Their most popular song, “Inis Mona” (the title refers to an island off the coast of Wales called Inis Mon, which has long been associated with Druids) is a good example.
They are a folk metal band from Finland. However, most of their lyrics are in Swedish. Although their most famous songs are “Under Bergets Rot” (Under the Mountain’s Roots) and “Trollhammaren” (The Troll Hammer), my favorite is “Ett Norrskensdad” (Deed of the Northern Lights). Oh, they also wear troll ears.
Fun fact: their name comes from a legend in which Swedish priests went to Finland to convert the pagan natives and were met by a troll who protected the pagan Finns.
They are an Israeli band who began the genre of Yiddish metal. They’ve taken famous Yiddish songs and turned them metal. Your bubbe will be headbanging to a metal version of “Tum Balalaika.”
They are a folk metal band from the Netherlands. With a strong rhythm and full-bodied clean vocals, you will be ready to don your chainmail and vanquish your enemies. Grab your battle ax and listen to “Vulgaris Magistralis.”
A French pop singer with a sultry voice, Indila writes her own music, and one of her most famous songs is “Derniere Danse” (Last Dance).
Polish musician Michal Jelonek seamlessly integrates violin solos into the genre of epic symphonic metal. Listen to “Violmachine” or “Romantic Revenge.”
This Finnish folk metal band calls itself “too Finnish for Finland.” If you have difficulty imagining a fusion of polka music and metal, listen to “Vodka.” But if you prefer a more relaxing style of folk metal, check out “Tuli Kokko” (Came the Eagle).
They are a Russian rock-alternative group who writes their songs in Russian and English. Lead singer, Lousine Gevorkian, also fronts Tracktor Bowling, so their music sounds very similar. I can’t actually tell the difference between the bands’ music.
They may paint their faces like clowns, but their music has a raw character. The song “Jagdzeit” (Hunting) is a perfect example. Megaherz’s version of “Rock Me Amadeus,” is far better than the origina by Falcol.
They are a Finnish symphonic metal band that combines classical symphonic music with metal and operatic singing with metal growling. Nightwish sings in English and is one of the most highly regarded symphonic metal bands. Listen to “Escapist.” Just don’t try to understand the lyrics. They make no sense. When you become frustrated, listen to “Imaginaerum.” This song is purely instrumental.
O: Orphaned Land
They are an Israeli epic-symphonic metal band that uses Middle Eastern influences in their melodies and lyrics inspired by writings from all three Abrahamic religions. They also try to promote unity among Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Listen to “All is One.”
P: Percival Schuttenbach
They are a Polish folk metal band. They sing (in Polish) about Slavic history and the medieval world. In my opinion, their best song is “Wodnik,” but maybe that’s just because it features my favorite artist, Masha “Scream” Arkhipova from Arkona.
Fun fact: the name of their band was inspired by the gnome Percival Schuttenbach in Andrzej Sapowski’s novel “The Witcher,” and they have recorded songs for the video game “The Witcher 3.”
They are a Spanish melodic power metal band with a solid female lead and strong percussion. Check out their song “V,” and get out your red cape and sword; you are now a bullfighter.
I like their music, don’t get me wrong, but everything about this band is irritatingly similar to Arkona. Both have frontwomen who can sing and growl. Both women’s stage costumes include a fur pelt draped around their shoulders. Both bands utilize bagpipes and flutes. And their music sounds very similar. Listen to “Tsaritsa Skorbi” (Queen of Sorrow).
Fun fact: Ruyan was formed in 2010, while Arkona was formed in 2002.
This Swedish power metal band is one of the few bands I can recommend for their lyrics. They actually sing in English! If you are a history buff like me, then you will appreciate that they sing about historical battles from all different cultures and times. Listen to “The Last Stand,” which tells the story of 189 Swiss guards who protected Pope Clement VII during the sacking of Rome in 1527.
He is one of the most famous Russian rappers. Natan accompanies Timati in the song “Derzkaya” (Daring), which combines American hip hop and Russian rap.
A Kazakh symphonic metal, neo-classical trio, they take classical music and put a Turkish spin on it. I recommend “Turkish March.”
V: Verka Serduchka
She is less famously known as Andriy Danylko. He crossdresses to play his most famous character, Verka Serduchka, who is a busty Ukrainian woman who sings comedy songs.
Fun fact: He won second place in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007 singing “Dancing Lasha Tumbai.”
This Finnish band is best classified as folk-power metal. Listen to “Beyond the Dark Sun.” (They sing in English) Wintersun’s lead singer, Jari Maenpaa also sang in the folk metal band Ensiferum.
They are a German symphonic metal band that sings in English. Their frontwoman has an operatic voice that complements the symphonic background. Listen to “Nightfall.”
Y: Yukihisa Kanatani
A Japanese guitarist, Kanatani’s music combines symphonic metal with flaming guitar solos. The singing isn’t great, but it’s well worth the listen for the guitar parts. His most famous song is “Dirty but so Beautiful.” The guitar solos sound like Eddie Van Halen. Don’t expect to hear this at your local Mikuni’s.
She is a Russian rock musician who has sold over three million records. Her most famous songs are “Iskala” (Searching) and “Hochesh” (Do You Want To?). There is a clear sense of a pop to rock crossover.
—By Nicole Wolkov