FolkCore DeTour, the first live album from Romania’s groovy folk metal ensemble Dirty Shirt, hooked me as it waltzed out the door with clarinet and plucked strings on “Rapsodia Romana.”1 As the gentle folk tune gives way to rock instruments and a violin solo, you can hear why Romanian folk music has been associated with punk rock for so long. There’s a downbeat heavy, 4/4 feel when it gets going that with different context could be late ’80s skate punk. Undeterred, however, Dirty Shirt‘s guitarists chug along and the band knocks out a convincing chug and groove. With the stage set—the combination of the world’s happiest folk music and the band’s crunchy sound playing to a crowd that loves them—Dirty Shirt (and company) put on the show of a lifetime.
Dirty Shirt is tight and slick, and at their core, they play an addictive brand of folk-infused groove metal. But given the assemblage of different sounds they mix into their music—from punk to death metal to disco—that’s a heavy simplification. Tracks like “Cobzar,” for example, have vocals that could be on a Finntroll record, but because of their source material they can also end up closer to Roots-era Sepultura or sounding like super heavy ska (“Freakshow”). This groovy-core unavoidably veers into nü-metal territory at times. On “Manifest,” the band’s tiny vocalist “Rini” Craciun does his best “Romanian Zach de la Rocha” impression, which isn’t the show’s best moment. But mostly, this material is fun and charming. “Rocks Off,” which is as unfortunate lyrically as it sounds, steers into a thing that sounds like a blend of System of a Down and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and is a highlight. “Dirtylicious” rocks an electrified Balkan sound, which features a vicious half-time breakdown with an accordion solo and haunting harmonized vocals.
Rini Craciun’s alter—other vocalist Robert Rusz—has a much more classically metal voice, rocking a 2nd baritone and responsible for all the growls on here. He also has great rough cleans, and he leads the way on my favorite track on here “Ride,” which is a strong anthem that has been stuck in my head for weeks. The interplay between the vocalists is a highlight of the band’s style, though Rini’s enthusiastic performance causes him to go sharp at times, which can be frustrating.2 Vocally, though, the background singers—who are unnamed in my promotional material—are the unsung heroes. These two ladies, both with pretty deep alto voices, are the glue that holds everything together. They lead on folk songs, they do backup parts, they do great harmonies, and—on the video—they rock mad synchronized dancing.
The majority of the material on here is from the band’s 2015 album Dirtylicious. But the live sound and the interjections of folk music, like at the beginning of “Dulce-i vinú” or their rendition of Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 5,” create a tone much more alive than their studio material. This due in part to the live performance, but also to the excellent folk orchestra Ansamblul Folcloric National Transilvania who offers up depth that makes this performance special. The orchestra sounds fantastic and is mixed into the metal arrangements extremely well. The violins are so tight with the groove on “Mental Csardas”—which also features a heavy “n-cha n-cha n-cha” beat at one point—and they kill the gypsy punk vibe on “Hotii.” The orchestra lends a professionalism to the whole recording that is impressive, and I can’t help but be impressed with the hard work that must have gone into this. There’s nothing stilted about this performance at all, the combination of the diverse sounds on stage feel made for each other.
As hinted above, FolkCore DeTour sounds great because it’s from a live performance, which deprives studio technicians of some of their tricks. This affords the band better sound, and while it’s still an brickwalled DR8, there is something that translates about the live performance in this recording and it feels magical. The production is well-balanced, the band is having a blast, the music is infectiously fun, and the performance reeks of the kind of “once in a lifetime” experience. On top of it, the live sound gives it an acoustic sound that Dirtylicious—which I still enjoy—just doesn’t have. This isn’t so much a replication of the band’s music live, as a thing that takes on a life of its own, which is the goal of live albums, but is a rare feat.
FolkCore DeTour is a fun record (and a great live video, too [Note that the embedded video below from their YouTube isn’t from the official DVD – Ed.]). Unless you hate fun and think groove is for people who can’t pronounce Exivious, you should give these guys a shot. Dirty Shirt makes folk metal like you haven’t heard it before but like it probably should have been done before. I’m a bit disappointed that it took me this long to hear these guys, and I look forward to investigating their discography down the road. Until then, I’m just going to keep putting this record on repeat.
- Sorry about how late this review is, I had it written and then I got some kind of weird flu or something and have been sick for weeks. It completely floored me. I’m actually still down with it, but my brain has started working again. Many apologies. ↩
- On the other hand, they’re not tuning it in the studio, which speaks well of the band, in my opinion. They have the option to fix something about the show and elect to leave it as is. ↩