Jun 052013

(Hungarian student of the Finnish language Andrea Balogh, with Wintersun.)

I don’t know about you, but I usually enjoy reading about metal in mainstream publications, sometimes for the humor in seeing writers (who may not know what they’re talking about) trying to describe metal to the masses, and sometimes simply from the experience of seeing our world through the eyes of outsiders. The latest example came this morning in — of all places — The Wall Street Journal, that rightward-leaning, well-written, journalistic bastion of American corporate capitalism. But the article is worth reading not only for the usual reasons described above, but also because it describes a phenomenon that seems to be more widespread than I knew.

The subject of the article is a trend — well, “trend” may be an exaggeration — of people outside Scandinavia being drawn by metal to learn Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. It begins with a story about an American international relations major at the University of Washington here in Seattle named Michael Brown. His career aspirations are in the foreign service, and he’s studying the Finnish language — but not necessarily because it will be a useful language in his projected profession:

“It was heavy metal, unmistakably,” Mr. Brown said when asked what inspired him to pursue a language spoken by a nation that has fewer people, at 5.4 million, than Washington state. Finnish bands perform with a “dark woodsy resonance” that he has come to love, he says, and “the poetic and obscure nature of the Finnish tongue really gave it a unique wave.”

Dark woodsy resonance? Okay.

The article goes on to describe the apparent propensity of Italian metalheads to study Norwegian in school:

“It’s quite a well-known phenomenon that students in Italy study Norwegian because they’re interested in metal,” [Prof. Siri] Nergaard said. Irene Burdese, currently teaching Norwegian to 92 people in Turin, and Milan-based Kristian Bjornsen, who is also teaching the language to Italians, both say Norway’s unique brand of “black metal”—a darker blend of thick beats and sometimes-Satanic themes—is a big inspiration.

The article quotes Ensiferum bassist Sami Hinkka and refers to such bands as Tyr, Manegarm, Moonsorrow, Apocalyptica, Stratovarius, Children of Bodom, and Wintersun. It observes that “the Norwegian Foreign Ministry gives its trainees a seminar in black metal due to the litany of requests embassies get about it.” And, given the fun I always have with Google Translate’s slaughtering of the Finnish language, I enjoyed these passages, too:

Whereas Norwegian black metal is generally sung in the native tongue, Finnish metal—ranging from a softer “love metal” to heavier versions of “death metal”—is often performed in English. So it may seem odd that fans want to actually learn a language with words as lengthy and difficult to pronounce as jäätelöbaari (ice cream parlor), valkopäämerikotka (bald eagle) or aseleponeuvottelutoimikunta (a single compound word that efficiently expresses the same thing as “the working group for cease-fire negotiations” in English).

Norwegian has some long words too, such as fylkestrafikksikkerhetsutvalgssekretariatslederfunksjonene, a not-commonly used word meaning a county’s traffic security committee’s leader’s functions. Engstelige toner is Norwegian for “anxious notes,” referring to music, and ansiktsmaling means face paint. Some words are the same as in English; headbanging is called headbanging in Norwegian too.

Love metal?  Okay.

Go HERE to read the whole article.


  1. A great topic indeed. Their remarks on the characteristics and why they are such in Finnish metal are quite spot on.

    As far as the article goes, I was happy until they had to mention Lordi.

    In the case of Mr.Brown, I wonder whether he actually got the spark from Finnish sung metal and if so which bands. That would be even more metal.

  2. My grandparents fled Hungary for the U.S. in WW II (and for good reason), but when I see a lovely Hungarian metal lady like the one shown above, I sometimes regret not being there. And not speaking a word of Hungarian.

    • You don’t need to speak Hungarian, only Finnish.

      And she is quite lovely.

      • I’ve actually been told/read that Hungarian is more closely related to Finnish than you might expect, given Hungary’s location. A Czech friend of mine told me about how he was baffled by how comparably weird the Hungarian language seemed to him compared to his native Czech, given that the two countries used to share a border (before the Czech/Slovakia split).

        • Hungarian and Finnish are actually closely related languages. Many of the apparent differences have to do with millenia of isolation from one another, as the underpinnings are quite similar. Both belong to the Finno-Ugric language family, which was once common (thousands of years ago) in the Urals and northern Russia. The Finns represent an early westward migration of these peoples, while the Hungarians (or, as they call themselves, Magyar) arrived in Europe much later, during the late 9th Century AD. The Finno-Ugrian languages are not Indo-European, which is why they seem so strange, even to their neighbors. Czech, for all its weirdness to us Germanic-language speakers, is still Indo-European, which is why Hungarian seems so odd to your Czech friend.

          • This is why I love nocleansinging. A reply to my post gave a detailed explanation of the history of languages, whereas on most other sites, somebody would just call me gay and tell me to stay in my mother’s basement.

            • You’re welcome! I’m as interested in history as I am in metal (if not more so), and the ways that languages connect peoples across time and space fascinate me. In its own way, music does the same thing.

          • Let us not forget Eesti! The native language of Estonia, which deserves a spot in the category “pancake awesome music, must learn the language”

  3. This is awesome, first of all that it’s happening and yes I think the coverage is good too – at least it may lead to the odd closed-minded person to consider that metal might have a good side for a moment or two. Also, the article itself is likely to result in an increase in people considering learning these languages.

    Maybe metal had a role in me learning German – lots of Rammstein listening in my younger years. Thing is, once you learn what some of their lyrics are, they sound better when you don’t know what they mean! In other cases, especially Du Hast, what they’re saying is untranslatable, such a cool word play.

    And I also agree with Justin C – learning a language for the ladies is a perfectly legitimate reason/motivation 🙂

  4. the only thing metal ever made me want to learn was guitar. apparently lacking in ambition i am.

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